Jun 17, 2013 / 9:28 pm
BEIJING, China - China has built the world's fastest computer for a second time, beating the U.S.'s Titan machine.
The semiannual TOP500 official listing of the world's fastest supercomputers says the Tianhe-2 developed by the National University of Defence Technology in Changsha city in central China is capable of sustained computing of 33.86 petaflops per second. That's the equivalent of 33,860 trillion calculations per second. The list was released Monday.
The Tianhe-2 knocks the U.S. Department of Energy's Titan machine off the no. 1 spot. It achieved 17.59 petaflops per second.
It's the second time China has been named as having built the world's fastest supercomputer. In 2010, predecessor Tianhe-1A gained that honour.
Supercomputers are used for complex work such as modeling weather systems, simulating nuclear explosions and designing jetliners.
Jun 17, 2013 / 7:31 pm
OAKLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Federal agents revived the hunt for the remains of Jimmy Hoffa on Monday, digging around in a suburban Detroit field where a reputed Mafia captain says the Teamsters labour union boss' body was buried.
Authorities used excavation equipment to root around in the Oakland Township property, about 25 miles (40 kilometres) north of Detroit. The FBI halted the search for the day at about 7 p.m., and planned to resume their efforts on Tuesday.
Robert Foley, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit division, made a few brief comments during a news conference about the latest search for the union leader who went missing in 1975. He said the warrant to search the property was sealed, and that authorities wouldn't be disclosing the details of what they were seeking.
Foley didn't mention the name of Tony Zerilli, the reputed Mafia captain who told Detroit TV station WDIV in February that he knew where Hoffa was buried. Zerilli, who was promoting a book, "Hoffa Found," said the FBI had enough information for a search warrant to dig at the site, and that he had answered every question from agents and prosecutors.
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, who joined Foley at a news conference, said it was his "fondest hope" to bring closure for Hoffa's family and the community.
Hoffa, Teamsters president from 1957-71, was an acquaintance of mobsters and an adversary of federal officials. The day in 1975 when he disappeared from a Detroit-area restaurant, he was supposed to be meeting with a New Jersey Teamsters boss and a Detroit Mafia captain.
Since then, multiple leads to his remains have not panned out.
In September, police took soil from a suburban backyard after a tip Hoffa had been buried there. It was just one of many fruitless searches. Previous tips led police to a horse farm northwest of Detroit in 2006, a Detroit home in 2004 and a backyard pool two hours north of the city in 2003.
Zerilli's lawyer, David Chasnick, said his client was "thrilled" that investigators were acting on the information.
"Hoffa's body is somewhere in that field, no doubt about it," Chasnick said. He said his client wasn't making any public comments.
Chesnick said Zerilli told him there used to be a barn in the field, and that Hoffa's body was buried beneath a concrete slab inside the barn.
Zerilli was convicted of organized crime and was in prison when Hoffa disappeared. But he told New York TV station WNBC in January that he was informed about Hoffa's whereabouts after his release.
Andrew Arena, who was head of the FBI in Detroit until he retired in 2012, said Zerilli "would have been in a position to have been told" where Hoffa was buried.
"I still don't know if this was a guess on his part. I don't know if he was actually brought here by the Detroit (mob) family," Arena said. "It's his position as the reputed underboss. That's the significance."
Jun 17, 2013 / 10:46 am
Riot police in Istanbul fired water cannon and tear gas Monday to disperse pockets of protesters on the sidelines of a demonstration called by labour groups who hope to capitalize on weeks of initially small-scale activism to register broader discontent.
The demonstrations were the latest challenge to the Islamic-rooted, conservative government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has drawn scorn abroad for his tactics against peaceful activists in two weeks of protests and exposed fault lines in Turkey's democracy.
Two major labour groups urged their members to hold the one-day strike and participate in demonstrations in response to a police crackdown against activists who led a wave of protests that have centred on Istanbul's Taksim Square and nearby Gezi Park in recent weeks.
A rally in Ankara took place peacefully, and there were no immediate signs that the police operation in Istanbul had provoked major clashes in the afternoon. Earlier, Turkey's interior minister warned that anyone joining unlawful demonstrations would "bear the legal consequences."
Meanwhile, in a sign of tensions between rival groups, images from Dogan news agency showed crowds of government supporters facing down some protesters. Some chanted "the hands targeting the police should be broken."
The government expressed increasing exasperation over more than two weeks of street demonstrations, including a sit-in in Gezi Park, overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations and, at times, clashes between stone-throwing youths and riot police.
Earlier Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc floated the prospect that authorities could still call in the military.
In a TV interview, Arinc stopped short of saying troops would be called in or a state of emergency declared, according to the state news agency, Anadolu. But he said that if the police operations weren't enough to calm the situation, local governors "can benefit from Turkey's military forces" under the law, he said.
The labour demonstrations follow a weekend in which police purged activists from an 18-day sit-in at the park that has come to symbolize defiance against the government, while Ergodan's conservative political base held huge rallies in both Istanbul and Ankara.
Monday's labour-led demonstrations had a more structured feel compared to the counterculture-style sit-in at Gezi and the spontaneous protests of recent weeks. Middle-aged men banged drums and chanting women sat on the ground, hands clasped, as part of the demonstrations.
Earlier, in Ankara, thousands of demonstrators waving union flags, jumping and whistling converged at central Kizilay Square in an uneasy face-off about 50 metres away from riot police and a line of trucks.
Turkey's NTV television reported that riot police issued warnings to the demonstrators to disperse, saying the rally was unlawful and authorities would take action if they did not. After about three hours, the protesters left peacefully.
TV images showed hundreds marching in the Aegean Sea coastal city of Izmir.
Behind the strikes were the KESK confederation of public sector workers and DISK, a confederation of labour unions from industries including transport, construction, health care and media. Together they say they represent 330,000 workers. Small unions that group professionals such as dentists, doctors and engineers also joined in.
Strikes, however, often have little visible impact on daily life in Turkey, a country of about 75 million, and the call to walk off the job Monday had limited fallout beyond the demonstrations.
Jun 17, 2013 / 7:45 am
A University of British Columbia student is one of thousands of people who have been swept up in a political turf war in Turkey.
Kolina Kretzchmar and a friend found themselves in the middle of a melee Saturday when riot police forced protestors from Istanbul’s Taksim Square under direct orders from Turkey’s Prime Minister.
“We went near Taksim square last night just to check it out because it was supposed to have calmed down, and it was chaos,” she said. “Nobody was really pushing or fighting, but the police were throwing tear gas at us.”
The pair took off, but as clashes between police and protestors spread through the city, Kretzchmar saw that the conflict had stretched across the city to their hostel.
“You can see the chaos and the water cannons and the rubber bullets and you smell tear gas pretty much any street you walk on now,” she said.
The UBC student is just one of many tourists caught up in the nationwide protests, which erupted May 31 after a violent police crackdown against peaceful activists.
They were staging an initial sit-in to protest government plans to rip down Gezi Park's trees and erect a replica Ottoman-era barracks.
The protests quickly spiraled into a widespread denunciation of what many say is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian way of governing -- charges he vehemently denies.
In a nearly two-hour speech Sunday, Erdogan took aim at foreign media coverage -- citing three English-language news outlets by name -- and European Union criticism of his government's handling of protests that have dented his international image, despite Turkey's recent economic success.
“It’s kind of frightening but at the same time, I’ve been out all day and going to the mosques and everything it’s still beautiful Istanbul,” said Kretzchmar, who said despite the conflict, she still feels safe in the city.
“It kind of gets your heart racing, but you know everyone is there to help you. If you’re in trouble the Turkish people are so kind.”
Turkish labour unions have called for a one-day strike that would include doctors, lawyers, engineers and civil servants in support of the protesters.
Meanwhile, Canadian foreign affairs isn’t issuing an advisory for people heading to Turkey, though it has warned travelers to “exercise a high degree of caution due to crime, the threat of terrorist attacks, and ongoing demonstrations throughout the country.”
Jun 17, 2013 / 6:19 am
A man was recovering in a hospital Monday after surviving a plunge from the 15th floor of his New Zealand apartment building.
Police said the 20-year-old man discovered he was locked out of his 14th floor unit in the Volt Apartment building in downtown Auckland at about 2 a.m. Sunday.
He decided to try and scale down the outside of the building from an apartment directly above his. Police said he was trying to land on his balcony when he fell, landing on the roof of an adjacent building far below.
He was listed in critical condition, but had improved Monday to a satisfactory condition.
The New Zealand Herald newspaper identified the man as Tom Stilwell, a Briton in the country on a working holiday. Friend Dave Thomas told the paper Stilwell had suffered neck and back fractures, a broken wrist, and suspected internal injuries.
Volt Apartment resident Geraldine Bautista told the paper that Stilwell knocked on her door on the 15th floor at about 2 a.m. She said he appeared to have been drinking but she wasn't fearful of him.
"He just requested 'Can you please let me jump off from the balcony? I will not bother you, just let me use your balcony,'" Bautista said.
She said she never thought he would follow through.
"In my mind I thought 'OK, I'll just let you see that it's really impossible. I didn't think he'd jump, because it's really scary," Bautista told the paper.
She said after she opened the door, he quickly walked through the apartment and climbed over the railing on the balcony. Bautista said she grabbed at his hand but he fell.
"It happened so fast. It happened within seconds. I couldn't even scream for help. He was like a paper falling from here," she said.
Jun 17, 2013 / 6:14 am
A car bomb targeting a checkpoint near a military airport in an upscale neighbourhood of the Syrian capital killed 10 soldiers, activists said Monday as President Bashar Assad's troops pressed ahead with an offensive to regain territory they lost to rebels trying to topple his regime.
The army has scored major victories in key battlefields in western and central Syria in the past weeks, and is now setting its sights on the country's largest city, Aleppo, in the north, parts of which have been opposition strongholds.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 soldiers died in the Sunday night attack in Damascus' Mazzeh area and 10 were wounded. The neighbourhood houses several embassies and a military airport.
Syrian state media confirmed there was a blast near the military airport late Sunday but did not release any casualty figures.
At least 93,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict since it erupted in March 2011, according to a recent U.N. estimate.
Millions have been displaced and the civil war is increasingly being fought along sectarian lines, pitting Sunni Muslims against Shiites. It is also threatening the stability of Syria's neighbours, including Lebanon and Iraq.
Sunnis dominate the rebel ranks while the Assad regime is mostly made up of Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.
Sectarian divisions deepened in the conflict a few weeks ago, when Lebanon's Iran-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah joined the fight inside Syria on the regime's side.
Earlier this month, Assad's troops dealt a major blow to the opposition forces after they pushed the rebels out of the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanese border, largely with Hezbollah's help.
The fall of Qusair shifted the balance of power on the battlefield in favour of the Damascus regime, which is now looking to keep the momentum and aims to take back control of Aleppo, the country's commercial hub. The rebels captured parts of the city last summer during an offensive in the north along the border with Turkey.
While the rebels had been able to capture territory from the government in the past month, they have been unable to hold on and govern it effectively because of the regime's superior firepower.
Lack of services and aid flow into the rebel-held areas in the north have caused problems for the opposition and resulted in infighting between ethnic Kurdish and Arab groups fighting against Assad's regime in the predominantly Kurdish northern region of Afrin.
President Barack Obama authorized lethal aid to the rebels for the first time last Friday, after Washington said it had conclusive evidence that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons. Syria accused Obama of lying about the evidence, and says he resorted to fabrications to justify his decision to arm the rebels.
Russia, one of Assad's main allies, also criticized Obama decision.
Syria and the increasingly opposed positions of the U.S. and Russia over the civil war are expected to be high on the agenda of G-8 leaders meeting in Northern Ireland on Monday. Obama is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Jun 16, 2013 / 7:54 pm
Riot police cordoned off streets, set up roadblocks and fired tear gas and water cannon to prevent anti-government protesters from converging on Istanbul's central Taksim Square on Sunday, unbowed even as Turkey's prime minister addressed hundreds of thousands of supporters a few kilometres away.
The contrasting scenes pointed to an increasing polarization in Turkish society, one which critics say Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has fueled with the fiery rhetoric he has maintained since they began more than two weeks ago.
A police crackdown Saturday evening that ended an 18-day peaceful sit-in at Taksim Square's Gezi Park sparked daylong unrest on the streets of Istanbul, while police also broke up demonstrations in the capital, Ankara, and the southern city of Adana.
The protests began in Gezi Park more than two weeks ago and spread to dozens of cities across the country. Erdogan has blamed them on a nebulous plot to destabilize his government. Five people, including a policeman, have died and more than 5,000 have been injured, according to a Turkish rights group.
Elected to his third term just two years ago with 50 per cent of the vote and having steered his country to healthy economic growth, the protests are unlikely to prove an immediate threat to Erdogan's government. But they have dented his international image and exposed growing divisions within Turkish society. Never before in his 10-year tenure has Erdogan faced such an open or broad expression of discontent.
Critics have accused him of an increasingly autocratic way of governing and of trying to impose his conservative Muslim views on the lifestyles of the entire population in a country governed by secular laws, charges he vehemently denies.
"They say, 'Mr. prime minister, you are too harsh,' and some (call me) 'dictator'," he said during his speech in his second political rally in as many days. "What kind of a dictator meets with people who occupy Gezi Park as well as the sincere environmentalists?" he questioned, referring to a meeting Thursday night with protest representatives.
Erdogan defended his decision to send police in to end the occupation of the park, where protesters had set up a tent city complete with a library, food distribution centre, infirmary, children's activity area and plant nursery. Water cannon and tear gas forced thousands to flee, and cleanup crews ripped down the tents and food overnight.
"I did my duty as prime minister," he told his supporters. "Otherwise there would be no point in my being in office."
About 10 kilometres (six miles) away in the centre of the city, police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of protesters trying to converge on Taksim Square. In some neighbourhoods, protesters set up barricades across streets while youths threw stones at police.
In others, police broke up demonstrations with dense clouds of stinging tear gas that sent protesters fleeing into side streets. Some took refuge in nearby cafes and restaurants, where waiters clutched napkins to their faces to ward off the gas.
Similar scenes developed in Ankara, where around 50 demonstrators were injured, including a 20-year-old woman who was in critical condition after being hit in the back of her head with a tear gas canister, according to Selcuk Atalay, secretary-general of the Ankara Medical Association.
In the southern city of Adana, police clashed with stone-throwing demonstrators, the state-run Anadolu Agency said. A fight broke also broke out between the demonstrators, with one group trying to prevent the other from throwing stones at police.
Anadolu said a total of 105 people were detained in Ankara, including a Russian and an Iranian.
Jun 16, 2013 / 7:50 pm
President Barack Obama has chosen a high-powered Washington lawyer with extensive experience in all three branches of the government to be the State Department's special envoy for closing down the military-run prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
Clifford Sloan is the pick to reopen the State Department's Office of Guantanamo Closure, shuttered since January and folded into the department's legal adviser's office when the administration, in the face of congressional obstacles, effectively gave up its attempt to close the prison.
A formal announcement of Sloan's appointment was expected Monday, according to officials briefed on the matter. They spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the appointment publicly before the formal announcement.
Sloan has served in senior government positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations and is now a partner in the Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP law firm. For the past several years, he has been an informal adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry, who recommended him for the post, the officials said.
"I appreciate his willingness to take on this challenge," Kerry said in a statement. "Cliff and I share the president's conviction that Guantanamo's continued operation isn't in our security interests."
The move fulfills part of Obama's pledge last month to renew efforts to close the military-run detention centre at Guantanamo. That was a major promise in his 2008 presidential campaign, but it ran aground due to opposition from congressional Republicans.
Jun 16, 2013 / 7:38 pm
Russian President Vladimir Putin is denying insinuations that he stole New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft's Super Bowl ring that's now on display in the Kremlin, but says he's ready to buy him another ring as a gift.
Putin was reacting Sunday through a spokesman to a New York Post story quoting remarks made by Kraft at an awards gala at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel last Thursday.
"I took out the ring and showed it to (Putin). And he put it on and he goes, 'I can kill someone with this ring,'" Kraft said, as quoted by the Post. "I put my hand out and he put it in his pocket, and three KGB guys got around him and walked out."
The diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring worth about $25,000 changed hands while Kraft was visiting St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2005 with an American business delegation that met Putin. At the time, Kraft had said he gave the ring to Putin as a gift.
But the Post story quoted Kraft as saying at Carnegie Hall's Medal of Excellence gala that he had an "emotional tie to the ring" and wanted it back, but the White House intervened and said it would be in the interest of U.S.-Russian relations to claim it was a gift.
Putin arrived in London on Sunday to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was asked about the Post story.
"Back in 2005 I stood behind the president's back and I saw how that ring was presented to him. All that talk about some kind of pressure that was exerted on him (Kraft) should be the subject of a detailed talk with psychoanalysts, I think," Peskov told The Associated Press.
"At the same time, I am aware that this gentleman (Kraft) is feeling such a horrible pain about the 2005 loss," Peskov said. "The president will be ready to send him another ring as a gift, which he (Putin) can buy with his own money."
Stacey James, a spokesperson for the Kraft Group, the holding company for Kraft's business ventures, including the Patriots, said Sunday that the Post article shouldn't be taken too seriously.
"It's a humorous, anecdotal story that Robert retells for laughs," James said in a statement. "He loves that his ring is at the Kremlin, and, as he stated back in 2005, he continues to have great respect for Russia and the leadership of President Putin. In particular, he credits President Putin for modernizing the Russian economy. "
The statement added that "an added benefit from the attention this story gathered eight years ago was the creation of some Patriots fan clubs in Russia."
The Super Bowl ring is on display in the Kremlin library along with other gifts to the Russian leader, according to Peskov.
Kraft can take some consolation because he has two other Super Bowl rings given to him for his team's other NFL championships.
Jun 16, 2013 / 8:50 am
Biker culture came to the Vatican on Sunday as Pope Francis blessed thousands of Harley-Davidsons and their riders celebrating the manufacturer's 110th anniversary with a loud parade and plenty of leather.
Thundering Harley engines nearly drowned out the Latin recitation of the "Our Father" prayer that accompanied Francis as he greeted the crowd before Mass. Standing in his open-top jeep, Francis drove up the main boulevard leading to St. Peter's Square, blessing the thousands of people in what was a giant Harley parking lot.
Once the service got under way, bikers in their trademark leather Harley vests sat in the square alongside nuns and tens of thousands of faithful Catholics taking part in an unrelated, two-day pro-life rally.
Francis addressed them both afterward, giving a blessing to the "numerous participants" of the Harley gathering.
Tens of thousands of Harley owners from around the world descended on Rome for the four-day anniversary of the American manufacturer.
The main events were Sunday's Vatican blessing and a parade Saturday past the Colosseum and other historic landmarks, adding colour, traffic and noise to an already colorful day in downtown Rome, thanks to a gay pride march.
Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported that six bikes were involved in a pileup Saturday on the main ring road around the capital, while a Swiss biking couple were killed in a highway crash on Wednesday.
Earlier in the week, Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based, Harley gave Francis two white classic Harleys for the Vatican police force to use.
There was something a bit incongruous about the Harley crowd, known for its "Freedom" motto, outlaw image and adventuresome spirit, taking part in a solemn papal Mass to commemorate a 1995 encyclical on the inviolability of human life.
"Evangelium Vitae" is a roadmap of the church's teaching against abortion, euthanasia and murder. Harley's advertising for its 2013 bike collection reads "Live life on your own terms. More than 30 ways to defy the status quo."
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, noted that there were probably quite a few Catholic riders in the crowd and that regardless, anyone is welcome to a papal Mass.
"I know great people who have big bikes," Lombardi quipped.
In his comments to the pro-life crowd, Francis offered prayers "for every human life, especially the most fragile, defenceless and threatened." But he stayed away from saying anything more polarizing about abortion or contraception.
He then spent a good half-hour after the Mass caressing, kissing and chatting with a few dozen sick or disabled people in the square, including one on a motorcycle wearing Harley garb.
Jun 16, 2013 / 7:44 am
A moderate earthquake hit southern Mexico early Sunday, shaking buildings in the capital of Mexico City and sending frightened people into the streets.
Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera reported via his Twitter account that there were no early reports of damage.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.8 and struck at 12:19 a.m. local time Sunday about 122 kilometres (76 miles) south of the Mexican capital.
The epicenter was 22 kilometres (14 miles) west of the town of Jolalpan in Puebla state. It had a depth of 54 kilometres (33 miles).
Mancera said electrical service had gone out in parts of the city, and that it was being attended to.
The epicenter was in Guerrero state near the border of Puebla. The governors of both states also reported no early indications of damage.
Jun 16, 2013 / 7:35 am
Officials say 10 apparently co-ordinated car bombs and a shooting across Iraq have killed at least 24 and wounded dozens.
Police say most of Sunday's car bombs hit Shiite-majority areas, killing 20. The blasts hit half a dozen cities and towns in the south and centre of the country: Basra, Kut, Nasiriyah, Hillah, Najaf, Mahmoudiya and Madain.
The shooting happened near the restive northern city of Mosul. Police officials say gunmen attacked police guarding a remote stretch of an oil pipeline, killing four and wounding five.
Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't allowed to release the information.
Jun 15, 2013 / 9:01 pm
This mayoral hopeful in Mexico promises to eat, sleep most of the day and donate his leftover litter to fill potholes.
Morris, a black-and-white kitten with orange eyes, is running for mayor of Xalapa in eastern Mexico with the campaign slogan "Tired of Voting for Rats? Vote for a Cat." And he is attracting tens of thousands of politician-weary, two-legged supporters on social media.
"He sleeps almost all day and does nothing, and that fits the profile of a politician," said 35-year-old office worker Sergio Chamorro, who adopted the 10-month-old feline last year.
Put forth as a candidate by Chamorro and a group of friends after they became disillusioned with the empty promises of politicians, Morris' candidacy has resonated across Mexico, where citizens frustrated with human candidates are nominating their pets and farm animals to run in July 7 elections being held in 14 states.
Also running for mayor are "Chon the Donkey" in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, "Tina the Chicken" in Tepic, the capital of the Pacific coast state of Nayarit, "Maya the Cat" in the city of Puebla and "Tintan the Dog" in Oaxaca City, though their campaigns are not as well organized as that of Morris.
Politicians repeatedly rank at the bottom of polls about citizens' trust in institutions. A survey last year by Mitofsky polling agency ranking Mexicans' trust in 15 institutions put politicians and government officials among the bottom five. Universities and the Catholic Church were the top two, respectively.
Morris' cuteness, the clever campaign and promises to donate money collected from the sales of campaign stickers and T-shirts to an animal shelter has attracted cat lovers, but Chamorro said most of his supporters are citizens tired of corrupt politicians and fraudulent elections.
"Morris has been a catalyst to show the discontent that exists in our society," Chamorro said. "Our message from the beginning has been 'if none of the candidates represent you, vote for the cat' and it seems people are responding to that."
Xalapa, a university city of 450,000 people, is the capital of the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, where residents have in last two years been beleaguered by drug violence, corruption scandals and the killings of at least nine reporters and photojournalists.
During last year's presidential election, a video posted on social networks showed a massive warehouse in Veracruz stuffed with election give-away groceries. Authorities also seized $1.9 million in wads of cash found when police decided to search passengers of a private plane arriving from Veracruz to Toluca, the capital of the home state of now-President Enrique Pena Nieto. Officials later said they had found no wrongdoing and the money was returned.
Giovanna Mazzotti, a 48-year-old university professor from the city of bright colonial buildings and steep streets, said she supports Morris' campaign and plans to go to a party for him being held Friday. The candidate is not expected to attend.
"In this state there is no rule of law, there is no respect for human rights, there are no institutions," Mazzotti said. "It's great that this campaign is showing the fiction in our elections. Every three years politicians laugh at us, it's good to laugh at them a bit, too."
Morris has a website, a Twitter account and a Facebook page with more than 115,000 'likes,' that makes him more popular in social networks than the five human mayoral contenders. Americo Zuniga, the candidate for the ruling party who is leading in election polls, had 33,000 Facebook 'likes' as of Friday.
His website has a collection of memes that picture Morris yawning while describing his "ample legislative experience," an image that mirrors photographs of lawmakers sleeping during congressional sessions.
Morris' campaign managers are asking supporters to write-in 'Morris' or draw a cat's face on the ballot to send a message to authorities, who are not taking the cat's growing popularity lightly.
Members of the Electoral Institute of Veracruz this week called on voters not to waste their vote on a cat.
"We are asking for people to participate by voting for those citizens registered on the ballots," electoral institute president Carolina Viveros told local media this week. "Everything else is part of expressions happening in social media and I respect that, but you have to vote for the registered candidates, please."
Morris also has international supporters.
On Friday, the animal-welfare group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote Morris congratulating him for his campaign.
Stubbs, a cat that has been the honorary mayor for more than 15 years of the sleepy Alaska town of Talkeetna, has shown support for Morris by posting his fellow feline candidate's spot campaign on its Facebook page.
Jun 15, 2013 / 8:58 pm
North Korea's top government body is proposing high-level nuclear and security talks with the United States days after a planned meeting with rival South Korea collapsed.
The National Defence Commission said Sunday that the talks should ease tensions and achieve peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea has issued a series of angry statements since U.N. sanctions were imposed after a December rocket launch and a February nuclear test. There have been threats of nuclear war by the North, followed by South Korean vows of counterstrikes.
Outside analysts say North Korea often expresses interest in talks after raising tension with provocative behaviour in order to win outside concessions.
Washington's top worry is North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang is estimated to have a handful of crude nuclear devices.
Jun 15, 2013 / 7:04 am
Moderate cleric Hasan Rowhani was declared the winner of Iran's presidential vote on Saturday after gaining support among many reform-minded Iranians looking to claw back a bit of ground after years of crackdowns and now resets the country's political order.
The stunning surge behind Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator, was seen by his supports as a rebuke of uncompromising policies that have left Iran increasingly isolated and under biting sanctions from the West over Tehran's nuclear program. It also demonstrated the strength of opposition sentiment even in a system that is largely organized against it.
The ruling clerics barred from the race reform candidates seen as too prominent, allowing a list of hopefuls who were mainly staunch loyalists of the supreme leader and the Islamic establishment. But the opposition settled on the 64-year-old Rowhani as the least objectionable of the bunch, making him a de facto reform candidate with backers inspired by his message of outreach rather than confrontation.
Celebrations broke out across Tehran and other cities. Thousands of Rowhani supporters took to the streets leading to his campaign headquarters in Tehran before the final results were announced despite a statement from Rowhani urging his supporters to avoid street gatherings. There were no immediate reports of unrest or attempts by security forces to rein in the crowds â€” another sign of the sweeping scope of Rowhani's victory with more than three times as many votes as his nearest rival.
But the numbers don't translate directly into power in Iran's Islamic system. The ruling clerics and their protectors, the Revolutionary Guard, maintain control over all key decisions such as nuclear efforts, the military and foreign affairs.
What Rowhani's victory means, however, is that reformists and liberals will likely regain a greater voice and clout to try to shape the views of the theocracy, which cannot easily ignore the decisive outcome of Friday's election to success the combative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was barred from seeking a third consecutive run.
Ahmadinejad congratulated Rowhani, adding "I hope ... opportunity will be provided more than before to serve and work for the establishment of justice and development of the country."
Rowhani won with 50.7 per cent of the more than 36 million votes cast, the Interior Ministry reported, well ahead of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf with about 16.5 per cent. Hard-line nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili â€” who said he was "100 per cent" against detente with Iran's foes â€” came in third with 11.3 per cent followed by conservative Mohsen Rezaei with 10.6 per cent.
Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said the turnout was 72.7 per cent, suggesting that liberals and others abandoned a planned boycott as the election was transformed into a showdown across the Islamic Republic's political divide. Iran has more than 50 million eligible voters.
Rowhani just cleared the majority needed to seal victory and avoid a runoff. The Interior Ministry said Rowhani had 18,613,329 votes, followed by Qalibaf with 6,077,292, Jalili with 4,168,946 votes and Rezaei with 3,884,412. The other two candidates were far behind.
Rowhani, the only cleric in the race, led the influential Supreme National Security Council and was given the highly sensitive nuclear envoy role in 2003, a year after Iran's 20-year-old atomic program was revealed.
"Rowhani is not an outsider and any gains by him do not mean the system is weak or that there are serious cracks," said Rasool Nafisi, an Iranian affairs analyst at Strayer University in Virginia. "The ruling system has made sure that no one on the ballot is going to shake things up."
Yet the last campaign events for Rowhani carried chants that had been bottled up for years.
Some supporters called for the release of political prisoners including opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, both candidates in 2009 disputed election and now under house arrest. "Long live reforms," some cried at Rowhani's last rally. The rally was awash in purple banners and scarves â€” the campaign's signature hue in a nod to the single-colour identity of Mousavi's now-crushed Green Movement.
In the end, it appeared ideology overcame the economy as a deciding factor. Many voters had indicated they could favour Qalibaf because of his reputation as a competent fiscal steward who could help stabilize Iran's sanctions-battered economy.
Western sanctions over Iran's nuclear program have shrunk vital oil sales and are leaving the country isolated from international banking systems. New U.S. measures taking effect July 1 further target Iran's currency, the rial, which has lost half its foreign exchange value in the past year, driving prices of food and consumer goods sharply higher.
"I cordially congratulate your deserving election as the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran and demand the God almighty to bestow you and your future government success in serving the honourable Iranian people," Qalibaf said in a message addressed to Rowhani.
Just a week ago, Rowhani was seen as overshadowed by candidates with far deeper ties to the current power structure: Jalili and Qalibaf.
Then a moderate rival of Rowhani bowed out of the presidential race to consolidate the pro-reform camp. That opened the way for high-profile endorsements including his political mentor, former President Akbar Heshmi Rafsanjani, who won admiration from opposition forces for denouncing the postelection crackdowns in 2009. This, too, may have led to Rafsanjani's being blackballed from the ballot this year by Iran's election overseers, which allowed just eight candidates among more than 680 hopefuls.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did not publicly endorse a successor for Ahmadinejad following their falling out over the president's attempts to challenge Khamenei's near-absolute powers.
Khamenei praised Iranians for the high turnout, calling it an "epic and enthusiastic election" and a "dazzling test."
"After weeks of speaking and hearing, it's time to work. The president-elect, until formally taking office, has a precious opportunity ... to begin without hesitation the work that presidential responsibilities require," he said in his message broadcast on state TV.
Iran's stock exchange and currency markets reacted positively to early election results that showed Rowhani ahead.
The stock exchange index rose 2 per cent while the rial strengthened by 9 per cent against the U.S. dollar.
Jun 15, 2013 / 7:01 am
Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating her birthday with traditional pomp and circumstance, but without her husband by her side.
Prince Philip remains in the hospital, recovering from exploratory abdominal surgery.
The queen invited her cousin, the Duke of Kent, to accompany her in a vintage carriage. Other royals, including Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge, joined in the celebration Saturday.
More than 1,000 soldiers, horses and musicians are taking part in the parade known as "Trooping the Color," an annual ceremony marking the queen's official birthday.
The monarch's actual birthday was on April 21, when she turned 87.
The ceremony originates from traditional battle preparations, when "colours," which refer to military flags, were carried down the rank to be seen by soldiers.
Jun 14, 2013 / 9:16 pm
Hezbollah's leader vowed Friday that his militants would keep fighting in Syria "wherever needed" after the U.S. agreed to arm the rebels in the civil war, setting up a proxy fight between Iran and the West that threatens to engulf more of the Middle East.
President Barack Obama has deepened U.S. involvement in the conflict, authorizing lethal aid to the rebels for the first time after Washington said it had conclusive evidence the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons. Syria accused Obama of lying about the evidence, saying he was resorting to fabrications to justify his decision to arm the rebels.
The opposition forces, which have suffered key battlefield losses in recent weeks and were facing heavy fighting Friday in Syria's largest city of Aleppo, appealed for the weapons to be sent to them as soon as possible to swing the momentum to their side.
The 2-year-old conflict, which the U.N. estimates has killed more than 90,000 people and displaced millions, is increasingly being fought along sectarian lines, pitting Sunni against Shiite Muslims, and is threatening the stability of Syria's neighbours.
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, chief of the Shiite Hezbollah group in Lebanon, appeared unwavering in his support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
He signalled for the first time the Iranian-backed militant group will stay involved in the civil war after helping Assad's army recapture the key town of Qusair in central Homs province from rebels.
"We will be where we should be. We will continue to bear the responsibility we took upon ourselves," Nasrallah said in a speech via satellite to supporters in south Beirut. "There is no need to elaborate. ... We leave the details to the requirements of the battlefield."
Nasrallah appeared angry and defiant, saying the group has made a "calculated" decision to defend the Assad regime.
Jun 14, 2013 / 7:34 pm
A Connecticut woman disfigured by a friend's pet chimpanzee in 2009 was denied permission Friday to sue the state for $150 million on her claim that officials knew the animal was dangerous but didn't do anything about it.
The state claims commissioner released a five-page decision approving the state's motion to dismiss Charla Nash's claim, saying the law at the time allowed private ownership of chimpanzees and didn't require officials to seize legal animals. The state generally is immune to lawsuits, unless allowed by the claims commissioner.
Nash was blinded, lost both hands and underwent a face transplant after being mauled in Stamford in 2009. She reached a $4 million settlement last year with the estate of chimp owner Sandra Herold, who died in 2010.
Messages seeking comment were left Friday with Nash's relatives and her lawyer. They can appeal the decision by Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. to the legislature.
Nash's lawyer, Charles Willinger, has said the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection should be held responsible for not seizing the animal before the attack, because it had been warned that the animal was dangerous.
State Attorney General George Jepsen said the state shouldn't be held liable.
"While we have the utmost sympathy for Charla Nash, we agree with the claims commission that a regulatory statute does not provide a basis to sue the state," Jepsen spokeswoman Jaclyn Falkowski said. "To decide otherwise would mean that the state simply could not afford to pass regulations intended to promote order and safety."
Vance said in his decision: "At the time Ms. Nash was attacked, there was no statute that prohibited the private ownership of the chimpanzee nor was there any statutory language that would have created a duty to Ms. Nash."
He added, "If there was a failure by the DEP to seize the animal ... the duty owed was to the general public and does not create a statutory obligation to ensure the safety of a private individual such as (Nash)."
State lawmakers did approve a ban on chimpanzees and other animals deemed dangerous a few months after Nash was mauled.
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