Isnin, 6 Januari 2014

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The Star Online: World Updates

Deep freeze grips United States, disrupting travel, business

Posted: 06 Jan 2014 08:30 PM PST

CHICAGO/CLEVELAND, Ohio (Reuters) - A blast of Arctic air gripped the vast middle of the United States on Monday with the coldest temperatures in two decades causing at least four deaths, forcing businesses and schools to close and cancelling thousands of flights.

Shelters for the homeless were overflowing due to the severe cold described by some meteorologists as the "polar vortex" and dubbed by media as the "polar pig."

Temperatures were 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (11 to 22 degrees Celsius) below average in parts of Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska, according to the National Weather Service.

Babbitt, Minnesota, was the coldest place in the United States on Monday at minus 37F (minus 38.3C), according to the National Weather Service. It was chillier even than Mars in recent days, where NASA's rover Curiosity showed a high temperature on January 2 of minus 32.8F (minus 36C).

The U.S. cold snap outdid freezing weather in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where it was minus 8F (minus 22C), Mongolia at minus 10F (minus 23C) and Irkutsk, in Siberia, at minus 27F (minus 33C).

More than half the flights at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport were cancelled as fuel supplies froze, leaving crews unable to fill aircraft tanks. The afternoon temperature in Chicago was minus 12F (minus 24C).

The polar vortex, the coldest air in the Northern hemisphere that hovers over the polar region in winter but can be pushed south, was moving toward the East Coast where temperatures were expected to fall into Tuesday. The cold airmass originated over Siberia, the National Weather Service said on its website.

The coldest temperatures in years and gusty winds were expected as far south as Brownsville, Texas, and central Florida, the National Weather Service said.

The Northeast experienced unseasonably mild weather and rain, but authorities warned travellers to expect icy roads and sidewalks on Tuesday. Amtrak planned to operate its trains on a reduced schedule throughout the Northeast corridor on Tuesday, a spokesman said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency, announcing that parts of the New York State Thruway in Western New York would be closed due to extreme winter weather conditions there.

At least four weather-related deaths were reported, including a 48-year-old Chicago man who had a heart attack while shovelling snow on Sunday and an elderly woman who was found outside her Indianapolis home early Monday.

In oil fields from Texas to North Dakota and Canada, the severe cold threatened to disrupt traffic, strand wells and interrupt drilling and fracking operations.

It also disrupted grain and livestock shipments throughout the farm belt, curbed meat production at several packing plants and threatened to damage the dormant wheat crop.

In Cleveland, Ohio, where the temperature was minus 3F (minus 19C) and was forecast to drop to minus 6F (minus 21C) overnight, homeless shelters were operating at full capacity. Shelter operators had begun to open overflow facilities to accommodate more than 2,000 people who had come seeking warmth.

"There are also going to be people that won't go into the shelters," said Brian Davis, an organizer with Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. Frostbite can set in within minutes in such low temperatures, according to experts.

The National Weather Service issued warnings for life-threatening wind chills in western and central North Dakota, with temperatures as low as minus 60F (minus 51C).


Some 4,000 flights were cancelled and 7,500 delayed, according to, which tracks airline activity.

Many airlines could not allow their ground crews to remain outdoors for more than 15 minutes at a time. There were hundreds of cancellations by airlines including United, Southwest, and American.

"The fuel and glycol supplies are frozen at (Chicago O'Hare) and other airports in the Midwest and Northeast," said Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for American Airlines Group. "We are unable to pump fuel and or de-ice."

After five days of scrambling to catch up from storm delays, JetBlue said it would halt operations at three airports in the New York area and Boston Logan International Airport from 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT) Monday until 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) on Tuesday to give crews time to rest.

The bitter cold combined with blowing snow was complicating rail traffic as well. Union Pacific, one of the largest railroads and a chief mover of grains, chemicals, coal and automotive parts, warned customers on Monday that the weather was causing delays up to 48 hours across Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin.

Following last week's storm that dumped up to 2 feet (60 cm) of snow on parts of New England, some shoppers opted for the comforts of home rather than venturing out.

Many people did not have the luxury of staying home.

In the western Chicago suburb of Geneva, Beth Anderson, 38, was shovelling the remains of Sunday's snow from her driveway before sunrise on Monday while warming up her pickup truck for the short drive to her job at a mall.

"I just wish I could get the day off too but it would take more than a bit of weather to close down the mall where I work," she said.

(Additional reporting by Marina Lopes, Phil Wahba and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Chicago; Kay Henderson in Des Moines, Iowa; Heide Brandes in Oklahoma; Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Jana J. Pruet in Dallas; Karen Jacobs in Atlanta; and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Writing by Scott Malone and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker)

China refutes report it will centralise military command

Posted: 06 Jan 2014 07:05 PM PST

BEIJING (Reuters) - China denied on Tuesday a state media report that said its military will establish a joint operational command structure for its forces to improve coordination between different parts of the defence system.

The English-language China Daily newspaper reported last week that the government would implement a joint command system "in due course" and it had already launched pilot programmes to that effect.

"With regards to this, the Defence Ministry has clarified that the relevant report is groundless," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

The People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, and its sister tabloid, the Global Times, carried the denials on Monday, citing unidentified ministry sources. The ministry posted the People's Daily report on its website on Tuesday.

China has been moving rapidly to upgrade its military hardware, but military analysts say operational integration of complex and disparate systems across a regionalised command structure is a major challenge.

In the past, regional-level military commanders have enjoyed major latitude over their forces and branches of the military have remained highly independent of each other, making it difficult to exercise the centralised control necessary to use new weapons systems effectively in concert.

The Defence Ministry reiterated a statement last November by its spokesman, Yang Yujun, saying that establishing a joint operational command system was a "necessary requirement".

"In this regard, our army has actively explored this," Yang said, adding that it would form a "joint operational command system with Chinese characteristics". He did not elaborate.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Panama Canal proposes joint financing to end cost row

Posted: 06 Jan 2014 04:45 PM PST

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - The head of the Panama Canal proposed on Monday that it and a Spanish-led consortium expanding the major maritime cargo artery plug a financing gap between them, and said the sides had agreed to talks on Tuesday to defuse a row over huge cost overruns.

The governments of Spain and Panama distanced themselves from the dispute, saying it should be resolved by the Panama Canal Authority and the consortium led by Spanish construction company Sacyr.

Halting work on the $5.25 billion project to widen and deepen the canal would be a setback for companies eager to increase cargo volumes passing through the century-old waterway, especially the first-ever liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from the U.S. Gulf coast to Asian markets as well as other bulk commodity shipments.

"We are talking about some additional funding that they would have to put up and we could also provide," Jorge Quijano, the head of the Panama Canal Authority that administers the waterway, told reporters after meeting with visiting Spanish public works minister, Ana Pastor, who is mediating.

"We have set out what we can do to contribute, as long as they also contribute," he added.

There was no immediate word from building consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) on the proposal.

"Tomorrow they will be able to advance on the financing for what remains of the project," Pastor told a news conference.

"There is good will on the part of the canal and I think also on the part of the consortium. Now it depends on them, the parties, to reach agreements," she added, saying she would remain in Panama through Tuesday evening.

Earlier on Monday, Spain's ambassador to Panama, Jesus Silva, said his government would provide no financial help to Sacyr in sorting out the dispute that is overshadowing one of the world's most important maritime cargo routes.

Last week, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli accused the consortium of "great irresponsibility" when it threatened to suspend work on January 20 if the Panama Canal Authority did not pay for big cost overruns.

The GUPC also includes Italy's Salini Impregilo, Belgium's Jan De Nul and Panama's Constructora Urbana.

Arguing that the project to build a third set of locks for the canal had suffered unforeseen setbacks, the GUPC said last week it had faced $1.6 billion in added costs. It blamed the Panama Canal Authority for carrying out flawed studies of the geological terrain.

Martinelli had earlier turned on Spain and Italy, saying their governments had given him assurances that they would finish the $3.2 billion project to build the locks, prompting Pastor to fly to Panama to seek an end to the impasse.

On Monday, both he and Pastor said their governments would stay out of the spat.

"The canal authority and the consortium need to resolve all their problems between themselves," Martinelli said after meeting with Pastor. "We are sure that the meetings being held will resolve any conflict."

"What the Panamanian government and the government of Spain want most, what everyone wants, is for the Panama canal expansion to be finished," he added.

If the parties fail to reach a middle ground to split the difference over the cost overruns, the project could potentially be offered up to other companies.


On Sunday, the PCA maintained a firm stance, again rejecting the GUPC's arguments on the overruns, and referred the consortium to the arbitration panels the two sides agreed on when the contract was signed.

Quijano told Spanish newspaper El Pais that the two-page letter the GUPC had submitted last week did not justify its demands and that the consortium would need to provide more detailed information to make a viable case.

If work on the project did stop, the authority could take steps to ensure it was completed regardless, "be it by a third party or by the PCA," Quijano told the paper.

Sacyr won the canal contract in 2009 with an offer that was considerably lower than that of at least one rival, as well as below the $3.48 billion reference set by the PCA.

Less than six months later, Martinelli, Panamanian Vice President Juan Carlos Varela and other top officials were already worried about how the project was progressing, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks.

The canal expansion has been one of the top priorities for the government of Martinelli, whose term ends mid-year.

Sacyr, whose debts at the end of September were three times its market capitalization, has also staked a lot on the canal expansion.

The company made 55 percent of its revenue outside Spain in the first nine months of 2013, and Panama contributed 25 percent of its 1.3 billion euros ($1.78 billion) in international sales, according to its 2013 nine-month earnings statement.

Sacyr shares closed up 6.01 percent to 3.387 euros per share on Monday, in heavy volume of 12 million shares, but are still down from their level of 3.767 euros per share at the close of trade December 31, before the consortium announced its threat to stop work on the project.

The Panama Canal dispute has put a spotlight on another project in the works in Central America, a $40 billion canal planned in Nicaragua, which is also trying to cash in on the North American energy boom.

In June last year, Nicaragua granted a 50-year concession to the Hong Kong-based HKND Group to design, build and manage a canal aimed at giant oil and gas-bearing supertankers, many heading from the United States to Asia, that will not fit through the Panama Canal even after its expansion.

HKND is currently conducting feasibility studies and construction on the project, viewed by many with scepticism, is not set to begin until at least January 2015.

Manuel Coronel Kautz, the head of the Nicaragua Canal authority, told Reuters on Monday that Panama's impasse would not affect its own project timetable.

"What's going on in Panama is totally off our radar," he said. "The decisions to construct the Nicaragua canal were based on the perspective of serving the vessels that can't pass through the Panama canal."

(Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami, Fiona Ortiz in Madrid and Gabriel Stargardter and Julia Symmes Cobb in Mexico City; Writing by Dave Graham and Simon Gardner; Editing by Nick Zieminski, David Gregorio and Ken Wills)


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