Wikinews:Briefs/April 16, 2010

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From Wikinews, the free news source, this is the audio Wikinews brief for Friday, April 16th, 2010. I'm Dan Harlow and here are today's top stories:


Tens of thousands of air travelers were stranded when all flights into and out of the United Kingdom were grounded due to the eruption of an Icelandic volcano located in the south of that nation. Eurocontrol released a statement saying that "...most air traffic in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden is suspended."

The grounding is due to the fact that the volcanic ash drawn into the jet stream is of a particle size which allows it to remain aloft in the atmosphere. Ingestion of this foreign matter, because of its distribution, would lead to flame outs in all aircraft engines. The composition of the ash also means that it would first melt into glass if it were to enter the engine of an aircraft before solidifying again as it cooled. This could lead to damage to the compressors and fan blades, which would make it impossible to restart the engines, even if the aircraft was to exit the cloud.

The current contingency is informed by the experience of British Airways Flight 9 which on June 24, 1982 suffered just such complete engine flame outs when it flew through the plume of an eruption in Indonesia. In that case the flight crew, after many efforts, were able to restart the engines and though one failed shortly there after the aircraft landed without casualties.

In addition to the thousands of stranded travelers are a selection of British musicians booked to play at this weekend's Coachella Festival in California. Amongst those stranded are Frightened Rabbit, Gary Numan, The Cribs and Bad Lieutenant.

Humanitarian aid groups and Chinese military forces are beginning rescue operations in western China after a heavy 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the region on Wednesday, and reportedly killed over 600 people and injured almost ten thousand.

The quake, which was centered around the remote town of Yushu, was largely destroyed by the heavy temblor, which occurred early in the morning as residents were waking up. The official death toll stands at 617, while 9,980 more were injured and an additional 313 reported as missing. The Chinese ministry of civil affairs reports that 15,000 houses had collapsed and 100,000 people - almost the entire population in the area - remain without homes.

Rescue efforts are underway, but impeded due to the area's remoteness and landslides, which have blocked many roads in the area. Also a factor is the high altitude at which the area is located - about 4,000 metres above sea level (13,000 feet) - which could adversely affect rescue crews not used to being in such thin air. Sniffer dogs, for instance, who aren't accustomed to working at high sea levels, could have a harder time detecting living people buried beneath rubble.

Using shovels and their bare hands, residents and troops garrisoned in the Yushu county have managed to pull out more than 1,000 people alive, according to Chinese state media.

Further exacerbating the situation is the weather: temperatures are freezing, and meteorologists predict sleet and wind to come within the next few days. Many people were forced to sleep outdoors, protecting themselves from the cold in blankets, or spending the night in their vehicles.

Chinese president Hu Jintao, meanwhile, said that he would be dispatching over 5,000 rescuers and soldiers to the scene of the disaster. The government has also pledged over $29 million worth of aid. Hu described the quake as being a "huge calamity" and he is also shortening his visit to a summit in Brazil to return to his country. Premier Wen Jiabao has visited Yushu to oversee relief work and decided to delay a visit to southeastern Asia due to the disaster.

Meanwhile, some foreign countries have offered financial help; among them is Japan, which has pledged over one million dollars to disaster victims. The United States also said it is "ready to assist" if China requests international aid.

US President Barack Obama unveiled on Thursday plans for the future of American space exploration, committing to sending American astronauts to Mars by the mid-2030s.

The president was speaking at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a speech to lay out his plans for the future of the American space agency NASA. His comments included assurances that America was not abandoning space exploration, contrary to claims he was doing so after he announced the US's budget for 2011, which would have ended most of NASA's current projects, including the development of new heavy-launch rockets called the Constellation Program.

Under Obama's latest program, NASA would receive US $6 billion as supplementary funding over the next five years to develop new projects, which Obama emphasized, saying NASA was in the unusual position of having an expanded budget while other government agencies must comply to financial restrictions or cuts in efforts to reduce the US public debt. With the additional funding, NASA would extend the life of the International Space Station (ISS) by four years further, to at least 2020, develop a new series of heavy-lift rockets by 2015, and continue development of the Orion crew capsule, a major part of the Constellation program.

The centerpiece of the plan would be manned missions to the moon and beyond, beginning with missions to asteroids around 2025, with missions to Mars following within a decade.

Obama said that under his new plan, NASA would be able to achieve more in a shorter amount of time than it would have under the Constellation Program. He also said that, contrary to fears that changes in NASA would result in job losses in the state of Florida, where most space missions are launched from, under his new plan, a total of 2,500 jobs would be created in the area.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev left Kyrgyzstan Thursday for Kazakhstan after a large scale protest in the country forced him to flee from the Kyrgyz capital to his home village of Teyit. Kazhakstan's secretary of state and Foreign Minister called this "an important step" to stabilize Kyrgyzstan, thereby preventing conflicts in the country.

Bakiyev fled from the capital on April 7 after a violent riot broke out and citizens attacked government building. At least 83 people died in this violence in the Kyrgyz capital. While there is no arrest warrant against Bakiyev, his brother Zhanybek has one against him, however, the Interfax news agency of Russia mentioned witnesses claimed the deposed president had boarded a plane without his brother.

Earlier on Thursday, gunshots were heard in southern Kyrgyzstan during a political rally held by the deposed Kyrgyz President. This attack caused no injuries, but Bakiyev took a car to leave the rally after the shots were heard.

Bakiyev has been holding political meetings in towns near Teyit. Thursday's rally was in Osh, the largest city in the south of Kyrgyzstan, where the former was addressing a crowd of 5,000 people. Bakiyev arrived in a convoy consisting of minivans at Osh, where another rally supporting the country's interim government was being held.

Bakiyev has claimed he would resign his post if the interim government assured security to him and his family members. The latter have agreed to make such security guarantees to Bakiyev, but have refused it for him family members. They also said Bakiyev would either have to leave the country or be prosecuted, blaming him for corruption and the violences which occurred earlier this month. On Wednesday, Roza Otunbayeva, interim President of the country, said she would consider a direct discussion with Bakiyev but refused to discuss what would happen to his relatives.

According to a United Nations survey, more people in India, the second most populous country in the world, have access to mobile phones than to a proper toilet. Over half a billion cell phones are active in India, but only 366 million people there have access to a toilet.

India's 545 million cell phones serve about 45 per cent of the population of more than one billion. Only 31 per cent (366 million) have access to modern hygienic amenities as of 2008. The United Nations University (UNU) recommends achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) which aims to cut in half the number of people lacking safe water and proper sanitary arrangements. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), there would be a deficit of one billion people from that target aimed for 2015.

Recommendations made by the UNU include changing the MDG target from 50 per cent by 2015 to 100 per cent coverage by 2025. Another suggested reform was to assign 0.002 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to improving sanitation. Approximately 358 billion dollars would be required to achieve that MDG target, considering that a toilet costs 300 dollars.

On this day in history (10:13)

In 1943 Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann discovered the psychedelic effects of the semisynthetic drug LSD.


And those are the top headlines for Thursday, April 15th, 2010

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