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Jackson’s kids pay tribute to ‘Daddy’

Michael Jackson’s two eldest children have paid tribute to their father as they collected his lifetime achievement award at the Grammys.

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“We are proud to be here to accept this award on behalf of our father, Michael Jackson,” said Prince Michael, 12, who stood on stage along with some of his cousins.

“First of all we would like to thank God for watching over us for these past seven months and our Grandma and Grandpa for their love and support.”

“We would also like to thank the fans – our father loved you so much because you were always there for him,” he continued.

“Our father was always concerned about the planet and humanity through all his hard work and dedication he has helped donate to many charities.

“Through all his songs his message was simple – love. We will continue to spread his message and help the world.”

Before leaving the stage, Paris, 11, told the emotional audience: “Daddy was supposed to be here. Daddy was going to perform this year, but he couldn’t perform last year.

“Thank you. We love you, Daddy.”

The children appeared after a performance of Jackson’s Earth Song which featured a 3D film the singer had put together to use in his comeback tour.

In a mix of the mystical and gimmicky, Michael Jackson posthumously paid tribute to both Mother Earth and 3-D video.

This big event arrived about two-thirds into CBS’ three-hour live shindig from Los Angeles’ Staples Centre.

It was introduced by Lionel Richie, who said the performance was meant by Jackson as a call to action against the destruction of Nature and animals by humans.

The performance began with footage of waterfalls and rain forests with Jackson heard declaring, “I respect the secrets and magic of Nature,” as the song began its message of preserving the planet.

The lyrics were affecting enough: “Did you ever stop to notice all the blood we’ve shed before? Did you ever stop to notice this crying Earth, its weeping shores?”

But with the sight of a little girl blowing the seeds of a dandelion seemingly right into a viewer’s living room, every viewer had to be captivated – at least, viewers with the 3-D glasses.

Viewers without glasses saw slightly offset red and greenish images. Not so captivating.

In turn, the background panoramic visuals were supplemented by onstage singers Celine Dion, Usher, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and Smokey Robinson to powerful effect – and, when captured at the proper angles, they stood in distinct 3-D relief against the film background.

Through it all, Jackson reigned in photos across the sprawling panorama.

As Richie explained in his introduction, the performance piece was produced as a key element of Jackson’s planned comeback concerts in London in July 2009 – shows that never happened because of his June 25 death in Los Angeles.

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iPhone rings in for Apple

Apple Inc.

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rocketed to its most profitable quarter ever over the holidays, as huge sales of the iPhone – and a new way the company accounts for the device – led to a nearly 50 per cent jump in net income.

The company offered no clues about what it plans to unveil on Wednesday in San Francisco, although CEO Steve Jobs indicated that investors should expect a significant event.

It’s expected to be a tablet-style computer.

“The new products we are planning to release this year are very strong, starting this week with a major new product that we’re really excited about,” he said in a statement.

The iPhone’s rollout in several major new markets, including China and South Korea, helped Apple double sales of the hot phone.

Apple also got a boost because now it puts iPhone revenue and profit on its books when the gadget is sold, rather than deferring those results over the presumed life of the device.

Apple said on Monday it earned $US3.4 billion ($A3.77 billion), or $US3.67 ($A4.07) per share, in the latest quarter, which ended December 26.

In the same period of 2008 it earned $US2.3 billion ($A2.55 billion), or $US2.50 ($A2.77) per share, when it was still deferring iPhone revenue.

Revenue was $US15.7 billion ($A17.39 billion), a 32 per cent jump from $US11.9 billion ($A13.18 billion) in the same period last year.

Apple’s report reflected the company’s ability to allure shoppers without deep cuts to its premium prices.

Apple’s reputation as a luxury brand hasn’t dented its ability to put up better numbers even as many computer buyers gravitate toward cheaper options.

Apple sold 8.7 million iPhones in the quarter, double what it sold in the same period the year before, and 21 million iPods, an 8 per cent decline.

Although Apple refreshed its iPod Nano with new colours and a video camera last autumn, sales of the iPod have suffered as the iPhone, which has iPod features built in, has grown in popularity.

The earnings report was released after Apple shares gained $US5.32 ($A5.89), or 2.7 per cent, to close at $US203.07 ($A224.98). In extended trading the shares rose $US1.28 ($A1.42) to $US204.36 ($A226.41).

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China jails quake death activist

A Chinese activist who investigated the deaths of thousands of children crushed in their schools during the Sichuan earthquake has been sentenced to five years prison, underscoring the government’s determination to suppress questions about why the buildings fell.

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Many have asked whether poor construction was responsible for the staggering number of children killed in the May 2008 temblor, which took 90,000 lives.

Parents have protested frequently and authorities have reacted severely to such demonstrations, jailing, harassing and threatening participants.

The United States quickly condemned Tuesday’s conviction of Tan Zuoren, and a human rights activist said the case was the latest example of how China uses its vague subversion laws to silence dissent.

Tan, 56, was convicted of inciting subversion of state power and handed the maximum sentence of five years’ jail by the Chengdu Intermediate Court in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, his lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said.

Tan and others have raised the possibility that shoddy construction – possibly fostered by corrupt officials who failed to enforce building codes – caused some schools to collapse in the quake while buildings nearby remained intact.

The government was widely praised for its response to the quake, which came just months before it was set to host the Olympic Games in Beijing, a time of intense scrutiny from the outside world. Authorities were eager to keep the focus on their massive rescue and relocation efforts and moved quickly to quash the politically sensitive theory.

Since then, they have kept up their campaign to silence those who pressed the issue – many of whom are parents who lost their only children. Protesters have been detained, harassed and threatened by police and thugs thought to be paid by officials.

For months after the May 12 temblor, China refused to provide an estimate of how many children had been killed in schools, prompting Tan to start his own investigation in December of that year. He hoped to have a figure before the first anniversary of the quake but was detained in March 2009. His initial estimate was that at least 5,600 students were among the dead.

The government finally announced its own official figure in May last year, saying that 5,335 students were believed to have perished in classrooms.

The court’s ruling against Tan makes no mention of his quake research, but his supporters and human rights groups say they believe he was targeted because of the project.

The court found Tan guilty of inciting subversion for drawing attention to the deadly 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Pu said. The ruling cited an essay written by Tan in 2007 about the protests and a 2008 blood drive he helped organised to commemorate the demonstrations, which are also extremely sensitive in China.

“The Chinese government doesn’t seem to understand that criticism is not the same thing as incitement, and that criticism of individual officials or government agencies is not the same thing as calling for the overthrow of the government,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, research manager for the US-based Dui Hua Foundation.

“This law is being used in a quite arbitrary and irresponsible way, simply as a tool to silence opinions that the government doesn’t want to hear.”

Lu Shihua, father of a 16-year-old girl who died in the collapsed Beichuan Middle School, said Tan was “a man with a sense of justice” and added that he thought the court’s ruling was “quite extreme.”

Tan was brought to trial in August, when he pleaded not guilty in a three-hour session, while police detained and threatened supporters who came to Chengdu to witness the proceedings. The case was adjourned with no ruling until Tuesday, when similar strong-arm tactics were employed.

Chinese police officers blocked nine Hong Kong journalists from interviewing Pu outside the courthouse, Hong Kong’s radio RTHK said. The reporters were led to a room inside the courthouse and released after the verdict was announced.

An officer from the US Consulate General in Chengdu was at the courthouse for Tan’s sentencing but was not allowed in, said US Embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson.

“Persecution of individuals for the peaceful expression of political views is inconsistent with internationally recognised norms of human rights. The United States condemns these convictions,” Stevenson said.

Lu, who lost his daughter, said he and other parents were still waiting for the government to properly investigate the school collapses.

“What happened on that day is still in front of our eyes,” Lu said. “The cruelty and the enormous bloodshed.”

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Stars to cover ‘We Are the World’ for Haiti

More than 75 stars have gathered to re-record the 1985 charity anthem We Are The World in the same Hollywood recording studio where the original was cut 25 years ago.

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Pink, Celine Dion, Natalie Cole, the Jonas Brothers, Kanye West, Tony Bennett, Jennifer Hudson, Akon and other musical luminaries stood shoulder to shoulder on risers at Henson Recording studios, singing their hearts out and hoping to help Haiti.

Quincy Jones, who produced the 1985 anthem, announced last week that he planned to record the song again to benefit recovery from the deadly January 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince.

The session was all the talk at Sunday night’s Grammy festivities. Music producer RedOne said being asked to participate was “the biggest honour a musician can ever do”.

“Having Quincy, our father of music … and Lionel Richie asking me to contribute and help, I said of course, because this is not about me,” he said. “It’s about Haiti.”

Earlier track raised funds for Africa

Written by Michael Jackson and Richie, the original We Are the World thundered up the charts when it was released on the radio and in record stores in March 1985.

An unprecedented number of top pop musicians gathered at A&M the night of January 28, 1985, following the American Music Awards, to record the tune. The song featured 45 American superstars, including Jackson, Richie, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, Bob Dylan and Cyndi Lauper.

The record raised more than $US30 million ($A33.67 million) for USA for Africa, a non-profit organisation founded by the singers to fund hunger relief in African nations.

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Panel leans to partial burqa ban

A parliamentary panel will recommend on Tuesday that France ban face-covering Muslim veils in public locations such as hospitals and schools but not in private buildings or on the street, the group’s president said.

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The decision appeared to indicate that the 32-member, multi-party panel had heeded warnings that a full ban of the all-encompassing niqabs would be unfair, possibly unconstitutional, and could even cause trouble in a country where Islam is the second largest religion.

The approximately 170-page report, to be released on Tuesday, culminates a six-month inquiry into why a tiny minority of Muslim women wear such veils and the implications for France.

The work began after President Nicolas Sarkozy announced in June that such garb “is not welcome” on French territory. However, Sarkozy has since pulled back from committing himself to a full ban.

Many consider such dress a gateway to extremism. But it also is widely seen as an insult to gender equality and an offence to France’s profoundly secular foundations.

Parliament will not be required to act on Tuesday’s recommendation. And given the deep divisions within the panel – its 12 Socialist members refused to vote in a dispute with the governing right – the recommendation for a partial ban on the niqabs may only result in a non-binding government resolution.

The panel’s mission, and a separate national identity debate on immigration, already have left some of France’s Muslims feeling discriminated against, said Mohammed Moussaoui, who heads an umbrella group of various Muslim organisations.

A 2004 law already bans Muslim headscarves in classrooms.

Now Muslim religious leaders, along with many experts, warn that a “general and absolute” law banning niqabs in the streets would stigmatise all Muslims and have other dire consequences, even driving some to extremism.

They were joined last week by Catholic and Jewish leaders who said they consider such a drastic step unnecessary. Monsignor Andre Vingt-Trois said he is not against anti-veil rules in “precise places”, but doesn’t want to see the state become involved with how people dress. “Shall we choose between the full-body veil and nude women in ads on top of a four-wheel drive?” he said last week.

France has the largest Muslim population in western Europe, estimated at about five million, but only several thousand Muslim women at best are thought to wear such veils, usually pinned across the face to cover all but the eyes. Worn with a long, dark robe, such clothing is customarily associated with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

“It is perhaps a marginal problem but it is the visible part of the iceberg,” MP Andre Gerin, president of the parliamentary panel, said in an interview. “Behind the iceberg is a black tide of … fundamentalism.” He denounced those he called “gurus” or “French Taliban” who, he said, promote a radical brand of Islam that forces women and girls to hide themselves.

Gerin, the panel’s only communist, said Tuesday’s report will recommend that veils be banned in public spaces such as hospitals and schools, but not in private buildings or on the street.

Critics of a street ban of the veils raised concern about the constitutionality of outlawing such dress.

“I don’t think an ideology should be fought through constraining measures but through ideas,” Moussaoui, the Muslim leader, said in an interview. “It’s very difficult to talk about the liberation of women through a law that constrains.”

A poll by the IPSOS firm published in this week’s Le Point suggests that a majority of French disagree – with 57 per cent of the 960 adults questioned favouring a full ban on niqabs and 37 per cent opposing one.

Gerin, who wants a ban, stressed the need to move “progressively” toward a general law banning the attire in the streets and to work “hand in hand” with Muslim leaders, associations and others who might hold sway among Muslims.

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Whaling clash returns to high seas

Anti-whaling activists claim Japanese whaling ships circled their protest vessel “like sharks” before ramming it off Antarctica.

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Sea Shepherd founder, Captain Paul Watson, said the Japanese harpoon ship rammed the conservationists’ ship the Bob Barker and tore a 90cm gash in the hull above the water line.

But a group representing the Japanese fleet says anti-whaling activists are the aggressors in clashes with whaling ships off Antarctica.

The Institute of Cetacean Research says Sea Shepherd protest ship the Bob Barker repeatedly fired a high-power green laser device at its crew and then started launching bottles filled with butyric acid.

The incident happened about 300 kilometres off Cape Darnley, in the Australian Antarctic Territory, about 3pm (AEDT) on Saturday.

No-one was injured in the incident.

Capt Watson said the collision was “entirely intentional” on the part of the Japanese.

“Four Japanese ships circled the Bob Barker like sharks,” he told AAP by satellite phone.

“Then one of them, the Yushin Maru 3, did a quick turn and rammed a three-foot gash in the hull.

“Luckily, the waters are calm at the moment and we have a welding crew working to fix it.”

The anti-whaling vessel was blocking the slipway of the Nisshin Maru, the Japanese whaling fleet’s factory ship, when the collision occurred.

Second major clash this year

This is the second major clash between Japanese whalers and anti-whaling activists this year, after the Ady Gil sank following a collision with a Japanese whaling ship in the Southern Ocean on January 6.

Capt Watson called on the Australian government take action on illegal whaling.

“The Japanese are violating Australian laws on whaling and nothing is being done to stop them,” he said.

Yet only a few countries recognise Australia’s claim to the area. Japan is not one of them.

Japanese Fisheries Agency official Takashi Mori said officials were trying to confirm details of a reported clash, The Associated Press reported.

Video shot from the Bob Barker and released by Sea Shepherd shows the two ships side by side moving quickly through the water, the AP said.

The ships come closer together and the Japanese ship then appears to turn away, but its stern swings sharply toward the Bob Barker.

The collision is obscured by spray, but a loud clanging noise can be heard before the vessels separate.

Capt Watson said the Yushin Maru 3 appeared to stop moving after the collision and had not been seen by the Bob Barker’s crew to have moved since, suggesting it also may have been damaged.

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Jobs top priority in 2010: Obama

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Document”> President Barack Obama has named job creation as his top priority in 2010, seeking to revive America’s belief in his crusade for change after a first year in office haunted by economic decay.

Announcing a three year spending freeze for the majority of government, as well a clear focus on achieving jobs and growth by the medium of small business and entrepreneurship, the President was greeted warmly by the audience, including extensive cheering from some quarters.

“Jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I’m calling for a new jobs bill tonight”, the President said.

Evoking history in his fluid style, Obama started by saying the future of America has not always been certain – and the country is again being tested.

“We must again answer history’s call”, the President said.

Obama stressed in the opening moments the decisive action his government to took to deal with the economic ‘storm’, before wasting no time moving onto ways in which ‘middle Americans’ and ‘American families’ have had to deal with the recession.

It was a speech in which the President and his speechwriters acknowledged that the concerns of everday Americans focus on the economy, and job creation in particular.

“These struggles are the reason I ran for President”, Obama said.

“I hear about them in the letters I read each night.”

The White House has been eager to reiterate the work that was cut out for the President upon taking office.

“When the President took office a year ago, he faced an array of historic challenges – an economy in freefall, job losses averaging almost 700,000 a month, a middle class under assault, two wars and badly frayed global alliances, and a staggering $1.3tn budget deficit,” senior advisor David Axelrod said shortly before Obama gave his speech.

With such a cavalcade of issues, there was a clear attempt to purvey hope in the address.

“I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight”, the President said. “Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We don’t allow fear or division to break our spirit,” Obama said.

There was rapturous applause.

It’s the economy

Obama quickly focused on unemployment benefits and the passing of 25 tax cuts.

In a broadside to conservative critics, Obama listed groups his government had assisted. “Let me repeat”, he said. “We cut taxes.”

“I thought I’d get some applause on that one”, he joked.

Moving on to the stimulus bill, he said it was a success which received support from the left and right.

“After two years of recession, the economy is growing again.”

“But I realise for every success story, there are other stories” he said, ensuring the ears of everyday Americans.

“That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I’m calling for a new jobs bill tonight.

There was again a standing ovation, before the President received further applause for stressing the importance of small business and entrepreneurship, and the need for lending.

Obama proposed US$30bn to help community banks fund small businesses, calling for small business tax credits to go to businesses hiring new workers or increasing wages, and announced a plan to eliminate capital gains tax on small businesses.

The deficit and planned spending freeze

Perhaps in a reference to calls to be tougher on critics, Obama wanted to ‘set the record straight’, emphasising that it was not his government’s policies that drove the US’s deficit so deep.

“If we had started in ordinary times I would have liked nothing more than to bring the deficit down, but we took office in a crisis”, he said.

He thus announced he wanted a freeze on spending for 3 years from 2011, with the exceptions of national insurance and the military. It would begin next year, he said, as the economy would be stronger.

“If I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will”, he said to applause.

Clean energy, nuclear energy

High-speed railroads and clean energy were cited, with muted applause, as well as calls for rebates for Americans making their homes more energy efficient.

But he returned to clean energy. “China’s not waiting, Germany’s not waiting, India’s not waiting” he said in reference to clean energy jobs. “I do not accept second place for the United States of America.”

He also called for “safe, clean nuclear power plants” in the US, and the making of ‘tough decisions’ on offshore oil – which was received with more cheers in some quarters.

But there was much bigger applause for a proposal to end tax breaks on companies ‘shifting jobs overseas.’

Talk of passing the climate bill last year, and advancing a bi-partisan bill in the senate brought smiles to his face, as well as the faces of Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi behind him.

Troops home from Iraq by August

On defence, the President said all combat troops would be out by the end of August, but largely skirted the issue of Afghanistan.

“We will continue to partner with the Iraqi people”, he said.

“Make no mistake, all of our troops are coming home'”

But Obama distanced himself from President Bush preceding him, calling for an end to the ‘false choice’ between protecting American poeple and ‘upholding our values’,

He also spent time speaking about the arms control treaty with Russia, stessing acting on arms “so they never fall into the hands of terrorists”

There was siginifcant applause for tough sanction-related talk on North Korea and Iran.

Trust in Washington

Prior to address, White House aides announced that the speech would be based on two themes -and both of them to do with gaining trust in an increasingly divided electorate: Reassuring millions of Americans that he understands their struggles, and convincing people that he is working to change Washington even as he finds himself working within its old political ways.

The President appraoched the topic of morality in the capital, sticking to his campaign pledges from 2008 to get tough, by announcing stricter rules for lobbyists.

He said doubts about Washington had been growing for years, but stressed what had already done by refusing lobbyists certain jobs. He called for more action, including the passing of bills, and more transparency from congress – achievable by increasing publicity of spending on government websites.

The President acknowledged philosphical differences, but ‘speaking to both parties’ he called for an end to the blocking of progress just for the sake of political point scoring.

Healthcare reform

The contentious issue of healthcare didn’t escape the President’s attention, with the President saying that this year more Americans would lose health insurance, premiums for those that had coverage would go up, and more patients would be denied the care they need.

“I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber,” Obama said.

“Let’s clear a few things up”, Obama said as he began the topic, ensuring a few laughs when announcing he didn’t take it on because it was ‘good politics”.

“We are closer than ever” to reform, he said.

He thanked his wife Michelle Obama for her stressing the importance of tackling childhood obesity.

But he said healthcare alone is not enough to pull the US from it’s huge deficit.

Deep uncertainty faces the comprehensive health care reform plan Obama has been trying to pass for the last year, with Democrats in Congress trying to find a way to pass some or all of the measure, despite its controversial nature.

Obama at his best on big issues

Other contentious issues were planned into the speech.

Obama pushed for the end of the so-called ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy of the military, whereby openly gay and lesbian people are not permitted to serve. Pay equality for women in the workforce was also broached.

Obama was at his oratorical finest when speaking on the big overarching issues that closed his speech, with near silence in the room when he tackled the issues of hope and change.

“I never said change would be easy” he said, but challenged his detractors:

“We don’t quit, I don’t quit.. let’s seize this moment to strengthen our union once more.”

Popularity taking a beating

Polls show the President’s popularity amongst the public at or below 50 per cent, with a recent BBC/Harris poll showing the economy and employment were far and away the topics Americans wanted the President to focus on.

The President took heed of this, admitting to an interviewer last week that he hasn’t always been successful at “breaking through the noise and speaking directly to the American people.”

A Gallup Poll found Obama to be the most politically polarising President in recent years – 88 per cent of Democrats approve of his job performance, but a meager 23 per cent of Republicans do so.

The White House will now be hoping the President has put himself and his party in a good position prior to congressional elections later in the year.

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Colourful US politician Charlie Wilson dies at 76

Charlie Wilson, the former congressman from Texas whose funding of Afghanistan’s resistance to the Soviet Union was chronicled in the hit movie Charlie Wilson’s War, died on Wednesday.

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He was 76.

Wilson died at Memorial Medical Centre-Lufkin after he started having difficulty breathing while attending a meeting in the eastern Texas town where he lived, said hospital spokeswoman Yana Ogletree.

Wilson was pronounced dead on arrival and the preliminary cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest, she said.

‘Good Time Charlie’

Wilson represented the 2nd district in east Texas in the US House from 1973 to 1996 and was known in Washington as “Good Time Charlie” for his reputation as a hard-drinking womaniser.

Actor Tom Hanks portrayed Wilson in the 2007 movie about Wilson’s efforts to arm Afghani mujahedeen during Afghanistan’s war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Wilson, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, helped secure money for weapons.

Julia Roberts also starred in the movie.

Heart problems

In 2007, Wilson had a heart transplant at a Houston hospital.

Doctors had told Wilson, who suffered from cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes an enlarged and weakened heart, that he would likely die without a transplant.

“Charlie was perfect as a congressman, perfect as a state representative, perfect as a state senator. He was a perfect reflection of the people he represented.

If there was anything wrong with Charlie, I never did know what it was,” said Charles Schnabel Jr, who served for seven years as Wilson’s chief of staff in Washington and worked with Wilson when he served in the Texas Senate.

Wilson’s university honour

Schnabel said he had just been with Wilson a few weeks ago for the dedication of the Charlie Wilson chair for Pakistan studies at the University of Texas, Austin, a $1 million endowment.

He said Wilson had been doing “very good”.

Ogletree said Wilson is survived by his wife and a sister.

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Five dead, 12 hurt in US blast

At least five people have been killed and 12 injured, some seriously, in an explosion at a US power plant, as fears grow that the death toll could rise sharply.

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The massive blast – at 11:17am (0317 AEDT, Monday) on Sunday – reduced part of the Kleen Energy plant in Middletown, Connecticut, to ruins.

Authorities say 50 construction workers were in the section of the power plant where the explosion occurred.

Rescuers are combing the site with dogs in hopes of finding workers alive under the rubble, but there appear to be no signs of life.

“They are taking the building apart piece by piece now, the part that collapsed and came in, they are taking that apart in sections piece by piece, very carefully,” said deputy fire marshal Al Santostefano.

“We know that 12 individuals have been injured. Five individuals are known to have lost their lives,” said the mayor of Middletown.

Cause of blast under investigation

The cause of the blast is under investigation – the mayor said terrorism had been ruled out, adding that the accident happened during a testing procedure in the unfinished plant.

Mr Santostefano said workers for the construction company, O&G Industries, were purging the gas lines, a procedure he called a “blow-down,” when the explosion occurred.

A spokesman for the local Middlesex Hospital said it was treating eight people for broken bones, abdominal injuries, blunt force trauma and other kinds of injuries consistent with being caught in an explosion.

One seriously injured person has been transferred to Hartford Hospital and another is being evaluated ahead of a possible move for more intensive care, Brian Albert said.

Two people have been treated and released, and Mr Albert said the hospital was not expecting any more patients.

The powerful blast shook houses for miles, with some eyewitnesses describing it as feeling “like an earthquake”.

Kleen Energy Systems LLC began construction on the power plant in February 2008. The 620-megawatt plant was being built to produce energy primarily using natural gas.

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UK out of recession by skin of teeth

Britain’s worst recession since World War II is officially over – but a less than convincing return to growth leaves British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour Party on shaky ground ahead of a general election.

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Britain is already the last major economy to return to growth after the global credit squeeze, and economists warned of a bumpy road ahead after the Office for National Statistics reported on Tuesday that gross domestic product rose a feeble 0.1 per cent in the final quarter of 2009.

That first estimate on fourth-quarter growth was enough to officially end a grinding 18-month recession during which 1.3 million people lost their jobs, but fell short of expectations of a stronger 0.3 to 0.4 per cent rise.

Worst performance in 50 years

Over 2009 as a whole, the economy shrank by 4.8 per cent, the worst yearly performance since records began in 1949.

The statistics office also acknowledged the possibility that the data could be revised downward in a planned second

estimate and third final figure – although an upward change is more likely – which could negate the recession exit.

Even without that, Tuesday’s announcement is unlikely to convince voters that Brown’s Labour Party has a strong grip on the economy. An election must be held by the start of June.

The British pound dropped and gilt futures rose, factoring in the likelihood that the Bank of England will keep interest rates at record lows for some months and possibly extend its STG200 billion ($A356.89 billion) asset purchasing program to boost the money supply.

Darling’s predictions come true

Treasury chief Alistair Darling has been saying for weeks that the British economy had started growing by the end of 2009 and, while he’s been proved right, it was only by the skin of his teeth.

“Far from the quick recovery the chancellor has been praying for, the economy is only just staggering back into growth,” said Vince Cable, the economy spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrat party. “The British economy has had the economic equivalent of a heart attack and is still very weak.”

Economists now expect Britain to struggle to reach one per cent growth this year, a sharp contrast to new forecasts from the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday of world economic growth of four per cent and US growth of 2.7 per cent.

Darling said “there is still a lot of uncertainty round the world” and more work to be done in Britain to aid recovery.

‘Recovery, growth’

“Of course there will be further bumps along the road. Be in no doubt about that,” Darling said after the release of the data, which was so keenly anticipated that the usually media-shy statistics office held a rare televised press conference to announce the figure.

“But I am confident that as long as we stick to the path that we have set … that we are going to see recovery through that back into growth,” he added.

Darling also seized the moment to bolster the government’s position that it’s too early to trim spending to get the country’s ballooning budget deficit back under control. That’s a key area of disagreement with the main opposition Conservative Party, which, currently well ahead in opinion polls, wants to curb spending much more quickly to get a handle on the deficit.

Public mistrust of figures

But his cautious optimism wasn’t shared by many voters at the sharp end of the downturn.

“I don’t think we are out of a recession,” said Kim Jamilly, 53, a London shop owner. “Look at the queues for social benefits, the rate of poverty, people in need of food and clothing.”

Britain was hit particularly hard by the global credit crunch because of its huge banking and financial-services sector centred in London, which had to be propped up by the government’s multibillion-pound bailout of major banks, and higher levels of personal debt among consumers. Like the US, it also faced a collapsed real estate bubble.

The fallout cost the country STG100 billion ($A178.44 billion) pounds in lost output as GDP shrank 5.9 per cent from peak to trough. Some 1.3 million people were laid off, unemployment rose as high as 7.9 per cent and around 50,000 families had their homes repossessed.

Manufacturing sector grows

The statistics office’s chief economist, Joe Grice, said that the fourth quarter showed a uniform picture of small increases across the distribution, hotels and restaurants and government sectors.

Output of manufacturing and other production industries, which have had the deepest slump, rose by 0.1 per cent, as did the services sector, which represents around 70 per cent of the economy.

But economists had expected GDP to be supported by strong pre-Christmas sales as shoppers tried to beat an increase in the sales tax on January 1, a government-sponsored vehicle scrapping program and the revival of exports.

Grice said that the first estimate, which is based on 40 per cent of the data used to reach the final figure, could easily be revised up or down by around 0.1-0.2 per cent.

“We don’t know on the evidence we have,” he told reporters, noting his job was to analyse data as it became available, rather than make forecasts.

Upward revision ‘possible’

Hetal Mehta, senior economic adviser to the Ernst & Young ITEM Club, said that the preliminary estimate appeared to be at odds with more upbeat survey data, including the expected positive impact of a year-long reduction in sales tax on retail sales.

“There is a strong possibility that the Q4 figures will be revised up,” Mehta said.

Capital Economics economist Jonathan Loynes agreed that an upward revision was possible. But he said it wouldn’t change the big picture of an economy operating far below pre-recession levels and major budget deficits looming.

“With household incomes under pressure, credit in short supply and a major fiscal squeeze looming, the path to a full recovery is going to be a long and bumpy one,” he added.

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