Thursday, 12 December 2013
A cave on the northwestern coast of Sumatra holds a remarkable record of big tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.
The limestone opening, close to Banda Aceh, retains the sandy deposits washed ashore by huge, earthquake-induced waves over thousands of years.
Scientists are using the site to help determine the frequency of catastrophes like the event of 26 December 2004.
This is being done by dating the cave's tsunami-borne sediments, which are easy to see between layers of bat droppings.
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Prof Kerry SiehDirector, Earth Observatory of SingaporeBecause people thought they had no history of such things, they thought it was impossible”
"The tsunami sands just jump right out at you because they're separated by guano layers. There's no confusing the stratigraphy (layering)," explains Dr Jessica Pilarczyk.
"It makes for interesting field work; I'm not going to lie to you. The bats get very excited when people are disrupting their space. But from a geologist's point of view, this cave has the most amazing stratigraphy," she told BBC News.
Dr Pilarczyk was speaking here in San Francisco at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the world's largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.
She is part of a team of researchers - led by Prof Charles Rubin - from the Earth Observatory of Singapore, an institute of Nanyang Technological University that is investigating the coastal history of Indonesia's largest island.
Sumatra's proximity to the Indo-Australia and Sunda tectonic plate boundary, and the giant earthquakes that occur there, means its shores are at risk of major inundations.
Understanding how often these occur is important for policy and planning in the region.Continued
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The sign language interpreter accused of using fake hand signals at Nelson Mandela's memorial has said he suffered a schizophrenic episode.
Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34, told South African media he "started hearing voices" and began hallucinating.
Deaf viewers at the memorial service said he was "signing rubbish", and complained he was a fraud.
Mr Mandela died last Thursday at the age of 95. His body is lying in state ahead of his burial on Sunday.'Dangerous situation'
Mr Jantjie said he worked for a company called SA Interpreters, where he is a senior interpreter.
During the memorial, he was employed to stand on the stage next to key speakers such as US President Barack Obama and Mr Mandela's grandchildren, translating their eulogies.
His performance was watched on television by millions of people worldwide.
But he said that during the event, he lost concentration because of voices in his head.
"There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation," Mr Jantjie told Johannesburg's Star newspaper.
"I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry. It's the situation I found myself in."
But in a subsequent radio interview, he said he was happy with his performance.
"I've interpreted in many big events," he told Talk Radio 702. "I think I've been a champion of sign language."
Mr Jantjie's performance at the memorial provoked anger among South Africa's deaf community.
During the broadcast, Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, the country's first deaf female MP, tweeted: "ANC-linked interpreter on the stage with dep president of ANC is signing rubbish. He cannot sign. Please get him off."
The government is investigating what happened, but on Wednesday it said it "wishes to assure South Africans that we are clear in defending the rights and dignity of people with disabilities".
Australia's High Court has overturned legislation allowing gay marriage in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
The ACT parliament passed a bill in October making the territory the first part of Australia to legalise same-sex weddings.
But the national government challenged the decision, saying it was inconsistent with federal laws.
Some 27 couples who married since the law came into effect last weekend will now have their unions declared invalid.
The legislation had allowed gay couples to marry inside the ACT, which includes the Australian capital, Canberra - regardless of which state they live in.
Federal law, however, specified in 2004 that marriage was between a man and a woman.
Civil unions are allowed in some states in Australia.
The High Court in Canberra ruled unanimously against the ACT legislation on Thursday, saying that it could not stand alongside national-level laws.
"Whether same sex marriage should be provided for by law is a matter for the federal parliament," it said in a statement.
"The Marriage Act does not now provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same-sex couples. The Marriage Act provides that a marriage can be solemnised in Australia only between a man and a woman," it added.
Attorney-General George Brandis had previously warned that the local law would face a legal challenge, because it was inconsistent with the country's Marriage Act.'Clarion call'
Australian Marriage Equality National Director Rodney Croome said in a statement: "This is devastating for those couples who married this week and for their families."
Ivan Hinton, who had married his partner Chris Teoh on Saturday, tearfully told reporters: "In less than a week we've been married and we've been unmarried, at least on a legal level."
"We're still married," he added. "I've made commitments to Chris to spend the rest of my life with him."
Greens leader Christine Milne said: "What the court has decided has made it very clear that the Federal Parliament has the power to legislate for marriage equality."
The ruling was "a clarion call for everyone in the country who supports marriage equality to now put pressure on the Federal Government and the Federal Parliament to change it", she added.
However, Liberal Party politician Eric Abetz said on Twitter: "The High Court's overruling of ACT same sex marriage laws is welcome."
In a statement, the Australian Christian Lobby, which opposes gay marriage, said: "Marriage between a man and a woman is good for society and beneficial for governments to uphold in legislation."
"It is about providing a future for the next generation where they can be raised by their biological parents, wherever possible," the statement said, adding that "it is now time to move on".
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who leads a Liberal-National coalition, opposes same-sex marriage.
Last year, a bill allowing same-sex marriage was voted down in both houses of Australia's national parliament.
In April, New Zealand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise gay marriage.
Gay marriage is also legal in countries including Canada, France, Argentina, and South Africa, and some US states
Wednesday, 11 December 2013
An aide to senior Republican Senator Lamar Alexander has been arrested on charges of child pornography, US authorities say.
Jesse Ryan Loskarn was taken into custody by US Postal Inspection Service officials in Washington DC for possession and distribution of the unspecified illicit material.
Mr Alexander's political chief of staff was then removed from his position.
Mr Loskarn is scheduled to appear in a federal court on Thursday.Stunned and surprised
"I am stunned, surprised and disappointed by what I have learned," Mr Alexander wrote in a statement, adding his office was fully cooperating with investigators.
Mr Loskarn, 35, had worked on Capitol Hill for more than a decade and was named Mr Alexander's chief of staff in 2012, according to media reports.
Mr Alexander, first elected to the Senate in 2002, previously served as the US Secretary of Education and as governor of Tennessee.
Authorities reportedly searched Mr Loskarn's home as well as his work computer within Mr Alexander's office on Wednesday.
Mr Alexander subsequently removed Mr Loskarn from the chief of staff position and promoted another long-time aide, David Cleary, to the role.
"The courts will judge Mr Loskarn's guilt or innocence, but under these circumstances, he cannot continue to fulfil his duties as chief of staff of this office, Mr Alexander later said.
A law professor in China says he has been sacked after refusing to apologise for writing articles criticising the government.
Zhang Xuehong said he was dismissed by the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai on Monday.
He says university officials had asked him to retract views expressed in articles that raised questions about top leaders and one-party rule.
The university has not officially commented on the matter.
In June Mr Zhang published a piece advocating constitutional rule and criticising the leadership of the Communist Party, including President Xi Jinping.
Another piece, New Common Sense, questions the legality of one-party rule.
He said the university suspended him from teaching responsibilities in August. He added that university officials asked him last month if he was ready to apologise for his actions.
"I said I did nothing wrong, so there's nothing to admit to," he told Reuters news agency.
Mr Zhang, who is also a human rights lawyer, said he would file a lawsuit once he received written notice from the university. He had only been notified verbally.
His dismissal follows the expulsion of outspoken economist and free speech advocate Xia Yeliang in October from Peking University.
Mr Xia helped draft the Charter 08 manifesto, which calls for political change in China. He is a friend of jailed 2010 Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.
Mr Xia's dismissal came as Chinese leaders stepped up control of the media and internet, arresting bloggers and activists.
The execution of an Islamist leader, Abdul Kader Mullah, has been postponed while Bangladesh's Supreme Court continues to hear legal arguments.
Mullah's lawyers told a hearing on Wednesday he had "a constitutional right" to appeal against his sentence.
It follows a dramatic last-minute reprieve just 90 minutes before his scheduled execution on Tuesday night.
He was convicted in February of crimes against humanity during the country's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
The senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party denies the charges.
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Bangladesh independence war, 1971
- Civil war erupts in Pakistan, pitting the West Pakistan army against East Pakistanis demanding autonomy and later independence
- Fighting forces an estimated 10 million East Pakistani civilians to flee to India
- In December, India invades East Pakistan in support of the East Pakistani people
- Pakistani army surrenders at Dhaka and its army of more than 90,000 become Indian prisoners of war
- East Pakistan becomes the independent country of Bangladesh on 16 December 1971
- The war was devastating in its brutality but there are a range of estimates for the exact number of people killed - government figures estimate as many as three million died. Other studies suggest 300-500,000 perished.
The Jamaat-e-Islami assistant secretary general had been scheduled to be executed at Dhaka Central Jail at one minute past midnight on Wednesday morning.
But a Supreme Court judge agreed a stay of execution after he was petitioned by defence lawyers, who said the Bangladesh government had made preparations to execute Mullah without completing all necessary legal procedures.
After more than two hours of legal argument, Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain adjourned the hearing until Thursday.
The order halting his execution will remain valid until the current hearing is finished.Protests
The Bangladeshi government had tightened security ahead of the scheduled execution, but that did not prevent demonstrations in parts of the country.
Police said a protester was shot dead on Tuesday after Jamaat supporters threw petrol bombs at police officers in the southern town of Feni.
Jamaat activists also set vehicles alight and threw petrol bombs in the capital, Dhaka, and the port city of Chittagong.
But hundreds of supporters of the special court also gathered in Dhaka on Tuesday, where they chanted calls for Mullah's execution to be carried out.
Human rights groups had warned that by executing Mullah without giving him an opportunity for a review, Bangladesh could be breaking international law.
His trial earlier this year sparked protests from Jamaat supporters who accused the government of pursuing a political vendetta, which has resulted in the imprisonment of several of the party's senior leaders.
Mullah, who denied all the charges against him, was accused of being a member of a shadowy force called al-Badr during the war of independence.
It is a force which Jamaat, which was opposed to breaking away from Pakistan in 1971, is alleged to have created.
Al-Badr is accused of the kidnapping and murder of more than 200 Bengali intellectuals in the dying days of the war.
Mullah was also accused of being behind a series of killings including massacres in the Mirpur area of Dhaka, which earned him the nickname of "koshai" or butcher of Mirpur and made him one of the more feared Jamaat leaders.
Mullah was convicted in February and initially sentenced to life imprisonment, but in September the Supreme Court increased that to the death penalty.
Then, on 8 December, the war crimes court ordered prison authorities to proceed with the execution.
The special court was set up in 2010 by the current Bangladeshi government to deal with those accused of collaborating with Pakistani forces who attempted to stop East Pakistan (as Bangladesh was then) from becoming an independent country.
But human rights groups have said the tribunal falls short of international standards.