Monday, February 16, 2009

Casinos are warned about card-counting iPhone app

LAS VEGAS - Nevada gambling regulators have warned casinos in the state about a card-counting program that works on Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPod Touch that illegally helps players beat the house in blackjack.

Card counting itself is not illegal under Nevada gambling laws, but it is considered a felony to use devices to help count cards.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board sent a memo to casinos last week warning them of the program.

In blackjack, certain card counting techniques help players determine when they are likely to win a hand and adjust their bets accordingly.

Nevada learned of the program from gambling regulators in California, where officials at an Indian casino found customers using it and tipped state authorities.

South Korea's first Roman Catholic cardinal dies

SEOUL, South Korea – Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, South Korea's first cardinal and a tireless advocate for democracy who stood up to a string of military dictators, died Monday. He was 86.

Kim was ordained as cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1969. He passed away at Seoul's St. Mary's Hospital, said Lee Hee-yeon, an official with the Archdiocese of Seoul.

Pope Benedict XVI, in a telegram to Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, the archbishop of Seoul, said he was "deeply saddened" by Kim's death, according to the Vatican.

President Lee Myung-bak, a devout Protestant, said Kim "played a huge role during crisis" times and called his death "a great national loss."

South Korea was ruled by military strongmen from 1961 until the late 1980s and Kim was outspoken in calling for the country's democratization, using his Easter sermon in 1987 to lash out at the government of President Chun Doo-hwan as "despotic."

In an interview with a Catholic newspaper, Kim recalled that in 1987 he and authorities at Seoul's Myeongdong Cathedral "decided to protect at all costs" anti-government student activists who were demonstrating for democracy.

Kim's body was brought to the cathedral Monday night so South Koreans could pay their final respects before he is laid to rest later in the week. A funeral mass was scheduled for Friday.

The Cardinal's eyes were donated to two patients awaiting cornea transplants, according to the hospital where he died.

Kim's death leaves Cheong as the only remaining cardinal in South Korea, home to 4.8 million Catholics. The religion was introduced to the Korean Peninsula in 1784.

"Cardinal Kim never lost his smile or humanity to the last moment," Cheong said in a condolence, according to Yonhap news agency.

Buddhism is the oldest major religion in South Korea, though Christianity has grown dramatically, especially during the 20th century. According to government figures, Buddhists made up about 22.8 percent of the population in 2005, while Christians accounted for 29.2 percent.

Kim was born on May 8, 1922 in the southeastern city of Daegu and ordained as a priest in 1951 during the Korean War, according to the archdiocese. The 1950-53 conflict ended with a truce that left North and South Korea divided.

By the South Korean method of counting, in which newborns are considered one year old, he was 87.

He was archbishop of Seoul from 1968 until 1998 and also in charge of the diocese of Pyongyang in North Korea from 1975 until 1998, though he was never able to travel to the country due to the peninsula's division and constraints on worship there.

Kim regretted not being able to visit North Korea — once a center of Christianity on the peninsula — and said South Korea should provide aid to the North to help ease its chronic food shortages.

North Korea nominally allows freedom of religion to its 23 million people, but the practice is severely restricted. In a report last year, the U.S. State Department said "genuine religious freedom does not exist" in North Korea.

Gunmen kill 12 in Mexico, including 5 children

TABASCO, Mexico – Gunmen have killed a state police officer and 10 members of his family, including five children, authorities said Sunday.

The shooting late Saturday also killed a street vendor in front of the house of state police officer Carlos Reyes, said Tabasco deputy prosecutor Alex Alvarez. Among the five children killed was a 2-year-old boy.

"It is confirmed that (the assailants) wanted to kill the state police officer but they killed his whole family," Alvarez said.

Alvarez said three other people were wounded the attack in the town of Monte Largo, near Mexico's border with Guatemala.

Police hadn't determined a motive for the attack but Alvarez said Reyes directed a car chase and raids on two homes on Wednesday that led to the death of three suspected gang members and the arrest of seven others.

In Mexico City, authorities on Saturday found the decomposing bodies of two women in the trunk of a car that had been abandoned for at least a week, the Reforma newspaper reported.

A city investigator told the newspaper that the women had been decapitated and the heads left inside a cooler in the back seat of the car.

He said one of the women had been arrested in 1999 for the kidnapping of nine relatives of an alleged drug dealer.

More than 6,000 people died last year in a wave of drug-related violence.

Dental phobia: doctors blamed after 8-year-old's death

TRURO, England (AFP) – Doctors' failure to organise adequate post-hospital care for an eight-year-old girl with an extreme phobia of dentists led her to starve herself to death, an inquest in Cornwall heard on Monday.

Sophie Waller died on December 2, 2005 after refusing to eat for two weeks following an operation to remove all of her milk teeth.

Following the operation, Waller was sent home to be looked after by a GP and a community phsycologist, but was not seen by a medical professional, the inquest in Truro was told.

Consultant child psychiatrist, Dr Arnon Bentovin, told the inquest that Waller's medical notes had been sent to the wrong GP and that no direct contact was made between the hospital and a GP.

"There was a failure to ensure that her ongoing medical care was fully managed and planned," Dr Bentovim said.

"There needed to be a joint physical and psychological follow-up; it was optimistic to believe that the initial positive response was necessarily going to mean that this child would make a reasonable recovery," he added.

Russia's super-rich are super-losers, too

MOSCOW – Russia's super-rich are also super-losers in the financial crisis, according to the business magazine Finans, which said Monday the top 10 wealthiest Russians lost about two-thirds of their fortunes over the past year.

The magazine's annual list of Russia's richest shows them suffering breathtaking losses as the country faces its worst financial crisis in a decade. Oleg Deripaska, who had topped Finans' list in the previous two years, fell to eighth place after losing some 85 percent of his wealth — down to $4.9 billion from $40 billion, Finans estimated.

Mikhail Prokhorov, the playboy metals and banking billionaire who sold his stake in mining company Norilsk Nickel early last year, moved up from seventh place to top the list with a fortune of $14.1 billion, down from $21.5 billion a year ago, the magazine said.

Roman Abramovich, owner of Britain's Chelsea Football Club and a stake in steelmaker Evraz, held on to second place. But his fortune, estimated last year at $23 billion, has shrunk to $13.9 billion.

Russia's stock markets lost 70 percent of their value last year, while the national currency has lost 35 percent since the summer. Aggressive geopolitical rhetoric and worsening corporate governance drove many investors away, while plunging prices for oil and metals underscored the fragility of Russia's eight-year oil-fueled boom.

Deripaska, whose business interests include metals, construction and energy, was forced to cede stakes in Canadian auto components maker Magna and German housebuilder Hochtief last year. He previously has objected to the estimates put on his wealth, saying that they failed to consider the size of his debts. Deripaska built his fortune up on the back of aggressive borrowings, and his Rusal aluminum company is reported to owe approximately $17 billion.

Other losers include steel magnates Vladimir Lisin, owner of a majority stake in NLMK, and Alexei Mordashov, owner of Severstal. Lisin, who clings on to third place, has seen his fortune plunge by 65 percent to $7.7 billion. Mordashov's fortune is down 81 percent to just $4.1 billion.

Finans, which publishes its rich list two months ahead of the better-known U.S. Forbes list of billionaires, said the list had halved from last year, when they counted 101 billionaires. Last year, Forbes confirmed Deripaska as Russia's richest man.

DNA test pending in case of 13-year-old father

LONDON – A DNA test will be performed to determine if a 13-year-old boy fathered a baby with his 15-year-old girlfriend, his spokesman said Monday.

The test comes after a Sunday tabloid newspaper reported that other teenage boys have come forward claiming to be the father of the newborn baby girl.

Spokesman Max Clifford said the parents of Alfie, 13, said the tests would be done "as soon as possible" to determine paternity.

"He obviously believes he's the father," Clifford said. "I think that having read the News of the World yesterday, it would be prudent to have a DNA test."

The teenager's 15-year-old girlfriend, Chantelle, gave birth to the baby girl earlier this month in Eastbourne, 70 miles (110 kilometers) southeast of London. The couple made headlines in Britain when Alfie, who looks much younger than 13, posed on the front page of the tabloid Sun newspaper with the baby.

The local council where the teenagers live said it would offer them support and that they will continue to be monitored by social workers to determine what help they might need.

US military deaths in Iraq war at 4,245

As of Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009, at least 4,245 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The figure includes eight military civilians killed in action. At least 3,406 military personnel died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

The AP count is four greater than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Thursday at 10 a.m. EST.

The British military has reported 178 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 21; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, seven; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia and Georgia, three each; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand and Romania, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan and South Korea, one death each.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Car bomb explodes at trade fair center in Spain

MADRID – A car bomb believed planted by the armed Basque group ETA exploded at a business park on Madrid's outskirts Monday, but no one was injured, police said.

The bomb went off shortly after 9 a.m. (0800GMT; 3 a.m. EST) at the park in the Campo de Las Naciones trade fair center about 90 minutes after the Spanish Red Cross received a warning call, a police spokesman said.

The explosion blew a meter-deep (3-foot) hole in the ground, destroyed some 30 cars and blew out windows at nearby offices, but no one was hurt, the spokesman said.

The area had been cordoned off after the Red Cross received a call from someone claiming to speak on behalf of ETA. The caller said an explosives-laden van parked near Ferrovial construction firm's offices would explode at 9 a.m., Red Cross spokeswoman Belen Ruiz said.

If confirmed as an ETA bomb, it would mark the group's first attack in Madrid since Dec. 30, 2006, when an ETA car bomb at Madrid's airport killed two Ecuadoreans and brought an end to a nine-month cease-fire.

ETA set off a car bomb at the same Madrid trade center in February 2005, injuring 43 people.

The blast on Monday caused traffic havoc near the city's airport, and interrupted services on one subway line serving the trade fair center and airport.

Just hours earlier, the Supreme Court had banned candidates from two Basque nationalist parties from taking part in upcoming Basque regional elections because of alleged links between the two groups and ETA.

Spanish National Radio said Ferrovial was one of the companies involved in the construction of a high speed train project in the Basque region that has been targeted frequently by ETA.

Ferrovial said it had no immediate comment.

ETA, whose name is a Basque-language acronym for Basque Homeland and Freedom, has killed more than 825 people since 1968.

Recently the group claimed responsibility for the fatal shooting of a Basque businessman linked to the high speed train project and a car bomb outside a Basque television station. Both attacks were in December.

Tanker catches fire off Dubai port after accident

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A tanker burst into flames Tuesday after colliding with a container ship in a shipping channel off the coast of Dubai.

Two of the tanker's crew who were pulled from the water suffered minor injuries but no one died, said Sarah Lockie, a spokeswoman for Dubai-based port operator DP World. The blaze has been extinguished.

The inbound tanker struck a "feeder vessel," a ship that shuttles cargo containers from big ports to smaller ones, about five miles (eight kilometers) from the Jebel Ali Port, Lockie said. She said the tanker was carrying a liquid used to make plastic.

Details about damage to the ships were not immediately available. However, photos of the burning tanker taken by a sightseeing plane and provided to The Associated Press show what looks like substantial damage on the port, or left, side of the tanker.

Fire extended from the waterline to above the top of the tanker as thick black smoke billowed hundreds of feet in the air out of a gash in the ship's hull, said witness Cameron Leslie, a pilot and director of flight operations at Seawings air charter service in Dubai.

What looked like "viscous material" pouring from the ship also burned on top of the water, as did two other chunks of wreckage about a half mile away, he said.

"To me, it looked horrific. ... It must've been a pretty intense fire," Leslie said. "I wouldn't have wanted to have been on deck, mate."

Leslie, whose company provided the photos, said the container ship was also on fire.

Police helicopters and boats along with the Emirates Coast Guard and the port's emergency response division assisted in the rescue efforts, officials said.

Lockie said the ships involved in the accident have been removed from the shipping channel, where traffic has returned to normal.

The Maltese-flagged tanker, Kashmir, was carrying about 30,000 tons of oil condensate, according to Stephen Olley of the Lloyd's Marine Intelligence Unit in Britain. It was headed from Iran to the UAE.

Emirates state news agency WAM identified the container ship as the Sima Saba. However, Jim Wilson of shipping magazine Fairplay said the ship was the Sima Saman, a Singapore-flagged vessel owned by Dubai-based company Simatech Shipping LLC.

Simatech could not be reached for comment. The ship's destination was not known.

Jebel Ali is located on the southwestern end of Dubai and is the bigger of two major ports in the city. It is run by DP World, the world's fourth-biggest port operator, which is 80 percent owned by the government of Dubai.

Sri Lanka: 16 patients killed in hospital shelling

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – At least 16 patients being treated at a makeshift hospital in the northern Sri Lankan war zone were killed by shelling, the Red Cross said Tuesday, as the military accused rebel fighters of killing 19 other civilians fleeing the area.

The United Nations, meanwhile, said it was outraged by the "unnecessary" deaths of hundreds of people inside rebel territory and urged both sides to avoid fighting in civilian areas.

The government accuses the Tamil Tiger rebels of holding civilians hostage in the war zone to use as human shields against the military's offensive. The rebels deny the accusation.

International human rights groups say more than 200,000 civilians are believed trapped in the patch of territory still under rebel control.

Reports of civilian deaths have increased in recent weeks, and the Red Cross, the last major aid agency allowed to operate in rebel-held territory, said at least 16 patients were killed Monday in shelling near a community center in the town of Putumattalan, where medical workers had evacuated many sick and wounded civilians.

"We are shocked that patients are not afforded the protection they are entitled to," said Paul Castella, head of the Sri Lankan delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Castella did not say who