Sabtu, 30 November 2013

The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

China to launch moon rover on Monday


BEIJING: China will launch its first ever moon rover mission on Monday, state media said, as Beijing embarks on the latest stage in its ambitious space programme.

 A rocket carrying the vehicle, named "Jade Rabbit" in a nod to Chinese folklore, will blast off at 1:30 am local time (Sunday 1730 GMT).

"The Chang'e 3 is set to be launched for its moon mission from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Dec. 2," state broadcaster CCTV said on its verified Twitter account on Saturday.

Official news agency Xinhua also confirmed the launch date, citing officials at the satellite launch centre.

If successful, the launch will mark a major milestone in China's space exploration programme, which aims to create a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send someone to the moon.

But its technology currently lags behind the expertise of the United States and Russia.

Beijing sees its military-run space programme as a marker of its rising global stature and growing technological might, as well as the ruling Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

China has previously sent two probes to orbit the moon, with controllers sending the first of them crashing into the lunar surface at the end of its mission.

Early in November, Beijing offered a rare glimpse into its secretive space programme when it put a model of its six-wheeled moon rover on public display.

The rover was later named 'Yutu', or jade rabbit, following an online poll in which more than three million people voted.

The name derives from an ancient Chinese myth about a white rabbit that lives on the moon as the pet of Chang'e, a lunar goddess who swallowed an immortality pill.

Ouyang Ziyuan, head of the moon rover project, told Xinhua earlier this week that the ancient beliefs had their origins in the marks left by impacts on the lunar landscape.

"There are several black spots on the moon's surface. Our ancient people imagined they were a moon palace, osmanthus trees, and a jade rabbit," he said.

The rover's designer, Shanghai Aerospace Systems Engineering Research Institute, claims several technological breakthroughs with the vehicle.

The Shanghai-based institute, a unit of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., which is linked to the military, says the advances include its "autonomous" navigation system and the way the wheels are able to grip the powdery surface of the moon.

It can climb inclines of up to 30 degrees and travel up to 200 metres (yards) per hour, according to the institute. -AFP

Defiant Thai protesters target telecoms firms


BANGKOK: Thai opposition protesters marched on key state communications targets Saturday after vowing a final push to topple the government, as the capital braces for mass rival rallies.

Defiant demonstrators have besieged key government buildings in Bangkok in the biggest street protests since mass rallies in 2010 degenerated into the kingdom's worst civil strife in decades.

The protesters - a mix of royalists, southerners and the urban middle class sometimes numbering in their tens of thousands - are united by their loathing of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The controversial former telecoms tycoon was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile, but he is widely believed to be the real power behind the embattled government of his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Several thousand anti-government protesters were scattered across five bases in the capital Saturday, according to city police.

But turnout is expected to spike over the weekend as organisers seek a final push ahead of celebrations for revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej's birthday on December 5, which is traditionally marked in an atmosphere of calm and respect.

They have declared Sunday a "day of victory", with plans to gather near the heavily guarded Government House, besiege more important buildings - even Bangkok's zoo - and to tighten their blockade of government ministries.

Protesters on Saturday began surrounding offices of Telephone Organisation of Thailand (TOT) and Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT), two key state telecoms firms.

"We will control the area, like we did at the finance ministry, and ask staff not to work. So on Monday everything will shut down," rally spokesman Akanat Promphan told AFP.

But the ICT ministry insisted that back-up systems were in place and communications in Thailand would not be affected.

Protesters are demanding the end of the "Thaksin regime" and want to replace the government with an unelected "people's council".

Provocative protests

Demonstrators on Friday forced open the gates of the compound of the army headquarters in Bangkok and occupied the lawn inside for several hours, calling on the military to support their fight to bring down the government.

It was the latest in a string of provocative moves targeting a symbol of state power, which have made headlines but failed to rattle the government into acting to disperse their rallies.

"The prime minister has given clear orders for authorities to deal leniently with protesters and not to use violence," a deputy prime minister Pracha Promnog said on television Saturday.

Yingluck has faced down a barrage of legal and institutional challenges in recent weeks from the opposition Democrat Party, many of whose members have taken to the streets with the anti-government protesters.

Her ruling Puea Thai party came to power in 2011 elections on a wave of Thaksin support, after a bloody 2010 military crackdown on "Red Shirt" protests under the then Democrat-led government left some 90 people dead.

The pro-Thaksin Red Shirts also plan a weekend rally, with around 20,000 people gathered in a stadium in Bangkok early Saturday. But they have so far shown no intention of taking to the streets of the capital.

Thaksin is adored by many of the country's rural and urban working class but hated by many southerners, middle-class Thais and the Bangkok elite, who see him as corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.

He remains a hugely divisive figure seven years after he was deposed by royalist generals. Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election for more than a decade but Yingluck has given no indication that she is thinking of calling fresh polls as a way out of the crisis.

In a statement released Friday, army chief Prayuth Chan-O-Cha urged protesters to respect "the democratic process under the law", urging people to come together ahead of the king's birthday.

The generals are traditionally seen as staunch defenders of the monarchy with close links to its supporters in the royalist "Yellow Shirt" protest movement - the arch-rivals of the Red Shirts.

But they have so far shown little appetite for getting involved in the latest standoff.

The protests snowballed after the ruling party tried to introduce an amnesty that could have allowed Thaksin's return, and have continued despite the Senate's rejection of the bill. -AFP

Japan's imperial couple leaves for official India tour


TOKYO: Japan's royal couple left Tokyo for India on Saturday, starting the first-ever official visit there by a Japanese emperor.

"I hope our visit will contribute to further enhancing the understanding and friendship between the two countries which marked the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations (last year)," Emperor Akihito said at Haneda airport.

Akihito and Empress Michiko are beginning a week-long visit, meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other top officials in New Delhi before flying to the southern city of Chennai.

The trip is the first by any Japanese emperor to India although Akihito, 79, visited there in the early 1960s when he was crown prince.

In a message released earlier this week, the emperor remembered his last official trip to India that took place in 1960, one year after his marriage.

"I still recall fondly how Their Excellencies President Rajendra Prasad, Vice President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru welcomed us most graciously in Delhi," he said.

"These leaders had overcome various challenges in leading the country to independence and in the following years since independence.

"I feel it was profoundly meaningful for us to have had the opportunity to meet with these great leaders when we were young - we were still in our mid-twenties then," he said in the written comment.

Japan's emperor is the nominal head of state and does not enjoy political powers. But customarily, the emperor's visit to any country is highly significant and signals a peak in bilateral ties. -AFP


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