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Iran Reports a Major Setback at a Nuclear Power Plant

© Majid Asgaripour/AFP/Getty ImagesThe reactor building at the Bushehr nuclear plant in Iran. Operation of the long-anticipated facility has been delayed.
Iran told atomic inspectors this week that it had run into a serious problem at a newly completed nuclear reactor that was supposed to start feeding electricity into the national grid this month, raising questions about whether the trouble was sabotage, a startup problem, or possibly the beginning of the project's end.

In a report on Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran told inspectors on Wednesday that it was planning to unload nuclear fuel from its Bushehr reactor - the sign of a major upset. For years, Tehran has hailed the reactor as a showcase of its peaceful nuclear intentions and its imminent startup as a sign of quickening progress.

But nuclear experts said the giant reactor, Iran's first nuclear power plant, now threatens to become a major embarrassment, as engineers remove 163 fuel rods from its core.

Iran gave no reason for the unexpected fuel unloading, but it has previously admitted that the Stuxnet computer worm infected the Bushehr reactor. On Friday, computer experts debated whether Stuxnet was responsible for the surprising development.

Russia, which provided the fuel to Iran, said earlier this month that the worm's infection of the reactor should be investigated, arguing that it might trigger a nuclear disaster. Other experts said those fears were overblown, but noted that the full workings of the Stuxnet worm remained unclear.


Robert Fisk with the first dispatch from Tripoli - a city in the shadow of death

© APA fire burns in a street in the Libyan capital Tripoli in the early hours of yesterday morning
Gunfire in the suburbs - and hunger and rumour in the capital as thousands race for last tickets out of a city sinking into anarchy

Up to 15,000 men, women and children besieged Tripoli's international airport last night, shouting and screaming for seats on the few airliners still prepared to fly to Muammar Gaddafi's rump state, paying Libyan police bribe after bribe to reach the ticket desks in a rain-soaked mob of hungry, desperate families. Many were trampled as Libyan security men savagely beat those who pushed their way to the front.

Among them were Gaddafi's fellow Arabs, thousands of them Egyptians, some of whom had been living at the airport for two days without food or sanitation. The place stank of faeces and urine and fear. Yet a 45-minute visit into the city for a new airline ticket to another destination is the only chance to see Gaddafi's capital if you are a "dog" of the international press.

There was little sign of opposition to the Great Leader. Squads of young men with Kalashnikov rifles stood on the side roads next to barricades of upturned chairs and wooden doors. But these were pro-Gaddafi vigilantes - a faint echo of the armed Egyptian "neighbourhood guard" I saw in Cairo a month ago - and had pinned photographs of their leader's infamous Green Book to their checkpoint signs.


Irish elections: Fianna Fáil government routed, according to exit poll

© Niall Carson/PAIrish election exit polls point to Enda Kenny becoming new prime minister.
Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael, poised to become Ireland's prime minister if he can broker a deal with second-placed Labour

Ireland's most dominant political party, Fianna Fáil, is on the road to an historic and devastating defeat in the republic's general election.

Just months after accepting an EU/IMF bailout, the government is likely to be beaten into third place by a slew of independent candidates.

The scale of Fianna Fáil's losses are so great that a number of high-profile ministers, including finance minister Brian Lenihan, who negotiated the bailout, are in danger of losing their seats. His outgoing ministerial colleague Mary Hanafin also faces the possibility of being unseated in her Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown constituency.

Bad Guys

'Slavery and the rule of one person is finished - it's finished': Libya's UN ambassador denounces Gaddafi

© GETTYLibya's ambassador to the United Nations Abdel Rahman Shalgam speaks to the UN Security Council
The Libyan ambassador to the UN, who is one of Colonel Gaddafi's oldest friends, denounced the embattled leader on Friday night and urged the world to punish him.

Abdurrahman Shalgam, an ally of Gaddafi since the pair were teenage radicals in the late 1950s, compared the leader's actions to those of Pol Pot and Hitler and backed the protesters in Tripoli.

In an emotional speech to the UN Security Council in New York, Mr Shalgam, who had previously remained loyal, said: "Muammar Gaddafi is telling the Libyans 'either I rule you or I kill you'." He told the 15 members of the council, who are considering an Anglo-French plan for sanctions against the Gaddafi regime: "We need a courageous resolution from you".

Outside the chamber, he gave another speech in which he pleaded for the outside world to do something "within hours, not days" to stop the bloodshed in the country.

Mr Shalgam said Gaddafi had lost the support of "90 per cent" of his diplomats and predicted further revolution in the middle-east.

"Slavery and the rule of one person is finished - it's finished," he said.


Who decides what's relevant? Websites to Google: 'You're killing our business!'

© Unknown
Google made one of the biggest changes ever to its search results this week, which immediately had a noticeable effect on many Web properties that rely on the world's biggest search engine to drive traffic to their sites.

The major tweak aims to move better quality content to the top of Google's search rankings. The changes will affect 12% Google's results, the company said in a blog post late Thursday.

"Our goal is simple: to give users the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible," said Gabriel Stricker, Google spokesman. "This requires constant tuning of our algorithms, as new content -- both good and bad -- comes online all the time. Recently we've heard from our users that they want to see fewer low quality sites in our results."


To Call A Spade A Spade: An Interview with Gilad Atzmon

Gilad Atzmon
Gilad Atzmon is an outstandingly charming man. He is often described by music critics as one of the finest contemporary jazz saxophonists. But Atzmon is more than just a musician: for those who follow events in the Middle East, he is considered to be one of the most credible voices amongst Israeli opponents. In the last decade he has relentlessly exposed and denounced barbarian Israeli policies. Just before his departure on a European Spring Tour, "The Tide Has Changed ", with his band the Orient House Ensemble, he spoke to Silvia Cattori.

Silvia Cattori: As a jazz musician, what brought you to use your pen as a weapon against the country where you were born and against your people?

Gilad Atzmon: For many years my music and writings were not integrated at all. I became a musician when I was seventeen and I took it up as a profession when I was twenty four. Though I was not involved with, or interested in politics when I lived in Israel, I was very much against Israel's imperial wars. I identified somehow with the left, but later, when I started to grasp what the Israeli left was all about, I could not find myself in agreement with anything it claimed to believe in, and that is when I realised the crime that was taking place in Palestine.


Officials Warn of Rising Fatalities From Painkiller Abuse Epidemic

Public health officials are warning of an epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse, pointing to a five-fold increase in fatal overdoses since 1990.

More than 27,000 people, a record high, died from overdoses of such powerful drugs as Oxycontin and Vicodin in 2007, according to data presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at a forum last week in Atlanta. "Just about the only mortality statistic that is getting worse is death from prescription opioid abuse," said CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden.

The featured panelist at the "Grand Rounds" CDC event was U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, who said the Obama administration has made combating prescription painkiller abuse a top priority. In its proposed National Drug Control Strategy, the administration has called for a 15 percent reduction in drug-induced deaths over five years.

Nationwide, the overall number of drug-induced deaths - which are, in large part, attributable to prescription painkillers - is approaching the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes.


Protesters killed in Iraqi 'day of rage'

© ReutersThe crowds tried to pull down concrete security barriers in the centre of Baghdad
At least nine people have been killed in anti-government protests in Iraq as thousands take to the streets in cities across the country for a "day of rage".

Baghdad has been virtually locked down, with the authorities banning traffic in the city centre and deploying several thousand soldiers on the streets.

Still, several hundred people gathered in Baghdad's own Tahrir Square, calling for reform, but not regime change.

Mass demonstrations are also being held elsewhere in the Middle East.

Che Guevara

Best of the Web: People are Angry, Unrest Spreading to the U.S.

© LIFE magazine
What's going on in Wisconsin?

If you look at both sides of the story, one side is insinuating that teachers there make too much money and are a target for cuts, while the other side is angry because they have seen the banks and the elite getting bailed out - so why should they be targeted instead.

I believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg that awaits us all, and not just here in the U.S. Geopolitical unrest has been spreading around the world from Tunisia, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Egypt, Libya to Ohio and Wisconsin in the U.S.

The underlying problem is money.

People are angry over higher prices, especially high food prices in other parts of the protesting world. Higher food and energy prices are creeping in to the American economy as well, and some predict the rate of increase to go higher as an inflationary environment gets underway.


Scent of freedom in North Korea

Beijing - "The riots are expanding even into North Korea. Hundreds of protesters have collided with the authorities," said South Korea's largest-selling Chosun Ilbo newspaper on Thursday, as top news on its website. Now finally, the global cascade of "Jasmine revolutions" in the Middle East and North Africa appears to have entered North Korea.

Chosun posted a North Korea map with large red circles around multiple cities to mark "riot zones", adding more drama to the report.

One of the circles is the town of Sinuiju on the border with China. "Hundreds of people clashed with security forces ... The militarywas deployed to quell the demonstration, leaving some protesters wounded," said Chosun. While the protest was sparked by a crackdown in a market, it was "an eruption of long pent-up discontent", it said.