Magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits New Britain, Papua New Guinea

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An earthquake of magnitude 7.0 on the Richter scale has been reported as having struck the Pacific island of New Britain, the second island in the Papua and New Guinea group. The quake, which struck at 22:01 UTC yesterday evening, hit at a depth of approximately 54 kilometers (34 mi) according to the United States Geological Survey.

According to a member of staff at the Port Moresby Geophysical Observatory, minor effects of the quake were felt there, more than 563 kilometers (350 mi) South West of the epicenter. First reports from the area indicate that the Western parts of New Britain have no power or telecommunications.

A report posted in the local language, Tok Pisin by Radio Australia’s language service, gives the general location of the quake as 110 kilometers (68 mi) Southeast of Madang, and there are no initial reports of any tsunami warnings, and no reports of damage or casualties at p … Read More


Floods in South Africa wreak havoc

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Torrential rains and floods in the North West and Gauteng provinces of South Africa have caused disruption, government bodies said earlier today.

The Greater Taung Local Municipality said a disaster area was declared, after 150 homes were affected and one person was confirmed dead from flooding.

Residents were warned to keep away from bridges and rivers, and to drive carefully in the inclement weather. Water Affairs spokesperson Mava Scott commented that “people in the low lying areas should be alerted.”

The Vaal Dam, meanwhile, was at 105% full, after six sluice gates were opened. Three more are expected to be opened soon, according to the South African Press Association. The Bloemhof Dam in North West province is 112% full, with flood gates having been opened there earlier today.

Officials encouraged people to remove their boats and pumps, as water flow would not be predictable. “It will also be rather dangerous for people to go too near to the river’s embankments during this time,” Superintendent Eugene Opperman noted.

Meanwhile, roads to places such as Manokwane, Lokaleng, Khibitswane, Mokgareng, and Pudimoe, were also inundated with water. 800 mine workers from East Rand Mines were evacuate … Read More

New Zealand’s Head of State approves new medal

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New Zealand Defence Force personnel now have a new honour; the New Zealand Distinguished Service Decoration (DSD) has been approved by the Queen Elizabeth II of New Zealand, Prime Minister Helen Clark has said.

The Distinguished Service Decoration is designed to recognise distinguished military service by regular, territorial and reserve members of the Defence Force, including command, leadership and service in an operational environment, or in support of operations, both at home and abroad, says Clark

Defence Minister Phil Goff said that until 1995 this type of service was recognised by awards of the British Empire Medal (Military Division) and the lower levels of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire.

“Since the change to a totally New Zealand honours system in 1996, awards at these levels have not been available,”

Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae, says the award is an important addition to the country’s honour system and will be highly regarded like the Queen’s Service Medal.

He says more than 700 personnel are on operations or deployment and that “the DSD is an important addition to the New Zealand Honours system”, and will enjoy precedence comparable to that of The Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) and the recently instituted New Zealand Antarctic Medal (NZAM).

The new medal will be made of Sterling Silver. The obverse design is a representation of eight blades of a Kotiate (lobed club) in a circle with a Royal Crown in the centre. The front four blades are in frosted silver, the rear blades are polished silver. The reverse bears the inscription “For Distinguished Service” in English and Maori. The ribbon is dark blue and red, the colours of the British Distinguished Service Order ribbon, with two narrow yellow stripes that signify achievement.

David Baguley, Director Honours Secretariat shows the Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae the new distinguished service decoration.

The first awards will be announced on June 4th’s Queen’s Birthday honours list. Recipients will be entitled to use the initials “D.S.D.” after t … Read More

New South Wales government turns out the light on Blue Mountains Freeway

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The New South Wales government has refused a federal government plan to conduct an engineering, planning and environmental assessment for a freeway across the Blue Mountains following the Bells Line of Road. Prime Minister John Howard announced AU$10 million of funding for the study, contingent upon a matching contribution by the NSW government.

Just hours after the announcement, NSW Roads Minister Eric Roozendaal turned out the light on the proposal by calling it a “blatant election stunt by a desperate prime minister”.

Roozendaal speculated that the federal government would not, in the end, provide financial support for the project. “The reality is this project cannot be built without significant federal support and the Howard government has no intention of giving it, despite a multi-billion dollar surplus,” said Roozendaal, and went on to quote federal minister for roads Jim Lloydas, who called the proposed Blue Mountains freeway a “very ambitious project” as recently as February.

The NSW Roads minister said the $20 million for a study would be better used to improve safety on local roads in Central Western NSW.

However, supporters of the project have called on the NSW government to match the $10 million contribution and move forward. “Research commissioned by the Bells Line Expressway Group (BLEG) found communities along the state’s central west and western Sydney would benefit if the Bells Line Expressway were built,” said Graham Blight, NRMA Motoring & Services regional director. “The Bells Line Expressway will provide a major economic boost for Sydney and western NSW, and ease the population pressure on Sydney by making housing west of the mountains more accessible to employment in western Sydney,” he continued.

Roozendaal has dismissed the BLEG study, released early in 2006, which projected the overall cost of the Bells Line of Road Expressway to be $2 billion.

Roozendaal also said that he would not take up the offer to repeat a study which had been done two years ago. “The NSW government will not waste $10 million of taxpayers’ money to repeat a study which was only done two years ago.” He was referring to a feasibility study released in November 2005 by state and federal governments, which found that the Bells Line of Road Expressway would require tolls of up to $150 for cars and $300 for trucks.

Former federal Labor MP and current NRMA director Gary Punch echoed Graham Blight’s assessment. “The Bells Line Expressway would be a fantastic resource for towns and suburbs across the Blue Mountains because it would free them from highly dense traffic snarls, especially on weekends,” said Punch. “This funding commitment today takes us one step closer to this goal,” he said in reference to the PM’s $10 mill … Read More

Minor tears found in Gordon Brown’s retina

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The British government has said that eyesight tests reveal Prime Minister Gordon Brown has two minor tears in the retina of his right eye.

Prime Minister Brown went to the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, England. A series of eyesight tests revealed that there were two small tears in his right retina, but no other deterioration in his eyesight.

Downing Street in Westminster has said that despite these results, Mr. Brown will not be undergoing any further operations. They commented: “This summer Mr Brown had his annual eye check-up which was fine. Later he had his retina checked. After examinations, surgeons found that the retina had two minor tears. However, as there has been no further deterioration, and no change in his eyesight, they decided against further operations. Yesterday [Friday] Mr. Brown visited Moorfields Hospital as part of regular checks on his eyes and this check was also fine. Mr. Brown wants to thank the doctors and staff of the NHS particularly Moorfields Hospital. Were there to be any change, he would of course make a further statement.”

Gordon is already blind in his left eye after a rugby-related accident during his teenage years. The announce made earlier this week comes roughly two weeks after he made an appearance on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One as a guest on September 27, 2009. He was given some medical questions from Andrew Marr about his health, including if his eyes were OK, and if he took prescription painkillers, while on the air. As a result, the BBC received several hundred complaints from viewers.

Editor Barney Jones made an apology. In a statement he said: “We felt that with a general election looming and with former and current cabinet ministers warning of electoral defeat unless the party turned round its current position, a robust interview centred on the economy and the Prime Minister’s leadership was appropriate.

“The former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, suggested this month that health might be a reason for the Prime Minister to stand down and within the context of a long interview about policy it was reasonable also to ask Mr Brown about his health. The issue of his health and whether it affects his ability to perform the onerous job of leading the party and the country was pertinent, and has been raised with other Prime Ministers in … Read More

Bush to skip Republican convention to monitor Gustav

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George W. Bush, the President of the United States, has said that he will not attend the 2008 Republican National Convention as a result of Hurricane Gustav.

During a statement made to the press, Bush told reporters: “In light of these events, I will not be going to Minnesota for the Republican National Convention,”. He continued saying: “I’m going to travel down to Texas tomorrow to visit with the Emergency Operations Center in Austin, where coordination among federal, state, and local government officials is occurring.”

A satellite image of Hurricane Gustav
Image: NASA.

“I intend to go down to San Antonio where state and local officials are prepositioning relief materials for Texas and Louisiana, and I’ll have a chance to visit with residents of both states who have been evacuated.”

Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain 2008, also tried to explain the reasons for the change of the schedule saying that “we [John McCain 2008 and the Republican Party] are deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of the residents of the Gulf State region. Our top priority is to assist those who will be affected by Hurricane Gustav. This is not a time for politics or celebration; it is a time for us to come together as Americans and assist the residents of the Gulf States.”

During the press statement in which Mr. Bush announced that he would not attend the conference, he also commented on the dangers of the hurricane. “The message to the people of the Gulf Coast is, this storm is dangerous. There’s a real possibility of flooding, storm surge, and high winds. Therefore, it is very important for you to follow the instructions and direction of state and local officials. Do not put yourself in harm’s way, or make rescue workers take unnecessary risks. And know that the American people stand with you. We’ll face this emergency together.”

Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana yesterady ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city ahead of Hurricane Gustav. Nagin stated that residents “need to be scared” in what he calls “the mother of al … Read More

High school seniors take last-chance exit test while judge prepares to strike it down

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Fifty James Logan High School seniors are scheduled to take the California High School Exit Exam today and tomorrow, while an Oakland judge is preparing to strike down the law requiring would-be high school graduates to pass the high-stakes test.

A student at James Logan High School takes a state-mandated test.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman said Monday that he will make his final decision today at 2 p.m. PDT on whether to issue an injunction against the enforcement of the law requiring the exam’s passage, citing “equal protection” concerns.

The ruling would affect about 47,000 California high school seniors, and dozens at James Logan High School, who have yet to pass the exam and would be barred from being graduated if they don’t.

Last week, state schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell released new statistics showing that 46.768 seniors, or 10.7 percent of the class of 2006, still haven’t passed the test.

Sixty-one percent of those students are poor, and 44 percent are English learners.

Of the 50 James Logan students taking the test today and tomorrow, 35 speak English as a second language. Eight are special education students. Of the five black students taking the test, four are special education students. Of the three white students taking the test, two are new to the district and the other is a special education student.

One, an Asian immigrant, has a 3.67 grade-point-average.

O’Donnell wrote the law requiring the test when he was in the state legislature in 1999.

In a statement to the press, O’Donnell said “Recognizing that today’s ruling is not final, I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that at the end of the legal day we maintain the integrity of the high school exit exam,” O’Connell said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said “delaying the exam’s implementation does a disservice to our children by depriving us of the best tool we have to make sure schools are performing as they should be.”

He said he was “disappointed.”

The attorney who sued the state Feb. 8, Arturo Gonzalez of the San Francisco law firm Morrison & Foerster, “felt strongly that the state should not deprive a student of a diploma unless the state can say that every student has been fairly and properly prepared for that test,” he said. “There is overwhelming evidence that students throughout the state have not been taught the material on the test. And many students have been taught by teachers not credentialed in math and English.”

The suit, was brought on behalf of lead plaintiff Liliana Valenzuela, a Richmond High senior who maintains a 3.84 grade-point average and is ranked 12th out of 413 in her class. Valenzuela has passed the math portion of the exam, but not the part on English, which she speaks as a second language.

Gonzalez contends the test is unfair, particularly to English learners, because students who have failed the test repeatedly are more likely to attend overcrowded schools with less-qualified teachers.

Judge Freedman said he was persuaded by that argument, but wanted to give the state a chance to change his opinion.

He asked lawyers on both sides to come prepared to talk about how conditions in the schools can be equalized.

Gonzalez urged seniors who still need to pass the test to keep going to classes and studying. “It is absolutely critical for students to understand that even if the order is made final, only those students who passed their classes will get a diploma,” he said.

  • Patrick Hannigan. “Seniors Take Last-Chance Exit Test While Judge Prepares to Strike it Down” — James Logan Courier, 05/09/06

Author’s note: This story is released to wikinews under the CCA 2.5 license. A statement to that effect appears at the original site.