Gurkha awarded medal of bravery after repelling Taliban attack

By Michael Mckeand

The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross is only one level below the Victoria Cross

A Gurkha soldier has been awarded the second highest medal for bravery after fighting off over a dozen Taliban soldiers single-handed. Acting Sergeant Dipprasad Pun was on sentry duty at a checkpoint near Babaji in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in September last year when insurgents opened fire on the compound from all sides.

Sergent Pun, 31 from Ashford in Kent, found himself trapped by an onslaught of firepower from rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. In retaliation, he fired off more than 400 rounds of ammunition, launched 17 grenades and detonated a mine. At one point, when his rifle failed, he resorted to throwing the tripod of his machine gun at an insurgent who tried to climb a ladder to where he took cover.

Acting Sergeant Pun said he was “a lucky guy” and was very proud to receive the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.

Recalling the incident, he said: “As soon as it was confirmed they were Taliban, I was really scared, But as soon as I opened fire that was gone. I just thought ‘Before they kill me I have to kill some.’ I thought they were going to kill me after a couple of minutes, definitely.”

Acting Sergeant Pun, originally from the village of Bima in Nepal, whose father and grandfather were both also Gurkhas, believed at the time there were about 30 attackers. He was told later by villagers it was more like 12 or 15.

The citation on the medal states that he saved the lives of three comrades who were in the checkpoint at the time.  “I think I am a very lucky guy, a survivor,” he said. “Now I am getting this award, it is very great and I am very happy.”

Yemen forces open fire at protest. 30 Dead.

By Michael Mckeand

An injured man as protests turn ugly in Yemen. Photo: Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

Yemeni forces have opened fire on protesters in Sanaa killing at least 30 people and wounding 200. Medical sources and eyewitnesses have described how security forces and unidentified snipers opened fire on the protesters who marched after Muslim prayers.

Security forces initially fired into the air to prevent the anti-government protesters from marching from Samaa University, where the protesters headquarters are found. After this initial gunfire, shooting continued and the death toll mounted.

Tens of thousands of protesters had gathered to oppose the rule of  President Ali Abdullah Saleh calling for him to immediately step down from power.

“The situation is tragic. There are dozens killed and hundreds wounded. We couldn’t send relief,” said Abdul-Qawi al-Shumeiri, secretary-general of the doctor’s syndicate.

Protesters accused plainclothes snipers of firing from rooftops and have said that they have detained 7 of them. “The youth stormed one of the buildings and arrested seven snipers who were firing on the demonstrators,” said activist Mohamed al-Sharaby.

Yemen has been hit by mass demonstrations for weeks as growing pressure mounts on President Saleh to relinquish power now. He has already agreed to step down in 2013, promising a new constitution to grant more powers to parliament. Tens of thousands of protesters though have gathered in other cities across the country, not only Sanaa, calling for his immediate exit.

The United States have condemned the bloodshed, and backed the right for peaceful protest, but insist that  only dialogue can end the political crisis.

Second mugging in the Grange

by Michael Mckeand

The Grange, Edinburgh where two incidents of mugging have occured over the past week.

 

Mansionhouse Road in the heart of the Grange, one of Edinburgh’s more middle class areas, was the scene of another mugging this week. It follows a similar incident in which a man of a similar description attacked a pensioner on Findhorn Place a few streets away.

Check out the full story on our Edinburgh Napier News TV News Bulletin at 3pm.

 

“No Survivors” as second blast hits New Zealand Miners

By Michael Mckeand

27 of the 29 miners tragically killed in an explosion in the Pike River coal mine in New Zealand. Photo: Reuters

A second explosion tore through a New Zealand mine today leaving no survivors, according to New Zealand police. Families of the 29 miners, including two Scottish men, who had been trapped in the Pike River coal mine since Friday, were informed of the disaster in a private meeting.

An initial explosion in the mine,  located near Greymouth, on the north-west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, had occurred on Friday, leaving the miners trapped 2.3 km underground. Robots and cameras were sent into the mine today but had to be halted as a second massive explosion ripped through the mine. It has been confirmed by police that this second explosion has killed all those trapped in the mine. 

“Unfortunately I have to inform the public of New Zealand at 2.37pm today there was another massive explosion underground and based on that explosion no one would have survived,” said police superintendent Gary Knowles, in charge of the rescue operation at the Pike River mine.

Relatives emerged from the meeting crying. Many were angry and criticised the slow pace of the rescue efforts. Lawrie Drew, father of 21-year-old Zen Drew, said rescue teams should have entered the mine in the hours following the first blast, when the dangerous methane and carbon monoxide gases would have been sucked out of the mine. “There was a window of opportunity on Friday, why didn’t they take it?” he said.

Rescuers though have stressed that high levels of toxic and explosive gasses meant that rescue teams couldn’t themselves enter the mine making the rescue an extremely difficult operation.

New Zealand’s Prime minister has described the incident as a “national tragedy”. “New Zealand has been devastated by the news that we have all been dreading,” he told a televised press conference.  

Among the dead are two Scots, 25-year-old Malcolm Campbell, and Peter Rodger, 40. In a statement, the foreign secretary, William Hague, said, “many British citizens have made their home in New Zealand and the loss of Mr Rodger, Mr Campbell and their colleagues will have touched the hearts of many in the UK.” The Queen has also made a statement, saying she is “deeply saddened” by the news.

Peter Whittal, the chief executive of Pike River Coal, who runs the mine, said they would make every effort to retrieve the bodies of the men, whose ages range from 17 to 62. In an emotional statement to reporters he said “We want our boys back and we want to get them out.” 

New Zealand’s last mine disaster was in 1967 when 19 miners were killed in a gas explosion at Strongman mine, not far from Pike River. Their worst disaster was in 1896 at Brunner mine when another gas explosion killed 65 men.

Singapore Airlines follow Quantas in grounding of A380s

By Michael Mckeand

Following from last week's incident involving a Quantas Airbus A380, Singapore Airlines have announced the grounding of three of their models. Photograph: Tim Wimborne/Reuters

Singapore Airlines have grounded three of their Airbus A380s. The three planes, currently in Sydney, Melbourne and London, have all been taken from service in order to undergo engine changes after the discovery of oil stains.

The decision comes in the wake of an engine malfunction on a Qantas Airbus A380 which saw an explosion in one of the planes engines last week. As a result the aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing at Changi Airport in Singapore.

The Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines will be changed for a newer version of the engines. Singapore Airlines say that they will remain with the Rolls Royce engines, but with a minor variation. In a statement they said, “We apologise to our customers for flight disruptions that may result and we seek their understanding”.

It is understood that similar reasons were behind the malfunction on the engine of the Qantas A380 which exploded over Batam City, showering the Indonesian city with debris. Investigations show that an oil leak in one of the turbines was the reason behind the incident.

Singapore Airlines have stressed that the incidents are unrelated. A spokeswoman for the airline said that the oil stains found on their three A380s differ to the oil leak found on the Qantas plane. “This is a precautionary move to find out what caused the oil stains” she said, adding “Rolls Royce recommended a detailed inspection of the engines.”   

The airline later said that the remaining eight of its A380s will remain in service but could not rule out further engine changes. Bryony Duncan-Smith, spokeswoman for the airline told Australian radio: “At this stage there is no indication that more engines on our A380 aircraft will need to have precautionary engine changes carried out, but I would certainly not rule it out.”

Experts say that the current Qantas investigation has pointed to a design fault within the engine which may be easy to fix but will take time. “From information provided to date, it would appear to be a design issue and not a power setting issue. Lower power settings are not the solution,” said Peter Marosszeky, an aviation expert at the University of New South Wales.

Rolls Royce share prices rallied yesterday after a 10% fall two days after the Qantas incident which wiped £1.2 billion off the company’s value. After this most recent announcement from Singapore Airlines though, share prices are expected to tumble again.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is released with high expectations

Sales figures are expected to reach an all time high for the latest Call of Duty release

By Michael Mckeand

Computer games fans have been queuing in wintry conditions to get their hands on the latest Call of Duty release. Call of Duty: Black Ops went on sale at midnight last night and hundreds of stores across the country saw queues stretching out of the doors as fans waited for their copy.

Retailer HMV, opened over 100 of their stores across the UK and Ireland at midnight including branches in London’s Oxford Street, Manchester, Birmingham, Dublin and Edinburgh in order to cater for the demand. Store managers say that some queues formed over 12 hours earlier.

HMV’s head of games, Tim Ellis, said “Call of Duty: Black Ops is all set to challenge last year’s phenomenon Modern Warfare 2 to become the fastest and biggest-selling title in games history.”

Already, it is expected to sell over a million copies in its first week of release. With the approach of Christmas as well, expectations for this latest release from Activision are at an all time high. Ellis added “with more people now owning a console than ever before, we expect it to go on to become not just the most popular game ever, but an iconic release that will take gaming on to a new level.”

The 18 rated commando style game, where players take the role of special agents forces in places like Russia and Vietnam during the Cold War, has a lot to live up to though. Its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2, generated more than £620 million and smashed the record for most copies sold in its first day with an estimated 1.23 million units sold, grossing £47 million according to industry body UKIE. With pre-order sales for Black Ops higher than those of Modern Warfare 2 though, it would seem that the latest addition to the Call of Duty series is well on its way to becoming the best-selling video game of all time.

As a series, the Call of Duty franchise has generated approximately £5 billion, the highest of any other video game series. Black Ops is just the latest high-profile release from Activision. In September the video game giants also released Halo: Reach, the most recent instalment of the best-selling Halo series.

Sales figures for Blacks Ops will be released over the next week.

Torture saved British lives says Bush

By Michael Mckeand

George W. Bush's memoirs have brought a new light on interrogation methods adopted by the former president

George Bush has claimed that information obtained from terrorists through the interrogation method of ‘water-boarding‘ saved British lives. In his memoirs he claims that the controversial technique, which simulates drowning, helped to break up plots on Canary Wharf and Heathrow airport.

Bush confirmed his actions in an interview last night with The Times newspaper. He explained how he authorised the use of water-boarding to extract information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks. When asked if he had by the interviewer, he responded: “Damn right!”.

Bush said: “Three people were waterboarded and I believe that decision saved lives.”

In his book, ‘Decision Points’, the former president explains how the interrogation method helped break up plots in London as well as on US diplomatic facilities abroad and also on multiple targets across the U.S. He also defends his actions by claiming that water-boarding is not torture but is in fact one of a number of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. Nonetheless, the method was banned by President Obama who does regard it as torture.

Bush refuses to accept this definition. In an interview with NBC’s Today Programme, he said: “The lawyer said it was legal. He said it did not fall within the anti-torture act. I’m not a lawyer. But you gotta trust the judgment of people around you, and I do.”

When asked about allegations that lawyers were pressurised into giving the president the answer he wanted to hear, Bush directed people to read the book. An identical answer was given when Matt Lauer from NBC asked if it would be legal for another country to water-board a U.S soldier.

The technique was first approved for Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaida figure arrested in Pakistan in 2002. He was suspected of involvement in a plot to attack Los Angeles International airport.

Bush writes “His understanding of Islam was that he had to resist interrogation only up to a certain point. Waterboarding was the technique that allowed him to reach that threshold, fulfil his religious duty, and then co-operate.”

Bush also admitted that water-boarding would have been used on others if the right people were captured. “Had we captured more al-Qaida operatives with significant intelligence value” he says, “I would have used the programme for them as well.”

The claim that Water-boarding prevented attacks on London though has been challenged by Kim Howells, the former chair of the Commons intelligence and security committee. Talking to BBC Radio 4′s Today Programme, he said “we’re not convinced that waterboarding produced information which was instrumental in preventing these plots coming to fruition and murdering people”. Instead, Howells believes that Bush was simply trying to “justify what he did to the world”.

In the same programme, former shadow home secretary David Davis shared similar beliefs. He said that torture does not work. “People under torture tell you what you want to hear,” he said. “You’ll get the wrong information and … apart from being immoral, apart from destroying our standing in the world, and apart from undermining the way of life we’re trying to defend, it actually doesn’t deliver.”

The British Government have long rejected the use of water-boarding, considering it a form of torture.

In a speech last month, chief of MI6 John Sawers insisted that MI6 had nothing to do whatsoever with torture which he described as “illegal and abhorrent”.

Quantas ground all Airbuses after engine explosion

By Michael Mckeand

The remains of one of Flight QF32s engines after a mid-air explosion meant it had to make an emergency landing in Changi Airport, Singapore

Quantas last night grounded their fleet of six A380 Airbuses after an explosion ripped apart an engine on flight QF32.

The aircraft was six minutes into its flight from Singapore to Sydney and was at 6000 feet. It was flying over the Indonesian island of Batam when parts of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine ripped through the wing of the plane.

Ulf Waschbusch, one of the passengers on the flight, told journalists there was a boom and “a little bit of fire”.

“Something ruptured the left-wing; it was a small rupture,” the Singapore-based technology executive said. “Everyone was surprisingly calm on the plane. We were not going crazy at all.”

He continued by saying, “The crew helped tremendously. I felt in good hands. Qantas did a great job in keeping us safe.”

The aircraft landed safely at 11.46am back in Singapore but damage in the wiring meant engineers were initially unable to get near the damaged engine. Five hours later, the passengers were escorted to coaches ready to take them to Singapore hotels.

Debris also hit Batam City in various locations including the roof of an elementary school, but watching students all escaped injury. Principal Sarifah Masnawati said, “We heard an explosion and students and teachers ran outside where we saw the plane circling. “

“We got all the children back into the school because there were pieces of metal falling in the grounds, the biggest one or two kilos.”

“Thank God there were no victims.”

Concerns that the incident was caused by volcanic ash from the Mount Merapi eruptions,  have been downplayed by Indonesian aviation authorities.

Quantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said the airline were working with Airbus and Rolls-Royce in investigating the reason behind the incident and to ensure there were no problems with the other A380s in the Quantas fleet.

Mr Joyce denies any problems with the maintenance of the aircraft. “This is an aircraft that is relatively new, this aircraft is only two years of age, these engines are new engines,” he said. “So this is not a maintenance issue, this is actually an issue with the manufacture of the aircraft or the engines.” He was also full of praise for the flight and cabin crew stating that they did “a fantastic job” handling the incident. He also added that Quantas still retained the lowest rate of engine failures in the industry.

Peter Marosszeky, a senior visiting fellow of the University of NSW‘s department of aviation, said photographs of the plane suggested a massive internal failure of the engine, possibly a gas generator, turbine or bearing. He Said, “this type of incident has been seen previously, but it was a long time ago and with much older planes than the A380.

As a result, Quantas have grounded all their A380s, three in Los Angeles, one in Sydney and one in Frankfurt. Singapore Airlines though have stated that they will continue to fly their eleven A380s, despite Mr Joyce’s warnings that the explosion was an issue for all operators of the aircraft.

Investigations into the incident are ongoing.

SRU announces post-split fixtures

By Michael Mckeand

The SRU announced the premier leagues fixtures after the first round split last night.

Will Melrose rise up over Hawks as the post split fixtures sees home advantage go to the Glasgow side.

Initially introduced in order to create a more intense and a higher standard of play amongst the top two flights of Premier league rugby in Scotland, the remainder of the season will see Premier one and Premier two split into three leagues, depending on their current positioning. League A sees the top eight of Premier one, who will retain all points gained so far, continue as a smaller league to fight it out for the championship. League B will be composed of the bottom four of Premier one and the top four of Premier two. They will have their points reset and compete in a league where the top four will play in next seasons Premier one. Finally League C will be made up of the bottom eight of Premier two who will also retain their points gained so far and will be playing solely to avoid relegation to Premier three.

Colin Thomson, Scottish Rugby’s head of community rugby, Speaking to the SRU said:

“Scottish Rugby and Scotland’s Premier clubs shared the need to improve the standard and intensity of Scotland’s club game”.

“The widespread opinion of players, coaches and officials is that the first half of the season has been a resounding success. Each of the first 11 matches are crucial to a team’s placement in the split which challenged the players week in week out and saw both Premier 1 and 2 go right to the wire as clubs vied for position”.

This opinion certainly seems to be the case with Kenny Murray, Head coach of Ayr RFC, last year’s Premier one champions. He agreed:

“The new league format has brought excitement and anticipation to Premier 1 with every game having significant importance for the teams. Ayr rugby club welcomes this and hopes that it will continue in the future.”

Murray’s team, currently sitting third in League A, face leaders Melrose away in what will prove to be a massive game for the current champions. Eyes though will be on the top of the table clash between Melrose and Glasgow Hawks in Glasgow. With only one point separating the two teams, Hawks’ home advantage could prove fundamental to the outcome of the season. Key fixtures in League B see Stirling County face Edinburgh Accies at home but travel away to play West of Scotland. The Glasgow side meanwhile travel to the capital to face Accies on the final week of fixtures, which could result in quite a climatic end to the season! The relegation battle of League C begins straight away for bottom side GHA. They face Kirkcaldy, only three points ahead, at home on the opening day of fixtures. They then travel to Kelso who are only two points ahead the following week.

For a full list of the post split fixtures click here

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