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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Conclave to Elect the Next Pope Begins in the Vatican

The doors of the Sistine Chapel were shut at 16:35 GMT on Tuesday, signalling the beginning of the conclave to decide who will be the next leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. All Vatican officials and aides and uniformed Swiss Guards left the chapel after being given the Latin command “extra omnes” (“everyone out”) and only the 115 electors, sworn to an oath of secrecy, remained for the vote. The first smoke from the chapel, signalling the end of the first ballot, is expected between 18:00 and 19:00, though seasoned Vatican analysts agree that it is highly unlikely that a new Pope could be chosen today. The leading candidate, according to bookmakers in the United Kingdom, is Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan. Jessica Bridges of betting house Ladbrokes told the Associated Press that “the money keeps coming for Scola and we’ve been forced to slash his odds. The closer we get to the conclave, it’s harder to see an outsider causing an upset”. Another betting house, William Hill, had Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana in second place and Brazil’s Cardinal Odilo Scherer in third place. Long shots include Italian football star Mario Balotelli and U2′s Bono Vox.

UK Says Argentina Should Respect Falklands Referendum

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said Argentina should respect the wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands, who have voted overwhelmingly to remain British. The referendum asked “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain the current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?”. There was a turnout of more than 90% from the 1,672 eligible British citizens from a total population of about 2,900. Over 99% voted to in favour of the current political system, with only three votes against. “The Falklands Islands may be thousands of miles away but they are British through and through, and that is how they want to stay, and people should know we will always be there to defend them”, said Cameron. “They want to remain British and that view should be respected by everybody, including by Argentina”, he added. The President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has already made it clear that her country does not recognise the result of the referendum, saying it had no legal validity. Argentina has continued to claim sovereignty over the islands, 31 years after being defeated by the UK in the Falklands War.

Japan Taps Methane Hydrate for Energy

Japan revealed on Tuesday that it had successfully extracted gas from its offshore deposits of methane hydrate. Also known as “flammable ice”, the extraction of methane hydrate could be an important source of energy for a country heavily dependent on fuel imports, particularly after the Fukushima nuclear crisis, which shut Japan’s nuclear energy programme. Tatsuki Izawa, an official of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) said that the technology is commercially viable, but that the Japanese government aims to have it developed sufficiently for large-scale extraction by 2019. “Shale gas was considered technologically difficult to extract, but is now produced on a large scale”, said Toshimitsu Motegi, the Japanese Trade Minister. “By tackling these challenges one by one, we could soon start tapping the resources that surround Japan”, he added. The government’s research shows an area near the Ise-Shima coast could have enough gas reserves to meet Japan’s domestic liquefied natural gas needs for more than 10 years.

Doubts Cast on Israel’s Iron Dome Success Rate

Professor Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has told the BBC that the success of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system maybe have been “drastically lower” than the 84% touted by the Israeli military during last year’s conflict with Hamas in the Gaza strip. Having already panned the Patriot defence system during the 1991 Gulf War, Postol now says that the only way the Iron Dome can destroy an incoming warhead is to hit it head on. “If the interceptor is flying a crossing or diving trajectory compared to that of the incoming rocket, then you are not going to destroy the warhead. Even hitting the incoming warhead side-on will probably not have sufficient energy to detonate  it”, said Postol. He thinks the success rate of the Iron Dome would be closer to 5% or 10%, much less than the 84% claimed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). One reason for the discrepancy in figures, argues Postol, is that it would be a “a reasonable strategy for Israel to claim that Iron Dome was working, as an excuse not to invade Gaza at an enormous cost to both sides”.

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