Tuesday, March 26, 2019


Saudi Arabia Says There’s No Evidence It Aided 9/11 Plot

Saudi Arabia says there's no evidence it aided 9/11 plot

Jan 19 – Saudi Arabia asked a US judge to throw out lawsuits claiming it helped al-Qaeda carry out the September 11 terrorist attacks, arguing the victims haven’t provided any evidence to back their cases.

Michael Kellogg, a lawyer for the Kingdom, said reports from the 9/11 Commission, FBI, CIA and 9/11 Review Commission found no proof Saudi Arabia backed the attacks.

“Conclusions, speculation, hearsay are not enough,” Kellogg told told US District Judge George Daniels at the start of a daylong hearing in Manhattan on Thursday.

Lawyers for the victims, their families and businesses harmed by the attacks claim Saudi Arabia channeled money through its charities to the terrorist group. They presented sworn statements from two former FBI officials and former Florida Senator Bob Graham, an ex-chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, in which they provide their opinions that Saudi officials in the US provided support to two of the September 11 hijackers.

Congress in 2015 passed a law, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, JASTA, which for the first time permitted lawsuits against the Saudis over the attacks. The nation was previously covered by sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine protecting nations against most lawsuits.

The allegations are sufficient to go forward under JASTA and the victims should be permitted to seek additional evidence from Saudi Arabia, their lawyers said. JASTA was passed over a veto by President Barack Obama, who feared subjecting Saudi Arabia to legal claims threatened to strain relations between the two countries.

Daniels didn’t say when he will rule on the Saudi requests to throw out the suits. – NDTV

US Tests Nuclear Power System To Sustain Astronauts On Mars


WASHINGTON, Jan 19 – Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface of Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Department of Energy officials, at a Las Vegas news conference, detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA’s Kilopower project.

Months-long testing began in November at the energy department’s Nevada National Security Site, with an eye towards providing energy for future astronaut and robotic missions in space and on the surface of Mars, the moon or other solar system destinations.

A key hurdle for any long-term colony on the surface of a planet or moon, as opposed to NASA’s six short lunar surface visits from 1969 to 1972, is possessing a power source strong enough to sustain a base but small and light enough to allow for transport through space.

“Mars is a very difficult environment for power systems, with less sunlight than Earth or the moon, very cold nighttime temperatures, very interesting dust storms that can last weeks and months that engulf the entire planet,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

“So Kilopower’s compact size and robustness allows us to deliver multiple units on a single lander to the surface that provides tens of kilowatts of power,” Jurczyk added.

Testing on components of the system, dubbed KRUSTY, has been “greatly successful — the models have predicted very well what has happened, and operations have gone smoothly,” said Dave Poston, chief reactor designer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Officials said a full-power test will be conducted near the middle or end of March, a bit later than originally planned.

NASA’s prototype power system uses a uranium-235 reactor core roughly the size of a paper towel roll.

President Donald Trump in December signed a directive intended to pave the way for a return to the moon, with an eye towards an eventual Mars mission.

Lee Mason, NASA’s principal technologist for power and energy storage, said Mars has been the project’s main focus, noting that a human mission likely would require 40 to 50 kilowatts of power.

The technology could power habitats and life-support systems, enable astronauts to mine resources, recharge rovers and run processing equipment to transform resources such as ice on the planet into oxygen, water and fuel. It could also potentially augment electrically powered spacecraft propulsion systems on missions to the outer planets. – NDTV

9 Dead As Huge Storms Batter Europe


BERLIN, Jan 19 – Nine people including two firefighters were killed Thursday as violent gales battered northern Europe, snapping air and train links.

Germany halted all long-distance rail traffic for at least a day, while numerous domestic flights were scrapped as hurricane-force winds lashed the country.

The storm claimed six lives in Germany, including two firefighters deployed in emergency operations and two truck drivers whose vehicles were blown over by the gales.

Another driver died when he lost control of his vehicle and crashed in to a truck.

A 59-year-old camper was killed instantly when a tree fell on him in North Rhine-Westphalia state, German police said, as wind speeds reached a high of 203 kilometres an hour (126 mph) at the Brocken — the highest peak of northern Germany.

The storm, named Friederike, also ripped the roof off a school in the eastern state of Thueringia while children were still in the building. Authorities said no one was hurt there.

In the Bavarian alps, the strong gales forced the cancellation of a ski world championship qualifier at Oberstdorf.

It is the worst storm to strike Germany since 2007, according to the German weather service.

Passengers stuck at rail stations were given a voucher for a hotel room, German rail service Deutsche Bahn spokesman Achim Strauss said.

“We must have protect our passengers and our staff,” he added, without saying when the rail service would return to normal.

In the Netherlands, which had borne the brunt of the severe winter storms earlier Thursday, two people were crushed by falling trees as bitter winds barrelled off the North Sea to hit the low-lying country with full force.

As the national weather service raised its warning to the highest code red level, a 62-year-old man was killed in the central Dutch town of Olst by a falling branch when he got out of his truck to remove debris blocking the road.

A second Dutchman, also 62, was killed in eastern Enschede when a tree toppled onto his car.

In neighbouring Belgium, a woman driver reportedly died when her car was crushed by a tree as she was travelling through a wood in the Grez-Doiceau area, about 35 kilometres south of Brussels.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, one of the continent’s busiest travel hubs, was forced to briefly cancel all flights as winds gusted up to 140 kilometres an hour in some areas.

Flights later resumed but all passengers were being advised to check their flight status, the airport said in a tweet, adding “up until now, 320 flights have been cancelled”.

The airport also had to close the entrances to two of its three departure halls when some roof tiles were whipped off the terminal building.

Storm Carpool

The traffic chaos also plagued the roads, with the Dutch national traffic office reporting 66 trucks had been toppled over by the high winds causing huge traffic jams on the motorways, the highest recorded number since 1990.

The Dutch NS national train service said meanwhile that only a few trains would be put into service late Thursday, and warned of further disruption on Friday as many overhead lines had been brought down by the high winds.

The hashtag #StormPoolen (or storm carpool) began trending with people searching rides between cities, and some drivers offering spare seats in their cars.

“My lovely boyfriend is trying to get from Leiden Central to Delft. He’s very nice and there’s a bottle of wine in it for whoever can return him unharmed. #StormPoolen,” wrote one Twitter user Molly Quell.

Puk van de Lagemaat promised “mad Dj-ing and Karaoke skills to accompany you in the traficjam (sic)” if anyone could give her a ride from Amsterdam central station to The Hague.

Thalys, the high-speed train operator, suspended services to the Netherlands and Germany.

Avalanche Risk

Germany’s rail service said stranded passengers will receive a hotel voucher or will have the option of spending a night in a train at the station.

Traffic is expected to resume only very gradually, said a German rail spokesman.

Dutch insurers warned that the bill for Thursday’s storm damage could top 10 million euros ($12.25 million).

Four people were injured in Antwerp, including one woman who was seriously hurt after being hit in the head by flying metal debris, the Belgian news agency Belga said.

Elsewhere in Europe, Tyrol state in western Austria said part of the Westbahn train line linking Vienna, Linz and Salzburg was closed on Thursday morning because of avalanche risk, national railways company OeBB said. – NDTV

Rohingya Refugees In Bangladesh Protest Repatriation Move

Rohingya refugees at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's bazar | AP

DHAKA, BANGLADESH, Jan 19 – Hundreds of Rohingya refugees staged protests in Bangladesh Friday against plans to send them back to Myanmar, where a military crackdown last year sparked a mass exodus.

The refugees chanted slogans and held banners demanding citizenship and guarantees of security before they return to their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar.

The protest came ahead of a visit by UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee to the camps in southeastern Bangladesh where around a million of the Muslim minority are now living.

Bangladesh has reached an agreement with Myanmar to send back the around 750,000 refugees who have arrived since October 2016 over the next two years, a process set to begin as early as next week.

But many Rohingya living in the crowded, unsanitary camps have said they do not want to return to Rakhine after fleeing atrocities including murder, rape and arson attacks on their homes.

Rights groups and the UN say any repatriations must be voluntary.

They have also expressed concerns about conditions in Myanmar, where many Rohingya settlements have been burned to the ground by soldiers and Buddhist mobs.

The government has said it is building temporary camps to accommodate the returnees, a prospect feared by Rohingya, said Mohibullah, a refugee and former teacher.

“We want safe zones in Arakan (Rakhine) before repatriation,” he told by phone from Cox’s Bazar, where the camps are located.

“We want a UN peacekeeping force in Arakan. We want fundamental rights and citizenship. We do not want repatriation without life guarantees,” Mohibullah said.

Police said they were unaware of the protests.

A Bangladesh official said around 6,500 Rohingya currently living in no man’s land between the two countries would be among the first to be repatriated.

The repatriation deal does not cover the estimated 200,000 Rohingya refugees who were living in Bangladesh prior to October 2016, driven out by previous rounds of communal violence and military operations. – NDTV

Hong Kong-Bound Flight Saw North Korean ICBM, Rex Tillerson Says


Jan 17 – A North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile launch in November was witnessed by passengers on a San Francisco-to-Hong Kong commercial flight, highlighting the “recklessness” of Kim Jong Un’s regime, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

“According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the flight was 280 nautical miles from point of impact, and at the time there were nine other flights within that range,” Tillerson said Tuesday in Vancouver, where he’s pressing officials from allied nations to tighten sanctions on Pyongyang. “Over the course of that day, according to the Department of Defense, an estimated 716 flights were due to pass within that same range.”

Tillerson didn’t say which airline the passengers were on when they saw “parts of a North Korean ICBM test flying through the sky” on Nov. 28, or whether the plane changed its route as a result.

The launch flew for 53 minutes on a lofted trajectory and may have reached an altitude of more than 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) before landing in waters about 155 miles (250 kilometers) from Japan’s northwest coast, Japanese officials said at the time. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that it flew higher than any previous North Korean launch.

“My point is this: North Korea’s willingness to launch missiles at any time presents a threat to people of all nationalities in the region’s airspace each day,” Tillerson said Tuesday, adding that the threat to commercial aviation is not the “likeliest” threat posed by the regime’s weapons program.

Nevertheless, “based on its past recklessness, we cannot expect North Korea to have any regard for what might get in the way of one of its missiles, or parts of a missile breaking apart.”

Crew on flights operated by Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and Korean Air Lines Co. said at the time that they saw what appeared to be the test missile on re-entry as they flew toward Asia from the U.S. west coast.

The crew of Cathay’s Flight 893 from San Francisco reported the sighting and advised Japanese air traffic control, the carrier said in an emailed statement at the time. Korean Air crew on flights that departed from Los Angeles and San Francisco saw a “flash” in the air, according to a company spokesman.

Both companies said they weren’t planning on changing routes based on the sighting. – NDTV

Pope Francis Meets Survivors Of Child Sexual Abuse In Chile, “Cries With Them”

“Return to your first and only love”: Pope Francis

SANTIAGO, Jan 17 – Pope Francis on Tuesday met with a small group of victims of child sexual abuse by priests in Chile, the Vatican said, adding that he “listened, prayed and cried with them”.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the meeting took place in the Vatican embassy in Santiago and was strictly private.

“No-one else was present. Only the pope and the victims,” the spokesman said. “This was so they could speak of their suffering to Pope Francis, who listened to them, and prayed and cried with them.”

On Tuesday morning, Francis expressed “pain and shame” over a sexual abuse scandal that has rocked Chile’s Roman Catholic Church, asking for forgiveness for the “irreparable damage” done to children molested by priests. – NDTV

$1 Billion Embassy, Which Donald Trump Mocked, Opens In London


LONDON, Jan 17 – The gleaming new U.S. embassy in London opened on Tuesday with little fanfare and no official ribbon cutting. President Donald Trump sparked a furor here last week when he tweeted that he wasn’t coming to open the $1 billion building – the most expensive embassy every built – because it was a bad real estate deal and in an “off location.”

Many of those who live nearby took offense to Trump’s description of the location, but others said that the former New York real estate mogul makes a point.

The shiny embassy is located in Nine Elms, a massive redevelopment area on the south banks of the river Thames. The embassy is significantly larger than the old embassy, and is slightly closer to Westminster.

In interviews on Tuesday outside the embassy and in the surrounding area, it quickly became clear that one person’s “off-location” is another person’s “up-and-coming.”

On Tuesday morning, the first day the embassy officially opened to the public, a small queue formed outside the entrance for consular services. A few yards away, dozens of construction workers in yellow vests and hard hats were hammering, drilling and banging.

“I can see why someone would say it’s [an] off location,” Sheron Cloyd, a 41-year-old project manager from New York said over the sound of a chain saw. “It’s not in the city center, it’s south of the river.”

But Cloyd, who also lives south of the river – one of London’s physical dividing lines – said that the area near the embassy has become trendy over the last few years.

“When I first moved here, someone said Vauxhall used to be horrible. Not any more. It’s very expensive and trendy, kind of like Brooklyn – and as someone from Brooklyn, I would know,” he said. Like others standing in the line, he got off at the Vauxhall subway station and within a few minutes, noticed a giant U.S. flag flapping in the wind. It’s about a 10-minute walk to the embassy.

The old embassy was located in Mayfair, one of London’s most exclusive neighborhoods, and in a square steeped in American history.

But if Mayfair is the place of today and yesterday, Nine Elms is arguably the place of tomorrow.

“This is a lovely, large store. All that’s missing is the people,” said a sales clerk in a nearby grocery store.

Daniel Thomas, a journalist for the Financial Times, agreed that Trump had a point about the location. “Say what you like about Donald Trump’s politics but the US president knows his real estate,” he wrote.

“The new embassy is the centrepiece of the vast Euro 15bn Nine Elms development that is at risk of being overbuilt and under thought. Some agents are already warning that the 20,000 homes will become a wasteland of empty buy-to-let flats owned by Asian investors.”

But others, like Yakine Abdullah, 22, a business management student from Iraq who was waiting outside the new embassy, said that the area was not just up and coming, it was alive and flourishing today.

“Four years ago, I lived in Vauxhall, and it was more dodgy,” but in three years, there has been a lot of construction, and the area has changed for the better, she claimed. “I now live very close to here, and it’s my favorite area to live in,” Abdullah said.

The embassy is located in the London borough of Wandsworth, where the council leader disputed Trump’s description of the area.

“As opposed to being ‘off location’ I would say Nine Elms is very much London’s most exciting destination with a huge amount to offer,” Ravi Govindia said in a statement posted on the council’s website last week. He noted that the area is slated to have two new subway stations and that Penguin Random House and Apple UK have announced plans to move in.

The Dutch embassy is also considering moving to the area.

In addition to the U.S. embassy, the Euro 15 billion Nine Elms development includes the Battersea Power Station, a former coal station that lay empty for decades. The iconic building, with its towering white smoke stacks, famously featured on the cover of Pink Floyd’s album “Animals.”

Henry Pryor, a London property expert, said that the rumored figures for the sale of the old U.S. embassy – estimates range from Euro 300 million to Euro 500 million – seemed like a “fair deal.” “I don’t think it was knocked out cheap. It looked exactly like it should’ve looked,” he said.

But while the price tag for the Mayfair building didn’t give him pause for concern, he said that the location of the new embassy did.

When he heard that the U.S. embassy was moving to Nine Elms, he said it was like hearing about “prospectors heading West,” adding that other than “fantastic views,” the area at the time was “desperately unfashionable” with “little to commend about it.”

But he added he looked forward to the new U.S. embassy “blazing a trail” in the area.

Peter Mackie, senior partner at Property Vision, said that given the United States wanted more space and security features – new embassies have to have a 100-foot perimeter – Nine Elms was “as good as anywhere.”

“Looking forward, how that site will perform, that’s anyone’s guess,” he said, adding that Battersea Power Station is “extraordinarily iconic location,” but that the area becomes “more tenuous” as you walk away from the building.

For some Americans in London scrambling to sort out passport or visa issues, the very fact that the new embassy isn’t in a highly built-up location was welcome.

“It’s beautiful down here, with the wharf, it’s easy to get to, a 10-minute walk from the station,” said Julian Tejeda, a 22-year-old who lost his passport but was hoping to get a new one pronto to meet up with friends in Germany. He went to the old U.S. embassy on Monday, which he said was “harder to get to” because of all the tiny streets in central London.

Pointing in the direction of the new embassy, which has a small moat, he said: “This location is much more open.” – NDTV

Hundreds Of Flights Cancelled As Second Winter Storm Hits United States

Birmingham aiport

NEW YORK, Jan 17 – A second winter storm in as many weeks is causing hundreds of flight cancellations across the United States, airlines reported on Tuesday, potentially dealing a further blow to carriers’ first quarter outlooks.

As the storm sweeps across southeast Texas and up the East Coast dumping snow, sleet and freezing rain, airlines have already cancelled flights into Wednesday in anticipation of difficult conditions.

American Airlines, the world’s largest airline by passenger traffic, had cancelled some 270 flights between Tuesday and Wednesday as a result of the storm, it said.

Rival Delta Air Lines, the No. 2 U.S. carrier by passenger traffic, said it had cancelled about 275 Tuesday flights and expected additional cancellations in New York and Boston as the storm tracked north.

The third-largest U.S. carrier, United Airlines, said it had cancelled more than 700 flights on Tuesday. United was offering to waive fees for changes to flights to and from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other affected airports for scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday flights.

The storm itself is relatively minor compared to other winter weather events, and several hundred flights represent only a tiny percentage of airlines’ overall operations. But such storms are still a nuisance to carriers and can cost them millions of dollars in lost revenue.

A massive winter storm at the onset of the year caused thousands of cancellations, as several inches of snow and ice paralysed the U.S. Northeast and forced the closure of some of the region’s biggest airports. – NDTV

Chinese Startup Unveils ‘Car Of Future’ For $45,000


LAS VEGAS, UNITED STATES, Jan 08 – A Chinese startup unveiled its vision for the automobile of the future Sunday, promising to deliver an “intuitive and intelligent” car to global markets starting next year from around $45,000.

The electric-powered concept car shown by Byton at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is touted as a computing device on wheels, equipped with a “digital” lounge featuring a panoramic display acting as a hub for navigation, entertainment and even monitoring the health of its occupants.

Backed by more than $200 million from investors including Chinese tech giant Tencent, Byton — whose name was chosen to suggest “bytes on wheels” — is among the latest entrants to a crowded field of startups and established players looking to emulate Tesla in the race for a new kind of vehicle which can be adapted for autonomous driving.

“This is a product which is tailor-made for the future, which is autonomous and shared,” said Daniel Kirchert, president and co-founder of the Nanjing-based startup.

Byton, led by former executives from Tesla, BMW, Apple and Google, said it expects to launch in China by 2019 and in the United States and Europe by 2020.

“This will be the most advanced vehicle in the market as of 2019,” said chairman and chief executive Carsten Breitfeld, a former BMW executive, at a presentation in one of the first media events at the huge electronics show.

The Byton car will use facial recognition to unlock and adapt to the driver and offer a range of other ways to interact including voice control with Amazon Alexa, touch and gesture.

It will include 5G connectivity to the internet cloud and improve its functions with artificial intelligence.

“It will improve your experience the more it knows you,” said Kirchert.

While other concept electric cars have been promoted at prices of $100,000 or more, the new Byton will face competition from the Tesla Model 3 and offerings from major automakers.

Byton said the car will have a range of more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) before needing a recharge and will be able to “top up” its battery in 15 to 30 minutes.

It will be offered with “level 3” autonomy which enables some functions without a driver and be capable of “level 4” for near-autonomous function from 2020, according to the company. – NDTV

160 Attempts Daily To Access Online Porn In UK Parliament: Data

160 attempts daily to access online porn in UK parliament: data

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM, Jan 08 – Around 160 requests a day were made in late 2017 to access pornography websites from computers within the Houses of Parliament, Britain’s Press Association (PA) reported Monday.

A total of 24,473 attempts were made since last June’s general election from devices connected to the parliamentary network, according to data obtained by a PA Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Prime Minister Theresa May is already reeling from a wave of sexual misconduct allegations in Westminster.

She was forced to dump minister and long-time friend Damian Green last month after he apparently misled police over claims pornography was found on computers in his Westminster office in 2008.

The parliamentary internet network is used by MPs, Lords in the upper house and their staff.

Authorities claim most attempts are not deliberate and point to a decrease in recent years.

Parliament blocked 113,208 attempts in 2016, down from 213,020 the previous year.

“All pornographic websites are blocked by parliament’s computer network,” a parliamentary spokesman told PA.

“The vast majority of ‘attempts’ to access them are not deliberate.

“This data also covers personal devices used when logged on to parliament’s guest Wi-Fi.” – NDTV

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