Sunday, 1 January 2012

Breaking News

Breaking News

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Posted: 01 Jan 2012 08:21 AM PST

Nigeria regulator announces end to fuel subsidies

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 08:16 AM PST

Nigerian authorities announced on Sunday that a controversial plan to scrap fuel subsidies will be effective from January 1, a move likely to lead to strikes and street protests.

The plan is unpopular with Nigerians, many of whom see cheap fuel as the only benefit they get from living in Africa's top crude oil exporter. Previous attempts to remove the subsidy had prompted strike action and street protests, and many expect this one to be no different.

"The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency wishes to inform all stakeholders of the commencement of the formal removal of the subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit," said a statement by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).

"Petroleum products marketers are to note that no one will be paid a subsidy on PMS discharges after 1st January 2012," said the statement signed by PPPRA executive director Reginald Stanley.

Going ahead with the plan will save the treasury huge amounts of cash that critics like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said was being wasted on spending whose main beneficiary was fuel importers.

Nigeria produces more than 2 million barrels per day of crude oil but a lack of investment in refineries and infrastructure means almost all of this is exported, while refined fuel products such as petrol have to be imported at great cost, making the subsidy a huge drain on public finances.

Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told a town hall forum last month that the measure will save over 1 trillion naira ($6.13 billion) in subsidies in 2012.

But she admitted letting markets determine the pump price of petrol in Nigeria would push it up to 120 naira ($0.74) per liter, from 65 naira at present.

Central Bank governor Lamido Sanusi said Nigeria spent $16 billion of its foreign exchange on costly imported fuel in the first 11 months to last year - $8 billion sold by the bank to petroleum importers and a further $8 billion spent by the Treasury on the subsidy itself.


Labor and transport unions, human rights groups, market women, taxi drivers and lawyers' associations have been bitterly opposed to having the subsidy removed.

"The government has deceived us," said Peter Udor, an Abuja electrical engineer. "They told us that the subsidy will be removed after the budget approval by the national assembly in march or April ... This shows that the government is insensitive to the plight of majority of Nigerians. It's unfair."

Rosemary Abiogu, a nurse, said: "Subsidy removal signals more hardship for majority of Nigerians. Prices of fuel will not only go up but also that of other essential goods. They should have put the palliatives in place before removing the subsidy."

The government has said that any increase in the cost of goods would soon be offset in the medium term by economic reforms, such as more efficient customs clearance at ports that would reduce the cost of imports. Analysts agree.

"There will be an impact on inflation -- my forecast is that at most CPI goes up by a modest 2 percent -- but the productivity gain is that the price of petrol will be efficient," said Bismarke Rewane, managing director for Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives.

"It will attract more investments into the sector like building of refineries, pipelines, storage facilities etc and all these will translate into efficiency gains for the economy." ($1 = 162.3000 Nigerian nairas)

Man dies after New Year's Eve party assault in Luton

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 08:13 AM PST

A man died in a suspected stabbing at a New Year's Eve party in Bedfordshire.

Police and ambulance crews were called to an address in Hemsley Close, Luton, at about 03:00 GMT.

The man, aged in his 40s and from Luton, died a short time after being assaulted at the house party, police said. He had suffered a "chest wound".

Officers are appealing for people who were at the event to come forward. The area is cordoned off as detectives investigate the death.

Neighbours said "loud music" had been played at the house.
'Girls' screams'

One resident, who declined to be named, said: "I had gone to bed early and heard music from up the road. I was woken up.

"There were young girls running up and down the road screaming. There must have been quite a few people at the party."

A police spokeswoman said: "We are treating the death as suspicious.

"The man has received fatal injuries following an altercation at the party."
Resuscitation attempt

The man was found outside the property, in the town's Hockwell Ring area, and was pronounced dead within an hour of emergency services arriving at the scene, the spokeswoman said.

An ambulance service spokeswoman said the man had suffered a "chest wound".

"We were called to the scene at 03:06 GMT and the patient was in cardiac arrest," she said.

"He had suffered a chest wound and cardiopulmonary resuscitation was being carried out on the patient on our arrival. By 03:30 GMT, we had left the scene with the patient and he was taken to Luton and Dunstable Hospital."

The Top 10 Everything of 2011

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 08:06 AM PST

It could be argued that Minecraft was a 2010 release, but it just came out of beta in November, so we're putting it on the list; anyway, it's so great, it should be on the list every year. Minecraft isn't a complex pitch: you're in a very big, rather retro-looking low-res world. You can walk around, you can pick up things, and you can make other things out of them. While you're doing this, various animals try to eat you. The end. The complexity comes from you: the Minecraft universe is so endlessly, pleasurably reconfigurable and customizable that it rewards you for the zillions of hours you sink into it by becoming a reflection of your imagination.

Libya militia says holds Gaddafi supporters over plot

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 08:02 AM PST

A Libyan militia chief said on Sunday his fighters had captured nine supporters of overthrown leader Muammar Gaddafi who had been plotting to blow up Tripoli's power grid on New Year's eve.

"We captured explosives with them that they bought from the black market and now we're interrogating them," the commander of Tripoli's Revolutionist Council Abdullah Naker told Reuters.

Militia groups who helped oust Gaddafi last year still hold considerable power in Libya, and have taken the law into their hands in several areas, setting up road blocks and arresting suspects despite the presence of an official police force.

Naker said the nine Gaddafi supporters had been funded by a group of businessmen affiliated to the former leader, who was killed in October after militias overran his home town of Sirte.

Naker also accused the nine and their supporters of trying to relaunch the former leader's official television station Al Jamahiriya.

The men had been planning to set off a number of explosions in the capital, state media reported, quoting a statement from Libya's electricity and renewable energy authority.

Libya's interim government set a deadline that expired on December 20 for militias to leave Tripoli, and most withdrew their fighters and dismantled checkpoints last week.

Naker said a number of bands returned to the capital on Saturday, in a show of strength to Gaddafi supporters that he said were still at large, threatening the country.

Libya's interim rulers are trying to persuade thousands of militia fighters to join the military, police and civil service to try to break up the forces controlled by rival commanders with regional allegiances.

Naker and other militia chiefs have said they want guarantees that their men will be paid well by the government before letting them go.

Sachin Tendulkar-mania hits Australian media ahead of Sydney Test

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 07:54 AM PST

SYDNEY: The Australian media is gripped with Sachin Tendulkar-mania with the newspapers going overdrive on his meticulous preparation for the second Test starting on Tuesday with the anticipation of his 100th international century at the SCG, his "favourite ground" outside India.

Tendulkar averages a staggering 221 at the SCG and he has two centuries and a double century from just four Tests with a highest score of unbeaten 241, and the media Down Under is anticipating for him to complete his 100th international ton at the historic ground.

The local media were also enamoured by Tendulkar's 12-year-old son Arjun who spent time at the nets with his father.

"Watching Tendulkar in the nets was a study in how hard excellence is earned. How nothing is taken for granted, nothing gained without effort, nothing left to chance. Every action accountable. There is always something to be learned, always an extra effort to be made," a write up in The Australian said.

"He was a study in forensic training. A man working fastidiously to attend to something that undid his careful calibrations in the first Test," the newspaper said.

In the first Test in Melbourne, which India lost by 122 runs, pacer Peter Siddle had Tendulkar bowled off an inside edge from an innocuous-looking delivery with the Indian stalwart out on a loose shot.

"He spent an hour getting his net specialists to work on the problem. He batted for a whole hour, rarely did he take a ball -- apart from those bowled by his son -- from 22 yards. The two throw-down specialists and a staff bowler hurled balls at him from about 15 metres," the newspaper said.

"Tendulkar instructed Raghavendra (throw-down specialist) to deliver the ball from the edge of the practice wicket which is narrower than a Test strip," it said.

The local media also could not help but take notice of Arjun Tendulkar from enjoying his stint at the nets during the Indian team practice session.

"Arjun Tendulkar, the son of Test cricket's greatest run-scorer, is a boy already used to the attention that comes with being the son of an icon. Bowling at his father at Moore Park, as India stepped up preparations for the second Test against Australia starting tomorrow, he acted as if he was one of Duncan Fletcher's squad," a write-up in 'Sydney Morning Herald' said.

"While his father continues his quest for a 100th international hundred, keeping the cricket world holding its breath with each attempt, Arjun is busy making a name for himself, and not just in the Sydney nets," it said.

"The 12-year-old, clad in Team India training gear and a wide smile, strode in from a short run-off at the SCG practice nets and tried to find a way past his watchful dad, a man who holds a cricket bat like a wand. He was fended off, time after time. This is backyard cricket when your father is Sachin Tendulkar. You can't expect to get him out too often."

Other newspapers carried stories on Tendulkar's humility with accolades from current and former players, including Sunil Gavaskar, Shane Warne, Brian Lara, Ian Botham, Gary Kirsten, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Zaheer Khan.

Iran President Ahmadinejad condemns US banking sanctions

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 07:45 AM PST

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has hit back at the US, after Washington introduced new sanctions against Iran's central bank.

Mr Ahmadinejad said the bank was strong enough to defeat "enemy plans".

The sanctions - which cut off from the US financial system foreign firms that do business with the central bank - are part of a defence bill signed by President Barack Obama on Saturday.

They will take hold after a warning period of up to six months.

According to a statement quoted by the state-run Irna news agency, Mr Ahmadinejad said the central bank was "the backbone" of the country in facing outside pressure should have the strength and confidence "to thwart enemy plans".

The new US sanctions come at a times of heightened tension over the Iranian nuclear programme.

Western powers say Tehran is seeking to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, but Iran insists the programme is purely for energy and medical purposes.

There have been concerns that the sanctions against the Iranian central bank could force up the price of oil.

The bill, which was passed by wide majorities in both houses of Congress, gives the president the power to grant a six-month grace period to give oil markets time to factor them in.

A science news preview of 2012

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 02:59 AM PST

What scientific discoveries lie just around the corner in 2012?

Will we get the final word on the Higgs boson? And what is Nasa's next mission to Mars likely to turn up?

The BBC News website science team signs the office crystal ball out of the equipment cupboard to tease out the stories likely to make headlines over the coming year.
Fundamental questions

One news story we can bank on for 2012 is a definitive answer to the question: "Does the Higgs boson exist?" First proposed in the 1960s by English theoretical physicist Peter Higgs and others, the particle is a vital missing piece in the most accepted theory of particle physics. It is an essential and fundamental building block of the Universe, which explains why everything around us has "mass". Yet the particle has so far evaded detection by experiments.

But it can't hide for much longer. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has narrowed the "search area" down to a tiny strip in the allowed mass range for the Higgs. Physicists on two independent experiments have said they see hints of the Higgs boson in roughly the same place - at a mass of about 130 times that of the proton. But the statistical certainty is still not large enough to formally claim a discovery. The LHC re-starts in March 2012 following its winter shutdown period to save on electricity costs. And Dr Pippa Wells from the LHC's Atlas experiment told BBC News that if all goes well, scientists could have about 20 inverse femtobarns of data by next summer - about four times as much as they currently have. This should resolve the Higgs question once and for all.
Universe of Particles exhibition at Cern Discoveries at the LHC could help answer fundamental questions

While the discovery of the Higgs would confirm what many particle physicists have thought for years, a more unexpected observation is likely to make headlines next year. Members of the Opera experiment at Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy noticed that neutrinos fired from Cern 730km away showed up 60 billionths of a second earlier than light would have. Though it seems like a tiny discrepancy, it is one that occurs consistently. The apparent breaking of the ultimate speed limit by neutrinos will surely be put under further scrutiny in 2012. Next year is likely to see the publication of the team's work in a scientific journal and there will also be independent cross-checks of the results from the US experiment Minos and the Japanese T2K experiment.
A home from home

The discovery of planets orbiting other stars has become so commonplace that each new one barely elicits mention in the media (unless they come as a six pack). The Kepler space telescope is consistently turning up exoplanet candidates in bulk; at the time of writing it had found a total of 2,326 of them (but there are probably more by the time of reading). What seems inevitable is that one of them will end up being a dead ringer for Earth.

Already telescopes have confirmed a Kepler find as the first roughly Earth-sized planet around a Sun-like star that could play host to water - but the confirmation of a far-flung rocky world with oceans and an atmosphere awaits. There are 47 promising chances in Kepler's catalogue already, and plenty more yet to be confirmed. Next year we are likely to see something decisively more like our home planet, and we can then move on to the more daunting but more intriguing questions about whether other planets host life.
Ancient jigsaw
Preparation for ancient DNA extraction Ancient DNA could reveal many more surprises about our past

Following the publication of genomes from two of our ancient evolutionary cousins - the Neanderthals and Denisovans - geneticists have been mining the information for insights into human history. Fascinating discoveries came to light in 2011, such as clear signs there was widespread interbreeding between our ancestors and the mysterious people known as the Denisovans in Asia. Indeed, we now know that present-day non-African people derive about 4% of their DNA from these ancient humans who interbred with our ancestors as the latter spread from Africa 60,000-70,000 years ago.

Sexual relations between so-called modern humans and archaic people they met introduced genes that help us cope with viruses to this day. Scientists are now on the hunt for other parts of the genome - acquired from Neanderthals, Denisovans or some other ancient group - that might have helped our ancestors adapt as they moved into new environments. Prof Svante Paabo, the leading researcher in this field, has also been studying for the relatively small number of genes that differentiate modern humans from their ancient cousins. This could yield clues to advantages that may have given our ancestors a leg up. The analysis of DNA from more recent humans may also shed light on unresolved questions from the past, such as the degree to which modern Europeans are descended from Palaeolithic hunters or Neolithic farmers. The upcoming publication of Oetzi the Iceman's genome could also provide clues to how populations have changed since the Stone Age.
Material world
Graphene Will graphene soon begin living up to its promise?

2011 saw a few advances in the world of materials science, including the first computer chip not made of silicon. But there was much discussion also of the now-familiar "wonder material" graphene, which has proven its mettle in a few applications; we may soon see it used in chemical detectors. As of 2011, it can be spun into fibres or conductive mats that may even get in on the game of stretchable electronics. Such electronics have been "just around the corner" for a number of years now. Crane your neck and we may finally see them.

But in the 21st Century, any discussion of materials must also include metamaterials - those engineered structures that play tricks with light (or, as we saw in June, with sound) and can lead to "invisibility cloaking". The first steps toward invisibility cloaks necessarily involved making the effect work with visible light. But what is likely to happen before we get Harry Potter-style cloaks is that metamaterials will sneak into other applications. Next year, we will most likely see what is called "gain" in the materials, resulting in lasers that are actually smaller than the wavelength of the light they produce. Integrating those with existing electronics ideas could, in ensuing years, speed up computers and communications greatly. And applied on the outside, the same stuff could make them invisible - if ever we should need that.
Mission to Mars

Nasa's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is en route to its rust-coloured target. The biggest and most capable robot rover ever sent to the surface of another planet launched successfully from Florida in November. It is due to arrive at Mars on 6 August 2012 (GMT). But the high failure rate of Mars missions has led to jokes about a "great galactic ghoul" that swallows up missions to the Red Planet.

MSL will use a new rocket-powered descent system able to place the $2.5bn rover very precisely in the 150-km wide depression at the planet's equator where the rover will serve out its mission. If MSL can get safely to the surface, it will "wake up" in one of the most exciting locations on the planet. Scientists have sent MSL to explore Gale Crater because it is the geological equivalent of a sweet shop.

One of the deepest holes on the Red Planet, Gale has a central mound with a series of layers that cut across a billion years of Martian history. Some of the rocks inside the crater may have been deposited when Mars was a wetter place and perhaps more hospitable to life. Scientists on the mission stress the rover is not there to search for life itself, but it should be able to describe how comfortable a home Mars once was for any potential life forms, along with identifying a range of complex carbon-containing molecules, including some of the building blocks of biology.

Should Grantham do more to recognise Margaret Thatcher?

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 02:54 AM PST

Former prime minister Margaret Thatcher divides opinion, so what do people in Grantham think of calls to promote the town's connection with its most famous daughter?

At the former grocery shop and post office where Margaret Hilda Roberts grew up, there is nothing more than a small plaque to mark its connection with the future Baroness Thatcher.

The premises on North Parade, on the edge of Grantham town centre, have been a natural health and chiropractic centre since 1994, after being a restaurant for a decade.

Staff explain that Baroness Thatcher's old bedroom is used as a hypnotherapy room.
"It is sad that there isn't more to see really," says Sandra Good, who owns the business."I think that one day it might be regretted that nothing was done to preserve the building as a museum."We have so many tourists coming to photograph the building, some brave enough to venture inside."They come from Japan, they come from Portugal, from America, just from all over the world really."We had somebody once I thought he was going to kiss the carpet in the room he was so excited.'How marvellous she was'"Some are coach trips, some are passing through. Sometimes we get a little gaggle of Chinese or Japanese tourists outside. Sometimes it's one or two. Somebody comes every week."Some people just want to see it. Some people want to talk about it and say how marvellous they think she was."Heading towards the town centre, Grantham resident Alan Bywater, 46, is sitting on a bench next to a statue of Sir Isaac Newton, who was born near Grantham. Mr Bywater thinks the town should do more to promote its connection with Baroness Thatcher.

"Of course there should be more," he says. "They have a statue of him who dropped an apple on his head but she's got nothing, has she?

"They should probably have a statue. She's been the best prime minister since post-war, in my eyes anyway."

But Mr Bywater's friend, Yasmine Bougatef, isn't sure.

"I was reading in the paper that she was the one that caused the last recession and everybody losing their jobs, which is what Cameron is doing now," says the 27-year-old.
"I don't believe in that, but she was the first woman prime minister. It must have taken a lot of guts and strength for her in a place dominated by men."Maybe we should have more information when tourists do come to see her."

Baroness Thatcher, then Miss Roberts, left Grantham in 1943 to start a four-year chemistry degree at the University of Oxford, then moved to Colchester to work as a research chemist.

She visited Grantham on numerous occasions, according to local historian and retired journalist Jim Allen, who lives in the town.

"In my experience from talking to her, she always spoke of the town very fondly," says Mr Allen.

"She seemed to be proud to have come from Grantham, and more than proud of her school."

Baroness Thatcher's rise to power is charted in a film due for release on 5 January.

Ahead of this release, former Grantham mayor Ray Wooten has called for a Margaret Thatcher trail leading to a statue of her in the centre of the town.
'Didn't learn about her'

Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford Nick Boles has also called for a museum dedicated to her to be set up.

Sitting near the Isaac Newton Shopping Centre, Kerry Anne McSheffrey, 18, admits a lot of her school friends don't know much about Baroness Thatcher.

She says: "She went to my school, Kesteven and Grantham Girls' School.

"I think she opened something at the school ages ago and there's a little plaque, but we didn't learn about her."

Miss McSheffrey isn't sure if there should be more to promote Grantham's connection with her: "Obviously there's the Isaac Newton Shopping Centre and the statue of him, but she's not very popular."

Grantham's museum, which housed a display of Margaret Thatcher memorabilia, was closed due to spending cuts by Lincolnshire County Council.

A charitable trust is expected to reopen the museum in time for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in June.

Back in North Parade where Baroness Thatcher's father ran his grocery business, a giant 24-hour supermarket now stands opposite.

Here, shoppers are undivided in their calls for more recognition.

Graham Metcalfe, 52, says: "Something had to be done. The country was going downhill.

"You wouldn't know she had lived or been born there if you didn't know it because the plaque is quite small."

Kenneth Carratt, 81, says: "She got things done that wanted doing. They are on about getting a monument. I think that's a good idea."

The Grantham and Stamford constituency has a long history of electing Conservative MPs.

"She's not popular with the Labour people," added Mr Carratt. "I don't think a lot of people want a monument now. I know the Conservatives get in every time but that's the villages around."

Brenda Bell, 53, says: "They could have something like a memorial garden or a statue to her. They've got one for Isaac Newton haven't they?

"If you were just walking or driving through the town you would never know that she had any links with the town at all."

London New Year celebrations: 77 arrested

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 02:50 AM PST

Some 77 people were arrested during London's New Year's Eve celebrations, with most of the crowds generally "good humoured", police said.

More than 3,000 officers were on duty to handle the large crowds which had gathered in the capital. London Ambulance Service treated 274 patients.

An estimated quarter of a million people crammed onto The Embankment to watch the Olympic-themed fireworks.

Europe leaders warn of difficult 2012

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 02:46 AM PST

European leaders have warned of a difficult year ahead, as many economists predict recession in 2012.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe was experiencing its "most severe test in decades" but that Europe was growing closer in the debt crisis.

France's President Sarkozy said the crisis was not finished, while Italy's president called for more sacrifices.

Growth in Europe has stalled as the debt crisis has forced governments to slash spending.

The leaders' new year messages came as leading economists polled by the BBC said they expected a return to recession in Europe in the first half of 2012.

The cost of borrowing for some of the eurozone's largest economies, including Italy and Spain, has shot up in recent months as lenders fear government will not be able to pay back money they have already borrowed.

With growth stalled, the pressure is on governments across Europe, not just ones using the single currency, to cut spending in order to meet debt obligations.

Fears are now focusing on a potential second credit crunch, triggered by the exposure of banks across Europe to Italy's huge debt.
Euro defended

In her TV address, Chancellor Merkel said that despite Germany's relatively good economic situation, "next year will no doubt be more difficult than 2011".
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    The most likely outcome in pure economic terms is a moderately bad fiscal crisis, a survivable sovereign debt event and a sharp growth downturn, all in the first half of the year"

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"The road to overcome it [debt crisis] remains long and not without setbacks, but at the end of this path Europe will re-emerge stronger from the crisis than it was when it entered it."

She defended the euro, saying it had made "everyday life easier and our economy stronger... and protected from something worse" in the financial crisis of 2008.

Heading into an election year trailing his Socialist rival Francois Hollande in the polls, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said structural changes to the economy were needed in order to return to growth.

"I know that the lives of many of you, already tested by two difficult years, have been put to the test once more," he said in a televised address.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy gives his New Year's address - 31 December 2011 French President Nicolas Sarkozy faces an uphill battle to be re-elected in April

"You are ending the year more worried about yourselves and your children," he said.

But after having already pushed budget cuts in order to forestall a downgrade of France's treasured AAA sovereign credit rating, he promised there would be no more budget cuts.

"What was to be done was done by the government," he said.

Mr Sarkozy is due to meet Mrs Merkel in early January to push forward a European Union agreement in December for a new fiscal compact.
'Unavoidable' sacrifices

The president of Italy, the eurozone's third-largest economy, urged people to make sacrifices to prevent the "financial collapse of Italy".

President Giorgio Napolitano said: "Sacrifices are necessary to ensure the future of young people, it's our objective and a commitment we cannot avoid."
Greek protester Government austerity has undermined growth and caused a great deal of anger around Europe

Fears that Italy might need a Greek-style bailout that Europe would have difficulty dealing with have forced the government's borrowing costs up and led to the replacement of Silvio Berlusconi by Mario Monti, leading a cabinet of unelected experts.

"No-one, no social group, can today avoid the commitment to contribute to the clean-up of public finances in order to prevent the financial collapse of Italy," President Napolitano said.

"The sacrifices will not be in vain, especially if the economy begins to grow again."

Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, another technocrat who was appointed to lead an interim coalition government after the debt crisis forced George Papandreou to resign, also warned of a difficult year ahead.

"We have to continue our efforts with determination, so that the sacrifices we have made up to now won't be in vain," he said in a televised address.

His government has imposed harsh austerity measures in order to ensure Greece continues to receive an international bailout.

The austerity measures, begun in 2010 by the previous government, have led to mass protests and riots as high unemployment, raised taxes, salary cuts and reduced government services take their toll.

Reinventing the East Side Waterfront

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 02:42 AM PST

ONE by one, the announcements have come. Of a deal to convert Pier 42, located between the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges, from a storage facility into open space. Of design guidelines for Waterside Pier, a former Consolidated Edison site along the East River in Midtown, released in December by the Municipal Art Society. Of the opening of Pier 15, a block below South Street Seaport, which offers double-decker views of the East River.

These are but a sampling of the steady drumbeat of news items — real estate deals, park restorations, reclaimed piers and new esplanades — that herald the remaking of Manhattan's East Side waterfront. When all the pieces fall into place, planners and city officials say, there will be a nearly continuous ribbon of parkland and recreational space along the East Side. New Yorkers will no longer have to go west to enjoy the waterfront.

"There isn't any doubt that the East Side has lagged behind the extraordinary development of Hudson River Park," said Vin Cipolla, president of the Municipal Art Society, a nonprofit organization devoted to planning and preservation. "But the vision for the East River Greenway is coming into more tangible view. It's time."

Though the East River may lack the grandeur of the Hudson, there is much to savor: tugs cruise the choppy waters, a sandy beach fans out beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, the lights of the historic Pepsi-Cola sign streak the river red at night, the scent of salt hangs on the breeze.
For decades, however, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, as well as the river's industrial legacy and the sprawling United Nations campus, has kept those pleasures mostly at a remove. Now, said Seth W. Pinsky, the president of the city's Economic Development Corporation, "a golden age for the East River" is at hand, and even skeptical community leaders are feeling celebratory.

"It's sort of like, 'Wow, things are actually happening,' " said Mark P. Thompson, chairman of Community Board 6, which represents the area from 59th Street to 14th Street, east of Lexington Avenue. "Piece by piece, our waterfront is finally being recognized and turned into something people can use."

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's 20-year plan for the waterfront, unveiled in March, made the East River a priority, and new East River ferry service to Brooklyn and Queens has proved to be wildly popular, attracting twice as many riders as were projected. But the most significant milestone came in October, when city and state officials agreed to a land deal involving the United Nations that could pay for a new 22-block East River esplanade.

The deal lays out a complex set of transactions that would allow the United Nations to build a tower on part of a playground in east Midtown in exchange for $73 million and a replacement park. It would also unlock other financing for the esplanade, which would stretch from East 38th to East 60th Street, filling in what is now the biggest gap in the 32-mile Greenway around Manhattan.

The United Nations has yet to agree to the terms, but it has long been thought to want the deal, and is in negotiations with the city.

"The table has been set, and now the U.N. will have to come onboard," said Adrian Benepe, the commissioner of the city's Parks and Recreation Department. "I learned long ago in government never to promise anything unless you know the park is opening the next day, but things are moving in the right direction."

A stroll along the East River from Wall Street to Midtown reveals spots where access to the river remains obstructed by sanitation and utility structures, as well as parking and private development.

Some city officials and community leaders acknowledge that the East Side is unlikely to match the West Side in terms of amenities. There are not as many piers left along the East River to serve as sites for skate parks, playgrounds and restaurants. Nor is there as much land between the highway and the water, crimping the potential for parkland. Another issue is the proximity of the F.D.R. Drive, which can be deafening.

Still, impediments are being removed with speed. State Senator Daniel L. Squadron and Senator Charles E. Schumer, both Democrats, announced in mid-November that they had obtained $14 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to convert Pier 42, which now supports an empty warehouse, into open space. The money should cover the costs of shoring up the pier and demolishing the 600-foot-long shed on the site. Turning the four-acre pier into a park would cost tens of millions of dollars more, but Mr. Squadron called the initial investment "a foot in the door."

The pier will expand the southern end of East River Park, which runs from East 12th Street to Montgomery Street. At more than 45 acres, the park is the largest parcel of parkland on the river. The parks department is finishing a $98 million restoration of the park, where an esplanade almost collapsed a decade ago after marine borers chewed through its wooden pilings.

"East River Park has always suffered from having a narrow and undistinguished entrance," Mr. Benepe said. "Pier 42 would be a huge boon. It's something we've coveted for a long time, but we never had the money to do it."

Farther south, in addition to opening Pier 15, the Economic Development Corporation has started preliminary work on Pier 35, just north of Rutgers Slip, and plans to open that to the public in 2013. Between those two piers is an esplanade that the city eventually plans to upgrade with new lighting and sleek wooden furniture, including bar stools and chaise longues. And construction is under way on a half-mile portion of the East River Waterfront Esplanade, from the tip of Lower Manhattan to Wall Street.

On a warm November afternoon, office workers, residents and tourists flocked to the first two-block section of the esplanade, which opened in July, between Wall Street and Maiden Lane.

"I had to get out of the office," said Robert DiBarba, an information technology executive with a nearby bank, who was enjoying a red velvet cupcake amid the cry of gulls and the thrum of ferry engines. "It's a good view."

U.S. rings in 2012 as world bids 2011 farewell

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 02:36 AM PST

NEW YORK - Revelers erupted in cheers amid a confetti-filled celebration in New York's Times Square to welcome in the new year, part of star-studded celebrations and glittering fireworks displays around the world to usher in 2012.

From New Zealand to New York, the world eagerly welcomed a new year Sunday and hoped for a better future, saying goodbye to a year of hurricanes, tsunamis and economic turmoil that many would rather forget.

In New York, hundreds of thousands gathered at the crossroads of the world to witness a crystal ball with more than 30,000 lights that descended at midnight. Lady Gaga and Mayor Michael Bloomberg led the crowd in the final-minute countdown of the famed crystal-paneled ball drop.

Matheus Campos, a law student from Brazil, threw both arms in the air as the new year began in Times Square.

"It's awesome," he said.

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Revelers in Australia, Asia, Europe and the South Pacific island nation of Samoa, which jumped across the international dateline to be first to celebrate, welcomed 2012 with booming pyrotechnic displays. Fireworks soared and sparked over Moscow's Red Square, crowds on Paris' Champs-ElysDees boulevard popped Champagne corks at midnight.

But many approached the new year with more relief than joy, as people battered by weather disasters, joblessness and economic uncertainty hoped the stroke of midnight would change their fortunes.

"It was a pretty tough year, but God was looking after us and I know 2012 has got to be better," said Kyralee Scott, 16, of Jackson, N.J., whose father spent most of the year out of work.

Some New York revelers, wearing party hats and "2012" glasses, began camping out Saturday morning, even as workers readied bags stuffed with hundreds of balloons and technicians put colored filters on klieg lights. The crowds cheered as workers lit the crystal-paneled ball that drops at midnight Saturday and put it through a test run, 400 feet above the street. The sphere, now decorated with 3,000 Waterford crystal triangles, has been dropping to mark the new year since 1907, long before television made it a U.S. tradition.

In Times Square, hundreds of thousands people crammed into spectator pens ringed by barricades, enjoying surprisingly warm weather for the Northeast. The National Weather Service said it was about 49 degrees in nearby Central Park — about 10 degrees warmer than the normal high temperature.

As the country prepared for the celebration, glum wasn't on the agenda for many, even those who had a sour year.

"We're hoping the next year will be better," said Becky Martin, a former elementary school teacher who drove from Rockford, Ill., to Times Square after spending a fruitless year trying to find a job. "We're starting off optimistic and hoping it lasts."

Many expressed cautious hope that better times were ahead after a year in which Japan was ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami, hurricanes wreaked havoc across the country and a debt crisis devastated Europe's economy.

"Everybody's suffering. That's why it's so beautiful to be here celebrating something with everybody," said Lisa Nicol, 47, of Melbourne, Australia.

For all of the holiday's bittersweet potential, New York City always treats it like a big party — albeit one that now takes place under the watchful eye of a massive security force, including more than 1,500 police officers.

Dick Clark, who suffered a stroke in 2004, put in a few brief appearances mentioning that he has hosted his namesake New Year's Eve celebration for years, but said "tonight, it's better than ever." Clark, looking cheerful but struggling with his speech, introduced a performance by Lady Gaga and also assisted in the countdown. The show, hosted by Ryan Seacrest also featured a performance by Justin Bieber.

Natalie Tolli, a 13-year-old from Yonkers, said "it was the best time I ever had, especially seeing Justin Bieber in his red hat."

The father, George Tolli, said he and his wife and three daughters and son waited since 2 p.m. to get their place.

"It was a pleasant surprise, very controlled," he said. "In my 51 years, I've never been here for New Year's. But I did it for the kids. And it was worth it."

In Las Vegas, police shut down a four-mile section of the Strip to vehicle traffic six hours before midnight, letting revelers party in the street. Casino nightclubs touted pricey, exclusive bashes hosted by celebrities including Kim Kardashian and Fergie, and fireworks were expected to shoot from the rooftops of eight of the city's most famous casinos.

Atlanta welcomed thousands to its downtown, where a giant peach dropped at midnight. Fireworks were to be launched from the top of the Space Needle in Seattle; in Houston, tens of thousands were celebrating at a party with country singer Delbert McClinton.

In summer temperatures at Key West, Fla., three separate midnight drops took place. A giant facsimile of a conch shell was lowered at Sloppy Joe's Bar, Ernest Hemingway's favorite watering hole when he lived in Key West. At the Schooner Wharf Bar, the bar owner dressed as a pirate wench and dropped down from a mast of a tall sailing ship. And at the Bourbon Street Pub complex, a drag queen named Sushi descended in a glittering 6-foot red women's high heel.

Iran 'test-fires medium-range missile' in Gulf

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 02:31 AM PST

Iran has successfully test-fired a medium-range surface-to-air missile during military exercises in the Gulf, the official Irna news agency reports.

Iranian naval commander, Mahmoud Mousavi, was quoted as saying the missile was equipped with the "latest technology" and "intelligent systems".

The test comes a day after he denied earlier state media reports that Iran had test-fired long-range missiles.

He said on Saturday missile launches would take place "in the coming days".

Iran's 10 days of naval exercises began last week and are taking place in international waters to the east of the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

They come at a time of increased tensions between the West and Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Tehran reacted angrily last week to reports that Western nations were planning to impose further sanctions targeting Iran's oil and financial sectors.
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Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, which links the Gulf - and its oil-producing states - to the Indian Ocean.

About 20% of the world's oil passes through the narrow strait.

The US and its allies believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons - a charge Iran denies.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is purely for peaceful purposes. Iran has maintained that it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity to meet growing domestic demand.

Abhishek Bachchan writes a song for his hater

Posted: 31 Dec 2011 08:22 PM PST

This weekend it will be Abhishek Bachchan who will come face-to-face with his biggest hater, Pratiksha. The hater said that she finds Abhishek repetitive in every film whether it is "Dhoom", "Sarkar", "Sarkar Raj", or "Paa".

The hater said, "I slept through " Guru". There was that same expression of grumpy-sulky boy." In his defence, Abhishek said, "Most of these movies were superhits, so you are definitely the minority here. But I believe that if even one person is unhappy with my work, I should work towards rectifying myself. I beg to disagree with you; I wasn't a grumpy person in the film."

The hater said that she feels that Bachchan Jr gets a lot of roles because of his lineage and that he hasn't made the best of that opportunity. "I am sitting on the show because of who I am. I wouldn't have gotten a break in the industry had I not been Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan's son.

There was a lot of excitement in the industry about me becoming an actor and I thought it would be easy because I was Amitabh Bachchan's son. But the directors I approached told me that they didn't want to take the responsibility of launching me."

Abhishek also wrote a song for Pratiksha. He sang it with Arjun and Pratiksha. Abhishek finally said, "She has given me a reason to work harder." Watch Abhishek convince his hater to have a change of heart, as he promotes " Players" slated to release on January 6, on the New Year special episode of "Love 2 Hate U" tonight.

B-town wishes love, luck for New Year

Posted: 31 Dec 2011 08:17 PM PST

A host of Bollywood celebrities like Karan Johar, Madhuri Dixit and Lara Dutta have sent out good wishes to friends, family and fans for a joyful and loving 2012.

Actors and filmmakers took to micro-blogging site Twitter to send out New Year wishes.

Here's what they had to say:

Karan Johar: 2012 is definitely a year of hope and discovery... its definitely not the end of the world... its the beginning of a whole new world... To all of you in the twitterverse... the intense lovers... the lonely haters... the critical gang and the praise pack!!! A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Lara Dutta: Last day of the year. Time for reflection, gratitude and optimism! Have a super, bumper 2012 everyone!! Lots of love!

Neil Nitin Mukesh: Neither can you hug yourself... nor can you cry on your own shoulder... MUTUAL CARE is necessary for happy life. Wishing you a loving year ahead. Wish you all a very happy new year friends. May 2012 be a wonderful start to a lot of happiness to everyone!

Priyanka Chopra: Finally the time of the year for changes... off for my secret getaway for a day... into my world of dreams... have a super new year's and be safe!!

Madhuri Dixit: Back in Mumbai to see in the new year! Had a great time in the Maldives. Always good to be home. Have a safe, a prosperous New Year in advance.

Emraan Hashmi: Before it goes mental later, let me wish each and everyone of you a very happy 2012. God bless.

Shruti Haasan: Hey tweeple! Hope you have a happy safe delightful new years eve!!! Happy 2012!

Shekhar Ravijani: Let's all make a resolution together. Let's educate children who can't afford education. They are the future. We need to do whatever we can. Just want to wish all you people a very happy new year and thank you lots for your love and support. My wishes to your families as well. Love.

Pooja Bedi: Hope that the last day of 2011 is filled with magical moments, unbounded happiness, the company of loved ones & festivities!!! Love to all.

PM shown black flags by Anna supporter in Amritsar

Posted: 31 Dec 2011 08:12 PM PST

AMRITSAR: About three dozen supporters of social activist Anna Hazare staged protest against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA government for non enacting Lokpal bill, as Prime Minister came out of Sikh's holiest shrine Golden Temple after paying obeisance along with his wife Gursharan Kaur on Sunday. Supporters of Anna under the banner of India against Corruption were showing black flags.

Taking a cue from pre independence anti Simon Commission agitation, the Anna supporters raised slogans including 'Go Simon Go' and 'PM Jao Jan Lokpal Bill Lao' Strangely security personals were caught unaware of the proposed protest by Anna' supporters. "We had stayed overnight in Golden Temple in groups of four's so that no one could suspect on us" said one of the Anna's supporter Harinder Singh while talking to TOI. He said as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was about to come back from sanctum sanctorum, all the groups contacted over mobile phones and assembled outside Golden Temple where they were also joined by common man. As they saw Manmohan Singh coming out they started shouting slogans, they were however prevented by security personals to not get closer to the Prime Minister. Harinder Singh said they wanted to make Prime Minister realize the importance of Jan Lokpal Bill for the country.

Earlier Prime Minister and his wife had arrived at Golden Temple at around 6.30AM and listened kirtan inside sanctum sanctorum of Golden Temple for about 40 minutes. Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee presented Siropa (robe of honour) to Manmohan Singh and his wife. Later both of them went to Durgiana Temple to pay obeisance.


Posted: 31 Dec 2011 10:20 AM PST

January is named after "Janus" the Roman god of doors and gateways. He was commonly depicted in statues and paintings as a two headed man with one head facing forward.

In Iowa, Republican candidate Paul campaigns his way

Posted: 31 Dec 2011 10:06 AM PST

There's nothing quite like a Ron Paul rally.

If you've come expecting to hear the Texas congressman bash his opponents for the Republican nomination for president, you're likely to be disappointed.

And if you've come for a fiery pep talk or pandering words about how wonderful your state is, you're probably in the wrong place.

But if you think that the Federal Reserve and the United Nations are trying to take control of your life, that the military industrial complex wrongly pushes the United States into wars and that the media is part of the problem, then Paul's rallies might be for you.

Those rallies are attracting hundreds of people as Iowans prepare for the caucuses on Tuesday that will kick off the Republican presidential nominating process for 2012.

It's a reflection of a campaign that appears to be battling long-time front-runner Mitt Romney for first place in the Iowa caucuses, the first step in determining which Republican will face Democratic President Barack Obama in the November election.

Paul's support in Iowa is about 21 percent, according to recent polls, and does not seem to have changed much in recent weeks, despite reports of racist and anti-gay statements in newsletters released under Paul's name two decades ago.

Paul has disavowed such writings. But his backing may be so steady because, unlike any other Republican candidate, many of those who favor Paul are not just supporters. They essentially are a devoted campaign army -- a mix of young and old, who have bought into Paul as an authentic, no-gloss speaker of the truth.

For Paul and his followers, the topics involve a government run amok, banking conspiracies targeting the U.S. dollar or Paul's isolationist foreign policy.

During his campaign trail speech, Paul exudes his own brand of anti-charisma.

There is none of the physical, homespun humor of Texas Governor Rick Perry, one of Paul's opponents. There is none of Newt Gingrich's celebration of self or Romney's penchant for delivering confusing jokes.


Paul, 76, recites articles of the U.S. Constitution, rather than verses of "America the Beautiful" as Romney did in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Thursday.

At times, Paul will display a hint of a dry sense humour, telling the crowd, "I think there is an election coming up herhumor Paul is not widely viewed as a threat to win the Republican nomination but the strength of his support can be measured by the fact that some of his opponents have been attacking him recently.

Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, have been particularly aggressive in casting Paul as outside the Republican mainstream and having a dangerously isolationist foreign policy.

At Paul's rallies, many of his supporters say they share his suspicions about the government and threats to their liberties.

Cathy Ortman, who said she was undecided between Paul and Romney, was part of an older crowd gathered at the LeMars Convention Centre to hear Paul speak on Friday.

There, Paul - a frequent critic of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - blasted U.S. foreign policy and the Patriot Act, which increased the powers of U.S. law enforcement after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Ortman said people have to come see speakers like Paul in person "because you can't trust the media."

"The media portrays people wrong," Ortman said.

Eric Ropte of Brunsville, Iowa, said that media portrayals of Paul and his supporters are "180 degrees off."

Ropte, a truck driver, added that "the media doesn't like him because he doesn't want to bomb anybody."

When Paul showed up at an event in Manchester, Iowa, last week, his entire entourage fit inside a white minivan. It included his three Iowa co-chairmen, a personal aide, and a bodyguard. Only Santorum travels lighter.

By comparison, Perry's entourage travels in two buses that carry the governor, a security detail of Texas Rangers, media handlers and advisers.

In a contest normally marked by kissing babies and reciting local trivia (Perry told the home crowd that Burlington, Iowa was the "Backhoe Capital of the World"), Paul resists charm.

During a chance breakfast encounter Thursday morning with a reporter, Paul snapped, "Right now, the only thing that bothers me is people who don't respect my privacy enough to leave me alone for five minutes when I'm eating breakfast."


The candidates have developed their own signature pieces of campaign casual wear -- a blue flannel shirt for Romney, cowboy boots for Perry, an entire rainbow of sweater vests for Santorum. But Paul sticks with what might be called accountant chic. Almost every day, he wears a grey or blue suit, a white dress shirt and a tie, usually with red stripes.

"He doesn't change" his views, Nancy, of Clayton County, Iowa, said approvingly at an event last week. Like several Paul supporters at his rallies, Nancy declined to give her last name.

During his rallies, Paul casts himself as someone who can stop the nation from entering a darker place as a financial doomsday looms.

"I'm afraid of violence coming," he recently told a crowd of more than 600 in Bettendorf, Iowa. "When you see what the government is preparing for, and the arrests and military law, and the demonstrations in the streets, some people aren't going to be convinced so easily that you don't owe them a living."

This month in Iowa, Paul has repeated his predictions that the United Nations might take over the U.S. currency as the nation's debt spirals out of control.

One of Paul's biggest applause moments is his promise to cut $1 trillion from the U.S. budget. He also would eliminate the departments of Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce and Interior.

Economic analysts have said Paul's plans would plunge the nation back into a recession but his supporters say dramatic action is needed.

"The major issue we're looking at right now is the national debt," said Darrell Alderson, 54 of Sigourney, Iowa, who was attending a veterans' rally for Paul in Des Moines on Wednesday.

"We're printing money and using it to pay our interest," Alderson said. "That wasn't a good sign back in the '30s. The dollar is getting devalued . If we lose the dollar we're going to be in bad, bad shape. History's going to repeat itself."