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April 7, 2011

ACLU, EFF challenging US \’secret\’ court orders seeking Twitter data

ACLU, EFF challenging US ‘secret’ court orders seeking Twitter data

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Logo of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Logo of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Late last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed objections to the United States Government’s ‘secret’ attempts to obtain Twitter account information relating to WikiLeaks. The ACLU and EFF cite First and Fourth amendment issues as overriding reasons to overturn government attempts to keep their investigation secret; and, that with Birgitta Jonsdottir being an Icelandic Parliamentarian, the issue has serious international implications.

The case, titled “In the Matter of the 2703(d) Order Relating to Twitter Accounts: Wikileaks, Rop_G, IOERROR; and BirgittaJ“, has been in the EFF’s sights since late last year when they became aware of the US government’s attempts to investigate WikiLeaks-related communications using the popular microblogging service.

Case background

2009 File photo of Bradley Manning.
Image: Daniel Joseph Barnhart Clark.

The key objective of this US government investigation is to obtain data for the prosecution of Bradley Manning, alleged to have supplied classified data to WikiLeaks. In addition to Manning’s Twitter account, and that of WikiLeaks (@wikileaks), the following three accounts are subject to the order: @ioerror, @birgittaj, and @rop_g. These, respectively, belong to Jacob Apelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Rop Gonggrijp.

Birgitta is not the only non-US citizen with their Twitter account targeted by the US Government; Gonggrijp, a Dutch ‘ex-hacker’-turned-security-expert, was one of the founders of XS4ALL – the first Internet Service Provider in the Netherlands available to the public. He has worked on a mobile phone that can encrypt conversations, and proven that electronic voting systems can readily be hacked.

In early March, a Virginia magistrate judge ruled that the government could have the sought records, and neither the targeted users, or the public, could see documents submitted to justify data being passed to the government. The data sought is as follows:

  1. Personal contact information, including addresses
  2. Financial data, including credit card or bank account numbers
  3. Twitter account activity information, including the “date, time, length, and method of connections” plus the “source and destination Internet Protocol address(es)”
  4. Direct Message (DM) information, including the email addresses and IP addresses of everyone with whom the Parties have exchanged DMs

The order demands disclosure of absolutely all such data from November 1, 2009 for the targeted accounts.

The ACLU and EFF are not only challenging this, but demanding that all submissions made by the US government to justify the Twitter disclosure are made public, plus details of any other such cases which have been processed in secret.

The Manning connection

Gun camera footage of the airstrike of July 12, 2007 in Baghdad, showing the slaying of Namir Noor-Eldeen and a dozen other civilians by a U.S. helicopter.
Image: WikiLeaks.

Bradley Manning, at the time a specialist from Maryland enlisted with the United States Army’s 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, was arrested in June last year in connection with the leaking of classified combat video to WikiLeaks.

The leaked video footage, taken from a US helicopter gunship, showed the deaths of Reuters staff Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen during a U.S. assault in Baghdad, Iraq. The wire agency unsuccessfully attempted to get the footage released via a Freedom of Information Act request in 2007.

When WikiLeaks released the video footage it directly contradicted the official line taken by the U.S. Army asserting that the deaths of the two Reuters staff were “collateral damage” in an attack on Iraqi insurgents. The radio chatter associated with the AH-64 Apache video indicated the helicopter crews had mistakenly identified the journalists’ equipment as weaponry.

The US government also claims Manning is linked to CableGate; the passing of around a quarter of a million classified diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Manning has been in detention since July last year; in December allegations of torture were made to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the conditions under which he was and is being detained.

Reports last month that he must now sleep naked and attend role call at the U.S. Marine facility in Quantico in the same state, raised further concern over his detention conditions. Philip J. Crowley, at-the-time a State Department spokesman, remarked on this whilst speaking at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; describing the current treatment of Manning as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”, Crowley was, as a consequence, put in the position of having to tender his resignation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The United States Government versus WikiLeaks

Logo of WikiLeaks.

Despite his native Australia finding, in December last year, that Assange’s WikiLeaks had not committed any criminal offences in their jurisdiction, the U.S. government has continued to make ongoing operations very difficult for the whistleblower website.

The result of the Australian Federal Police investigation left the country’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, having to retract a statement that WikiLeaks had acted “illegally”; instead, she characterised the site’s actions as “grossly irresponsible”.

Even with Australia finding no illegal activity on the part of WikiLeaks, and with founder Julian Assange facing extradition to Sweden, U.S. pressure sought to hobble WikiLeaks financially.

Based on a State Department letter, online payments site PayPal suspended WikiLeaks account in December. Their action was swiftly followed by Visa Europe and Mastercard ceasing to handle payments for WikiLeaks.

The online processing company, Datacell, threatened the two credit card giants with legal action over this. However, avenues of funding for the site were further curtailed when both Amazon.com and Swiss bank PostFinance joined the financial boycott of WikiLeaks.

Assange continues, to this day, to argue that his extradition to Sweden for questioning on alleged sexual offences is being orchestrated by the U.S. in an effort to discredit him, and thus WikiLeaks.

State-of-the-(Black)-Art, or CyberWarfare

Logo of Twitter.

Wikinews consulted an IT and cryptography expert from the Belgian university which developed the current Advanced Encryption Standard; explaining modern communications, he stated: “Cryptography has developed to such a level that intercepting communications is no longer cost effective. That is, if any user uses the correct default settings, and makes sure that he/she is really connecting to Twitter it is highly unlikely that even the NSA can break the cryptography for a protocol such as SSL/TLS (used for https).”

Qualifying this, he commented that “the vulnerable parts of the communication are the end points.” To make his point, he cited the following quote from Gene Spafford: “Using encryption on the Internet is the equivalent of arranging an armored car to deliver credit card information from someone living in a cardboard box to someone living on a park bench.

Continuing, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL) expert explained:

In the first place, the weak point is Twitter itself; the US government can go and ask for the data; companies such as Twitter and Google will typically store quite some information on their users, including IP addresses (it is known that Google deletes the last byte of the IP address after a few weeks, but it is not too hard for a motivated opponent to find out what this byte was).
In the second place, this is the computer of the user: by exploiting system weaknesses (with viruses, Trojan horses or backdoors in the operating system) a highly motivated opponent can enter your machine and record your keystrokes plus everything that is happening (e.g. the FBI is known to do this with the so-called Magic Lantern software). Such software is also commercially available, e.g. for a company to monitor its employees.

Seal of the Catholic University of Leuven.

It would also be possible for a higly motivated opponent to play “man-in-the-middle”; that means that instead of having a secure connection to Twitter.com, you have a secure connection to the attacker’s server, who impersonates Twitter’s and then relays your information to Twitter. This requires tricks such as spoofing DNS (this is getting harder with DNSsec), or misleading the user (e.g. the user clicks on a link and connects to tw!tter.com or Twitter.c0m, which look very similar in a URL window as Twitter.com). It is clear that the US government is capable of using these kind of tricks; e.g., a company has been linked to the US government that was recognized as legitimate signer in the major browsers, so it would not be too large for them to sign a legitimate certificate for such a spoofing webserver; this means that the probability that a user would detect a problem would be very low.
As for traffic analysis (finding out who you are talking to rather than finding out what you are telling to whom), NSA and GCHQ are known to have access to lots of traffic (part of this is obtained via the UK-USA agreement). Even if one uses strong encryption, it is feasible for them to log the IP addresses and email addresses of all the parties you are connecting to. If necessary, they can even make routers re-route your traffic to their servers. In addition, the European Data Retention directive forces all operators to store such traffic data.
Whether other companies would have complied with such requests: this is very hard to tell. I believe however that it is very plausible that companies such as Google, Skype or Facebook would comply with such requests if they came from a government.
In summary: unless you go through great lengths to log through to several computers in multiple countries, you work in a clean virtual machine, you use private browser settings (don’t accept cookies, no plugins for Firefox, etc.) and use tools such as Tor, it is rather easy for any service provider to identify you.
Finally: I prefer not to be quoted on any sentences in which I make statements on the capabilities or actions of any particular government.

Views of a security expert

Wikinews also consulted French IT security researcher Stevens Le Blond on the issues surrounding the case, and the state-of-the-art in monitoring, and analysing, communications online. Le Blond, currently presenting a research paper on attacks on Tor to USENIX audiences in North America, responded via email:

Wikinews

Were the US Government to obtain the sought data, it would seem reasonable the NSA would handle further investigation. How would you expect them to exploit the data and expand on what they receive from Twitter?

  • Le Blond: My understanding is that the DOJ is requesting the following information: 1) Connection records and session times 2) IP addresses 3) e-mail addresses 4) banking info
By requesting 1) and 2) for Birgitta and other people involved with WikiLeaks (WL) since 2009, one could derive 2 main [pieces of] information.

Logo of the Tor project.

First, he could tell the mobility of these people. Recent research in networking shows that you can map an IP address into a geographic location with a median error of 600 meters. So by looking at changes of IP addresses in time for a Twitter user, one could tell (or at least speculate about) where that person has been.
Second, by correlating locations of different people involved with WL in time, one could possibly derive their interactions and maybe even their level of involvement with WL. Whether it is possible to derive this information from 1) and 2) depends on how this people use Twitter. For example, do they log on Twitter often enough, long enough, and from enough places?
My research indicates that this is the case for other Internet services but I cannot tell whether it is the case for Twitter.
Note that even though IP logging, as done by Twitter, is similar to the logging done by GSM [mobile phone] operators, the major difference seems to be that Twitter is subject to US regulation, no matter the citizenship of its users. I find this rather disturbing.
Using 3), one could search for Birgitta on other Internet services, such as social networks, to find more information on her (e.g., hidden accounts). Recent research on privacy shows that people tend to use the same e-mail address to register an account on different social networks (even when they don’t want these accounts to be linked together). Obviously, one could then issue subpoenas for these accounts as well.
I do not have the expertise to comment on what could be done with 4).
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png As I believe Jonsdottir to be involved in the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), what are the wider implications beyond the “WikiLeaks witchhunt”?
  • Le Blond: Personal data can be used to discredit, especially if the data is not public.

Liberty, and the Electronic Frontier

Having been alerted to the ongoing case through a joint press release by the ACLU and EFF, Wikinews sought clarification on the primary issues which the two non-profits saw as particularly important in challenging the U.S. Government over the ‘secret’ court orders. Rebecca Jeschke, Media Relations Director for the EFF, explained in more detail the points crucial to them, responding to a few questions from Wikinews on the case:

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png As a worse-case, what precedents would be considered if this went to the Supreme Court?
  • Rebecca Jeschke: It’s extremely hard to know at this stage if this would go to the Supreme Court, and if it did, what would be at issue. However, some of the interesting questions about this case center on the rights of people around the world when they use US Internet services. This case questions the limits of US law enforcement, which may turn out to be very different from the limits in other countries.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Since this is clearly a politicised attack on free speech with most chilling potential repercussions for the press, whistleblowers, and by-and-large anyone the relevant U.S. Government departments objects to the actions of, what action do you believe should be taken to protect free speech rights?
  • Jeschke: We believe that, except in very rare circumstances, the government should not be permitted to obtain information about individuals’ private Internet communications in secret. We also believe that Internet companies should, whenever possible, take steps to ensure their customers are notified about requests for information and have the opportunity to respond.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Twitter via the web, in my experience, tends to use https:// connections. Are you aware of any possibility of the government cracking such connections? (I’m not up to date on the crypto arms race).
  • Jeschke: You don’t need to crack https, per se, to compromise its security. See this piece about fraudulent https certificates:
Iranian hackers obtain fraudulent httpsEFF website.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png And, do you believe that far, far more websites should – by default – employ https:// connections to protect people’s privacy?
  • Jeschke: We absolutely think that more websites should employ https! Here is a guide for site operators: (See external links, Ed.)

Birgitta Jonsdottir responds

Finally, Wikinews approached the Icelandic politician, and WikiLeaks supporter, who has made this specific case a landmark in how the U.S. Government handles dealings with – supposedly – friendly governments and their elected representatives. A number of questions were posed, seeking the Icelandic Parliamentarian’s views:

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How did you feel when you were notified the US Government wanted your Twitter account, and message, details? Were you shocked?

Birgitta Jonsdottir’s Facebook profile picture.

  • Birgitta Jonsdottir: I felt angry but not shocked. I was expecting something like this to happen because of my involvement with WikiLeaks. My first reaction was to tweet about it.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What do you believe is their reasoning in selecting you as a ‘target’?
  • Jonsdottir: It is quite clear to me that USA authorities are after Julian Assange and will use any means possible to get even with him. I think I am simply a pawn in a much larger context. I did of course both act as a spokesperson for WikiLeaks in relation to the Apache video and briefly for WikiLeaks, and I put my name to the video as a co-producer. I have not participated in any illegal activity and thus being a target doesn’t make me lose any sleep.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Are you concerned that, as a Member of Parliament involved in the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), the US attempt to obtain your Twitter data is interfering with planned Icelandic government policy?
  • Jonsdottir: No
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png In an earlier New York Times (NYT) article, you’re indicating there is nothing they can obtain about you that bothers you; but, how do you react to them wanting to know everyone you talk to?
  • Jonsdottir: It bothers me and according to top computer scientists the government should be required to obtain a search warrant to get our IP addresses from Twitter. I am, though, happy I am among the people DOJ is casting their nets around because of my parliamentary immunity; I have a greater protection then many other users and can use that immunity to raise the issue of lack of rights for those that use social media.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Wikinews commentary.svg
Do you believe the U.S. government should have the right to access data on foreign nationals using services such as Twitter?
Add or view comments
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The same NYT article describes you as a WikiLeaks supporter; is this still the case? What attracts you to their ‘radical transparency’?
  • Jonsdottir: I support the concept of WikiLeaks. While we don’t have a culture of protection for sources and whistleblowers we need sites like WikiLeaks. Plus, I think it is important to give WikiLeaks credit for raising awareness about in how bad shape freedom of information and expression is in our world and it is eroding at an alarming rate because of the fact that legal firms for corporations and corrupt politicians have understood the borderless nature of the legalities of the information flow online – we who feel it is important that people have access to information that should remain in the public domain need to step up our fight for those rights. WikiLeaks has played an important role in that context.
    I don’t support radical transparency – I understand that some things need to remain secret. It is the process of making things secret that needs to be both more transparent and in better consensus with nations.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How do you think the Icelandic government would have reacted if it were tens of thousands of their diplomatic communications being leaked?
  • Jonsdottir: I am not sure – A lot of our dirty laundry has been aired via the USA cables – our diplomatic communications with USA were leaked in those cables, so far they have not stirred much debate nor shock. It is unlikely for tens of thousands of cables to leak from Iceland since we dont have the same influence or size as the USA, nor do we have a military.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Your ambassador in the US has spoken to the Obama administration. Can you discuss any feedback from that? Do you have your party’s, and government’s, backing in challenging the ordered Twitter data release?
  • Jonsdottir: I have not had any feedback from that meeting, I did however receive a message from the DOJ via the USA ambassador in Iceland. The message stated three things: 1. I am free to travel to the USA. 2. If I would do so, I would not be a subject of involuntary interrogation. 3. I am not under criminal investigation. If this is indeed the reality I wonder why they are insisting on getting my personal details from Twitter. I want to stress that I understand the reasoning of trying to get to Assange through me, but I find it unacceptable since there is no foundation for criminal investigation against him. If WikiLeaks goes down, all the other media partners should go down at the same time. They all served similar roles. The way I see it is that WikiLeaks acted as the senior editor of material leaked to them. They could not by any means be considered a source. The source is the person that leaks the material to WikiLeaks. I am not sure if the media in our world understands how much is at stake for already shaky industry if WikiLeaks will carry on carrying the brunt of the attacks. I think it would be powerful if all the medias that have had access to WikiLeaks material would band together for their defence.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Wikinews consulted a Belgian IT security expert who said it was most likely companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google, would have complied with similar court orders *without advising the ‘targets*’. Does that disturb you?
  • Jonsdottir: This does disturb me for various reasons. The most obvious is that my emails are hosted at google/gmail and my search profile. I dont have anything to hide but it is important to note that many of the people that interact with me as a MP via both facebook and my various email accounts don’t always realize that there is no protection for them if they do so via those channels. I often get sensitive personal letters sent to me at facebook and gmail. In general most people are not aware of how little rights they have as users of social media. It is those of uttermost importance that those sites will create the legal disclaimers and agreements that state the most obvious rights we lose when we sign up to their services.
Wikinews
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Has there been any backlash within Iceland against US-based internet services in light of this? Do you expect such, or any increase in anti-American sentiments?
  • Jonsdottir: No, none what so ever. I dont think there is much anti-American sentiments in Iceland and I dont think this case will increase it. However I think it is important for everyone who does not live in the USA and uses social services to note that according to the ruling in my case, they dont have any protection of the 1st and 4th amendment, that only apply to USA citizens. Perhaps the legalities in relation to the borderless reality we live in online need to be upgraded in order for people to feel safe with using social media if it is hosted in the USA. Market tends to bend to simple rules.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Does this make you more, or less, determined to see the IMMI succeed?
  • Jonsdottir: More. People have to realize that if we dont have freedom of information online we won’t have it offline. We have to wake up to the fact that our rights to access information that should be in the public domain is eroding while at the same time our rights as citizens online have now been undermined and we are only seen as consumers with consumers rights and in some cases our rights are less than of a product. This development needs to change and change fast before it is too late.

Ongoing U.S. Government versus WikiLeaks fallout

The U.S. Government continues to have issues internationally as a result of material passed to WikiLeaks, and subsequently published.

Within the past week, Ecuador has effectively declared the U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges persona-non-grata over corruption allegations brought to light in leaked cables. Asking the veteran diplomat to leave “as soon as possible”, the country may become the third in South America with no ambassadorial presence. Both Venezuela and Bolivia have no resident U.S. ambassador due to the two left-wing administrations believing the ejected diplomats were working with the opposition.

The U.S. State Department has cautioned Ecuador that a failure to speedily normalise diplomatic relations may jeapordise ongoing trade talks.

The United Kingdom is expected to press the Obama administration over the continuing detention of 23-year-old Manning, who also holds UK citizenship. British lawmakers are to discuss his ongoing detention conditions before again approaching the U.S. with their concerns that his solitary confinement, and treatment therein, is not acceptable.

The 22 charges brought against Manning are currently on hold whilst his fitness to stand trial is assessed.

Related news

Wikinews
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
  • “US State department official resigns after Wikileaks comments” — Wikinews, March 13, 2011
  • “US military brig officials order whistle-blowing suspect to sleep naked” — Wikinews, March 7, 2011
  • UN probing allegations US is ‘torturing’ soldier over leaks” — Wikinews, December 23, 2010
  • “Australian Federal Police say Wikileaks committed no crime” — Wikinews, December 17, 2010
  • “US intelligence analyst arrested over Wikileaks video” — Wikinews, June 9, 2010

Sources

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March 3, 2011

Telecom Commission of Solomon Islands issues phone company US$1M fine

Telecom Commission of Solomon Islands issues phone company US$1M fine

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Solomon Islands
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  • 23 May 2015: 6.9 Magnitude Earthquake strikes Solomon Islands
  • 10 September 2012: Hellen Saohaga’s London performance second best for Solomon Islands at Olympics, Paralympics
  • 30 August 2012: Wikinews interviews Oceania Paralympic Committee President Paul Bird
  • 3 March 2011: Telecom Commission of Solomon Islands issues phone company US$1M fine
  • 27 May 2010: Vanuatu hit by 7.2 magnitude earthquake
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PNG Mobile phone provider bemobile’s logo

The Telecommunications Commission of the Solomon Islands (TCSI) have issued a fine to a Papua New Guinea (PNG) mobile phone provider, for failing to meet the deadlines set out in the terms of its license. bemobile, the second mobile network service provider in the Solomon Islands, was supposed to have covered 50% of the Solomons by September 2010 and 75% by February 1st 2011. Both targets passed with their requirements unfulfilled.

The National Statistics Office and the TCSI investigated claims by bemobile that it had covered 64% of the Islands, but found the claims were incorrect. As a result, the TCSI have now issued a fine of K2.6 million (US$1 million, £0.61 million, €0.72 million) to the company for breaking its operating license.

This is the second time bemobile failed to meet its contractual obligations, and the Telecommunications Commissioner, Nicholas Williams, made it clear that they had fallen short of the target, despite being given time to sort the issue out.

Williams said, “TCSI has found that bemobile has failed to meet its third coverage threshold of 75% of the population that commenced on 1 February 2011, as well as during the 14-day rectification period that was provided for under the licence.”

Commissioner Williams also stated he could have raised the fine to US$2.5M, but he hoped that bemobile would use the extra money to meet its September deadline.

In a statement to the Commission, bemobile admitted it had not built any new transmitter masts since the latter part of 2010.



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February 26, 2010

Russian Wikipedia reaches half a million articles

Russian Wikipedia reaches half a million articles

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Friday, February 26, 2010

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Russia
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Celebration logo plays a pun as “half a lemon” means “half a million” in Russian jargon

The Russian Language Wikipedia surpassed 500,000 articles at 10:02 UTC on February 25, 2010, after “Ys”, an article about a Joanna Newsom album, was created by Nurse fiction, a newcomer to the Wikipedia.

The Russian language Wikipedia is the tenth largest language edition of Wikipedia, boasting over three hundred and fifty “Featured Articles” and 930 “Good Articles”, shown to be the best in the freely-editable encyclopaedia. Russian Wikipedia is also one of the few languages to adopt the Flagged Revisions system.

Wikipedia is a multilingual encyclopaedia that can be edited by almost anyone with an internet connection, meaning that the Russian Wikipedia has 437,862 registered users with 12,929 making at least 1 edit within the last month. The youngest known user is 10 years old, and the oldest is 80.

Last year, the Russian chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization behind Wikipedia, started active work supporting Wikipedia editions in the numerous languages used in Russia — such as Tatar, Chuvash, Ossetian and Yakut.



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February 15, 2010

Train collision kills at least eighteen near Brussels, Belgium

Train collision kills at least eighteen near Brussels, Belgium

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Monday, February 15, 2010

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Belgian authorities have confirmed that at least eighteen people died in a head-on collision between two passenger trains in the suburbs of Brussels. Other reports suggest that the death toll could be as high as 25. More than 125 passengers are reported injured, 11 of them “very seriously”. Rescuers were still trying to free bodies from the wreckage of the trains more than eight hours after the crash, which occurred in snowy conditions at 08:28 local time (0728 UTC) near the station of Buizingen in the municipality of Halle, about 15 kilometres southwest of the Belgian capital.

One of the trains involved was travelling from Quiévrain to Liège, while the other was travelling from Leuven to Braine-le-Comte. The collision saw the first two carriages of one train being forced upwards into the air over the first carriage of the second train. Eyewitnesses described the collision as “brutal”, with passengers being thrown “violently” around the carriages.

Location of the collision within Belgium

Television footage showed the two smashed locomotives forced up in the air, with passenger cars strewn over a wide area and dazed survivors wandering at the crash site. Train speed at the time of the crash was not immediately known. There are reports that one of the trains ran a stop signal.

Initial reports suggest that the Leuven–Braine-le-Comte train was on the wrong line. It is not known if the train went through a red signal or if there was a problem with the signalling. A “well informed source” quoted by French-language daily Le Soir suggested that there might have been an electrical failure in the signalling system.

The collision occurred on one of the main access lines to Brussels-South station, about 14 kilometres (9 miles) from the Belgian capital. It caused “major damage” to overhead power cables, especially on the Brussels–Mons and Brussels–Tournai lines, and high speed rail services between Brussels and France and the UK have been suspended. Thalys services were temporarily halted due to the accident, with four of its trains in the region being diverted to alternative stations. Thalys services between Brussels and Cologne have now resumed, but services to Amsterdam and Paris are still suspended.

One passenger on board, Christian Wampach, described conditions on board the train, “It was a nightmare. We were thrown about for about 15 seconds. There were a number of people injured in my car but I think all the dead were in the first car.” Wampach was in the third car.

Another passenger, Patricia Lallemand, said, “When we came out we saw dead bodies lying next to the tracks, some mutilated.”



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May 17, 2009

After Eurovision win, Norwegians show their patriotism on Constitution Day

After Eurovision win, Norwegians show their patriotism on Constitution Day

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Oslo schoolchildren taking part in the Children’s Parade at the Royal Palace on 2005’s Constitution Day. People from all over Norway celebrated the national holiday today with festivals and parties.

Alexander Rybak’s win for Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday evening was well-timed; it was on the eve of Norway’s Constitution Day.

Constitution Day, observed on May 17, commemorates the first Norwegian constitution drafted at Eidsvoll in 1814. Now it celebrates Norwegian independence as a whole, which was granted by Sweden in 1905.

Eurovision win aside, Norwegians don’t necessarily need a good reason to celebrate Constitution Day; the Norwegian people are some of the most patriotic in Europe and the iconic national flag, red with a white and indigo blue Scandinavian cross, can be seen waving from buildings and in the hands of most Norwegians at festivals and parties.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, on a visit to Spain, was greeted by 2,000 Norwegian expatriates waving flags in the town of Torrevieja, where he gave a speech, giving warm greetings in both Spanish and Norwegian. Stoltenberg noted that 40,000 Norwegians live in Spain, roughly 1% of Norway’s current population, and was impressed by the turnout not only from Norwegian citizens but also from Spanish people who also helped celebrate Norway’s Constitution Day. Stoltenberg was later joined by Spanish and Norwegians at the old sailor’s church in Torrevieja, where he placed a wreath commemorating fallen Norwegian sailors.

Boy Scouts, a symbol of Norwegian patriotism, march with Norwegian flags down Karl Johans gate in the 2005 Constitution Day parade.

In Norway, the annual Oslo Children’s Parade, a national institution, occurred in the morning with children from all 111 of Oslo’s schools taking part. The children walked with brass bands playing festive music up Oslo’s main street, Karl Johans gate, to the Royal Palace where they were warmly greeted by the Royal Family. Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit, who greeted children in Asker earlier in the morning, toured the Oslo ward of Grünerløkka in the afternoon. All celebrations in Norway went off with few errors, the most notable being the delay of trains using the Oslo Tunnel, in which a helium balloon floated into the tunnel, causing a brief scare for train operators.

Celebrations for Norway’s Constitution Day occurred all over the world, from a gathering in a Shanghai hotel where 300 Norwegians feasted on imported traditional Norwegian foods, to a street parade in Brisbane, Australia, where the police had to stop traffic for the revelers. Norway’s neighbor Sweden was especially happy on Constitution Day, where Norwegian-Swedes dressed in folk costumes and held up copies of the newspaper Expressen, who deemed Norway’s winning Eurovision song “the best winner since ABBA” and published a large headline in Norwegian, stating “We look forward with you.”

Constitution Day will end with Norway’s new national hero Rybak, deemed “Alexander the Great” in the Norwegian newspapers, arriving at Oslo’s Gardermoen airport at 9:25 p.m. local time (1925 UTC). Record crowds are expected to greet him, as he invited everyone via state television to the airport for his trip home.

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April 30, 2009

Car plows into crowd during Dutch Queen\’s Day celebrations

Car plows into crowd during Dutch Queen’s Day celebrations

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Netherlands
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Location of Apeldoorn in Gelderland

Layout of the incident. Black indicates the path of the car, and purple the path of the coach carrying the royal family.

Five people have died and at least 13 are injured after a car plowed into a crowd in front of Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands during celebrations of Queen’s Day. At around 11:50 local time a black Suzuki Swift went through barriers erected to separate the onlooking crowd from traffic, subsequently striking a monument. Members of the Dutch royal family watched the incident take place from the open-topped bus. The incident was witnessed by many onlookers and photographers as well by media covering the pageant.

“He came out of nowhere and dragged ten to fifteen people. There is blood everywhere and people being resuscitated,” a photographer following the parade for De Telegraaf said.

At around 12:00, all official activities in Apeldoorn were cancelled. Other Dutch cities have also cancelled or scaled back activities, such as the Radio 538 concert in Amsterdam and all celebrations in Rotterdam. The mayor of Apeldoorn stated that, “A good day has ended as a drama.” Offical Flags throughout the Netherlands have been placed at half-mast. The Queen responded in a video speech and expressed her sympathy for the victims.

During a press conference held at 15:45, police reported that the man, who was still conscious but heavily injured after the accident, had told police that it was a deliberate act. It was also reported that the 38-year-old, a Dutch national, had not been in contact with the police until earlier that day when he was stopped at one of the barriers. He has no prior history of psychological problems and there are no indications that any sort of terrorist group was involved.

The Queen’s Day celebrations, observing the birthday of the Dutch monarch, take place annually on April 30. Citizens of the country traditionally celebrate by holding late-night markets and decorating the streets of the Netherlands in orange bunting, honoring the House of Orange.



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March 25, 2009

European Parliament agrees on unified airspace

European Parliament agrees on unified airspace

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Aviation

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On Wednesday, the European Parliament approved the “Single European Sky II” legislation that will lead to the creation of a single European airspace. The single European airspace will result in “more efficient rules, leading to shorter flights, fewer delays and reduced fuel consumption”. In turn, this should result in fewer CO2 emissions and cheaper ticket prices. Implementation should be completed by 2012.

Currently the European airspace consists of 650 parts with 60 different control centers and 27 air traffic control (ATC) zones. International flights have to switch between national air traffic control zones, also known as “blocks”, when they enter another country. This leads to delays and bottlenecks, causing airplanes to consume more fuel.

Euro parliamentarian Corien Wortmann stated that “the EU countries have stepped on the break for years in creating a European airspace, because they wanted to keep influence over their own airspace. Luckily that resistance is now broken.”((translated from Dutch)) Euro parliamentarian Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert agrees: “Everyone agrees – in theory – that this is important for security, efficiency, reliability, cost reduction, capacity improvement en durability. But self-interest of organizations and countries appeared often more important.”((translated from Dutch))

Benefits for the aviation industry over the next ten years are estimated at 2 to 3 billion. CO2 emissions should be cut with approximately 16 million tonnes. As a first step the airspace of Germany, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland will be combined. The European transport ministers are expected to approve the legislation at the end of March.



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March 24, 2009

Youth charged with murdering Northern-Irish police officer

Youth charged with murdering Northern-Irish police officer

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Crime and law
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Location of County Armagh within Northern Ireland.
Image: Ro2000.

Police in Northern Ireland have charged a 17 year old youth with the murder of police officer Stephen Carroll (48) last month, while four others are still being held. Two others were released earlier on Monday, after being questioned for a week.

The youth is also charged with membership of the Continuity IRA and possession of a firearm, according to a spokeswoman for the police in Belfast. He is to appear in court in Lisburn today. He also faces charges for collecting information of use to terrorists.

Responsibility for the shooting had been claimed on behalf of the North Armagh Battalion of the Continuity IRA in a coded message to Belfast media. The murder was widely condemned by political parties in Northern Ireland, the rest of the UK and Ireland.



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January 24, 2009

Details emerge on fatal stabbing at Belgian day care centre

Details emerge on fatal stabbing at Belgian day care centre

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

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Prosecutor Christian Du Four has released more details on the fatal stabbing in a day care center in East Flanders, Belgium, yesterday, in which two children (six and nine months old) and one employee were killed. Ten children and two adults were injured.

The alleged perpetrator, a 20-year-old man from nearby Sint-Niklaas, was arrested in the neighbouring municipality of Lebbeke shortly after the crime. Belgian news website nieuwsblad.be have named the arrested man as Kim De Gelder.

The attack

The attacker wore a bullet-proof vest under his clothes and a backpack containing a knife, an axe and a fake pistol. Two other knives were found near the crime scene.

The prosecutor confirmed that the man’s face was painted white with blackened eyes as he committed the crime, which led international media to make comparisons to the Joker, the villain from the Batman series.

“I have a question,” the killer told the first employee he encountered, after which he immediately stabbed her, and started his rampage. One female day care worker attempted to disarm the killer while others locked the doors. The killer stabbed employees trying to carry children to safety.

The arrested man is not cooperating with the investigation and has not confessed. The prosecutor described his attitude as “passive”. “He says nothing to his questioners. He is absolutely uncooperative,” the prosecutor explained. Yesterday, media reported that the killer was laughing at the officers who were questioning him, but the prosecutor today denied these speculations.

According to the crime scene investigation, the man entered the building through an unlocked side-entrance which gave immediate access to the room with the babies. He stabbed several of them, then went to another room where he stabbed other children. He then fled on the bicycle on which he had arrived.

Location of the stabbing.

Panic struck in Dendermonde amidst fears that the man would attack more crèches or schools. There were reports that the killer carried a note with names and addresses of other day care centres or schools nearby, something which the prosecutor could not comment on. The Associated Press says three judicial officials anonymously confirmed that the attacker carried addresses of three other nurseries. Following news of the stabbings, all schools in Dendermonde were ordered to keep all gates shut.

Eyewitness Hans Staelens told reporters that he had noticed a suspicious character in the street where the day care centre ‘Fable Land’ was located. He described him as “not too tall, thin, red hair, dark eyes, like make-up”.

The alleged killer lived alone and was unemployed, but does not have a criminal record. “There is no element whatsoever that makes us believe he has a psychiatric history,” the prosecutor told the press at a conference today. He has commissioned three psychiatrists to examine the man. Kim D. was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Victims

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One child and one woman died in the day care centre itself, with another child dying in hospital. All injured are reported to be in stable condition. Three children and one adult remain in intensive care. Five others also remain hospitalised, although several are expected to be discharged at some point during the weekend.

54-year-old Marita Blindeman, who was killed in the attack, worked in the day care centre, which was sponsored by social services, since she was 18. Since the death of her father, she lived with, and took care of, both her mother and her sister, who has a learning disability. Just two years ago, she started having a relationship with a man, according to her son in a letter to newspapers.

Only six of the 18 children in the crèche, all under the age of three, were uninjured. Meanwhile, the decision has been taken not to reopen the day care centre, but to provide day care in other facilities. Six employees were present during the attack.

Response to the incident

Friday evening, the Belgian crown prince and his wife visited the crime scene. The couple, who have four children, were moved deeply by the killings.

Some hundred people have signed a mourning registry in Dendermonde’s city hall, and flowers and teddy bears were left at the day care centre. A silent demonstration is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon and a mourning ceremony will be held on Monday evening.

Several media outlets have discussed the safety of day care centres. Minister Veerle Heeren said she would consider additional safety measures if the investigation suggests it, but also added that, “a day care centre should be a haven, not a prison.”

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Fatal stabbings kill three at Belgian day care center” — Wikinews, January 23, 2009

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August 24, 2008

Eight mountaineers missing on Mont Blanc in French Alps after avalanche

Eight mountaineers missing on Mont Blanc in French Alps after avalanche

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mont Blanc in the Alps, is the highest mountain in Western Europe.

Rescue crews have called an end to the search for eight mountaineers who went missing on the French side of Mont Blanc after an avalanche that occurred on at 0100 GMT August 24. Eight other climbers were also injured. Five of the missing are said to be Austrian and three were from Switzerland.

“[There is] no longer any chance of finding someone alive,” stated the interior minister of France, Michele Alliot-Marie who also added that are more people trapped beneath the snow. “Thanks to technology, we know for certain there are people buried under the snow, but it’s impossible to be sure exactly how many.”

Rescuers feared that there would be more avalanches and decided to end the search for survivors in the late afternoon today. The avalanche started at an elevation of 3,600 meters and went down the mountainside for nearly 100 meters, leaving a trail 50 meters wide. Rescuers used helicopters and dogs to search for survivors for a day, but failed to find any.

“[I saw] a wall of ice coming towards us and then we were carried 200 metres,” said one of the survivors from Italy, Marco Delfini who also said he tried to help the others caught in the snow.

There have been many accidents in the Alps this summer, about one hundred climbers have perished since June 1 in France, Italy and Switzerland altogether, of whom about twenty have died on Mont Blanc.



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