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Thursday, May 16, 2013

BBC Correspondent Shown Signs of ‘Chemical Attack’ in Syria

Ian Pannell, a BBC correspondent, has visited Saraqeb, a town in northern Syria, and was told by eyewitnesses that government helicopters had dropped poisonous gas on the city. The attack occurred on April 29 and doctors said that eight people suffering from breathing problems were admitted to hospital. They were also vomiting and had constricted pupils. One of them, Maryam Khatib, later died. A doctor who treated her said her symptoms were consistent with someone suffering from organophosphate poisoning. The BBC’s correspondent saw videos that would support these claims, but they could not be verified independently. One showed a device with a hollow concrete casing, while another showed parts of a canister on the ground surrounded by white powder. Samples from the scene and from the victims were sent to the UK, US, France and Turkey for testing. An expert interviewed by the BBC, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former officer at the UK’s Joint Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Regiment, said that the testimonies and evidence were “strong, albeit incomplete”, and that he thought the witnesses were “not making it up”.

EU Referendum Bill to be Tabled by Tory MP

The political battle over an in/out EU referendum is set to continue after Conservative MP James Wharton will attempt to introduce a bill setting out a specific timetable for the vote. This follows a show of strength by eurosceptic Tory MPs on Wednesday night, who numbered 114 and voted for an amendment on the Queen’s Speech that regretted the absence of the EU referendum on the government’s programme. “I think that the prime minister has been very clear in saying that the Conservative party position is that people should be given a say by the end of 2017. I hope that when it is brought before parliament, that other MPs from other parties will be able to support it and agree with me that, whatever you think about Europe and our relationship with Europe, the matter needs to be settled and people need to be given a choice”, said Wharton. This should provoke another rift with the Liberal Democrats, coalition partners in government, although a Downing Street spokesman said that it would not happen because both parties have already acknowledged a difference of opinion on the issue.

UK Austerity Policy May Increase Child Poverty

A report published by the British Medical Association (BMA) has said that the government’s economic austerity policy could “set the country back even further” and would impact “the most vulnerable hardest, which would exacerbate child poverty and widen social inequalities”. Criticising the government’s measures in a “society that considers itself to be child-friendly”, the report revealed that “more children and young people are dying in the UK than in other countries in northern and western Europe”. It also highlighted data that showed that children referred to local authority care were mainly the victims of abuse and neglect, situations that could be remedied by projects that addressed the “causes of social breakdown”, which were being slashed by government cuts. It also showed that every £1 spent in such programmes would result in a tenfold saving to the taxpayer. “Children should not pay the price for the economic downturn”, said Professor Averil Mansfield, chair of the BMA’s board of science.

Planet-Hunting Telescope Suffers Hardware Failure

NASA’s Kepler space telescope has suffered a critical hardware failure after four years of finding planets in other solar systems. It entered safe mode earlier this week, indicating a flaw in its systems. Engineers who studied the data found that one of its four reaction wheels was not moving. The reaction wheels are what keep the telescope pointed at target stars. “We initially saw some movement, but it quickly went back to zero speed. We’re not down and out, but what the eventual performance we will get to, we just don’t know at this time”, said Charles Sobeck, Kepler’s deputy project manager. The telescope has confirmed the existence of more than 100 exoplanets since being launched in 2009, including three recent planets that were estimated to be habitable. It has already gone beyond its original three-and-a-half-year mission span and was set to continue looking for planets until 2016.

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