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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Iran Shot at U.S. Drone in Neutral Airspace, Pentagon Says

Iran warplanes shot at an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone in international airspace last week, said the U.S. Department of Defense today. The aircraft wasn’t hit, the Pentagon said, but this is the first reported instance of such an attack. Pentagon officials also said the U.S. government strongly protested the incident with Tehran. The Pentagon kept silent on the attack, which occurred on November 1, claiming restrictions on its ability to communicate about surveillance missions, but some analysts believe disclosing it could’ve been perceived as controversial so close to the election. A Pentagon official also added this did not constitute a reason to retaliate, a response that could hinder diplomatic efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program. The drone was flying over the Persian Gulf, a busy route for the transport of oil.

China’s Leadership Transition Begins

China’s 18th Communist Party Congress opened today in Beijing, setting the stage for a once-in-a-decade power transfer. President Hu Jintao stood before 2,000 party delegates, talking to new leaders about what he sees as the biggest challenges ahead. He acknowledged corruption as one of the problems threatening the credibility of the party, but added that it must stay in charge, even in the face of growing protests. He also discussed health care, the environment, food and drug safety and public security as problematic areas. “Combating corruption and promoting political integrity, which is a major political issue of great concern to the people, is a clear-cut and long-term political commitment of the party,” Hu said. He added that China should grow stronger, reinforcing its army and asserting its authority on the seas that surround the country, referring to territorial disputes with Japan and South China Sea neighbors. Xi Jinping, China’s next president and a “princeling” (heir of one of China’s civil war veterans), will take over after the end of the Congress in 10 days. He is thought to be a cautious reformer.

Guatemala: 7.4 Earthquake Claims at Least 52 Lives

A 7.4 earthquake in Guatemala killed at least 52 people yesterday and left another 22 unaccounted for. The quake, with an epicenter off the Pacific Coast, affected 1.2 million people, about 700 of whom had to find shelter. “They have no drinking water, no electricity, no communication and are in danger of experiencing more aftershocks,” said President Otto Pérez Molina. He also asked residents to leave buildings in order to avoid the consequences of aftershocks. The earthquake hit hardest in the mountainous department of San Marcos, which Pérez Molina declared a disaster area and where 40 people died. The tremor razed houses and buildings, and a prison wall fell, forcing the authorities to move 98 inmates to another jail.

Arizona Shooter Faces His Victims in Court

Jared Loughner, the 24-year-old man who killed six people and wounded another 13 during a rally for Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford last year, was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences, one for each of the people who died and one for Gifford. Loughner, who has a history of mental illness, agreed to a guilty plea in exchange for being spared the death penalty. Former Astronaut Mark Kelly, Gifford’s husband, addressed Loughner directly: ”though you are mentally ill, you are responsible for the death and hurt you inflicted upon all of us on January 8 of last year,” he said. Talking about his wife, who has been in recovery since being shot, he added: “you may have put a bullet through her head, but you haven’t put a dent in her spirit and her commitment to make the world a better place.” Kelly also took the opportunity to criticize Arizona Governor Jan Brewer for saying the size of Loughner’s weapon’s magazine had nothing to do with the killing, and the Arizona legislature for choosing an official state firearm only weeks after the shooting.

New Likely “Super-Earth” May Be Habitable

Scientists discovered a new planet in a “habitable zone,” the zone around a star where liquid water may exist. Called “super-Earth” because of its size, it sits in a system 42 light years away, orbiting an orange star researchers named HD 40307. That star system is already home to three known super-Earths, or rocky planets, but they appear too close to the sun to be habitable. This one, named HD 40307 g, is seven times the size of Earth and does not seem to show the same face to its star all the time, the way the moon does to Earth. This means it may have days and nights, which would make for temperatures propitious to life. Scientists still don’t know what it’s made of, however. It could be rocky, but it could also be a gas giant, like Neptune.

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