US launches cyber security plan

US President Barack Obama has announced plans for securing American computer networks against cyber attacks.

He said that from now on, America's digital infrastructure would be treated as a strategic national asset.

He announced the creation of a cyber security office in the White House, and said he would personally appoint a "cyber tsar".

Both US government and military bodies have reported repeated interference from hackers in recent years.

Mr Obama pointed out that al-Qaeda and other groups had threatened computer warfare.

Acts of terror today, he said, could come "not only from a few extremists in suicide vests, but from a few key strokes of a computer - a weapon of mass disruption."

The president said the United States was particularly dependent on its computer networks and therefore particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks.

In 2007 alone the Pentagon reported nearly 44,000 incidents of what it called malicious cyber activity carried out by foreign militaries, intelligence agencies and individual hackers.

Security priority

Mr Obama said that protecting America's digital infrastructure, the networks and computers everyone depended on every day, would be "a national security priority".

"It is now clear," he said, "this cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation."

He said the United States had failed to invest in its digital infrastructure. "We are not as prepared as we should be," he said.

In the past, no one US department was responsible for cyber-security, resulting in poor communication and co-ordination, he said.

The new cyber-security office will be a multi-billion dollar effort designed to restrict access to government computers and to protect systems - such as those that run the stock exchange and air traffic control - that keep the country going.

But Mr Obama emphasised that it would also help protect individual Americans, adding: "Millions... have been victimised: their privacy violated, their identities stolen, their lives upended, and their wallets emptied."

He pointed out that according to one survey, cyber crime cost Americans more than $8bn over the last two years. Worldwide, it was estimated that cyber criminals stole intellectual property from businesses worth up to $1 trillion.

"In short, America's economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cyber-security," he said.

The Obama administration is also expected to create a new cyber command at the Pentagon with the dual task of eradicating potential vulnerabilities in America's sensitive computer networks, while simultaneously creating ways to exploit them in the systems of potential enemies.

An influential study published last year suggested that having an offensive computer warfare capability would have a deterrent effect against would-be attackers.

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Earthquake hits Mexico City

MEXICO CITY (CNN) A moderately strong earthquake rocked Mexico City on Friday afternoon, shaking the earth in the sprawling capital.

The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake at magnitude 5.7, and placed the epicenter near the city of Puebla, about 85 miles southeast of Mexico City. It hit at 2:24 p.m. local time.

The Mexican seismological service measured the quake at 5.9.

People in the city reported the earth and buildings shaking. Thousands of panicked people streamed into the streets as stopped cars snarled traffic. Parts of the city were without electricity Friday afternoon but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Earthquakes are a frightening experience for the 20 million residents of Mexico City, where thousands of people perished in a massive quake in 1985. The city, built on volcanic ash and clay, is particularly vulnerable to temblors.

Aldo Pontecorvo of the humanitarian agency World Vision said the shaking lasted about 20 seconds. It came out of nowhere and "without any warning," said Pontecorvo, who said he was in his office when the quake struck.

Earlier this month, a moderate earthquake was measured off the coast of Mexico's western Baja California peninsula.

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Brazil food companies Perdigao and Sadia announce they will merge to form Brasil Foods

(Dow Jones)- The merger of Perdigão S/A (PDA) and Sadia S/A (SDA)is likely to boost the exports and help tap new markets such as China, industryanalysts said Tuesday.

The long-awaited action makes the new merged company, Brasil Foods, one of thelargest food companies in the world, with combined revenues estimated at BRL22billion ($10.7 billion)).
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Irish church knew abuse 'endemic'

An inquiry into child abuse at Catholic institutions in Ireland has found church leaders knew that sexual abuse was "endemic" in boys' institutions.

It also found physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of institutions.

Schools were run "in a severe, regimented manner that imposed unreasonable and oppressive discipline on children and even on staff".

The nine-year inquiry investigated a 60-year period.

About 35,000 children were placed in a network of reformatories, industrial schools and workhouses up to the 1980s.

More than 2,000 told the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse they suffered physical and sexual abuse while there.

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, said he was "profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed that children suffered in such awful ways in these institutions".

"This report makes it clear that great wrong and hurt were caused to some of the most vulnerable children in our society," he said.

"It documents a shameful catalogue of cruelty: neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, perpetrated against children."

The five-volume study concluded that church officials encouraged ritual beatings and consistently shielded their orders' paedophiles from arrest amid a "culture of self-serving secrecy".

It also found that government inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rapes and humiliation.

The findings will not be used for criminal prosecutions - in part because the Christian Brothers successfully sued the commission in 2004 to keep the identities of all of its members, dead or alive, unnamed in the report.

No real names, whether of victims or perpetrators, appear in the final document.

Police were called to the commission's news conference amid angry scenes as victims were prevented from attending.

One of the many victims, John Walsh of Irish Survivors of Child Abuse, said the absence of prosecutions had left him feeling "cheated and deceived".

"I would have never opened my wounds if I'd known this was going to be the end result," he said.

"It has devastated me and will devastate most victims because there are no criminal proceedings and no accountability whatsoever."

More allegations were made against the Christian Brothers than the other male orders combined.

The report found child safety was not a priority for the Christian Brothers who ran the institutions, the order was defensive in its response to complaints and failed to accept any congregational responsibility for abuse.

Ritual beatings

The report said that girls supervised by orders of nuns, chiefly the Sisters of Mercy, suffered much less sexual abuse but frequent assaults and humiliation designed to make them feel worthless.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, said those who perpetrated violence and abuse should be held to account, "no matter how long ago it happened".

"Every time there is a single incident of abuse in the Catholic Church, it is a scandal. I would be very worried if it wasn't a scandal... I hope these things don't happen again, but I hope they're never a matter of indifference," he said.

The commission said overwhelming, consistent testimony from still-traumatized men and women, now in their 50s to 80s, had demonstrated beyond a doubt that the entire system treated children more like prison inmates and slaves than people with legal rights and human potential.

"The reformatory and industrial schools depended on rigid control by means of severe corporal punishment and the fear of such punishment," it said.

"The harshness of the regime was inculcated into the culture of the schools by successive generations of brothers, priests and nuns.

"It was systemic and not the result of individual breaches by persons who operated outside lawful and acceptable boundaries.

"Excesses of punishment generated the fear that the school authorities believed to be essential for the maintenance of order."

The report proposed 21 ways the government could recognise past wrongs, including building a permanent memorial, providing counselling and education to victims, and improving Ireland's current child protection services.

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Indian prime minister looks set for second term

NEW DELHI, India (CNN/Believer Inf) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared set for a second term as his Congress party and its allies scored a decisive lead over their opponents on Saturday in a vote count after the country's monthlong general elections.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance surged ahead in more than 255 of the 543 federal parliamentary boroughs, outpacing the main opposition composed of a grouping led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP).

BJP leader Arun Jaitley conceded defeat, stating that the ruling party will win the election.

"We respect this mandate and accept it," Jaitley said.

India's communists, who last year parted ways with the federal government for its civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States, also suffered a massive blow in their stronghold state of West Bengal as they trailed their rivals in more than half of its boroughs.

Singh drove down to the home of Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born head of the Congress party, after trends gave out a clear mandate in favor of the ruling coalition.

Standing beside Gandhi, who once again endorsed the choice of Singh for her party's top job, he thanked voters for their support.

He vowed to maintain a stable government that he said would remain committed to secular values. Singh also remarked that he would like Rahul Gandhi, son of his party chief, to become a member of his new Cabinet.

Deepak Sandhu, the prime minister's spokeswoman, told Believer Infthat Singh is expected to hold a meeting of his current Cabinet on Monday.

The prime minister, whose coalition may need some extra backing to be able to reclaim power with a majority of 272 lawmakers on its side, threw up an invitation to all secular parties to come and support his government.

The fifth and final phase of India's marathon general election to choose a federal government ended Wednesday.

Most of the results of the will be out by the end of the day, election officials said.

India is home to about 714 million voters. About 100 million voters registered for Wednesday's polling.
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Gay protest broken up in Moscow

Police in Russia have broken up a protest by gay rights activists in Moscow, staged to coincide with the final of the Eurovision Song Contest.


Some 30 campaigners had gathered near a university in defiance of a ban on their march and many were dragged away by police when they shouted slogans.

British gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, was among those detained.

A counter-demonstration by nationalist and religious groups was allowed to go ahead elsewhere in the Russian capital.

Equal rights

The gay rights group had been waving flags and chanting slogans demanding equal rights and condemning the treatment of gays and lesbians in Russia.

At least 20 were arrested as police moved in to disperse the protest.

As he was being taken away by police, Mr Tatchell shouted: "This shows the Russian people are not free."

Speaking from a police station, he later told the BBC: "The way the police violently broke up our peaceful protest is an indication of a drift toward authoritarianism that is affecting all Russians."


The organiser of the gathering and leading campaigner, Nikolai Alexeyev, was also detained at the event, which took place in the south-west of the city.

The Eurovision Song Contest traditionally has a large gay following and activists in Russia had seen its staging in Moscow as a great opportunity to highlight what they say is deep prejudice, says the BBC's Moscow correspondent, Richard Galpin.

There have been many attacks on members of the gay community - they also say they risk being sacked by their employers and shunned by their families.

The Moscow mayor Yuri Luzkhov has described gay parades as "satanic".

Anti-gay groups had threatened to take matters into their own hands if the police failed to stop the protest.

Several dozen nationalist and religious protesters earlier staged an anti-gay march near central Moscow.

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Peru 'bar gay people from police'

Peru has announced that it will ban homosexuals from the police force for damaging the image of the institution.

The law is one of several new regulations put forward by the Interior Minister, Mercedes Cabanillas.

Ms Cabanillas is trying to shake up the institution, which has a dismal reputation among the general public.

But critics say some of the new laws, especially those regarding sexual orientation or activity, are unconstitutional.

The law states that any police officer who has sexual relations with someone of the same gender will be indefinitely suspended from the police force.

The same applies to officers who have extra-marital relations - their actions are also deemed to cause scandal and denigrate the institution's image.

They are among a raft of new regulations, which also include provision for sacking police officers who accept bribes, organise or take part in strikes and protest marches.

Ms Cabanillas' strong-arm tactics have earned her some public backing and the nickname "Thatcher" in the Peruvian media, after the former Conservative British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Traditional machismo means openly homosexual police men are extremely scarce, but gay rights activists are growing in strength and this new law will provoke a debate.

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Obama defends abuse photos U-turn

The release of more photos of prisoner abuse by US soldiers is "of no benefit" and may inflame opinion against the US, President Barack Obama has said.

The pictures were not "sensational" and every case of abuse had been dealt with by the military, with action taken where appropriate, he said.

The White House previously said it would not fight a court ruling ordering the release of the pictures.

US civil liberties activists accused Mr Obama of adopting Bush-era policies.

The pictures were due to be released by 28 May, according to the court order.

The order was issued by an appeals court in September 2008, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).


Barack Obama explains why he doesn't want the release of the photos

The US defence department had been preparing to release the images, reportedly taken in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the dispute could now end up before the US Supreme Court.

Speaking outside the White House, Mr Obama said he would not tolerate the abuse of prisoners.

However, he had, he said, directed his legal team to fight the court-ordered release of the photos because he was concerned they might "inflame anti-American opinion and put our troops in greater danger".

The Pentagon had not sought to conceal anything, he added, and appropriate action had been taken against individuals involved in abuses. The president had been advised against publication by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Centcom commander Gen David Petraeus and the commander of US forces in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, a Pentagon official said.

The ACLU said the president's "decision not to release the photographs makes a mockery of President Obama's promise of transparency and accountability".

"It's absolutely essential that these photos be released so the public can examine for itself the torture and abuse that was conducted in its name," ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said.

The human rights group Amnesty International also criticised the president's decision, saying human beings had been "tortured and denied basic rights".

But the switch was welcomed by Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent.

"The fact that the president reconsidered the decision is a strength not a weakness," they said in a joint statement.

The BBC's Richard Lister in Washington says that although President Obama has insisted on the need for open government, it appears that on this issue he has been persuaded that - for now at least - such transparency risks doing more harm than good.

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Leaders meet over power plant row

The presidents of Brazil and Paraguay are meeting to try to resolve a dispute over the Itaipu hydro-electric plant, one of the biggest in the world.

The two countries run the project jointly. But Paraguay uses less power than Brazil.

It says it is obliged to sell its surplus to Brazil at an unfair price.

President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay wants to renegotiate the deal, a demand opposed by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Source of tension

Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in South America and its president comes to Brazil keen to resolve what has been a long-running source of tension between the two sides.

The Paraguayan government believes it is not getting a fair share of the profits from the massive power project.

As the smaller of the two countries it only takes a limited amount of the electricity produced at the plant.

Under the terms of the Itaipu treaty which was negotiated in the 1970s, Paraguay says it is obliged to sell its surplus energy to Brazil at prices well below what it could get on the open market.

The Brazilians say they covered most of the cost of constructing this vast project, and argue that their smaller neighbour has to pay its fair share.

However the debt is huge and Paraguay has threatened to pursue an international court case to dispute the amount involved.

In recent weeks Brazilian ministers have been working on proposals to resolve these contentious issues, but so far there is no sign that what is on offer is enough to bridge the gap between both sides.

President Lugo made it a key part of his election campaign that his country would renegotiate the treaty of Itaipu, arguing that control over the country's energy was a question of national sovereignty.

For the moment talks are continuing, but with little sign of agreement, it may be one for the lawyers after all.

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Deadly floods strike northern Brazil

SAO PAULO, Brazil (CNN) At least 18 people have died in heavy flooding across 11 states in northern and northeastern Brazil, according to a statement Tuesday from Brazil's national civil defense service.

Severe rains and mudslides prompted Brazil's Ministry of National Integration to distribute more than 1,100 tons of food across six states -- Amazonas, Piaui, Maranhao, Para, Paraiba and Acre.

In Maranhao, 22,000 people have been left homeless and 25,000 had to flee their homes, authorities said. Forty-two municipalities in the state have declared a state of emergency. Seven people in the state have died in flooding, according to a statement from the Maranhao civil defense authority.

In Ceara the death toll was at seven, authorities said. More than 11,000 people are in public shelters and another 15,000 fled to friends' or relatives' homes. Six municipalities have declared a state of emergency, according to a statement from Ceara civil defense authority.

In Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia, four people died Tuesday in flooding, authorities said. They were killed when three buildings collapsed after a landslide in the Piraja area.

In Para, at least 1,000 people had to flee their homes. A statement from the Para civil defense authority said 28 municipalities have declared a state of emergency.
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Obama hails unity over al-Qaeda

US President Barack Obama has said after meeting his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts that they are united in the goal of defeating al-Qaeda.


Speaking in Washington, Mr Obama said the goal was to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda" and its allies.

He also pledged greater resources to help civilians in both countries and try to avoid civilian casualties.

Dozens of civilians are thought to have died in US air strikes on Taleban targets in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she "deeply, deeply" regretted the deaths, adding that the US would work hard to avoid such "loss of innocent life".

Meanwhile, Pakistan's army was engaged in bloody operations to reverse a Taleban advance in its northern provinces on Wednesday.

The bottom line at the summit was more American troops for Afghanistan and more aid for Pakistan, with the Obama administration deepening its involvement in the search for stability, the BBC's Kevin Connolly reports from Washington.

'Solid support'

Mr Obama said his counterparts fully appreciated the gravity of the security threats posed by militants.

America, he said, was on the side of people in Pakistan and Afghanistan and had a comprehensive strategy for the region, with civilian and military components.

He said he expected more setbacks and violence to come, but there was a lasting commitment to defeat al-Qaeda.

The US would, he added, offer unwavering support to the governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"We have learned time and again that our security is shared," Mr Obama added. "It is a lesson that we learned most painfully on 9/11, and it is a lesson that we will not forget."

Senior US officials have expressed uncertainty over the commitment of the military in Pakistan, a nuclear power, to defeating militants based in its border region.

Speaking earlier after talks with Mrs Clinton, President Asif Ali Zardari said Pakistan would help Afghanistan and the US to fight the threat posed by the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

"For no matter how long it takes and what it takes, democracies will deliver, my democracy will deliver," he told reporters.

"People of Pakistan stand with the people of the United States and the people of Afghanistan."

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