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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

Man convicted over orangutan, tiger skulls in Australia

Posted: 01 May 2014 08:46 PM PDT

SYDNEY, May 2, 2014 (AFP) - A man was Friday convicted on 24 charges of possessing illegal wildlife products, including orangutan and tiger skulls, following the biggest seizure of such items in Australian history.

John Kolettas, 44, pleaded guilty after police raided his Sydney home last year and found 78 illegal products made from 24 threatened species.

They included 11 orangutan skulls and 25 other skulls of monkeys, lynx, bears and a tiger. Other items included teeth and skins from orangutans, lynx, otters, and a feather headdress made from a bird of paradise.

Kolettas was jailed for a year, fined Aus$4,000 (US$3,700) and ordered to do 384 hours of community service for the possession of specimens listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

"Wildlife trafficking is a cruel and often barbaric trade that has become more widespread and lucrative and is now valued at billions of dollars worldwide," said the department of environment.

"The community - particularly collectors, travellers and online shoppers - should be aware of what they are buying, what it is made of, and where it is from.

"Without realising it they may be contributing to the decline of threatened species, simply by purchasing what initially looks like a bargain."

Australia is one of 178 nations that are signatories to CITES, with the importation of endangered species, or parts of them, illegal without a permit.

What's in a name? Dummy candidates confuse Indian voters

Posted: 01 May 2014 08:38 PM PDT

NEW DELHI, May 2, 2014 (AFP) - Indian politician Chandulal Sahu, standing for the second time for a seat in parliament, was irritated but not surprised when he saw he was running against seven competitors who share his name.

Popular Bollywood actor Hema Malini, contesting in the holy city of Mathura, is up against two other Hema Malinis while veteran politician Amarinder Singh faces a similarly confusing challenge in northern Punjab.

Even Narendra Modi, the election frontrunner for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), briefly faced a threat from a namesake in his constituency in the western state of Gujarat.

Far from a coincidence, these "dummy" candidates are an age-old trick in Indian politics designed to fool voters who might mistakenly select the wrong person once inside the polling booth.

The tactic might have reached its high-water mark in Sahu's constituency in central Chhattisgarh state, which voted last Thursday during India's huge multi-phased general elections.

"What can one do? It's a conspiracy by my rivals. But such gimmicks won't work," Sahu told AFP. "Voters in my area are aware and I am confident they will vote for the right Sahu."

Political parties often scout for namesakes and then fund their election expenses in order to pit them against rivals in constituencies where a few hundred votes could swing the result.

The unknown candidate is given his or her party symbol, which is usually designed to look like the one used by the more famous rival.

A new anti-corruption party that shot to fame last year during state elections in New Delhi has seen one of its star campaigners shadow boxing against his namesake.

Ashutosh, a former TV anchor who uses one name, is a leader of the rookie Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party whose symbol is a broom.

The unknown Ashutosh uses a carrot which when shown in black and white on the electronic voting machines looks deceptively similar to the AAP logo.

"Voters are bound to get confused because of two Ashustoshes," an Aam Aadmi Party spokeswoman told AFP.

Not illegal

Although it's not illegal, of late the Election Commission has been trying to keep a tab on these dubious contestants.

Delhi's additional chief electoral officer Neeraj Bharati said the onus lay with the real candidates to expose the fakes.

"We put up a list of all contesting candidates next to their symbols outside every polling booth for awareness," he said.

"But it really boils down to the real candidates. They must do good propaganda and expose the proxy candidate," he added.

Vinod Kapri, editor-in-chief of News Express TV network which recently exposed how dummies were set up, explained why it was worth investing time and money in the underhand tactics.

"Even if the dummy manages to eat a little bit into the share of his namesake, the job is done as the victory margins are often narrow," he explained. "If you give him big money, he will do anything for you."

The elections, the world's biggest, end on May 16 when results will be published.

The BJP is widely expected to sweep to power, ending a decade of rule by the left-leaning Congress party, with Modi tipped to become prime minister.

Modi faced a challenge in his Gujarat constituency of Vadodara from another Narendra Modi who is a member of the Congress party. The unknown candidate pulled out fearing reprisals.

Images suggest N. Korea testing ICBM engine

Posted: 01 May 2014 08:28 PM PDT

SEOUL, May 2, 2014 (AFP) - New satellite imagery indicates North Korea has been testing the engine for an inter-continental ballistic missile, a US think-tank said Friday, amid concerns the North is also preparing a nuclear test.

The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said images of the North's main rocket launch site suggested one "and maybe more" tests of what is probably the first stage of a KN-08 road-mobile ICBM.

With this latest activity, three KN-08 rocket engine test series have been identified for the first and possibly second stages dating back to mid-2013, the institute said on its closely followed website, 38 North.

"As this effort progresses, the next technically logical step in the missile's development would be a flight test of the entire system," it said.

North Korea successfully put a satellite into orbit in December 2012 on a rocket - the Unha 3 - that Pyongyang said was designed for purely scientific missions.

The international community said the launch was a disguised ballistic missile test and the UN Security Council tightened existing sanctions as a result.

The Unha-3 stood 30 metres high, and the 38 North post said the satellite images showed the gantry at the Sohae launch site was being modified to take larger rockets of up to 50 metres in height.

"Construction may not be completed until early summer, effectively preventing a launch from the facility in the meantime," it said.

The signs of engine testing come amid concerns that the North is on the verge of carrying out a fourth nuclear test in the face of stern international opposition.

Separate satellite imagery of the North's main Punggye-ri nuclear test site has shown stepped-up activity consistent with preparations for a test.

Missile delivery has often been cited as the main weakness of the North's nuclear weapons programme which, after three tests, is believed to be close to mastering the key technology of warhead miniaturisation.

The successful 2012 satellite launch caused serious concern, but experts stressed that it lacked the re-entry technology needed to bring an ICBM down onto a target.

Models of the road-mobile KN-08 missile have been given pride of place in North Korean military parades in 2012 and in July last year.

But several experts ridiculed the models, with at least one respected aerospace engineer labelling them technically preposterous and a "big hoax".

If there is disagreement over how close the North might be to a reliable, working ICBM, there is no doubt that developing one is a national priority.

And a successful test of such a missile would take the nuclear threat posed by the North to an entirely new level.


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