Jumat, 10 April 2009

Indian in record chilli attempt

Anandita Dutta Tamuly and Gordon Ramsay
Ms Tamuly was disappointed she had not managed more

An Indian mother is set for an entry into the Guinness World Records after eating 51 of the world's hottest chilli in two minutes.

Anandita Dutta Tamuly, 26, gobbled up the "ghost chillis" in front of visiting British chef Gordon Ramsay in the north-eastern state of Assam.

Ms Tamuly told Associated Press she "felt terrible" - because she had managed 60 in an earlier local event.

Mr Ramsay tried a chilli but said "it's too much" and pleaded for water.

He is in Assam for a television shoot of a global food series.


Guinness World Records accepted in 2007 that the ghost chilli was the world's spiciest at more than one million Scoville units, the measure of spiciness, twice the heat of its closest rival.

A standard green chilli has about 1,500 units.

The chilli record took place on Thursday in Jorhat, 300km (200 miles) north-east of state capital, Guwahati.

Ms Tamuly told AP she used to eat the chilli as a child "while children of my age roamed the village to look for berries".

Atul Lahkar, a local chef, told the Times of India that Ms Tamuly also "smeared seeds of 25 chillies in her eyes in one minute with the crowd simply awestruck".

The previous record for eating was held by a South African with eight jalapenos in a minute.

Guinness World Records has not yet formally confirmed the record.

Obama sees 'hope' for US economy

US President Barack Obama has said he sees "glimmers of hope" in the economy, but warned that the system remained under "severe strain".

Speaking after a meeting with his top economic advisers, he said there was still "a lot of work to do".

Mr Obama promised more action on the economy in the coming weeks.

He said he and his team had discussed the stability of the financial system, the housing market and plans to help banks clear their books of bad assets.

breaking news

Russia 'will buy Israeli drones'

Russian forces withdraw from Georgia, October 2008
Performance of Russia's drones was criticised during the Georgia conflict

Russia has signed a deal to buy Israeli unmanned spy planes to help the country improve its own drones, reports say.

The news comes after reports that Moscow was unhappy with the performance of similar Russian aircraft during the conflict last year with Georgia.

An industry source in Israel said Russian generals had been impressed with the Israeli drones used by Georgia in the conflict.

Reports say the Israeli planes will cost a total of $50m (£35m).

Russia's deputy defence minister, Vladimir Popovkin, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the military had signed a contract to buy an unspecified number of pilotless drones.

"I was in Israel and even operated one," RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying.

He added that Russia wanted to study the technology of the drones in an effort to improve its own pilotless planes, which came under criticism during the Georgia conflict.

Mr Popovkin said Russia had used a Tipchak drone during the fighting with Georgia, but that it had "very many problems", RIA-Novosti reported.

"You could hear it flying from 100km away," RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying. "It returned all shot up."

The chief of staff of Russia's armed forces said in December that Moscow was negotiating with Israel to buy a batch of spy drones.

Charles Darwin's egg rediscovered


A look at Charles Darwin's rediscovered egg in Cambridge

An egg collected by Charles Darwin during his voyage on HMS Beagle has been rediscovered at Cambridge University.

The small dark brown egg, with Darwin's name written on it, was found by a retired volunteer at the university's zoology museum.

It bears a large crack, caused after the great naturalist put it in a box that was too small for it.

The egg is the only one known to exist from Darwin's Beagle collection.

The Cracked Egg
The significance of the egg was only seen later

At one time it was thought there were a dozen or more.

It was spotted one day in February by volunteer Liz Wetton, who spends a day each week sorting eggs in the Museum's collection.

She said: "It was an exhilarating experience. After working on the egg collections for 10 years this was a tremendous thing to happen."

It was the collections manager, Mathew Lowe, who first realised the importance of the specimen.

"There are so many historical treasures in the collection, Liz did not realise this was a new discovery," Mr Lowe told BBC News.

"To have rediscovered a Beagle specimen in the 200th year of Darwin's birth is special enough, but to have evidence that Darwin himself broke it is a wonderful twist."

Dr Mike Brooke, the museum's curator of ornithology, traced the specimen's origin in the notebook of Professor Alfred Newton, a friend of Darwin's and a professor of zoology in the late 19th century.

Newton had written: "One egg, received through Frank Darwin, having been sent to me by his father who said he got it at Maldonado (Uruguay) and that it belonged to the Common Tinamou of those parts.

"The great man put it into too small a box and hence its unhappy state."

Darwin himself mistook the bird for a partridge at first. And in his notebooks from 1833, he wrote that the bird had a "high shrill chirp" and that its flesh was "most delicately white" when cooked.

The museum's director, Professor Michael Akam, said: "This find shows just how valuable the work of our loyal volunteers is to the museum".

Sweden targets strippers for tax

Sweden's tax authorities are seeking the bare facts about webcam strippers' income, estimating that hundreds of Swedish women are dodging the law.

Woman in skirt (file pic)
Webcam stripping is proving lucrative for some Swedish women

The search involves tax officials examining websites that feature Swedish strippers, in an effort to identify them and chase them for tax returns.

The tax loss is estimated at about 40m Swedish kronor (£3.3m) annually.

Project leader Dag Hardyson said 200 Swedish strippers had been investigated so far. He said the total could be 500.

"They are young girls, we can see from the photos. We think that perhaps they are not well informed about the rules," said Mr Hardyson, head of the tax authority's national project on internet trade.

The investigation into strippers is part of a wider tax project that includes online poker and fake trader locations.

Detective work

Mr Hardyson told BBC News that the strippers could be liable to pay about half of their earnings in tax. Striptease via webcam is quite legal in Sweden, unlike prostitution, he added.

"I don't think they have any costs really - almost 100% of what they earn is pocketed. Many have regular work and this is extra income. We want them to register their activity as a business - it's still taxable, even if it's a hobby," he said.

He stressed the difficulty of identifying strippers, saying the contact information on the websites was often "not obvious".

"We have to visit the companies behind the websites to get the information, then we have to work with the electronic wallets where the money is going in."

He said the Swedish tax authorities had been tipped off about Swedish internet strippers by the Dutch authorities, who had started a similar investigation earlier.

Web search tools like spiders had failed to detect the Swedish strippers.

"When we investigated the sites manually it worked better," he added.

Captain 'tried to escape pirates'

The US captain taken hostage by Somali pirates managed to jump off their lifeboat overnight but was recaptured, according to US media reports.

The escape attempt by Capt Richard Phillips was witnessed by a US navy ship nearby but happened too fast for it to come to his aid, NBC News says.

He was captured after a struggle on his ship, Maersk Alabama. Pirates seized the ship but the crew fought them off.

The US navy is bolstering its forces in the area to combat the pirate captors.

After a lull earlier this year, the Maersk Alabama was the sixth ship hijacked off Somalia in the past week.

Andrew Mwangura, of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, told the BBC at least 18 vessels were now being held in Somali waters, with at least 267 crew members held hostage.

Ukrainian ship MV Faina seized on 25 September 2008, held until 5 February 2009
Saudi tanker Sirius Star held for two months from November 2008; a $3m ransom was negotiated
At least 15 pirate attacks reported to International Maritime Bureau during March 2009
The 32,500-tonne Malaspina Castle, UK-owned but operated by Italians, seized on 6 April 2009.

There are thought to be four pirates with Capt Phillips in the lifeboat, which has reportedly run out of fuel, and it is not yet clear what they are demanding.

The Maersk Alabama is reportedly sailing for the Kenyan port of Mombasa under armed guard.

Gen David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, said reinforcements would arrive within 48 hours, adding that a warship was already very close to the lifeboat.

But other hijacked ships with hostages aboard are also reported to be nearing the area to support the pirates on the lifeboat.

Top priority

There has been rising concern over the fate of Capt Phillips.

"The safe return of the captain is the top priority," US Defence Secretary Robert Gates told reporters in Washington.

BBC map

The cruise-missile carrying USS Bainbridge was sent to the scene in a move analysts say will strengthen the hand of US negotiators.

The destroyer is shadowing the lifeboat, and its officers are talking to the pirates, as well as giving them food and batteries for a two-way radio.

Capt Phillips has a radio and contacted the navy and crew of his ship to say he was unharmed, the Maersk shipping company said in a statement.

FBI experts are helping negotiate his release.

Analysts have said negotiations could be lengthy, with the pirates likely to want a hefty ransom for the captain as well as compensation for a boat that was wrecked in the attack.

Pirate reinforcement

Mohamed Samaw, a Somali who claimed to have a "share" in a British ship hijacked this week, told AP news agency two hijacked ships had left the pirate stronghold of Eyl on Wednesday afternoon.

File photo of the USS Bainbridge
The USS Bainbridge remains close to the scene of the stand-off

He said a further two seized vessels were also sailing towards the lifeboat.

Two of the ships have some 54 hostages aboard, from China, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, the Philippines, Tuvalu, Indonesia and Taiwan.

A man identified as a pirate named Badow told AP: "They had asked us for reinforcement and we have already sent a good number of well-equipped colleagues, who were holding a German cargo ship."

He said there was no intention of harming the captain, as long as the pirates holding him were not hurt.

"All we need, first, is a safe route to escape with the captain, and then (negotiate) ransom later," he said.

Destabilisation concern

The cargo ship, carrying food aid destined for Somalia and Uganda, was seized about 500km (311 miles) off Somalia's coast in the early hours of Wednesday.

Capt Phillips' sister-in-law Lea Coggino says he is "a smart guy who is in control"

After a long struggle, the crew members regained control of the ship.

It is thought that Capt Phillips offered himself as a hostage in order to save his crew.

Zoya Quinn, wife of the ship's second officer, told the Associated Press that Capt Phillips had told the crew to lock themselves in a room and that the pirates, who were "desperate", searched all over the ship for them.

The crew held a wounded pirate for about 12 hours, dressing his wounds "because he was bleeding all over the ship", she said, after communication with her husband Ken by phone and e-mail.

Somalia has been without an effective government since 1991, fuelling the lawlessness which has allowed the pirates to thrive.

Pirates typically hold the ships and crews until large ransoms are paid by the shipping companies - last year the firms handed over about $80m (£54m).

Efforts to stop the pirates have so far had only limited success, with international naval patrols struggling to cover the vast areas of ocean where pirates operate.

The UN's Somalia envoy, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, told Reuters that piracy was threatening to destabilise the region.

In what may prove an important test case, Kenyan officials are currently seeking to try seven pirates captured by US forces in February, the Wall Street Journal reports.

It has previously proved difficult to prove national jurisdiction because pirate attacks usually take place in international waters.

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Telegraph Captain attempts to escape Somali pirates - 41 mins ago
94Country WKKJ BREAKING: Captain attempts to escape pirates and fails - 49 mins ago
Sydney Morning Herald US skipper fails in attempt to escape from pirates holding him captive - 50 mins ago
Reuters Defiant pirates block U.S. hostage's escape bid - 52 mins ago
San Francisco Chronicle Pirates Holding Captain Demand Ransom - 1 hr ago

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Sabtu, 04 April 2009

OECD names and shames tax havens

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has published its blacklist of non-cooperative tax havens.

Costa Rica, Malaysia, and the Philippines are the countries listed as not having agreed to tax standards.

Uruguay had originally been listed too, but later protested that it had been wrongly included.

After listening to its arguments the OECD said it was happy the country had agreed to its tax transparency rules.

The list is part of efforts agreed at the G20 summit to clamp down on havens.

There is also a list of 38 places that have agreed to improve standards but not yet done so, such as Gibraltar, Liechtenstein, Andorra and San Marino.

'Willing to co-operate'

On Thursday, G20 leaders agreed to take sanctions against tax havens using the OECD list as its basis.

In their communique, they agreed, "to take action against non-cooperative jurisdictions, including tax havens".

"We stand ready to deploy sanctions to protect our public finances and financial systems. The era of banking secrecy is over."

Uruguay had objected to its inclusion on the list, published earlier on Friday.

The South American country sent a letter to Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the OECD, from its finance minister Alvaro García.

He informed the OECD that Uruguay had formally endorsed the body's standards on transparency and exchange of information.

"I am pleased that Uruguay joins a growing number of nations willing to co-operate in fighting tax evasion and other tax abuses," said Mr Gurria.


Angel Gurria, secretary general of the OECD, said that the G20 summit had helped to focus minds on the issue of tax havens.

There were frosty negotiations between France and China over the inclusion of Macau
Paul Mason, BBC Two Newsnight economics editor

The tax haven that vanished

"We've had more progress in the last two weeks on this matter than we've had in the last 10 or 12 years," he told the BBC.

He added that the progress had come despite the leaders not specifying what sanctions they would take.

"[Non-cooperating countries] will move because they know the question of sanctions, however ill-defined that was, is going to affect them somehow."

The Philippines is already reported to be taking steps to remove itself from the blacklist.

"The Philippine government would take the necessary steps to ensure we meet their expectations," Trade Secretary Peter Favila told the Associated Press news agency.

"It is really up to us to prove them wrong."

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that his country should not be on the blacklist at all.

"We should not be in that category as, in practice, we have been committed to OECD requirements," he said in a statement.