Public opinion in Edinburgh divided on Trump Petition

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By Laurenci Dow

Edinburgh locals show a clear divide in opinion on the petition to ban Donald Trump from the UK, while the petition continues to gain over half a million signatures.

Petitions with more than 100,000 signatures will be considered for debate in parliament and the Petitions Committee is expected to discuss this one on the 5th of January 2016.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Labour home affairs spokesman Jack Dromey have both backed the petition to ban Trump from entering the country under the ‘unacceptable behaviours or extremism policy.’

However, the petition, which is the most signed currently hosted  on the Parliament website, does not express the opinions of some of the locals from the Scottish capital.

Elijah Jones, an Edinburgh local businessman said he felt that Trump’s comments were ‘bold’ although he did not agree with them.

Mr Jones felt that it was contradictory for the UK to call for a ban on a person who themselves wants to ban people from their own country.

Mr Jones said: ‘I don’t think the petition is the best course of action, in my opinion it’s quite contradictory.’

A local Costa Coffee manager, Casper Van Eeden agreed with opinions expressed by Mr Jones saying he felt that the petition was an infringement on Trump’s freedom of speech.

Mr Van Eeden said: ‘I feel that people should be able to say what they want, I don’t agree with banning people for expressing an opinion.’

Jane Thompson, a student from Edinburgh Napier University said she agreed with Robert Gordon University stripping Trump of his honorary degree as she felt this showed the UK’s stance towards his ‘racist’ comments.

However, she said she would not sign the petition as she felt that it was another way for Trump to gain more attention.

Renay Clerk, a student from Edinburgh Heriot-Watt University said she agreed with the petition as she would not want someone who expresses ‘radical opinions’ in the UK.

She said Trump would have a ‘negative effect on the UK’  if he was to visit the country.

Suzanne Kelly, the Aberdeen woman who started the petition says: ‘The signatories will not show any support for Trump’s unacceptable behaviour.’

Former Rangers footballer shot dead

Peralta

Fans have expressed deep sadness on social media sites after the news broke. Photo/Twitter

By Ari Brynjolfsson

Former Rangers footballer Arnold Peralta has been shot dead in his Honduran hometown.

The 26-year-old defensive midfielder was killed in a drive-by shooting in the car park of the Uniplaza shopping mall in La Ceiba in the Central American nation while on holiday.

No arrests have been made and police have ruled out robbery as a motive as his belongings were not stolen. Honduran authorities refuse to reveal when the incident occurred.

Peralta played 24 games for Rangers across two seasons and left the club last January, he scored his only goal against Stranraer in April 2014. While with Rangers he won the Scottish League One title in the 2013/2014 season. His current team was FC Deportivo Olimpia.

Rangers Supporters Club said the news was terrible and that they still considered him family.

The Club said in a statement to the press: ‘We join all our fans in sending our condolences to the family of our former player.’

His death was confirmed by his father, Carlos Peralta at a news conference: ‘This is terribe. They killed my exemplary son. I can’t say more because of the pain I feel.’

Peralta was the Honduran Under-20 captain before playing 26 games for the national team, including the 2014 World Cup. He was due to play for his country next week in an international friendly against Cuba.

Honduras is plagued by gang violence and has the highest murder rates worldwide, topping United Nations crime reports since 2011 with more than 90 murders per 100,000 people.

Human Rights Watch organization said in their 2014 world report that perpetrators of killings and other violent crimes in Honduras were rarely brought to justice, the report said: ‘Honduras suffers from rampant crime and impunity for human rights abuses.’

The Honduran government however vows to bring Peralta’s killers to justice: ‘We won’t rest until those responsible for this act are identified and detained so that they can face justice.’

Saudi women to cast first ever vote

Saudi Arabia

By Koldo Sandoval

Women will vote on Saturday 12 December in Saudi Arabia for the first time in history. The municipal elections take place across Saudi Arabia where women are expected to vote for the first time. Many people are optimistic that women’s voices will finally be heard in Saudi politics – even if only at a local level.

The president of Muslim Women Association in Edinburgh, Tasneem Ali, said: ‘Every woman should have the right to vote. It’s a matter of democracy. Realistically is how it should be.’

Women were previously barred from voting or being elected to political office, but in 2011 King Abdullah declared that women would be able to vote and run in the 2015 local elections, as well as be appointed to the Consultative Assembly.

The first two female registered candidates were Jamal Al-Saadi in Medina and Safinaz Abu Al-Shamat in Mecca, the Saudi Gazette reported. An estimated 70 women are planning to register as candidates and an additional 80 as campaign managers, according to local media in Saudi Arabia.

Neither male nor female candidates will be allowed to use pictures of themselves in campaign advertising and on election day there will be separate polling centers for men and women.

Women’s rights activists had long fought for the right to vote in the oil-rich gulf kingdom.

‘Female participation in December’s elections is an important step towards creating greater inclusion within society’, said Nouf al-Sadiq, Saudi citizen and graduated student in Middle East studies at George Washington University.

Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are limited in comparison to many of its neighbors in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is considered one of the most restrictive countries for women by the International Community. The World Economic Forum in 2013 ranked Saudi Arabia 127th out of 136 countries for gender parity.

Many women has been registered across the country, especially in the capital Riyadh. The government also requires voters to have personal ID cards, and many Saudi women do not.

Ali supports the advances that Saudi Arabia women are getting, she insisted that it’s a democratic matter separated that it not just a problem for Islamic states, she said: ‘Islamically women have the right to vote but when a country prohibits it, it’s not about Islamism. This is how every society can go forward’.

Saudi women still have to contend with limits on their freedom of movement, and since it is illegal for them to drive, many of them will have to rely on male members of their family to take them to register and vote. Male relatives who oppose female voting rights could also be a barrier.

Despite the right to vote suppose an advanced for women in the Middle East, international media such as CNN have reported that ‘public political dissent is illegal in Arabia Saudi’. According to Freedom House’s annual report on political rights and civil liberties; Saudi Arabia is a mainstay of the 10 worst countries in the world for women’s civil rights. Citizens that even hint that political and human rights should be expanded are considered as a terrorist action by the monarchy.

US authorities look for terrorist links after California mass slaying

By Yasmeen Fekri

US authorities look for terrorist links after California mass slaying.

Bomb equipment, weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition were found by police in a raid after Wednesday’s shootout.

Authorities have not yet found a motive in the attack by Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27.

The names of the victims have now been released by San Bernardino’s coroner.

Wearing black tactical gear and wielding assault rifles, the couple sprayed as many as 75 rounds into a room at a social service center for the disabled, where about 75 of Farook’s co-workers had gathered. Farook attended the event but stormed off in anger and returned in battle gear with his wife.

Farook, a county restaurant inspector and his wife Malik, met online and married two years ago. Malik got pregnant and registered at Target with a cheery newlyweds’ catalog of wishes: a car seat, diapers and safety swabs.

But for all the outward signs of suburban normality, this couple, according to the police, used their comfortable home in a middle-class community to build and stockpile on weapons.

They left their six month-old daughter with her grandmother before heading to a holiday party.

Five hours later, they died in a crush of bullets in a brutal face-off with the police.

As the FBI-led investigation pressed on, local authorities completed formally notifying the families of the 14 people who died.

San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said at a news conference that the search of the suspects house in the nearby community of Redlands turned up with flash drives, computers and cellphones.

Officials in Washington said so far there was no hard evidence between the couple and any militant group abroad, but the electronics would be checked to see if the suspects had been browsing on jihadist websites or social media.

“It is possible that this was terrorist-related. But we don’t know,” President Obama told reporters. “It is also possible that this was workplace-related.”

Farook, a US citizen, was born in Illinois, the son of Pakistani immigrants. Malik was born in Pakistan and lived in Saudi Arabia until they married.

The couple entered the United States in July 2014 after a trip that included Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Farook had no criminal record and was described by friends as a soft-spoken, intelligent and nice person.

“This shooting has caused each victim’s family, friends and co-workers, along with the first responders, to suffer an enormous personal tragedy,” Sheriff John McMahon said.

Twenty-one people were wounded in the shooting. All the victims were from Southern California and ranged in ages 26 to 60.

The couple have emerged as one of the most perplexing pairs in the recent history of mass homicide. And this attack ranks as the deadliest instance of US gun violence in three years.

 

 

Germany decided military intervention in Syria

Jasmin Seidl

The German Parliament has approved the German army mission against the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS) by a large majority this morning.

Up to 1,200 German soldiers will support the fight against IS with reconnaissance ‘Tornado’ flights, a tanker and a frigate.

The mandate is initially valid until the end of 2016.

445 deputies voted for the mandate while only 146 were against and there were seven abstentions.

Green and Left parties voted against it, because they consider the decision to be made too rashly.

Petra Sitte, deputy of the Left party said: “We do not want to get caught up in this war in ‘Tornado’ tempo.” Many questions are still unanswered, she added.

Union Group CEO Michael Grosse-Brömer called the behaviour of the opposition” irresponsible”.

Germany’s role in the fight against international terrorism has to be grounded in law properly, according to him.

His Green Party colleague Britta Haßelmann argued that a mandate of such importance should be discussed at length.

Meanwhile, the SPD parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann  defended the fast decision.

This was necessary, Oppermann said. “France has asked us for help.”

It does not have to be discussed for weeks or months, Oppermann said. “We can decide quickly, when it matters.”

But he ruled a deployment of German ground forces in Syria out. “In any case we won’t send a European Army, German soldiers so to speak, as ground troops to Syria,” the SPD politician said.

 That would be the wrong signal, Oppermann added.

Even the SPD defense politician Rainer Arnold said, the use is justifiable and also affordable.

To counter criticism of the planned deployment, he said: “Reconnaissance fliers are no contribution to heedless bombing.”

If Germany stayed out, it will be even harder to demand solidarity in Europe. “We Germans should not be a bad example there”, Arnold said.

The parliamentary leader of the Left Sahra Wagenknecht clearly spoke against the deployment in Syria: War makes it worse.

“In Paris 130 people had fallen victim to the terrorist attacks and in response, innocent people in Syria shall be killed”, she complained. What is this madness?”

Addressing the government Wagenknecht said: “It’s simply a lie that this war will weaken the IS.” The opposite is the case in her opinion.

“Bombing is also terrorism,” she admonished. “War is terror, which produces new terror.”

 

How Pistorius’s verdict reflects on South African legal system and what lies ahead for his sentencing

Yesterday morning, Pistorius’s culpable homicide conviction was replaced with murder, two legal experts give their opinion on the ruling and what lies ahead for his sentencing.

The South African Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruled that Pistorius should have foreseen the deadly impact his four bullets would have had in the small bathroom.

The new ruling over turns the decision made by Judge Masipa of the High Court.

Commenting  on the previous ruling Justice Eric Leach of the SCA called Masipa’s decision a “fundamental error.”

When asked how the change in verdict reflects on the South African justice system, Professor Penelope Andrews, Dean of the Law Faculty at the University of Cape Town said: “This should not be seen to be as an adverse comment upon Masipa’s  competence and ability.”

She went on to say: “Lots of judges decisions are over turned in the appeal process that’s why the process exists, the fact that a judge may not have applied the facts properly does not mean the South African criminal justice system is a mess.”

Commenting on the new verdict Prof. Andrews said: “The judges who dealt with the appeal at the Supreme Court were spot on, so I think that has shown how good our criminal justice system is and more importantly that it is fair.

“As an accused you know you can take the matter further or the state can, if there are sufficient grounds based on the law.”

Commenting on his reaction to the verdict Dr. Mohamed Chiktay Senior Lecturer at WITS University School of Law (Johannesburg) said: “Masipa showed restraint and dealt with the case in a professional manner but at the end of the day when you look at the facts and the law, it is quite evident where she went off in the wrong direction.

“She incorrectly dealt with the concept of doulas intervenciones.”

Commenting on Pistorius’s re-sentencing  Dr.  Chiktay said: “Sentencing will be a difficult aspect of the case, the judge will have to be objective and balance all the factors that are relevant like his disability, age and the fact that he has no prior convictions.”

Prof. Andrews said: “Pistorius will have to supply a compelling reason as to why he should not be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in jail, his disability should not affect his sentencing, one cannot give leniency to anyone who killed a person without any proof that they posed a real threat.”

This morning Barry Steenkamp, Reeva Steenkamp’s farther said: “We will have to wait and see what happens at sentencing but for now justice has prevailed and we can try get on with our lives for now.”

Islamic extremists hold 170 hostages in Malaise capital

Ari Brynjólfsson

Gunmen have taken 170 hostages in a hotel in Mali.

According to AFP sources, the gunmen are Islamic militants.

Some 140 guests and 30 staff at the Radisson hotel in the centre of Mali’s capital city, Bamako, were taken hostage at 8am this morning by gunmen.

According to the Malaise security ministry, three hostages have been killed.

Local media say there were 10 attackers but a statement from the hotel said there are two. One witness said the attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is great” in Arabic as they stormed the hotel. A BFMTV source claimed the attackers arrived in a car with diplomatic plates.

Malaise troops have surrounded the area and a Reuters security source said two hostages have been released after reciting verses from the Koran.

The Foreign Office said in a statement that they are urgently seeking information regarding the attack and added: “The Foreign Office has advised against all travel to Mali for some time.”

Mali is situated in western Africa. Rebels supported by Islamic extremists seized the north eastern part in 2012. The capital Bomoko where the attack is taking place is in the south western corner of the country. Map courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Mali is situated in western Africa. Rebels supported by Islamic extremists seized the north eastern part in 2012. The capital Bomoko where the attack is taking place is in the south western corner of the country. Map courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

The President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita tweeted: “Bamako’s Radisson Blu hotel has been attacked this morning by armed assailants who are holding 170 people hostage.”

China’s news agency Xinhua reported that a number of guests being held are Chinese, the US embassy in Mali has advised their citizens to take shelter.

The hotel has 190 rooms and is owned by US investors, it is advertised online as a an upscale lodging with a swimming pool and a spa.

Mali has been fighting Islamic rebels since 2012. France sent ground troops to Mali in January 2013 at the behest of the Malaise government when rebels with connections to al-Qaida seized territory northern Mali and around 1,000 French troops are currently stationed in Mali.

Islamic extremists lost much of their territory during the fight but continued their activities in Mali, last August an a attack was made on a hotel in Severe in central Mali, five people were killed while four UN workers were saved.

Until now, Bamako, in the south western part of Mali, had been spared from attacks by Islamic extremists.

Mali is a former French colony in western Africa, French authorities have intervened several times in Malaise affairs since the country gained its independence in 1960.

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, more than half its citizens earn 1.25$ per day.

Some 98 per cent of the population identifies as a Muslim, a significant portion of the nation’s legislation derives from Sharia law.

A report made by the US State department characterised the Islam as is traditionally practiced in Mali as moderate, tolerant, and adapted to local conditions.

Malaise women are generally allowed to participate in social economical and political activities and do not wear veils while in public.

 

Icelandic priests defrocked if they refuse to marry gay couples

PRIESTS in Iceland face being defrocked if they refuse to marry gay couples.

The new rule was passed this week in an annual church conference where priests vote democratically on spiritual and administrative issues.

Many priests and former bishops have said the rule violates their “freedom of conscience”.

The current bishop, Agnes Sigurdardottir, declined to comment but has expressed her belief in the past that “freedom of conscience” must be respected.

Secretary to the bishop, Thorvaldur Vidisson, said: “The marriage laws in Iceland are clear on who can get married. Priests are not allowed to discriminate on the bases of sexual preferences.”

Same-sex marriage was legalised in Iceland nine years ago and homosexuality was decriminalised 76 years ago.

Priests in the country are government employees and the constitution bans both state and private enterprises to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.

A recent poll amid Icelandic priests conducted by the state radio RUV, revealed that only three out of a total 150 priests were opposed to marry a gay couple. None of the three priests were available for comment but their conscience has been a subject of controversy among their colleagues, some of whom have defended their position while others call for them to be defrocked.

Hildur Bolladottir, a priest in the town of Akureyri, said: “We are all born different, some with different sexualities. Not allowing someone to get married because of how they were born is crazy. People who discriminate have no business being a priest and should find themselves another job.”

Kristinn Sigurthorsson, a priest in the town of Borgarnes disagrees with Hildur and said: “The freedom of conscience is one of the pinnacles of our religion, to force someone to act against their beliefs is serious.”

Reverend Sigurthorsson said, however, that he was not at risk of losing his job as he had no objection to marry gay couples.

The gay marriage issue was part of a wider problem discussed in the same church conference.

The number of congregation members is at an all time low and more than 10 per cent of the 330 thousand person nation have left the church in the last ten years.

The total percentage going from 92.2 per cent in 1991 to 73.6 per cent in 2015.

Discrimination against homosexuals is one of the top reason people leave the church, according to Icelandic polls.

Gandhi’s grandson calls for end to punishment

Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson has called on the world to abandon punishment at a lecture in Edinburgh.

The non-violence activist spoke of the “passive violence” that plagues society, arguing that restorative justice rather than imprisonment was the best way to reform criminals.

The New York-based campaigner travels the world to preach his message of non-violence, with the belief that only a global effort will achieve that aim.

Speaking at the lecture, organised by Scottish community justice organisation SACRO, he said: “Justice should not mean punishment, it should mean transforming the individual.”

He went on to speak of how all actions are rooted in violence, be they “physical” or “passive”, adding, in relation to justice: “Would I be hurt by it or helped by it?”

The socio-political activist added his belief that most crime is rooted in inequality. He said: “People who are marginalised are angry.

“By calling them criminals, we de-humanise them; they are human beings.”

He added that he did not believe in the abolition of prisons, but that they should be redefined as places for rehabilitation.

Mr Gandhi cited much of his upbringing as being the root of his belief. He recounted that his parents would inflict punishment on themselves should he misbehave as a child, notably by not eating, while he would eat in front of them.

He said that a “non-punishing culture starts at home”.

Tom Halpin, Chief Executive of SACRO said: “It was a privilege to hear [Arun’s] message; the real inspiration lies in the stories.

“It allows people to become ‘peace-farmers’ and to take that message in to the future.”

He added that Mr Gandhi’s ideas were “not about being soft on crime” but “allowing people to transform and move on”.

 

Guantanamo Bay’s Secret Facility: Penny Lane

 

Satellite Image of Guantanamo Bay and Penny Lane Credit: AP

Satellite Image of Guantanamo Bay and Penny Lane
Credit: AP

By Jordan Hooks

CIA agents hid in tiny cottages beneath Guantanamo Bay prison and used prisoners to help achieve one of America’s top goals: infiltrating al-Qaida.

In the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the CIA bartered with prisoners regarding any information they had that would lead the U.S. to the terrorist group. In return for promised freedoms, safety for their families and monetary awards, the prisoners were sent back home to kill terrorists within their country who were planning attacks on the United States.

Although it was kept a secret from the public for years, the CIA knew this was a dangerous risk but felt that the payoff was more beneficial in the long run. The program, dubbed Penny Lane, was facilitated in eight small cottages that stood a few hundred yards from the administrative offices of the Guantanamo Bay prison. They were hidden deep within a ridge covered in thick shrubs and cactus. The cottages were designed with a ‘hotel-like’ feel and included a real mattress, kitchen, shower and television.

Lee Caldwell, current infantryman in the U.S. Army, said: “The efforts made by the CIA were risky, but had greater benefits than the U.S. public realizes. Being in the military, I know the government only acts with the country’s best interests in mind. Penny Lane helped save American lives and was a strong attempt to keep our lands safe.”

Several current and formal U.S. officials said that many of the men who passed through Penny Lane helped the CIA find and kill many top al-Qaida operatives. Others stopped providing useful information and eventually lost touch with the CIA.

Penny Lane is still standing and can be seen on satellite images, but has long been abandoned. Operations  have ceased to exist since the program was shut down in 2006.

Senator remains in a critical condition

Irish senator Jimmy Harte

Irish senator Jimmy Harte

by Stephen Mahon

An Irish senator who sustained serious head injuries at the weekend remains in a critical condition.

Senator Jimmy Harte was found unconscious in South Dublin at around 4am on Saturday morning.  Gardai at Kevin Street have been studying CCTV footage from around that time, and it remains unclear whether the Donegal politician was attacked or had an accidental fall.  His coat and mobile phone were not with him when he was found, leading Gardai to believe that the Labour Senator had been the victim of a robbery.

However, speaking today, Gardai confirmed that the items had been left at a bar where Harte had been watching the Ireland v Latvia match in Dawson Street, in the south of the city on Friday evening.  “It looks like an accident, but until we have thoroughly examined the CCTV footage from around that time, we cannot say for certain,” said Chief Superintendent Michael O’Sullvan.  “We would also still appeal for any witnesses who were in the area at around that time to come forward.”

Doctors at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital say the next 24 hours will be crucial for the 55 year old.  Harte suffered a fractured skull, a massive blood clot and a brain injury in the incident at Newmarket Square, Dublin in the early hours of Saturday morning.  He was rushed to St James Hospital before being transferred to the specialist head injury unit at Beaumont Hospital.  He remains in a medically induced coma. It has also emerged that the Donegal Senator had underlying health issues linked to a heart condition and had collapsed a number of times previously.

Harte joined the Irish Labour party in 2010 and contested the 2011 general election in Donegal North East. He failed to gain a seat, coming fourth in the three-seat constituency.

Later that year he was elected to the Seanad Industrial and Commercial Panel, one of five vocational panels which together elect 43 members of Senad Eireann,  the upper house of the Oireachtas.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. Reach $13 Billion Settlement

By Jordan Hooks

jp-morgan-sfSpan-v2

The JPMorgan Chase & Co. headquarters located in New York
Credit: J.B. Reed/Bloomberg News

 

JPMorgan & Co. has reached a $13 billion settlement with the United States Department of Justice settling claims over the banks involvement with mortgage-backed securities during the U.S. housing crisis.

This has become the largest settlement reached between the U.S.  government and a corporation. The record was previously held by massive oil tycoon BP when they were slapped with a $4 billion penalty for the massive offshore oil spill that shook that nation in 2010.

On Tuesday, the settlement announced requires JPMorgan to pay $9 billion up front in cash and the other $4 billion must be provided in the form of consumer reliefs. These reliefs include principal reductions and mortgage modifications for thousands of homeowners who are facing foreclosures because of the bank’s actions. The rest of the $4 billion will also go towards helping reduce mortgage interest rates, originating new loans and helping properties in cities like Detroit that were hit the hardest during the crisis.

JPMorgan has not admitted to any violation of law, but has acknowledged the statement of facts that have been produced throughout the case.  JPMorgan has promised that by the year 2017 they will have delivered complete relief that has been promised to the borrowers involved.

This deal comes after JPMorgan has been under fire since the 2006-2007 mortgage crisis first hit. The bank has been under investigation for claiming to sell low mortgage-backed securities to investors who had no idea that these securities often came with faulty mortgage products.

In a statement released by the Department of Justice, they said: “JPMorgan employees knew that the loans in question did not comply with those guidelines and were not otherwise appropriate for securitization, but they allowed the loans to be securitized – and those securities to be sold – without disclosing this information to investors.”

A good majority of these loans in questions were purchased after JPMorgan acquired two banks, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, at the height of the housing crisis in 2008-2009. JPMorgan chairman and CEO, Jamie Dimon, released a statement commenting: “We are pleased to have concluded this extensive agreement with the President’s RMBS Working Group and to have resolved the civil claims of the Department of Justice and others. Today’s settlement covers a very significant portion of legacy mortgage-backed securities-related issues for JP Morgan Chase, as well as Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual.”

When a call was placed to JPMorgan Chief Financial Officer, Marianne Lake, she said that around 80 percent of the bad loans, which have become the center for the fines, were credited to Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual.

With this settlement, it settles and concludes all claims and civil enforcement investigations with JPMorgan and the Department of Justice and the state attorney generals from California, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York. It will also resolve all civil litigation claims made by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Federal Housing Finance Agency and National Credit Union Association in relation to the security of mortgage loans by JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual.

Brazil to produce low cost vaccines for developing countries

Brazil’ s top state funded research foundation is to start producing low cost combined rubella-measles vaccines for export to developing countries, particularly to Africa.

A $1m partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is going to support the venture, Brasilian Health Minister Alexandre Padilha announced on Monday at a medical science conference.

The country has set its plan to invest in biochemical expertise to join China and India as producer of vaccines for export which are more affordable than the pharmaceutical industry ones.

Low cost Rubella – Measles vaccines are now produced just by India. The Brazilian version is expected to cost around $0.50 per dose and it is to hit the market by 2017, at a rate of 30m doses produced a year, reducing the current chronic shortage.

Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation started producing combined vaccines in 2003 for the country’ s immunization program but the high prices made them unaffordable to developing countries. The Melinda and Bill Gates foundation investment will allow to lower the price and bring further investments in the area which will fuel an export – targeted expansion. For this reason, the government plans to build a brand new plant and create new jobs.

The Gates foundation will now sponsor clinical trials and might contribute further, a spokesman said.

Measles and rubella are virus-caused diseases which kills thousands of people a year, especially children. They are particularly dangerous during pregnancy, causing the foetus development retards or even death.”More than 150 000 people die every year all over the world, victims of measles. The production of this vaccine will allow us to access the global market. We’ll start with this vaccine which will open us the doors to other kinds of vaccines produced here in the country” Minister Padilha stated at the meeting, explaining the plan to further investments.

Laura Girasole

african children waiting for a vaccination

african children waiting for a vaccination

International Round Up

Russia admits Syrian Government is losing territorial control

Syrian men break the concrete of a residential building destroyed in a government airstrike. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

Syrian men break the concrete of a residential building destroyed in a government airstrike. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

The situation in Syria is aggravating for the local Government. An official from the Russian Government has said for the first time that opposition forces might defeat Syrian government. The opposition is gaining legitimacy after more than 100 countries signed a declaration yesterday in Morocco to give it a political lift. The United States formally recognises the opposite party as “the legitimate representative” of the people in that country.

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North Korea launches rocket ignoring UN Security Council

A screen shows the Unha-3 rocket being launched from a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at North Korea's satellite control centre in Cholsan county (AP)

A screen shows the Unha-3 rocket being launched from a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at North Korea’s satellite control centre in Cholsan county (AP)

The UN Security Council has condemned North Korea for launching what they consider to be a long-range missile, while Pyongyang states that it was a satellite. The Council is going to have a meeting next Wednesday to consider an “appropriate response” to the threat.

In the meantime, the US has considered the action as “a highly provocative act that threatens regional security.”  In a statement released last Friday, they announced their intention was to send warships to the Asian country.

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The Eurozone agrees rules towards banking union

The headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt (Johannes Eisele/AFP) Photo/Johannes Eisele)

The headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt (Johannes Eisele/AFP)

Economy and finance ministers have reached an agreement today on rules for supervising Eurozone banking. The biggest banks of the Union will be under the direct oversight of the European Central Bank.

The supervision will be made over the biggest banks, with assets over 30,000 millions or the 20% of the GDP. The main obstacle has been a disagreement over power distribution in terms of the supervisor. Germany wants to leave out regional banks, while France and Spain have asked the supervisor for an inspection of every bank, without exception.

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Putin wants Russian couples to have at least 3 children

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a state-of-the nation address in Moscow, Russia (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a state-of-the nation address in Moscow, Russia (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

The Russian president Vladimir Putin called on Russians to have at least three children each. He added that he wants people who own luxury goods to pay higher taxes.

After the end of the Soviet Union, the standard of living decreased due to a growth in the mortality rate and a substantial reduction of births. “In order for Russia to be a strong and sovereign country, there must be more of us and we must be better in morality, in our competences, our work and our creativity”, the Russian leader said.

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Oregon mall gunman identified

Police handout photo of suspect from Tuesday's shooting in Happy Valley, Oregon (Clackamas County Sheriff's Office)

Police handout photo of suspect from Tuesday’s shooting in Happy Valley, Oregon (Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office)

The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office have identified Jacob Tyler Roberts as the gunman who shot two people before killing himself in Oregon last Tuesday. According to Oregon law enforcement, he opened fire on a crowded Portland shopping mall and was shooting victims at random.

Roberts was armed with a stolen AR-15 semi-automatic rifle when he opened fire. Two victims were fatally shot, identified as Cindy Yuille, 54 and Steven Forsyth, 45. A third victim, 15 year-old Kristina Shevchenko, is still in serious condition at the Oregon Health and Science university Hospital, in Portland.

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First Pope tweet in eight languages

Pope Benedict XVI sends his first tweet (EFE)

Pope Benedict XVI sends his first tweet (EFE)

The Pope has tweeted for the first time in eight languages in his eight Twitter accounts. “Dear friends,” he wrote, “I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.”

He delivered it from a tablet computer at the end of a general audience in the Vatican, with a group of young people gathered round him and after an official announced: “And now the Pope will tweet!”. He has already reached over one million Twitter followers.

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No progress in fiscal cliff talks

US House Speaker John Boehner speaks to the media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington (Yuri Gripas/REUTERS)

US House Speaker John Boehner speaks to the media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington (Yuri Gripas/REUTERS)

Large differences remain between congressional Republicans and the White House to avert the “fiscal cliff” of steep tax hikes and budget cuts. House Speaker John Boehner called on President Barack Obama to produce a new offer. “I was born with a glass half full. I remain the most optimistic person in this town. But we’ve got some serious differences,” Boehner has told reporters at a news conference.

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Worldwide Geminid meteor shower tonight

A massive Geminid fireball from 2009's shower, one of the brightest ever recorded (NASA)

A massive Geminid fireball from 2009’s shower, one of the brightest ever recorded (NASA)

The annual meteor shower will reach its peak later tonight and into the early hours of Friday morning. The meteors will appear to radiate from a point near the star Castor, in the constellation Gemini. The skies will thus be free of the moon’s glare, allowing viewers in rural areas to see perhaps 100 or more meteors per hour, experts say.

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Nelson Mandela – A Check Up

Former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, is in hospital battling a lung infection. Government spokespeople ensure the South African public that he is responding well to the treatment.

The 94 year old former president is recovering from a lung infection (Photo: Ho/Reuters)

The 94 year old former president is recovering from a lung infection (Photo: Ho/Reuters)

Tip-toeing around the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s mortality and believing that his death will plunge the country into a civil war, is incredibly misinformed. Yes, this great leader is old, frail, and his death is inevitable – whether it happens next week, or in the next few years, South Africans will have to say goodbye at some point. South Africa holds together not because of the Nelson Mandela of today, but because of what he has done over his lifetime which is now sadly but inevitably winding down.

Dr. Wynoma Michaels, a business leadership consultant in South Africa, had the opportunity to meet Mandela twice. According to her, Mandela “has the ability to share stories rather than dictating to a person. Essentially, he allows you to figure it out yourself, and make sense of it yourself.”

She says the most remarkable thing about his leadership is his selflessness. His legacy is one of humility, that even though he was in the public sphere and praised as one of the greatest African leaders of all time, he never made his presidency about self-enrichment.

Dr. Michaels’ concern about the death of Mandela is that the conscience of the country would disappear. While he is alive, “people are always aware of him. And even though we deviated from the journey that he started us out on, he remains the conscience of this country.” His legacy of leadership is that which demonstrates reconciliation, rather than division. She feels that when Mandela is gone, the country might lose its progress of nation building and the values that Mandela stood for. She feels that if Mandela would hold on for a bit longer, it would comfort the people of SA amidst an unsure political climate.

Listen here:

Other South Africans have expressed their concerns about what Mandela’s death would mean to the country. A local businessman says that it would be like losing the father as the head of the family. Relationships would not be the same once Mandela is gone, “it’s often the patriarch that keeps the family together. Mandela, as he still lives, can’t be happy with what the ANC has become.”

Listen here:

Another young South African businesswoman has expressed her worries about her family that lives on a farm. She says, “there have been rumours that when [Mandela] passes, many radical ANC Youth League members, under the influence of Julius Malema, would go about killing white farmers. However, all one can do is just trust and hope that Mandela’s legacy would live on.”

Listen here:

Apocalypse Soon

We found some of the oddest stories about people preparing for the end of the world. A little closer to home, Edinburgh Skeptics are hosting a “Not The End of The World” party on Thursday 20th December. Dress code: only the latest in doomsday fashion.

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Turkish village of Sirince

Turkish village of Sirince (Picture: AFP)

Believers in the Mayan calendar have flocked to a small Turkish village, near the ancient city of Ephesus. They believe that the positive energy in this village will protect them from any apocalyptic harm. It certainly has done no harm to the local tourism industry.

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Robert Sefatsa (Photo: Bongiwe Mchunu)

A 38-year-old South African man has handed papers in to the Constitutional Court in a plea for the government to create a new state department to deal with Armageddon. He even went through the trouble of suggesting a name for the department: the “Department of Paranormal and Esoteric Sciences”. A commission of inquiry should include geologists, statisticians, astronomists, economists and extra-terrestrial technologists, and should be competent to cope with evacuation procedures, sea and air logistics, and resettlement, he said.

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A plumber is camping out beside Mount Bugarach for a week, waiting for the end of the world. Worried by the doomsday Internet rumours, Ludovic Broquet hopes the mountain peak will provide shelter from the inevitable meteor showers/tsunami/zombie outbreak.

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Robert Bast (Screengrab TeeVeeVidz / Survive2012.com)

Robert Bast (Screengrab TeeVeeVidz / Survive2012.com)

46-year-old Australian Robert Bast, owner of the website Survive2012 , has spent over £220,000 preparing for the earth’s demise. The majority of the cost went into buying a 75-acre plot 1,500 feet above sea level in order to avoid tsunamis and flooding. Obviously, the highest point on this piece of land holds the specially built house and bunker. The bunker is kitted out with stockpiles of food and water, and the necessary survival equipment: batteries, generators, water purifiers, solar power, and gas cookers.

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This photo taken on November 24, 2012 shows the unfinished boat built by Lu Zhenhai, a man from Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, afraid that his home would be submerged in a doomsday flood in 2012.  Lu said he was worried that the apocalypse would happen in 2012, so he decided to invest all his money, about 160,500 USD into building what he hopes will be his own indestructible ark.   (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

This photo taken on November 24, 2012 shows the unfinished boat built by Lu Zhenhai (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A Chinese man has built a survival ark using all his life savings amounting to £99,000 to be safe from the pesky apocalyptic floods. Lu Zhenghai began building the vessel in 2010 when he started to fear that the flood would threaten the survival of his family.

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Farmer Liu Qiyuan looking out from a survival pod that he built and also dubbed "Noah's Arc". (Ed Jones, AFP)

Farmer Liu Qiyuan looking out from a survival pod that he built and also dubbed “Noah’s Arc”. (Ed Jones, AFP)

Another Chinese man and former farmer has built special survival pods. The tsunami proof pods come fitted with seatbelts for at least 14 people at a time, but the creator said that it would protect 30 people for up to 2 months. He has received 21 orders for the bright yellow ping-pong doomsday survival pods, which cost about £23 500 each.

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Even the Australian Prime Minister addressed her citizens about the earth’s demise by flesh-eating zombies. She is confident that she will serve her country right till the Earth’s last minute.

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NASA debunks doomsday rumours (Photo: Sdecoret, Dreamstime.com)

NASA debunks doomsday rumours (Photo: Sdecoret, Dreamstime.com)

NASA has released an official statement to comfort the people of earth. “The world will not end in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012. Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then – just as your calendar begins again on January 1 – another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.”

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To make sure you aren’t caught with your trousers down when doomsday arrives, head over to http://preppingtosurvive.com to get the best tips on apocalypse preparations.

Edinburgh International Festival tickets on sale from new venues across the city

Tickets to this year’s Edinburgh International Festival went on sale on Saturday 24th March from the Hub at Castlehill. From today, the public can also purchase them from five new venues across the city.

The Edinburgh Playhouse, Festival Theatre, The Queen’s Hall, Royal Lyceum Theatre and the Usher Hall have joined the list of venues where members of the public can go to buy tickets for this year’s Festival, which will take place from 9th August to 2nd September.

It hasn’t taken long for ticket buyers to make use of the new box office locations in order to purchase tickets. According to a spokesperson for the Usher Hall, 5 people have already visited this morning within one hour of doors opening.

With tickets currently being sold from a variety of venues across the city, potential Festival goers are advised to be quick and buy their tickets in advance, in order to avoid future disappointments.

For more details on how to buy the tickets, click here.

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Supreme Court to hear Obama’s Healthcare Law

Today the United States Supreme Court will be begin it’s three day hearing on whether or not President Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act is legal. Opponents of the act state that its requirement that people buy insurance intrudes on civil liberties.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed in March of 2010, and has faced negative reactions and criticism from conservatives and Republican party leaders and has been dubbed “ObamaCare” by many.

If the court upholds the act,  it would forbid insurance companies from denying coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions, limits how much companies can charge older people. Though the most controversial aspect is the law’s “individual mandate.”  This would require almost all Americans to hold health insurance or else pay a penalty on their tax returns by 2014. Some believe this goes against civil liberties, while others claim some  Americans  having no health care results in their unpaid health bills being placed upon taxpayers.

10,000 to participate in Lung Cancer trial

Ten thousand smokers will participate in a new lung cancer screening trial, according to Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer.

Sir Harry Burns announced the trial will test the cost-effectiveness of EarlyCDT lung, a simple blood test used to detect the disease in its earliest stages.  Current screening methods only detect advanced lung cancer.

The trial will involve people who have smoked the equivalent of 20 cigarettes a day for 20 years.

Half the participants will receive the EarlyCDT test, while half will not be screened.  At the end of the trial, the clinical outcomes and the overall cost of care for both groups will be compared.

Sir Harry Burns said: “The earlier a cancer is diagnosed the greater the chance it can be treated successfully, and currently 85 percent of patients with lung cancer remain undiagnosed until the disease has reached an advanced stage. . . By testing those at greatest risk of developing lung cancer, and diagnosing it at its earliest possible stage, we stand a better chance of being able to treat the cancer successfully.”

According to government statistics one in five deaths in Scotland are smoking-related.  Illness associated with smoking costs NHS Scotland over 400 million annually.

EarlyCDT-Lung testing has been used in the United States for two years.  According to Oncimmune, the pharamecutical firm that developed the test, it is “performing commercially as expected” there.

Burns hopes that use of new testing procedures will help NHS Scotland increase early detection of Lung cancer by 25%.

Four killed in French school shooting

Three children and a teacher have been killed following a shooting at a Jewish School in Toulouse.

The shooter took aim as pupils were being dropped off for primary school before he escaped on a scooter. The three children killed were all described as being of North-African descent.

Details remain unclear but police have stated there are similarities between this attack and previous shootings of soldiers in the same region. Three paratroopers have been killed in the last week with another seriously injured in two separate attacks.

President Sarkozy and Gilles Bernheim, the Grand Rabbi of France, are on their way to attend the scene whilst extra police have been drafted into the area. Security has also been stepped up around all Jewish schools in the country.

Joachim Gauck taking office as new German president

Photo credit: Reuters

Joachim Gauck has taken up the official functions as the new German President and taken over the official residence Schloss Bellevue. With 991 out of 1228 (approx 108 abstentions) votes the top candidate was confirmed in the first run and will be sworn-in on Friday.

Gauck, a former GDR civil-rights activist, was the federal commissioner for the Stasi archives from 1990 to 2000, during which he was critised for retaining former Stasi employees.

He will take over the position from Christian Wulff, who was forced to step down following a financial scandal involving private banking transactions.  The expectations for him as the eleventh president are high and it is hoped he will  repair some of the damage caused by Wulff’s financial affair. In his first speech following the vote yesterday, Gauck promised to advocate freedom and responsibility.

For a  biography of Joachim Gauck click here.

Tea grown in panda poo most expensive worldwide

Green tea grown solely in panda excrement will command high prices worldwide.  An entrepreneur in the southwest Chinese city of Chengdu plans to charge up to £2,000 per 500 grams for his product, which he claims says will make it the world’s “most expensive tea.”

An Yanshi says he chose to grow tea in panda poo after learning of its high nutritional value. “The digestive and absorption abilities of the panda are not good. . .They are like a machine that is churning out organic fertilizer. Also, they absorb less than 30 percent of the nutrition from the food and that means more than 70 percent of the nutrients are passed out in their faeces,” he said.

Because pandas only eat wild vegetation, An also claims tea grown from panda feces is truly organic.

He also says using his unique fertilizer eliminates environmental damages caused by chemical fertilizer. He hopes to promote use of animal dung by other farmers throughout China.

Some locals have expressed cynicism at An’s high prices. “It’s sold at such a sky-high price, perhaps this is just hype. I don’t think the most expensive tea in the country is sold at such a price” said 49-year-old Li Ximing.

An defended his decision to charge high prices for his tea, saying that a portion of his profits would be set up a fund used to support environmental projects.

‘Death row show’ gets the axe

A Chinese television show which interviews prisoners awaiting the death penalty has been cancelled.

The controversial program had run for 5 years and was a popular slot on Chinese Television, with viewer ratings in the millions. The cancellation comes after a deluge of recent criticism from foreign media, which condemned the show for being cruel and exploitative.

However the shows presenter Ding Yu, disputes this assessment. She claims the prisoners “want to be heard,” but had not been willing to talk about “past events” to people in prison. The production team claimed the show was designed to serve as a warning to the public, highlighting the consequences of criminality.

But in spite of defending its motives, the state owned Henan Legal Channel have made the decision to permanently end the show. The decision precedes a BBC documentary about the controversial show, this will be broadcast tonight and will be followed by a similar program on PBS.

Obama Praises Kony 2012 Campaign

The Obama administration has praised the people who have started the Kony 2012 Campaign. However people in Uganda are outraged at the film.

In the last 5 days alone the internet has gone viral with videos and posts about Joseph Kony. The charity group Invisible Children started the Kony 2012 Campaign with a 30 minute film on youtube which was pushed via Twitter, Facebook, celebrities and every other person. The video has been viewed over 50 million times and everyone seems to be talking about it. Some are promoting the campaign incessantly and others are voicing their protest against it and the notion of the campaign itself. The video has gained such momentum that it is taking the internet and world by storm.

The campaign was started because Invisible Children wanted to make the US government aware of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who is responsible for the abduction and enslavement of more than 30 000 children. And the campaign seems to have succeeded as it has got the attention of Obama. According to The Telegraph, the White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney has congratulated the “hundreds of thousands of Americans who have mobilised to this unique crisis of conscience.”  Carney said; “The United States continues to pursue a comprehensive multi-faceted strategy to help the governments and people ofCentral Africain their efforts to end the threat posed by the LRA and reduce the human consequences of the LRA’s atrocities.”

However, Ugandans are extremely upset by the video saying that it paints a picture of Uganda 6 years ago, as Kony and his troops fled Ugandain 2006 and are now dispersed in the jungles in the surrounding countries. An Ugandan government spokesperson Fred Opolot said; “It is totally misleading to suggest that the war is still in Uganda. I suspect that if that’s the impression they are making, they are doing it only to garner increasing financial resources for their own agenda.”

The Kony Campaign has received vast criticism as people believe that Invisible Children are making money out of an issue which has been around for two decades. The campaign has resulted in Invisible Children facing harsher scrutiny over how they use their funds and about how much of their income from donations actually goes to the causes they campaign for.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc

Edinburgh set to celebrate its remarkable women

March sees the annual return of International Women’s Day (IWD) with events planned throughout Edinburgh to mark the occasion.

For over 100 years, the world has celebrated the achievements of women and their contribution to the arts, sciences, medicine and numerous other fields. On and around 8th March the celebration continues as countries around the world host their own events.

Beginning life in 1909 as National Women’s Day in the United States the day was instigated by the Socialist Party of America. It soon spread overseas to socialist countries in Europe before being recognised as an international event in 1911.

The UN’s theme for this years IWD will be Empower Women: End Hunger and Poverty. The United States have also planned a Women’s History Month to coincide with IWD and Google will change its search engine icon to show their support.

Founder of the internationalwomensday.com, Glenda Stone explains why IWD has become so popular, “Activity on International Women’s Day has skyrocketed over the last five years. This is due to the rise of social media, celebrity involvement, and corporations taking on the day sponsoring and running big events. Our twitter.com/womensday community with around 10,000 followers is phenomenal for sharing videos, information and news as it happens. Offline large scale women’s rallies have become even larger through the use of social media. It would be hard to find any country that did not celebrate the day in some way.”

This year, Edinburgh will recognise IWD with a calender of events kicking off this evening at Surgeons Hall with a series of talks acknowledging women often overlooked in Edinburgh’s medical community. The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh University and the Film House will also play host to events and talks.

For more information on these events click here.

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