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Friday, July 22, 2011

Heat-wave spreads across central and eastern US

A punishing heat-wave has settled over central and eastern parts of the US, pushing temperatures as high as 37C (99F) and causing up to 22 deaths.

The National Weather Service warned of "dangerous" levels of heat and humidity creeping east, with no relief expected in eastern states until Sunday.

As much as 50% of the US population was under a heat advisory, officials said.

Meteorologists have put the temperatures down to a "dome" of high pressure in the atmosphere.

On Thursday, many regions in the central US and parts of the eastern seaboard also saw heat indexes - a combination of temperature and humidity - topping 43C.

Turkeys 'hit hard'

"This is an exceptionally strong ridge of high pressure that really has an exceptional scope and duration," Eli Jacks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told the BBC.

Stay-cool tips from an Arkansas farmer

Douglas Holmstrom, a 67-year-old businessman and cattle farmer in Lonoke County, tells the BBC:

  • When doing outdoor construction work, keep the tools in the shade so they don't burn your hands
  • Start work early in the day
  • Wear a wet rag around your neck
  • "I wear a straw hat, I take plenty of breaks, and I make sure to work with somebody most of the time. You have to watch out for one another"
  • Don't get too used to the air conditioning: "The kids these days are so tuned to TV and to doing their games, they can't deal with the heat. If you stay outside and you're used to it, you can deal with it"
  • Eat fresh vegetables and fruits - stay away from greasy food

"The air is sinking, as it sinks it compresses and gets warmer." It also dries out, so few clouds form to block the high early-summer sun, he said.

Meanwhile, asphalt and concrete pavements and buildings in cities were "re-radiating" the heat, he added.

"There's no good place to be," Mr Jacks said.

Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the US, according to the National Weather Service.

Across the central and eastern US, people and animals alike have been struggling to keep cool amid the oppressive heat and humidity.

As the heat peaks in major population centres on the east coast, the number of deaths is expected to rise, officials warn.

Mr Jacks said the combination of high heat and high humidity made it hard for the human body to cool itself - because sweat does not evaporate efficiently.

In the town of Hutchinson in Kansas three elderly people were found dead in separate homes on Wednesday, while the body of a woman in her 80s was found in her bedroom in the nearby state of Missouri.

In Minnesota - a northern state known for its frigid winters - farm livestock have been dying from heat stress at a rate not seen in three decades, the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper reported. Turkeys were hit especially hard, the paper reported.

But Seattle shivers

In South Dakota, as many as 1,500 head of cattle have died in the heat, state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven told Reuters news agency.

The BBC's Susan Powell gives the forecast for the next few days

Urban areas have opened cooling centres for the poor and elderly, and the National Weather Service has warned people in normally cool areas to be especially cautious.

Philadelphia has deployed police officers to manage hot, irritated crowds at the city's public swimming pools.

Electricity utility company Con Edison said scattered power cuts were likely in New York in the next several days amid a surge in usage of air conditioning units.

Chicago was experiencing unhealthy smog levels caused by the heat. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency asked the city's residents to reduce polluting activities, such as mowing lawns and keeping the engines running on stationary vehicles.

Forecasters said the damage caused by the heat could be worse that that brought about by a heat-wave in Chicago in 1995, when more than 700 people died over three days.

A young swimmer jumps off a diving board in Fort Worth, Texas, on 21 July 2011 A swimmer jumps off a diving board in Fort Worth, Texas

By Friday, the low pressure system moving east is expected to bring thunderstorms with hail to the north-eastern US.

Meanwhile, as half of the country's 310 million residents sizzle, states in the north-western region of the country were experiencing abnormally cool temperatures.

"I didn't know it could be this cold in July. It is absolutely freezing here in Seattle," said one user of the micro-blogging website Twitter.

During the past month, Seattle has only experienced three days with temperatures hitting the 27C (80F) mark, with most days falling in the mid-60s, according to the city's Sea-Tac Airport measuring station.

High temperatures are responsible for killing 162 people on average in the US each year.

The most severe heat-wave in modern North American history took place during the Great Depression in 1936. The heat that summer was blamed for more than 5,000 deaths in the US and Canada.

AP

Cash-for-vote scam: Amar Singh appears before Delhi Police

Rajya Sabha member Amar Singh on Friday appeared before the Delhi Police for questioning in the cash-for-vote scam.

Mr. Singh drove to the Crime branch’s interstate cell in Chanakyapuri at 10.45 a.m. in his Mercedes car. He did not speak to the waiting media persons before entering the complex.

Mr. Singh, the then General Secretary of Samajwadi Party, is accused of sending bribe to win over three BJP lawmakers during the 2008 trust vote.

His appearance before the police comes after the Delhi Police issued summons to him under Section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code, asking him to present himself before the Crime branch.

The decision to call Mr. Singh for questioning comes after the arrest of Suhail Hindustani, who allegedly acted as a liaison between Mr. Singh and BJP MPs.

On Sunday, police had arrested Sanjeev Saxena, once considered close to Singh who allegedly delivered cash to the MPs to vote in favour of the UPA during the trust vote.

The arrests and fresh investigations into the case have come after Delhi Police was slammed by the Supreme Court last week for its “callous” approach in this case.

Besides Mr.Singh, police is also expected to question Samajwadi Party MP Reoti Raman Singh and BJP MP Ashok Argal.

Questioning of BJP leader L.K. Advani’s former aide Sudheendra Kulkarni, who allegedly was behind sting operation to trap the bribe-givers, is also likely to take place.

PTI

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Iran says it shot down a US spy plane over nuclear site


Iran has shot down an unmanned US spy plane over its Fordu nuclear site, a state-run Website reported on Wednesday, a day after it confirmed it was installing a new generation of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges.

“An unmanned US spy plane flying over the holy city of Qom near the uranium enrichment Fordu site was shot down by the Revolutionary Guards’ air defense units,” MP Ali Aghazadeh Dafsari was quoted as saying by the Youth Journalists Club, affiliated to Iran’s state TV.

“The plane ... was trying to collect information about the site’s location,” he said, without giving details. He did not say when the incident happened.

The Fordu site, secretly built inside a mountain bunker near Qom, was acknowledged by Iran only after Western intelligence agencies identified it in 2009.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast on Tuesday appeared to confirm a Reuters story last week that Iran was installing two more advanced models of the centrifuges used to refine uranium for large-scale testing at a research site.

In January Iran announced it had shot down two unmanned western reconnaissance drone aircraft in the Gulf.

The Pentagon denied that report but acknowledged some spy planes had crashed in the past due to mechanical failure.

Iran is at odds with major powers over its nuclear work, which the United States and its allies say are intended to enable Iran to produce bombs. Iran denies the allegations and says it wants only to generate electricity.

The United States and Israel, Iran’s arch foes, have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to end the nuclear row.

Iran has dismissed reports of possible US or Israeli plans to strike Iran, warning that it will respond by attacking US interests in the Gulf and Israel if any such assault was made.

Analysts say Tehran could retaliate by launching hit-and-run strikes in the Gulf and by closing the Strait of Hormuz. About 40 percent of all traded oil leaves the Gulf region through the strategic waterway.

The Islamic state often launches military drills in the country to display its military capabilities amid persistent speculation about a possible US or Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Reuters

France says Qaddafi could stay in Libya if quits politics; Libyan official in Moscow



Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi could remain in Libya if he quits politics, the French foreign ministry said on Wednesday, under a ceasefire deal to end the conflict with the Paris-backed rebels.

“One of the possibilities being considered is that he stay in Libya but on the clear condition that he steps aside from Libyan political life,” the minister, Alain JuppĂ©, told LCI television.

“That is what we are waiting for before we start the political process for a ceasefire,” Mr. JuppĂ© said.

Two members of Libya’s rebel Transitional National Council were due to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Wednesday.

France was the first country to publicly recognize the council and first to launch air strikes against Qaddafi’s military machine when now NATO-led operations began in March.

Meanwhile, Russia on Wednesday was to host Mr. Qaddafi’s foreign minister in Moscow as it presses ahead with mediation efforts to end the conflict between his regime and rebel forces.

Foreign Minister Abdelati Al Obeidi will be the highest-ranking Qaddafi official to visit Moscow since the conflict with the rebels erupted and is expected to hold talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

His visit was revealed in a statement by a Russian foreign ministry official to state news agencies a day earlier but formal details of the meetings have yet to be announced.

Russia backed the UN resolution that opened the way for Western military air strikes against Qaddafi targets but has since expressed fury with the duration of the campaign and accused the West of taking sides in a civil war.

Along with the African Union, Moscow has positioned itself as a potential mediator in the crisis and President Dmitry Medvedev’s envoy has held talks in both Tripoli and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

“We will continue to search for a compromise,” Mr. Medvedev said on Tuesday while on a visit to Germany. “In my opinion it is reachable.”

Mr. Medvedev has strongly backed Western calls for Mr. Qaddafi to quit but Russia has also denied speculation it could be ready to offer the Libyan leader sanctuary.

Meanwhile, the pro-Qaddafi Libyan ambassador to Moscow rejected the idea that Wednesday’s meetings could be aimed at finding a formula for Mr. Qaddafi to quit power.

“The political future of our country is an internal matter of Libya,” Amir Al Garib told the Moskovskie Novosti newspaper in an interview. “Not one foreign state has the right to interfere in our affairs.”

“I assure you that the leader of the Libyan revolution Muammar Qaddafi has no intention of leaving the state and will not discuss any proposals about this.”

He said that the main aim of Mr. Obeidi’s visit to Moscow was “finding peace.”

(Dina Al-Shibeeb, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English