Friday, February 10, 2012

World Leaders Wedding Photos.

Unique wedding pictures of world leaders. Believe it or not they had to pass all that buttock-pain too ergo that makes them pretty much mortal just like the rest of us.

Barack Obama

Bill Clinton

Margaret Thatcher

Alexander Lukashenko

Viktor Yanukovich

John F. Kennedy

Vladimir Putin
Dmitry Medvedev
Source from Fillinn

Thursday, February 9, 2012


The destruction of the Aral Sea is a well-known example of unsustainable development. Atlases used to describe the sea as the world's fourth largest lake, with an area of 66,000 square kilometres and a volume of more than 1,000 cubic kilometres. Its waters supplied local fisheries with annual catches of 40,000 tons and the deltas of its tributaries hosted dozens of smaller lakes and biologically rich marshes and wetlands covering 550,000 hectares. 

Aral Sea from space, August 1985

Fifty years ago, the Aral Sea was the world's fourth inland sea, after the Caspian Sea, Lake Superior and Lake Victoria. It started shrinking due to Soviet irrigation projects, its surface area declining by more than 50 percent, to 30,000 square km from 67,000 square km, between 1960 and 1996. The sea level dropped by 16 metres, according to the World Bank.

Aral Sea from space, 1997

* The sea straddles the former Soviet Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It split into a large southern Uzbek part and a smaller Kazakh portion in 1990.
Aral Sea from space, August 2009

* Central Asia, one of the world's driest regions, has two main rivers, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya. Both used to feed the Aral Sea. In the 1960s Soviet planners built a network of irrigation canals to divert their waters into cotton fields in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, starving the sea of its life blood.

* Mismanagement of land and water resources has caused degradation extending to the entire Aral Sea basin, damaging fish production and causing high salinity and pollution as well as violent sand storms. Fresh water supplies have diminished and human health problems have risen, according to the World Bank.

* Kazakhstan pledged to restore its portion of the Aral Sea when it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Aral Sea region is among the poorest in the oil producing state. At least a quarter of its population lives below the poverty line, and the average monthly income is three times below that of Kazakh financial capital Almaty, according to official data. Average life expectancy is 66 years compared to 70 in Almaty.

* The first phase of a World Bank restoration project is due to be completed at the end of 2008. Total cost is $86 million, including a $64.5 million World Bank loan to the Kazakh government.

The aim is to secure the northern Kazakh pocket of the Aral Sea at 42 metres above Baltic Sea level and improve ecological conditions in the area. The project includes construction of the Kok-Aral dike which separates the northern sea from the southern part, and several hydraulic structures on the Syr Darya river.

* The World Bank is considering a follow-up project to improve environmental and economic conditions further, a scheme estimated to cost $300 million. It includes returning water to the port of Aralsk and nearby villages, rehabilitating delta lakes and improving river flows.

* Similar efforts have been impossible in Uzbekistan, where most river water is still directed to cotton production -- one of the main pillars of the Uzbek economy. The south part continues to shrink. Experts, including the World Bank, doubt the Aral Sea will be ever restored to its original size. (Editing by Catherine Evans)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Homs: Bloody winter in Syria's revolution capital.

The ancient city of Homs is now a warzone as President Bashar al-Assad's army strikes fiercely at the heart of Syria's 11-month-old anti-government uprising.

Hundreds in Homs have been killed by rockets, mortar rounds and snipers' bullets since the start of the year, say opposition groups, as the Syrian regime tries to regain control of the country's third largest city.

The humanitarian crisis in Homs is worsening -- dozens are reported dead nearly every day, and opposition activists say they don't have enough doctors or medical supplies to treat the wounded.

Homs, known as the capital of the revolution, has seen the worst of the violence that has left at least 6,000 people dead since protests began in Syria in March 2011.
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Located in the agricultural heartland of central Syria, the city has long been a transport and commercial hub of vital strategic importance.

The road through Homs connects the capital, Damascus, in the south to Syria's largest city, Aleppo, in the north. Homs is home to one of two oil refineries in the country; preserving that oil supply is crucial to the Assad regime's ongoing efforts to crush the anti-government movement there.

The city's citizens, known as "Homsies," hold a contradictory place in the Syrian national conscience, according to Chris Phillips, a Syria analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

"Homsies are often the butt of jokes in Syria," said Phillips, "but they've actually got quite a large cultural and educational influence on the country."

The city of 1 million is one of Syria's most ethnically diverse. Traditionally a Sunni Muslim merchant town, a considerable number of Alawite Muslims, a Shia sect, have settled in Homs in the past 30 years, and there also is a small Christian population in the city.

"We live in a complex community, with many different sects and religions," a Homs opposition spokesman -- who uses the name Abu Rami to hide his real identity from security forces -- told CNN.

"Before the uprising, we were all living here as brothers and we didn't think there were differences between us," said Rami from central Homs, where scores have been killed in non-stop fighting between opposition and regime forces this month.

Homs is more warzone than city now, he says. Parts of the city are without electricity; in other parts, security forces shut off the electricity and telecommunications networks ahead of early morning raids to root out opposition members.

"If you're in a place where they cut off the power or the phones, you know you're in trouble," said Rami.

There is a shortage of everything from children's milk formula to oil for heating, and he says security forces are preventing medical aid from reaching dying citizens.

Many of the injured are being treated in field hospitals in civilian homes, including some who died from wounds that would not have been fatal with proper care.

"Every day there are murders -- snipers on the roofs are shooting anything that moves, preventing the arrival of medical supplies and shooting at ambulances. It's a very hard situation," said Rami.

A 26-year-old born and raised in a middle class family in Homs, Rami left his medical studies at Al Baath University to help organize protests against al-Assad's government in March.

But the city and its once-vibrant sidewalk cafe culture are now in lockdown mode after fighting intensified there recently.

Defectors from the military have joined volunteers in forming the Free Syrian Army in Homs, and residents in some neighborhoods have organized into armed defense committees, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

With at least 60 checkpoints set up in Homs and dozens of tanks now surrounding the city, the opposition fears al-Assad is plotting an attack that could rival the 1982 crackdown in Hama, when regime tanks and troops killed thousands of people and reduced parts of that city to rubble.

President al-Assad denies responsibility for the escalating violence in Syria, and distanced himself from his armed forces in a recent television interview.

"They are not my forces," al-Assad told ABC's Barbara Walters. "They are forces for the government. I don't own them. I'm president. I don't own the country. So they are not my forces."

The bloodshed has left city residents on edge. Public life is limited to about six hours each day from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., says Rami -- shops close soon after that and people are rarely seen on the street.

Rami himself hid in a friend's basement in the relatively calm Al Ghouta neighborhood for days, as he didn't feel safe to return to his own home.

"My neighborhood is surrounded by shabiha thugs and I'm afraid to be arrested or killed," he told CNN.

The "shabiha" pro-regime militia, reportedly working alongside government forces, has been blamed by the opposition for attempting to stoke sectarian tensions in Homs.

And while Homs has traditionally been a place of religious tolerance, Syria expert Phillips told CNN "there is a real sense now that that is changing and being manipulated by people on both sides" of the conflict.

"The older Sunni merchant class that feel the city is theirs rightfully are now turning on the Alawites, who they see as these recent migrants that don't actually belong in the city," said Phillips.

"Alawites live on the outskirts; they're not seen as really part of the old city. They don't fall within the old city boundaries, they're recent migrants and [some Sunnis] are not very happy with them."

While certain elements of the Sunni community would like to overthrow the Alawite al-Assad and retake what they see as their rightful place as leaders of Syria, Phillips says the Alawite community fears the prospect of persecution if the government falls.

"The regime is trying to persuade the Alawites that if they abandon the government, they will be wiped out in the dog-eat-dog aftermath," he said.

According to Phillips, those who have spent the last 11 months protesting every day in Homs fear that "if they stop doing this, then they will be crushed."

Rami said he would like to stay in Homs if and when the uprising ends.

"I hope Homs will be okay," he said. "I hope in the future we'll stand together in Homs."

As the death count continues to rise and prospects for peace in the near future dims, Rami believes the war in Homs can only end one of two ways.

"Either we all die," he said, "or we get victory at the end."

Source: CNN NEWS

Monday, February 6, 2012


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has come to the conclusion there is a growing likelihood Israel could attack Iran sometime this spring in an effort to destroy its suspected nuclear weapons program, according to a senior administration official.

The official declined to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the information.

Panetta's views were first reported by the Washington Post's David Ignatius, who wrote Panetta "believes there is strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June - before Iran enters what Israelis described as a 'zone of immunity' to commence building a nuclear bomb."

Asked by reporters in Brussels, where Panetta is attending NATO meetings, the defense secretary refused to comment. But Panetta told reporters the U.S. has "indicated our concerns" to Israel, according to a transcript provided by the Defense Department.

But the official also noted that Israel goes through cycles of making aggressive statements about its intentions toward Iran in an effort to pressure the United States and the West to take more action.

Iran's supreme leader issued a blunt warning Friday that war would be detrimental to the United States - and that Iran is ready to help anyone who confronts "cancerous" Israel.

"You see every now and then in this way they say that all options are on the table. That means even the option of war," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during Friday prayers in Tehran. "This is how they make these threats against us.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Thursday that Iran may be close to the point "which may render any physical strike as impractical," according to Reuters.

But just a few weeks ago, Barak suggested things were not as urgent, saying an Israeli decision on whether to strike Iran's nuclear program was "very far off."

A "confluence' of intelligence has led Panetta to this conclusion, the official told CNN, but declined to offer any specifics except noting that the United States conducts intelligence operations aimed at Israel as it does with many other allies.

The senior administration official also noted that there is a general understanding in the administration that Israel may have come to the firm conclusion Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. Just last week, the recently retired chief of Israeli military intelligence told CNN's David McKenzie that the "Iranians have already decided that they want nuclear weapons," he said. But he added they haven't decided fully to go through with creating the weapons.

The official U.S. assessment is that Iran has not yet made that decision, the source said.

At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus, who said he has regular discussions with Israel's leadership and intelligence head, noted that "Israel does see this possibility as an existential threat to their country, and I think that it is very important to keep that perspective in mind."

At the same hearing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper noted the United States works closely with the Israelis and said the notion that Israel could strike is "a very sensitive issue right now."

"This is an area that we are very, very concerned about," Clapper said.

Panetta's press secretary, George Little, declined to comment on the report. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said it would be premature for the United States to consider striking Iran.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Men sentenced to 18 years for slaying South African lesbian

JUSTICE: Four men were jailed for the murder of Zoliswa Nkonyana in 2006

(CNN) -- Gay rights advocates in South Africa hailed a judge's sentencing of four men to 18 years each in prison for brutally slaying a 19-year-old lesbian.

Sabelo Yekiso and Sicelo Mase, two of the men accused of the murder of Zoliswa Nkonyana seen here entering Khayelitsha Magistrate's Court. Image by: MOEKETSI MOTICOE

Hatred fueled the 2006 stabbing and stoning of Zoliswa Nkonyana, who was targeted because of her sexual orientation, Magistrate Raadiya Whaten ruled.

Four years' credit was given to Lubabolo Ntlabathi, Sicelo Mase, Luyanda Londzi and Mbulelo Damba, meaning they will spend 14 additional years behind bars.

"The sentence sent a strong message that hate crimes would not be tolerated," national prosecuting attorney spokesman Eric Ntabazalila told the South African Press Association.

Gay rights advocates celebrated Wednesday's ruling.

"It was the first time discrimination based on sexual orientation was named as an aggravating factor in a South African criminal trial," the Triangle Project gay and lesbian rights group said in a written statement.

Gay marriage is legal in South Africa, which was the first African nation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries, based on rules left over from the British colonial era, when sodomy laws were introduced.

Despite South Africa's anti-discrimination provisions, attacks based on sexual orientation persist, rights groups say.

After interviews in six of South Africa's nine provinces last year, New York-based Human Rights Watch concluded that "social attitudes towards homosexual, bisexual, and transgender people in South Africa have possibly hardened over the last two decades. The abuse they face on an everyday basis may be verbal, physical, or sexual -- and may even result in murder"

This week officials from another rights group said they hope this week's sentencing will set a precedent across Africa.

"We hope that this message is heard loud and clear across the rest of the continent, where homophobic discrimination is widespread and where homosexuality is a crime," the non-profit People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty said in a statement.

source: CNN NEWS

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