Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Repost From AP (The Philippine Star)

Blast at Japan nuke plant; thousands missing
( Updated March 13, 2011 02:26 AM Comments (0) View comments

IWAKI (AP) – An explosion shattered a building housing a nuclear reactor yesterday, amid fears of a meltdown, while across wide swaths of northeastern Japan officials searched for thousands of people missing more than a day after a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The confirmed death toll from Friday's twin disasters was 686, but the government's chief spokesman said it could exceed 1,000. Devastation stretched hundreds of miles (kilometers) along the coast, where thousands of hungry survivors huddled in darkened emergency centers cut off from rescuers, electricity and aid.

The scale of destruction was not yet known, but there were grim signs that the death toll could soar. One report said four whole trains had disappeared Friday and still not been located. Others said 9,500 people in one coastal town were unaccounted for and that at least 200 bodies had washed ashore elsewhere.

Atsushi Ito, an official in Miyagi prefecture, among the worst hit states, could not confirm those figures, noting that with so little access to the area, thousands of people in scores of town could not be contacted or accounted for.

"Our estimates based on reported cases alone suggest that more than 1,000 people have lost their lives in the disaster," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. "Unfortunately, the actual damage could far exceed that number considering the difficulty assessing the full extent of damage."

Among the most worrying developments was concerns that a nuclear reacter could melt down. Edano said Saturdya's explosion was caused by vented hydrogen gas and destroyed the exterior walls of the building where the reactor is, but not the actual metal housing enveloping the reactor.

Edano said the radiation around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant had not risen after the blast, but had in fact decreased.

Three people being evacuated from an area near the plant have been exposed to radiation, Yoshinori Baba, a Fukushima prefectural disaster official, confirmed. But he said they showed no signs of illness.

Virtually any increase in ambient radiation can raise long-term cancer rates, and authorities were planning to distribute iodine, which helps protect against thyroid cancer.

Authorities have also evacuated people from a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius around the reactor.

The explosion was caused by hydrogen interacting with oxygen outside the reactor. The hydrogen was formed when the superheated fuel rods came in contact with water being poured over it to prevent a meltdown.

"They are working furiously to find a solution to cool the core, and this afternoon in Europe we heard that they have begun to inject sea water into the core," said Mark Hibbs, a senior associate at the Nuclear Policy Program for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "That is an indication of how serious the problem is and how the Japanese had to resort to unusual and improvised solutions to cool the reactor core."

Officials have said that radiation levels were elevated before the blast: At one point, the plant was releasing each hour the amount of radiation a person normally absorbs from the environment each year.

The explosion was preceded by puff of white smoke that gathered intensity until it became a huge cloud enveloping the entire facility, located in Fukushima, 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Iwaki. After the explosion, the walls of the building crumbled, leaving only a skeletal metal frame.

Tokyo Power Electric Co., the utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, said four workers suffered fractures and bruises and were being treated at a hospital.

The trouble began at the plant's Unit 1 after the massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami it spawned knocked out power there, depriving it of its cooling system.

Power was knocked out by the quake in large areas of Japan, which has requested increased energy supplies from Russia, Russia's RIA Novosti agency reported.

The concerns about a radiation leak at the nuclear power plant overshadowed the massive tragedy laid out along a 1,300-mile (2,100-kilometer) stretch of the coastline where scores of villages, towns and cities were battered by the tsunami, packing 23-feet (7-meter) high waves.

It swept inland about six miles (10 kilometers) in some areas, swallowing boats, homes, cars, trees and everything else.

"The tsunami was unbelievably fast," said Koichi Takairin, a 34-year-old truck driver who was inside his sturdy four-ton rig when the wave hit the port town of Sendai.

"Smaller cars were being swept around me," he said. "All I could do was sit in my truck."

His rig ruined, he joined the steady flow of survivors who walked along the road away from the sea and back into the city on yesterday.

Smashed cars and small airplanes were jumbled up against buildings near the local airport, several miles (kilometers) from the shore. Felled trees and wooden debris lay everywhere as rescue workers coasted on boats through murky waters around flooded structures, nosing their way through a sea of debris.

Late yesterday night, firefighters had yet to contain a large blaze at the Cosmo Oil refinery in the city of Ichihara.

According to official figures, 642 people are missing and missing 1,426 injured.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said 50,000 troops joined rescue and recovery efforts, aided by boats and helicopters. Dozens of countries also offered help.

President Barack Obama pledged US assistance following what he called a potentially "catastrophic" disaster. He said one US aircraft carrier was already in Japan and a second was on its way.

More than 215,000 people were living in 1,350 temporary shelters in five prefectures, the national police agency said.

Aid has barely begun to trickle into many areas.

"All we have to eat are biscuits and rice balls," said Noboru Uehara, 24, a delivery truck driver who was wrapped in a blanket against the cold at center in Iwake. "I'm worried that we will run out of food."

Since the quake, more than 1 million households have not had water, mostly concentrated in northeast. Some 4 million buildings were without power.

About 24 percent of electricity in Japan is produced by 55 nuclear power units in 17 plants and some were in trouble after the quake.

Japan declared states of emergency at two power plants after their units lost cooling ability.

Although the government spokesman played down fears of radiation leak, the Japanese nuclear agency spokesman Shinji Kinjo acknowledged there were still fears of a meltdown.

A "meltdown" is not a technical term. Rather, it is an informal way of referring to a very serious collapse of a power plant's systems and its ability to manage temperatures.

Yaroslov Shtrombakh, a Russian nuclear expert, said a Chernobyl-style meltdown was unlikely.

"It's not a fast reaction like at Chernobyl," he said. "I think that everything will be contained within the grounds, and there will be no big catastrophe."

In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded and caught fire, sending a cloud of radiation over much of Europe. That reactor — unlike the Fukushima one — was not housed in a sealed container, so there was no way to contain the radiation once the reactor exploded.

The reactor in trouble has already leaked some radiation: Before the explosion, operators had detected eight times the normal radiation levels outside the facility and 1,000 times normal inside Unit 1's control room.

An evacuation area around the plant was expanded to a radius of 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the six miles (10 kilometers) before. People in the expanded area were advised to leave quickly; 51,000 residents were previously evacuated.

"Everyone wants to get out of the town. But the roads are terrible," said Reiko Takagi, a middle-aged woman, standing outside a taxi company. "It is too dangerous to go anywhere. But we are afraid that winds may change and bring radiation toward us."

The transport ministry said all highways from Tokyo leading to quake-hit areas were closed, except for emergency vehicles. Mobile communications were spotty and calls to the devastated areas were going unanswered.

Local TV stations broadcast footage of people lining up for water and food such as rice balls. In Fukushima, city officials were handing out bottled drinks, snacks and blankets. But there were large areas that were surrounded by water and were unreachable.

One hospital in Miyagi prefecture was seen surrounded by water. The staff had painted an SOS on its rooftop and were waving white flags.

Technologically advanced Japan is well prepared for quakes and its buildings can withstand strong jolts, even a temblor like Friday's, which was the strongest the country has experienced since official records started in the late 1800s. What was beyond human control was the killer tsunami that followed.

Japan's worst previous quake was a magnitude 8.3 temblor in Kanto that killed 143,000 people in 1923, according to the USGS. A magnitude 7.2 quake in Kobe killed 6,400 people in 1995.

Japan lies on the "Ring of Fire" — an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching around the Pacific where about 90 percent of the world's quakes occur, including the one that triggered the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 12 countries. A magnitude-8.8 quake that shook central Chile in February 2010 also generated a tsunami and killed 524 people.

Reposted From AP (Philippine Star)

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Repost From AP (The Philippine Star)

Tsunami: Wall of water follows 8.9 quake in Japan
By AP (The Philippine Star) Updated March 12, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (6) View comments
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A rampaging wall of water several meters high slams a coastal community following a powerful earthquake in Natori, Miyagi prefecture in Japan yesterday. Right photo shows giant fireballs rising from a burning oil refinery in Ichihara, Chiba prefecture. AP
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TOKYO – A powerful tsunami spawned by the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history slammed the eastern coast yesterday, sweeping away boats, cars, homes and people as widespread fires burned out of control. Tsunami warnings blanketed the entire Pacific, as far away as South America, Canada, Alaska and the entire US West Coast.

Authorities said at least 60 people were killed. The magnitude 8.9 offshore quake was followed by at least 19 aftershocks, most of them of more than magnitude 6.0. Dozens of cities and villages along a 2,100-kilometer stretch of coastline were shaken by violent tremors that reached as far away as Tokyo, hundreds of kilometers from the epicenter.

A utility company in northeastern Japan reported a fire in a turbine building of a nuclear power plant.

“The earthquake has caused major damage in broad areas in northern Japan,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan said at a news conference.

Even for a country used to earthquakes, this one was of horrific proportions. It unleashed a seven-meter tsunami that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland.

Large fishing boats and other sea vessels rode high waves into the cities, slamming against overpasses. Upturned and partially submerged vehicles were seen bobbing in the water.

Waves of muddy waters swept over farmland near the city of Sendai, carrying buildings, some on fire, inland as cars attempted to drive away. Sendai airport, north of Tokyo, was inundated with cars, trucks, buses and thick mud deposited over its runways. Fires spread through a section of the city, public broadcaster NHK reported.

The tsunami roared over embankments, washing anything in its path inland before reversing directions and carrying the cars, homes and other debris out to sea. Flames shot from some of the houses, probably because of burst gas pipes.

“Our initial assessment indicates that there has already been enormous damage,” chief government spokesman Yukio Edano said. “We will make maximum relief effort based on that assessment.”

He said the Defense Ministry was sending troops to the quake-hit region. A utility aircraft and several helicopters were on the way.

A large fire erupted at the Cosmo oil refinery in Ichihara city in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo and was burning out of control with 100-foot (30 meter) -high flames whipping into the sky.

In northeastern Japan’s Miyagi prefecture, a fire broke out in a turbine building of a nuclear power plant. Smoke was observed coming out of the building, which is separate from the plant’s reactor, and the cause is under investigation, said Tohoku Electric Power Co. the company said.

There have been no reports of radioactive leaks or injuries, the company said. Several nuclear plants elsewhere along the coast were also partially shut down, with no reports of leakage.

Also from Miyagi prefecture, NHK showed footage of a large ship being swept away and ramming directly into a breakwater in Kesennuma city.

The US Geological Survey said the 2:46 p.m. quake was a magnitude 8.9, the biggest earthquake to hit Japan since officials began keeping records in the late 1800s.

A tsunami warning was extended to a number of Pacific, Southeast Asian and Latin American nations, including Japan, Russia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Chile. In the Philippines, authorities said they expect a 3-foot (1-meter) high tsunami.

The quake struck at a depth of six miles (10 kilometers), about 80 miles (125 kilometers) off the eastern coast, the agency said. The area is 240 miles (380 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo.

In downtown Tokyo, large buildings shook violently and workers poured into the street for safety. TV footage showed a large building on fire and bellowing smoke in the Odaiba district of Tokyo. The tremor bent the upper tip of the iconic Tokyo Tower, a 333-meter (1,093-foot) steel structure inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

In central Tokyo, trains were stopped and passengers walked along the tracks to platforms. NHK said more than 4 million buildings were without power in Tokyo and its suburbs.

Large numbers of people waited at Tokyo’s Shinjuku station, the world’s busiest train station, for service to resume so they could go home. TV announcers urged workers not to leave their offices to prevent injuries in case of more strong aftershocks.

Osamu Akiya, 46, was working in Tokyo at his office in a trading company when the quake hit.

It sent bookshelves and computers crashing to the floor, and cracks appeared in the walls.

“I’ve been through many earthquakes, but I’ve never felt anything like this,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to get home tonight.”

Footage on NHK from their Sendai office showed employees stumbling around and books and papers crashing from desks. It also showed a glass shelter at a bus stop in Tokyo completely smashed by the quake and a weeping woman nearby being comforted by another woman.

Several quakes had hit the same region in recent days, including a 7.3 magnitude one on Wednesday.

Hiroshi Sato, a disaster management official in northern Iwate prefecture, said officials were having trouble getting an overall picture of the carnage.

“We don’t even know the extent of damage. Roads were badly damaged and cut off as tsunami washed away debris, cars and many other things,” he said.

Tokyo’s main airport was closed. A large section of the ceiling at the 1-year-old airport at Ibaraki, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo, fell to the floor with a powerful crash.

Dozens of fires were reported in northern prefectures of Fukushima, Sendai, Iwate and Ibaraki. Collapsed homes and landslides were also reported in Miyagi.

Japan’s worst previous quake was in 1923 in Kanto, an 8.3-magnitude temblor that killed 143,000 people, according to USGS. A 7.2-magnitude quake in Kobe city in 1996 killed 6,400 people.

Japan lies on the “Ring of Fire” — an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching around the Pacific where about 90 percent of the world’s quakes occur, including the one that triggered the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 12 nations. A magnitude-8.8 temblor that shook central Chile last February also generated a tsunami and killed 524 people.

Reposted From AP (The Philippine Star)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Repost From Elena Torrijos

Philippine President takes stairs up 20 flights

By Elena Torrijos – March 10th, 2011

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III toured a water reclamation plant in Singapore (AFP Photo).

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III had to take 20 flights of stairs up a water treatment plant in the first day of his state visit to Singapore after the building’s only lift broke down.

Executives of Singapore’s national water agency PUB were touring the 51-year-old head of state and his delegation around the Changi Water Reclamation Plant yesterday.

As the group prepared to head back up after looking at some used water pumps 60 metres underground, the only lift broke down — the first time since the plant opened more than two years ago.

The group waited for technicians to get the lift working again, but after 20 minutes, Mr Aquino removed his jacket, loosened his tie and started climbing the stairs, The Straits Times reported.

Accompanied by Singapore Minister Lim Swee Say of the Prime Minister’s Office, Aquino remained in good spirits, taking short breaks along the way.

Members of the delegation kept the mood buoyant. One Philippine Cabinet secretary quipped: “We’re okay, Mr President, we’ll follow you anywhere you go.”

Upon reaching the top after a 10-minute climb, Mr Aquino received a towel, some water and apologies from Mr Lim and PUB executives.

“No problem at all,” the Filipino President replied.

Mr Aquino is scheduled to have lunch with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong today and attend a state dinner hosted by President S R Nathan.

The visiting leader will also have an orchid named after him tomorrow, and will be speaking at an event organised by the Singapore Business Federation and the Singapore Management University.

Reposted From Elena Torrijos

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Repost From Rey Joble of GMA News.TV

Orcullo, other world champs head field in Philippine Open Pool

Newly-crowned World 8-Ball champion Dennis Orcullo of the Philippines and a number of reigning and former world titlists will lead the starry cast of the Philippine Open Pool Championship slated April 7 to 11 at the SM Megamall.
Dennis Orcullo of the Philippines will try to ride on the momentum of his successful stint in the World 8-Ball Championship and carry it in the Philippine Open. GMA News

Orcullo captured his first-ever world crown two weeks ago in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. He is already assured of a spot in the 64-player field's main draw for men.

But the Philippine Open won’t only have world champions and former No.1 male players. The event has also attracted the world’s best lady cue artists.

This world-ranking event of the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA), has gotten an overflow of entries from the WPA ranking system and the continental organizations, such as the Billiards Congress of America (BCA), the European Pocket Billiards Federation (EPBF), and the Asian Pocket Billiards Union (APBU).

The featured game is 10-ball WPA rules. The Philippine Open is a double-elimination tournament, which culminates in a cross-over semifinals and finals.

A total of US$170,000 will be up for grabs in the men’s division, with the champion taking home $30,000. A total prize fund of $70,000 will be disputed by the lady players, with the winner pocketing the top purse of $20,000.

Under the system created by the WPA for world-ranking events, players earn their places in the tournament through their rankings in the world-ranking system, and by being selected by their continental federations.

A number of tournament spots can also be secured through the qualifying tournament that will be staged a week before the main tournament. Over 50 players have registered for the qualifiers, which will dispute the 10 spots for men and four spots for women going into the main draw.
Darren Appleton of Great Britain remains as one of the favorites in any international events, including the Philippine Open Pool Championship. GMA News

Aside from Orcullo, other former world champions who confirmed their participation in this tournament are double world titlist Ralf Souquet of Germany, former World Ten Ball champion Darren Appleton of Great Britain, former World 9-Ball champ Thorsten Hohmann of Germany, and defending Philippine Open champion Ricky Yang of Indonesia.

They will face a full field of players from around the world — most of whom are national champions.

They include: Ruslan Chinakhov and Konstantin Stepanov of Russia, Robbi Fioldvari of Australia, Jason Klatt of Canada, Vincent Facquet of France, Jonni Fulcher of Scotland, Marcus Chamat of Sweden, Ko Ping Chun and Chang Jung Lin of Chinese Taipei, Naoyuki Oi and Lo Li Wen of Japan, Nguyen Phuc Long of Vietnam, Bashar Hussain and Mohd Al Bin Ali of Qatar, Rafath Habib and Sundeep Gulati of India, Chen Keng Kwang and Desmond Goh Teck of Singapore, Kenny Kwok and Bobby Lee of Hong Kong Ahmad Taufiq and Md Alias Bin Rashid of Brunei.

Representatives from the United States had still to be submitted by the BCA as of press time.

In the women’s division, Jasmin Ouschan of Austria, the recently crowned World 10-Ball champion, will seek to replicate her triumph in the world championship in Manila, which she won in November last year. She will be joined by current world No. 1 Ga Young Kim of Korea, No. 2 Allison Fisher of Great Britain, and No.5 Kelly Fisher of Great Britain.
Jasmin Ouschan has always been an instant attraction for the Pinoy crowd. GMA News

Representing North America are Julie Kelly and Monica Webb of the United States, and Naomi Williams and Veronique Menard of Canada.

Also competing for Europe are: Helena Benjamin of Sweden, Mirika Poikkiokki of Finland, Karen Corr of Ireland, Line Kjorsvik of Norway, and Ine Jenstchura of Germany.

Asia will likewise be amply represented in the women’s division of the Open.

Besides Ms. Kim of Korea, Asia will be bannered by Choiu Chi-Yu of Chinese Taipei, Fu Xiao-Fang and Chen Siming of China, Angeline Ticoalu of Indonesia, Suniti Damani of India, Yu Ram Cha of Korea, and teenage sensation Gillian Go of the Philippines. - KY, GMA News

Reposted From Rey Joble of GMA News.TV

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Repost From Michelle Nichols of Reuters

Bill Gates's philanthropy costs him richest-man title

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK - Bill Gates didn't lose his title as the world's richest man last year; he gave it away by plowing billions into his charitable foundation, experts say.

Forbes will release its 2011 billionaires list on Wednesday and Gates, investor Warren Buffett and last year's richest man, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, will almost certainly be in the top three. The trio have topped the list for the past five years.

But it would be no contest if Microsoft co-founder Gates had not already given away more than a third of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on global health and development and U.S. education.

"It wouldn't be a competition," said David Lincoln, director of global valuations at wealth research firm Wealth-X. " would have a comfortable margin if he had never discovered philanthropy."

Lincoln said Gates was currently worth about $49 billion, behind Slim, whose fortune he estimated at $60 billion. Buffett, also a philanthropist, is now worth some $47 billion.

But had Gates not given away any money, he would be worth $88 billion, Lincoln said.

Gates and his wife Melinda have so far given $28 billion to their foundation, the largest in the United States.

Forbes' 2010 billionaires list put Gates' fortune at $53 billion, but he was knocked into second spot by Slim's $53.5 billion, losing the crown for only the second time since 1995.

Slim has said businessmen do more good by creating jobs and wealth through investment, "not by being Santa Claus," and while he has still pledged several billion dollars to charity, his efforts have been a fraction of Gates's philanthropy.

Buffett, who Forbes ranked as the third richest man in the world last year with $47 billion, has also pledged almost all of his fortune to the Gates Foundation and has given $8 billion to the organization since 2006.

But Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc has fared better than Gates's Microsoft. Microsoft shares now trade about where they were a decade ago, while Berkshire shares have roughly doubled. Since the end of 2009, Microsoft shares have fallen 16 percent, while Berkshire shares are up 29 percent. Slim's major companies, which include Mexico's former state telecoms monopoly Telmex, have also seen gains in their stock prices.


Gates and Buffett have joined forces to encourage other billionaires to publicly pledge to give away at least 50 percent of their wealth during their lifetimes or upon their death as part of a campaign called The Giving Pledge.

Glen Macdonald, president of the Wealth and Giving Forum, said Gates's philanthropy had influenced the way other rich people in the United States approach their own philanthropy.

"Encouraging people and leading by example -- there's no question that's going to have influence on people's giving patterns," said Macdonald. "They are going to give sooner and they are going to give in greater amounts."

But Macdonald, whose group has advised 600 wealthy U.S. families on their philanthropy, disagrees with the public nature of The Giving Pledge, which requires billionaires to release a letter explaining their intentions.

So far 59 billionaires have joined The Giving Pledge, publishing their letter at The campaign does not accept any money nor tell people how to give away their wealth, it just asks for a moral commitment.

Paul Schervish, director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, said Gates' influence had been "dramatic" and likened philanthropy to a gem, saying Gates was "changing the facets by learning and teaching others."

"He would be the first to admit that he is not the origin of the movement, of all the ideas in the movement, for which he is a leader," Schervish said.

"One of the things we're dramatically finding is people beginning foundations and endowing them at higher levels while they are still alive," he said.

Reposted From Michelle Nichols of Reuters

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Repost From SPOT

Former Pinay nanny of Prince William and Harry invited to royal wedding

Prince William and Harry's former Filipino nanny, Araceli "Lillie" Piccio, has received an invitation to the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29 (UK time), reports The Philippine Star.

Piccio and her plus one are invited to the much-awaited ceremony at the Westminster Abbey in the UK, according to The Philippine Star columnist Ricky Lo, who cited Piccio's sister and Bacolod paper columnist Nimfa "Buddai" Piccio.

Piccio, called "Miss Lillie" by the late Lady Diana, served in the royal household for eight years until a few months after Lady Diana died in 1997, reports The Philippine Star. According to her sister, a 15-year-old Prince William told Piccio when she left, "When I get married, I will take you back."

A nurse from Bacolod, Piccio is now working for a different employer in London. According to The Philippine Star, she was the first Filipina employed by the royal family. She used to spend Mondays to Saturdays at the Royal Apartment in London.

Reposted From SPOT

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Repost From AFP

Clashes as Libya rebels deny counter-offensive report

Rebels remained in control of the town of Ras Lanuf in the east of Libya on Sunday two days after driving forces loyal to Moamer Kadahfi from the area. Duration: 00:39

RAS LANUF, Libya (AFP) - – Air strikes targeted rebel positions on Sunday and outgunned insurgents were forced to retreat but Libyan TV reports that Moamer Kadhafi's forces had retaken a swathe of key towns were swiftly denied.

The rebels said they had withdrawn from the coastal hamlet of Bin Jawad, occupied on Saturday in an advance westward on Kadhafi's home town Sirte, after clashes which doctors said left two dead and around 50 wounded.

It was the first time since the uprising against the Libyan leader began on February 15 that the rebels have admitted conceding ground to his forces.

Focus: Echo of Balkans in US policy debate on Libya

Ali Errishi, Kadhafi's former immigration minister who joined the rebellion, voiced growing rebel frustration at a lack of international assistance for the ragtag and ill-equipped force.

He told CNN that the United States had missed an opportunity to oust the Libyan strongman by "dragging its feet" over aiding the rebels in the early days of the uprising, now approaching its fourth week.

"They were dragging their feet, I don't know why. We asked, we don't want a no-fly zone actually, we just want air cover."

Scene: Frustrated Libyan rebels angry at Bin Jawad defeat

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, one of those pressing for a "no-fly" zone, said any international military intervention in Libya would have "absolutely negative" effects, during a visit to neighbour Egypt.

"Given the possibility that the fighting could become bloodier, we must prepare ourselves to react, and that's the reason why we have to plan for a flight interdiction zone over Libya," Juppe said.

His comments were aired as Britain was forced to admit a secret weekend attempt to begin negotiations with the rebels had ended ignominiously after the opposition forces arrested a group of soldiers and at least one diplomat helicoptered into Libya.

"I can confirm that a small British diplomatic team has been in Benghazi," Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

"The team went to Libya to initiate contacts with the opposition. They experienced difficulties, which have now been satisfactorily resolved. They have now left Libya."

Britain's Sunday Times said the eight-man group comprised SAS (Special Air Service) soldiers and a diplomat.

"We refused to discuss anything with them due to the way they entered the country," national council spokesman Abdul Hafiz Ghoqa told reporters in the rebel stronghold Benghazi.

He said the men came into Libya by helicopter, landing in Suluk, a small town southwest of Benghazi where they were detained.

They were reportedly on their way home late on Sunday aboard a British ship sent to Benghazi to evacuate refugees.

Earlier, thousands celebrated in Tripoli as state television channel Allibiya reported that government forces had taken control of Libya's third city of Misrata, the key oil centre of Ras Lanuf and even Tobruk near the Egyptian border.

Scene: Tripoli celebrates regime 'victories'

AFP reporters in Ras Lanuf, taken by rebels early on Saturday, confirmed it was still in opposition hands despite being hit by air strikes early on Sunday.

But Misrata residents said government tanks had begun shelling the town and warned of "carnage" if the international community did not intervene.

A rebel spokesman confirmed that Misrata was under intense fire from pro-Kadhafi forces and reported "casualties," but insisted the city was still in rebel hands.

"Kadhafi forces are shelling Misrata randomly. They are using mortars and rockets," said the spokesman.

"They are firing on protesters gathered at Midan Tahrir (Liberation Square)" in the city centre and tanks are also shelling houses as well."

A rebel officer, Colonel Bashir al-Moghrabi, told reporters in Ras Lanuf rebels were also still in control in Zawiyah, west of Tripoli, where fierce battles took place on Saturday.

A local doctor said Saturday there had been a "massacre" in Zawiyah and a Sky News journalist said Kadhafi's forces had fired on civilians.

A member of the rebel-appointed council in Tobruk, Fateh Faraj, contacted Sunday by AFP, also said claims that that town had fallen were "not true."

Wounded streaming back from Bin Jawad to Ras Lanuf said Kadhafi loyalists lured them into a trap, hiding in homes, mingling with civilians and hunkering down on rooftops.

As the inexperienced rebels armed only with Kalashnikov assault rifles drove on, oblivious to the hidden threat, the ambushers unleashed a massive salvo of fire.

A French journalist was shot in the leg, becoming the conflict's first media casualty, but he was not believed to be seriously hurt.

The rebels had vowed to march on Sirte from Bin Jawad, which was the furthest point AFP saw them deployed along the Mediterranean coast on Saturday.

Two attacks by lone warplanes targeted a checkpoint on the eastern edge of Ras Lanuf and a rebel camp in a former military barracks in the centre Sunday.

Rebels responded with anti-aircraft fire and there were no immediate reports of casualties, but a huge explosion was heard later in the town.

The rebels scored a diplomatic victory when France on Sunday hailed the creation of their "National Council," saying it supported its objectives.

The rebels formed the council on Saturday at a meeting in Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in the east of the North African country.

"The council declares it is the sole representative all over Libya," said former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who will chair the 30-member body.

Focus: Repentant Europe preps policy U-turn amid Arab uprisings

Meanwhile, Kadhafi's government asked the Arab League to reverse a February 22 decision suspending it from the organisation's meetings, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim said.

Kadhafi told the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche he wanted the United Nations or African Union to probe the unrest and promised: "We will let this panel work unhampered."

An estimated 100,000 mainly foreign migrants have entered Tunisia from Libya since February 20, Tunisian officials said. Many have been repatriated in an international effort, but thousands remain in temporary camps facing growing problems of hygiene.

The European Union sent experts to Libya on Sunday on a fact-finding mission "to assess humanitarian and evacuation efforts on the ground in Libya and to make an appraisal of what may be needed in terms of additional support."

Reposted From AFP


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