Dreamliner makes first commercial flight

Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner made its first commercial flight on Wednesday, giving a handful of deep-pocketed passengers the chance to fly into history on what is touted as an aviation breakthrough.

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Carrying 252 people including corporate VIPs, aviation buffs and a large press pack, the All Nippon Airways (ANA) flight flew from Tokyo’s Narita airport to Hong Kong, where it was met by lion dancing and a water-jet salute.

Wearing traditional Japanese jackets, ANA chief Shinichiro Ito and Boeing vice president Scott Fancher broke open barrels of sake and handed the wine to passengers before they all embarked at Narita.

Passenger Chris Sloan, 42, said the trip took on a party atmosphere.

“It was truly very memorable for me. After the day my kid was born and the day I was married, this is the most memorable experience in my life,” said the aviation enthusiast from Miami after he arrived in Hong Kong on the three-and-a-half hour flight.

“I felt like I was part of history.”

The lightweight, fuel-efficient 787 is the first mid-sized plane able to fly long-haul. But critics had said the project might never take off as its development ran years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

Painted in the blue and white ANA livery with red highlights, the first Dreamliner was finally delivered by Boeing on September 28, three years after it was originally promised to the plane’s launch airline.

ANA auctioned six business-class seats for Wednesday’s inaugural commercial flight. One sold for $34,000 — around 13 times the price of a regular business-class ticket between Tokyo and Hong Kong.

The winner of the eBay auction was 48-year-old Miami businessman Gino Bertuccio, according to the Wall Street Journal, which said he had mistyped his maximum bid amount but was still thrilled to be on the flight.

The newspaper said another delighted passenger was Thomas Lee, a 59-year-old Californian executive who flew on the maiden commercial flights of the Boeing 747 in 1970 and the Airbus A380 superjumbo in 2007.

Touting the 787’s green credentials, ANA said proceeds from the online auction would go to international environmental groups.

ANA also sold 100 economy-class seats as part of a tour package including one night at a hotel in Hong Kong for 78,700 yen ($1,000) per adult.

At travel agencies in Japan, a discount ANA return economy ticket on the route in late October costs around 45,000 yen.

Boeing says the twin-aisle 787’s construction, partly from lightweight composite materials, means it consumes 20 percent less fuel than comparable planes, an attractive proposition for airlines facing soaring fuel costs.

The Chicago-based aerospace and defence giant has also been touting the larger windows, bigger luggage storage bins and improved cabin humidity than conventional jets, a factor it says will reduce traveller fatigue.

Hong Kong Airport Authority chief executive Stanley Hui said the Dreamliner marked “a new era of the aviation industry”.

“It’s an honour that ANA has chosen Hong Kong to be the first city to fly this beautifully designed and technically advanced aircraft,” he said.

Production delays and technical mishaps cost Boeing billions of dollars in lost or cancelled orders for the Dreamliner, giving an edge to its fierce European rival Airbus.

ANA is planning to use the 787 on regular flights to Beijing and Frankfurt, as well as Hong Kong.

Boeing is hoping the Dreamliner will be a hit with passengers it says want more non-stop travel, and says it is already the fastest-selling twin-aisle airplane in aviation history, with more than 800 orders since 2004.

With an average list price of $202 million, the plane is the firm’s first new design in more than a decade.

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Busquets to face UEFA racisim probe

UEFA have opened a disciplinary probe over alleged racist abuse by Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets towards a Real Madrid player in the arch-rivals’ ill-tempered Champions League semi-final last month.

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“UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against FC Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets, who is alleged to have violated … the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations by directing racist abuse towards a Real Madrid player,” European football’s governing body said in a statement on Thursday.

“The proceedings have been launched on the basis of evidence provided by Real Madrid (video and statement of club and player).”

Busquets could face a five-match suspension under UEFA’s rules if he is found guilty of making a racial insult.

With UEFA’s disciplinary body due to rule on the allegation next Tuesday, that could sideline him from the Champions League final on May 28 against Manchester United at Wembley.

UEFA said the alleged offence happened during the first leg of the semi-final tie at the Bernabeu on April 27. The other player was not named but is widely reported to be Real’s Brazilian left-back, Marcelo.

The UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body will deal with the case on May 15, with the decision being communicated to the club the following day.

Barcelona won the away leg 2-0 before qualifying 3-1 on aggregate.

UEFA handed down a three-match ban on Real coach Jose Mourinho after he made allegations of favouritism towards Barcelona, while Real defender Pepe was sent off in the first leg.

Barcelona reserve goalkeeper Jose Pinto, red-carded in a half-time melee in the first leg, received a three-match ban.

Real Madrid had asked UEFA last week to reconsider their decision not to investigate provocation by Barcelona’s players.

UEFA has vowed to crack down on racism in football.

SBS will screen the UEFA Champions League final on SBS One, on Sunday 29th May, 2011 from 11am.

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‘Look after my boy’ Dad’s plea

“My message to Madonna is that she should not be discouraged, be strong. As we agreed and we expect that after three to four years the child shall come back for us to see him,” Yohane Banda told Reuters.

“You (Madonna) should not be shaken or disturbed by this because there are no ill intentions,” he said.

Banda was responding to Madonna’s remarks to US talk show host Oprah, when she expressed concern over the controversy surrounding her planned adoption of Banda’s son
David.

Mr Banda said he knew the boy would be taken away to be raised and educated by the star, but said that he was unclear about the legal agreement he had signed and still regarded himself as the child’s father.

“When we gave the child to Madonna we gave away the child just like the orphanage would have done … to raise the child and educate the child. We never wished that the child should come back. What we are saying is that the child should not come back,” he said.

Banda also said he did not support efforts by Malawian human rights groups, which have gone to court to try to block what they say is an illegal adoption that could amount to child trafficking.

Malawi’s High Court will convene tomorrow to decide whether the rights groups have a case.

“I’m the father of the child in this case. If they wanted to correct anything they should have called me or the family,” Mr Banda said. “It is not for them to fight for me and for the so-called rights of my child.”

Madonna told Oprah that both she and her husband, British film director Guy Ritchie, had met the boy’s father in court and obtained his consent.

The child is now at Madonna’s London home with her other two children, daughter Lourdes and son Rocco. Final approval for the adoption order is expected in 18 months.

Madonna told Oprah that she promised the father she would bring the boy back for visits.

After receiving an education and a better life, she said, he might some day be able to return to his homeland and help people there.

David has spent most of his life in an orphanage with 500 other children because Mr Banda could not properly look after his child.

Madonna said she was told his mother and three siblings had died of AIDS, and added: “From my perspective, there was no one looking after David’s welfare.”

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US to back Philippines in China spat

The United States said Thursday it was ready to provide hardware to modernize the military of the Philippines, which vowed to “stand up to any aggressive action” amid rising tension at sea with China.

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Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, on a visit to Washington, said the Philippines hoped to lease equipment to upgrade its aged fleet and called for the allies to revamp their relationship in light of the friction with China.

“We are determined and committed to supporting the defense of the Philippines,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a joint news conference when asked about the hardware wish-list from the Philippines.

Clinton said the two nations were working “to determine what are the additional assets that the Philippines needs and how we can best provide those.” She said del Rosario would meet Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other Pentagon officials.

Tensions in the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea have escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam alarmed at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by Beijing in the disputed waters.

“We are concerned that recent incidents in the South China Sea could undermine peace and stability,” Clinton told reporters, urging “all sides to exercise self-restraint.”

WE WILL STAND UP

Del Rosario, with Clinton at his side, said: “While we are a small country, we are prepared to do what is necessary to stand up to any aggressive action in our backyard.”

The Philippines has announced the deployment in disputed waters of its navy flagship, the Rajah Humabon. One of the world’s oldest warships, the Rajah Humabon was a former US Navy frigate that served during World War II.

The Philippines has historically bought second-hand hardware, but del Rosario said that President Benigno Aquino has allocated 11 billion pesos ($252 million) to upgrade the navy.

Shortly ahead of his talks with Clinton, del Rosario said that the Philippines was asking the United States for “an operational lease so that we can look at fairly new equipment and be able to get our hands on that quickly.”

“We need to have the resources to be able to stand and defend ourselves and, I think, to the extent that we can do that, we become a stronger ally for you,” del Rosario said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

DEFENSE TREATY

The United States signed a defense treaty with the Philippines in 1951, five years after the archipelago’s independence from US colonial rule. Del Rosario said he believed the treaty — which calls for mutual defense in the event of an attack in “the Pacific area” — covers the South China Sea.

The United States has been providing military aid to the Philippines primarily to fight Islamic militants in the wake the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The United States gave the Philippines $15 million in military assistance in the 2011 fiscal year, with much larger sums devoted to development, according to official US data.

Del Rosario said that Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf has largely been defeated, estimating that only around 200 guerrillas remained.

“The Philippines’ relative success in counter-insurgency coupled with pressures in the regional environment compel a reorientation of focus and resources,” he said.

“A reset in our relations has therefore become an imperative to allow the alliance to continue to meet domestic goals while contributing to global stability,” he said.

China has said that it will not resort to the use of force in the South China Sea but has also warned the United States to stay out of territorial spats.

“I believe some countries now are playing with fire. And I hope the US won’t be burned by this fire,” China’s vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai said.

Cui will meet Saturday in Hawaii with Kurt Campbell, a US assistant secretary of state, for a first dialogue between the two nations to focus specifically on Asia-Pacific affairs.

The United States plans to hold joint exercises with the Philippines next week and the US Navy will visit Vietnam next month, although US officials have described the events as routine.

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Clijster crashes, Sharapova survives

Kim Clijsters crashed out of Roland Garros on Thursday, her worst Grand Slam result in nine years, while Maria Sharapova escaped humiliation at the hands of a fearless 17-year-old French girl.

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Second seed Clijsters let slip a set and a 5-2 lead, and squandered two match points, to slump to a stunning 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 second round defeat to Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus, the world number 114.

Seventh seed Sharapova came back from a set and 1-4 down to win 11 games in succession to defeat world number 188 Caroline Garcia, playing in only her second tour level tournament, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.

Despite not having played a claycourt match in the run-up to Roland Garros, due to a shoulder problem and then a freak ankle injury suffered while dancing at a cousin’s wedding, Clijsters said she had been ready to compete.

“I’m happy that I gave myself an opportunity. If I had said: ‘It’s better not to come’, that would be the attitude of a real loser,” said the US and Australian Open champion, playing in Paris for the first time since 2006.

“I had practised well. Physically everything was fine. I was definitely ready.”

On a chilly and windswept Philippe Chatrier court, the 27-year-old, the runner-up in 2001 and 2003, committed a total of 65 unforced errors and 10 double faults.

The slender 1.80m Rus, named in honour of Spain’s Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, the triple Roland Garros champion, said: “It was my biggest win. Kim is my hero. I played fantastic tennis.”

Rus is the first Dutchwoman to make the third round of a Grand Slam since Michaella Kracijek at Wimbledon in 2007 and next faces Russia’s Maria Kirilenko for a place in the last 16.

Sharapova, the former world number one and triple Grand Slam title winner, looked set to follow Clijsters out of the tournament.

But the Russian superstar summoned her famed fighting spirit to set-up a clash against Taiwan’s Chan Yung-Jan for a place in the last 16 after a bruising experience.

“It’s never over until it’s over. No matter what situation you are in, you have to keep fighting,” said Sharapova, who had been scheduled to face Clijsters in the last eight.

“I never really felt comfortable. She was serving well, but I felt her pace went down as the match went on, especially on her serve. And maybe at the start I was focussing too much on the conditions rather than on myself.”

It had been a clincial performance by Garcia, whose 57,000-dollar career earnings pale compared to Sharapova’s on-court riches of almost 15 million as she dominated the first half of the tie.

Garcia, the daughter of a Lyon estate agent, didn’t lack confidence having gone into the match against the sport’s biggest drawcard confidently backing herself to be number one in the world in the not too distant future.

She regularly found the corners and lines of the famous old court with surgical precision, leaving Sharapova heavy-footed and struggling to find her usual clinical, power game.

After wrapping up the first set, she was soon 4-1 ahead in the second and sensing a famous triumph.

But Sharapova, who has never reached a Paris final, was not going quietly and pulled level at 4-4.

Then a crucial over-rule in her favour at 30-30 in the next game swung the tie firmly in her favour and she did not look back as she romped to victory against a visibly tiring Garcia.

“From the second set, she was striking the ball much harder, and the stupid mistakes that she made in the first set she no longer made them,” said Garcia.

Also making the last 32 were fourth seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus who eased past France’s Pauline Parmentier 6-0, 6-1 and Chinese sixth seed Li Na who saw off Spanish qualifier Silvia Soler-Espinosa 6-4, 7-5.

Australian runner-up Li will face Sorana Cirstea for a place in the last 16 after the Romanian, a quarter-finalist in 2009, defeated 27th-seeded compatriot Alexandra Dulgheru 6-2, 7-5.

Tournament darkhorse Petra Kvitova, the ninth-seeded Czech, who won the Madrid Masters title earlier this month, beat Zheng Jie 6-4, 6-1.

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Turnout touches hearts of flight 93 families

For the Flight 93 families, the most touching aspect of Saturday’s dedication of a national memorial to their loved ones wasn’t the speechmaking or musical tributes.

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It was the crowd.

Perhaps a thousand ordinary Americans — no one was keeping official count — turned out to join them on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks and to let them know that they, too, are not forgotten.

With no prompting, they broke into applause as they solemnly departed the 2-1/2 hour ceremony along an elongated black asphalt walkway that sweeps past the daisy-dotted spot where the hijacked Boeing 757 went down.

“It’s an emotional day. It’s overwhelming to see everyone here,” said Gordon Hasenei, whose aunt, retiree Patricia Cushing, boarded the ill-fated United Airlines flight in Boston for a holiday in San Francisco.

“This makes me proud to be an American,” added Reverend Kenneth Mills, uncle of United flight attendant CeeCee Ross Lyles and one of few African-Americans present, with unabashed patriotism.

Organisers sealed off a seated section for the Flight 93 families in front of the shaded dias where former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton reaffirmed US determination to defeat global terrorism.

The general public — predominantly from this rural corner of Pennsylvania, a traditional American landscape of small farms, tidy villages and sweeping hills — unfolded leisure chairs in the muddy soil around the perimeter.

Many sported patriotic T-shirts and held American flags. Nobody flinched when a giant screen that was supposed to project the goings-on on stage blew a circuit and went blank, sending a puff of smoke into the air.

Some applauded when Bush took to the stage, but Clinton gave the more impassioned speech, saying that by rising up against the hijackers, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 had denied Al-Qaeda “a symbolic victory.”

It is believed the hijackers intended to plow Flight 93 into the Capitol building in Washington, about 20 minutes’ flying time from Shanksville, just as their cohorts did earlier that day at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Alice Hoagland, who lost her PR executive son Mark Bingham, comes to Shanksville every September 11, but this year she opted not to trek across the rain-soaked field to the spot where Flight 93 slammed into the ground.

Instead, for the first time, she touched a tall, finely polished and newly installed granite tablet bearing Bingham’s name — identical to the 39 others lined up along Flight 93’s final flight path as a key part of the memorial.

“It’s a healing process and I expect to go through it through the rest of my life,” Bingham told AFP afterwards.

Several airline pilots in uniform turned out as well, including Chris Clark of Delta Airlines, a friend of Flight 93’s first officer LeRoy Homer from their days together flying cargo planes in the US air force.

Does Clark worry about another 9/11-style hijacking when he steps in the cockpit? No, he replied. “I feel something like this won’t happen again. They” — meaning Al-Qaeda — “have played their card.”

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Gillard cuts Malaysian asylum seeker deal

The federal government has entered into a new asylum seeker deal with Malaysia to tackle people smuggling and irerregular migration in the Asia Pacific region.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on Saturday that an agreement with Malaysian Prime Minister, Hon. Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak means hundreds of boat peope will be sent to Malaysia.

At a press conference, Ms Gillard assured genuine refugees that they need not fear the new arrangrments.

The PM says it will encourage refugee applicants to adhere to an ‘orderly migration program’ in Australia, with the deal also aimed at stopping the ‘dangerous’ people smuggling systems, and protecting our borders.

Ms Gillard has also confirmed she is investigating PNG as a possible location for a regional processing centre saying discussions are continuing.

According to Malaysia’s National News agency, Prime Ministers Najib and Gillard have agreed that core elements of the new bilateral arrangement will include:

* 800 irregular maritime arrivals, who arrive in Australia after the date of effect of the arrangement, will be transferred to Malaysia for refugee status determination.

* in return, over four years, Australia will resettle 4000 refugees already currently residing in Malaysia.

* transferees will not receive any preferential treatment over asylum seekers already in Malaysia.

* transferees will be provided with the opportunity to have their asylum claims considered and those in need of international protection will not be refouled.

* transferees will be treated with dignity and respect and in accordance with human rights standards.

* Australia will fully fund the arrangement.

The announcement comes as a boat of 85 suspected asylum seekers has been intercepted on its way to Australia.

The HMAS Broome, operating under the control of Border Protection Command, intercepted the vessel northeast of Christmas Island on Saturday afternoon, the office of Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said in a statement.

The group will be transferred to Christmas Island where they will undergo security, identity and health checks and have their reasons for travel established.

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Analysis: Italy ‘can overcome crisis’

Tito Boeri, Professor of Economics at Bocconi University in Milan, believes that Italy can get of its economic crisis by implementing responsible fiscal policy, cutting expenditure and trying to restore growth.

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His comments come after Italy’s cabinet adopted a package of tax hikes and pension reforms worth 24 billion euros ($32 billion) in a rush to ease a crisis that is threatening the Eurozone.

“It is true that Italy is too big to bail out. At the same time, Italy has all the tools to get out of this situation,” Professor Boeri told SBS.

Analysis: What lies ahead for Italy”s economy (mp3)

“I don’t want to even consider the scenario of default. I see the problem of Italy as one of liquidity and not of solvency, and we are taking now taking the right measures.

“I think that most of the work should be done domestically in Italy to fix the problem of the high debt, but there is also actions that have to be taken at the European level.

“The problem of huge debt has to be faced by having more responsible fiscal policy, cutting expenditure and, above all, trying to restore growth,” he said.

Italy has a debt of 2.3 billion euros ($A3.02 billion), 119 per cent of its GDP.

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Yemen’s Saleh back in Sanaa as battles rage

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned to Sanaa after more than three months of medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, even as his forces were battling dissident troops in the capital.

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Saleh’s surprise return was announced by state television. He arrived by plane in Sanaa at 5:00 am, an airport source told AFP.

The 69-year-old Saleh, who has since January faced massive street protests demanding he step down, was hospitalised in Riyadh on June 4, a day after being badly wounded in a bomb attack on his Sanaa compound.

It was not clear if his homecoming presaged a yielding to demands since January that he step down or plans to reassert his authority over an increasingly divided country.

His return came as his forces fought dissidents loyal to General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar in Sanaa for a sixth straight day, with more than 100 people killed in the surge of violence that erupted on Sunday.

Both sides are backed by rival tribesmen, with witnesses saying the fighting on Friday was concentrated in the capital’s northern Al-Hasaba district but was also raging in other neighbourhoods.

On Thursday, Al-Hasaba became the theatre of bloody clashes between gunmen loyal to powerful dissident tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, from the same tribe as General Ahmar, and followers of Saghir bin Aziz, a tribesman allied to Saleh.

After dying down during the night, the fighting resumed at dawn Friday. Witnesses reported shelling and machine-gun fire in Al-Hasaba, and tribal sources said Saleh’s forces were bombarding the district with mortars.

An Ahmar tribal source said four people were killed in Al-Hasaba, while medics reported two people killed when a shell smashed into Change Square, epicentre of anti-Saleh protests in the centre of Sanaa.

The latest deaths bring the toll since the latest surge of fighting erupted in Sanaa on Sunday to 101, according to a tally of figures by medics and tribal sources.

Most of the fighting since Sunday has been in the centre of Sanaa, pitting Republican Guard troops commanded by Saleh’s son Ahmed against General Ahmar’s dissidents.

The general’s forces have been protecting anti-regime protesters who since February have camped out in their thousands at Change Square to press their demand that Saleh, in power for 33 years, step aside.

Friday’s fighting comes ahead of the weekly Muslim main prayers, traditionally followed by rival rallies attended by tens of thousands of Saleh supporters and those opposed to him.

In Taez, southwest of Sanaa, one person was killed and two wounded when a shell struck among anti-regime protesters in Liberty Square, and a hotel caught fire, demonstrators said.

Saleh was released from hospital at the beginning of August but has been recuperating ever since in the Saudi capital.

He appeared for the first time after the bomb attack on television on July 7, covered in bandages and his face clearly showing burn wounds.

On September 12, he authorised his deputy to negotiate a power transfer as part of a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative to end the political stalemate that has gripped his country since January.

The latest bloodletting has stalled the peace deal. GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani, who had been hoping earlier in the week to persuade all sides to sign on to the pact, left Yemen empty-handed on Wednesday.

He is expected in New York on Friday to discuss the crisis with GCC foreign ministers and international diplomats gathered for the annual UN General Assembly, a Yemeni diplomat said.

The soaring violence has raised long-standing fears that Yemen, which faces a Shiite rebellion in the north and a separatist movement and the growing influence of Al-Qaeda in the south, is heading for full-blown civil war.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned Thursday that Yemen was at a “dangerous crossroad.”

She noted that a mission dispatched by her office last week criticised the regime for deploying excessive force including live ammunition, snipers and heavy weaponry to quell protests, which led to a “heavy loss of life.”

“It is disappointing that lessons have not been learnt and violations repeated,” she added.

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Row over al-Bashir warrant

Sudan has ordered Kenya’s ambassador to leave the country after a Kenyan judge issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur, the foreign ministry said.

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“The Sudanese government has ordered the Kenyan ambassador to leave the country within 72 hours,” foreign ministry spokesman Al-Obeid Meruh told AFP.

“They have also ordered the Sudanese ambassador to leave Kenya and return to Khartoum,” he added.

Bashir is wanted in The Hague-based ICC for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Sudan’s Darfur region, where the UN says at least 300,000 people have been killed in the eight-year conflict.

Kenya has ratified the ICC’s founding Rome statute, which theoretically obliges it to execute the court’s warrants, but it failed to arrest the Sudanese leader when he visited the country in August 2010.

After issuing the arrest warrant on Monday, the Kenyan high court judge said Bashir’s arrest should be arranged by the Attorney General and the Minister for Internal Security “should he ever set foot in Kenya”.

BASHIR’S LAST VISIT

Bashir flew to Nairobi last year to attend a ceremony marking the adoption of Kenya’s new constitution.

After leaving the country a free man, the Kenyan chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, an association of legal professionals that promotes human rights, approached the courts to issue a warrant.

“Bashir came in August and we filed (our suit) in October 2010. It was in response to his arrival here,” George Kegoro, ICJ Kenya’s executive director told AFP.

Just hours before announcing the expulsion of the Kenyan ambassador, Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesman had said the arrest warrant was linked to internal political wranglings in Kenya and would not affect bilateral relations.

The African Union has on several occasions called on its members’ states not to arrest the Sudanese president, accusing the ICC of targeting only Africans and arguing that Bashir’s arrest would hurt the peace process between Sudan and South Sudan.

Bashir took part in a regional summit in Malawi in mid-October after attending an investiture ceremony for Djibouti President Ismaël Omar Guelleh in May.

DARFUR CONFLICT

The Darfur conflict first erupted between non-Arab rebels and the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003.

Around 1.9 million people remain displaced in addition to the hundreds of thousands dead, according to UN estimates.

The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000 and blames the continuing lack of security on tribal conflict, minority armed forces and banditry.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has accused Bashir of having personally instructed his forces to annihilate the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups in Darfur.

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Obama tests marshmallow gun

US President Barack Obama tested a new high-powered prototype Tuesday for his commander-in-chief’s arsenal — a high-powered marshmallow gun that sent a tasty missile screaming through the White House.

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Watched over by a brooding portrait of his hero Abraham Lincoln, the US president fired the launcher and marvelled at other inventions on display at a White House youth Science Fair.

Obama gleefully examined a “Skype on wheels” robot that allows elderly people use the Internet to talk to far away relatives and a unique sugar sachet that dissolves in a cup of coffee, to avoid creating garbage. But he could not resist the marshmallow launcher.

“The Secret Service is going to be mad at me about this,” Obama said, before energetically pumping a compressor and shooting the marshmallow gun, invented by 14-year-old Joe Huddy.

Obama watched open-mouthed as the candy shot across the room before crashing into the wall near the entrance to the Red Room, an elegant state parlour which stuffed with rare 19th century French furniture.

All the fun of the science fair had a serious purpose. Obama wanted to highlight the importance he places on innovation, science and education — which will be reflected in his budget to be unveiled next week.

The president says that Republican budget cuts would dry up the kind of government spending that is necessary to inspire a new generation of scientists and visionaries to build a competitive 21st century economy.

“The young people I met today… you guys inspire me. It’s young people like you that make me so confident that America’s best days are still to come,” he said.

“When you work and study and excel at what you doing in math and science, when you compete in something like this, you’re not just trying to win a prize today; you’re getting America in shape to win the future.”

Obama said that the budget he unveils next week will include programs to prepare new math and science teachers and to qualify one million more US graduates in science, technology, engineering and math over 10 years.

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Nigeria fury as fuel prices double

Police fired tear gas at protesters in the Nigerian capital as anger mounted after the government ended fuel subsidies, more than doubling petrol prices in the poverty stricken country.

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The move announced Sunday in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, saw petrol prices rocket to about 140 niara (0.66 euros, $0.96) per litre on Monday from 65 niara, where the price had been artificially held.

Most Nigerians live on less than two dollars a day.

Queues formed Sunday and again on Monday, a public holiday, with drivers hoping to purchase fuel before prices rise further and fearing a strike by tanker drivers will result in a shortage.

In Lagos, the country’s largest city, and in the capital Abuja, an initial rush on petrol stations died out later Monday, but there were fears of what lay ahead Tuesday when Nigerians return from the Christmas holidays.

Police fired tear gas to break up a protest in Abuja, according to video taken by local Channels television and seen by AFP.

The demonstration included former member of parliament Dino Melaye, and the video appeared to show security agents taking him away, with several hundred people present.

Police said they had dispersed people blocking a road, but did not confirm that tear gas was used.

“A group of people whose identities were not known were blocking a public highway, obstructing the movement of vehicles,” said police spokesman Yemi Ajayi. “They were dispersed.”

Melaye had earlier organised the signing of a petition near the capital’s main parade ground, Eagle Square, which armed soldiers and policemen had cordoned off to bar more people from joining the early protest arrivals.

“The essence of this is to mobilise Nigerians to register their displeasure against the satanic increase of the pump price of petroleum products,” Melaye told reporters earlier.

“It is also to kickstart a mass protest that will follow … The battle to fight this is a battle of no retreat, no surrender.”

Protests of several hundred people broke out in Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s north, with a student leader threatening riots if the decision was not reversed, while the country’s main labour unions warned of mass action.

“We intend to work with other groups to completely paralyse the government and make the country ungovernable,” said Denja Yaqub, assistant secretary general of the Nigeria Labour Congress.

Protest threats in Nigeria have often fizzled out in the past, but the fuel subsidy issue is one of the few that unites much of the vast country, with widespread popular opposition to the move.

Economists and government officials view removing the subsidy as essential to allowing for more spending on the country’s woefully inadequate infrastructure and to ease pressure on its foreign reserves.

Nigerians however see the subsidy as their only benefit from the nation’s oil wealth.

The government says more than $8 billion was spent in 2011 on fuel subsidies.

Nigeria refines very little of its crude despite being a major oil producer and OPEC member, a situation blamed on corruption and mismanagement, forcing the country to import fuel even while it exports crude.

Subsidies were supposed to keep pump prices low even though fuel is imported at market prices, but there have been serious questions over how the subsidy cash has been paid out.

There have been accusations that much of the money goes to corrupt elites. Fuel was also sold above the set price in many areas outside of major cities.

The new policy deregulates the sector, though prices will still have to be in line with a benchmark rate to be posted regularly on the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency website. The rate will be in line with market conditions.

President Goodluck Jonathan along with his highly respected central bank chief, Lamido Sanusi, and the finance minister, ex-World Bank managing director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, pushed hard for the subsidy removal.

They have argued that it is key to unlocking development in a country that has been unable to provide even sufficient electricity to its population despite its oil wealth.

Years of deeply rooted corruption have resulted in profound distrust of government officials in Nigeria.

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Rushdie wins name battle with Facebook

British author Salman Rushdie has won a tussle with Facebook over his profile page on the social network.

南宁桑拿

Rushdie’s run-in with Facebook stemmed from his insistence he be allowed to use his middle name – Salman, the one he is universally known by – instead of his first name – Ahmed – on Facebook.

Rushdie recounted the saga in a series of tweets on Monday to the more than 113,000 followers of his Twitter account salmanrushdie.

Facebook requires its more than 800 million members to use their real names on the social networking site and also bars pseudonyms.

Rushdie, who spent a decade in hiding after his book The Satanic Verses sparked threats against his life, said Facebook deactivated his page at the weekend “saying they didn’t believe I was me”.

Rushdie said he sent a photograph of his passport to Facebook.

“They said yes, I was me, but insisted I use the name Ahmed which appears before Salman on my passport and which I have never used,” he said.

“They have reactivated my FB page as ‘Ahmed Rushdie,’ in spite of the world knowing me as Salman. Morons,” he said.

Rushdie even tried reaching out directly to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Twitter.

“Where are you hiding, Mark? Come out here and give me back my name!” he said.

Failing to get a response from Facebook, Rushdie turned to what he called “ridicule by the Twitterverse”.

“Dear Facebook, forcing me to change my FB name from Salman to Ahmed Rushdie is like forcing J Edgar to become John Hoover,” he said.

“Or, if F Scott Fitzgerald was on Facebook, would they force him to be Francis Fitzgerald? What about F Murray Abraham?”

Rushdie’s pleas were eventually answered.

“Victory! Facebook has buckled! I’m Salman Rushdie again. I feel SO much better. An identity crisis at my age is no fun. Thank you Twitter!” he said.

“Just received an apology from The Facebook Team,” he added. “All is sweetness and light.”

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