Friday, 24 May 2013

British police ponder conspiracy after soldier murder


By Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - Police investigating the murder of a soldier hacked to death on a busy London street were looking on Friday into whether the two suspected killers, British men of Nigerian descent, were part of a wider conspiracy.

The two suspects, aged 22 and 28, are under guard in hospitals after being shot and arrested by police following the murder of 25-year-old Afghan war veteran Lee Rigby on Wednesday in broad daylight. They have not yet been charged.

Detectives were also questioning another man and a woman, arrested on Thursday on suspicion of conspiracy to murder, as they tried to determine whether those responsible had links to militants in Britain or overseas.

"This is a large, complex and fast-moving investigation which continues to develop," police said in a statement.

"Many lines of inquiry are being followed by detectives, and the investigation is progressing well."

One of the assailants, filmed justifying the killing as he stood near the body holding a knife and meat cleaver in bloodied hands, was named by acquaintances as 28-year-old Londoner Michael Adebolajo, a British-born convert to Islam.

Little is known so far about the other man.

The murder, just a month after the Boston Marathon bombing and the first Islamist killing in Britain since local suicide bombers killed 52 people in London in 2005, revived fears of "lone wolves" who may have had no direct contact with al Qaeda.

Police chiefs said they would have 1,200 extra officers on the streets in London overnight and at key locations such as religious venues and transport hubs.

"It will be assessed on a rolling basis depending on the picture. I'm sure there will be heightened numbers for a little while to come," a spokesman said.

A source close to the investigation told Reuters the attackers were known to Britain's MI5 internal security service, raising questions about whether it could have been prevented. Adebolajo had handed out radical Islamist pamphlets, but neither was considered a serious threat, a government source said.

Another source close to the inquiry said the local backgrounds of the suspects in a multicultural metropolis - nearly 40 percent of Londoners were born abroad - and the simplicity of the attack made prevention difficult.

"Apart from being horribly barbaric, this was relatively straightforward to carry out," the source said. "This was quite low-tech, and that is frankly pretty challenging."

Anjem Choudary, one of Britain's most recognized Islamist leaders, told Reuters Adebolajo was known to fellow Muslims as Mujahid - a name meaning 'fighter': "He used to attend a few demonstrations and activities that we used to have in the past."

He added that he had not seen him for about two years: "He was peaceful, unassuming, and I don't think there's any reason to think he would do anything violent."

POLICE LOOKING FOR LINKS

The two men used a car to run down Drummer Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks in southeast London and then attacked him with a meat cleaver and knives, witnesses said.

The pair told shocked bystanders they acted in revenge for British wars in Muslim countries.

"We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day," Adebolajo was filmed saying by an onlooker. "This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

Rigby, who had a two-year-old son, was not in uniform. The bandsman was working locally as an army recruiter.

"All he wanted to do from when he was a little boy was to be in the army," his family said in a statement. "He wanted to live life and enjoy himself."

In Nigeria, with a mixed Christian-Muslim population and where the authorities are battling an Islamist insurgency, a government source said there was no evidence the Woolwich suspects were linked to groups in west Africa.

British investigators are looking at information that at least one of the suspects may have had an interest in joining Somalia-based Islamist rebel group al Shabaab, which is allied to al Qaeda, a source with knowledge of the matter said.

Al Shabaab linked the attack to the Boston bombing and last year's gun attacks in the southern French city of Toulouse.

"Toulouse, Boston, Woolwich ... Where next? You just have to grin and bear it, it's inevitable. A case of the chickens coming home to roost!" the rebels said on Twitter.

Peter Clarke, who led the investigation into the 2005 bombings, popularly known as 7/7, said that if the Woolwich attackers did turn out to be acting alone, it showed the difficulty the security services faced in trying to stop them.

"An attack like this doesn't need sophisticated fund raising and sophisticated communications or planning," he told Reuters. "It can be organized and then actually delivered in a moment."

(Editing by Will Waterman)

Trudeau's Liberals would win big majority in Canada election: poll


OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's opposition Liberals would win a big majority under new leader Justin Trudeau if an election were held now, according to a poll released on Thursday that showed the governing Conservatives continuing to struggle.

Although the next election is not due until October 2015, the Forum poll for the National Post shows Trudeau - son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau - has maintained his popularity since taking over the Liberal Party last month.

Forum put the Liberals at 44 percent support, one percentage point higher than in a poll done by the same firm in mid-April. The Conservatives, hit by an expenses scandal in the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, dropped three points to 27 percent.

The official opposition New Democrats (NDP), who pushed the Liberals into third place for the first time ever in the May 2011 election, rose one percentage point to 20 percent.

The Forum numbers would translate into the Liberals winning 192 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, instead of the 34 seats they won in the 2011 election.

Harper, who came to power in early 2006 promising more accountability in government, has been on the defensive since May 14, when news broke that his chief of staff had secretly given C$90,000 ($87,000) to a Conservative member of the Senate to cover expenses the senator had claimed improperly.

Harper told reporters on Wednesday that he was "very sorry" about the scandal, and insisted he had not known about the actions of his chief of staff, who has resigned. The senator, Mike Duffy, has left the Conservative caucus.

"Mr. Harper's very bad week has had a drastic effect on his approval and his party's. It doesn't help, when the Liberals are surging as they have been, to be stonewalling a controversy," Forum Research President Lorne Bozinoff told the Post.

In the last election both the Liberals and the NDP campaigned on higher corporate taxes and on a cap-and-trade system to curb carbon emissions, policies which the right-of-center Conservatives oppose.

Separately, a CROP poll taken in Quebec - the second most populous of Canada's 10 provinces - for Montreal's La Presse newspaper put the federal Liberals at 39 percent in popular support and the Conservatives at just 9 percent. The New Democrats, who took most of Quebec's seats in the 2011 election, were on 29 percent.

Forum's automated telephone poll of 1,779 people was taken on May 22 and 23. That sample size that should be accurate to within 2 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway)

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Fear of art sale sparked by Detroit emergency manager asking for appraisal


By Steve Neavling

DETROIT (Reuters) - As part of his efforts to solve Detroit's financial crisis, the city's emergency manager Kevyn Orr has asked for an appraisal of the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts, sparking fears in artistic and philanthropic circles that he means to auction off the city's artistic jewels.

Orr was appointed in March by Michigan's Republican Governor Rick Snyder to tackle the shrinking city's long-term debt problem, which the emergency manager estimated at $15 billion in a recent report on the state of Detroit.

Orr's spokesman Bill Nowling insists that the appraisal is not about having an artistic fire sale, but more about being ready when bondholders and their insurers, who will be asked to absorb considerable losses, inquire about the artwork.

"If we are going to ask creditors to get a big haircut, we have to look at how to rationalize all of the city's assets, including the artwork," Nowling told Reuters late on Thursday. "We obviously don't want to get rid of art."

Although Orr is seeking an appraisal for the collection, museum officials and local media claim it is worth several billion dollars. But recent prices at auction for pieces similar to those likely to be sold could not immediately be obtained. Several published sources have estimated the total annual value of fine art auctions by Christie's and Sotheby's at $8 billion, and Citigroup recently estimated the global art market at $30 billion.

The Detroit Institute of Art's collection features several works by Vincent van Gogh, including a self portrait, Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker," paintings by Henri Matisse, Edgar Degas, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, ancient sculptures, plus enormous and famous murals of Detroit by Diego Rivera.

Many of the works in the institute's collection have been gifted over the years by local noteworthy families from the city's glorious industrial and commercial past, such as scions of the Ford family.

The city's museum is funded by a regional tax, and a nonprofit operates the museum. So if the city wants to sell off the artwork, it could take a judge to decide whether Detroit has the authority to do so.

(Editing by Nick Carey and Lisa Shumaker)

Active Hurricane Season Expected, US Forecasters Say

Get ready for a busy and possibly "extremely active" hurricane season, said forecasters who today (May 23) unveiled their predictions of the number and intensity of storms expected in the Atlantic Ocean basin during the 2013 hurricane season.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said they expect to see 13 to 20 named storms, a designation that includes tropical storms and hurricanes. This range means the season should be an "above normal and possibly an extremely active" one, said Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA's acting director.

Sullivan said that NOAA expects to see seven to 11 hurricanes (those storms with sustained winds of at least 74 mph, or 119 km/h). Of these, three to six are likely to be major hurricanes, Sullivan said, referring to those hurricanes of Category 3, 4 or 5, with winds of 111 mph (179 km/h) or higher. [Image Gallery: Hurricanes From Above]

This forecast is well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, according to NOAA.

A confluence of factors

The above-normal season is likely thanks to a "confluence of factors" that favor cyclone formation, Sullivan said. These include above-average sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Caribbean where these storms form. Warm waters fuel cyclones and make them stronger. The El Ni o climate pattern is not in effect, which favors Atlantic hurricanes, since El Ni o's easterly winds can tear apart developing cyclones.

Since 1995, other atmospheric patterns over the Atlantic have also been in an active phase for hurricanes. These conditions are expected to last until at least 2020, Sullivan said.

Hurricane season officially begins on June 1 and ends on Nov. 30, though storms can, and have, formed outside of those dates when conditions were favorable.

While forecasters can make an educated guess as to how many storms are likely to form in a given season, the computer models used to inform predictions cannot say this early in the season where hurricanes or cyclones are likely to hit. "Anybody could be hit in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast," Sullivan said.

Due to in part to improvements in the Doppler radar used by NOAA's hurricane hunter aircraft, intensity forecasts are also likely to be 10 percent to 15 percent more accurate than in the past, said Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane season forecaster for NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Last year

Last year's season was expected to be average, but surpassed early predictions. It will be remembered primarily for Hurricane Sandy, which killed more than 100 people and cost nearly $50 billion in damage along the U.S. Northeast. But Sandy was only the last hurricane in a very active and unusual season.

One of the busiest on record, the 2012 season also saw weaker-than-average cyclones and began earlier than usual. There were 19 named tropical storms last year in the Atlantic Ocean basin, tying 2012 at third for most named-storms in recorded history. The top spot goes to the 2005 season, which saw 28 named storms.

Two storms, Alberto and Beryl, spun up this spring before the official hurricane season start date of June 1, an unusual occurrence. The named storms resulted from warmer-than-average sea-surface temperatures throughout the Atlantic. Beryl was the earliest second-named storm of any season since record-keeping began in 1950, according to government records. The official start date is a human-imposed one based on statistical averages of hurricane season starts.

Email Douglas Main or follow him on Twitter or Google+. Follow us @OAPlanet, Facebook or Google+. Original article on LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

Watch the 2012 Hurricane Season in 4.5 Minutes | Video On the Ground: Hurricane Sandy in Images 50 Amazing Hurricane Facts Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The New Shazam Is an Advertising Bug for Your House

Shazam, the song-identifying app whose logo keeps making its way onto TVs for second-screen expansion, has expanded its smart-listening deeper into your life with a new automatic tagging feature that basically turns your iPhone or iPad into a personal little wiretap. (The new feature isn't available for Android yet.) To save users time, Shazam no longer requires users to tag songs, shows, or advertisements to get a fuller experience about said ditty, program, or marketing campaign. Now it just does that for you, tagging all background noises automatically — noises it can tag, that is, and presumably not your conversations.

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Sure, it sounds a bit creepy to have an app always recording your entertained life, but it's also way more convenient. "The one lingering concern from our partners was, maybe a 30-second TV ad is not long enough for someone to pull out their device and Shazam a commercial," David Jones, Shazam's marketing chief, told Variety's Todd Spangler. Before the new upgrade, Shazam took approximately 12 seconds to boot up and tag, but auto-tagging speeds up the process to one to three seconds. In practice, Shazam will only tell a user about some bit of entertainment (or advertising) if they inquire, by physically tapping the tag. You'll then get all the extra information Shazam provides, without having to pull out your iPhone or iPad to hit the Shazam button. That information — and that information only — will also inform the app's second screen advertising, in which Shazam present users with "custom experiences" during commercial breaks of television shows they're watching. When a user Shazams a compatible program or television advertisement, not only does it pull up information about the program, but the branding kicks in on top. See? Convenience! But at what privacy cost?

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As one of the most successful apps of all time, the London-based Shazam recognizes the frightening implications of turning its music-ID software into a kind of always-on household eavesdropper, insisting that the company doesn't plan on using all the data it will inevitably collect for evil. "We're not trying to do anything like audience measurement on a grand scale across our user base. We're only interested in what our consumers actually engage in, not what auto-tagging may pick up around you," Shazam's executive vice president of marketing, David Jones, told The Guardian's Stuart Dredge. Although the app tags everything it hears, it will only consider a sound "meaningful" if a user "engages" with said tag. "If the device just auto-tags it and it stays unopened, we'll treat it as something that wasn't of interest to you," he further explained. But what does that really mean? And can, like, the Justice Department come calling one day?

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Well, probably, yeah, they could call. But you should probably actually worry more about your newfound willful overengagement than your illicit conversations with friends while the TV is on: "We're already sitting on a goldmine of data, and we're being respectful and thoughtful about how we monetise that," Shazam's Jones added. And, of course, auto-tagging gives Shazam even more data than that "goldmine" by recording and tagging everything around us. Shazam says it will use all this information responsibly — but that's now, during expansion. As we've seen with lots of other data collection websites (ahem, Facebook) tunes change when investors and founders get agitated by the lack of profits generated by their free services.

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There remains one very encouraging option for those with privacy fears: The new Shazam recording option is opt-in. And, hey, sometimes it might make sense to have the auto-tagging feature turned on, when the benefits outweigh the idea that Shazam is always listening. Like, during a commute, as Jones used as an example for GigaOm's Janko Roettgers. "My entire commute's music was sitting there," he said.

IMF's Lagarde questioned over French arbitration case


By Chine Labb

PARIS (Reuters) - IMF chief Christine Lagarde was questioned in court by French magistrates on Thursday over her role in a 285-million-euro ($366 million) arbitration payment made to a supporter of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Lagarde, in court the entire day, risks being placed under formal investigation when the hearing wraps up on Friday for her 2007 decision as Sarkozy's finance minister to use arbitration to settle a court battle between the state and businessman Bernard Tapie.

Under French law, that step would mean there exists "serious or consistent evidence" pointing to probable implication of a suspect in a crime. It is one step closer to trial but a number of such investigations have been dropped without trial.

Such a move could prove uncomfortable for the International Monetary Fund, whose former head, Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, quit in 2011 over a sex assault scandal, and for a woman rated the most influential in France by Slate magazine.

In Washington, the IMF reaffirmed its confidence in her.

"The board has been briefed on the matter a few times, including recently, and continues to express its confidence in the managing director's ability to effectively carry out her duties," IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said.

Lagarde smiled and waved at reporters crowded outside the court as she arrived in the morning and as she left at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT), some 13 hours later, with a breezy: "See you tomorrow."

Her lawyer made no comment on the day's proceedings. The decision on whether to place her under investigation or give her "supervised witness" status will be announced at the end of the hearing on Friday.

The case goes back to 1993 when Tapie, a colorful and often controversial character in the French business and sports world, sued the state for compensation after selling his stake in sports company Adidas to then state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais.

A one-time Socialist minister who later supported the conservative Sarkozy, Tapie said the bank had defrauded him after it resold the stake for a much higher sum. Credit Lyonnais, now part of Credit Agricole, has denied wrongdoing.

Lagarde is not accused of financially profiting herself from the payout and has denied doing anything wrong by opting for an arbitration process that enriched Tapie. With interest, the award amounted to 403 million euros.

However, a court specializing in cases involving ministers is targeting her for complicity in the misuse of funds because she overruled advisers to seek the settlement.

Her lawyer, Yves Repiquet, has told French media Lagarde merely approved the use of an arbitration procedure that had been decided by the state-owned holding company, Consortium de Realisation, set up to take over the debts and liabilities of Credit Lyonnais when it fell into difficulty in the early 1990s.

TAPIE UNRUFFLED

Sources close to the IMF board have said they are not worried by the affair and are confident Lagarde herself did not profit from it. But they added the board might review its position if judicial procedures took her away from her duties.

French government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said she supposed Lagarde would be asked to quit her post if put under investigation.

"Objectively, knowing the IMF and the way these institutions work, I would tend to think that if she were placed under investigation she would probably be asked to step down," she told BFM television.

Tapie said on Thursday he was "delighted" the affair was being investigated. While earlier probes had found his settlement to be perfectly legal, further examination would show how justified he had been in seeking compensation, he said.

"If there had been anything untoward in the arbitration it would have come out a long time ago," he told Europe 1 radio, adding: "None of these legal cases are to see if I am dishonest, they are to find out how much I was robbed of."

Lagarde, who has worked to move the IMF on from the Strauss-Kahn scandal, has taken a firm yet pragmatic stance in the austerity-versus-growth debate as Europe struggles to pull itself out of a long economic slump.

Appointed in part for the negotiating skills she used in brokering Europe's response to the 2008/09 global financial crisis, she has shown firmness in insisting on the need for nations to stick to budgetary rigor when possible.

Current Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici told Le Monde newspaper Lagarde retained the support of the French government, but said that it would appeal against the arbitration award if she was placed under formal investigation.

(Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Robin Pomeroy)

Father of Chechen shot by FBI says he thinks son was tortured


GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) - The father of a Chechen immigrant killed during questioning over his links with one of the Boston Marathon bombings suspects said on Thursday he plans to travel to the United States where he thinks his son was tortured and killed.

Ibragim Todashev, 27, was killed by a federal agent in his apartment complex when he became violent during questioning over his ties to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of two brothers suspected of planting two bombs at the marathon on April 15.

"I suspect that they tortured my son and that he suffered a painful death," said Abdulbaki Todashev, wiping away tears at the home he shares with one of his wives in the mostly Muslim region of Chechnya in Russia's North Caucasus.

"I will try to go to (the United States) and get to the truth," he said as he received neighbors and acquaintances paying their respects to the dead man, the oldest of 12 children between his father's two wives.

Todashev had met the Tsarnaevs when he travelled to the United States to improve his English, said his father, who works in the mayor's office in Chechnya's main city of Grozny and is said to be on close terms with regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

He said he gave his permission when his son asked to stay in the United States because he said it was safer than Chechnya, where separatists waged two wars with Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and militants still fight for an Islamic state.

Todashev travelled to the United States in 2008 on a Russian passport, a federal law enforcement source said, and lived in Boston before moving to Florida, where he was killed. His father said he had a plane ticket to return to Russia on Friday.

"He shouldn't have left. He lived comfortably and his mother was very worried about him because he was the oldest in the family and she was used to him being a model for the others," said a neighbor, Malika, who refused to give her last name.

The FBI agent who shot Todashev, who practiced mixed martial arts, has not been publicly identified but is from the agency's Boston division, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

U.S. media reported that Todashev implicated himself and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in an unsolved 2011 triple homicide in a Boston suburb that investigators believe was drug related. Authorities were investigating possible connections between Tsarnaev and the crime.

"Chechens have a power in their unity and interest in what happens in their homeland. It unites them. That's the reason my son became an acquaintance of the Tsarnaevs," said Todashev, speaking in the courtyard of his older wife's house.

Todashev is one of at least two friends of Tamerlan Tsarnaev who Federal investigators have been looking at very thoroughly since the Tsarnaevs were first identified as Boston bombing suspects, a law enforcement source said.

A friend of Todashev in the United States, Khusen Taramov, said Todashev was trailed constantly for the past several weeks by agents and questioned repeatedly by phone and in face-to-face interviews which lasted as long as five hours. Taramov said he was questioned as well.

Todashev was arrested on May 4 and charged with aggravated battery after getting into a fight with another man over a parking space at an Orlando shopping mall, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office in Orlando.

The man, who suffered a split upper lip and had several teeth knocked out of place, did not to press charges against Todashev, who was released from jail on a $3,500 bond, a sheriff's spokeswoman said.

(Additional Reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington D.C. and Barbara Liston in Orlando; Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing by Jon Hemming)