Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Humans push planet beyond boundaries towards "danger zone": study

ROME (Reuters) - Human activity has
pushed the planet across four of
nine environmental boundaries,
sending the world towards a
"danger zone", according to a
study published on Thursday in
the journal Science.
Climate change, biodiversity loss,
changes in land use, and altered
biogeochemical cycles due in
part to fertilizer use have
fundamentally changed how the
planet functions, the study said.
These changes destabilize
complex interactions between
people, oceans, land and the
atmosphere, said the paper
"Planetary Boundaries: Guiding
human development on a
changing planet" by 18 leading
international researchers.
Passing the boundaries makes
the planet less hospitable,
damaging efforts to reduce
poverty or improve quality of life.
"For the first time in human
history, we need to relate to the
risk of destabilizing the entire
planet," Johan Rockstrom, one of
the study's authors and an
environmental science professor
at Stockholm University told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Scientists in 2009 identified and
quantified the nine planetary
boundaries within which
humanity can develop and thrive.
The five other boundaries -
ozone depletion, ocean
acidification, freshwater use,
microscopic particles in the
atmosphere and chemical
pollution - have not been
crossed.
Passing the boundaries does not
cause immediate chaos but
pushes the planet into a period
of uncertainty.
Scientists consider climate
change the most serious crossed
boundary.
The amount of carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere, a gas causing
the planet to warm, has
exceeded 350 parts per million
to the present 395 parts per
million, crossing the boundary of
what scientists think to be
acceptable.
"We are at a point where we may
see abrupt and irreversible
changes due to climate change,"
Rockstrom said, as warming
could cause Arctic ice sheets to
melt releasing more greenhouse
gases and creating a vicious
feedback loop.
The study results are set to be
incorporated into the new global
development goals that will be
finalised in September at the
United Nations in New York to
replace the Millennium
Development Goals on poverty
alleviation expiring this year.
Scientists hope the new study
will help balance competing
demands for economic growth
and environmental sustainability
which are likely to arise during
the conference.
Despite a steady drumbeat of
grim warnings, food prices have
declined the past four years,
indicating that wild weather
linked to climate change is not
destroying harvests worldwide.
Commodity prices, a measure of
scarcity for energy and other
basic goods, are also falling,
leading some economists to
question warnings from climate
scientists and environmentalists.
"Just because we are not seeing
a collapse today doesn't mean
we are not subjecting humanity
to a process that could lead to
catastrophic outcomes over the
next century," Rockstrom said.

Climate change, extinctions signal Earth in danger zone: study

OSLO (Reuter) - Climate change and high rates of extinctions of animals and plants are pushing the Earth into a danger zone for humanity, a scientific report card about mankind's impact on nature said on Thursday.

The Beagle has landed: Britain's missing spacecraft found on Mars

LONDON (Reuters) -
Britain's "Beagle 2" spacecraft,
once dubbed "a heroic failure" by
the nation's Astronomer Royal,
was re-branded "a great
success" on Friday for being
found on Mars 11 years after
going missing.
Beagle 2, part of a European
Space Agency's Mars Express
mission searching for
extraterrestrial life, had been due
to land on Mars on Christmas Day
2003, but disappeared on
December 19, 2003. Until now,
nothing had been heard from it.
But at a packed news conference
at London's Royal Society
scientific institution on Friday,
space experts said the tiny Mars
lander had been found on the
surface of the red planet.
"Beagle 2 is no longer lost," said
David Parker, chief executive of
UK Space Agency.
He said recent images from the
HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter showed
"good evidence" that the
spacecraft landed on Mars on the
date it was due -- Dec. 25, 2003
-- but had only partially deployed.
"The entry, descent and landing
sequence for Beagle 2 worked
and the lander did successfully
touch down on Mars on
Christmas Day 2003," UK Space
Agency said in a statement.
Beagle 2 -- measuring less than 2
meters across -- was named after
the ship Charles Darwin sailed
when he formulated his theory
of evolution. It was built by
British scientists led by Colin
Pillinger for about 50 million
pounds ($85 million)
The plan was for it to report back
from the Mars' surface using
instruments designed to help
search for signs of life, but
nothing was heard after it was
dropped off to make its landing.
"We were left with a mystery, a
mystery that has continued to
this day," Parker said.
Mark Sims from Leicester
University, Beagle 2's mission
manager, said that while the
spacecraft had failed to
communicate any data from
Mars, it had succeeded in getting
to its target, landing, and
inspiring scientists. "Overall, I
would say Beagle 2 was a great
success," he told the news
conference.
Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer
Royal, last year praised Beagle 2
and its eccentric creator Pillinger,
who had died at age 70, saying:
"This was a failure, but a heroic
failure."
Sims said the find was exciting,
frustrating and "tinged with
sadness" because Pillinger did
not live to see it.
Asked to suggest what might
have gone wrong, Sims said: "It
was most probably a bad luck
scenario -- a hard landing."

Last year was Earth's hottest on record, U.S. scientists say

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) -
Last year was Earth's hottest on
record in new evidence that
people are disrupting the climate
by burning fossil fuels that
release greenhouse gases into
the air, two U.S. government
agencies said on Friday.
The White House said the studies,
by the U.S. space agency NASA
and the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA), showed climate change
was happening now and that
action was needed to cut rising
world greenhouse gas
emissions.
The 10 warmest years since
records began in the 19th
century have all been since 1997,
the data showed. Last year was
the warmest, ahead of 2010,
undermining claims by some
skeptics that global warming has
stopped in recent years.
Record temperatures in 2014
were spread around the globe,
including most of Europe
stretching into northern Africa,
the western United States, far
eastern Russia into western
Alaska, parts of interior South
America, parts of eastern and
western coastal Australia and
elsewhere, NASA and NOAA said.
"While the ranking of individual
years can be affected by chaotic
weather patterns, the long-term
trends are attributable to drivers
of climate change that right now
are dominated by human
emissions of greenhouse gases,"
said Gavin Schmidt, director of
NASA's Goddard Institute of
Space Studies in New York.
"The data shows quite clearly
that it's the greenhouse gas
trends that are responsible for
the majority of the trends," he
told reporters. Emissions were
still rising "so we may anticipate
further record highs in the years
to come."
U.N. studies show there already
are more extremes of heat and
rainfall and project ever more
disruptions to food and water
supplies. Sea levels are rising,
threatening millions of people
living near coasts, as ice melts
from Greenland to Antarctica.
PARIS MEETING IN DECEMBER
Next December, about 200
governments will meet in Paris to
try to reach a deal to limit global
warming, shifting to renewable
energies. China and the United
States, the top emitters of
greenhouse gases, say they are
cooperating more to achieve a
U.N. accord.
The new data "is another
reminder that climate change is
not a problem for the future - it's
happening here and now and
we can't wait to take action," a
White House official said in a
statement.
Opponents of the proposed
Keystone XL pipeline that would
transport Canadian crude oil
across the United States said the
new data made it all the more
pressing to prevent the
construction of the pipeline.
But U.S. Senator James Inhofe, a
Republican who is the Senate's
leading climate change skeptic,
said the temperature difference
between 2014 and 2010 was so
insignificant as to prove there
was no need for more stringent
regulations by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
"Human activity is clearly not the
driving cause for global
warming, and is not leading our
planet to the brink of devastation
that many alarmists want us to
believe," he said.
The U.N.'s Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
says it is at least 95 percent
probable that human activities,
rather than natural variations in
the climate caused by factors
such as sunspots, are to blame
for rising temperatures.
Still, a Paris deal will be hard to
achieve since curbs on fossil fuel
use are unpopular in many
nations. Low oil prices may also
discourage a shift to cleaner
wind and solar power.
"The political challenges of
organizing countries to respond,
particularly through the UN
process, remain very high,"
Michael Levi, a fellow on energy
and environment at the Council
on Foreign Relations in New
York, told Reuters.
Rowan Sutton, director of climate
research at Britain's National
Centre for Atmospheric Science at
the University of Reading, said a
single year did not mean much
because it might be a freak hot
year.
"But the fact that now 14 of the
15 warmest years on record
have occurred since the turn of
the century shows just how clear
global warming has become," he
said.
Even so, temperatures have not
risen as fast as they did in the
1980s or 1990s, taking an
unusually warm 1998 as a
starting point. The IPCC has
described it as a hiatus in
warming.
NO EL NINO FACTOR
Since 1880, Earth's average
surface temperature has warmed
by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit
(0.8 degree Celsius), NASA said.
The NASA and NOAA analyses
showed that the world's oceans
all warmed last year, offsetting
somewhat more moderate
temperatures over land.
The average temperature across
global land and ocean surfaces
was 1.24 degrees F (0.69 degree
C) above the 20th century
average, NOAA said.
The scientists noted that the
record was set in a year that did
not have the weather pattern
known as El Niño, which can heat
up the atmosphere and has been
a factor in many past record-
setting years, including 1998.
The United Nations says it is
already clear that promises for
emissions curbs at the Paris
summit will be too weak to get
on track for a U.N. goal of limiting
global warming to 3.6 degrees F
(2 degrees C) above pre-
industrial times.

China posts slowest growth in 24 years, more support measures seen

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) -
China's economy grew at its
slowest pace in 24 years in 2014
as a cooling property market
weighed on demand and is
expected to lose more
momentum this year, keeping
pressure on policymakers to
head off a sharper downturn.
But analysts said a slightly better-
than-expected performance in
the fourth quarter could temper
Beijing's policy response, if the
government and central bank
believe the strains on the world's
second-largest economy are
starting to ease.
China's economy grew 7.4
percent in 2014, official data
showed on Tuesday, barely
missing its official 7.5 percent
target but the slowest since
1990. It expanded 7.7 percent in
2013.
Fourth-quarter growth held
steady at 7.3 percent from a year
earlier, marginally better than
expected, though it cooled from
the previous three months.
Few had expected China to meet
its 7.5 percent full-year target,
but the performance was better
than feared at one point when
credit collapsed, bad loans spiked
and key activity indicators fell to
multi-year lows.
A series of modest support
measures from the government
over the year helped stave off
worries of a more dramatic
slowdown, without fueling a
sharp rise in China's mountain of
debt which the country's leaders
are trying to avoid.
"This is the best possible miss
you could have from a
messaging standpoint," said
Andrew Polk, economist at the
Conference Board in Beijing.
"The government is saying,
'we're not married to this
specific target, we missed it and
we're okay.' That seems to me a
quite positive development."
However, Polk said the figure
was difficult to square with more
negative signs emerging from
other parts of the economy.
China's property market - a major
driver of demand across a range
of domestic industries - has
proven stubbornly unresponsive
to policy support, and lending
data from the banking system
shows enduring weakness
despite policymakers' repeated
and varied attempts to boost
investment.
The weak property market and
high funding costs remain key
risks facing the economy in
2015.
Policymakers also are concerned
about the potential onset of a
deflationary cycle, aggravated by
plummeting energy prices,
industrial overcapacity and
sluggish demand.
At the same time, there may be a
looming crisis among debt-
sodden local governments which
are facing strains from sliding
property sales, on which they rely
for much of their revenue.
In another worrying sign, power
output growth in China, used by
some as a proxy for economic
performance, posted its slowest
growth rate since 1998 at 3.2
percent.
BETTER THAN EXPECTED
December data posted numerous
upside surprises after a weak
November. Factory output rose
7.9 percent versus expectations
for 7.4 percent, while retail sales
rose 11.9 percent, above
predictions of 11.7 percent.
However, growth in fixed asset
investment, a key growth driver,
eased to 15.7 percent in the
whole of 2014 from the previous
year, below forecasts for a 15.8
percent rise, hovering near a 13-
year low.
Underscoring the drag on the
economy from the housing
sector, investment growth in real
estate slowed to a five-year low
and new construction slumped,
even as sales improved at the
end of the year. [ID:nL4N0UZ1F1]
"We think (property) sales may
improve somewhat but for me,
what is important is
construction. I don't see housing
starts picking up till next year ...
given that there's a lot of
inventory," said UBS economist
Wang Tao in Beijing.
MORE EASING OR LESS?
A further slowdown in China
could hinder the chances of a
revival in global growth in 2015,
which right now is being led by
what the World Bank calls the
"single engine" of strong hiring
and activity in the United States.
With China's growth seen cooling
further to 7 percent this year or
less, according to a Reuters poll,
more support measures are still
expected, though economists are
divided over how much more will
be needed.
"The overall numbers lower the
need for further stimulus,
although there remains some
room for easing as risks are still
skewed to the downside," said
Dariusz Kowalczyk, economist at
Credit Agricole in Hong Kong.
He expected the central bank to
cut interest rates again in the
first quarter, after a surprise
move in November, and slash
banks' required reserve ratio
(RRR) by 100 basis points in the
first half of 2015 to spur more
lending.
Others, however, think Beijing
may have to get more aggressive,
even at risk of reinflating asset
bubbles, given the need to
reduce debt burdens at Chinese
companies which are inhibiting
them from fresh investments.
"I don't expect monetary policy
to accelerate growth, though"
said Wang of UBS.
"Final demand in the economy is
very weak and it's unlikely that
the corporate sector will take this
credit and invest in new projects,
so containing financial risk and
stabilizing growth is the trend
for this year."
MARKET REACTION
Chinese stock markets (.CSI300)
(.SSEC) rose more than 1 percent
after the data, after posting their
worst loss in more than 6 years
on Monday as authorities
clamped down on lending which
was being used to speculate on
stocks.
Expectations of further stimulus
made China's stocks the best
performers in the world in 2014,
with gains exceeding 50 percent.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

19 killed in rebel fire on Syria's Aleppo

The main hall of the state congress building set on fire by protesters in Chilpancingo, Guerrero State, Mexico. (Pedro Pardo, AFP)Beirut - At least 19 people were killed overnight by Syrian rebel fire on government-controlled parts of the northern city of Aleppo, a monitor said on Friday.

Egypt hearing in Al Jazeera case lasts minutes

Cairo - A defence lawyer says the appeal hearing for three Al-Jazeera English journalists imprisoned in Egypt is over,

Italy doctor with Ebola has recovered – reports

Rome - An Italian doctor who contracted Ebola in west Africa has recovered from the disease after undergoing experimental treatment,

Cameroon recruits 20,000 to fight Boko Haram

Cameroon recruits 20,000 to fight Boko HaramLAGOS — Cameroon has said it is recruiting 20,000 more defence and security forces to fight Boko Haram following reports that the terrorist group, based in Nigeria, is recruiting young Cameroonians to fight for them.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Nicki Minaj talks about having an abortion

Los Angeles - Nicki Minaj has admitted her abortion is the "hardest thing" she's gone through.

The 32-year-old rapper has opened up about her decision to have a termination when she was just a teenager in high school and admits it is a decision that has "haunted" her "all (her) life".

Khloé Kardashian admits dating after marriage is weird

Khloe Kardashian is to marry Lamar Odom. (AP)Los Angeles - Khloé Kardashian thinks dating "is so weird."

Friday, 2 January 2015

AirAsia crash: 7 more bodies recovered

Indonesian military officers carry wreckage from AirAsia flight QZ8501, lost over the Java Sea, at the military base in Pangkalan Bun, the town with the nearest airstrip to the crash site, in Central Kalimantan. (AFP)Pangkalan Bun - Investigation into the AirAsia crash has turned to the ocean floor, with more sonar equipment and metal detectors

2 injured as plane veers off runway in Scotland

South Korea's Korean Air plane sits on the tarmac at Gimpo airport in Seoul. (Jung Yeon-Je, AFP)London — Scotland's ambulance service says two people were injured when a plane veered off a runway on Scotland's wind-whipped Isle of Lewis.
The Saab 340

My lesbian story— Yvonne Nelson

Yvonne NelsonCan this be true? culled from Vanguard

"My interview with top Ghanaian actress – Yvonne Nelson-was a revelation in so many ways. Of the leading Nollywood stars, Yvonne is among those I had not had a close relationship with.

I had watched her from afar, seen countless number of her movies and had always thought she was a great and talented actress – someone who combined poise, beauty and style. I had also heard of some unsavory things ascribed to her – the rumors of sexual orientation which some say verged between pure lesbianism and bi-sexualism – all manner of shenanigans that had been whispered and published about her.

Some years ago, she came out with a movie, “Heart of Men”, in which she seemed to have appeared in frontal nudity– a development that set off a firestorm of protest among Nollywood lovers –with many condemning the exploitation of graphic sexual images to promote and sell movies – which was a deviation of what Nollywood had always been seen to represent: a family friendly entertainment medium.
Yvonne Nelson

Yvonne Nelson

Added to an alleged fight for supremacy between her and fellow Ghanaian actress – Jackie Appiah – a development that was said to have resulted in her much publicized one-year ban from Nollywood- you begin to have a profile of an actress who may come across as a diva and somewhat opinionated.

It was with mindset that I welcomed the chance to interview Yvonne Nelson, when her representative called and informed me that the pretty actress was in New York, and would love to talk to me. And so, on the balmy and unseasonably warm evening of March, 2012,

I drove to the Marriot Hotel located at the heart of Times Square, Manhattan, where she was staying, to do this interview.

Bad girl roles

The first revelation was that Yvonne Nelson is an exceedingly pretty actress –far prettier in real life than in her movies. Second, she is a far cry from those bad girl roles she plays in movies. Yvonne neither smokes nor drinks. An offer of drinks from me was flatly but graciously rejected. Her depiction as a diva also felt flat because the Yvonne that I saw and interviewed was thoroughly grounded and even shy.

So why all the misconceptions?, I asked her. In a diction and vocal cadence that showed a highly educated and urbane mind, Yvonne told me she had been hugely misunderstood. “That is why I am willing to address some of those misconceptions now. Even though it pains me to have to talk about them, but I will. I am nothing close to the roles I play in movies. People should understand that I am an actresses and I get scripts that expect me to act in a certain manner. As a consummate professional, I am not going to turn down those scripts because

I was expected to act in a certain manner,”she said. “I am aware that some people took exception to the role I played in the movie “Heart of Men” where there appeared to be some form of frontal nudity, but the truth of the matter is that there was no such overt display of nudity. But let’s even for the sake of argument say there was some nudity, why are we so judgmental and somewhat hypocritical?

The same people who took issues with that movie watch Hollywood movies where sexually graphic scenes are shown in a most morally appalling manner. We don’t condemn such roles; we, as a matter of fact, celebrate such roles. I am not an advocate of nudity or sexually graphic images in our movies. I have actually spoken against some of those tendencies; I will never appear frontally nude in any movie no matter the fees promised.

“I have morals and my morals are held closely to my chest. As you may recall, I was not the only person in that scene; there were others, and I am always at a loss when my role appeared to have been the one that garnered the most reaction. If you have been following the industry, which I believe you do, overt resort to nudity has been greatly reduced. It was a phase-one that was experimented by some producers and realizing that it ran counter to the values that Nollywood orGallywood espoused, the producers went back to doing stories that are heavy on family values.”

One of the rumors that dominated the industry, last year, was one that centered on her sexual orientation. It was widely speculated that Yvonne Nelson was a lesbian or, at best, a bi-sexual. Until this moment, Yvonne had not commented on that rumor and when I asked her what her real sexual orientation was, she looked me straight in the eye and said “look at me….what do you think? Of course, I am not a lesbian.

Lesbianism is against my religious beliefs, it’s against my cultural norms and I think it was very mischievous for people to insinuate such about someone they hardly knew. The rumor was started by a notorious website in Ghana last year when they reported that they had never seen me with a man. In their warped and twisted calculation, I was thus a lesbian. Can you imagine such crass reasoning?

That they had not seen me with a man, and may have seen me with my girlfriends going out to have fun, and then automatically I was a lesbian. It was a hatchet job – an attempt to discredit me, but they all failed. I am heterosexual and would remain one till the end. When you are in the public light as I have been blessed and privileged to being, your life becomes a public property and some mischievous people will say all manner of things about you. It comes with the territory, so I forgive them.”

‘Jim Iyke and I’

Sometime ago, it was also reported that Yvonne was in involved in a hot romance with Nollywood actor – Jim Iyke. Jim Iyke then was hot and heavy with the Jamaican model – Ketura Hamilton – an affair that has since ruptured."

Two Germans killed in Nigeria

Berlin -Two German men have been killed in Nigeria, the foreign ministry in Berlin said Wednesday, as media reported they were engineers shot dead while on a motorcycle trip.

Alicia Keys welcomes second son

Alicia Keys wants to take peple with her on an African trip. (AP)Los Angeles - Alicia Keys gave birth to son Genesis Ali Dean early Saturday morning. It's baby number two for the Grammy-winner

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Indonesian frog is one of a kind - and not because of its fangs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Its fangs are not what makes the newly identified Indonesian frog species Limnonectes larvaepartus unique on Earth. The way it makes babies does.

This little amphibian from the rain forests of Indonesia's island of Sulawesi is the only one of the world's 6,455 frog species to give direct birth to tadpoles, eschewing the common froggy practice of laying eggs, scientists said on Wednesday.

"Reproduction in most frogs could not be more different from human reproduction. In this case, what is most interesting, ironically, is that the reproductive mode is more similar to our own," said herpetologist Jimmy McGuire of the University of California, Berkeley, whose research appears in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

This frog, usually gray or brown, measures about 1-1/2 inches long (40 mm), weighs less than two-tenths of an ounce (5 grams) and belongs to the Asian group of fanged frogs. Males possess two fang-like projections from the lower jaw that are used in fighting.

The frog lives along small streams and puddles in rainforest habitats, doing its best to avoid being eaten by larger fanged frog species as well as snakes and frog-munching birds.

Its mode of reproduction sets this frog apart.

"The vast, vast majority of frogs have external fertilization. For mating, the male grips the female around the waist and releases sperm as she releases her eggs," McGuire said.

Those eggs mature through stages including the aquatic tadpole larval phase, typically limbless with a tail that propels it through the water.

About a dozen frog species rely on internal fertilization, McGuire said. All but the newly identified one either deposit fertilized eggs or give birth to froglets, essentially miniature versions of an adult that already passed through a modified tadpole stage while still in an egg capsule inside the female.

The female Limnonectes larvaepartus (meaning "marsh swimmer that gives birth to larvae") instead gives birth to tadpoles.

"It's totally unclear why this mode of reproduction has not evolved more frequently," McGuire said.

"My favorite topic when it comes to frog evolution and diversification is the bewildering variation in reproductive modes that occur. Frogs exhibit all sorts of interesting twists."

There have been frogs that swallowed their eggs and brooded them in the stomach, a species in which the male broods the eggs in his vocal sac, and many species that carry eggs and tadpoles in pouches on their backs and sides, he said.
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Search for AirAsia jet's black box recorders could 'take a week'

PANGKALAN BUN/SURABAYA, Indonesia (Reuters) - Heavy seas held back divers waiting to inspect the possible wreck of an AirAsia Indonesia jet off Borneo on Thursday and an aviation official said it could be a week before the black box flight recorders are found.

Five crews among 47 divers were on standby to investigate a large shadow sighted by a search and rescue pilot. Rescuers believe it may be the Airbus (AIR.PA) A320-200, which was carrying 162 people when it crashed on Sunday en route from the city of Surabaya to Singapore.

"I am hoping that the latest information is correct and aircraft has been found," airline boss Tony Fernandes tweeted on Thursday. "Please all hope together. This is so important."

But Toos Sanitiyoso, an air safety investigator with the National Committee for Transportation Safety, said it could take a week to find the black box, suggesting there was still doubt over the plane's location.

"The main thing is to find the main area of the wreckage and then the black box," he told reporters.

Committee head Tatang Kurniadi said the focus of the search, once the waters had calmed as expected in five days, was around the shadow and that rescuers would use five ping locators - two from Indonesia, two from Singapore and one from Britain.

"We are backtracking from where the wreckage was found to where the plane had its last reading and that is the focus of our search," Kurniadi said.

"The depth around here is 50 meters. No specialist equipment (is required). Divers can go get it."

But officials made clear there had been no confirmation that the sighted object was the missing plane.

Frogman commander Lieutenant Edi Tirkayasa said the weather was making the operation extra hard.

"What is most difficult is finding the location where the plane fell - checking whether the aircraft is really there," he told Reuters.

"This is very difficult even with sophisticated equipment. With weather like this, who knows? We are still hopeful and optimistic that they'll find it. They must."

Investigators are working on a theory that the plane stalled as it climbed steeply to avoid a storm about 40 minutes into the flight.

So far, at least seven bodies have been recovered from waters near the suspected crash site, along with debris such a suitcase, an emergency slide and a life jacket.

The bodies are being taken in numbered coffins to Surabaya, where relatives of the victims have gathered, for identification. Authorities have been collecting DNA from relatives to help identify the bodies.

"We are asking universities to work with us - from the whole country," said Anton Castilani, executive director at Indonesia's disaster victims identification committee.

Most of those on board were Indonesians. No survivors have been found.

Relatives, many of whom collapsed in grief when they saw the first grim television pictures confirming their fears on Tuesday, held prayers at a crisis center at Surabaya airport.

"UNBELIEVABLY" STEEP CLIMB

The plane was traveling at 32,000 feet (9,753 meters) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid bad weather. When air traffic controllers granted permission for a rise to 34,000 feet a few minutes later, they received no response.

A source close to the probe into what happened said radar data appeared to show that the aircraft made an "unbelievably" steep climb before it crashed, possibly pushing it beyond the Airbus A320's limits.

"It appears to be beyond the performance envelope of the aircraft," he said.

The source, who declined to be identified, added that more information was needed to come to a firm conclusion.

Online discussion among pilots has centered on unconfirmed secondary radar data from Malaysia that suggested the aircraft was climbing at a speed of 353 knots, about 100 knots too slow, and that it might have stalled.

The Indonesian captain, a former air force fighter pilot, had 6,100 flying hours under his belt and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, according to AirAsia Indonesia, which is 49-percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia (AIRA.KL).

Three airline disasters involving Malaysian-affiliated carriers in less than a year have dented confidence in the country's aviation industry and spooked travelers.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared in March en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew and has not been found. On July 17, the same airline's Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

On board Flight QZ8501 were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain. The co-pilot was French.

The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002.

Separately, an AirAsia Indonesia pilot was taken off flying duties on the route from Jakarta to the holiday island of Bali on Thursday after a urine test indicated traces of morphine.

"From our early interview with the pilot, he said he was hospitalized for typhus and was infused from Dec 26-29," airline CEO Sunu Widyatmoko told reporters.

"Until today, he still consumes medication. One of them is Actifed (a cough syrup). In a narcotics test, cough medication could cause the false alarm of drug intake."
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Shanghai New Year's Eve stampede kills 36 after fake money thrown from building

SHANGHAI - A stampede killed at least 36 people during New Year's Eve celebrations in Shanghai, authorities said, possibly caused by people rushing to pick up fake money thrown from a building overlooking the city's famous Bund waterfront district.

The government in China's gleaming business capital said large crowds started to stampede in Chen Yi Square on the Bund just before midnight in the cosmopolitan city's worst disaster since 58 died in an apartment building fire in 2010.

The trigger for the stampede has still to be confirmed, but state media and witnesses said it was at least partly caused when people tried picking up coupons that looked like bank notes.

A man who brought one of the 47 injured to hospital for treatment said fake money had been thrown down from a bar above the street as part of the New Year's Eve celebrations. People rushed to pick up the coupons, triggering the stampede, said the man, who gave his family name as Wu.

Cui Tingting, 27, said she had picked up some of the bank notes but had thrown them away when she realized they were fake.

"It's too cruel. People in front of us had already fallen to the floor, and others were stepping all over them," she said.

State television cited others as saying the fake bills came fluttering down "like snow".

Shanghai police said they were not yet able to confirm whether the fake money was the cause of the stampede, adding that a probe was ongoing and asking people be patient, according to state television.

The glass doors to the bar, whose name appeared on the fake bills, was locked on Thursday, though signs of the previous night's party could be seen with debris strewn on the floor.

People inside the bar did not answer the door when a Reuters reporter knocked.

Another witness, who gave his family name as Wei, said there also had been a problem away from the area where the fake bills were thrown, with people trying to get on to a raised platform overlooking the river.

Xinhua news agency said that people had been trampled on after falling down on the steps up to the platform.

"We were caught in the middle and saw some girls falling while screaming. Then people started to fall down, row by row," a witness surnamed Yin told Xinhua.

Some Chinese media outlets carried criticism of the authorities for lack of adequate policing and planning.

Police officer Cai Lixin said they did not have a large presence on the Bund as there were no formal New Year events planned, Caixin magazine said.

Foreign media were forbidden from attending a police press conference, underscoring government sensitivity about any critical coverage of disasters.

State media said many of the dead and injured were students, with 28 of the dead women.

Authorities had shown some concern about crowd control in the days leading up to New Year's Eve. They recently canceled an annual 3D laser show on the Bund, which last year attracted as many as 300,000 people.

On New Year's Eve, Beijing also canceled a countdown event in the central business district, Chinese media said, due to police fears about overcrowding.

President Xi Jinping has asked the Shanghai government to get to the bottom of the incident as soon as possible, and ordered governments across the country to ensure a similar disaster could not happen again, state television said.

The Shanghai government said on its official microblog that an inquiry had begun, and that all other New Year events had been canceled.

Photographs on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, showed densely packed crowds of revelers along the Bund where buildings from Shanghai's pre-communist heyday face the Huangpu River and house upscale restaurants, bars, shops and hotels.

In 2004, 37 people died in a stampede in northern Beijing, on a bridge at a scenic spot, during the Lunar New Year holiday.
(Reuters)
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