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Stormtrooper

A chilling account of the brutal clampdown sweeping Bahrain

Mahmoud, a Shia who lives near Bahrain's capital tells how Saudi soldiers wage a campaign of sectarian violence
Sanabis police

Riot police in Sanabis, Bahrain.
Since the Gulf soldiers came to Bahrain, life in the Shia villages and suburbs of the capital, Manama, has been non-stop intimidation, violence and threats. Even trying to move around in normal ways has become life-threatening. They are trying to beat down the opposition with a long campaign against us.

I live in one of the villages near Manama. One night about 7.30pm, I parked in front of my father-in-law's house and walked towards the door, when at least 50 armed and masked thugs - they were not in security forces uniform - appeared from one of the village lanes and told me to stop, pointing their shotguns at me. I ran away and they followed, but I managed to hide in one of the houses and they did not see me.

I heard them talking to each other, saying: "Don't worry, we will find him." I was taking a look from the window and they stayed at the car park opposite the house I was hiding in, and they were smashing the windows of parked cars and wrecking and stealing from them. Some had Saudi accents; they are very different from Bahraini and easy to tell.

At 8pm most nights people go up on their roofs and chant Allahu Akbar ["God is greatest"] and the thugs start shooting randomly in the air and at the top of the roofs. That night the area was covered with tear-gas grenades and rubber bullets, while the roads around the house were deserted except for thugs.

Hourglass

Japan nuclear operator aims for cold shutdown in 6-9 months

Japanese nuclear power plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) hopes it will be able to achieve cold shutdown of its crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant within six to nine months, the company said on Sunday.

The firm said the first step would be cooling the reactors and spent fuel to a stable level within three months, then bringing the reactors to cold shutdown in six to nine months. That would make the plant safe and stable and end the immediate crisis, now rated on a par with the world's worst nuclear accident, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

TEPCO, founded 60 years ago, added it later plans to cover the reactor buildings, damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11.

The latest data shows much more radiation leaked from the Daiichi plant in the early days of the crisis than first thought, prompting officials to rate it on a par with Chernobyl, although experts were quick to point out Japan's crisis was vastly different from Chernobyl in terms of radiation contamination.

TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said he was considering resigning over the accident, but that he couldn't say when.

Che Guevara

Serbia anti-government protesters demand early election

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© Reuters
The protesters said they were fed up with corruption and low wages
Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters have massed in Belgrade to call for early elections, amid growing anger over the economy and corruption.

Opposition leader Tomislav Nikolic told the crowd he was going on hunger strike until an election was called.

The rally comes three months after a similar protest in the capital.

President Boris Tadic has said Serbia needs stability and dismissed opposition ultimatums about election dates as "totally inappropriate".

The next election is scheduled for 2012.

But the BBC's Mark Lowen in Belgrade says the resurgent opposition, combined with news of the hunger strike, may make the call for a fresh poll hard to ignore.

Sherlock

US: Mystery deepens as bodies turn up on Long Island

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© Don Emmert / AFP/Getty Images
Suffolk County Police divers prepare to search for human remains in the waters of Hemlock Cove on April 13 near Point Lookout, N.Y.
A search on a rustic barrier island for a missing prostitute has yielded a series of grisly finds pointing to a serial killer, or maybe two. Authorities are stumped, and locals are shaken.

In the summertime, the beaches along Ocean Parkway on Long Island are an American photo album of family picnics, July Fourth fireworks and minivans wedged bumper to bumper. But in the winter, this idyllic place is a windswept wilderness laced with thickets of brush that, it seems, provide the perfect dumping ground for murder.

That's the macabre scene that has unfolded since a prostitute went missing a year ago and a search party began scouring this seashore getaway for some sign of her.

What turned up instead was a string of mostly skeletal remains suggesting the work of a serial killer, or maybe two. Police are eager to find Shannan Gilbert, 24, who they suspect is somewhere in the impenetrable terrain that keeps offering up mysteries they can't explain.

So far, this barrier island off Long Island's south shore, 40 miles from New York City, has yielded a terrible crop of death, including the bodies of four other women known to have worked as prostitutes, shrouded in burlap; a bag of arms and legs; a human skull; and the body of an unidentified woman lying near that of a child about 5 years old, wrapped in a blanket.

Authorities are stumped, and the hardy, eclectic, year-round dwellers here are shaken. Yet such grisly finds have taken on a sad familiarity; strings of prostitute killings, most unsolved, exist in almost every major city and many smaller places, experts say, and Long Island has not been immune. Joel Rifkin of East Meadow was convicted of killing nine women, mostly drug-addicted prostitutes, between 1989 and 1993 and is serving a 203-year prison sentence. Robert Shulman of Hicksville was convicted of five such killings in the 1990s; he was serving a life term in prison when he died in 2006.

Newspaper

Nigeria holds mostly peaceful presidential vote

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© AP / Sunday Alamba
A Nigerian army guard seen at a polling station as electoral official count ballot papers after the National Assembly election in Ibadan, Nigeria, Saturday, April 9, 2011.
Nigerians chose their president in an election Saturday many hoped would show Africa's most populous nation could hold a credible vote without the violence and rigging that marred previous ones, though children cast ballots and party officials helped others press their inked fingers to paper.

Despite widespread security concerns after bombs hit a vote-counting centre and a polling station during last weekend's legislative elections, voting in the oil-rich country was largely peaceful Saturday though a police officer was fatally shot in the volatile northeast.

"In recent decades, Nigeria had come to be known for flawed elections. People outside and Nigerians themselves had come to believe that elections could not reflect the will of the people. But, today people showed that they can change that," former Botswana President Festus Mogae, who led the Commonwealth Observer Group, said.

"We seem to be witnessing a giant of Africa reforming itself and putting its house in order," Mogae said.

The chief European Union observer also said most stations opened on time, and that observers only saw a few cases of missing voting materials. But in the remote villages of northern Nigeria where opposition candidates are drawing their support, some of the voters were smooth-cheeked boys not even 5 feet (1.5 metres) tall, wearing clothes two sizes too big for them.

Question

California: This Army Unit Was Bogus, Prosecutors Charge

Fake Army Unit
© Jonathan Alcorn for The New York Times
Yupeng Deng, also known as David Deng, appeared in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Pomona on Wednesday for his arraignment.

To the Chinese immigrants he recruited, Yupeng Deng was known as Supreme Commander. He offered them United States Army uniforms, conducted training exercises on Sundays, led marches in municipal parades and promised a path toward American citizenship.

The uniforms were real, but Mr. Deng's U.S. Army/Military Special Forces Reserve unit was a sham, the authorities said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Deng, 51, was arraigned in Los Angeles County Court on 13 felony charges related to the fake military operation, which concentrated on Chinese immigrants, eager to become American citizens, in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles.

More than 100 immigrants paid upwards of $300 to join the bogus unit, the authorities said, and $120 to renew their memberships each year. In addition, recruits could increase their rank with additional cash donations to Mr. Deng, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which is prosecuting the case.

Newspaper

As Bahrain stifles protest movement, U.S.'s muted objections draw criticism

Two months after the eruption of mass protests in Bahrain, the kingdom has largely silenced the opposition, jailing hundreds of activists in a crackdown that has left the Obama administration vulnerable to charges that it is upholding democratic values in the Middle East selectively.

Bahrain's monarchy, since calling in Saudi troops last month to help crush the protest movement, has been quietly dismantling the country's Shiite-led opposition. On Friday, the Sunni government announced an investigation into the activities of Bahrain's largest political party, the Shiite-dominated al-Wefaq, which could lead to its ban.

The Obama administration has repeatedly appealed to the Bahraini government for restraint, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this week called for a political process that "advances the rights and aspirations of all the citizens of Bahrain." But the administration has neither recalled its ambassador to Manama nor threatened the kinds of sanctions it imposed on Libya - a striking disparity that is fueling ­anti-U.S. sentiment among Bahraini opposition groups.

"Even though the American administration's words are all about freedom and democracy and change, in Bahrain, the reality is that they're basically a protection for the dictatorship," said Zainab al-Khawaja, a prominent human-rights activist who began a hunger strike after her father, husband and brother-in-law were arrested at her apartment over the weekend.

Attention

US: FAA changing air controllers' schedules after another falls asleep

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© Clif Owen/AP
The FAA control tower at Reagan National Airport is seen in Arlington.
The crisis that has engulfed the nation's air-traffic system deepened Saturday as another air-traffic controller was discovered sleeping on the job, the government announced.

In this case, the controller was working a midnight shift at a crowded facility in Miami. No flights were threatened during the episode, but federal officials also announced they're instituting schedule changes to minimize fatigue among the thousands who work during the wee hours.

In what has become a wave of bad publicity for the nation's aviation system, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Saturday that it had discovered the sixth case of controllers suspected of sleeping on the job this year. None of the incidents has come close to triggering an accident, but the cases have undermined public confidence in the system and prompted widespread criticism.

Nuke

Testimony from Japan: "A Ship with no Captain". Evolving Coverup of a Nuclear Disaster...

Earthquake and Nuke Fatigue: "Time For The Rich To Leave Tokyo"

It appears there is a cover-up as to the severity of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. We in Japan are being told by the government that there is a plan to monitor food safety to ensure the public will not be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. Yet some experts dispute whether there is any such thing as a "safe dose." Further, the government is not honestly telling the public the extent of the problem or how they propose to resolve it (see this rolling update from a resident living near the Fukushima plant: http://candobetter.net/node/2428 ).

Any intelligent layperson who considers the technical aspects of the disaster will be at a loss as to how the plant operators will be able to restore the cooling system, which may be badly damaged, to reactors that themselves may be unrepairable or in various states of melt-down. If the nuclear fuel in the reactors has melted through to the floor, what would be the point of setting up a cooling system to a dysfunctional reactor and a pool of melted fuel?

No one in the government clearly answers these questions nor has the international community come forth with a possible solution.

Dollar

US: 3 online poker houses face fraud charges in New York

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Federal authorities busted the three largest online poker websites in the United States on Friday with charges of bank fraud and illegal gambling against 11 people, accusing them of manipulating banks to process billions of dollars in illegal revenue.

Prosecutors in Manhattan said they've issued restraining orders against more than 75 bank accounts in 14 countries used by the poker companies, interrupting the illegal flow of billions of dollars.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the defendants "concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits."

The companies, all based overseas, were identified as PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker. The indictment sought $3-billion in money laundering penalties and forfeiture from the defendants.

The indictment said the companies ran afoul of the law after the U.S. in October 2006 enacted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which makes it a crime for gambling businesses to knowingly accept most forms of payment in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling.