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The Star Online: World Updates

Analysis of possible plane debris slowed by vast size of satellite data

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 09:10 PM PDT

WASHINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) - Delays in identifying satellite images that may show debris of a missing Malaysian plane in the southern Indian Ocean were due to the vast amounts of data that needed to be analysed, Australian authorities and the U.S. company that collected the images said.

Australia rushed four international aircraft to an area about 2,500 km (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth on Thursday after analysis of satellite images identified two large objects that may have come from the Malaysia Airlines plane that went missing almost two weeks ago with 239 people aboard.

DigitalGlobe Inc, a Colorado-based company that collects satellite imagery for the U.S. government and other countries as well as private companies, confirmed it had collected the images on March 16. It did not say when the images were provided to Australian authorities.

Australian Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss said on Friday the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is leading the search for the Boeing 777 airliner in the southern Indian Ocean, had only received the satellite images on Thursday morning.

However, the data was analysed by Australia's Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO) before that.

"That was essentially because of the work that was required to essentially identify whether these pictures were relevant, whether the lead was sufficiently promising to shift the search area to that location," Truss told Australian Broadcasting Corp.


DigitalGlobe spokesman Turner Brinton declined to comment on whether the debris was spotted by the company's own analysts, government analysts or Internet users participating in a "crowdsourcing" effort launched by the company to help locate the plane.

Brinton said more than 6.3 million users were involved in the effort, looking at more than 485 million "map views," which accounted for more than 120,000 sq km of imagery. More than 6.7 million features had been tagged by the crowd, he said.

Australia's Defence Department, which is responsible for DIGO, declined to comment further on Friday on the process and timeline involved in examining the images.

Brinton said the company's five high-resolution satellites capture more than 3 million square km of earth imagery each day.

"This volume of imagery is far too vast to search through in real time without an idea of where to look," Brinton said.

"Given the extraordinary size of the current search area, the lengthy duration of the analysis effort was to be expected," he said in a statement.

Truss said DIGO was continuing to comb through satellite images, even as five aircraft were due to resume the physical search on Friday.

"That work will continue, trying to get more pictures, stronger resolution so that we can be more confident about where the items are, how far they have moved and therefore what efforts should be put into the search effort," Truss said.

The larger of the objects pictured on March 16 measured up to 24 metres (79 feet) long and appeared to be floating in water several thousand meters deep, Australian officials said. The second object was about five metres (16 feet) long.

While describing the images as a credible new lead deserving of the intense physical search underway, Australian and Malaysian authorities have cautioned that the debris in the pictures might not be related to the missing plane.

Still, Steve Wood, a former U.S. intelligence officer who headed DigitalGlobe's analysis unit until July 2013, said the images would allow U.S. and foreign government agencies, and private companies, to launch a more focused search of data gathered by radars, satellites, ships, and other sources at the same time.

"You've now got a bullseye in your search," said Wood.

(Additional reporting by Jane Wardell in Sydney; Editing by Leslie Adler and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Seoul set to announce meeting of South Korean, Japanese leaders

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 08:52 PM PDT

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is likely to announce on Friday President Park Geun-hye will meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the first time in a trilateral meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a global summit next week, officials in Seoul said.

The meeting in The Hague comes amid chilled ties between the Asian neighbours over anger in South Korea that Japanese leaders have not atoned for Japan's wartime aggression, including the use of mostly Korean sex slaves.

"As for the South Korea-U.S.-Japan (summit), I understand the Foreign Ministry will be making an announcement in the afternoon," Ju Chul-ki, Park's top foreign affairs aide, told reporters. He declined to provide further details.

The three-way meeting, if it takes place next week during a nuclear security summit, will be a partial compromise by Park after Washington pressed Seoul and Tokyo to improve ties ahead of Obama's visit to the region next month.

The three leaders are expected to focus their discussions on security tensions created by North Korea's pursuit of nuclear and missile programmes and sidestep the delicate issue of Japanese wartime history, news reports said.

The summit looked more likely after Abe's acknowledgement last week of a previous government apology to "comfort women" forced to serve in wartime military brothels, which was seen in Seoul as a softening of his nationalistic tone.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Choonsik Yoo and Paul Tait)

Thai court could declare February election void

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 08:51 PM PDT

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's Constitutional Court was due to rule on Friday on the validity of a general election held in February that was disrupted by protesters, with speculation growing it could void the vote, adding to the political turmoil in the country.

The protests are the latest chapter in an eight-year crisis that pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the army in 2006 and lives in exile to avoid a jail term for graft.

Now in their fifth month, the protesters have shut government offices and at times blocked major thoroughfares in Bangkok to try to force Yingluck out. Twenty-three people have died and hundreds have been injured in the violence.

The court complaint was brought by a law lecturer who argues among other things that the February 2 election was unconstitutional because voting did not take place in all areas on the same day.

Yingluck called the election in December to try to defuse the protests and since then has headed a caretaker government with limited powers. The violence and political paralysis has dented confidence, prompting cuts to economic growth forecasts.

Yingluck's Puea Thai Party had been expected to win but the main opposition Democrat Party threw in its lot with the protesters and has demanded electoral changes before any vote, aimed at reducing the influence of Thaksin. Parties led by or allied to him have won every election since 2001.

The protesters retreated this month to a Bangkok park and the battleground has moved from the streets to the courts. Yingluck faces a spate of legal challenges that could bring down her government, including a charge of dereliction of duty related to a disastrous rice-buying scheme.

Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters, who are strong in the north and northeast, are beginning to make militant noises, raising the prospect of more violence if Yingluck is forced out by the courts, the anti-corruption commission or by other means.

"Independent agencies are being quite obvious that they want to remove her and her entire cabinet to create a power vacuum, claim that elections can't be held and then nominate a prime minister of their choice," said Kan Yuenyong, a political analyst at the Siam Intelligence Unit.

"If they run with this plan, then the government's supporters will fight back and the next half of the year will be much worse than what we saw in the first half," he said.

The streets have been relatively calm since several big protest sites were shut at the start of March and a state of emergency was lifted on Wednesday.

However, police reported that three grenades exploded just before midnight on Thursday near the home of one of the Constitutional Court judges. One person was slightly injured.

(Additional reporting by; Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Michael Perry)


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