Friday, November 30, 2007

Turkish plane crash kills 56

All 56 people on board a passenger plane that crashed in south-western Turkey have died. Initial reports from rescue helicopter teams found no survivors according to Tuncay Doganer, the head of Atlasjet.
The McDonnell Douglas 83 was carrying 49 passengers and seven crew. The aircraft was on a domestic flight from Istanbul to the town of Isparta when it disappeared from radar screens shortly before it was due to land. The crash happened at 23:36 GMT [01:36 local time Friday]. The weather was said to be good at the time of the crash and there were no reports of problems with the aircraft [BBC]

Troubling days for the Labour Govt

It has been a troubling week for the Labour Party this week.

Just as the memories of having lost the data of a third of the UK population were beginning to fade from the media spotlight, and along came another disaster.

It emerged that the Labour Party had received loans from donors who had given money through intermediatories. This in itself was illegal, but as further details were reported, it became clear it was far more serious.

Dodgy loans as they have come to be called has dogged Mr Brown who himself is looking particularly haggared. During PMQs on Wednesday, the Prime Minister was the subject of ridicule after the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable described the leader as have gone “from Stalin to Mr Bean in a matter of weeks”. The previous week in Parliament, David Cameron told the PM to “Get a grip”. But now Gordon Brown’s grip on his party looks tenuous.

As the Prime Minister attempted to deflect the barage of criticism he insisted he had followed correct procedure. Attempting to shift responsibilty from himself, he said, “The electoral commision will decide if it is a matter for the police.”
And within hours it was and the police were once more about to knock at the door of number 10.

And the only debate in the weeks media was Labour’s catastrophic series of bungles. From Northern Rock, Foot & Mouth leaks from government laboratories, lost CDs and illegal funding the Labour Party is now beginning to look corrupt and incompetent.

Speaking on BBC’s This Week the Labour MP Diane Abbot described the situation as being like “Sewage bubbling up under the door” and a hangover from “the Blair era”. But whilst Mr Brown may not be directly implicated in the latest fiasco, he is taking a great deal of flack from all sides.

Victim of circumstance or does the series of catastrophes befalling the current government show signs of a gradual disintigration of failed government policy.

Caroline Flint MP talking on Question Time said, “of course it doesn’t look great, but we need to have an enquiry and find out what happened and when”.

But many members of the public are incredulous of the Labour government and its leader. “He wasn’t that good a chancellor and he’s lost it. He should go” said one member of the audience of the BBC debate show.

Public Opinion polls also show labour’s lead to have fallen after the recent crises. It remains to be seen whether the party and Gordon Brown will recover before any future election.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

7.3 Earthquake hits Caribbean

A magnitude 7.3 earthquake has struck off the coast of Martinique. The USGS reported the large tremor as occurring at 14.921N, 61.264W. Although the quake struck at 19:00 GMT [15:00 local time] it has only been reported on CNN and via e-mail alerts in the last 30 minutes. There will be concerns of possible tsunamis and further after shocks. The epicentre of the earthquake was less than 8 km from the coast of Martinique and a little over 20 km from populated areas of Saint-Pierre and Le Lorrain. The capital, Fort-de-France is some 40 km from the epicentre with a population of 95,000, a quarter of the island’s inhabitants. Early reports suggest some dame to buildings in Fort de France, but as yet there are no reports of casualties [BBC]

Friday, November 23, 2007

Rescue complete in Antarctic sinking

All passengers and crew have been rescued from the Explorer which hit an iceberg earlier today. The 100 passengers and 54 crew have been taken on board the Nord Norge. The M/S Norde Norge has shown pictures of the stricken vessel on its own website which show the ship to be listing heavily at 45 degrees.

154 rescued after boat hits ice-berg

A cruise ship is sinking in the Antarctic Ocean after hitting an object. The 1st expedition cruise ship in the world ran into trouble at around 5 a.m GMT Friday morning and passengers were put into lifeboats. Built in 1969, the Explorer was specifically designed for Antarctic sailing and is operated by Gap Adventures based in Toronto [BBC].

All 154 passengers and crew on board are said to have been evacuated and placed into lifeboats. CNN reported the weather as calm off the South Shetland Islands where the incident occurred with temperatures at -5 degrees Celsius. The rescue operation was being coordinated by the Argentinean Coastguard with the assistance of the British coastguard in Falmouth. At least one rescue boat, the Endeavour, was said to be on scene with another making its way [Sky News]. According to latest reports the boat hit an ice-berg. Members of the crew are also said to be remaining on board helping to pump out water from the stricken vessel.

Pakistan suspended from Commonwealth

Twenty days after President Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan, the world’s community are beginning to react in a more robust manner towards the military dictator. Yesterday Pakistan’s membership of the Commonwealth was suspended. Pakistan has reacted angrily to the decision calling it “unjustified and unreasonable”. But the Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon said Pakistan was being suspended "pending restoration of democracy and the rule of law" [BBC].

The last three weeks have been turbulent in the country with the arrest of protesters and isolated violent attacks. Benazir Bhutto and Imran Khan have both been placed under house arrest during the continued state of emergency which most are calling martial law. There still remains uncertainty as to when Musharraf will call elections. And many are saying that fighting such an election during a state of emergency would be extremely difficult [CNN]

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

PM apologizes for data débâcle

Following the worst security breach in British history the Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said that measures will be put into place that to ensure such an incident never happens again. His comments during Prime Minister’s Question Time in Parliament came less than 24 hours after Alistair Darling announced that the government had lost the data of 25 million individuals. The detail of what had been lost astonished the House and accusations of incompetence swiftly followed.

According to the Chancellor, the information consisted of child benefit lists. These files included names, addresses, dates of birth, child benefit numbers and national insurance numbers of Britain’s 15 children. The files also included the personal data of their carers or mothers and in some cases the bank details of an un-stated number of individuals. More than 7.2 million families were said to be affected. The Chancellor went on to say he regarded the matter as a “serious failure by the HMRC in its responsibility to the public”.

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne MP called the government incompetent and insisted they “Get a grip”. He also suggested the public would never again trust them with personal data. “Today must mark the final blow for the ambitions of this government to create a national ID card. They simply cannot be trusted with people’s personal information”

Media coverage was extensive following the revelations. BBC’s Newsnight programme devoted more than 25 minutes to the issue. Jeremy Paxman introduced the programmed with scathing remarks. “There could hardly be a bigger instance of incompetence when it comes to data entrusted by citizens of this country by their government”, he said. Paxman went on to describe the data loss as “monstrous” and that beyond the resignation of Paul Gray, others should also take responsibility. Paul Gray, chairman of Revenue and Customs, the department from which the data was sent, offered his resignation to the Chancellor shortly after the security breach was discovered.

The discs began their journey in the Child Benefit Office in Washington, Tyne & Wear. On Thursday the 18th of October a junior employee of the HMRC Child Benefit Office sent the discs to the National Audit Office in London. The member of staff downloaded the files onto two CDs and sent them, unrecorded, through the internal postal system using the courier firm TNT. The discs, however failed to arrive at the NAO, but bosses at the HMRC were not told until the 8th November. Alistair Darling was informed two days later on the 10th and after launching a full investigation the police were called in on the 14th November. It has subsequently emerged that banks were not informed for yet another two days on 16th November.

Opponents of the Labour government are putting the responsibility at the door of the current Prime Minister. Gordon Brown, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, had made changes by combining responsibilities of Revenue and Customs giving them oversight of benefits. In addition job cuts amongst civil servants are also being cited as another failure in government policy. Michael Fallon MP told Newsnight the government were entirely to blame. “They designed this system, they spatchcocked together the revenue with the customs, two completely different departments. They gave the Revenue the responsibility of organizing child benefit, tax credit, which the Revenue had never had before. And finally they imposed on the Revenue these draconian job cuts, which undermined morale in the organization. So they can’t pretend it was nothing to do with them. They’ve been running the Revenue and Customs for the last ten years” he said.

What is particularly shocking is the level of encryption on the discs. According to Newsnight investigations, there was no encryption and only simple password protection. According to one expert, breaking through the passwords could be relatively simple with the appropriate software. And how useful would the data be to criminals? Avivah Litan, a Security Analyst for Gartner Inc., said there was a thriving market for such information. Robert Schifreen, a former hacker and now a security consultant, expressed surprise the data had not been encrypted.

But this most recent débâcle is by no means the first time the government has lost data or had security breaches. In April 2007, junior doctors’ confidential details were revealed to be accessible on the internet. In September the HMRC lost a CD containing data on 15,000 Standard Life customers. In October an HMRC laptop was stolen from a car. The computer contained information about customers with high value ISA accounts. And this was only one of 41 laptops ‘lost’ in the last 12 months.

The sending of the CDs by post, internally or otherwise, may, according to Dr Ian Brown of the Oxford Internet Institute, constitute a breach of the Data Protection Act. “I hope the Information Commissioners Office will be opening an investigation” he told the BBC.

Jane Kennedy MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, was evasive about whether the government would pick up the losses given the information fell into the hands of criminals. She told Jeremy Paxman that the Chancellor made clear that “nobody will lose as a result of any fraud arising from this breakdown”. Pressed by Paxman as to whether the government would refund lost assets she said, “all I can tell you right at this moment is that the banking system has a system in place that will make sure that nobody loses..” Paxman interrupted saying, “It wasn’t the banks that made the mistake” to which the Financial Secretary conceded. But she added, “Inquiries will be made to find out where liability lies”.

Professor Ross Anderson from the University of Cambridge spoke of a move over the last ten years to increase transformational government which entails the putting together of public sector data into fewer and ever larger data bases. These data bases gave more and more people routine access and he described the security blunder as an “accident waiting to happen”. He then went on to accuse the government of continually ignoring advice on matters of security. A report to the Information Commissioner suggesting the proposed Children’s data bases were unsafe and illegal had, he said, been “brushed aside” along with several other reports on the handling of sensitive data.

Paxman then scolded Jane Kennedy saying that families thoughout Britain would never trust the government again. But as she attempted to defend the government, Paxman interjected. “I’m sorry you’ve just demonstrated utter incompetence” he said.

Asked as to whether any safeguards could be made to prevent a repeat of this fiasco, Prof. Anderson simply said, “No”. System architecture, policy and how electronic government is managed from the top down were, he said all features that posed security problems.

The newspaper headlines spoke volumes as to how much confidence prevailed in the wake of the data loss. The Independent ran with a headline of questions; “Who? What? Why? Where? When? THE DATA DISASTER”. The Daily Mail was more forthright calling the loss “Mind-Blowing Incompetence”. Wednesday’s Channel Four News uncovered further revelations that the NAO had not even requested the entire database. They had only asked for names of children along with national insurance and child benefit numbers. They specifically asked that parents’ information, including addresses and bank details, be stripped from the information provided.

Whilst millions of UK citizens were worrying about their bank security, there were further financial concerns after shares in Northern Rock fell sharply yesterday. The bank has been the focus of much media attention in recent weeks after hundreds of customers withdrew funds after worries about the future of the bank.

Today’s apology by Gordon Brown may mean little to the millions affected, and even less if the data does fall into the hands of criminals [BBC].

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The risks of social networking

If a leaflet arrived through your door or an email found its way to your inbox asking for personal and private information which would be stored by the government, many members of the public would be up in arms. The suggestion for an ID card, proposed by the British government, has already been met with derision and criticism as an invasion of privacy.

Yet millions of citizens are prepared and openly willing to put personal, private and potentially self incriminating information on the internet via so called ‘social networking sites’. Facebook is becoming increasingly popular, and along with sites such as MySpace, Friends Reunited and Flickr, they are becoming a massive resource of information for 3rd parties, whether that be the state or unscrupulous criminals.

Signing into Facebook for the first time will require the user to reveal their date of birth, their real name and email address. Of course not all this information is displayed online, if appropriate boxes are checked, but with dubious privacy policies, published by Facebook, the information may be provided to others. According to the original Facebook policy, they state, "We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile." Additionally they say "We may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship." But besides assurances from spokesmen Chris Hughes that they have never provided information to 3rd parties, many are concerned. Another particular concern is that users may only ‘deactivate’ their account, and not entirely delete it. Once an account has been deactivated, all the personal information of users remain on Facebook's servers in case in the future they wish to reactivate. The website provides no means for users to permanently delete their account. A student from the University of British Columbia pursued the issue with Facebook. A Facebook representative responded by asking the student to "clear his account" before the termination process could begin. This included "415 wall posts, 126 friends, and 38 groups." The student subsequently gave up on terminating his account permanently as the process of deleting every wall post, friend and group on his profile would require 1158 mouse clicks [Criticism of Facebook]. This was clarrified further on Channel Four News which raised the subject with Facebook. However the company only provided written answers to some of the questions posed to them. On one point they were adamant. Facebook told Channel 4 News that: "We give users the notice that the UK Data Protection Act requires in order to inform them about what information is collected. We also give users granular control over what information they share and who they share it with."

The Information Commissioner's Office, which oversees the implementation of the Data Protection Act said in a statement:"Many people are posting content on social networking sites without thinking about the electronic footprint they leave behind. It is important that individuals consider this when putting information online. However, it is equally important that websites also take some responsibility. "In particular they should ensure that personal information is not retained for longer than necessary especially when the information relates to a person who no longer uses the site."

According to a study conducted at MIT, privacy on Facebook is undermined by three principal factors: users disclose too much, Facebook does not take adequate steps to protect user privacy, and third parties are actively seeking out end-user information using Facebook. We based our end-user findings on a survey of MIT students and statistical analysis of Facebook data from MIT,
Harvard, NYU, and the University of Oklahoma. We analyzed the Facebook system in terms of Fair Information Practices as recommended by the Federal Trade Commission. In light of the information available and the system that protects it, we used a threat model to analyze specific privacy risks [MIT report].

All this is leaving many users of such sites open to identity theft. The Daily Telegraph reported that it is an issue which is beginning to concern many banks which have seen a rise in internet fraud over the past few years. Online banking fraud rose by 44 per cent last year [2006] to £33.5 million, according to the payment association APACS, whilst Internet shopping fraud amounted to £155 million.

There is also the threat to your career. Too much information about yourself can give potential employers ammunition with which to make a decision to weed out candidates from their lists. Being too honest may also get you fired. According to an article in The Sun, Tom Beech set up a thread entitled: "I work at Argos and can't wait to leave because it's sh*t." However, the newspaper said that bosses instructed Beech to shut down his posting, and suspended him from his job in Wokingham. Others face disciplinary proceedings for spending too much time on the site.

Such sites are also proving a more direct threat with people being targeted by stalkers and worse. CNN yesterday highlighted the case of a MySpace user who was unwittingly drawn into a friendship with a ficticious ‘boy’ who later turned out to be a parent living nearby. At first messages from the ‘boy’ were complimentary. But later the insults came flying, and the young and impressionable girl became distraught. The 13-year-old, Megan Meier of Dardenne Prairie, subsequently hanged herself. But while the media have widely reported the tragedy in sympathetic terms, others have been less forgiving. The portrays Megan as a ‘drama queen’ who was ‘fat’ and a ‘bitch’. The adage that you can’t libel the dead may be true, but the vitriol disseminated on the internet about this girl displays yet another pitfall of the internet age. There were nonetheless more than 200 comments left on this blog, all critical of the mother who pretended to be a friend of Megan.

The internet may be a powerful resource for information, but that information may well be yours and may be your undoing.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bangladesh - Over 3000 dead after cyclone

Four days after Cyclone Sidr swept through Bangladesh the death toll is set to rise into thousands. Sky News last night reported the numbers may increase to 15,000 while CNN today reported 3,000 dead with a likely increase as rescue teams scour the affected areas. The cyclone sent a massive storm surge across the coastal regions of the country leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. At least 280,000 people have been made homeless by the cyclone.

Europe has also suffered extreme flooding with Turkey and Greece being mostly affected. So far 2 people have been reported killed in Greece from the storms [CNN].

Turkey has been hit by torrential rain and flooding for the last two weeks. At the beginning of the month at least 32 died in the south-east of the country [BBC], but the bad weather has continued increasing the death toll further.

Space race for Helium-3

CNN today reported on the continuing Space Race to the moon. China and Japan have both successfully placed probes about Earth’s only satellite and the US have recently announced a proposal to send a manned mission in 2020. India has also suggested a manned mission and China is set to put a Lunar rover on the surface by 2012. But why the renewed interest in Earth’s nearest neighbour? During the Apollo missions Helium-3 was discovered and it is this rare element that excites scientists. Rare on Earth but potentially plentiful on the moon, it is a requirement for fusion reactors which may solve energy needs in the future. Fusion power is seen as less risky than fission reactors, but sceptics have suggested such technology maybe more than a century away.

One month after the Japanese place Selene into orbit, China’s Chang’e probe arrived [BBC / CNN]. Pictures are due before the end of the year, but already Japan has sent back spectacular Hi-definition video. Kaguya, or Selene as it is also called, consists of a main orbiting satellite at about 100km altitude and two small satellites (Relay Satellite and VRAD Satellite) in polar orbit []. China’s Chang’e mission, which is named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, is a three part space program. Further launches are set for 2012 and 2017 [Chang'e space program].

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Widespread damage after Chile quake

Earthquake damage in Antofagasta [pic. Valentina Gustos]

Thousands are homeless following a magnitude 7.7 earthquake which hit near to the city of Antofagasta on Wednesday. At least two died and more than 100 were injured when the earthquake struck. Widespread damage and power outages were also reported and copper production has been disrupted [CNN]

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Britain launches military satellite

Britain’s military satellite system Skynet got a step closer tonight after a launch from French Guiana tonight. The Ariane 5 rocket launched earlier this evening putting the second set of satellites, that make up Skynet 4, into orbit. The first of the series of satellites was put into orbit in March this year with the next scheduled mission is set for May 2008. Skynet 4 is part of military communications encryption system costing in excess of £6.6 billion. [ / BBC / BBC video]

Brown proposes new anti-terror plans

Prime Minister Gordon Brown today announced new security measures in order to tackle the ongoing terrorist threat.

Following the Glasgow airport attack in June 2007 the Prime Minister said he would role out a plan to put in place “Robust physical barriers” in front of vulnerable buildings such as shopping centres. He added he intended to make buildings blast proof as well as implementing vehicle exclusion zones in some areas.

Airport style security measures such as baggage screening may be put in place at railway stations and sea ports. But alongside his proposals increasing security measures the government announced that hand luggage restriction may be relaxed in January 2008.

Controversially, the government has announced its intention to seek greater powers of detention for terror suspects. The time a suspect may be held without charge is currently 28 days, but the police and Home Office are asking for up to 56 days detention [BBC].
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7.7 Earthquake hits Chile

An earthquake has hit near to the town of Calama in Chile [22.189S, 69.843W]. The quake which registered at 7.7 on the Richter scale struck at 12:40 local time [15:40 GMT]. There are no reports of damage or injuries at this time [USGS].

Monday, November 12, 2007

UK - new 'bird-flu' case found

A case of bird-flu has been confirmed at a farm in Diss, Norfolk according to Sky News. Around 5000 turkeys are set for slaughter following the outbreak. It is not known at this time if the virus is the virulent H5N1 strain which itself poses a human risk to health. However a 10 km restriction zone has been implemented and movements of poultry is being restricted. The outbreak will concern many in the farming industry following recent outbreaks of Foot & Mouth Disease and Blue-Tongue Disease in cattle. The news also comes less than two months before Christmas when turkeys are the traditionally eaten.

Environmental disasters hit Russia, US & UK

One of the stricken vessels in the Black Sea

Russia is seeing its worst environmental disaster in a century with some Russian officials saying it may take decades to clean up a massive oil spill. Storms hit several ships in the Black sea during the weekend and reports say that up to ten ships have sunk and at least 2 sailors are confirmed dead. Oil, sulphur and scrap metal has spilled into the sea which borders several countries including Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. Environmentalists are calling the spills a “catastrophe” and say that thousands of birds have already been caught up in the pollution. At least 2,000 metric tones of fuel have so far polluted the inland sea and 20 sailors have been reported missing [BBC] .

Meanwhile, authorities are continuing to tackle an oil spill in the US after a tanker collision resulted in a massive fuel spillage. More than 250,000 litres of fuel oil leaked from the Korean bound tanker after the accident last Wednesday in San Francisco Bay. Already, hundreds of birds have died [CNN].

And in London there are now concerns after asbestos was found to be in the massive smoke plumes that enveloped East London on Monday. Police have told the public not to panic but to close windows and doors [Sky News] .

Massive fire envelops East London

Smoke seen from 20 km away - Canary Wharf is seen to the left.

Breaking News: A massive fire has hit an area of Stratford in East London. Huge plumes of smoke can be seen for many miles.
Pictures from Sky’s news helicopter show the fire to be located at an industrial site in the 2012 Olympic development site. Reports suggest the fire is at an old bus depot in Waterden Road. There are at least 15 fire appliances at the scene with 75 firefighters tackling the blaze. Authorities are not connecting the incident to any form of terrorist activity. The fire is disrupting local transport and causing traffic problems in the area. According to fire services the fire is located at a disused warehouse some 80 metres by 60 metres in area. The news broke at around 12:15 GMT with CNN, Sky News and Sky swiftly bringing Live pictures to viewers. There are no reports of injuries according to the London Ambulance Service. [BBC / CNN / Sky News]

Massive fire in East London

There is Breaking News that a possible explosion has occurred in the Stratford area of London. Huge plumes of smoke can be seen from miles across London. More soon...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

IPCC report slams Metpol chief

Pressure is mounting against the Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair after the release of the IPCC report into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. The IPCC criticized the commissioner personally for attempting to block an independent inquiry into the events of the 22nd July 2005. "The commissioner attempted to prevent us carrying an investigation. In my view much of the avoidable difficulty of the Stockwell incident has caused the Met Police arose from the delay in referral [to the IPCC]" the IPCC chairman Nick Hardwick said [BBC]. Shadow Home Secretary David Davis again called on Sir Ian to stand down especially with regards his attempt to prevent an inquiry taking place. But Labour’s Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said she stands fully behind the head of the Metropolitan Police. London’s Mayor, Ken Livingstone also stood by the commissioner but many members of the London Assembly this week passed a vote of no confidence in the police chief [BBC]. Speaking earlier this week Mr Livingstone said, “Al-Qaeda must be laughing at us while we busy ourselves pillorying the police who keep us safe”. Whilst it may be true that terrorists would capitalize on the criticism of the Metropolitan Police, many questions still need to be answered according to the IPCC. The report, which runs to 170 pages, cites a catalogue of errors and puts forward many recommendations. The IPCC particularly singled out the failure in communications between officers on the ground and those within the command structure [Sky News].
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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Pakistan - 'Martial Law' declared

President Pervez Musharraf has declared a state of emergency and imposed martial law. The constitution has been suspended, TV & radio stations have been taken off the air, and telephone lines have been cut in major cities according to reports on CNN.

The US is said to have opposed the imposition of martial law. Akbar Ahmed, a former ambassador to the UK speaking on CNN said, “It is a sad day for democracy in Pakistan”.

The British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband, said he was “gravely concerned” over the situation, and called for a swift return to democracy. The US Secretary of State said she was “deeply disturbed” by the events in Pakistan and added that the US did not back the “extra constitutional measure” [BBC / Sky News]

According to ABC news in the US, “The United States urged Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, not to do it. But he did it. He imposed emergency rule. He ignored appeals from the United States and other Western governments despite a stern face-to-face warning Friday from an American commander, Adm. William Fallon.” The situation in Pakistan will further sour ties between the two countries which has long been considered a strong ally in the War on Terror.
CBS said Benazir Bhutto had been sitting on board a plane at Karachi when martial law was declared. She expressed fears she might be arrested. “She is waiting to see if she is going to be arrested or deported," Wajid Hasan, her spokesman said after speaking to the former Pakistani prime minister by telephone from London.

Meanwhile the White House has called on Musharraf to step down as leader of the military and not to go back on his pledge of January elections.

Friday, November 02, 2007

11% cut in UK fuel production after fire

Petrol prices rose sharply this week, partly as a reaction to a fire at the Petroplus depot on Wednesday [31/10/2007]. Oil refining operations at Petroplus Holdings AG's plant outside London have been halved because of the fire, the Swiss-based company said Friday. And there were already signs or shortages on Essex forecourts.

The fire damaged a key production unit, the company said, meaning the plant will produce less than half its 220,000 barrel-per-day output for the next month. The Swiss oil company Petroplus, which bought the Coryton Refinery from BP in May 2007, is responsible for loading about 700 tankers a day to meet 22% of the UK's forecourt demand. As a result petrol supplies will have dropped by 11% for Britain as a whole [IHT].

"This might be what virtually guarantees £1-a-litre," said Paul Watters, spokesman for the Automobile Association said earlier this week. "It's absolutely the last thing we need at the moment and it's bound to increase the price of petrol."

Bloomberg yesterday reported fuel rises across northern Europe. Spot gasoline for immediate loading in Amsterdam-Rotterdam- Antwerp jumped $45 to $842 a metric ton at 12:26 p.m. Thursday in London, the highest since September, 2005, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The cause for the blast which has affected markets is still under investigation. However, a manager at the plant said it started after a leak of petroleum gas ignited.

UK - Refinery blast hits petrol prices

Fuel prices are set to rise above £1 per litre

Petrol prises are set to rise as a reaction to the fire at the Petroplus depot on Wednesday a number of papers have reported [Daily Telegraph / The Sun].

"This might be what virtually guarantees £1-a-litre," said Paul Watters, spokesman for the Automobile Association. "It’s absolutely the last thing we need at the moment and it’s bound to increase the price of petrol."

Bloomberg later reported fuel rises across northern Europe. Spot gasoline for immediate loading in Amsterdam-Rotterdam- Antwerp jumped $45 to $842 a metric ton at 12:26 p.m. in London, the highest since September, 2005, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The cause for the blast which has affected markets is still under investigation. However, a manager at the plant said it started after a leak of petroleum gas ignited [BBC].

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halloween brings tricks and threats

A police officer on the beat in Loughton on Wednesday night

Halloween may bring a treat for many children, but every year anti-social behaviour brings misery to others. In Loughton, Essex, north-east of London, scores of youths ran amok setting off fireworks. The police presence was too little and too late to control the disorder that was present in the High Road. It was not an isolated case. In Hornchurch, Essex, a police van packed with officers rushed to where more than 50 youngsters, aged between 12 and 18 years had gathered. As the police arrived the youths scattered, running across a filling station forecourt and across a busy road. It was only luck that prevented an accident as the youths ran between cars in an attempt to flee from the police. And in Watford police themselves were the target after lit fireworks were thrown at them [Watford Observer].

More serious incidents were reported yesterday with fireworks being used maliciously. One elderly man was subject to an arson attack with a firework push through his letterbox. London Tonight’s reporters were shocked at such a brazen disrespect to a war veteran. “You could have killed someone”, the reporter said. Sky News also reported on a firework attack in a shop. The resulting explosion caused one person to seek hospital treatment for smoke inhalation. A baby only narrowly avoided being injured in the attack in Bolton. The incident gained international coverage after CCTV pictures were released. Fox News also reported the attack which was widely covered in the UK press and on TV news [BBC].

Heather Mills, the estranged wife of ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, was also the subject of criticism after it was alleged her ‘anti-social behaviour’ had resulted in the death of someone’s pet dog. reported that a firework party had scared a neighbour’s dog to death. Fireworks have become an increasing public nuisance with the use not confined to the 5th of November. Members of the public keep the devices for other celebrations including birthdays, New Year celebrations and weddings. But the real cause for concern is the misuse by children. Shops have been targeted by police to prevent sales to minors, but youngsters are still able to obtain the dangerous items [Peterborough Today].

UK - Metpol guilty for breaching health & safety

Jean Charles de Menezes lies dead in tube carriage No. 536-13

The Metropolitan Police have been found guilty of putting public at risk whilst carrying out the operation which culminated in the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes . The judge said, “This was a corporate failure and not an individual failure” and added that the incident was “An isolated breach brought on by extraordinary circumstances”. But he imposed a £175,000 fine and £385,000 in costs against the Metropolitan Police. Already the Liberal Democratic Party has called for the resignation of Sir Ian Blair, the police commissioner. “It is only right for someone to take the responsibility in the name of the organization as a whole” Nick Clegg MP, Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, told Sky News. The Conservative Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, added to the call for Sir Ian’s resignation saying his position was “untenable”. But Labour’s Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the Commissioner had her “full confidence and support”.
The news of the verdict was reported shortly after 14:00 GMT and set the news agenda for the rest of the day on rolling news channels. The Metropolitan repeated earlier statements saying they expressed the deepest regret over the shooting of Mr de Menezes.
Former flying squad officer, John O’Connor, told Sky News that the language used on the day was confusing and ambiguous. Cressida Dick who was on duty merely issued an order to “stop” the suspect. This left firearms officers with a decision to either to shoot to kill or to simply apprehend and arrest Mr de Menezes. After a confused surveillance operation, Jean Charles de Menezes was held down on a tube train at Stockwell station and shot 7 times in the head using hollow point bullets.
The shooting of the innocent man came a day after 4 failed suicide attacks on London’s transport system and a week after bombers killed 52 people in the so called 7/7 terror attacks.
Speaking to the press after the verdict Sir Ian Blair said the incident of 22nd July 2005 was a “Tragedy” in which an innocent man died. He said that the Metropolitan Police service had apologized many times to the Menezes family and had deep regrets over the death. Following the verdict of having been found guilty of breaching health and safety concerns he said, “What we will do now is to see if our operational practices need to be altered”. Asked who was at fault, Sir Ian said it had been “a race against time” to find 4 terror suspects and that “things happen”.