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Google to offload ten million shares

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are relinquishing some of their control over the internet giant, with the sale of 10 million shares worth $US5.

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5 billion ($A6.1 billion) at current prices.

Under a plan disclosed on Friday, the longtime business partners will each sell 5 million Google shares during a five-year period that will commence with the first trade.

The sales will occur periodically to lessen the chances of hurting Google’s stock price.

Page and Brin, both 36, will remain Google’s most influential shareholders, although they will be lose some of their clout.

The two iconoclasts own a special class of Google stock that gives them combined voting power of about 59 per cent – enough to override the wishes of all other shareholders if they wanted.

The duo secured this veto power to ensure Google remained true to their values, which are summed up in the company motto: “Don’t Be Evil.”

Founders and CEO still have voting swing

After the sales, the founders’ holdings will be whittled to a combined 47.7 million shares with 48 per cent voting power.

Falling below the 50 per cent threshold might not matter because they run Google as a ruling triumvirate with the company’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, whose shares hold 10 per cent voting power.

Although the trio acknowledge occasional disagreements, they insist they always work things out amicably. What’s more, Schmidt, Page and Brin have agreed to remain at Google at least through 2024.

Executives and founders of companies commonly enter into predetermined stock trading plans to raise cash and diversify their investments.

Page and Brin each currently have about $16 billion of their fortunes tied up in Google stock. By their own choice, their annual salary at Google is just $1.

“They are both as committed as ever to Google and are integrally involved in our day-to-day management and product strategy,” Google spokeswoman Jane Penner said.

“The majority of their net worth remains with Google.”

This marks the second time Page and Brin have sold big chunks of stock since Google went public in August 2004.

Three months after the company’s initial public offering, Page and Brin filed an 18-month plan that divested 7.2 million shares apiece.

Back then, Google shares were trading around $169.40. The stock is worth three times as much now, closing at $550.01 on Friday after falling $32.97, or 5.7 per cent.

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Israel to build border fence with Egypt

Israel’s prime minister has ordered the construction of two massive fences along the long and porous southern border with Egypt, saying he wants to stem a growing flood of African asylum seekers and to prevent Islamic militants from entering the country.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement the structure would help preserve Israel’s Jewish majority, while providing a layer of protection along an open border with an area suspected of having an al-Qaida presence.

Protection from migrants, militants

“I decided to close Israel’s southern border to infiltrators and terrorists after prolonged discussions,” he said in a statement.

“This is a strategic decision to ensure the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel. Israel will remain open to war refugees but we cannot allow thousands of illegal workers to infiltrate into Israel via the southern border and flood our country,” he said.

Earlier, the Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak echoed that statement.

The two fences will cover nearly half of the 250-kilometre border.

One section will be near the Red Sea port of Eilat. The other will be in southwest Israel, near the Gaza Strip town of Rafah.

Government spokesman Mark Regev said government ministers approved the plan on Sunday evening.

He said a date hasn’t been set for construction and it is unclear how long it would take to complete the fences.

The project is expected to cost about $US400 million, according to local media reports.

The structure would come in addition to a massive fence surrounding the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, as well as a separation barrier that snakes along parts of Israel’s more than 680-kilometre frontier with the West Bank, biting into chunks of the territory as it runs, drawing both Palestinnian and international condemnation.

Fence rooted in Israel’s security concerns

Egypt has its own fence along Gaza’s southern border, and is reinforcing the area with underground metal plates to shut down tunnels used to smuggle goods and weapons into Gaza.

The planned Egypt fence, like the West Bank and Gaza barriers, is rooted largely in Israeli security concerns.

Some regional observers say reflects a walled in mentality that Israel and its leaders have developed.

The military began planning the fence in 2005 after Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip, fearing that militants would freely travel to Egypt and sneak into Israel.

These concerns were underscored in early 2007, when a Gaza suicide bomber sneaked into Eilat through Egypt.

African migrants influx adds momentum

But the massive influx of African migrants into Israel in recent years has given the project added momentum.

UN officials and human rights workers estimate some 17,000 to 19,000 people have poured into Israel through the southern border since 2005, most of them from Eritrea, Sudan and other war-torn African countries, searching for a better life in Israel’s relatively affluent Western-style society.

Most of them live in crowded slums in Tel Aviv or Eilat, where many work as dishwashers and hotel bellboys.

Israel’s social service system under strain

Amnesty International’s Israel director Itay Epstein said the organisation recognises that “Israel can’t secure its borders but we must assure that whatever instruments are put in place they comply with international law and the obligations Israel has towards the refugees and asylum seekers.”

The new arrivals have created a dilemma for authorities. On one hand, they strain Israel’s social service system, and officials fear they could upset the country’s demographic mix, possibly tilting it away from a Jewish majority.

About three-quarters of Israel’s seven million citizens are Jewish.

On the other hand, Israel is a country created in large part as a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution, and many feel they cannot turn their backs on the Africans, believing the government must be more sensitive to their needs.

Israel requested Egypt tighten its border patrols.

Amnesty International says Egyptian security forces have killed 39 people, mostly Sudanese and Eritreans, trying to cross into Israel between 2008 to mid-2009.

More updated figures were not immediately available. Both countries have been criticised by human rights groups for their approach to the problem.

Egypt agrees to border fence

In Cairo, Egypt’s foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said his government had no objections to the fence, as long as it is on Israeli territory.

Security and crime concerns have also prompted Israel to erect the fences.

Israeli officials frequently issue warnings urging citizens to avoid travel to the neighbouring Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.

The area is believed to be a stronghold for al-Qaida-inspired extremists who have aligned themselves with lawless Bedouin tribes in the area.

In 2004, a total of 32 people were killed in a pair of hotel bombings in the Sinai.

Smugglers use the porous area to traffic women into Israel’s prostitution trade, and it’s also a main conduit for drugs entering the country.

But its many walls illustrate Israel’s sense of isolation.

The West Bank barrier in particular has sparked international criticism because it frequently juts into the West Bank, drawing accusations that Israel is using it to gobble up land claimed by the Palestinians.

There are also fences separating Israel from Lebanon and parts of the Golan Heights, which Israel annexed after seizing the Syrian territory in the 1967 Mideast war.

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Turkey seizes 120 suspected militants

Turkish police have launched a nationwide crackdown on suspected militants they say are linked to al-Qaeda, rounding up 120 people in simultaneous pre-dawn raids, the state-run Anatolia news agency reports.

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It is not clear if Friday’s raids in 16 provinces in this NATO member and western ally country will amount to a major blow to homegrown Islamic militants.

Yeni Safak newspaper this week reported Turkish police had recently seized video recordings of alleged Turkish al-Qaeda militants in Taliban camps in Afghanistan, as well as alleged plans for attacks on Turkish soldiers in Kabul and on police in Turkey. It did not cite a source for the report.

Turkey, NATO’s sole Muslim member, took over the rotating command of the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kabul in November and doubled its number of troops to around 1,750. Turkey has also said it is ready to serve as an exit route for US troop withdrawals from

Iraq.

Friday’s crackdown follows another raid on suspected militants in the cities Ankara and Adana last week in which police rounded up and interrogated about 40 people and reportedly seized documents detailing al-Qaeda activities. Twenty-five of them were charged

with membership in a terrorist organisation while the rest were released.

Those detained in Friday’s raids include a faculty member of the Yuzunci Yil University in the eastern city of Van who is suspected of recruiting students at the campus and other people through the internet and of sending them to Afghanistan for training, Anatolia

reported, citing unnamed police officials. The suspect was identified by his initials MEY only.

Anatolia said other suspects included some local leaders, university students, and people believed to be spreading al-Qaeda propaganda.

Police seized documents, computer hard-disks and a number of arms, it said.

Police reluctant to comment

Police would not comment on Friday’s arrests but experts said more operations against al-Qaeda suspects were likely to follow.

“Each operation against al-Qaeda leads to new information and widens the net,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, a terrorism expert at the Economic Policy Research Institute in Ankara.

Homegrown Islamic militants tied to the al-Qaeda carried out suicide bombings in Istanbul, killing 58 people in 2003. The targets were the British consulate, a British bank and two

synagogues. In 2008, an attack blamed on al-Qaeda-affiliated militants outside the US Consulate in Istanbul left three assailants and three policemen dead.

Turkish authorities have said dozens of Islamic militants have received training in Afghanistan.

Several other radical Islamic groups are active in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but officially secular country.

In June, Turkey’s court of appeals upheld life sentences for six militants accused in the 2003 deadly bombings, including Syrian Loa’i Mohammad Haj Bakr al-Saqa, who was charged with masterminding the bombings. The court sentenced 33 others to between three years

nine months and 18 years. It acquitted 15 of the suspects, citing a lack of evidence.

Hundreds of other suspected militants are on trial for membership in a terror organisation.

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Haitian streets ‘lined with bodies’

Streets in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince were lined with bodies of the dead, injured and those seeking refuge from crippled buildings in the wake of a massive earthquake.

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A powerful earthquake struck Haiti’s capital on Tuesday with withering force, toppling everything from simple shacks to the ornate National Palace and the headquarters of UN peacekeepers.

The dead and injured lay in the streets even as strong aftershocks rippled through the impoverished Caribbean country.

Most powerful quake in centuries

Associated Press journalists based in Port-au-Prince said the damage from the quake – the most powerful to hit Haiti in more than 200 years – is staggering even in a country accustomed to tragedy and disaster.

Women covered in dust crawled from the rubble wailing as others wandered through the streets holding hands. Thousands gathered in public squares late into the night, singing hymns. Many gravely injured people still sat in the streets early on Wednesday, pleading for doctors.

With almost no emergency services to speak of, the survivors had few other options.

Thousands of buildings were damaged and destroyed throughout the city, and for hours after the quake the air was filled with a choking dust from the debris of fallen buildings.

Thousands made homeless

The scope of the disaster remained unclear, and even a rough estimate of the number of casualties was impossible. But it was clear from a tour of the capital that tens of thousands of people had lost their homes and that many had perished. Many buildings in Haiti are flimsy and dangerous even under normal conditions.

“The hospitals cannot handle all these victims,” said Louis-Gerard Gilles, a doctor and former senator, as he helped survivors. “Haiti needs to pray. We all need to pray together.”

An Associated Press videographer saw a wrecked hospital where people screamed for help in Petionville, a hillside Port-au-Prince district that is home to many diplomats and wealthy Haitians as well as many poor people.

At a collapsed four-storey apartment building, a girl of about 16 stood atop a car, trying to peer inside as several men pulled at a foot sticking out in an attempt to extricate the body. She said her family was inside.

UN peacekeepers, most of whom are from Brazil, were trying to rescue survivors from their collapsed five-storey headquarters, but UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said late on Tuesday that “as we speak no one has been rescued”.

UN personnel missing

“We know there will be casualties but we cannot give figures for the time being,” he said.

Many UN personnel were missing, he said, including mission chief Hedi Annabi, who was in the building when the quake struck. Some 9,000 peacekeepers have been in Haiti since a 2004 rebellion ousted the president.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said its embassy was destroyed and the ambassador hospitalised for undisclosed injuries.

The National Palace crumbled into itself, but Haiti’s ambassador to Mexico Robert Manuel said President Rene Preval and his wife survived the earthquake. He had no details.

The 7.0-magnitude quake struck at 4.53pm on Tuesday, centred 15km west of Port-au-Prince at a depth of 8km, the US Geological Survey said. USGS geophysicist Kristin Marano called it the strongest earthquake since 1770 in what is now Haiti.

In 1946, a magnitude-8.1 quake struck the Dominican Republic and also shook Haiti, producing a tsunami that killed 1,790 people.

The temblor appeared to have occurred along a strike-slip fault, where one side of a vertical fault slips horizontally past the other, said earthquake expert Tom Jordan at the University of Southern California.

Damage, structural damage

The quake’s size and proximity to populated Port-au-Prince likely caused widespread casualties and structural damage, he said.

“It’s going to be a real killer,” he said. “Whenever something like this happens, you just hope for the best.”

Most of Haiti’s 9 million people are desperately poor, and after years of political instability the country has no real construction standards. In November 2008, following the collapse of a school in Petionville, the mayor of Port-au-Prince estimated about 60 per cent of the buildings were shoddily built and unsafe in normal circumstances.

Tuesday’s quake was felt in the Dominican Republic, which shares a border with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, and some panicked residents in the capital of Santo Domingo fled from their shaking homes. But no major damage was reported there. In eastern Cuba, houses shook but there were also no reports of significant damage.

The damage in Haiti was clearly vast.

State Department spokesman P J Crowley said in Washington that US Embassy personnel were “literally in the dark” after power failed.

‘Bodies in the streets’

“They reported structures down. They reported a lot of walls down. They did see a number of bodies in the street and on the sidewalk that had been hit by debris. So clearly, there’s going to be serious loss of life in this,” he said.

The Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut, said at least two Americans working at its Haitian aid mission were believed trapped in rubble.

The United States was sending disaster rescue teams and President Barack Obama said the US stood ready to help Haiti.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said from Honolulu that the US was offering full assistance – civilian and military.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said his government planned to send a military aircraft carrying canned foods, medicine and drinking water and also would dispatch a team of 50 rescue workers.

Mexico, which suffered a devastating earthquake in 1985 that killed some 10,000 people, was sending a team including doctors, search and rescue dogs and infrastructure damage experts, said Salvador Beltran, the undersecretary of foreign relations for Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Official’s photo used to Osama

A Spanish lawmaker was horrified to find out the FBI used his photograph as part of a digitally enhanced image showing what Osama bin Laden might look like today, calling into

question the crime-fighting agency’s credibility in battling terrorism.

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Gaspar Llamazares of the United Left party said on Saturday he would no longer feel safe travelling to the United States after his hair and facial wrinkles were taken from the Internet and appeared on a wanted poster updating the US government’s 1998 photo of the

al-Qaeda leader.

“I was surprised and angered because it’s the most shameless use of a real person to make up the image of a terrorist,” Llamazares said at a news conference. “It’s almost like out of a comedy if it didn’t deal with matters as serious as bin Laden and citizens’ security.”

The FBI said in a statement on Saturday it’s aware of the similarities between their age-progressed image “and that of an existing photograph of a Spanish public official”.

“The forensic artist was unable to find suitable features among the reference photographs and obtained those features, in part, from a photograph he found on the Internet,” the statement sent to The Associated Press said.

The photo appeared on a US State Department website rewardsforjustice南宁桑拿,, where a reward of up to $US25 million ($A26.85 million) is offered for bin Laden, wanted over the

September 11, 2001 attacks and the 1998 US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.

FBI: We’ll remove photo

The FBI said the photo of bin Laden will be removed from the website.

Llamazares said he plans to ask the US government for an explanation and reserves the right to take legal action.

The State Department told a reporter to call back on Tuesday after the US federal Martin Luther King Day holiday on Monday.

Llamazares said he couldn’t believe it when he was first told about the similarity, but he quickly realised the seriousness of the situation.

The 52-year-old politician said he would not feel safe travelling in the US now because many airports use biometrics technology that compares the physical characteristics of travellers

to passport or other photographs.

“I have no similarity, physically or ideologically, to the terrorist bin Laden,” he said.

They do share one characteristic – both are 52.

Cut and paste

Jose Morales, spokesman for Llamazares’ party, told the Associated Press that no one in Spain had any idea that important security computer images such as the retouched bin Laden photo were built up from photographs of real people. Llamazares, the former

leader of his party, was elected to Spain’s parliament in 2000.

“A technician has cut and paste in Photoshop a photograph he found out there on the Internet, and you don’t have to be in Quantico – the agency’s Virginia training facility – to do that,”

Morales told the AP.

Llamazares said it’s worrying to see elite security services like the FBI resorting to such sloppy techniques, especially in the light of recent security alerts like the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound plane.

“It might provoke mirth, but it demonstrates that what we’re seeing from security services isn’t exactly recommendable,” he said.

Bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the lawless Pakistan frontier bordering Afghanistan. His exact whereabouts have been unknown since late 2001, when he and some bodyguards slipped out of the Tora Bora mountains, evading air strikes, US special forces and

Afghan militias.

The US State Department website shows the photos and bounty on bin Laden and 41 others wanted for terrorism.

Morales said Llamazares has received calls from Spain’s Prime, Foreign and Interior ministers, all expressing their concern and assuring him the government will ask the US for explanations.

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Biden to appeal Blackwater decision

The US government has said it will appeal a judge’s decision to clear five private American security guards accused of killing 14 unarmed Iraqis in 2007 while working for the notorious US firm Blackwater.

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Vice President Joe Biden made the announcement on Saturday during a 24-hour visit to Baghdad and expressed “personal regret” for the bloody violence at Nisur Square, which has become a running sore among the Iraqi population.

“Today I am announcing that the United States government will appeal this decision, our justice department will file that appeal next week,” Biden told reporters at a joint press conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

“A dismissal is not an acquittal,” he said.

Iraq welcomed Biden’s remarks with Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari describing the appeal as “good news.”

“This is a very important issue for the Iraqi people and the US government responded positively to a request from the foreign ministry to appeal against the court ruling, which is very good news,” Zebari told AFP.

The five guards, who had been part of a convoy of armoured vehicles, had been charged with manslaughter of the 14 civilians and wounding 18 others in an attack using guns and grenades at the busy Baghdad square in September 2007. The company said the convoy was ambushed, while eyewitnesses said the guards fired into a crowd afterwards.

Charges against the Blackwater employees were dismissed last year, when a judge ruled US prosecutors violated the guards’ rights by using incriminating statements they had made under immunity during a State Department probe.

The ruling outraged the Baghdad government which maintains that 17 people were killed.

“The United States is determined to hold to account anyone who commits crimes against Iraqi people,” Biden added.

“While we fully respect the independence and the integrity of the US judicial system, we were disappointed with the judge’s decision to dismiss the indictment which was based on the way some evidence had been acquired.”

US federal judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed charges against the five guards on December 31 last year.

Original decision welcomed by company

The decision was welcomed by the US company, but several senators including 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain have since voiced regret at the ruling and called for a US government appeal.

The Iraqi government said this week it was considering lodging its own complaint against Blackwater, which has since been renamed Xe Services, to seek compensation for the families of the victims.

But the admissibility of such a case was immediately considered doubtful because all of the families except one have agreed damages from Xe, according to a lawyer injured in the incident.

The lawyer, Hassan Jabbar Salman, said the families of those killed were offered 100,000 dollars and those wounded received between 20,000 and 50,000 dollars from the US security firm.

Blackwater Worldwide changed its name in February 2009, following what the company said was a switch of business focus.

Critics however suggested that the rebranding was an effort to polish an image tarnished by an alleged culture of lawlessness and lack of accountability among Blackwater staff.

In December, the New York Times reported Blackwater took part Central Intelligence Agency “snatch and grab” missions to capture or kill insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The North Carolina-based firm lost its contract to provide security for US embassy diplomats in Baghdad in May 2009 after Iraqis and critics repeatedly accused it of adopting a cowboy mentality to duties in the country.

Biden, President Barack Obama’s pointman on Iraq, arrived in Baghdad late on Friday.

The main thrust of his visit was to defuse a row over the banning of hundreds of candidates from a March 7 general election over their alleged links to executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

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Security Council to meet as first aid reaches regions

The UN Security Council will meet Monday to discuss the coordination of the huge aid operation for quake-hit Haiti, Mexico’s foreign ministry said on Saturday.

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Earlier, the organisation said it was the worst disaster it had ever confronted, largley due to lack of basic infrastructure. With entire regions obliterated and many local services non existent, the coordination of aid was proving to be a mammoth effort.

The UN now believes up to 3 million Haitians are in need of aid.

Some of the aid building up at the airport is reportedly starting to get through to where it is most needed.

Some aid reaching regions

A first shipment of UN food aid arrived on Saturday in the ruined Haitian town of Leogane, where street after street of homes and businesses was torn apart by this week’s devastating earthquake.

Just 17 kilometres (10 miles) west of the capital Port-au-Prince, Leogane was close to the epicentre of Tuesday’s quake and almost every structure, from the historic central church to seafront beer shacks, was damaged.

Thousands -no one yet knows how many- of people were killed. But with the international rescue effort concentrated in Haiti’s capital, Leogane’s people have so far been left to fend for themselves in ad hoc squatter camps.

On Saturday, Sri Lankan United Nations troops escorted in a single truck load of high energy biscuits for the World Food Programme, and small teams of international aid workers made their first forays to inspect the damage.

“It’s the very epicenter of the earthquake, and many, many thousands are dead,” said World Food Program spokesman David Orr, as peacekeepers raised the UN, Sri Lankan and Haitian banners for the television crews.

“Nearly every house was destroyed here. The military are talking about 20,000 to 30,000 dead,” he said, as WFP staff handed out packs of biscuits to a crowd that had gathered in front of Leogane’s ruined city hall.

The cheerful queues of mainly young men and women, marshalled by the Sri Lankans, grinned playfully as youngsters tried to jump in front, some filming each other with their mobile phones as they awaited their emergency rations.

For, although locals welcomed the arrival of the aid effort as a sign they had not been abandoned, the biscuit drop was of mainly symbolic value.

Aid, and more aid, desperately needed

Barely 20 metres (yards) from the truck, stalls sold onions, eggs and garlic and mothers cooked steaming bowls of rice and beans under shelters of wood, sheets and UN and USAID left behind from previous hurricane disasters.

Leogane is in desperate need, but not of biscuits.

With all public and health services out and the bulk of the population homeless and living in cramped bivouacs, the city needs medical supplies and clinics.

And, in the longer term, it will need to be rebuilt.

“It’s a small distribution that not worthy of the catastrophe that has befallen us,” said 49-year-old events promoter Maxime Dumont, pointing out that his house was the only left standing on its stretch of street.

Two jeeploads of foreign aid workers, including one from Save the Children, had also come to Leogane to see what they could do to help, but all three city hospitals were closed, and one had entirely collapsed.

Picture of destruction in countryside

Once elegant colonial-era homes had crumbled in sad heaps of wood and soft bricks, while the more modern structures had collapsed in shattered pancakes of jagged concrete slabs and twisted steel reinforcing rods.

In the Ruelle des Fleurs (Flower Lane), a once elegant residential street of two and three-story detached homes overlooked by palm trees and draped in red blossoms, elderly Damelie Maitre sat nursing her broken arm.

On the road from the capital, now partly blocked in fallen boulders from the hills running up from the blue Caribbean waters, refugees are sleeping under plastic sheeting amid banana groves and green fields of corn.

For every peasant shack and waterfront snack bar destroyed, there is an imposing villa or ambitious commercial venture in ruins. The town itself has broad avenues and spacious squares, now festooned with fallen power lines.

“What can we say about the future? Nothing. We can say nothing. We are reduced to nothing,” declared 35-year-old IT worker Pierre Desrosiers.

Security Council to meet

The Mexican foreign ministry announced on Saturday that the UN security COuncil will meet to discuss the aid relief effort.

Mexico, a non-permanent member of the 15-member body, launched the initiative and the decision to discuss the matter early Monday was made in coordination with Security Council president China, it said.

“The Mexican government believes it is of the utmost importance that the UN Security Council contributes to aid efforts and supports the Haitian government,” the ministry said in a statement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will tour Haiti on Sunday to witness the destruction for himself, was expected to participate in the meeting.

UN mourns death of senior official

Earlier, the UN also announced the discovery of the body of a senior member of staff. In a statement issued by his spokesperson, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply saddened” to confirm the deaths of his Special Representative to Haiti, Hédi Annabi, as well as his Deputy Luiz Carlos da Costa and Acting Police Commissioner Doug Coates of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“In every sense of the word, they gave their lives for peace,” he said.

More looting in Port au Prince

In the capital, exhausted police fired in the air to scare off armed looters pillaging shops Saturday in the quake-ravaged Haitian capital, but to little effect. Only seconds later the desperate mob was back.

The uniformed police – one of the rare signs that the Haitian government has not collapsed – are under orders not to open fire on the hungry, angry crowds frantic to find food and water in the rubble of Port-au-Prince.

But their shots fired in the air did nothing to dissuade the looters, combing the wreckage of shops, public offices and houses destroyed in the Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude quake.

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Bodies found after Ethiopian jet crash

Lebanese rescue teams have recovered over 10 bodies from the wreckage of an airliner that crashed after takeoff in stormy weather off the coast just south of Beirut

Helicopters and naval ships were scrambled to find the plane, as witnesses reported seeing a ball of fire as the jet plunged into the sea early on Monday local time.

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It was unclear whether there were any survivors.

The cause was not immediately known, but police ruled out terrorism and said the crash was likely weather-related.

Bad weather the likely cause of crash

“The weather undoubtedly was very bad,” Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters at Beirut International Airport on Monday.

Aridi said Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 lost contact with the airport control tower shortly after takeoff and crashed into the sea about 12 kilometres south of the airport on Monday morning.

“The control tower was assisting the pilot of the plane on takeoff and suddenly lost contact for no known reason,” Aridi told reporters, adding that the Boeing 737 crashed some 3.5 kilometres off the Lebanese coast.

He said the passengers include 54 Lebanese, 22 Ethiopians, one Iraqi, one French woman, one Syrian and seven crew members.

There were also several dual nationals including two British-Lebanese, one Canadian-Lebanese and a Russian-Lebanese.

French ambassador’s wife on board: report

A Lebanese government official told Agence France-Presse the wife of France’s ambassador to Lebanon was on board the plane.

“Among the names on the passenger list was that of Marla Sanchez Pietton, the wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon” Denis Pietton, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

An airport official had initially said that 92 people were on board the doomed flight, which he said crashed about five minutes after taking off at 2.30am (1130 AEDT) for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian Airlines released a statement on its website confirming the plane was missing.

“A team is already working on gathering all pertinent information,” the statement said.

Investigation team en route

“An investigative team has already been dispatched to the scene and we will release further information as further updates are received.”

Aridi said he had formed an investigative committee to determine the cause of the crash and had contacted nearby countries to assist in the search and rescue effort.

UNIFIL and army helping with rescue

The Lebanese army, navy as well as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were assisting in the rescue, Aridi added.

“We have contacted everyone, inside and outside the country, that can assist us and the Lebanese navy, the army and UNIFIL have joined in the rescue,” the minister said.

Families of the passengers, some of them weeping, could be seen arriving at Beirut International Airport, where they were escorted to a private area to await news of their loved ones.

The Boeing 737-800, which entered into commercial service in 1998, is one of the latest versions of the world’s most widely used short to medium-haul airliners, and is capable of carrying up to 189 passengers.

The accident took place amid heavy rains and storms in Lebanon in the past two days that have caused heavy flooding and damages in some part of the country.

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Pope’s would-be assassin freed from jail

Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to kill pope John Paul II in 1981, has been released from jail after almost three decades behind bars.

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“The release procedure has been completed,” Agca’s lawyer Yilmaz Abosoglu told reporters outside a high-security prison near Ankara.

Agca was a 23-year-old militant of the notorious far-right Grey Wolves, on the run from Turkish murder charges, when he resurfaced in St Peter’s Square, Rome, on May 13, 1981 and opened fire on the pope as he drove to an audience in an open vehicle.

John Paul II was seriously wounded in the abdomen and Agca spent the next 19 years in Italian prisons.

He has claimed the attack was part of a divine plan and given often contradictory statements, frequently changing his story and forcing investigators to open dozens of inquiries.

Charges that the Soviet Union and then-communist Bulgaria were behind the assassination attempt were never proved.

Agca claims he is the Messiah

In 2000, Italy pardoned Agca and extradited him to Turkey, where he was convicted for the murder of prominent journalist Abdi Ipekci, two armed robberies and escaping from prison, crimes all dating back to the 1970s.

Abosoglu said the 52-year-old Turk would be taken to an army recruitment office to sort out procedures concerning his status as a draft dodger.

Gokay Gultekin, another of his lawyers, insisted Agca was not fit for obligatory military service because of “severe anti-social personality disorder”.

There have been long-standing questions about his mental health based on his frequent outbursts and claims that he was the Messiah.

In a statement distributed by his lawyer outside the prison in Sincan, he raved again: “I proclaim the end of the world.

“All the world will be destroyed in this century. Every human being will die in this century… I am the Christ eternal.”

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Insurer ‘warned of Toyota fault’

America’s largest car insurer has said it alerted federal safety regulators about a rise in reports of unexpected acceleration in Toyota vehicles, three years before the company withdrew thousands of cars worldwide.

南宁桑拿

State Farm insurance said it warned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in late 2007. NHTSA officials said the report was reviewed and the agency issued a recall later that month.

NHTSA received complaints about acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles as early as 2003, and congressional investigators are looking into whether the government missed warning signs of the problems. A House committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Wednesday into the Japanese carmaker’s recall of about 8.5 million vehicles globally over floor mats which can trap gas pedals, sticking gas pedals and brake problems.

Toyota announced early Tuesday it would recall about 437,000 Prius and other hybrid vehicles to fix brake problems. There have been about 200 complaints in Japan and the US about a delay when the brakes in the Prius were pressed in cold conditions and on some bumpy roads.

The US government has launched an investigation into the Prius. In a statement, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Toyota has acknowledged a safety defect by issuing the Prius recall, which includes 133,000 Prius cars and 14,500 Lexus HS250h vehicles in the United States.

LaHood said Toyota leaders had assured him they were taking the safety concerns “very seriously” and the transportation agency will “remain in constant communication with Toyota to hold them to that promise.” US owners will start receiving letters about the recall next week.

State Farm, meanwhile, said it routinely tracks claim trend information and shares its data with NHTSA. “In the name of safety, we voluntarily and routinely communicate with the appropriate government agencies when we see a product-related claim trend,” said spokesman Jeff McCollum in an email.

NHTSA spokeswoman Karen Aldana said State Farm forwarded the agency a Sept 7, 2007, claim letter to Toyota concerning a crash involving a 2005 Camry. She said the report was reviewed and added to their complaint database.

The agency had been investigating problems with floor mats in Toyota vehicles and later in September 2007, Toyota recalled 55,000 Camry and ES350 vehicles to replace the floor mats.

Toyota officials have apologised for the recalls and vowed to fix customer vehicles. Akio Toyoda, the company’s president and grandson of its founder, wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post on Tuesday that Toyota “has not lived up to the high standards you have come to expect of us” and called the recent spate of problems “the most serious” the company has ever faced.

“We fully understand that we need to more aggressively investigate complaints we hear directly from consumers and move more quickly to address any safety issues we identify,” Toyoda wrote.

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