Wikinews:Briefs/August 5, 2010

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Today on Wikinews : California's same-sex marriage ban is ruled unconstitutional; mass panic ensues as Zimbabwean officials fake an air crash; UFO encounters may have been covered up by Churchill and Eisenhower and, in history, the story of Silent Otto.

Today is Thursday, August 05, 2010. I'm Dan Harlow and this is Wikinews.


A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled that California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage in the state, violates the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R Walker wrote in his statement that "Each challenge is independently meritorious, as Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation."

Proposition 8, which was passed by California voters by referendum in November 2008, banned same-sex marriage in the state, which had been legal after a California supreme court ruling on May 15, 2008. The proposition's passage did not reverse the marriages of thousands of same-sex couples who had gotten married in the state in the interval.

Anticipating a defeat of the case titled Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the pro-Proposition 8 coalition of "defendant-intervenors" filed this morning a "motion for stay pending appeal", asking the court for its ruling to not take effect unless the decision is upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals; both sides in the case say an appeal is inevitable.

Speaking for LGBT rights group Lambda Legal, Jennifer C. Pizer said, "In holding that Prop 8 cannot stand because it violates the equal protection and due process rights of California’s lesbian and gay couples, this decision adds to the growing consensus in courts and legislatures across the country that there are no good reasons for excluding same-sex couples from marriage." Courtenay Semel, an actress and LGBT activist, told Wikinews "today marks another day in history! A big win for equal marriage. It's about time that progress is being made towards equality for all."

On Thursday, Zimbabwean officials informed the media that an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767 aircraft carrying 250 people had crashed at Harare International Airport, before they announced the reports were false and the incident had in fact been a drill to simulate the occurrence of such an event. Initial reports suggested that a flight from London had crashed upon landing at the airport. However, Medical Rescue International later stated in a post on Facebook that no airplane had crashed and it had "joined up with other services to attend to a mock accident at Harare International Airport ... Good to keep the practising up."

Those behind the staged accident had reportedly not told any other governmental departments, resulting in relatives inquiring with Air Zimbabwe as to what had happened. A senior figure for Air Zimbabwe stated that he was "concerned that this incident led to many, many calls to us. People were frightened. No actual plane was involved, but there was a scenario involving a Boeing 767 plane that had been hijacked and forced down at Harare airport."

It was reported that Peter Chikumba, chief of Air Zimbabwe, had also not been informed that the exercise was to take place, and that the airline had set up an emergency help desk to liaise with the families of victims. Alan McGuinness, a correspondent for Sky News, stated, "journalists who arrived at the airport saw smoke rising from a runway and were then taken to a room where they were told to wait. David Chawota, the head of the Zimbabwe Civil Aviation Authority, said the media was duped to make the drill more realistic." Chawota stated, "telling the media was part of the exercise. We wanted to see how the media would react," he said.

Chawota himself told BNO News that an airliner had crashed. Michael van Poppel, head of BNO News said that "while I first thought Chawota was just misinformed by others, although that would be odd since he is the CEO of the aviation authority, I was stunned to hear that he actually knew it was a drill and wanted to see the media's response ... This basically means he was lying to me when I spoke to him, but also to other reporters he spoke to ... I think it was absolutely irresponsible of this CEO and I can't imagine what the families of passengers travelling to Harare around that time must have gone through when they heard news reports that there had been an 'accident' at the airport."

McGuinness reported, "Stuart Sprake, general manager of FX Logistics, works at Harare airport and believed the secrecy surrounding the drill will help emergency crews learn valuable lessons." Sprake told reporters "they (the crews) had to find their way through crowds and traffic ... training exercises should be ad hoc - the less people know about it the better."

Tragically, there was a real accident today in Missouri

involving two school buses, a tractor trailer and an sport utility vehicle has left at least two people dead and fifty more injured about 40 miles outside of St. Louis, Missouri.

The incident occurred Thursday morning on I-44 in Gray Summit between 10:15 AM to 10:30 AM local time according to Jorma Duran, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The school buses were carrying students from St. James High School and it was en route to the Six Flags St. Louis amusement park, approximately 10 miles from the scene of the accident.

It wasn't immediately clear how exactly the collision happened.

A criminal investigation has begun in Edinburgh after three children were killed in a fire at a three storey terraced house just before 3pm yesterday.

Firefighters were called to the house on Slateford Road in Scotland's capital city, for a reported gas explosion, and they put out a small fire in an upstairs room. However, there was no evidence of an explosion and none of the surrounding houses were damaged. Three young children, two boys and a girl, were found to have died at the scene. Police are treating the deaths as suspicious.

A woman believed to be the children's mother was found injured on the ground in front of the house and there are reports that witnesses saw her jump from a third floor balcony. She was taken for treatment at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

The mother of the three children, now named as eight year olds Luca and Austin and five year old Cecilia Riggi, is to be questioned by police after details emerged that suggest it is unlikely the children died in the fire.

In a statement the Lothian and Borders Police said: "The investigation into the cause of this tragedy is in its early stages." However, the police have also said that there was no fault with the gas supply.

Neighbours have reported that they heard screaming from inside the house and one source said that when they found the victims lying dead in the living room it was "a horrific scene." However reports that the children died before the fire broke out have not been confirmed by official sources and only reports by neighbors and others at the scene have indicated this. Police, refusing to confirm these reports, say that the results of the post-mortems would help them decide whether to launch a murder inquiry into the incident.

According to Detective Superintendent Allan Jones the mother, Theresa Riggi, and her three children had been living in Edinburgh for little over a month since they were reported missing from their home in Skene, Aberdeenshire last month. Mrs Riggi is currently in a stable condition in hospital and Det Supt Jones said they are hoping to speak to her on Thursday. He said: "She's not in a position to speak to us at the moment."

The children were reportedly at the center of a custody battle between Mrs Riggi and the children's father, Pasquale Riggi. The father, who is not a suspect in the investigation, has been informed of the tragedy and is helping police to determine the last movements of the family. Det Supt Jones reported: "He's heartbroken but he's very composed. He realizes he holds a lot of central information that we need. We're conscious of the trauma he's gone through."

Theresa Riggi and her husband were going through divorce proceedings and she was due to appear at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Tuesday but apparently she did not attend the hearing.

The Judge, Lady Clark granted a search warrant for Mrs Riggi and said that social workers should supervise the children, applying for child protection orders if necessary, after Mr Riggi's counsel asked for an order to safeguard the children's interests.

The children were allegedly educated at home so the Social Work Department had had no contact with the family since they moved to Scotland from the US.

It is believed that Mrs Riggi may have turned on the gas, which a neighbor then smelled and called emergency services, which may have led to the original report of a gas explosion.

Tributes of flowers have been left close to the scene with cards of sympathy and condolences.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell testified for prosecutors on Thursday in a war crimes case against former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

Taylor allegedly gave an uncut blood diamond to Campbell in 1997 when they met for dinner in South Africa, according to Professor David Crane of Syracuse University.

Crane told Voice of America, "The testimony itself is important because the prosecution wants to show that Charles Taylor has the mindset or what we call the mens rea to use the blood diamonds that were mined by Sierra Leoneans chained to pits in the Kailahun and Kenema area. And, he was using them for various reasons: to buy guns, to use cash to deposit, and also to buy influence."

Taylor denies he possessed any uncut diamonds.

Campbell said in her testimony, "When I was sleeping I had a knock on my door. I opened my door and two men were there and gave me a pouch and said, 'A gift for you.'" She said the men gave her "very small, dirty looking stones."

She continued, "At breakfast I told Miss [Mia] Farrow and Miss [Carole] White what had happened and one of the two said, well that's obviously Charles Taylor, and I said, yes I guess it was."

Campbell was not sure Taylor sent her the blood diamonds and she claimed she assumed it was the accused and continued stating it was unlikely anyone else gave her the gift.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, The Netherlands ruled that no one may sketch, take photographs, or make videos of Campbell due to her high profile. Photographers were barred from taking photos of Campbell entering or leaving the courthouse, but her testimony was recorded as usual.

Google has decided to retire the Google Wave social-networking service after one year, citing lack of user adoption.

In May 2009, Google launched Wave as a private beta. A year later, it became open to the public. Wave is an email service that integrates social media features and capabilities into emailing and it also integrates IM-like features into its service. The company has released components of Google Wave as open source for those to create a similar service.

Urs Hölzle, Google senior vice president for operations, said in a blog post that "Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked. We don't plan to continue developing Wave as a stand-alone product." Hölzle also said that as a "web app for real time communication and collaboration, it set a high bar for what was possible in a Web browser. We weren't quite sure how users would respond to this radically different kind of communication." Google says that it will continue the service until the end of the year.

In light of documents released by the National Archives, The United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense has investigated claims that Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower may have orchestrated a cover-up of an Unidentified Flying Object sighting by the Royal Air Force.

Numerous public inquiry files suggest that great concern was had for the proposition that former Prime Minister of The UK, Churchill and than US General Eisenhower, knew of an unknown metallic object approaching RAF aircraft off the British coast during World War II. One inquiry noted a discussion between Churchill and Eisenhower overheard by Churchill's body guard by the apparent grandson of the body guard (whose name was blacked out).

The inquiry read, "During the discussion with Mr Churchill, a consultant dismissed any possibility that the object had been a missile, since a missile could not suddenly match its speed with a slower aircraft and then accelerate again [...] Another person at the meeting raised the possibility of an unidentified flying object, at which point Mr Churchill declared that the incident should be immediately classified for at least 50 years and its status reviewed by a future prime minister".

Further records showing Churchill's general interest in UFOs were released along side many other public inquiry files that concluded any UFO sightings were no threat to British airspace and minutes from a Joint Intelligence Committee meeting in 1959, where UFO sightings were a major theme.

Sightings made by officials and civilians were discussed at the Joint Intelegence meeting and 16 cases were singled out, 10 were identified as technical faults, misinterpretations and hoaxes - while 6 remain unidentified.

The unit of the Ministry of Defence that dealt with UFOs was closed last year.

On this day in history (14:42)

Though he served only one and a half of the six years of World War II, the German U-boat commander Otto Kretschmer, popularaly known as Silent Otto, was the most successful Ace of the Deep and no other U-boat commander was able to surpass him in terms of tonnage sunk.

Otto was born in Liegnitz, a city in south-western Poland on May 1 1912. At the age of seventeen he spent eight months living in Exeter, England where he learned to speak English fluently and in 1930 he joined the Reichsmarine where he became an officer and served for 1 year on the light cruiser Emden, the only ship of her class and the first new warship built in Germany after World War I.

By January 1936, he had been promoted to a senior lieutenant and was transferred to the U-boat fleet where he received extensive training and a year later during Germany's involvement in the Spanish Civil War, he was placed in command of the submarine U-35 where he patrolled the Spanish coast but sunk no vessels. However when Germany invaded Poland in 1939 he and U-35 were sent to patrol the British coast in the North Sea.

Kretschmer's first success came when he attacked and sunk the Danish 10,517 ton tanker Danmark on January 12, 1940. However the British admiralty at that time thought that the tanker had actually struck a mine as they did not locate any U-boat in the area. A month later, on February 18th, Kretschmer sank the 1,300 ton British fleet destroyer HMS Daring while she was escorting a convoy from Norway. U-Boat crews almost always avoided deliberately engaging enemy destroyers, so the Daring's destruction was rightly seen as a very skillful attack by Kretschmer.

Then in April 1940, Kretschmer was transferred to command of the newly-completed U-99, one of the new type VII submarines (the most successful submarine of the German fleet) and it was while during this command where, in a sense, he started his legacy.

During the first four patrols of the U-99, Kretschmer started attacking convoys at night on the surface, taking down merchant ships with highly accurate shots, using only one torpedo per target ship in order to save ammunition, and the quote "One torpedo ... one ship" is attributed to Kretschmer. From around this time, he was also given the nickname "Silent Otto", both for his successful use of the "silent running" capability of the U-boats as well as for his reluctance to make radio broadcasts during patrols.

And on one patrol during November and December 1940, he sank three, and mortally wounded another, British armed merchant cruisers totalling over 46,000 gross tons. These three successes earned Kretschmer the number-one spot on the Aces list, and was never surpassed even though his tactics were widely copied, with mixed results, throughout the U-Boat force.

Kretschmer was also meticulous in his conduct towards the crews of torpedoed ships. When attacking lone merchant ships in the days before wolfpack tactics began in earnest, he had been known to hand down bottles of spirits and blankets into lifeboats and give them the course to the nearest land. On one patrol in September 1940, Kretschmer retrieved a survivor of another torpedo attack who was alone in the Atlantic on a small raft and took him aboard, transferring him later to a lifeboat after his next successful attack.

On a patrol during March 1941, he sunk 10 more vessels, but on the 17th of March U-99 was disabled after repeated depth charge attacks by the British destroyers HMS Walker and HMS Vanoc.

Kretschmer surfaced and, under fire from the British vessels, scuttled his boat. Three of his men were lost, but Kretschmer and the remainder of U-99's crew were captured by the British.

Kretschmer's usual standards of conduct were evident during the sinking of his boat; he signaled HMS Walker asking for rescue for his men, took pains to ensure as many left the submarine as possible, and assisted some of his crew towards the rescue nets hung from the British destroyer. Kretschmer's strength was evidently failing in the cold water and his own rescue was at the hands of a British sailor who climbed down the nets and plucked him from the water.

Upon his capture, he spent almost seven years as a P.O.W. in the hands of the British. However, Kretschmer was so valuable to the German command that in 1943, the Germans tried to rescue him from Camp 30 in Bowmanville, Ontario during the daring Operation Kiebitz.

The plan involved sending coded messages sent by mail through the International Committee of the Red Cross to the prisoners. The goal was to tunnel out of the camp, and make their way 870 miles through eastern Canada to northern New Brunswick where they would rendezvous with an awaiting U-boat. However the Canadians had been intercepting the coded messages all along but did not tip off the prisoners as the they were hoping to get a rare chance to seize a German U-boat in Canadian waters; a feat that would have been an intelligence coup for the Allies.

As the date of the escape attempt drew closer, the camp guards moved in and seized the POWs, including Kretschmer, but one officer, Wolfgang Heyda, managed to escape over the camp walls using a crude zip-wire on electrical cables. Heyda eluded search parties and the massive police response and somehow made his way on Canadian National Railways passenger trains from southern Ontario to Pointe de Maisonnette in northern New Brunswick on Chaleur Bay. Heyda arrived at the location at the appointed time only to be arrested by personnel who were waiting to coordinate a surface task force that would attempt to attack and/or seize the awaiting U-boat.

U-536, which had been tasked with picking up the escaping naval officers, arrived off Pointe de Maisonnette and at the appointed time was signaled with a light that the escapees were to have used, however the U-boat commander was suspicious, particularly after his hydrophones picked up the sound of several warships that lay hidden nearby. U-536 opted to remain submerged and began to evade the warships which searched throughout the night and attempted unsuccessfully to attack U-536 with depth charges.

Had the plan been successful, it would have been sensational propaganda material for the Nazi war machine however Kretschmer remained a prisoner and U-536 was sunk the following month before it returned to its German homeport.

Kretschmer wasn't returned to Germany until December 1947 where, like several other surviving German naval veterans, he joined the post-WWII German Navy, the Bundesmarine, until he retired in September 1970 as a flotilla admiral. During a vacation in Bavaria on August 5th 1998, this day in history, he died in an accident on a boat on the Danube, while celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary. He was later cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.


And those are the top headlines for Thursday, August 05, 2010

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