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Picture emerges of school slaughter

The victims of the US school shooting were shot multiple times by semi-automatic rifle, the

medical examiner said, as a clearer picture emerged of the deadly massacre that killed 20 children.

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Medical examiner Dr Wayne Carver said the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday resulted in a “devastating set of injuries”.

He said he examined seven of the 20 children killed, and two had been shot at close range. When asked how many bullets were fired, he replied, “I’m lucky if I can tell you how many I found.”

Police said they had found “very good evidence” which they hoped would answer questions about the motives of the 20-year-old gunman, described as brilliant but remote, who forced his way into the school and killed 26 children and adults in one of the world’s worst mass shootings.

Witnesses said the gunman, Adam Lanza, didn’t say a word as he shot children as young as five years old and later killed himself.

Police, however, said on Saturday they had not officially identified the shooter.

Reaction was swift and emotional around the world, as many immediately thought of Dunblane – a 1996 shooting in that small Scottish town which killed 16 small children and prompted a campaign that ultimately led to tighter gun controls.

Pressure to take similar action built on US President Barack Obama, whose comments on the tragedy were one of the most outwardly emotional moments of his presidency.

“The majority of those who died were children – beautiful little kids between the ages of five and 10 years old,” Obama told a White House news briefing, struggling to keep his composure.

He promised “meaningful action” on the issue of mass shootings, “regardless of the politics”.

On Saturday, stunned residents and exhausted officials continued to fill in the details of the attack.

The school’s well-liked principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was killed while lunging at the gunman as she tried to overtake him, town officials said. Board of Education chairwoman Debbie Liedlien said administrators were coming out of a meeting when the gunman forced his way into the school, and they ran toward them.

Asked whether Hochsprung was a hero, the chairman of the town’s Legislative Council, Jeff Capeci, said, “From what we know, it’s hard to classify her as anything else.”

In Newtown, a small and picturesque New England community 95 kilometres northeast of New York City, hundreds of people packed St Rose of Lima church on Friday night and stood outside in a vigil or the 28 dead – 20 children and six adults at the school, the

gunman’s mother at home, and the gunman himself.

Just one person, a woman who worked at the school, was shot and survived – an unusually small number in a mass shooting.

Investigators had not found evidence after talking with state gun dealers and gun ranges that the gunman trained for the attack or was an active member of the recreational gun community, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun

said.

Lanza is believed to have suffered from a personality disorder and lived with his mother, said a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation.

Lanza shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, drove to the school in her car and shot up two classrooms on Friday morning, law enforcement officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A custodian ran through the halls, warning of a gunman, and someone switched on the intercom, perhaps saving many lives by letting them hear the chaos in the school office, a teacher said.

Teachers locked their doors and ordered children to huddle in a corner or hide in closets as shots echoed through the building.

Maryann Jacob, a clerk in the school library, was with 18 students when they heard gunfire outside the room. She had the children crawl into a storage room, and they locked the door and barricaded it with a filing cabinet. There happened to be materials for colouring, “so we set them up with paper and crayons”.

Kaitlin Roig, a teacher at the school, said she implored her students to be quiet.

“If they started crying, I would take their face and say it’s going to be OK. Show me your smile,” she said. “They said, ‘We want to go home for Christmas,’ ‘I just want to hug my mum,’ things like that, that were just heartbreaking.”

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Sony ‘unveils’ new playstation console

Sony wants you to know that the PlayStation 4 is coming this Christmas, but not what it will look like.

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The Japanese electronics giant talked about its upcoming console for the first time on Wednesday and showed what it can do, without actually revealing the device itself.

“I don’t know that the box is going to be something that’s going to have a dramatic impact on people’s feelings about the game, said Jack Tretton, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, the US-based arm of the PlayStation business.

Tretton said the price of the PS4 hasn’t been decided yet, but hinted that it wouldn’t be as high as the PlayStation 3 was initially.

The PS4 will be jostling for attention this Christmas with Microsoft’s successor to the Xbox – details of which are expected in June.

Sony did reveal that the insides of the PS4 will essentially be a “supercharged PC,” much like an Xbox.

That’s a big departure from the old and idiosyncratic PlayStation design and should make it easier for developers to create games.

“One of the big challenges we faced in the past was that we created great technology that we handed over to the development community, and they had to go through a learning curve before they could harness it.

And when they did, we saw some phenomenal games,” Tretton said.

“We wanted to lower that barrier of entry and really give them the ability to create tremendous gaming experiences from day one.”

The adoption of PC chips also means that the new console won’t be able to play games created for any of the three previous PlayStations, even though the PS4 will have a Blu-ray disc drive, just like the PS3.

Instead, Sony said gamers will have to stream older games to the PS4 through the internet.

Other new features revolve around social networking and remote access.

With one button, you can broadcast video of your game play so friends can “look over your shoulder virtually,” said David Perry, co-founder of the Sony-owned internet game company Gaikai.

With remote play, you can run a game on the PS4 to stream over the internet to Sony’s mobile gaming device, the PlayStation Vita, which debuted last year.

The goal is to make the PS4 so good at figuring out what games and other content you want that it can download it without being asked, so that it’s available when you realise you do want it, Sony said.

“Our long-term vision is to reduce download times of digital titles to zero,” said Mark Cerny, Sony’s lead system architect on the PS4.

Beyond games, the PS4 will let people create animation in 3-D using a Move motion controller – all in real time.

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Internal US emails detail bin Laden burial

WASHINGTON – Internal emails among US military officers indicate that no sailors watched Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea from the USS Carl Vinson and traditional Islamic procedures were followed during the ceremony.

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The emails, obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act, are heavily blacked out, but are the first public disclosure of government information about the al-Qaeda leader’s death.

Bin Laden was killed on May 1, 2011, by a Navy SEAL team that assaulted his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

One email stamped secret and sent on May 2 by a senior navy officer briefly describes how bin Laden’s body was washed, wrapped in a white sheet, and then placed in a weighted bag.

According to another message from the Vinson’s public affairs officer, only a small group of the ship’s leadership was informed of the burial.

“Traditional procedures for Islamic burial was followed,” the May 2 email from Rear Admiral Charles Gaouette reads.

“The deceased’s body was washed (ablution) then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag. A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker.

After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased’s body slid into the sea.”

The email also included a cryptic reference to the intense secrecy surrounding the mission.

“The paucity of documentary evidence in our possession is a reflection of the emphasis placed on operational security during the execution of this phase of the operation,” Gaouette’s message reads.

Recipients of the email included Admiral Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General James Mattis, the top officer at US Central Command. Mullen retired from the military in September 2011.

Earlier, Gaouette, then the deputy commander of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and another officer used code words to discuss whether the helicopters carrying the SEALs and bin Laden’s body had arrived on the Vinson.

“Any news on the package for us?” he asked Rear Adm Samuel Perez, commander of the carrier strike group that included the Vinson.

“Fedex delivered the package,” Perez responded. “Both trucks are safely en route home base.”

Although the Obama administration has pledged to be the most transparent in American history, it is keeping a tight hold on materials related to the bin Laden raid.

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Shooting suspect ‘was teacher’s son’: law official

The man suspected of killing more than two dozen people at a school in the US state of Connecticut was an honours student who lived in a prosperous neighbourhood with his mother, a grade school teacher who liked to host dice games and decorate the house for the holidays.

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Citing an unnamed law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity, Associated Press reports Adam Lanza killed his mother at their home before driving her car to Sandy Hook Elementary School and – armed with at least two handguns – carried out the massacre before taking his own life.

A third weapon was found in the car, and more guns were found inside the school.

The 20-year-old may have suffered from a personality disorder, law enforcement officials said.

Investigators were trying to learn as much as possible about Lanza but so far, authorities have not spoken publicly of any possible motive. Witnesses said the shooter didn’t utter a word.

Catherine Urso, who was attending a vigil on Friday evening in Newtown, Connecticut, said her college-age son knew the killer and remembered him for his alternative style.

“He just said he was very thin, very remote and was one of the goths,” she said.

Lanza and his mother, Nancy, lived in a well-to-do part of Newtown, a prosperous community of 27,000 people about 100 kilometres northeast of New York City.

A grandmother of the suspect – who is also the mother of the slain teacher – was too distraught to speak when reached by phone at her home in Florida.

“I just don’t know, and I can’t make a comment right now,” Dorothy Hanson, 78, said in a shaky voice as she started to cry.

She said she hadn’t heard anything official about her daughter and grandsons. She declined to comment further and hung up.

Lanza’s older brother, 24-year-old Ryan Lanza of Hoboken, New Jersey, was being questioned, a law enforcement official said.

He told authorities that his brother was believed to have suffered from a personality disorder, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak about the case.

The official did not elaborate, and it was unclear exactly what type of disorder he might have had.

Ryan Lanza had been extremely cooperative and was not under arrest or in custody, but investigators were still searching his computers and phone records. Ryan Lanza told law enforcement he had not been in touch with his brother since about 2010.

Brett Wilshe, a friend of Ryan Lanza’s, said he sent him a Facebook message on Friday asking what was going on and if he was OK. According to Wilshe, Lanza’s reply was something along the lines of: “It was my brother. I think my mother is dead. Oh my God.”

Adam Lanza attended Newtown High School, and several local news clippings from recent years mention his name among the school’s honour roll students.

Sandeep Kapur, who lives two doors down from the Lanza family in Newtown, said he did not know them and was unaware of any disturbances at the Lanza house in the three years that he and his family have been in the neighbourhood.

He described the area as a subdivision of well-tended, 15-year-old homes on lots of an acre or more, where many people work at companies like General Electric, Pepsi and IBM. Some are doctors, and his next-door neighbour is a bank CEO, said Kapur, a project manager at an information technology firm.

“The neighbourhood’s great. We have young kids, and they have lots of friends,” he said. “If you drive past this neighbourhood, it gives you a really warm feeling.”

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Carla Bruni-Sarkozy says feminism is no longer needed

VOGUE, ELLE (France)

Worldcrunch

PARIS – It’s hard to imagine France’s former First Lady Carla Bruni donning her pinafore and staying home to bake madeleines for hubby Nicolas Sarkozy’s return to the familial nest.

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Known for her exploits as a supermodel, sipping champagne and tottering along side the likes of Mick Jagger, her comments about feminism in the December edition of French Vogue may raise more than a few eyebrows.

Speaking to Vogue, Bruni declared, “My generation doesn’t need feminism. There are pioneers who opened the breach.

“I’m not at all an active feminist. On the contrary, I’m a bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day,” she said.

During the interview, she also stated how she disagreed with her husband Nicolas Sarkozy’s stance on gay marriage, a hot topic in France at the moment, as current President François Hollande’s government is expected to legalize it early 2013.

“I’m rather in favor because I have a lot of friends – men and women – who are in this situation and I see nothing unstable or perverse in families with gay parents,” said Bruni.

Whereas, former French President is against the gay marriage reforms as he “sees people in groups of thousands rather than as groups of friends we know,” she says.

Bruni on the cover of Paris Vogue’s December edition

Bruni last made a stir in October when she spoke to French Elle magazine. She had a word of advice for the current First Lady Valérie Trierweiler, suggesting that she should marry the French President. Hollande and Trierweiler have been in a relationship since 2005 but they have never wed.

“I can only speak from my own experience but I think it’s more simple to be the legitimate wife of the head of state than his partner. The French presidency is an official status that implies official situations.

“Maybe I’m wrong and their choice is modern, but for my part, I felt a real easing of the general concern about me when I married Nicolas. Curiously, it’s through that private undertaking that I found my place in public life,” Bruni said.

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Factbox: Russia meteor shower

Q.

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What’s the difference between a meteor and a meteorite?

A. Meteors are pieces of space rock, usually from larger comets or asteroids, which enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Many are burned up by friction and the heat of the atmosphere, but those that survive and strike the Earth are called meteorites. They often hit the ground at tremendous speed – up to 30,000 kilometres an hour – releasing a huge amount of energy, according to the European Space Agency.

Q: How often do meteorites hit Earth?

A: Experts say smaller strikes happen five to 10 times a year. Large meteors such as the one in Russia on Friday are rarer, but still occur about every five years, according to Addi Bischoff, a mineralogist at the University of Muenster in Germany. Most of them fall over uninhabited areas where they don’t injure humans.

Q: How big was Friday’s meteor and why did it cause so many injuries?

A: Before it entered the atmosphere, the meteor was about 15 metres in diameter and had a mass of about 7,000 tons, NASA says. The space agency also says the fireball from it, which was brighter than the sun, is the biggest reported in more than a century, since a 1908 event in Siberia. The blast released the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of tons of TNT. The huge release of energy shattered windows and sent loose objects flying. The US bomb dropped over Hiroshima during World War II had an explosive force of about 15,000 tons of TNT, but it detonated just 2,000 feet above a densely populated city. The Russian fireball exploded miles above a sparsely populated area, causing less damage.

Q: Is there any link between this meteor and the larger asteroid that passed Earth later on Friday?

A: No, it’s just cosmic coincidence. According to NASA, the trajectory of the Russian meteorite was significantly different than that of asteroid 2012 DA14. “In videos of the meteor, it is seen to pass from left to right in front of the rising sun, which means it was travelling from north to south. Asteroid DA14’s trajectory is in the opposite direction, from south to north,” the US space agency said.

Q: When was the last event like this?

A: In 2008, astronomers spotted a meteor similar to the one in Russia heading toward Earth about 20 hours before it entered the atmosphere. It exploded over the vast African nation of Sudan, causing no known injuries. The largest known meteor in recent times caused the “Tunguska event” – flattening thousands of square miles of forest in remote Siberia in 1908. Nobody was injured by the meteor blast, or by the Sikhote-Alin meteorite that fell in eastern Siberia in 1947. Scientists believe that a far larger meteorite strike on what today is Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula may have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. According to that theory, the impact would have thrown up vast amounts of dust that blanketed the sky for decades and altered the climate on Earth.

Q: What would happen if a sizable meteorite hit a city?

A: A blast at low altitude or on the surface would result in many casualties and cause serious damage to buildings. The exact extent would depend on many factors, including the mass of the meteorite, its speed and composition, said Harris. Scientists have been discussing for several years how to prepare for such an event – however remote. European Space Agency spokesman Bernhard von Weyhe says experts from Europe, the US and Russia are working on way to spot potential threats sooner and avert them. But don’t expect a Hollywood-style mission to fly a nuclear bomb into space and blow up the asteroid, like the movie Armageddon. “It’s a global challenge and we need to find a solution together,” he said. “But one thing’s for sure, the Bruce Willis ‘Armageddon’ method won’t work.”

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Global doomsday hot spots draw believers

Though the Mayans never really predicted that the world would end today, some New Agers are convinced that humanity’s demise is indeed imminent.

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Or at least that it’s a good excuse for a party.

Believers are being drawn to spots where they think their chances of survival will be better, and accompanying them are the curious, the party-lovers and people wanting to make some money.

Here are some of the world’s key doomsday destinations and other places marked by fear and fascination.

MEXICO

About 1000 self-described shamans, seers, stargazers, crystal enthusiasts, yogis, sufis and swamis are gathering in a convention centre in the city of Merida on the Yucatan peninsula about an hour and a half from the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, convinced that it was a good start to the coming “New Era” supposed to begin around 5am local time Friday.

These are not people who believe the world will end on Friday: the summit is scheduled to run through December 23.

Instead, participants say, they want to celebrate the birth of a new age. Meanwhile, Mexico’s self-styled “brujo mayor,” or chief soothsayer, Antonio Vazquez Alba, who warned followers to stay away from all gatherings on Friday.

“We have to beware of mass psychosis” that could lead to stampedes or “mass suicides, of the kind we’ve seen before,” he said.

Star gazers are planning to welcome in the new era with a dawn ceremony Friday at Uxmal, the only major Mayan pyramid that has rounded edges. Others will spend the day at the more famous Chichen Itza archaeological site.

Also, organisers of Yucatan’s broader Mayan Culture Festival saw the need to answer some of the now-debunked idea that the Mayas, who invented an amazingly accurate calendar almost 2000 years ago, had somehow predicted the end of the world.

The Yucatan state government asked a scientist to talk about the work of Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland to debunk the idea it could produce world-ending rogue particles.

FRANCE

According to one rumour, a rocky mountain in the French Pyrenees will be the sole place on earth to escape destruction.

A giant UFO and aliens are said to be waiting under the mountain, ready to burst through and spirit those nearby to safety. But here is bad news for those seeking salvation: French gendarmes, some on horseback, are blocking outsiders from reaching the Bugarach peak and its village of some 200 people.

One believer, Ludovic Broquet, a 30-year-old plumber, made his way to the mountain after a year of preparation, hoping to find a “gateway, the vortex that will open up here (at) the end of the world.” Local residents, instead, are sceptical – and angry at having their peace disturbed.

“What is going on here is the creation of an urban legend,” fumed resident Michele Pous, who blamed those who spread internet rumours.

“They created a media frenzy, they created a false event, they manipulated people.”

RUSSIA

For $US1500 ($A1,436), a museum is offering salvation from the world’s end in former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s underground bunker in central Moscow – with a 50 per cent refund if nothing happens.

The bunker, located 65 metres below ground, was designed to withstand a nuclear attack.

Now home to a small museum, it has an independent electricity supply, water and food – but no more room, because the museum has already sold out all 1,000 tickets.

BRITAIN

Hundreds of people have already converged on Stonehenge for an “End of the World” party that coincides with the Winter Solstice.

Arthur Uther Pendragon, Britain’s best-known druid, said he was anticipating a much larger crowd than usual at Stonehenge this year.

But he doesn’t agree that the world is ending, noting that he and fellow druids believe that things happen in cycles. “We’re looking at it more as a new beginning than an end,” he said.

“We’re looking at new hope.” Meanwhile, end-of-days parties will be held across London on Friday.

One event billed as a “last supper club” is offering a three-course meal served inside of an “ark.”

SERBIA

Some Serbs are saying to forget that sacred mountain in the French Pyrenees. The place to go Friday will be Mount Rtanj, a pyramid-shaped peak in Serbia already drawing cultists.

A local legend has it that the mountain once swallowed an evil sorcerer who will be released on doomsday in a ball of fire that will hit the mountain top.

The inside of the mountain will then open up, becoming a safe place to hide as the sorcerer goes on to destroy the rest of the world. In the meantime, some old coal mine shafts have been opened up as safe rooms for the dozens who have arrived already.

“We got calls from as far away as Holland from people trying to seek shelter,” said Vlada Minic, a local villager. “They are asking to be as close as possible to the mountain.”

TURKEY

A small Turkish village known for its wines, Sirince, has also been touted as the only place after Bugarach that would escape the world’s end.

For now there aree more journalists and security officials present there than cultists – to the great disappointment of local restaurateurs and souvenir shop owners.

Nobody was quite sure where Sirince’s alleged powers to survive the Mayan doomsday come from, but the idyllic village in western Turkey is close to an area where the Virgin Mary is believed to have lived her final days, and some New Agers reportedly believe the region has a positive aura.

For months, local business owners have been promoting the village and even produced wines with special labels to commemorate the event.

ITALY

Another spot said to be spared: Cisternino, in southern Italy, plans a big party Friday with hot-air balloons and music in the main piazza.

“Nobody will want to sleep anyway as they await the end of the world,” Mayor Donato Baccaro was quoted as saying in the newspaper La Stampa on Wednesday.

Though Baccaro goes on to say he doesn’t really believe the end is coming, hundreds have reportedly booked hotel rooms.

CHINA

A fringe Christian group has been spreading rumours about the world’s impending end, prompting Chinese authorities to detain more than 500 people this week and seize leaflets, video discs, books and other material.

Those detained are reported to be members of the group Almighty God, also called Eastern Lightning, which preaches that Jesus has reappeared as a woman in central China.

Authorities in the province of Qinghai say they are waging a “severe crackdown” on the group, accusing it of attacking the Communist Party and the government. USA For some, doomsday will be a chance for mockery.

Giorgio Tsoukalos, producer and host of the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens program, is throwing a party in New Orleans on Friday where he will descend onstage in a mock spaceship.

Tsoukalos is a leading proponent of the idea that ancient myths arose from visits by alien astronauts, an idea rejected by many mainstream researchers. Still, Tsoukalos scoffs at the idea that the world will come to an end Friday.

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Islands want UN to see climate as threat

The Marshall Islands in the northern Pacific Ocean and other low-lying island nations have appealed to the UN Security Council to recognise climate change as an international security threat that jeopardises their very survival.

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Tony deBrum, a minister and assistant to the Marshall Islands president, says the island nations are facing opposition from Security Council permanent members Russia and China and a group of more than 130 mainly developing nations, which argue that the UN’s most powerful body is the wrong place to address climate change.

DeBrum told reporters on Friday after a closed Security Council meeting on the “Security Dimensions of Climate Change,” organised by Britain and Pakistan, that he hopes more council members will be convinced that “this is a security issue and not just an economic-political-social issue.”

The low-lying islands, which are already being inundated with sea water, want the council to bring its “political weight” to the issue and help their countries survive, for example, by harnessing new technologies and ensuring alternative energy supplies, he said.

DeBrum said it was “ironic, bizarre perhaps” that 35 years after he went before the Security Council to seek the independence of the Marshall Islands he was back again “to appeal for the survival of my country.”

He said climate change has already taken a toll on the Marshall Islands. Wells have filled with salt water, making drinking water scarce and in turn affecting food production. One small island in a lagoon is now under water, and coastlines are being eroded.

The impact of climate change is also causing migration to other islands, as well as to Australia and the United States, he said.

In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s vice-president for sustainable development, said that since the council’s last discussion of climate change “the sense of immediacy and urgency has increased.”

“The question is: Do you want to keep on catalogueuing all of the terrible things that are going to happen if we continue on a business as usual track, or are we actually going to start doing anything about it?” she said.

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How Obama’s ‘leading from behind’ worked in Gaza

Worldcrunch.

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com / DIE WELT

-OpEd-

Winner: USA. Loser: Iran. Right there in a nutshell, you have the results of the most recent conflict in Gaza. The ceasefire agreement has proved that – as before – the United States is the authoritative power when it comes to order in the Middle East.

At the same time, the Gaza truce showed that the Obama administration’s foreign policy strategy, largely honed by outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – of exercising American power indirectly by working through regional networks – can bear fruit.

The United States put Egypt in charge of negotiations between Israel and Hamas, thereby taking the Islamic Republic of Iran, which up to now has been the Palestinian terror organization’s main sponsor, out of the equation.

The architecture of Washington’s plans for Middle East security is starting to take shape: Despite – or perhaps because of – Egypt’s domestic turbulence, the country is to be developed into a credible guarantor for at least a provisional Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Through Cairo, and with the support of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Hamas is to be weaned off Iranian influence – indeed the weaning is part and parcel of the peace process. Because of the significant influence in the Arab world to be won for Egypt by his cooperation, the Islamist Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has been playing his part in the American-scripted scenario not only reliably but also very convincingly.

What has also emerged is that Egypt, although it is drifting in the direction of Islamic theocracy, still relies on American aid: without the billions of dollars that the U.S. pumps in, the Egyptian military would be reduced to the level of a carnival troupe.

Washington’s consideration of Egypt also determined its behavior toward Israel in this conflict. From the start, Barack Obama gave Israel his support for its air attacks on Hamas military structure, but rejected just as clearly an Israeli ground offensive. The U.S. feared that a long and bloody conflict would bring the hatred for Israel in Egypt to a boiling point, thus making Morsi’s commitment to the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement untenable.

A possible attack on Iran

Yet, as the tight military and security policy cooperation between the U.S. and Israel proved itself, Israel too can perceive itself as a winner in this Gaza conflict even if it did not succeed in its goal to destroy Hamas definitively.

The Israeli army carried out the attacks on Hamas with a precision that the radical Islamists were not expecting. Because the precision attacks left very few victims, Hamas was in a poor position to crank its anti-Israeli (“Zionist baby killers!”) propaganda machine into full gear. The ceasefire came at a good time for them, enabling them to hang on to at least minimal military clout.

Both the effective air offensive and the success of the new Iron Dome anti-missile system are thanks to the high-tech equipment the Israelis got from the U.S. in an unprecedented shoring-up of the Israeli army. To a degree, the Gaza offensive was a joint American-Israeli test run for a possible attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

After this experience, Israel can feel much more secure about Iranian (or Iranian-driven) retaliatory attacks. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s adherence to the American crisis script shows that he doesn’t have any margin left to do anything against the will of the recently re-elected U.S. president he so dislikes.

That means there will be no attack on Iran without Washington’s consent.

Obama’s clear-cut pro-Israeli stance in this Gaza conflict also sent the signal to Jerusalem that the American president means it when he says that the U.S. is still considering the possibility of a military option to prevent Iran from having atomic weaponry.

The ceasefire in Gaza furthers Tehran’s isolation – which is not to say that the U.S. safety construct isn’t fragile.

Morsi’s attempts at a kind of presidential dictatorship in Egypt, which would grant him hegemony over the Muslim Brothers, are in the process of convulsing his nation. And should Egypt sink into chaos, this whole Middle East security strategy will collapse as fast as a house of cards.

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Pomp and parties for Jubilee year

2012 was the year of the party in Britain, with celebrations across the country to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

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This is a transcript from a World News Australia Radio story:

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year saw parades, concerts and tours around the Commonwealth by members of the Royal family.

It was also the year Scotland said it would hold a referendum on declaring independence from the United Kingdom.

But as Kate Stowell reports, it wasn’t enough to spoil the Royal celebrations.

On February the 6th, 1952, King George the Sixth died in his sleep at his country home in the English village of Sandringham.

His daughter Elizabeth, away at the Royal hunting lodge in Kenya, made immediate plans to return home.

And, with that, the British Crown was transferred to the new, 25-year-old Queen Elizabeth.

“But the end is also a beginning, and proclamation is made, God save the Queen. Here she is, Queen Elizabeth the Second, radiant with all the charm of youth and beauty.”

Sixty years later, Britain marked the now 86-year-old monarch’s Diamond Jubilee, with four days of celebration in June.

Despite dreary weather, a flotilla of a thousand boats sailed the River Thames, with the London celebrations capped off in with a concert outside the front gates of Buckingham Palace.

The many stars who performed included Kylie Minogue, Stevie Wonder and Sir Paul McCartney.

Prince Charles paid tribute to his mother.

“As a nation, this is our opportunity to thank you and my father for always being there for us, for inspiring us with your selfless duty and service, and for making us proud to be British (crowd cheers to fade under).”

In the second half of the year, other members of the Royal families joined the celebrations, conducting Royal tours of the Commonwealth.

In September, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge toured the Pacific and parts of Asia.

Prince William addressed dignitaries in Singapore.

“We’re excited and delighted to be here. This wonderful occasion is all the more memorable because this visit is undertaken on behalf of her Majesty the Queens in celebration of her Diamond Jubilee. Before we left London, my grandmother told me how much she enjoyed her three state visits to this remarkable country. And she told me how much we enjoy seeing Singapore”.

The Royal couple finished their tour with a traditional ceremony on the Pacific Island of Tuvalu.

In November, The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall toured Australia and Papua New Guinea.

In PNG Prince Charles and his wife Camilla visited a youth development centre in Port Moresby before Charles held an official meeting with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

In Australia, they watched Green Moon win the Melbourne Cup.

Royal biographer Robert Lacey told the BBC the return to popularity of the monarchy could hardly have been imagined back just before the turn of the century.

“I think this jubilee marks a real comeback for the monarchy. I mean, think how it was 15 years ago — the Annus Horribilis, the death of (Princess) Diana, toe-sucking, all sorts of things. Who would have dreamt 15 years ago that you would have had a Royal wedding like we had last year, with young Prince William being taken down the aisle, effectively given away, by Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, his mother’s bitterest enemy?”

A 2012 poll showed four in five Britons now want the country to remain a monarchy, a level comparable to 1953, just after Queen Elizabeth began her reign.

The national convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Professor David Flint, says, through all the years, she has been exemplary.

“This is an example of service and dedication, an extraordinary example, where she has just given, just fulfilled her duty, without any personal advantage for the Commonwealth. And I think she sets the example in an age when such things might be going out of fashion. You know, keeping oaths and doing your duty may not be as fashionable as it once was, and she sets that example.”

Republicans, or anti-monarchists, in Britain set up a series of demonstrations to coincide with the official celebrations.

The group Republic, which wants a democratic alternative to the monarchy, says 60 years of one head of state is nothing for Britain to be celebrating.

But Robert Lacey, the Royal biographer, argues the modern monarchy is misunderstood.

“The modern monarchy is not about political power or about getting things done. It’s about something psychic. It’s about embodying values. In a way, it is about staying out of trouble. You know, we essentially, in this country, live in a republic. I mean, everything in Britain is done democratically, with all the faults and hang-ups of democracy. But we could get rid of the monarchy tomorrow, in a sense. I mean, the monarchy is a glorious bauble screwed on top, and, should we choose to unscrew it, then we will.”

In a year that saw the fervent displays of British pride, it was also the year that saw the beginning of an independence movement that may break up the United Kingdom.

In October, the terms of a referendum on whether Scotland should declare independence were agreed.

Signed in Edinburgh, it marks the formal beginning of a race to either convince the Scottish public of the benefits of independence, or of ‘sticking together’ with the United Kingdom.

Leading the push for an indepedence Scotland is the leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond.

“It paves the way of course for the most important decision that our country of Scotland has made in several hundred years. It is in that sense an historic day for Scotland and it is a major step forward in Scotland’s home rule journey.”

Mr Salmond, who has spent his political career backing the idea of an independent Scotland, faces an uphill battle to bring a majority of Scots around to his view.

At the centre of the campaign is the idea that Scotland can stand on it’s ‘own two feet’ and steer its domestic and foreign policy away from Westminster dominance.

The poll will be held in 2014, giving the ‘yes’ campaign just on two years to win over voters and coinciding with the anniversary of the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn, a famous Scots victory over the English.

Mr Salmond is confident of victory.

“Do I believe that independence will win this campaign? Yes I do. I believe we will win it by setting out a positive vision for a better future for our country both economically but crucially also socially. It’s that vision of a prosperous and compassionate society, a confident society moving forward in Scotland that will carry the day.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron has called for fierce national debate, telling the Telegraph newspaper he passionately hopes the people of Scotland will choose to stay with the United Kingdom.

“Now we’ve dealt with the process, now we should get on with the real arguments. I passionately believe that Scotland will be better off in the United Kingdom but also crucially that the United Kingdom will be better off with Scotland. We are better together, we are stronger together, we’re safer together, we’re better off together. Let the arguments now be put and I hope people will vote to keep this United Kingdom together.”