Sunday, November 27, 2005

Probe 'gathers asteroid material'

A Japanese probe has become the first craft to collect samples from the surface of an asteroid, scientists say.
The probe, called Hayabusa - Japanese for "falcon" - briefly touched down on the Itokawa asteroid and fired a projectile to loosen surface material.
Scientists believe it collected the debris, but will only be sure when Hayabusa returns to Earth in 2007.
Moon rocks have been analysed before, but asteroids could contain material from the birth of the Solar System.
Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) confirmed that Hayabusa touched down on Itokawa for a few seconds.
Touching down on the asteroid, which is 290 million km (180 million miles) from Earth, was as tough as landing a jumbo jet in the Grand Canyon, a Jaxa spokesman added.
The probe fired a small metal ball into the surface and apparently collected the resulting powdery debris.
"The process of sampling also seems to have gone very well," said Jaxa's Kiyotaka Yashiro.
Japan's Science and Technology Minister Iwao Matsuda praised the effort.
"I am delighted to hear that it has collected the samples. It is the world's first such feat and it will contribute greatly to mankind's exploration of space."
Celestial secrets
Saturday's announcement by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) came after a series of problems with the spacecraft.
Last Sunday, Hayabusa made a first touchdown on the rotating asteroid - but it failed to collect material after temporarily losing contact with Earth.
A separate attempt to land a miniature robot on the asteroid was also unsuccessful.
Hayabusa was launched in May 2003 and has until early December before it must leave orbit and begin its journey home. It is expected to return to Earth and land in the Australian outback in June 2007.
Examining asteroid samples is expected to help unlock secrets of how celestial bodies were formed because their surfaces are believed to have remained relatively unchanged over the ages, unlike those of larger bodies such the planets or moons.
Itokawa, named after the Japanese rocket scientist Hideo Itokawa, is 690m (2,300 ft) long and 300m (1,000 ft) wide and has a gravitational pull only 1/100,000th that of Earth's.
Story from BBC NEWS: 2005/11/26 10:07:10 GMT© BBC MMV

No US charges over Afghan bodies

US troops who burned the corpses of two suspected Taleban fighters killed in a gun battle in Afghanistan committed no crime, military investigators say.
The bodies were burned for reasons of hygiene, the investigation found.
Four soldiers still face disciplinary action - two for failing to show local understanding and two for using the cremation to taunt other fighters.
The inquiry began amid fears news of the act would antagonise Muslims, who regard cremation as sacrilege.
Video of the cremation shot by a journalist embedded with the US military was shown last month in Australia.
It shows the bodies being burnt on 1 October, in a location near the southern city of Kandahar, and also features insulting messages from soldiers which had been broadcast by loudspeaker to Taleban fighters in the area after the act.
However, the video has not been shown inside Afghanistan and there have been no reports of public protests.
Decomposing bodies
Speaking at a news conference in Kandahar, the US-led coalition's operational commander, Maj-Gen Jason Kamiya, said the soldiers involved had not been aware that what they were doing was wrong.
"Our investigation found there was no intent to desecrate the remains, but only to dispose of them for hygienic reasons," he was quoted by AP news agency as saying.
The temperature, he said, had been 33C and the bodies had begun to decompose.
However, two junior officers who had ordered the bodies to be burnt would be officially reprimanded for "poor judgement and lack of knowledge and respect of Afghan culture and customs".
Turning to the broadcasts, which had been directed at presumed survivors of the same gun battle thought to be sheltering in a village, Gen Kamiya said they had violated military policy.
Two non-commissioned officers would be reprimanded as a result.
Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid, also present at the news conference, said he had confidence in the US investigation.
'Lady boys'
The video was shot in the village of Gonbaz outside the southern city of Kandahar by Australian cameraman Stephen DuPont, who was embedded with a US unit, for SBS's Dateline programme.
It opens with what the programme describes as shots of an American PsyOps unit using loud pop music to try to flush out the Taleban - who banned music when they ruled the country.
Some footage shows two corpses laid out facing Mecca and then being burned in what the reporter, John Martinkus, describes as a "deliberate desecration of Muslim beliefs".
Islamic tradition states that bodies should be washed, prayed for, wrapped in white cloth and buried within 24 hours.
Later footage shows two US soldiers repeating messages broadcast by loudspeaker in which the Taleban are called "cowardly dogs" and "lady boys".
In May there were widespread demonstrations in Afghanistan resulting in the deaths of at least 15 people after Newsweek magazine reported that US forces had desecrated the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay military camp.
The magazine later printed a retraction, saying it could not prove the allegation.
Story from BBC NEWS: 2005/11/26 15:03:56 GMT© BBC MMV

Hondurans to elect new president

Voters in Honduras are preparing to elect a new president, with both leading candidates pledging to crack down on gang violence.
Porfirio Lobo of the governing National Party is facing Manuel Zelaya of the Liberals, with polls showing the two right-wingers are neck and neck.
Honduras suffers from crime, poverty, and unemployment of about 30%.
Sunday's vote is the seventh presidential election since 1981, when civilian rule was restored.
Mr Zelaya, 53, is a civil engineer and rancher who has previously served as investment minister.
Mr Lobo, 57, is a former communist who has pledged to introduce the death penalty for crimes such as sexual assault, kidnapping and murder.
Three other candidates are contesting the election, but are not expected to draw widespread support.
Gang-related crime is a key priority for both candidates.
Porfirio Lobo worked alongside current President Ricardo Madura to introduce penal code reform that has criminalised gang membership.
But there has been little let-up in the violence, with at least 45,000 gang members estimated to be operating inside Honduras.
The gangs grew out of Los Angeles and have become a fixture of life in Honduras. The most notorious group, the Mara Salvatrucha, is blamed for a bus massacre that killed 28 people in late 2004.
Election campaigning ended several days ago, but supporters of both candidates paraded through the capital, Tegucigalpa, on Saturday, in an effort to drum up support.
Cars decked out in the rival candidates' colours drove through the streets, Reuters news agency reported.
An estimated four million registered Honduran voters will also elect 298 mayors and 128 deputies to the single-chamber Congress.
Polls open at 0600 (1200 GMT) and close at 1700 (2300 GMT). Initial results are expected a few hours later.
Story from BBC NEWS: 2005/11/27 10:57:04 GMT© BBC MMV

Senegal re-arrests ex-Chad leader

The former President of Chad, Hissene Habre, has been detained again in Senegal, less than a day after being released from custody.
The interior ministry said he would be "placed at the disposition of the president of the African Union", Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo.
Mr Habre is wanted in Belgium for abuses committed under his rule.
He had been freed on Friday after a court said it did not have the power to decide whether to extradite him.
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has said he believed the case was a problem for Africans to address, and that he would raise it with the African Union.
Mr Habre - who ruled Chad between 1982 and 1990 - has lived in Senegal since he was ousted. He denies any knowledge of atrocities.
Human Rights Watch has called Mr Habre "Africa's Pinochet". His administration has been accused of murdering and torturing political opponents.
Alleged victims filed complaints under Belgium's universal jurisdiction law, which allows Brussels judges to prosecute human rights offences anywhere.
Story from BBC NEWS: 2005/11/26 13:15:01 GMT© BBC MMV

Gabon poll elects new president

him of using the nation's wealth to buy votes.
They point to the dozens of parties supporting the president. Opposition candidates also accused him of disrupting their campaigns.
Radical opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou is seen as the most serious threat to Mr Bongo.
But the BBC's Christophe Pons in Libreville says new rules introduced in 2003 could favour Mr Bongo, who is facing a fragmented opposition.
The changes removed the need for the winning candidate to get 50% of ballots cast. Whoever wins most votes on Sunday is elected.
The extensive use of high-tech advertising glorifying Mr Bongo and the absence of pro-opposition posters have illustrated the financial gap between the president and his rivals, our correspondent adds.
Story from BBC NEWS: 2005/11/27 08:34:23 GMT© BBC MMV