Thursday, December 30, 2010

Howard leads Magic past Stoudemire, Knicks 112-103

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Dwight Howard laughs at the idea his demeanor has changed dramatically.
"One year, I'm smiling too much," he said. "Now I'm the bad boy."
Orlando will take the good with the bad for now.
Howard had 24 points and 18 rebounds in a bruising battle with Amare Stoudemire, and the Magic beat the New York Knicks 112-103 on Thursday night for their fifth straight victory.
Howard also picked up his NBA-leading 12th technical foul - he'll be suspended for one game if he gets 16, then an additional game for every two technical fouls after that - with more than half the season remaining. The NBA has tried to crack down on players arguing or overreacting this season.
But Magic coach Stan Van Gundy believes his star center is being singled out.
"I don't think he's any harder on officials than anybody else in the league," Van Gundy said. "I don't think even think he's one of the hardest guys on officials, quite honestly. I could probably give you 20 guys who are a lot harder on officials than he is. Why he's been the guy to get all the technicals, I don't know. But there are a lot of guys around the league who are a lot harder on officials, yell at them, swear and everything else and get away with it."
Well, not everybody.
Stoudemire finished with 30 points, four rebounds and four assists - and received his 10th technical foul - but got into foul trouble early in a matchup of two of the NBA's best big men. Both never shied away from contact and showed more offensive prowess than defensive pressure.
"I thought we were really feeding off each other," Stoudemire said. "If I didn't get in foul trouble, it would have been a different game for sure."
Howard also had more help.
J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson had 14 points apiece, helping the Magic build a 20-point lead before halftime and hold on late. New York trimmed the deficit to two in the fourth quarter before the Magic pulled away for good.
Wilson Chandler had 29 points and Shawne Williams added 15 for the Knicks, who have lost five of seven.
This was the first meeting in the season series between the teams; their Nov. 2 game at Madison Square Garden was postponed because of safety concerns after debris fell into the arena during overnight cleaning of asbestos-related materials. The Magic were already in New York and had to fly back.
Maybe it was worth the wait.
Howard grabbed his own rebound late in the game and dunked over Stoudemire, who was late getting over to the play. Stoudemire answered on the next possession, converting a three-point play over Howard to cut Orlando's lead to 98-96 and pumping his chest in celebration.
A few plays later, Hedo Turkoglu made a 3-pointer over Stoudemire. Then Howard hit a pair of free throws and Orlando was ahead by nine with a minute left. And just for an exclamation point, Howard added a three-point play over Stoudemire in the final minute that brought fans to their feet.
"It was fun to watch those two," Magic forward Ryan Anderson said.
The two big men seemed to rise to the challenge and weren't shy about being physical.
Howard was called for the technical foul in the first quarter for arguing with officials. At one point, Stoudemire even shoved Howard in the post and clapped his hands after Stoudemire was whistled for a foul.
The words were often too much and officials did everything they could to control play. Stoudemire picked up a technical foul in the second quarter after banging bodies with Howard and taunting Gilbert Arenas.
"I told him to get that mess out of here," Stoudemire said. "And I got a tech."
After Stoudemire got his third foul with almost six minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Magic went on a 23-10 run led by Howard to go ahead 62-42. By the time New York recovered, it was too late.
Stoudemire also picked up his fifth foul midway through the fourth quarter to crush New York's rally.
"When Amare has five fouls already it's hard to get size out on the court," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Dwight Howard is going to be bigger in size so we have to figure out another way to beat team."
NOTES: Magic assistant coach and former Knicks center Patrick Ewing was asked before the game if anything had changed in his hopes of becoming an NBA head coach. "I'm still waiting on that call," he said. ... Stoudemire, who was a high school star in the Orlando area, was cheered during pregame introductions. ... Magic backup SG Quentin Richardson was sent home with flulike symptoms.

Former Israeli president convicted of rape

JERUSALEM — Former President Moshe Katsav was convicted Thursday of raping an employee when he was a Cabinet minister, the most serious criminal charges ever brought against a high-ranking official in Israel and a case that shocked the nation.

Katsav, 65, likely faces from four to 16 years in prison for the crimes, which included two counts of raping an employee in 1998 when he was tourism minister and lesser counts of indecent acts and sexual harassment involving two other women who worked for him when he was president.

Katsav served as a minister in several right-wing Likud governments before he was elected president, a largely ceremonial post, in 2000. He has denied the rape charges, claiming he was a victim of a political witch hunt and suggesting he was targeted because he comes from Israel's Sephardic community. Sephardic Jews, of Middle Eastern origin, were for decades an underclass. Katsav was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel as a child.

A somber Katsav left the courtroom without commenting, surrounded by his legal team. He was ordered to surrender his passport while awaiting sentencing at a date that has not yet been set.

Katsav can appeal the verdict, but legal experts said Israel's Supreme Court was unlikely to overturn such a sweeping conviction. A presidential pardon is also highly unlikely because of the severity of the offenses. In his ruling, the judge said Katsav's defense was full of lies.

Katsav's son Boaz vowed his father would clear his name.

"We will continue to walk with our heads high and all the nation... with God's help, will know that father, the eighth president of the state of Israel, is innocent," he said.

One of Katsav's lawyers, Avigdor Feldman, said he hopes his client will appeal, but he has not yet decided how to proceed. "I don't know how strong he is, how long he can continue this saga," Feldman said.

Katsav's case initially broke in 2006, when the then-president complained that a female employee was extorting him. The woman then went to police with her side of the story, detailing a series of sexual assaults and prompting other women to come forward with similar complaints.

According to the indictment, Katsav forced one woman to the floor of his office at the Tourism Ministry in 1998 and raped her. A second time that year, he summoned her to a Jerusalem hotel to go over paperwork and raped her on the bed in his room. The indictment alleged that Katsav tried to calm his victim by saying: "Relax, you'll enjoy it."

The indictment also alleged that he harassed two women during his term as president, embracing them against their will and making unwanted sexual comments.

On Katsav's 60th birthday in 2005, an assistant offered congratulations. He then hugged her at length, sniffing her neck, according to the indictment. She complained to police, and the indictment said Katsav later tried to persuade her to change her testimony, earning him an additional charge of obstruction of justice.

The conviction by a three-judge panel was widely praised as a victory for Israel's legal system and for women's rights.

"The court sent two clear and sharp messages: that everyone is equal and every woman has the full right to her body," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. He called the verdict a sad day for Israel and its citizens.

The conviction capped a four-and-a-half year saga that stunned Israelis, both with its lurid details and bizarre twists and turns.

Katsav resigned in 2007, two weeks before his seven-year term expired, under a plea bargain that would have required him to admit to lesser charges of sexual misconduct. He was replaced by former prime minister Shimon Peres.

But in a dramatic reversal in April 2009, Katsav rejected the deal, which would have kept him out of jail, and vowed to clear his name in court.

Around that time, he held a bizarre news conference in which he lashed out at prosecutors and the media and denied any wrongdoing. His erratic behavior, in which he shook in anger, waved a computer disc that he said proved his innocence and screamed at reporters in the room, raised questions about his state of mind at the time.

The president in Israel is head of state but a largely ceremonial post, representing the country at ceremonies around the world. The post, filled by parliament, is traditionally given to an elder statesman as a reward for years of public service.

Katsav's case sparked a high-profile campaign by woman's right groups. On Thursday, hundreds of women stood outside the courtroom holding signs against Katsav and chanting: "The whole nation knows Katsav is a criminal."

Prosecutor Ronit Amiel said the verdict sent a strong message that victims of abuse of power should not keep silent.

"This day is not a happy day. It is not an easy day," she said.

Oren Gazal-Ayal, a professor of criminal justice at Haifa University, called the verdict a "badge of honor" for the country's legal system.

"I think we should be very proud of the Israeli justice system," he said. He said that while Katsav's crimes could carry a total of nearly 40 years in prison, under Israel's legal practices, sentences are served concurrently, so the maximum penalty would not exceed 16 years, the top penalty for the rape convictions.

The conviction was the latest in a series of high-profile cases against Israeli officials.

Former Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson is currently in prison after being convicted of embezzling more than $600,000 from a workers union. Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon was convicted in March 2007 of forcibly kissing a female soldier. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is currently standing trial on corruption charges. — AP

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Soldier dies, another hurt in grenade blast in North Cotabato

KIDAPAWAN CITY – A member of the 7th Infantry Battalion of the Army was killed and another was seriously injured when unidentified motorcycle-riding men threw a grenade at them on Wednesday evening.

The victims were reportedly manning the checkpoint along the highway in Kabacan, North Cotabato, at around 8:45 p.m. on Wednesday when the incident happened.

Authorities identified the slain soldier as Cpl. Rey Osoteo and the injured was Pfc. Dionisio Malik. Both were members of the 7th IB assigned in Barangay Osias, Kabacan.

Lt. Col. Domingo Gubuay, commander of the 7th IB, said his men were manning the checkpoint along Kabacan-Pikit highway when the suspects, onboard a motorcycle, tossed the grenade and fired shots toward their posts.

Osoteo died on the spot while Malik was rushed to the nearby Kidapawan Medical Specialist Hospital for treatment.

Gubuay suspected that the group behind the grenade blast was a lawless gang operating in Kabacan town and other nearby areas in North Cotabato. 

“They knew, from the start, that the outposts we built along the highway had hampered their illegal activities. So to demobilize our teams, they attacked our men manning the routes, which could be their entry or exit points," said Gubuay.

The Army started putting up road blocks and outposts along the Kabacan-Pikit highway in October after the bloody bus blast in Matalam town that killed 11 passengers and wounded several others.

The attack at the Army outpost in Barangay Osias on Wednesday was the second attack in Kabacan town since last week.

On December 24, a bag containing an improvised explosive device fashioned from an 81-millimeter mortar was discovered by a utility worker at a bus terminal in Poblacion, Kabacan. 

The bomb, according to Kabacan police director, Supt. Joseph Semillano, “was aimed at creating chaos while many were busy preparing for the long holiday break."

The Al Khobar group was suspected to be behind the attacks, reports said. – VVP, GMANews.TV

Albay under state of calamity due to landslides, floods

The province of Albay was placed under a state of calamity on Thursday after five days of rains triggered floods and landslides and displaced over 4,000 residents.

Albay Governor Joey Salceda, in a radio interview, said the province was placed under a state of calamity after the death of an 80-year-old woman, Lolita Dapdap, who was swept away by raging floods late Wednesday afternoon.

Dapdap's 50-year-old son Antonio remained missing and was believed to have drowned as well, the radio report added.

Salceda, a former lawmaker and two-term governor, admitted that the incident delivered a big and personal blow to him.

"After four years, first death ko ito sa dami ng disasters...First time iyan na may namatay under my watch kaya napaka-dramatic ng pagkamatay na ito," said the governor, who the report described as being teary-eyed over the incident.

Under Section 21 of Republic Act No. 10121 or the “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010," once a state of calamity is declared, a local government unit (LGU) may use its calamity fund, equivalent to five percent of its internal revenue allotment (IRA).

According to Salceda, the evacuation centers in the province are currently home to 857 families (or 3,974 people) most of whom were pre-emptively evacuated.

Salceda appealed to state weather forecasters to give a name to the tail-end of the cold front that is affecting the region, just like what they do to tropical cyclones.

That way appropriate storm warning signals could be raised to help LGUs take the appropriate actions to minimize risks to the public.

"Para kasing may isang malaking cloud mat at tinutukan talaga ang Albay. It's like a typhoon without wind," Salceda said. He described the tail-end of the front as "treacherous" and "silent killer."

"On the ground they are major hazards. Napaka-traydor ng weathe system na ito," he added, further attributing the weather disturbance to climate change.

Salceda said the local government can still cope with the situation using their existing finances, saying that their calamity fund was still intact.

Weather conditions may improve

The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has already assured the public that weather conditions in Bicol may improve by New Year's Day.

However, PAGASA forecaster Jori Loiz said rains loom over parts of Eastern Visayas and Northeastern Mindanao on January 1.

Landslides temporarily isolated Tinapian village in Manito town in Albay as of 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

On the other hand, the main road along seven villages in Casiguran town in Sorsogon - Rizal, San Pascual, Santa Cruz, Burgos, Tiris, Casay, and Inlagadian - were rendered impassable due to spillway overflow in Casay village.

Maintenance crews from the Philippine Army and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) have started road clearing operations, the NDRRMC said.

Manito town

Meanwhile, Bicol Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (RDRMC) head Bernardo Alejandro IV said they are concentrating efforts in Manito town, a remote town that is prone to landslides and flash floods.

"Nag declare si Gov. Salceda ng state of calamity. Ang efforts concentrated sa Manito, (at least) 50 (people) need rescue to safer grounds. According to reports from the mayor medyo tumaas ang spillway, overflowing ang tubig," Alejandro said in an interview on dzBB radio on Thursday.

(Albay Governor Jose Salceda has declared a state of calamity. But our efforts are now concentrated on Manito town, where at least 50 people need to be brought to safer grounds. According to reports, water levels from the spillway had risen and the water is overflowing)

He said they are coordinating with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs) to see if they should also watch out for lahar flows from Mayon Volcano.

Alejandro said they are working with the local military to build temporary bridges at the spillway area to help residents get to evacuation centers.

"Kailangan careful ang evacuation dahil may bata at matanda (We have to be careful in our evacuation because there are children and elderly people)," he said.

"Ang DOH naka-standby to assist, ang relief goods nakahanda na (The Department of Health is on standby to assist the families. We are ready with relief goods)," he said. – VVP, GMANews.TV

NBA Wrap:Wade scores 45 in Heat's 125-119 win over Rockets

HOUSTON (AP) Dwyane Wade scored 45 points and the Miami Heat extended their road winning streak to 10 games with a 125-119 win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.

Wade shook off a hard foul from Aaron Brooks early in the fourth quarter to reach 40 points for the 30th time in his career. He hit 17 of 24 shots, went 10 for 10 from the free-throw line and pulled down seven rebounds one night after scoring 40 points in a 106-98 win over the New York Knicks.
Wade reached 45 points for the eighth time, and hit 40 points on consecutive nights for the first time in his career.
LeBron James scored 20 points and had nine assists and Chris Bosh scored 21 points for the Heat, who set a franchise record with their 15th win in December.
The Heat have won 16 of their past 17 overall. The Rockets were the first opponent to reach 100 points in that span.
Luis Scola scored 22 points, Kevin Martin had 21 and Brooks added 20 points and nine assists for the Rockets, who had an eight-game home winning streak snapped.

Garnett hurt in Boston's 104-92 loss to Detroit

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Kevin Garnett threw down an emphatic dunk, then grimaced before he even landed.
With that, Boston's smooth run through this NBA season came to an end.
Garnett left in the first quarter with a leg injury, and the Celtics looked ragged without him in a 104-92 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night. Boston lost for only the second time in 17 games, but the Celtics are suddenly facing some adversity they hope isn't too serious.
"It is a muscle injury, not a knee," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "You always worry when a guy goes down without anyone around him, because those always seem to be severe injuries, so that was the first thing that went through my mind. We don't think this one is too bad, but we'll see. He'll probably miss some time, and we'll have to adjust."
Tracy McGrady - himself no stranger to leg problems - scored a season-high 21 points for the Pistons. He also played over 30 minutes for the first time since March.
"I've been making progress," McGrady said. "I've been confident mentally, physically for quite some time now. I'm just continuing to get better because I work. I see the improvement that I'm making on the court and I'm going to continue to do that. I'm excited about my future."
Detroit led 45-37 at halftime and pushed the margin to 16 in the third quarter.
Boston played without point guard Rajon Rondo, who missed his sixth straight game with a sprained left ankle. The Celtics have been able to win without him, but it was a struggle from the start against the Pistons.

Young's 25 lead Wizards to 104-90 win over Pacers

WASHINGTON (AP) Randy Wittmann has been a head coach in the NBA before. He just didn't want to be one under these conditions.

Flip Saunders abruptly left the Washington Wizards before Wednesday's game to be with his ailing mother, leaving Wittmann in charge.
After losing 10 of the previous 11 games and all 15 on the road, perhaps the Wizards could have been excused for bemoaning their fate at halftime.
After a sloppy 24 minutes with the score tied at 44 and Kirk Hinrich, their sole player to participate in all 30 games gone with a bruised left thigh, Wittmann had only one thought as he remembered the jagged first half.
"They're not sending this to the museum," he joked.
After 11 ties in the first half, Washington took control in the second half to beat the Indiana Pacers 104-90.
Hinrich had a sore knee, which he aggravated early in the game, Wittmann said.
Then early in the second quarter, he was kneed in the thigh and after playing a scoreless 12 minutes, Hinrich was done for the night.
After the game, Hinrich limped noticeably on his way to the training room.
With Hinrich out, rookie John Wall, in just his third game after missing five with a bruised right knee, played 35 minutes and was one of six Wizards to score in double figures.
Wall, who had 10 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds, cramped up during the game.

PNoy to lead Rizal Day rites at Luneta

President Benigno Aquino III will lead the nation in commemorating the 114th death anniversary of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal in Manila.

A MalacaƱang statement said Aquino will raise the flag and offer wreath in ceremonies at the Rizal Park in Manila Thursday morning.

Rizal was martyred on Dec. 30, 1896, precipitating the Philippine revolution against the Spanish colonial rule.

Expected to assist Aquino on Thursday are Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Armed Forces chief Gen. Ricardo David Jr., Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) Chairman Ambeth Ocampo.

"Simultaneous flag-raising and wreath offering rites will also be held at Rizal monuments nationwide including his birthplace in Calamba, Laguna and in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte where he was exiled in July 1892," the Palace said.

This year’s observance will focus on the theme “Rizal: Haligi ng Bayan." It will be highlighted by the unveiling of the logo of the 114th anniversary of Rizal’s martyrdom signaling the kick-off celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of the national hero.

Born on June 19, 1861, Rizal became one of the country’s leading reformists and inspiration of the revolution particularly through his writings and novels such as "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo." His works are now being taught in public and private schools to educate students about the concept of nationalism.

In Japan, meanwhile, the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo commemorated the 114th death anniversary of Rizal Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in astatement.

Embassy officers and staff held a wreath-laying ceremony before the marker and bronze bust of Rizal at the Hibiya Park in Tokyo, the DFA said.

It said the bust was put up in 1998 at the park fronting the former Tokyo Hotel. Dr. Rizal stayed in the hotel from March 1 to 7, 1888.

The wreath-laying ceremony was followed by a flag-raising ceremony at the Embassy. There was also a reading of Rizal's "Mi Ultimo Adios" at the Embassy's lobby.

The program ended with a lunch participated in by Embassy officers and staff. - KBK, GMANews.TV

World population to reach 6.9B at New Year, German group says

At the stroke of the clock at midnight, December 31, the world’s population will have grown to about 6.9 billion and will hit seven billion by the middle of 2011, a German aid group that promotes birth control said in Hanover, Germany on Tuesday.

The German Foundation for World Population, or DSW, runs a “population meter" on its website that calculates the current world population from various annual data sources. 

At midnight on Friday, the calculator will read 6,934,196,000, up 80 million from one year ago. Following population trends, the numbers assume that 2.6 people are born every second.

This is slightly different from estimates of the World Population Global Report of the United States Census, which estimates that that worldwide and every second, there are 4.17 total births and 1.8 total deaths — causing a net growth of 2.37 per second.

While there is no totally accurate account of total world population, as no person or entity continually records every single birth and death, population estimates are based on various census figures and the rates of growth in various countries.

DSW, which supplies free contraception, did not forecast any exact date for the seven billion mark to be reached.— DM/KBK, GMANews.TV

21 Signs of Stress

When you take a moment to realize how stressed you are it is the first step to making a change.

Here are 21 signs of stress. Look through the list to help you uncover areas in your life where stress is stealing the vital energies you need to be a quietly happy, inwardly whole human being. Study the list closely. Ask yourself if the character or daily condition describes you in any way, and if so, then give yourself one point for every “Yes, that’s true about me, or my life” that you find. Honesty is essential.
1. Finding fault with others comes easily to you.
2. You can condemn yourself at the drop of a hat.
3. Your day is likely to have many minor irritations in it.
4. Competition of any kind makes you feel alive.
5. You have a tendency to rush, even when there is no real need for it.
6. One form or another of some unfinished business is always hanging over your head.
7. You love being the center of attention, even if it’s just starring in your own mental movies.
8. Nothing is ever quite good enough for you.
9. You tend to make mountains out of molehills.
10. Revisiting past painful moments seems a natural thing to do.
11. You rarely see and feel something beautiful at least three times a day.
12. People tend to move too slowly for you.
13. More events in your life fail to measure up to your expectations than exceed them.
14. It doesn’t take much for you to feel as though someone has mistreated you.
15. You are easily shocked or irritated by the inconsideration of others.
16. Sitting quietly and doing nothing is difficult for you to do.
17. It’s easy for you to see what’s wrong with everyone else around you.
18. You tend to always arrive a little bit late for your appointments.
19. Confusion is your favorite fallback position when things don’t go as planned.
20. More often than not, you wait until the last moment to do what needs to be done.
21. There are people in your past that you still blame for the pain you feel now.
How Stressed are You? See Your Score 
If your score is 1 – 5  You have some stress in your life, but your days are basically bright.
If your score is 6 – 12  Stress is manageable, but you often feel like you’re coming unwrapped!
If your score is 13 – 21  You are basically addicted to stressful states, and your health is at risk.
Guy Finley is the best-selling author of more than 40 works, including The Courage to Be Free, The Secret of Letting Go, and The Essential Laws of Fearless Living. He lives and teaches in Merlin, Oregon where he is Director of non-profit Life of Learning Foundation, . Visit his Beliefnet blog, Letting go with Guy Finley.

Read more:

DOT to lure chunk of 15M Indian tourists next year

The Department of Tourism (DOT) expects to attract next year a bigger share of some 15 million tourists from India.

The DOT said this following a five-day sales mission to India with nearly 400 Indian tour operators and travel agencies in New Delhi and Mumbai getting the message.

“We are happy that the business-to-business meetings (B2B) were able to raise interest in the development of… tour packages for the April–June Indian travel season," DOT Assistant Secretary for International Tourism Promotions Benito Bengzon Jr. said on the government portal. 

Bengzon, who led the high-level delegation from the Philippine travel trade, stressed that the sales mission was an “excellent platform to develop business ties with Indian tour agents." 

With the more than 50 percent increase in target arrivals from India, the DOT wants to see the inclusion of the Philippines in the 2011 tour offerings by outbound Indian wholesalers and travel agencies.

"The Philippines is vying for the market’s interest for shopping and entertainment. Manila is considerably known to this market for its large high-end shopping malls, entertainment centers and gaming facilities," the DOT said.

Meanwhile, Philippine Airlines will start its Manila-New Delhi direct link next March to address a major concern surrounding flight connectivity.

"Existing indirect connections with long stopovers result in trips of between fourteen to thirty hours. With the direct service, travel time will be shortened to just six-and-a half hours," the DOT said.

Meanwhile, the DOT said another important issue that was threshed out during the sales mission was visas to the Philippines.

Philippine Embassy in New Delhi Minister and Consul General Maria Agnes Cervantes and Philippine Honorary Consul in Mumbai Retnasamy Swaminathan offered to support the Indian travel trade. — With Jerrie Abella/VS/KBK, GMANews.TV

Suicide bombers hit Iraqi police HQ, kill chief

BAGHDAD — Three suicide bombers attacked Iraq's federal police headquarters in Mosul on Wednesday, leveling the building and killing the top police commander in the northern city, a prominent figure who had escaped several past assassination attempts, officials said.

While violence has subsided significantly in Iraq in the past years, insurgents frequently target the country's government institutions and security forces in an effort to destabilize the US-backed Iraqi authorities as American troops prepare to leave by the end of next year.

The attack in Mosul, a former al-Qaida stronghold, began when three men with explosives vests slipped through an opening in the blast walls surrounding the compound housing Iraq's 1st Battalion of the National Police at around 6 am Wednesday, police said.

Police shot one of the attackers in an open-air yard, and his vest exploded — but under cover of the blast, the other suicide bombers charged into the police headquarters building.

One of the bombers entered the ground floor office of the battalion's commander, Lt. Col. Shamil al-Jabouri, where he was sleeping, and blew himself up, killing him instantly, a police officer at the scene said.

The other bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest on the ground floor of the building shortly after the first blast, police said.

The twin explosions were so powerful that they brought the whole building down, burying the slain commander and possibly others under the rubble, police said.

Hospital officials in the city, located 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, confirmed the fatality and said they've treated one policeman who was wounded in the blast. Morgue officials in the city said they have not received any bodies.

Rescuers worked frantically to clear the rubble of the collapsed building to get to those possibly trapped underneath.

Abdul-Raheem al-Shemeri, a top security official on the Mosul Provincial Council, said he believed al-Jabouri, who fought to rid the northern city of al-Qaida militants, was the target of Wednesday's attack.

"We've lost a sword of Mosul, who chased al-Qaida terrorists out of the city," al-Shemeri said, adding that al-Jabouri was believed to have been one of few people in the building since the official work day had not yet started.

Militants had tried to kill al-Jabouri several times before, al-Shemeri and several police officials said. A few months ago, al-Jabouri's guards shot a suicide bomber who approached the commander in an attempt to blow himself up, police said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday's attack.

But suicide bombers have been al-Qaida's most lethal weapon in Iraq, killing hundreds of civilians and members of Iraq's security forces.

On Monday, two suicide attackers blew themselves up in front of a government office in Iraq's provincial capital of Ramadi in Anbar province in the west, killing nine people and wounding dozens.

In a separate incident Wednesday, five civilians were wounded when a roadside bomb hit an Iraqi police patrol in eastern Baghdad, police and hospital officials said.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. — AP

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

DFA: PHL acting to free 7 Pinoys from pirates

Philippine officials are working to help secure the release of seven Filipino seafarers who have being held captive by Somali pirates since Monday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday.

The DFA said the seven were aboard the German-owned cargo vessel MV EMS River that pirates hijacked last Monday. [See related story: Somali pirates seize ship with 7 Pinoys]

"The Philippine Foreign Liaison Officer to the Combined Maritime Command in Bahrain, Commander Gaudencio Collado, is now coordinating with naval authorities to resolve the case," the DFA said in an article posted on its website.

It said the MV EMS River was seized approximately 175 nautical miles northeast of the port of Salalah in Oman.

The ship was en route to San Nicolas, Greece, from Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates at the time of the attack.

The cargo ship has a crew of seven Filipinos and one Romanian, an Associated Press report said.

According to the DFA, its Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA) had learned that the ship's manning agency in Manila already informed the families of the seafarers about the incident.

The DFA said there are 107 Filipino seafarers aboard nine vessels held captive by pirates, adding that the OUMWA continues to coordinate closely with the concerned Philippine embassies, the vessels' principals and the local manning agencies for the early and safe release of the seafarers.

Of the estimated 1,200,000 seafarers worldwide, more than 300,000 are Filipinos, according to the Apostleship of the Sea, a UK-based advocacy group. — LBG, GMANews.TV

1,500 Butuan city hall workers jobless by Jan 1

BUTUAN CITY — A total of 1,500 city hall workers, particularly those working on job-order basis, will be out of work starting January 1, according to a local government memorandum issued late last week.

On December 23, the Butuan City government issued a memorandum stating that all city hall job-order contracts will end by January 31, 2011. 

Mayor Ferdinand Amante Jr.’s memorandum said there is no need for workers hired through job orders to report to work on the first day of 2011, unless they are re-hired. 

“Actually Mayor Amante merely extended their work up to December 31 this year for humanitarian reasons. Majority [of affected workers], who were hired by the previous administration, have expired contracts. Some have ended their job orders last October this year while some as early as September," Butuan City Vice Mayor Lawrence Fortun told GMANEWS.TV. 

Fortun admitted that some affected workers viewed the move as politically motivated because those who will be terminated were hired by the previous administration. 

The vice mayor also cited cost-cutting measures, such as streamlining of manpower requirements at the City Hall, as among the reasons for the issuance of the memorandum. 

Should the city hall need to rehire terminated workers, performance evaluation and availability of funds would be of utmost consideration, Fortun added.

“Frankly, as part of our streamlining, we only intend to re-hire 700 job orders that are very much needed and relevant to our daily operations," he said.

Meanwhile, opposition groups, including the 1,500 worker, slammed the move as “political vendetta."

They said the cost-cutting measure being the reason for the termination of workers is unacceptable. “Why would they hire people to work for Butuan City Hall from Agusan del Norte province, a known bailiwick of the Amantes? Clearly, the Amante and Fortun move was political", opposition leaders told GMANews.TV.

Also, they claimed that the current Butuan City Council membership, together with a number of barangay captains, is dominated by the Amante group, they added. — Ben Serrano/LBG, GMANews.TV