Saturday, April 10, 2010

Polish Leader, 96 Others Dead In Jet Crash

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and some of the country's highest military and civilian leaders died on Saturday when the presidential plane crashed as it came in for a landing in thick fog in western Russia, killing 97, officials said.

Russian and Polish officials said there were no survivors on the 26-year-old Tupolev, which was taking the president, his wife and staff to events marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre in Katyn forest of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet secret police.

The crash devastated the upper echelons of Poland's political and military establishments. On board were the army chief of staff, the navy chief commander, and heads of the air and land forces. Also killed were the national bank president, deputy foreign minister, army chaplain, head of the National Security Office, deputy parliament speaker, Olympic Committee head, civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers, the Polish foreign ministry said.

Although initial signs pointed to an accident with no indication of foul play, the death of a Polish president and much of the Polish state and defense establishment in Russia en route to commemorating one of the saddest events in Poland's long, complicated history with Russia, was laden with tragic irony.

Reflecting the grave sensibilities of the crash to relations between the two countries, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin personally assumed charge of the investigation. He landed in Smolensk Saturday with an entourage of Russian officials to meet Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who was flying in from Warsaw. The president's twin brother, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kacynski, also flew there in a chartered plane, according to his party.

1 Killed, Several Hurt In Shooting At Oklahoma Mall

Police say a shooting inside a crowded Oklahoma mall has left one person dead and several injured in what witnesses described as a gunfight.

Gunfire broke out late Saturday afternoon in the Arrowhead Mall in downtown Muskogee. The area was crowded with visitors attending the city's annual Azalea Festival.

Four people were taken to Muskogee Regional Medical Center, but a spokesman says their conditions haven't been released.

Police spokesman Pedro Zardeneta says it's unclear whether the person killed was among several involved in the shooting or a bystander.

Shoppers were told by a public-address announcement to quickly leave the mall around 4:15 p.m., and they gathered outside. Several say they heard four or five shots.

Thai Army Pulls Back From Protest Clashes; 18 Dead

Savage clashes between protesters and Thai soldiers killed at least 18 people and injured hundreds before both sides retreated, no closer to ending a monthlong occupation of parts of the capital by demonstrators demanding new elections. Hopes were expressed for negotiations Sunday.

Bullet casings, rocks and pools of blood littered the streets where pitched battles raged for hours Saturday. It was the worst violence in Bangkok since more than four dozen people were killed in an antimilitary protest in 1992.

Army troops pulled back and asked protesters to do the same, resulting in an unofficial truce.

Five soldiers and 13 civilians, including a Japanese cameraman for the Thomson Reuters news agency, were killed, according to the government's Erawan emergency center.

Editorials in Bangkok newspapers Sunday called for urgent talks between the government and so-called "Red Shirts" to end the violence, noting that some protest leaders were ready for negotiations.

The violence erupted after security forces tried to push out demonstrators who have camped in parts of the capital for a month, staging disruptive protests demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajva dissolve Parliament and call new elections.

China Reports Rare Trade Deficit

China has recorded its first monthly trade deficit in almost six years. Officials blame the $7.2 billion deficit on rising volumes and prices of the raw materials the country needs to import to power its economy.

The officials, who announced the figures at an economic conference in Hainan, say the deficit is likely to be a short-term phenomenon. It comes amid continuing US claims that China's currency controls keep the yuan's value artificially low.

Chinese officials were preparing the ground for this announcement even before the customs agency announced the March trade figures.

The deficit for March was China's first since a $2.3 billion deficit in April 2004.

'Unusual' Note Found On Delta Plane

Delta officials have confirmed that an unusual note was found on a Delta flight bound for Atlanta.

Approximately 40 minutes from Atlanta, the crew of Flight 1747 reported that passengers on-board found an unusual note. Out of caution, the crew declared an emergency into Atlanta, officials said.

Officials didn't go into detail or specify what the note said. The plane landed safely in Atlanta Friday. Delta officials said they are working with federal authorities to investigate where the note came from.

Astronauts 'Ready To Rock 'N' Roll' On Spacewalk 2

Two of the astronauts aboard the orbiting shuttle-station complex rested up Saturday for a second spacewalk involving hefty storage tanks, while their colleagues unloaded much smaller supplies.

Spacemen Clayton Anderson and Rick Mastracchio will head back outside early Sunday to replace an old ammonia tank at the International Space Station. They started the job Friday. In all, three spacewalks will be needed to complete the work.

The ammonia tanks - part of the space station's cooling system - are the size of refrigerators.

In an interview Saturday, Anderson said one day is enough time to rest between spacewalks. He said he often played baseball doubleheaders and basketball games on back-to-back days.

"We're in pretty good shape for old men," he said, "and I think we'll be ready to rock 'n' roll."

Anderson is 51, and Mastracchio is 50. Both are members of space shuttle Discovery's visiting crew. They have another week at the space station before departing.

Discovery arrived Wednesday with tons of spare parts and science experiments for the space station. Much of that was in a cargo carrier that was attached temporarily to the station. One of the big-ticket items being transported Saturday was a darkroom-type enclosure for the U.S. lab's high-quality window, designed to improve picture-taking.

The moving operation was interrupted early Saturday when a smoke alarm went off in the Russian living quarters. The seven shuttle astronauts rushed to their ship, and the six station residents gathered near their Russian Soyuz return capsules as per emergency procedures. Within two or three minutes, it was evident it had been a false alarm and the two crews went back to what they were doing.

Like many at NASA, the astronauts in orbit are anxiously awaiting President Obama's upcoming space policy speech. Obama will visit Kennedy Space Center on Thursday and discuss the future of NASA's human spaceflight program. In February, Obama canceled NASA's effort to return astronauts to the moon and placed added emphasis on the development of new technologies. He also extended the working life of the space station to 2020.

Only three shuttle missions remain after this one. When the fleet is retired this fall, the space station essentially will be complete. Thousands of jobs will be lost when that happens, many of them at Florida's shuttle launch and landing site.

Reuters; AP; Sky News; BBC World; The Wall Street Journal; NASA.

No comments: