News & Current Affairs

February 20, 2010

Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan

Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan

A Dutch soldier in Afghanistan

Dutch forces have been in Uruzgan since 2006

The Dutch government has collapsed over disagreements within the governing coalition on extending troop deployments in Afghanistan.

After marathon talks, Christian Democratic Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced that the Labour Party was quitting the government.

He offered his government’s resignation to Queen Beatrix in a telephone call.

The premier had been considering a Nato request for Dutch forces to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2010.

But Labour, the second-largest coalition party, has opposed the move.

Just under 2,000 Dutch service personnel have been serving in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan since 2006, with 21 killed.

Their deployment has already been extended once.

Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together
Jan Peter Balkenende

The troops should have returned home in 2008, but they stayed on because no other Nato nation offered replacements.

The commitment is now due to end in August 2010.

The Dutch parliament voted in October 2009 that it must definitely stop by then, although the government has yet to endorse that vote.

Mr Balkenende’s centre-right Christian Democrats wanted to agree to Nato’s request to extend the Dutch presence in Afghanistan.

But this was bitterly opposed by the Dutch Labour Party.

The finance minister and leader of the Labour Party, Wouter Bos, demanded an immediate ruling from Mr Balkenende.

When they failed to reach a compromise, Labour said it was pulling out of the coalition.

Nato priority

Mr Balkenende said he would offer the cabinet’s resignation to the Dutch Queen Beatrix later on Saturday following the collapse of the government.

It was announced after a 16-hour cabinet meeting which ran into the early hours of Saturday morning.

The prime minister said there was no common ground between the parties.

“Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together. There is no good path to allow this cabinet to go further,” he said.

The launch in 2001 of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) for Afghanistan was the organisation’s first and largest ground operation outside Europe.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said six months ago when he began his job that his priority was the war in Afghanistan.

As of October 2009, Isaf had more than 71,000 personnel from 42 different countries including the US, Canada, European countries, Australia, Jordan and New Zealand.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende

Mr Balkenende had been considering the Nato request

The US provides the bulk of foreign forces in Afghanistan, and President Barack Obama has announced an extra 30,000 American troops for Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has said the next 18 months could prove crucial for the international mission in Afghanistan, after more than eight years of efforts to stabilise the country.

Afghanistan remains a deadly place for foreign forces.

Suicide attacks on Afghan civilians and roadside bomb strikes on international troops are common, with the Taliban strongly resurgent in many areas of the country.

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September 1, 2008

Australia WWII wreck probe begins

Australia WWII wreck probe begins

HMAS Sydney, pre-1941

The wreckage of the Sydney was found earlier in 2008

An inquiry into Australia’s worst naval disaster is to begin hearing evidence from former war veterans.

Some 645 sailors died when HMAS Sydney was lost in a battle with a German cruiser off Western Australia in 1941.

HMAS Sydney was regarded as the pride of the Australian navy and defense officials say the investigation is “important unfinished business”.

The inquiry will be run by Sir Terence Cole, who presided over a hearing into Australia’s AWB oil-for-wheat scandal.

He is trying to uncover the truth behind one of Australia’s most enduring wartime mysteries.

HMAS Sydney perished after being attacked by a German ship, the Kormoran, which was disguised as a Dutch merchant vessel.

It too sank but the majority of its crew survived.

Australian War Memorial]

None of the Sydney’s crew survived, but the Kormoran’s crew did

But all on board the Sydney were lost and over the years various theories about their demise have emerged as the nation became fascinated with this naval tragedy.

Historians have been unable to unlock the secrets of that day in November 1941.

They have provided no explanation as to why such a superior vessel was sunk by a German boat sailing under a false flag.

There was speculation that the Australian cruiser was really sunk by a Japanese submarine – even though Japan had not yet entered the war.

The wrecks of both HMAS Sydney and the Kormoran were finally located by divers earlier this year.

This week the inquiry will hear from former Australian navy personnel who sailed with the Sydney before it sank more than 65 years ago.

August 26, 2008

Green tech in ‘Formula Zero’ race

Green tech in ‘Formula Zero’ race

Formula Zero karts

Delft University’s Greenchoice leads the newly established table

The world’s first international hydrogen-powered motorsport race was held in Rotterdam this weekend.

Dubbed the Formula Zero championship, the contest pitted teams from five countries against each other in a zero-emissions go-kart race.

Each team’s entry was powered by a commercial fuel cell that produces electricity from hydrogen.

A Dutch team won the endurance event, while a Spanish team clinched the award for fastest lap.

Peak power

Founded by Dutch motorsport enthusiasts Godert van Hardenbroek and Eelco Rietveld, Formula Zero is already recognized by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, the world’s motor sport governing body.

The championship consisted of several events, with teams from the UK, US, the Netherlands, Spain, and Belgium competing for the top honour: zeroth place.

The events included a sprint race, won by a Spanish team called EuplatecH2 with a lap time of 36 seconds. In the endurance event, the Greenchoice Forze team from Delft University took the zeroth place on the podium.

Formula Zero kart

Formula Zero looks set to green up motorsport

That puts the Delft team on top in the standings. In third place was Imperial College London’s team Imperial Racing Green, who proved to have the most reliable entry if not eventually the fastest.

“In 10 years if the motorsport industry as a whole hasn’t engaged in zero or low emission principles, it probably won’t be around,” said Greg Offer, who headed up the Imperial team. “Teams that embrace this new technology early on will succeed, and those that don’t will fall by the wayside.”

Racing excitement won’t suffer, though; Dr. Offer says that fuel-cell powered vehicles don’t represent a compromise in performance over traditional petrol-fueled engines.

“With a combustion engine, you have to reach three or four thousand rev[olutions per minute] to get your peak power,” he says. “With an electric vehicle, it’s all there from standing, and they’re more efficient.”

It is expected that the class will grow to Formula Three standard and then full-size racing class as interest in green motoring escalates. The next event will be held in the US in March. In 2009 the Formula Zero championship will comprise four races.

August 5, 2008

Van Nistelrooy quits Dutch set-up

Real Madrid’s Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy has announced his retirement from international football.

“After studying the schedule of Madrid and the Dutch team I realised playing for both would mean too tough a load for me,” said the 32-year-old.

Van Nistelrooy won the first of his 64 caps in 1998 and is the team’s third highest all-time scorer with 33 goals.

He missed Euro 2000 through injury but played and scored at Euro 2004 and 2008 and also the 2006 World Cup.

His decision came as a surprise to new national team coach Bert van Marwijk, who succeeded Marco van Basten as national team coach on 1 July.

“I had a comprehensive conversation with Ruud and I can do nothing else but respect his decision,” said van Marwijk.

“I regret it that I can’t use his quality and experience when I compose my squad but I wish him all the best at Real Madrid.”

Van Nistelrooy made his name at PSV Eindhoven, where he suffered a serious knee injury, before moving to Manchester United for a then- British record fee of £19m in 2001.

He had five successful years at Old Trafford before moving to Madrid in July 2006 for £10.2m.

Dutch climbers airlifted from K2

Pakistani helicopters have rescued two Dutch climbers from a group that lost 11 members over the weekend on the world’s second-highest mountain, K2.

Rescue climbers have reached an Italian mountaineer and are helping him to an advance camp high on the mountain slopes, Reuters news agency said.

About 25 climbers reached the summit on Friday but nine died on descent after an avalanche swept away their ropes.

Earlier, on the ascent, two climbers fell to their deaths.

Many regard the 8,611m (28,251ft) peak as the world’s most difficult to climb.

In the deadliest day in K2’s history, the avalanche occurred when a chunk from an ice pillar snapped away on a feature called the Bottleneck.

Several climbers were swept to their deaths; others froze to death after they were stranded high on the mountain.

Cpt Azeemullah Baig said a Pakistani army helicopter had already picked up the two Dutch climbers.

“Thanks to Almighty Allah, the rescue operation has started this morning,” he told Reuters news agency.

Four rescue climbers reached Italian mountaineer Marco Confortola after attempts to reach him by helicopter were called off in bad weather, Pakistani guide Sultan Alam told Reuters news agency from the K2 base camp.

The rescuers were guiding Mr Confortola to the advanced base camp 6,000 metres up the slopes of K2.

The head of an Italian mountaineering group who spoke to Mr Confortola by satellite phone said his feet were in “very bad” shape from frostbite but that he could still walk and that his hands were in good condition.

Mr Confortola’s brother also spoke to the stranded climber.

“Up there it was hell,” Ansa news agency quoted Mr Confortola telling his brother Luigi.

“During the descent, beyond 8,000 metres (26,000 feet), due to the altitude and the exhaustion I even fell asleep in the snow and when I woke up I could not figure out where I was”.

The Death Zone

The two rescued Dutchmen are being treated for frostbite in a Pakistani military hospital.

“Everything was going well to Camp Four and on [the] summit attempt everything went wrong,” one of the Dutchmen, Wilco Van Rooijen, told Associated Press news agency.

He said some ropes had been laid in the wrong position – a mistake which took several valuable hours to correct, delaying the summit push until just before darkness.

As climbers descended from the peak in the dark, the ice pillar collapsed, sweeping away climbers and stranding others in the high-altitude level known as the Death Zone – where there is not enough oxygen to support life.

Pakistani authorities said three South Koreans, two Nepalis, two Pakistani porters, and French, Serbian, Norwegian and Irish climbers had died on the mountain.

Expedition organisers only learned of the avalanche after a group of climbers arrived back at the mountain’s base camp on Saturday evening.

Reports from the mountain’s base camp say two separate parties of Serbian and Norwegian climbers were able to make it back to base camp.

The Serbians said they buried their team member as it was impossible to bring his body back. The Norwegians said their companion was lost in the avalanche.

Only a few hundred people have climbed K2 and dozens have died in the attempt.

The fatality rate for those who reach the summit at 27% is about three times higher than that for Mount Everest.

One of the worst single-day death tolls was on Everest on 11 May 1996, when eight people died in summit attempts.

Six people fell to their deaths or disappeared during a storm on K2 on 13 August 1995.

The summit of K2 was first reached by two Italians, Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni, on 31 July 1954.

Do you know anyone involved in any of the expeditions or have any information about them? Have you ever attempted to climb K2?

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