20/04/2014

The man in the dark glasses sat quietly on the Bolshoi‘s stage, unintroduced for over half an hour. In a formal, businesslike ceremony inside the theatre’s lavish auditorium, Vladimir Urin, the Bolshoi’s new director, officially opened the new season by rattling off a list of planned premieres and tours.

It was almost as if there were nothing unusual about the upcoming season, the theatre’s 238th. But the world’s media, interspersed among the hundreds of singers, dancers, musicians and support staff who work for the company, were not here to hear the finer details of upcoming operatic stagings: they were here to see the man in the dark glasses, back for the first time since one of the most horrific episodes in the theatre’s long history, in January.

Sergei Filin, the artistic director of the Bolshoi’s ballet troupe, was attacked with sulphuric acid eight months ago and has spent the past half a year recovering in a German clinic. Doctors have performed more than a dozen operations to recover his sight, and he now has 80% vision in one eye, although the other is still almost blind.

“There is no need to hide that it was not an easy season for the Bolshoi last year,” Urin said, employing considerable understatement in his only reference to the events. Eventually, after several other people had spoken, Filin was given the floor, to prolonged applause from the gathered masses.

“I want to say to you hello, and that I am very glad to see you,” he said, with a wry smile. He did not mention the attack, and immediately launched into plans for new ballet premieres this season. Filin will now be based in Moscow, and renew his work at the theatre, with periodic travel to Germany for further operations on his eyes.

Filin was attacked outside his Moscow apartment on a snowy evening in January. The hooded assailant flung a jar of liquid, which turned out to be sulphuric acid, into his face.

One of the Bolshoi’s leading male dancers, Pavel Dmitrichenko, is facing trial for ordering the attack. He has admitted to hiring an accomplice to beat up Filin, whose leadership he disliked, but he denies wanting him splashed with acid. Dmitrichenko and the two people who carried out the attack could face 12 years in jail if convicted.

Many in the Moscow theatre world also linked the attack to Nikolai Tsiskaridze, the Bolshoi’s premier dancer, who had long been in conflict with Filin and the theatre management, keen on taking top job for himself. Tsiskaridze denied involvement but initially refused to condemn the attack, later accusing Filin of having staged it himself for effect.

The theatre chose not to extend Tsiskaridze’s contract this summer.

The Russian government also fired the Bolshoi’s longtime general director, Anatoly Iksanov, who oversaw years of discord and scandal. The attack on Filin was the violent climax of a long controversy over corruption during the theatre’s expensive and lengthy renovations, and infighting among the artists. Urin, the experienced director of a rival theatre, was appointed in his place, promising to clean up the theatre “without revolutions”.

The hope at the theatre now is that the departures of Iksanov and Tsiskaridze will finally allow the focus to return to the stage.

“It’s difficult when the focus is on these tragic and criminal events, and taken away from the artistic side of things,” Katerina Novikova, the Bolshoi’s head of press, told the Guardian. “We showed in our recent tour to London that this is one of the most professional ballet companies in the world, and we hope that the focus can now return to that.”

Urin appeared visibly shocked by the level of media attention at the opening. He begged the assembled press not to spread false rumours about the theatre, saying since he had taken over there had been a swirl of lies and misinformation about his plans to end the era of infighting.

As the ceremony drew to a close, Filin was almost knocked off his feet in a media scrum, with security guards shoving back overzealous cameramen.

Dressed in a sharp suit and tie, Filin bore the only visible signs of the attack in his dark glasses and a small patch of burnt skin on his jaw.

“My psychological state is good, and I also feel well,” he said, though he refused to comment in more detail about his ordeal and treatment. “Today is about something different: it’s about the artistic side of things.”

The Bolshoi’s new season began with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades on the theatre’s second stage.

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One of Alex Salmond‘s former closest advisers has attacked the Scottish independence campaign for relying too heavily on “tedious” ideas and “tired policies”.

Alex Bell, who quit as head of Alex Salmond’s policy unit in July after two years working on his independence strategy, said the first minister was failing to present a radical, daring vision for Scotland and so was facing defeat in next year’s referendum.

Writing for the Guardian, as the independence movement prepares to mark a year to go before the referendum, on 18 September 2014, Bell said: “The campaigns to date have been a tedious parade of union jacks versus saltires, of pop identity about caring Scots versus heartless Tories.”

Bell warned that Salmond’s white paper on independence, touted as his prospectus for independence and due to be published in November, fell into the trap of singing “the old songs” for short-term tactical reasons rather than offering voters bold, radical reforms.

That approach included focusing heavily on nationalist arguments about Scottish identity and culture rather than being brave enough to see Scotland’s problems as part of a global crisis that also affected England and the rest of the UK.

“At its best, the Scottish nationalist movement knows this and offers a critique of what democracy and the UK state can achieve,” Bell said. “At its worst, it succumbs to the temptation to focus on old songs and tired policies. In this, Salmond is wrong.”

Bell’s criticisms are shared by senior figures on the left of the SNP and within the Yes Scotland independence campaign, who believe Salmond is being too timid by offering a more moderate version of independence to win over sceptical and unpersuaded middle-ground voters.

Salmond rejected that, saying Scotland was already proving itself to be radical with its innovative programmes on green energy, free education and healthcare. He said independence was a natural continuation of devolution.

“Scotland can more than afford to be a successful independent country. We have enormous advantages in terms of our human and natural resources, but we need the political and economic tools to help create a wealthier and fairer society,” the first minister said.

“This referendum is not about any one politician or party – it is about completing Scotland’s ‘home rule’ journey, which has been under way for more than a century.”


ICM Scotland independence poll

The latest poll for the Guardian by ICM has 32% of British voters backing Scottish independence, roughly the same level of support found in Scotland, with 52% of British voters in favour of keeping the UK intact.

Significantly, it finds the highest level of support for independence amongst Labour voters across Britain, with 35% believing that Scotland should split from the UK, and 52% against.

That rate is more than double the level of support for independence among Scottish Labour voters found by other polls and 10 percentage points higher than the 25% of pro-independence Labour supporters found in a Scotland-only poll by ICM published at the weekend.

That finding will alarm Ed Miliband, the party’s UK leader, and Scottish Labour leaders as they struggle against internal opposition to agree a new blueprint for greater Scottish devolution that could include splitting up parts of the welfare state and giving the Holyrood parliament greater tax powers.

Analysts believe this higher rate reflects increasing unhappiness in England about the perception that Scotland gets unfair levels of subsidy – a view rejected by Scottish ministers and Treasury officials; jealousy of Scotland’s free prescriptions and universities; and irritation with the continuing right of Scottish MPs to vote on England-only measures at Westminster.

Labour is pressing ahead with plans to offer Scottish voters greater powers for Holyrood if they reject independence next September, and could agree to sign a joint declaration with the Tories and Liberal Democrats pledging to introduce further reforms.

Alan Trench, an academic specialising in devolution and adviser to expert government commissions, said: “It’s clear that Labour voters generally have concerns about how things are at the moment. In England, they’re struggling with a sense of unfairness about how the system works. It’s Labour’s job to square the circle.”

Meanwhile, the dispute over whether an independent Scotland would remain able to sustain high levels of public spending deepened after a senior ex-Treasury economist warned that an independent Scotland would face spending cuts of more than 5% and much higher borrowing costs if it followed Salmond’s proposals for a sterling currency union with the rest of the UK.

Dr Angus Armstrong, director of macroeconomic research at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said many lenders and investors would be very nervous about a newly independent country having significant debts and also being reliant on volatile oil receipts.

Scotland could instead hand over all its North Sea oil tax income to the UK in exchange for writing off its share of the UK national debt, Armstrong said, or it could instead set up its own currency.

“The greater the amount of public debt an independent Scotland assumes, the greater the importance of retaining some policy flexibility and the stronger the case for introducing a new Scottish currency,” he said.

The Scottish government rejected his arguments, saying their economic advisers, including two Nobel prize economists, said that a sterling union was the best option for Scotland. Even with a full population share of UK debt, Scotland would still have less debt compared to GDP.

“An independent Scotland will be in a stronger financial position than we are at present,” a spokeswoman said.

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A Briton living in the US who plotted to kidnap, rape, kill and eat children has been sentenced to serve 27 years in prison before he is deported back to the UK.

Authorities last year found a dungeon, homemade child-sized coffin, butchering kit and torture tools at the Massachusetts home of Geoffrey Portway, who had engaged in online discussions with others about a mutual interest in abducting and murdering children.

The 40-year-old, who pleaded guilty in May to solicitation to kidnap a child and distribution and possession of child pornography, was jailed for 26 years and eight months. Under the terms of the plea agreement, the US district court in Worcester had to sentence him to a term between 216 and 327 months in prison, before he is deported to the UK.

Many of the conversations which Portway engaged in online involved the trading of child pornography, including images of injured, mutilated and dead children. There were discussions of the desire to sexually abuse, murder and cannibalise children in the pictures.

Portway, worked in the IT department at a US wholesaler, solicited several people for their help in abducting a child, predominantly Michael Arnett, of Kansas, and used Skype to communicate with him. Over a period of months, he repeatedly solicited Arnett to kidnap a child for him, with the intent that Portway would ultimately rape, kill and eat the child. These solicitations included discussing real children, by name and photo, whom Arnett claimed to know and have access to.

Portway and Arnett discussed different ways to kidnap children and the age range that Portway preferred, the court was told. Portway was told that Arnett had experience with the abduction and sexual abuse of children, it was said in evidence.

Portway’s defence team attempted to claim during Tuesday’s hearing that he had immersed himself in a fantasy world on the internet. However, prosecutor Carmen Ortiz described him as “the real deal” and said that the evidence was there that he was going to kill a child. “He can only claim fantasy here because he hadn’t done it yet,” said another member of the prosecution team, Dawson Belf.

On 27 July last year, federal agents along with state and local police executed a search warrant at Portway’s home. Computers and digital devices containing his child pornography collection were seized, as well as the computer he used to trade child photography and attempts to plan the abduction of a child.

Agents also discovered a locked door in the basement. Inside a second door was a dungeon lined with sound-deadening material. It contained a chair, a television and what appeared to be cable access to the internet. The room also contained a child-sized homemade coffin with exterior locking devices, a steel cage approximately 3ft wide, 2ft high and 4ft long, with multiple locking devices, and a steel table top with steel rings at six points, presumably for restraints. Outside these rooms were a cabinet freezer, an upright freezer, disposable scalpels, butchering kits and castration tools.

The dungeon was described in detail by Portway in recovered chats as a place he intended to use to keep kidnapped children while he sexually abused them and as a place to eventually murder and cannibalise them.

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The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, snubbed Barack Obama on Tuesday by postponing an official visit to Washington in protest at the spying activities of the US National Security Agency.

The row between the biggest economies in North and South America was the latest diplomatic fallout from the top-secret documents leaked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden. In August, Obama announced he was pulling out of a bilateral meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, over Moscow’s decision to grant asylum to Snowden.

Despite a last-minute call from Obama on Monday night, Rousseff’s office released a statement saying the political environment was not amenable for the planned trip on 23 October.

“Given the proximity of the scheduled state visit to Washington and in the absence of a timely investigation … there aren’t conditions for this trip to be made,” the statement read.

“The Brazilian government is confident that when the question is settled in an adequate manner, the state visit can quickly occur.”

A statement from the White House said: “The president has said that he understands and regrets the concerns disclosures of alleged US intelligence activities have generated in Brazil and made clear that he is committed to working together with President Rousseff and her government in diplomatic channels to move beyond this issue as a source of tension in our bilateral relationship.

“As the President previously stated, he has directed a broad review of US intelligence posture, but the process will take several months to complete. For this reason, the presidents have agreed to postpone President Rousseff’s state visit to Washington scheduled for October 23.”

The postponement followed reports that the NSA has monitored Rousseff’s telephone and emails, spied on communications by her aides, and targeted Brazil’s biggest company, Petrobras.

Rousseff had earlier requested an explanation from the US president, but his reassurances failed to satisfy her concerns about the NSA’s espionage activities on a peaceful and friendly nation.

The announcement is at least a temporary setback to bilateral relations, which appeared to have been improving since Rousseff came to power. The Brazilian president was the only foreign leader this year to be invited to a state dinner at the White House and business executives planned to use the visit to sign deals on oil exploration and fighter jet sales.

But a cascade of revelations about US spying activities in Brazil has enraged public opinion and damaged trust between the two governments.

Based on leaked NSA files, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and Globo – Brazil’s biggest news group – revealed earlier this month that the NSA ran surveillance programmes on Rousseff and her aides. A week later, Greenwald (who is based in Rio de Janeiro) and Globo disclosed slides showing that the US spy agency targets Petrobras, the state-run energy company that controls some of the world’s biggest untapped oil supplies.

Earlier reports had shown that Brazil is among several countries that are subject to massive communications data monitoring by the US.

Unease about US activities has also been raised by the diversion of a plane carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales because it was suspected of carrying Snowden and the detention of Greenwald’s Brazilian partner David Miranda at Heathrow airport.

Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said Obama should apologise to the world. Justice minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said the reports, if confirmed, “should be considered very serious and constitute a clear violation of Brazilian sovereignty”.

In response to the tide of anger, US officials have adopted a softer tone. US national security adviser Susan Rice said the reports raised “legitimate questions for our friends and allies”. But the White House has stopped short of the explanations and apologies requested by Brazil and other targets of NSA spying.

To reduce future risks, Brazil has begun moves to change its communications infrastructure and discussed a cybersecurity deal with Argentina.

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Every child at infant school in England will receive free lunches from next September, Nick Clegg will announce on Wednesday in a £1.2bn coalition deal that will allow the Tories to introduce a marriage tax allowance by the end of the year.

As the Liberal Democrats step up their campaign to draw up sharp differences with their coalition partners, the deputy prime minister will contrast his support for free school meals with Tory demands for the marriage tax allowance.

In his closing speech to the Lib Dem conference, after winning a series of crunch votes, a newly emboldened Clegg will make clear that the £600m-a-year scheme was the price he had demanded to support David Cameron’s tax scheme.

George Osborne will announce plans for the marriage tax allowance, which will cost a similar sum, in his autumn statement this year. The Lib Dems will abide by their commitment in the coalition agreement to abstain in a Commons vote introducing the allowance, allowing it to pass.

The deputy prime minister will contrast the values of the Lib Dems – who pressed for the provision of free school meals for an extra 1.5 million children – with those of the Tories.

Hailing the scheme, which will save parents £437 a year and reintroduce the concept of universal benefits at a time of austerity, Clegg will say: “The Conservatives have made it clear that their priority is to help some families over others, with a tax break for married couples – a tax break for some, funded through the taxes of others. That tells you everything you need to know about their values.

“We, however, will help all families in these tough times – not just the kind we like best – by helping their young children get the best possible start in life. And that tells you everything about ours.”

The announcement was the result of a direct deal between Cameron and Clegg. The Tories were interested in the idea of free school meals, which were suggested in the School Food Plan commissioned by Michael Gove. But the extra spending was not a priority for Cameron, who announced in summer that the marriage tax allowance would be introduced this year.

A senior Lib Dem source said: “They want to spend roughly the same amount on the marriage tax. We want to spend it on this. It is a straight-up-and-down deal.”

The Lib Dem move means that an extra 1.5 million children aged between five and seven will be entitled to free school meals. This will take to 1.9 million the number of infant school pupils eligible for the meals – 400,000 children, whose parents are on low incomes, already qualify.

Clegg’s decision to highlight the nature of coalition deals – and what they say about the contrasting values of the two parties – shows how he is determined to highlight Lib Dem achievements and to draw dividing lines with the Tories. He will deliver his fourth conference speech as deputy prime minister after a week in Glasgow in which he saw off challenges from the left on tax policy, Trident, deficit reduction and nuclear power. Ministers joked about their one “loss” – the vote denouncing the bedroom tax. “We didn’t make much of an effort on that one for obvious reason because most of us agreed with the motion,” one said.

Clegg will argue he is determined to stake out the middle ground of British politics – and to remain neutral over the Lib Dems’ choice of coalition partner – when he depicts the party’s role as a restraining influence on the two main parties.

In a sign that he is keener than ever to stay on in government after the election, he will say: “The country is finally emerging from the biggest economic crisis in living memory. The absolute worse thing to do would be to give the keys to No 10 to a single-party government – Labour or the Conservatives … Labour would wreck the recovery. The Conservatives would give us the wrong kind of recovery. Only the Liberal Democrats can finish the job and finish it in a way that is fair.” Clegg, who will give a personal account of his privileged background and of his family’s role in turbulent twentieth century continental Europe, will declare that the Lib Dems are “not some subset” of the larger parties and will say: “We’re no one’s little brother.”

Clegg regards the free school meals announcement as one of the most significant since he entered government. In their School Food Plan this year the Leon Restaurants founders, Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, supported universal free school meals for primary school children after citing research finding that it had educational benefits in addition to nutritional advantages.

The study under the last government in three boroughs, Durham, Newham and Wolverhampton, found academic benefits that outstripped those from the introduction of the literacy hour.

The Clegg proposal received widespread praise from children’s groups and teaching unions. But two rightwing thinktanks, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies, criticised it. Ryan Bourne, of the CPS, said: “There was me thinking we had huge public borrowing. The poorest children are already eligible for free school meals – the main beneficiaries of this new universal benefit will be middle and upper income households, who really don’t need a public subsidy. I thought that with the huge deficit, ageing population and productivity pressures in the public sector, it was becoming acknowledged that universal benefits were unsustainable.”

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A Chinese woman has been found alive after becoming trapped at the bottom of an abandoned well for 15 days.

Su Qixiu, 38, lived off raw corn cobs and rainwater, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported. She fell down the concealed well near her village in the northern province of Henan after she went out foraging for herbs and could not climb out as the walls were too slippery and steep, the report said.

Su was discovered by a villager who was harvesting corn on Monday and then rescued by firefighters, Xinhua said. She was in a stable condition in hospital and recovering, the agency said.

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Teams are here!

Man Utd (4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, some other numbers): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Fellaini, Kagawa; Rooney, Van Persie. Subs: Lindegaard, Evans, Anderson, Hernandez, Young, Fabio Da Silva, Cleverley.

Bayer Leverkusen (4-3-3): Leno, Donati, Spahic, Toprak, Boenisch; Can, Reinartz, Rolfes; Sam, Kiessling, Son. Subs: Palop, Wollscheid, Bender, Derdiyok, Hilbert, Oztunali, Kruse.

Better than whoever you see at the weekend: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)

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The US government ordered a clutch of security reviews on Tuesday as investigators attempted to find out why a troubled former reservist walked on to the oldest military installation in the United States with at least one weapon, opened fire and killed 12 people before he was shot dead.

A senior Pentagon official said the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, intended to order a review of physical security and access at all military installations across the world. Military leaders were being consulted over the parameters of the review, which should be formally announced on Wednesday, the official said.

The White House separately announced a review of security procedures for private contractors after it was revealed that Aaron Alexis obtained clearance to work on the base despite having been arrested twice in the past for gun-related offences.

Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said it would be conducted by the Office of Management and Budget and examine “standards for contractors and employees across federal agencies”.

A third inquiry was announced by the navy secretary, Ray Mabus, who ordered a “rapid review” of security at navy and marine corps installations.

The FBI revealed on that Alexis was armed with just a shotgun on Monday morning when, acting alone, he entered the military compound using a valid security pass and began firing at other civilian contractors.

Valerie Parlave, head of the FBI’s field office in Washington, dismissed reports Alexis used an AR-15 semi automatic rifle – the weapon used in other recent mass shootings in the US. Instead she said Alexs used only the shotgun, bought in nearby Virginia, when he entered building 197. “We also believe Mr Alexis may have gained access to a handgun once inside the facility and after he began shooting,” she said.

The FBI is still seeking to determine his motive and Parlave would not comment on reports that Alexis was receiving treatment for mental problems. “We continue to look into Mr Alexis’s past, including his medical and criminal histories,” she said.

Police named the the 12 victims of the attack on Tuesday. All were civilian employees aged between 46 and 73. It was unclear whether Alexis, 34, had deliberately avoided shooting military personnel.

The metropolitan police department in Washington said Alexis was believed to have shot other employees at the compound from the lobby of building 197 to the third and fourth floors. He had several firefights with police before being killed by armed officers. Police chief Cathy Lanier said the succession of firefights lasted between 30 minutes and an hour before he was shot dead.

The company that employed Alexis said on Tuesday that his latest background check revealed only a minor traffic violation. The Experts, a defence contractor, said the check on Alexis was carried out three months ago. The company said that had it known of his two arrests for gun-related offences, it would not have employed him.

A Virginia gun store and range also said it ran a background check on Alexis before selling him a gun and ammunition on Sunday. Sharpshooters Small Arms Range said that he passed the check.

In Washington, Hagel joined other military officials to lay a wreath at the navy memorial to honour those who died. The wreath was placed next to the statue of the Lone Sailor, to represent “all people who have ever served, are serving now, or are yet to serve in the United States navy”.


Chuck Hagel
Chuck Hagel lays a wreath at the US navy memorial. Photograph: Keith Lane/Corbis

There was still no clear motive for the killing spree, although a picture was emerging of a disturbed individual prone to sometimes angry outbursts, who may have been undergoing treatment for mental illness.

Although he was never convicted of a crime, Alexis had a number of encounters with police, two of which involved firearms, and had a history of disorderly conduct before he was granted an honourable discharge from the navy two years ago.

Police in Seattle said Alexis had been arrested in 2004 after shooting out the tyres of a car belonging to a worker on a construction site near his home. Alexis was said to have acted in an “anger-fuelled blackout”, furious about where the car was parked.

Authorities in Fort Worth, Texas, said Alexis was arrested in 2010 when he was a navy reservist there, after an upstairs neighbour complained he had shot through the ceiling of her home. The police report said Alexis had complained about noise. He was not charged after police accepted his explanation that he had discharged the gun by accident.

The Associated Press reported that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs had been involved in treating Alexis for a number of mental health issues since August. The police and the FBI, which is leading the investigation, declined to confirm or deny the report.

However, a number of friends and associates of Alexis suggested he had shown unusual behaviour. Gene Denby, a reporter at National Public Radio and a friend of Alexis’s sister, recalled him apparently behaving strangely “six or seven” years ago.

Denby said that Alexis called his sister, incoherent, claiming “people were out to get him”. Denby said: “She was unnerved, clearly unsettled by it.”

There were growing questions over whether he should have been granted a security clearance. Thomas Hoshko, the chief executive of The Experts, which is headquartered in Florida and has a base in Alexandria, Virginia, said the US military granted him a “secret” clearance – providing him with a pass known as a common access card – and worked at six or more US military installations in July and August. “We had just recently re-hired him. Another background investigation was re-run and cleared through the defense security service in July 2013,” he said.

The work in Washington, focusing on the navy and marine corps intranet, had only just begun. The FBI said Alexis had been staying in hotels in the Washington DC area since August 25, and checked into the Residence Inn hotel, near the facility in southwest Washington, on September 7.

On Tuesday, police were searching his room at the hotel, and appealing for any information that might provide insight into why Alexis opened fire on his co-workers.

It remained unclear whether the shootings would reignite the stalled debate in Congress over gun control. Calls for action came from an unexpected quarter, when the most senior clinician at a hospital that treated victims of the shootings broke away from giving updates about their medical conditions to make a powerful plea for Americans to eradicate the “evil in our society” that keeps her hospital so busy with shooting injuries.


Link to video: Navy yard shooting: gun violence must be eradicated, says chief medical officer

“I would like you to put my trauma center out of business,” Janis Orlowski, the chief medical officer at Washington hospital center, told reporters in the aftermath of the killing. “I would like to not be an expert on gunshots. Let’s get rid of this. This is not America.”

In follow-up comments on Tuesday, Orlowski said her plea had been a spontaneous reaction after she observed how similar the shooting injuries had been to victims of routine gun crime in Washington.

“I have to say it was direct from my heart,” she said in a series of television interviews. “I must have poked the underbelly, because I have gotten quite a few comments and phone calls and emails and tweets about it.”

Weaknesses in the military’s system of background checks were further highlighted on Tuesday by the publication of a damning report into a separate programme used for lower-level entry permits.

The report from the defense department’s inspector general found that cost-cutting and bureaucratic bungles had resulted in a system that failed to pick up 52 “convicted felons [who] received routine unauthorized installation access, placing military personnel, attendants, civilians in installations at an increased security risk.” Nine out of ten installations allowed contractors temporary access pending the results of background checks.

The Navy’s Commercial Access Control System, under fire in the report, was designed to speed up routine access for contractors but Aaron Alexis went through a higher level of security clearance known as the Common Access Card.

“There is no indication that the findings in the report could have prevented, in any way, the tragic shooting at the Navy Yard,” said rear admiral John Kirby, chief of information for the Navy. “The system they examined is not the system through which Mr Alexis gained access. Even if we had followed every recommendation in the IG report, we could not have prevented Monday’s tragic events.”

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Nick Sloane – captain, senior salvage master, lover of pig roasts and hikes – is a gregarious tough guy who is not often lost for words. But when it came to talking about the moment when he was able to tell his 500-strong team of workers that they had managed to right the Costa Concordia after 19 nailbiting hours and 16 months of preparation, there were several seconds when the emotion was a bit much, even for him.

“We called out on the [internal] radio between all the vessels, and we said: “Zero four hundred hours. The Costa Concordia is upright and safely resting on the grout mattress and platforms. And then you could hear …” His voice caught. “Yeah, you could hear the guys were really chuffed. Everyone was jumping up and down. It was good.”

Of course, the woman who asked if he was crying got a flat “no”. But Sloane, the 52-year-old from Cape Town who is now an Italian hero, conceded that, on a day like this, a bit of emotion was not out of place.

From the moment the foghorn in Giglio Porto broke the news at 4am that the Concordia’s parbuckling had been a success, emotions were running high all over – not just in the control panel on a barge from which Sloane and his so-called “magnificent 11″ controlled the painstaking process by remote. As he and his multinational group of colleagues disembarked they were greeted with warm applause from islanders who remember only too well the night 32 people died in or beside their waters.

Firefighters clapped when, at a press briefing, civil protection agency head Franco Gabrielli confirmed the meaning of the foghorn’s wail: for the first time since it ran aground in Tuscan waters in January last year, the 114,000-tonne cruise ship was vertical once more, resting securely on a false sea bottom of steel platforms.

after After 20 months lying on its side, the 300-metre long ship was suddenly upright and the full extent of the damage to its starboard side starkly visible from the seafront.

It seemed a ship of two halves: one white, with the clean lines of the floating palace it used to be; the other brown, sludge-strewn and horrifically disfigured, its middle a huge dent of mangled balconies and portholes.

Enrico Letta, Italy‘s prime minister, declared that the parbuckling was “a moment of great Italian pride”.

“We have turned a page in the public image of our country which, at the time of the incident with the ship, was of flight from responsibility,” he said, according to news agency Ansa.

And for the two sets of relatives arriving to see the wreck that could still contain the bodies of their loved ones, it was a day of pain, but also of “new hope”.

Elio Vincenzi, whose wife Maria Grazia Trecarichi had been on the cruise with her daughter as a 50th birthday gift, said he was optimistic that divers would finally find her body.

But seeing the wreck upright for the first time had not been easy. “It was very painful. I had very strong emotions,” he said. “When I saw it before on its side it was like a wounded animal. Now it’s different. When we arrived, it was raining and it was like a dream; it looked like the ship was alive.”

Standing on the harbour wall, Kevin Rebello, whose brother Russel is the other victim still missing, said that once a search was carried out, “we hope we will all be able to go home”.

Gabrielli said the search for them would begin as soon as the wreck site was declared safe – within, he hoped, the “coming days”.

Sloane, a man dubbed by local newspaper Il Tirreno as “the man of (im)possible missions”, warned there were many challenges still to overcome in the most expensive salvage project in history, whose cost has already topped €600m (£500m) and will keep rising.

“There’s still a bit of a rollercoaster ride to come,” he said at a press conference, which he refused to start without his wife in the audience. “But if this [phase] did not go well then it would be worse, so, yes, it was essential that this plan worked. There’s a lot of relief and I’m very happy my wife Sandra was there to share it with me. She was texting me saying, ‘Come on, what’s taking you so long?’”

She wasn’t the only one. Although the parbuckling went to plan, it went on for a lot longer than expected, from 9am on Monday to 4am the next day. But Sloane, the senior salvage master for Titan, the US company co-ordinating the salvage with Italian firm Micoperi, said the results had proved better than they had hoped.

The “crucial moment”, he said, came several hours into the operation when, with hydraulic jacks and chains exerting a force of 6,800 tonnes, the engineers managed finally to free the wreck from the reef on which it had become moulded. While the speed of the ship’s rotation for the most of the process was roughly 3.5 degrees an hour, it reached around eight or nine degrees in the final phase, when gravity took over and the water-filled sponsons on the port side pushed it down on to the platforms.

In total, Sloane and his colleagues had turned the wreck 65 degrees. Both in terms of the huge size and precarious positioning of the vessel, the operation was unprecedented.

But Sloane said that, though significant, the damage was in accordance with what had been expected. For him, now, a holiday beckons with his wife of 24 years and their three children. No one in Giglio – or Italy – will begrudge him that.

Asked to reflect on the operation, shortly after he had woken from a much-needed sleep, he remarked, with some understatement: “To roll a ship of 300 metres – three football fields … there are some concerns that she’s not going to follow together. But she did.”

Armbands ahoy

Nick Sloane was clear: the job is not done yet and the salvage mission will not be over until the Costa Concordia is towed away from Giglio in one piece. “We haven’t finished yet,” he said. “This was a really important step, and really the most challenging one. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Asked when the end date would come, he said it was not possible at this stage to set a timetable, and that it would definitely not be before spring next year.

“Certainly,” he added, with a characteristic flourish, “by this time next year we all want to be playing golf or fishing or doing something completely different.”

In order to get to the stage of the ship’s removal, the engineers must overcome several challenges. First, they must wait until the authorities arrange for a thorough search of the wreck to try to locate the two victims still missing.

Then, they must evaluate the huge damage done to the starboard side and come up with a way of fixing more sponsons on to that part of the ship. The 11 sponsons already on the ship – large, steel boxes – were filled with water in the parbuckling last night.

But, when the ship comes to be refloated – the next major stage – they will play a crucial role by expelling that water and becoming, effectively, air-filled armbands giving the wreck buoyancy.

Article source: http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663828/s/315b92ad/sc/8/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cworld0C20A130Csep0C170Ccosta0Econcordia0Efamilies0Ehope0Emissing0Esalvage/story01.htm

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the latest events across the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and the business world.

Breaking news to start the day — Europe’s car industry has suffered another dire month as sales in its troubled automobile industry slumped to an alltime low.

Eight months into the year, fewer cars have been sold than in any year since 1990, according to new data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association. It reports that new registrations have fallen by 5.2% since January, to just 7,841,596 units across the whole of Europe.

Many of Europe’s big name manufactures continue to see sales slide.

ACEA admitted that August (never a great month for car sales) had been particularly tough, as the “downturn prevailed across significant markets”.

This graph shows the damage in 2013, with sales rising in just two months (April and July).

Car registrations in Europe, to August 2013
Slump continues…. Photograph: /ACEA

New passenger car registrations declined by 5.0% in August compared with a year ago, reversing a 5% jump in July. Demand dropped in all major markets, denting hopes that the worst was over.

The UK was the only major market to post growth in August, with sales jumping by 10.9%. Otherwise, it’s another dire picture – with Germany contracting by 5.5%, and Italian sales down 6.6%. French car sales suffered a double-digit decline, falling by 10.5%, while the Spanish market was rough — tumbling by 18.3%.

European car registrations, to August 2013
European car registrations, to August 2013 Photograph: /Thomson Reuters

Some European manufacturers have had a year to forget.

Peugeot Citreon’s sales are down by 12.3% so far this year.

Fiat are down 8.6%

Volkswagen sales have dropped by 4.6%

Jaguar Land Rover, though, bucks the trend with a +10.0% rise in sales between January and August.

Not a great start to the day, and a cautionary tale to those who reckon Europe’s economic woes are over. 

Reaction to follow, along with other details of the day ahead….

Article source: http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663828/s/315438e3/sc/2/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cbusiness0C20A130Csep0C170Ceuropean0Ecar0Esales0Eslump0Eto0Erecord0Elow0Elive/story01.htm

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