Burma: EU observers will not declare historic Myanmar by-elections free and fair

The victory, if confirmed, marks a major milestone in the Southeast Asian nation, where the military has ruled almost exclusively for a half-century and where the government is now seeking legitimacy and a lifting of Western sanctions.

The victory claim was displayed on a digital signboard above the opposition National League for Democracy’s headquarters in Rangoon.

Earlier, the party said in unofficial figures that Ms Suu Kyi was ahead with 65 per cent of the vote in 82 of her constituency’s 129 polling stations.

As polling got under way in the first election ever contested by the country’s Nobel laureate, EU officials said while they welcomed the Burmese government’s invitation to observe 45 parliamentary by-elections, they had not been given enough time to carry out a credible monitoring operation.

Observers from the EU, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), foreign diplomats and local pro-democracy groups have been given free access to officials and polling stations for the first time as part of Burma’s campaign to persuade the European Union and United States to lift economic sanctions.

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Chainsaw in sky stops traffic

Roto Blade helicopter pilot Dave Garen leans out of the door to
guide the saw as he cuts trees along power lines near U.S. Highway 27 south
of LaFayette, Ga
., on Wednesday using a saw with 10 blades powered by a
snowmobile motor.

WALKER COUNTY, Ga. — Randy Skidmore wasn’t surprised to see cars on U.S.
Highway 27 slow to a crawl, or by drivers pulling to the shoulder to take
photos, or by a motorcyclist shouting in amazement at the apparition
hovering overhead.

“You don’t see it every day,” Skidmore said of the sight that fascinated
motorists: A 25-foot-long, 10-bladed, 840-pound saw dangling 80 feet below
a helicopter. The giant saw was shaving away branches close to a
25,000-volt power line near Old   Trion Highway.

“We get a lot of onlookers stopping and taking photographs,” said Skidmore,
director of corporate operations for the North Georgia Electric Membership
Corp.

The electric cooperative, which serves seven counties, hired Rotor Blade of
Georgetown, S.C., to trim trees near transmission lines. The company’s
helicopter saw has whittled away overgrown woods for a few days and should
stay a week longer.

“I’m hoping that we can get at least 10 [miles of powerline] done,”
Skidmore said.

Hiring a helicopter is cheaper than calling in tree climbers to reach high
branches or hike in on rough terrain, utility officials said.

“Climbing is so time-consuming,” Skidmore said. “He can cut more in one day
than [climbers] can cut probably in two months.

“[The helicopter] comes out probably 30 percent cheaper in the long run,”
said Skidmore, who expects to spend $6,000 a mile for the helicopter’s
services.

Only two companies in the United   States specialize in using helicopters to
trim trees, helicopter pilot Dave Garen said.

“It’s one of the most technical things you can do. It’s really tough,
sometimes,” said Garen, whose helicoptering resume includes firefighting,
stringing utility wire and oil and gas seismic surveys.

Garen has to concentrate on keeping his saw vertical — even if that means
letting the wind blow his Hughes MD 500 helicopter to and fro.

“I had to fly backward [Tuesday] to keep the limbs from moving,” he said.
“You have to trim in different directions, depending on what the wind’s
doing.”

Garen’s not complaining, though.

“I’m pretty lucky to have a job that I love,” he said.

The helicopter’s saw was custom built by Dee Haddock, who founded Rotor
Blade in 2008 with his brother Ashley Haddock.

“My daddy’s been a crop duster all his life,” Haddock said, explaining how
the siblings got into the aerial vegetation management business.

Haddock’s saw uses a four-stroke Kohler engine that spins the
25-inch-diameter, belt-driven, circular sawblades at 3,000 rpm. The saw has
its own fuel supply. The pilot operates the saw by remote control.
Developing the saw took Haddock “a lot of trial and error in the beginning.”

“I can probably build one now for $45,000. The first one cost me $180,000,”
he said.

For safety reasons, the expensive saw can be quick-released from the
helicopter.

Haddock’s company has an “unparalleled” safety record, he said. But
tree-trimming by helicopter has risks.

“The man who invented it got killed doing it about 20 years ago,” Haddock
noted.

To Give And Not To Count The Cost

THE PRAYER, TO GIVE AND NOT TO COUNT THE COST (By Saint Ignatius of Loyola)

Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.

Amen.

The toxic treatment of Dr Drew

The treatment of Dr David Drew, a respected paediatrician with an unblemished 37-year career in the NHS, who was sacked in December 2010 for “gross misconduct and insubordination”, appears pretty shocking at first glance. Look at it for long enough, and it has terrifying implications for us all.

Dr Drew is a practising Christian, though far from a fundamentalist: indeed, he describes himself as “a Christian with questions” who has “coexisted peacefully with colleagues of all faiths and none for many years”. He told a tribunal last week that, when he was a senior paediatric consultant at Walsall Manor Hospital, he had emailed a well-known prayer by St Ignatius Loyola, “To Give and Not to Count the Cost”, as an incentive to his staff. Later, when ordered to “refrain from using religious references in his professional communications, verbal or written”, Dr Drew asked the trust to provide examples of when such behaviour had been problematic: the only solid thing it came up with, he said, was the prayer.

Earlier, the hospital trust had also criticised a text message by Dr Drew wishing his colleague Rob Hodgkiss “a peaceful Christmas”. A report noted: “While DD may regard such messages as benign RH perceived them as aggressive and unwelcome intrusions into his private time.”

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The Wets are reclaiming the Tory party

It was David Cameron’s worst week until it became Ed Miliband’s worst week – and then, within hours, it was Cameron’s worst week again. If you blinked at the wrong moment, you missed a whole epoch in national politics. George Galloway was still strutting around the broadcasting studios exulting in the damage he had done to the Labour leadership (which was being described in excitable Labour circles as terminal) when Unite announced that there would be no – repeat, no – haulage strike over Easter, thus rendering the government-induced panic over petrol even more ridiculous. Then this comedy of ineptitude began to look more like tragedy when a woman was critically burned as a more-or-less direct consequence of ministerial warnings about an imminent fuel shortage: warnings that were transparently designed not to avert a crisis but to create the impression of one in order to discredit Labour and its trade union allies.

So much for the Tory party being in the hands of PR professionals. These were the guys who, whatever they may have lacked in vision or convictions, were supposed to be the experts at – how did it go? – managing the message, controlling the narrative, transforming the image.

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How a crisis from the past fuelled the panic of today

At Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister took his colleagues aback by going round the table, asking them in turn how they were preparing to prevent a repetition of the fuel crisis of 2000. “I want to hear from each of you,” he said, “what you’re doing to make more fuel available in the event of a strike.”

In normal circumstances, Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary, and Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, might have expected to take a joint operational lead. What was already abundantly clear at that meeting five days ago, is that Cameron does not regard these as normal circumstances, or the threat as routine.

This unsettling cross-examination technique was repeated at Wednesday’s meeting of Cobra – the body formally convened at the Cabinet Office to address civil contingencies. In the manner of a young don chairing an aggressive Oxford viva examination, Cameron once more went round the table: “I want to hear specifics about what we’re going to do to deal with this.”

The objective was, and remains, to strengthen the nation’s fuel “resilience”: that is, its capacity to withstand disruption of supply without UKplc grinding to a halt.

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Fuel strike: petrol prices to reach record high

Some petrol stations have already put up the price of unleaded petrol by up to 10p a litre after cheaper stocks of fuel ran out.

The AA said it expects a litre of unleaded petrol to rise by a further penny this week, with the average price predicted at about 142.5p. The timing could not be worse for families planning long motoring journeys this Easter.

The price rise has been caused by petrol stations being forced to buy in more expensive fuel on the wholesale market and by additional charges for extra deliveries. About one in five garages ran out of fuel last week.

In some cases petrol stations have attempted to profiteer from shortages with one garage in the Midlands, according to the AA, hiking up the price of a litre of unleaded to 154.9p.

“Panic buying has speeded up the rise in the cost of petrol,” said Luke Bosdet, an AA spokesman. “Petrol stations are having to buy more expensive petrol more quickly.

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Argentina threatens to sue banks helping Falklands oil explorers as trade war with Britain escalates

In what amounts to the start of a new trade war between the UK and Argentina, the banks – understood to include the Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays Capital and Goldman Sachs – have been warned they face criminal and civil action in the Argentine courts.

The threats were made in a series of letters sent to as many as 15 banks by the Argentine embassy in London over the last ten days.

The letter, a copy of which has been seen by The Sunday Telegraph, warns the institutions that even merely writing research notes on exploration companies involved in the Falklands constitutes “a violation of the applicable domestic and international rules”.

The news – coming a day ahead of the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands which sparked the 1982 conflict – is likely to worsen tensions between the two countries. The Argentine government is continuing to push for sovereignty.

The two-page letter, to which a schedule of legal declarations about the Falkland’s ownership are attached, is intended to warn off the banks from any further involvement in the South Atlantic oil industry.

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Syria eyewitness dispatch: ‘I watched as Assad’s tanks rolled in to destroy a rebel town’

The sound of the caterpillar tracks could be felt as much as heard, a deep rumble that sent a rattle through windows and a tremble of fear through the guts.

Then we saw them. Huge Soviet-made T72s, accompanied by troop carriers driving slowly into town, extra plates welded onto the sides to deflect rocket-propelled grenades. It was just after 9.30am, and the tanks were coming to Saraqeb.

“Light the tyres!”

The rebels of the Free Syrian Army in Saraqeb, a farming town of 30,000 in northern Syria, are better organised than many in the surrounding Idlib province. Squaring themselves away into formation around the central marketplace, they poured petrol on to truck tyres and lit them sending plumes of thick black smoke into the air, obscuring the sun and – hopefully – the tank gunners’ visibility.

Still the tanks came, driving into town one after another. The troop carriers stopped to take up holding positions, while the T72s turned in pairs to face towards the centre.

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