Ukraine's NATO Ambition, Ebola Origins, Runaway Beauty Queen

A Buddhist monk blesses an elephant before the King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in Bangkok.
A Buddhist monk blesses an elephant before the King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in Bangkok.

Friday, August 29, 2014

NATO officials are holding an emergency meeting in Brussels this morning after it released satellite imagery showing “well over 1,000” Russian troops in Ukraine, warning that 20,000 more were “amassed at the border,” the Financial Times reports. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, meanwhile, announced that Kiev would seek to join NATO, a decision that is likely to provoke strong reaction from Moscow.

"There is no doubt that this is not a home-grown, indigenous uprising in eastern Ukraine," U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday. Stopping short of calling growing Russian intrusion into Ukraine an "invasion," Obama nevertheless accused Russia of being responsible for the upsurge in violence in the country's eastern regions. According to UN figures released this morning, 2,593 have died since mid-April.

Russian officials called NATO’s evidence “a hoax,” characterizing the accusations as “ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak is holding talks in Moscow with the EU’s energy commissioner, as Brussels wants to secure its gas supplies for the winter. According to Reuters, Russia renewed its offer to Kiev of a $100 discount per 1,000 cubic meters but said deliveries wouldn’t resume until Ukraine paid a $1.45 billion gas debt.

A Buddhist monk blesses an elephant before an elephant polo match at the King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament on the outskirts of Bangkok. Proceeds from the annual event are used to help rehabilitate elephants rescued from abuse.

U.S. President Barack Obama explained yesterday that Washington had not yet decided on a strategy against ISIS in Syria, insisting that “we’re going to have to do that with other partners. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” he said. This came amid new reports from Syria, including one from The Washington Postrevealing that James Foley and other hostages were waterboarded several times by the Islamist terrorists, a technique said to be modeled on what the CIA used in interrogations after the 9/11 attacks.

ISIS has posted another gruesome video allegedly showing the beheading of a Kurdish man in Iraq, just hours after it claimed to have marched some 200 Syrian soldiers in their underwear through the desert to execute them. Read more from The Independent.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said that three million people have been forced to flee Syria since the war started three-and-a-half years ago, while more than six million have been displaced inside the country. “The Syria crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era,” he said.

Malaysia Airlines is set to cut 6,000 jobs — 30% of its workforce — as part of a $1.9 billion restructuring. The carrier has suffered significant losses, as bookings fell dramatically this year after the MH370 and MH17 tragedies.

The Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone originated from the funeral of a traditional healer that took place in May, infecting at least 14 women, a team of geneticists revealed in a study. According to The New York Times, they also found that this strain was different from one that has been circulating in central Africa since the 1970s. This comes as scientists announced they will begin safety trials of an experimental drug on volunteers next week. Yesterday, the World Health Organization warned that as many as 20,000 people were at risk of being infected, with already 1,552 deaths recorded this year.

As Kommersant reports, the Kremlin is spinning domestic protectionism and anti-West food sanctions as a way to help Russia's farmer. But it's really just a recipe of pure politics — and bad economics. "Our great country doesn't have the same mission as Europe," the newspaper quoted Motherland party leader Aleksei Zhuravlev as saying. "We don't exist in order to ensure everyone is OK and has sausage and yogurt. No, we have a greater mission." As the newspaper writes, “Now that ‘greater mission’ has set its sights on trade in food products, and it could still restrict trade in automobiles or consumer goods. For Russian consumers, the future is completely unpredictable.”
Read the full article, The True Cost Of Russia's Food Patriotism.


Icelandic authorities have raised aviation alert to red after the country’s largest volcano, Bardarbunga, began erupting overnight, AFP reports. A no-fly zone was put in place, although there are not yet signs of spewing ash. But a bigger explosion could trigger disruptions in Europe’s air traffic, four years after that caused by another Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull. Another volcano eruption in Papua New Guinea has led to the evacuation of several communities.

Google has been working and testing drones for the express delivery of parcels, a project not unlike what Amazon unveiled earlier this year, according to The Atlantic. But Project Wing could ultimately do a lot more than just deliver items to shoppers. As the BBC explains, the long-term goal is for these drones to be used to deliver aid in disaster hit areas, for example after earthquakes or floods.

The first Burma national to win an international pageant has been stripped of her title for being rude and dishonest, the AP reports. Worse, she has allegedly run off with $10,000 breast implants awarded by the pageant’s sponsors and a $100,000 tiara.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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