Friday, August 3, 2007
Palestinian doctor Ashraf al-Hazouz after his release: "We will make you suffer until you confess." REUTERS
DER SPIEGEL 31/2007 - July 30, 2007
GADHAFI'S TORTURE PRISON: Medic Recalls Eight Years in Libyan Jail
Palestinian-born Bulgarian doctor Ashraf al-Hazouz, 37, recalls his eight-year imprisonment in Libyan jails, describing his torture at the hands of Gadhafi's thugs and the ordeals of the five nurses imprisoned with him.
What was the worst moment in more than eight years of torture, humiliation and the fear of death? It was the moment of our release.
When the guards entered my cell at 3:30 in the morning on July 24, they didn't jingle their keys or shout the way they normally did. Instead, they whispered: "Ashraf, Ashraf, wake up! You must prepare yourself for a visit."
I jumped up, looked at the clock and felt an ominous sense of doom. Who would visit me at this time of the night? The thought flashed through my mind that they were going to shoot me now, and that they would later claim that I had tried to run away.
A few minutes later I was standing in the office of the prison warden. I was told to apply my fingerprints to a piece of paper to confirm that I wanted to leave the country for Bulgaria. The process was videotaped. They took me to the part of the prison where the five Bulgarian nurses were kept, and then they took all of us to the airport.
There I was asked, once again, whether I wanted to stay in Libya or travel to Gaza. "I want to go to Bulgaria," I replied. "You have destroyed my life, my family's life and the lives of these nurses. I do not wish to remain in this sort of a country for another second." The official was livid. "You are witnesses," he barked at the Palestinian and Bulgarian envoys.
Then I was sitting in the plane, ecstatic and feeling as if I had been reborn, accompanied by the five nurses, European Union (External Relations) Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Cecilia Sarkozy, the wife of the French president. When the plane took off I realized that the day would one day come when I would no longer be able to comprehend how I could have survived these eight years -- and that I would not even be able to explain the experience to anyone else.
My life in hell began back in August 1998. I had completed my medical exams in Libya and was working as an intern at the huge pediatric hospital in Benghazi, initially in the gastroenterology department. The infectious disease section was closed. A sign that read "HIV-infected" hung on the wall behind one of the beds in my area. The occupant of that bed was a seven-month-old baby that had undergone surgery in Egypt to correct a bone deformity. The child's infection was also detected at the Egyptian hospital. It was the first HIV case I saw.
I had already been working in another department for some time when, on Dec. 13, 1998, I was summoned to appear at a police station, where I was arrested. I spent the next three days in a tiny cell. The reason, I was later told, was to await the results of an HIV test, which turned out to be negative.
'Hundreds of Infected Children'
One of the officials said to me: "We have hundreds of infected children, and we know that you are to blame. You picked them up and injected them with the virus." I responded: "If that's true, then shoot me in public on the main square in Benghazi." Of course I picked up the children before each examination, but only to take away their fear.
"You have had sexual contact with a foreign woman," the police officer continued. It was only then that I realized that a scenario was taking shape that had been mapped out by someone higher up in the hierarchy and in which I had been chosen as the scapegoat -- I, a refugee from Palestine who had lived in Libya with my parents since I was two and for whom this country was in fact home.
My family is very conservative. My fiancée, a Palestinian, had died the year before, and I was just beginning to start a new life with another woman. Because I knew that the Bulgarian nurses at our hospital had also been interrogated, I assumed that the accusation of having had "sexual contact" involved one of them. But then the police let me go, telling me that I had only been there for routine questioning.
Benghazi was practically a war zone at the time, with a group of radical Islamists fighting in the streets. Our hospitals were filled with the injured, and hygienic conditions were disastrous. We didn't have any needles and the sterilization equipment was broken. A single pair of scissors was used to cut the umbilical cords of a dozen newborns. Seventy percent of the children infected with HIV also had hepatitis B.
The Libyan authorities were very concerned about the HIV infections. The government felt powerless to deal with a steadily rising AIDS rate caused by uninhibited sex and many things that happen behind closed doors. The hepatitis B epidemic was later confirmed by both the lower courts and Gadhafi's son, Seif al Islam, who studied abroad and is worldly. But his father's will is law in Libya, and he controls both the judiciary and the sentencing system. Moammar Gadhafi had to have someone to blame, someone to satisfy the furious parents of the infected children. Under no circumstances could any blame be assigned to the corrupt healthcare system, which the government neglects.
When I returned to my dormitory on Jan. 29, 1999, after visiting my parents during Ramadan, I found a note instructing me to report to the chief of police once again. For the next 10 months, it was as if I had vanished from the face of the earth. My parents looked for me in hospitals and scanned the lists of the dead. It took them a long time to find out that I had been arrested.
At the police station on that Jan. 29, at 11:35 p.m., they put me in handcuffs, covered my face with a black mask and locked me into the trunk of a police car. For the next four hours the car was driven through the countryside at high speed. Those four hours seemed like four years to me. It was still dark when we arrived at a building in Tripoli. It was freezing cold. They had taken everything from me but my shirt and my trousers.
The next morning two men began to beat me. They shouted: "You infected the children with AIDS, and you were instructed to do so by the CIA and the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad. You and the foreign woman with whom you are sleeping. You came to our country as a spy. You are nothing but scum and filth."
Then they drove me to a building about four kilometers outside Tripoli. It was a sort of farm for police dogs -- the ideal place, from their perspective, because no one would be able to hear us scream.
I was locked into a room with three dogs during the first few days. They ordered the animals to attack me. My leg is covered with scars from their bites. I had a large hole in my knee. I was served my meals in the bowl they used for the dogs. The five Bulgarian nurses were also being kept in this torture building. Every day our tormentors told us: "We will make you suffer until you confess." The torture periods were carried out between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m.. This went on for months.
One of the things they did was to wrap bare wire around my penis. Then they would drag me around a room that was at least 40 by 40 meters. I screamed and cried.
One of the most excruciating things was their electric torture machine -- a manually operated box that works like a generator. They would attach the negative cable to a finger and the positive cable to one of my ears or my genitals. The most painful part of it wasn't the current but the fact that they could change the rate at which it was applied. When I became unconscious they would pour cold water on my naked body and continue the procedure.
During the torture with electrical shocks, they would show me the passports of the five Bulgarian nurses and say: These are Kristiana, Nasya, Valentina, Valya and Snezhana. The nurses suffered the same fate as I did. But we were unable to communicate with each other because I didn't speak Bulgarian yet.
'I Am Ashamed about the Things they Did to the Women'
Sometimes we were tortured in the same room. I saw them half-naked and they saw me completely naked when I was being given the electroshocks. We heard each other whimpering, crying and screeching. Kristiana was hung up on a window while they put me on an iron pallet and applied the electroshocks. I am ashamed to talk about all the things they did to the women. They were raped. Kristiana was forced to put a bottle in her vagina. At one point Nasya, who couldn't stand it anymore, broke off a piece of window glass and slit her wrist. They took her to the hospital, under a false name, and then they brought her back to our torture chamber.
My cell was so small that I couldn't lie down. For one year I slept with my legs pulled up to my chest, leaning against the wall of the cell. (Hazouz sits on the floor and demonstrates how he spent his nights.) I was afraid that I would lose my mind, and I asked myself again and again: Why, of all people, did they pick you?
But the worst thing was that they threatened to torture my family and rape my sisters in front of my eyes. After God, my family is the most sacred thing I have, and I am the only brother of four sisters. At one point they brought in a girl, and all I could hear was her voice, screaming: "I am your sister. I am being raped."
I gave up. Tell me what you want me to do, I said, I will sign anything -- even that I confess to being responsible for the Lockerbie plane bombing. By then the police had notified my sister, who was in medical school in Tripoli, of my arrest. My father brought her home immediately.
I was transferred to the Jadida Prison in Tripoli on April 17, 2000, and I remained there until Feb. 4, 2002. The cells were 1.8 by 2.40 meters (6 by 8 feet), and most of them contained eight prisoners. We took turns sleeping in two-hour shifts. Four men would sleep with their knees pulled up to their chests, while the other four stood over them. After one year I was moved to a 5 by 10-meter (16 by 33-foot) room, which contained 70 prisoners. We were packed in like sardines, head to foot. If I had cows I wouldn't even put them so tightly together.
The guards brought the other prisoners Libyan newspapers, which accused us of being child murderers. The Arab papers also spread these lies, picking up their stories from Libyan sources. Instead of defending me, the Palestinian envoy claimed that I had confessed to him that I was a Mossad agent and had deliberately infected the children. Many of the prisoners believed this. We Arabs are hypocrites. We know the truth and yet we believe the lies.
Ashraf al-Hazouz in court with the five accused Bulgarian nurses: "Sometimes we were tortured in the same room."
Ashraf al-Hazouz in court with the five accused Bulgarian nurses: "Sometimes we were tortured in the same room."
In February 2002, thanks to the support of Gadhafi's son, Seif al Islam, the court dropped the charges against us of conspiring against the state. But the charge of infecting the 426 children was upheld.
After that we were placed under house arrest and lived together in a house consisting of four rooms, a kitchen and a garden. A restaurant provided us with our food. We were even permitted to shop in the city and go the dentist, escorted by a policeman. There was no more torture. We had satellite TV and were allowed to receive visitors. I learned Bulgarian. When the Bulgarian foreign minister, Solomon Passy, visited us in May 2002, I asked him for Bulgarian citizenship, which I received a few weeks before our departure -- at the urging of the European Union.
'We Know that You Are Innocent'
By this point in time, intensive negotiations for a possible release were already underway. One day the chief of security for Tripoli came to the house and said: "We know that you are innocent. You will be with your families in two months." But instead the court suddenly imposed the death penalty on May 6, 2004, despite the fact that French Professor Luc Montagnier and Italian Professor Vittoria Colizzi, both internationally renowned experts, had concluded that we were innocent.
Our next stop was the death row wing at the Tripoli prison, where prisoners were kept awaiting their executions. Of course, no one is immortal, and one day I too will die. But it is a terrible feeling when someone with whom you have just shared a meal a few hours ago is suddenly taken out and all you hear is gunshots. And when you yourself sit there, waiting, afraid that your name could be next ...
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Adhraf al-Hazouz claims, "needed someone to blame."
It was only on May 25, 2005 that I found out that I was going to live. That was when EU Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner came to me and said: "You are not alone. Twenty-five European countries support you. They are all convinced that you and the nurses are innocent."
During Germany's presidency of the EU Council, I also received a visit from German Foreign Minister (Frank-Walter) Steinmeier. I was wearing a watch with the EU symbol on it that the EU envoy had given me. Steinmeier was surprised, and I said to him: "I hope that I too will soon be a member of the EU. My family was granted asylum in the Netherlands on Dec. 19, 2005.
When they tried to isolate me from the Bulgarian group, the EU intervened. I became increasingly hopeful that I would soon be released from hell when the wife of French President (Nicolas) Sarkozy got involved. At the request of the EU, I signed a petition to be pardoned by Gadhafi -- a condition of our release.
When Bulgarian President (Georgi) Parvanov pardoned us within a few minutes of our arrival in Sofia, I suddenly felt that I had grown wings. Telecom Bulgaria, which is supported by the Bulgarian government, promised me and the nurses that it would give each of us an apartment. I received financial assistance, and they even offered me the chance to finish my medical training for free.
It doesn't even faze me now, when I read that Tripoli is calling upon the Arab League to lodge protests against our pardon in Bulgaria, and that the parents of the infected children are demanding that we be returned to Libya. They have known for a long time that we are innocent.
But I do want to testify in a case that a Bulgarian attorney is bringing against two of the worst of our Libyan torturers. I hope the nurses will also testify. I plan to fight, even if it takes until the end of my life, to clear our names in the Arab world.
This text has been adapted from an interview conducted by SPIEGEL correspondent Renate Flottau with Ashraf al-Hazouz in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Posted by lmurx at 8:19 PM
Photo: In May 2005, President Bush and Laura Bush joined President Saparmurat A. Niyazov of Turkmenistan and the Ukrainian president, Viktor A. Yushchenko, to mark a World War II anniversary in Moscow.
The Curious Death of Turkmenbashi
BY JOHN C. K. DALY
The Jamestown Foundation
The unexpected death of Turkmenbashi (Leader of the Turkmen), Saparmurat Atayevich
Niyazov, in the early morning of December 21, 2006 in Ashgabat of “acute heart failure,”
had the rumor mills in that isolated capital swiftly spinning.1 The diagnosis was announced the same day. The medical commission investigating Niyazov’s death as well as the certified post-mortem report stated that the cause of death was acute cardiac arrest. Dr. Hans Meissner, Niyazov’s German cardiologist, confirmed that the cause of Niyazov’s death was a heart attack, despite a medical examination several weeks earlier that had given him a clean bill of health.2
Niyazov had ruled Turkmenistan 21 years to the day, taking over the country on December 21, 1985.
The government itself hardly quelled the issue, commenting that a possible contributing factor was “diabetes mellitus.”3 According to several sources, Niyazov had a toe amputated several years ago due to diabetes complications, while local physicians speaking on condition of anonymity said that the president had weak blood vessels, which could have led to cerebral hemorrhage.4
Only a handful of foreign correspondents were in Ashgabat when Niyazov died, and many
Western media reports concentrated on the more garish aspects of his “cult of personality,” leaving many questions about Niyazov’s passing unanswered. At stake is the personal control of billions of dollars in natural gas revenue from the world’s fifth largest natural gas reserves, trillion cubic meters.)
Did Niyazov die of natural causes, or were darker forces involved? Speculation swiftly began to circulate that the latter was the case. In trying to uncover Niyazov’s mysterious sudden end, a useful caveat to keep in mind would be Lucius Cassius Longinus Ravilla’s old Latin adage Cuibono (to whose benefit).
One incontestable fact is that Niyazov had been experiencing various health problems for more than a decade before his death. The issue of Niyazov’s health first attracted media attention in February 1994, when Niyazov flew from the Davos Economic Forum to the United States for a medical examination, after which he had surgery for phlebitis in his left leg in Houston.6 Two years later, while visiting Turkey for discussions on a Turkmen-Iran-Turkey natural gas pipeline, Niyazov reportedly again received medical treatment.7
Whatever the true condition of Niyazov’s health may have been, on September 1, 1997 he underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery in Munich.8 At the time, Meissner said that Niyazov suffered from a “very severe illness of the vessels, which supply the heart.”9 Following the surgery, Niyazov presented German cardiologist Hans Meissner with a $580,000 Akhal-Teke horse, of which there are less than an estimated 3,500 worldwide.
On November 10, 1998, Meissner reexamined Niyazov and pronounced him in “good health.” Meissner, who had operated on Niyazov in Germany, subsequently moved from Germany to Turkmenistan.10 Meissner would visit Niyazov in Ashgabat two or three times a year. In March 2002, he pronounced that Turkmenbashi was in “great” physical shape.
Following the last diagnosis, however, exiled opposition leader Boris Shikhmuradov disagreed:
“At the moment of his surgery, blood circulation didn’t exceed 26 percent of his heart function. After the bypass surgery, the process was restored, but doctors warned him that he should keep a strict diet and follow medical prescriptions. Of course, he followed none of them. Quite the opposite. He continued to drink—in particular, cognac, which is his regular drink. This has completely ruined the results of the surgery. Starting in 1998, German doctors have regularly been warning that his health condition was degrading.”11
Turkmenbashi had a low opinion of his country’s health professionals. Speaking to an audience of students and state and public officials at the Agricultural University in Ashgabat in April 2005, Niyazov said, “I have a dentist from Germany taking care of my teeth.”12 Like Lenin, Turkmenbashi distrusted local doctors whom he considered poor professionals, commenting at a cabinet meeting that Turkmen doctors “cannot even administer an injection.”13
Despite the upbeat prognoses, in September 2004, Niyazov was the first patient for a routine medical examination on the opening day of a new diagnostic center in Ashgabat. Meissner, heading a team of six doctors, declared Niyazov to be in good physical shape as a result of Niyazov’s quitting smoking a few years previously and engaging in a moderate exercise program.14
Niyazov’s heart, however, was not his only organ feeling the weight of advancing years. In March 2005, he was operated on by a team of German doctors led by Ulrich Schaaler at the Niyazov International Medical Center in Ashgabat for a cataract in his left eye. After the surgery, he was given his usual clean bill of health, with Schaaler proclaiming that they had restored his vision “100 percent.”15 The year ended with yet another physical conducted by a team of German doctors again led by Meissner, who told reporters, “Niyazov’s inherent and immutable good spirit enables him to resist constant stress and manage physical strains connected with the leader’s working pace…He loves his job.” The tests included an ultrasound, Xrays and electrocardiogram procedures.16
Unfortunately for Turkmenbashi, 2006 would see his health decline despite such rosy prognoses. He would not live to see the year’s end. On October 20, Niyazov told participants at the Annual Conference of the Association of World Turkmen in Ashgabat, “Many of my deputies are fasting [during Ramadan]. Only I cannot fast because I’m taking tablets. After my heart disease, [physicians] gave me medicine. Life itself has released me from fasting. So, don’t blame me.”17 Despite this startling admission, three days later, a team of German physicians headed by the indefatigable Meissner declared after two days of extensive tests that they found Niyazov, who it is now known would only live for two more months, in good health.
Still, all was not well in the kingdom of Turkmenbashi, as on November 17 NewsCentralAsia announced that Niyazov was scheduled for additional ocular surgery in January 2007, following a medical exam by a team of German doctors led by ophthalmologist Professor Arthur Mueller and anesthetist Dr. Klaus Chaikovskii. Mueller told reporters that Niyazov’s right eye should be operated on, “so that his sight is balanced.” Chaikovskii added that Turkmenbashi was in “very good health” and that “all his organs are working normally.” Niyazov died the following month.
WAS NIYAZOV MURDERED?
While rumors are rife, few are willing to openly suggest that Niyazov might not have died a natural death, or even died on December 21, as was reported. Indicating possible government foreknowledge of Niyazov’s demise, the day before the “light of all Turkmen’s death,” a spokesman of the Uzbek National Customs Committee said that Turkmenistan unexpectedly closed its border with Uzbekistan.18
Turkmen former Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev, in an article entitled “Niyazov Always Feared Dying an Unnatural Death,” writes about the number of peculiarities surrounding Niyazov’s death. Kuliev is quick to note the facts: Niyazov seemed healthy just before his death; Meissner, his German personal physician of many years, was not involved in the autopsy and Berdymukhammedov in a rapid manner quickly assumed power.19 Kuliev even speculates that those involved might not only have been Turkmen but “also…outside forces.”
Russia’s Institute of Religion and Politics researcher Zurab Todua also suspects foul play, noting, “Niyazov was helped to go by those who had ‘access to the body’ and controlled his doctors…First, after the heart operation in 1997, he was regularly checked by German doctors. The last time was literally before his death.
It was reported that the president was ‘in great form, all organs are functioning normally.’ Second, attempts on Niyazov’s life had been made before—the most high-profile one was on November 25, 2002.” Todua adds that while Niyazov punished the conspirators, public dissatisfaction remained high. He points out that top Turkmen officials clearly did not look shocked by Niyazov’s death, with his funeral proceeding so smoothly that it seemed as if its scenario had been written well in advance.20
The chairman of the Islamic Committee of Russia, Geydar Cemal, is confident that the Turkmen leader was killed, as Niyazov “was noted for his strong health.”21 Bayram Shikhmuradov, one of the leaders of the Republican Party of Turkmenistan, is also suspicious of the official accounts, saying, “The speed with which the Turkmen authorities found a way out of a difficult situation, with the lightning arrest of the speaker of parliament and the naming of the deputy prime minister as the president’s temporary successor, is worrying.
They were ready for it, and they quickly put their plan into action.” As the son of Turkmenistan’s former Foreign Affairs Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, he was in a position to have significant contacts with the Turkmen opposition both outside and inside the country.22
In March 1999, Foreign Affairs Minister Shikhmuradov led peace talks in Kandahar where he reportedly met Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Three years later, Niyazov announced that 49 people, including 17 foreigners, had been arrested in connection with an assassination attempt on November 25, reportedly led by Shikhmuradov from exile. Shikhmuradov returned to Turkmenistan from Uzbekistan the following month and received a life sentence.
Another potentially disaffected group that might have wished to see Niyazov dead were drug traffickers who use Turkmenistan as a transit country for Afghan heroin to reach Russia on their way to European markets. A report prepared by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime stated that in 1998 about 40 tons of heroin passed through Turkmenistan from Afghanistan. By May 2003, Dmirtri Rogozin, head of the Russian Duma’s committee on international affairs, openly accused Niyazov of involvement with the Taliban in the drug trade in exchange for fuel shipments. He charged the Niyazov administration with maintaining covert contact with terrorists, including bin Laden, and reporting that Major Vitaly Usachev, head of the Ashgabat airport border guards, in 1997 revealed that hundreds of pounds of heroin were discovered in government luggage. Usachev was subsequently arrested and shot.23
On November 8, 2006, the month before Niyazov died, Nikolai Gavrilov, a former Ministry of National Security department head, was found murdered in his Ashgabat apartment along with his wife. Gavrilov had sensitive information about the drug trade through Turkmenistan and knowledge of the involvement of Turkmen officials in the narcotics trade, including the former General Prosecutor Gurbanbibi Atajanova (who was subsequently arrested and charged with organizing a drug trafficking ring), former presidential advisor Yolly Gurbanmuradov and others.24 After retiring, Gavrilov worked at the Ashgabat zoo and attempted to emigrate to Russia, but was thwarted by government officials. No one has been arrested yet for the Gavrilov murders. Niyazov’s attitude toward drugs was hardly conventional, at one point declaring that, “opium helps relations with women,” the same year that the Turkmen government stopped reporting opium seizures.25 The trafficking charges were also supported by Turkmen opposition leaders; in Washington in 2002, Kuliev told the author that Niyazov was personally involved in the drug trade and stored tons of heroin in presidential residences.
Drug barons have not hesitated to attack the highest elements of government authority when threatened—in November 1985, 11 Colombian Supreme Court judges and 90 other people died when M-19 guerrillas forced their way into the Colombian Palace of Justice. During the 26-hour siege, a fire destroyed all pending extradition requests and other counter-narcotics documentation.26 If Niyazov attempted major transit price increases in the manner he dealt with energy clients, he would certainly have angered drug barons.
Murder by poisoning is difficult to prove because a medical examiner collecting tissue samples must forward them to state crime laboratories for testing, which can take days. While many poisons like thallium leave residual traces in the body, some poisons disappear after death, such as cyanide. A person can die from cyanide poisoning, but the cyanide may not be detectable after death. Furthermore, embalming with formaldehyde interferes with tests for cyanides. There is no indication that such toxicological tests were even carried out.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
The day after Niyazov died, the Financial Times reported that Germany’s Deutsche Bank reportedly held $1.68 billion in accounts controlled by Niyazov. A $1.68 billion Turkmenistan government contract was reportedly signed in 2001 to export gas to Ukraine and has since been managed by Deutsche Bank on behalf of the Turkmenistan central bank.27 The Vienna-based Turkmen opposition Republican Party of Turkmenistan wrote to German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanding an “official investigation” of the Deutsche Bank accounts, alleging there is an estimated $3 billion in illegal Niyazov accounts. Deutsche Bank has thus far refused to comment. Six months ago, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development cautioned that Turkmen central bank accounts were under the “discretionary control of the president without appropriate regulation and transparency.”
Further muddying the waters, the Financial Times reported that Aleksandr Zhadan, who controlled Niyazov’s financial affairs, reportedly fled Ashgabat the day before Niyazov died. Zhadan, an old family friend, was Niyazov’s private secretary before the collapse of communism in 1991 and deputy head of the presidential administration. Additionally, Zhadan served as Niyazov’s personal treasurer and managed his bank accounts abroad for nearly 20 years, and escaped, possibly to Israel.28 Zhadan disappeared with important state documents.29 Two days later, Kommersant reported that Zhadan was the liaison for many of Niyazov’s contacts with important Western centers of influence. Niyazov personally approved all energy contracts and all revenues that went into the accounts controlled by him rather than into state entities. Therefore, Zhadan doubtlessly had unique insights.
The vast energy revenues attracted other sticky fingers as well—in May 2005, Deputy Prime Minister Elly Kurbanmuradov, who was in charge of the energy sector, was fired and subsequently jailed for 25 years on various charges, including corruption. Two months later, Rejep Saparov, head of presidential administration, received a 20 year jail sentence on corruption charges.
During an interview with Savik Shuster, Vremya Novostei correspondent Arkady Dubno said that he had received an e-mail stating that Zhadan fled to Firiuza, 23 miles west of Ashgabat on the northeastern slopes of Kopet Dagh, where Niyazov maintained a residence. There Zhadan met with Niyazov’s widow Muza Alekseyevna and Irina Niyazov, who reportedly was fully briefed on her father’s accounts.30
Among Turkmenistan’s natural gas clients nervously watching all this medical flummery was none other than Gazprom, whose relations with Niyazov over the years might most diplomatically be described as strained. Niyazov since 1991 had repeatedly pressured his clients to pay ever-increasing fees for Turkmen gas and multiple times had unilaterally halted supplies, sometimes for years, to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine to press his point. The only certainty in negotiating with Niyazov was his unpredictability.
From 1991 to 1993, the Turkmenistan economy thrived on its gas and cotton exports. Yet Niyazov was desperate for Western currency, and his only tangible asset was the country’s energy reserves. Lack of access to hard currency markets resulted in a decrease in the country’s gas output in 1995 to less than half of the pre-Soviet level.
The first to feel the chill was Armenia, when in December 1996 Turkmenistan cut gas deliveries as a result of Armenia’s $75 million debt to Turkmenistan.31 Four months later, it was Ukraine’s turn due to an unpaid $700 million debt with Turkmenistan, losing about $1 billion until it resumed supplies to Ukraine on November 1, 2000. The Russian firm Itera was initially contracted to export Turkmen gas, for which it paid just $10 per 1000 cubic meters.32
In January 1998, Niyazov rejected an offer from Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and Transneft Chairman Rem Vyakhirev to purchase Turkmen natural gas for $32 per 1,000 cubic meters. The following year, Niyazov would turn off the tap to Moscow, only resuming deliveries on March 6, 2001 after more than a year. Russia, Turkmenistan’s biggest market, took careful note of Niyazov’s hardball tactics.
The price squabbles, however, continued. On December 27, 2004, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry said that gas supplies to Russia and Ukraine would be cut due to a dispute over prices. They cut gas supplies four days later. This time Ukraine buckled quickly, agreeing on January 3, 2005 to pay $58 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. A triumphant Niyazov said at a news conference that his demand for increased prices was due to the falling value of U.S. dollar.
Turkmenistan’s natural gas exports earn more than $2 billion annually. Turkmenistan delivers about 50 billion cubic meters a year, the majority of foreign natural gas that Russia imports, allowing Gazprom to support both exports and internal consumption.
The high point in Niyazov’s gas pricing brinkmanship came last June, when he forced Gazprom’s chairman Aleksei Miller to agree to a 54 percent gas price hike in a 25-year bilateral accord under which Turkmenistan would supply Russia with 162 billion cubic meters of gas at $100 per 1,000 cubic meters.33 While Gazprom has played similar hardball with Georgia, Belarus and Ukraine, there was little that Miller could do but agree.
Despite his victory, Russian heavy-handedness and stinginess caused Niyazov to consider other options for gas exports. In an effort to circumvent Gazprom’s monopoly, Turkmenistan in 1997 opened the 125-mile Korpeje-Kord-Kuy pipeline to Iran, which in 2006 carried about eight billion cubic meters annually. In April 2006, Niyazov signed a deal with China for natural gas exports and the commissioning of a Turkmenistan-China pipeline by 2009.34 Unhappy with Gazprom’s monopoly, besides the China pipeline three other pipelines were under discussion: the Trans-Afghan Pipeline, which, like the proposed Chinese pipeline, would handle 30 billion cubic meters annually; a pipeline along the Caspian coast to improve export capacity to Europe; and a pipeline to the United Arab Emirates, through Afghanistan and Pakistan.35 If the projects came to fruition, Gazprom would be completely cut off from Turkmenistan’s natural gas exports. Furthermore, a newly discovered massive gas field in Iolatan in Mary province had a potential seven trillion cubic meters of gas, which Niyazov said would provide Turkmenistan with enough natural gas to honor obligations to export 200 billion cubic meters annually for 35 years.36 Niyazov signed an order allowing the Turkish Calik
Energy Co. and China’s National Petroleum Co. to begin developing the Iolatan reserves. Russia was about to lose out on billions in transit revenues.
The uncomfortable reality for both Gazprom and Turkmenistan is that they need one another. Europe now represents nearly 70 percent of Gazprom’s total revenue, with its product reaching 21 Central and Western Europe countries. In 2000, production in Gazprom’s two largest mature fields declined 20 percent, with the result being that Gazprom still has not recovered its 1999 production levels.37
Gazprom also sells the majority, about two-thirds of its annual gas production of about 550 billion cubic meters, in the Russian domestic market. Until 1994, Gazprom treated Turkmenistan as a beggar client state, allocating it a transit quota of 11 percent of Transneft’s total capacity. The situation changed in 2000 when Gazprom was no longer able to meet all its delivery obligations because of declining production in its Western Siberian fields, where 80 percent of its assets are. Gazprom then allowed increased Turkmen access to the lower-priced Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) market, while continuing to reserve the higherpriced markets for Western and Central Europe.38 In January, Kommersant quoted Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov as saying Gazprom intended to hike the average gas price for Europe to $250 per thousand cubic meters, a fact that can hardly have escaped Niyazov’s attention.39
The Russia domestic market with its regulated low prices absorbed 325 billion cubic meters of gas in 2005, generating losses for Gazprom of nearly $1 billion.40 Exports to the higher-paying West, providing the majority of Gazprom’s profits, were accordingly planned at 151 billion cubic meters for 2006.41 Niyazov’s triumphal 54 percent rate increase would drastically cut into Gazprom’s 2007 profit margin.
Gazprom planned to buy 30 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan in 2006.42 Purchases from Turkmenistan were scheduled to rise to 70-80 bcm annually by 2007-08.43 If the price Gazprom paid for the 70 bcm rose $46 per 1,000 cm to $100 per 1,000 cm, the new rate would force Gazprom to cough up an additional $3.8 billion for Turkmen gas imports in 2007 alone, with no guarantee that Niyazov might not impose further price hikes. Such a sum would severely erode Gazprom’s record profits, which were $5.2 billion in the second quarter of 2006, a 123 percent increase from the previous year’s period.44 A further grudge against Niyazov by the energy executives of other Caspian riparian states is that his perverse attitude toward dividing the Caspian’s waters made a final delineation impossible, which thwarted both offshore exploration and the laying of undersea pipelines.
Despite the massive energy revenues flowing into Turkmenistan, little benefit has reached the Turkmen people. The United Nations estimated that 44 percent of the country’s population lives on less than $2 per day.45 The CIA in 2004 estimated that Turkmenistan suffered from 60 percent unemployment. In contrast to the living conditions in neighboring post-Soviet countries, Turkmenistan’s 4.5 million still live almost the same way as they did under communism. Funding for social programs is only 22 percent of Turkmenistan’s
2007 budget, as compared to around 67 percent in nearby Kyrgyzstan last year.46
THE END AND A NEW BEGINNING?
While Niyazov’s health was somewhat problematical, if he was indeed killed the list of suspects would be extensive, ranging from impoverished citizens to disgruntled government officials, from drug traffickers to foreign energy executives, all of whom would benefit from the demise of such a mercurial, autocratic despot and a more rational and predictable replacement regime. Niyazov certainly did not lack internal and foreign critics who were increasingly unsettled by his unpredictable style of government.
It is notable that both foreign energy officials and Turkmen government functionaries hastened to assure one another that it would be “business as usual” even before Niyazov was buried. The Russian delegation to Niyazov’s funeral was the largest foreign contingent. Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, now Russian ambassador to the Ukraine, accompanied Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. Other Russian attendees included Gazprom head Alexei Miller, who led a delegation of high-ranking officials from the gas giant.
The new government scrambled to communicate to its foreign partners that despite Niyazov’s death all energy contracts would be honored. The day after Niyazov’s death, acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said, “Let foreign consumers of our oil and gas not worry. Turkmenistan will strictly follow its commitments, and no event is able to influence our exports, because there is strict government control over all this.”47
1 Neitral’niy Turkmenistan, No. 311, December 23, 2006.
2 Turkmenistan.ru, December 21, 2006.
3 ITAR-TASS, December 21, 2006. The opposition also claimed that Niyazov had been ill for years with
diabetes. RIA Novosti, December 21, 2006.
4 The Times of Central Asia, March 4, 2005.
5 “Turkmenistan,” CIA World Factbook 2006.
6 RFE/RL, http://www.rferl.org/specials/turkmenelections/timeline.asp.
7 Yeni Yuzyil, February 8, 2006.
8 RIA Novosti, December 21, 2006.
9 Turkmenistan.ru, December 21, 2006.
10 Pravda, October 4, 2006.
11 RFE/RL, October 13, 2002.
12 TV Altyn Asyr, April 4, 2004.
13 The Times of Central Asia, March 4, 2005.
14 Interfax, September 14, 2004.
15 “Weekly News Brief on Turkmenistan, March 25-March 31, 2005,” http://www.eurasianet.org.
16 ITAR-TASS, December 13, 2005.
17 Watan, October 24, 2006.
18 Gazeta.ru, December 20, 2006.
19 Erkin Turkmenistan, December 28, 2006.
20 Argumenty i Fakty, December 25, 2006.
21 Politika, December 22, 2006.
22 Kommersant, December 22, 2006.
23 Lenta.ru, May 23, 2003.
24 Deutsche Welle, November 11, 2006.
25 Erkin Turkmenistan, May 2000.
26 El Tiempo, January 12, 2007.
27 Mosnews, December 26, 2006.
28 “Kaznachei Turmkenbashi mog ckryt’sia v Israile,” jewish.ru, December 25, 2006.
29 Kommersant, December 23, 2006.
30 Svoboda Slova, December 25, 2006.
31 Noyan Tapan, December 19, 1996.
32 Kommersant, December 22, 2006.
33 Turkmen TV first channel, June 5, 2006.
34 MosNews, December 22, 2006.
35 NewsCentralAsia, October 25, 2006.
36 NewsCentralAsia, November 4, 2006.
37 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 16, 2006.
38 Russian Analytical Digest, June 6, 2006.
39 Kommersant, January 10, 2006.
40 Prime-Tass, November 29, 2005.
41 Prime-Tass, November 23, 2005.
42 Ferghana.ru, January 23, 2006.
43 Prime-Tass, November 30, 2005.
44 International Herald Tribune, December 29, 2006.
45 United Nations IRIN, September 5, 2005.
46 Institute for War and Peace Reporting, January 12, 2007.
47 Turkmen Television First Channel, December 22, 2006.
Posted by lmurx at 8:01 PM
Thursday, August 2, 2007
A rare Anglo-Saxon gold coin went on display at the British Museum in February. A new study suggests that an apartheid-like system gave Anglo-Saxon newcomers to ancient Britain both economic and social superiority over native Britons, which led to the near eradication of the Britons' gene pool. AP Photo/Sang Tan
"Devil Possessions" Swept England After Invasion, Study Suggests
for National Geographic News
July 27, 2007
The Norman Invasion of A.D. 1066 may have brought more to England than just a new dynasty of kings.
The watershed year in English history was followed by ever increasing reports of people being possessed by the devil, according to one U.S. expert.
The two developments were closely linked, says Peter Dendle, an English professor at Pennsylvania State University.
Furthermore, understanding how medieval England came to be "bedeviled" after the Anglo-Saxons were conquered may help explain a resurging belief in demon possession in modern Western countries, the researcher suggests.
Basing his theory on medieval texts and records, Dendle says that the concept of people being demonically possessed only really caught on in England after new religious beliefs and customs were imported from overseas.
Researchers had previously assumed that different parts of Christian Western Europe believed equally in demon possession in medieval times.
But while demon possession involving ritual display carried out by a priest or exorcist was well documented in mainland Europe, the phenomenon was either rare or absent in Anglo-Saxon England, the researcher found.
This changed after William of Normandy invaded from France, defeating the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings and replacing King Harold as England's monarch. (Related: "Ancient Britain Had Apartheid-Like Society, Study Suggests" [July 21, 2006].)
"As an imported and learned series of behaviors, demon possession did not seem to 'take' in England, for the most part, prior to the Norman Conquest," Dendle said.
Only one area bucked this trend.
"The major exception is late seventh to early eighth century Northumbria [in northeast England], in which there does seem to be a window of active and dynamic possession behavior," Dendle said.
Dendle links this to the fact that while Christianity was already established in most of England, the northeastern region had only recently been converted (England map).
Lasting no more than 50 years, the outbreak may reflect the tension between Christianity and lingering pagan beliefs, Dendle pointed out. Or the spate could have resulted from differences in the way converts understood their new religion.
Afterward, though, "there is no reference to a contemporary Anglo-Saxon case of possession for 300 years," Dendle said.
Anglo-Saxon sources indicate that the English were both puzzled and surprised by cases of possession mentioned both in the Scriptures and European texts from regions such as modern-day France and Germany.
But after the Norman Conquest, possession stories and exorcisms quickly appear in England, Dendle found.
These reports coincided with growing use of healing shrines and pilgrimage routes by people in search of miracle cures, the researcher suggests.
Christina Lee of the University of Nottingham in England says saintly relics that supposedly had healing properties were increasingly advertised by monasteries and churches as cures for the possessed or the mad.
"There were churches vying to have the most powerful saint, while monasteries had hospitals attached to them," Lee said. "They saw themselves as doctors of the soul."
One argument is that demon possession as a religious concept was good for business.
If cures appeared to work, "people would be very grateful and leave donations—which the churches and monasteries were dependent on," Lee pointed out.
In a forthcoming book, Demon Possession in Anglo-Saxon England, English professor Dendle draws parallels between the phenomenon in medieval England and its resurgence in the West in recent decades.
The author notes, for instance, that a widespread increase in possessions and exorcisms in America were sparked in part by the 1973 horror movie The Exorcist.
This shows how culture can affect such practices and how "attitudes toward the demonic can radically shift in a very short period of time," he said.
"Demon possession as a living social phenomenon has made a 'miraculous' comeback over the last 30 years," Dendle added. "It's currently a growth industry in America and England as well as throughout the developing world."
Such a trend is seen today mainly among Evangelical Christians, such as those belonging to the Pentecostal movement.
Rather than an abstract idea, evil is seen by believers as an actual force that can be manifest when the devil "possesses" someone.
"There is little out there more spectacular than demon possession, and it brings with it an intoxicating aura of mystery and primordial danger—of cosmic forces locked in epic combat," Dendle said.
"I believe this trend will continue to gain momentum for some time."
Ancient Britain Had Apartheid-Like Society, Study Suggests
for National Geographic News
July 21, 2006
When Anglo-Saxons first arrived in Britain 1,600 years ago, they created
an apartheid-like society that oppressed the native Britons and wiped
out almost all of the British gene pool, according to a new study.
By treating Britons like slaves and imposing strict rules, the small band of Anglo-Saxons—who had come from what is now Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands—quickly dominated the country, leaving a legacy of Germanic genes and the English language, both of which still dominate Britain today.
The new theory helps explain historical, archaeological, and genetic evidence that until now had seemed contradictory, including the high number of Germanic genes found in modern-day England.
"An apartheid-like social structure could explain the big genetic and language replacements that we see," said Mark Thomas, a genetic anthropologist at University College London, who lead the study.
His team's findings appear in the current issue of The Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Historical and archaeological data suggest that no more than 200,000 Anglo-Saxons arrived in Britain around the middle of the fourth century A.D.
This is less than half of the 500,000 newcomers that genetic models suggest would be needed to swamp the gene pool of the native Britons, who are believed to have numbered around two million.
And yet Germanic genes are abundant in the English population today. Genetic studies have shown that more than 50 percent of England's gene pool contains Germanic Y chromosomes.
Y chromosomes are genetic markers that are passed down from fathers to sons.
But the researchers say 200,000 Anglo-Saxons could have dominated the English gene pool in less than 15 generations if the newcomers held a higher social standing.
Historian Alex Woolf of Scotland's University of St. Andrews, who is not an author of the study, first suggested that early Britain may have had an apartheid-like society, Thomas says.
Woolf pointed out that ancient texts such as the laws of Ine—written 200 years after the Anglo-Saxons arrived—demonstrate that the Anglo-Saxons had the upper hand.
The laws reveal that the life of an Anglo-Saxon was worth far more than that of a native Briton, who was known as a "Welshman" by the Anglo-Saxons at the time.
If an Anglo-Saxon was killed, for example, the "blood money" payable to the victim's family was two to five times more than that of a "Welshman."
To test Woolf's theory, Thomas devised a computer population model to study how such an apartheid-like structure would affect genetics.
By testing different combinations of ethnic intermarriage rates and levels of Anglo-Saxon social dominance, Thomas and his colleagues found that a small immigrant population could easily gain genetic supremacy.
When intermarriage rates were kept to less than 15 percent and Anglo-Saxons had a reasonably high social standing, then Germanic genes flourished.
"The surprising thing was that it didn't take much at all," Thomas said.
Servant and Master
The scientists say native Britons and Anglo-Saxons may have lived in a segregated, servant-and-master relationship.
Such a system would give the Anglo-Saxons a strong reproductive advantage, the researchers say.
"People with German ancestry had a higher social and legal status, and they tended to have more children," said Michael Stumpf, a genomics professor at Imperial College London and a co-author of the study.
But not everyone agrees with the team's theory. Alex Burghart, an Anglo-Saxon historian at Kings College London, thinks that "apartheid" is far too strong a word.
"It is nonsense. There would be no need to legislate against interbreeding. All you need is a society with huge economic and social divides," he said.
Sarah Foot, a medieval historian at England's University of Sheffield, also thinks the word "apartheid" is unwarranted. But she believes the research has merit.
"What is interesting is that there was seemingly no intermarriage between Britons and Anglo-Saxon settlers," she said.
"That isn't what one might have anticipated, and [it] also of course reinforces the fact that this was a migration of a people, not an invasion of a male military force," she said.
Chris Tyler-Smith, a geneticist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, England, also thinks Thomas' team has arrived at an interesting idea, but he has some reservations.
"I think they have come up with a reasonable deduction, but it rests on a complex series of pieces of evidence," he said.
"It is not necessarily the only possible interpretation," Tyler-Smith added.
Another question posed by the new study is why the native Britons ended up accommodating the Anglo-Saxons and their culture instead of rebelling.
"The natives realized they were the underdogs and realized that the only way to assimilate upwards was to adopt the new culture," said Heinrich Härke, study co-author and archaeologist at England's University of Reading.
"They tried to improve their status by learning English, which is why English was adopted," he added.
He notes that Anglo-Saxon cemeteries provide further evidence of a segregated society.
Archaeological surveys have shown that 47 percent of adult males were buried with their weapons, while the rest were buried without them, he says.
"We looked at [physical] stature and found that the men who were buried with their weapons were taller," Härke said.
Anglo-Saxon men are believed that have been one or two inches (about two and a half to five centimeters) taller than native British men.
This suggests that the men buried with their weapons were of Germanic origin and had a higher social status, while the men buried without their weapons were native Britons with lower social status.
Historical evidence shows that these kinds of differences continued until the early seventh century, after which the apartheid-like structure appears to have broken down, Härke adds.
Just 300 years of Anglo-Saxon dominance was enough to almost obliterate native Britons' gene pool and culture, he concludes.
"In England today there is no ancient British identity left except for a few place- and river names," Härke said.
Posted by lmurx at 9:02 PM
Rare Fossil Trees Found in Hungary
Fossil cypress trees picture
July 31, 2007—It may look like a haunted forest—but this rare cluster of fossilized trees is luring scientists in, not scaring them away.
The eight-million-year-old swamp cypress forest was found recently near the village of Bukkabrany in northeastern Hungary, officials announced today (map of Hungary). Miners uncovered the unusual find while digging for lignite, or brown coal.
The remains of the 16 uncovered trees—which range from about 13 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) tall and 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3 meters) around—are an oddity because they did not petrify, or turn to stone, as preserved trees usually do.
Instead, the trees retain their original wood, giving scientists vital clues to the puzzling geology and climate of ancient central Europe.
At that time, the Pannonian Lake that submerged much of present-day Hungary and its neighbors had begun to retreat. Meanwhile global sea levels had begun to fall, which eventually caused all or some of the Mediterranean Sea to dry up.
"The importance of the findings is that so many trees got preserved in their original position in one place," Alfred Dulai, a geologist at the Hungarian Natural History Museum, told the Reuters news service.
"But the real rarity about these trees is that ... their original wood got preserved ... they did not turn into stone."
Posted by lmurx at 8:59 PM
Philippe Charlier displays the supposed remains of 15th century French heroine Joan of Arc on February 13, 2006. Charlier led a team of researchers who found that the remains are in fact those of an Egyptian mummy. AP Photo/Jacques Brinon, File
Joan of Arc Relics Are Actually Egypt Mummy Remains, Research Reveals
for National Geographic News
April 4, 2007
The charred bones that were long believed to be remains of St. Joan of Arc don't belong to the French heroine but are instead the remains of an Egyptian mummy, a new study has shown.
Philippe Charlier, a forensic scientist at the Raymond Poincaré Hospital in Paris, France, obtained permission last year to study the relics from the church in Normandy where they are housed.
The relics were said to have been retrieved from the French site where Joan was burned at the stake in 1431.
Charlier's team studied the relics—including a fragment of cloth and a human rib—under the microscope and subjected them to chemical tests.
Close inspection of the human rib showed that it had not been burned but may have been heated to create a blackened crust on the surface, Charlier said.
Meanwhile the fragment of linen cloth had a coating characteristic of mummy wrappings and contained large amounts of pine pollen.
"Pine resin was widely used in Egypt during embalming," Charlier explained, adding that pine trees did not grow in Normandy during Joan of Arc's time.
Final proof came from carbon-14 analysis, which dated the human remains to between the third and sixth centuries B.C.
Chemical scans of all the relics further suggested Egypt as the place of origin, as the profiles closely matched those of Egyptian mummies rather than burned bones.
"We were astonished to find [the bone] came from a mummy," he said.
Smelling the Evidence
In his analysis of the artifacts Charlier also used the rather unusual tactic of employing leading "noses" from the perfume industry.
"We wanted a professional nose to confirm the smell [of the relics] and identify what molecules [the smells] might be," Charlier said.
During blind smell tests, professional perfumers Sylvaine Delacourte and Jean-Michel Duriez each identified the aromas of burned plaster and vanilla when given samples of the relics.
The scent of burned plaster is consistent with Joan having been burned on a plaster stake, but the vanilla doesn't fit, Charlier explained.
"Vanilla usually indicates an embalming process," he said.
Anastasia Tsaliki, an expert in ancient diseases at Britain's University of Durham, said she was impressed with Charlier's detective work.
"It is a fascinating project and shows how forensic methods can be combined with tools used in archaeometry [the study of archaeological materials] and archaeobotany [the study of ancient plants] and osteology [the study of bones]," she told the journal Nature.
Joan of Arc: Warrior Saint
Joan's life in France was short but eventful.
Late in the Hundred Years' War—fought between France and England from 1337 to 1453—she claimed to hear voices from God telling her to recover her homeland from the English.
After many battles against the English she was captured, and in 1431 was burned at the stake in the French city of Rouen under the orders of an English duke.
The putative relics surfaced in 1867 in a jar in the attic of a Paris pharmacy. They were labelled "Remains found under the stake of Joan of Arc, virgin of Orleans" and were officially recognized by the Vatican as being authentic.
The site where the relics were supposedly discovered gives Charlier a clue as to who might have created the elaborate fake.
"I think [the relic] was made during the 19th century, probably by a chemist or pharmacist," Charlier said.
Posted by lmurx at 8:57 PM
Sometime between 450,000 and 200,000 years ago, waters from a glacial lake burst through a natural chalk dam, flooding the area that is now the English Channel and cutting off the land that is now Britain from mainland Europe, a new study says. Sonar mapping of the seabed revealed scours and streamlined "islands" that could only have been created by gushing floodwaters, scientists report. Graphic by Miranda Mulligan/NGS
Ancient Megaflood Made Britain an Island, Study Says
for National Geographic News
July 18, 2007
A flood of biblical proportions cut the British Isles off from mainland Europe sometime between 450,000 and 200,000 years ago, according to a new study.
The research, based on three-dimensional sonar mapping of the English Channel, provides the strongest evidence yet that a catastrophic megaflood broke a land bridge that once connected what is now Britain and France.
"It is probably one of the largest floods ever identified," said Phillip Gibbard, a geographer at the University of Cambridge who wasn't involved in the study.
At its peak, the flood would have discharged water at a rate of about 264 million gallons (a million cubic meters) a second, gushing at speeds of up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) an hour, the researchers say. This is roughly equivalent to ten times the combined flow rate of all the rivers in the world.
In addition to making Britain an island, the authors add, the huge flood had wide-ranging environmental consequences.
For example, the gigantic pulse of freshwater entering the Atlantic Ocean likely caused a period of climate cooling in the Northern Hemisphere, Gibbard said.
"The introduction of ice and freshwater into an ocean drives climate oscillations and causes marked cooling events," he explained.
The flood also marooned many animals and plants, so those species gradually evolved into different forms than their mainland cousins.
And humans appear to have avoided the newly made island altogether, leaving it unoccupied for over a hundred thousand years.
Researchers have long known that a narrow ridge of chalk once connected Dover in southeast England to Calais in northwest France.
During the ice ages, when sea levels were low, the ridge held back a glacial lake from inundating a large valley between the two regions.
But during warm interglacial periods, sea levels rose and the chalk ridge was the only link.
At some point the ridge crumbled. Theories as to why have included river or glacial erosion, tidal scraping, and—most controversial of all—a megaflood.
Now Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College London and colleagues say they have found the first concrete evidence to support the megaflood theory.
A 3-D map of part of the English Channel reveals features that could only have been created by a massive flood, the team says.
"We have identified huge scours on the seafloor and streamlined islands," said Gupta, whose results will appear in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature.
These features are very unusual, he said, and have previously been found only in regions where megafloods are known to have occurred.
Similar features exist, for example, in the Channeled Scabland in eastern Washington State, which was deluged when the glacial Lake Missoula burst its banks about 12,000 years ago.
Based on their analysis, Gupta and colleagues say the most likely source of all this water was a huge glacial lake sitting in what is now the southern North Sea off the east coast of Britain.
The water was probably held back by the chalk ridge, and a small earthquake could have caused the first few cracks to appear.
"Chalk is not very strong, and eventually the water probably just started to over-spill," Gupta said.
Determining exactly when the megaflood took place is difficult.
But the divergence of plant and animal species between Britain and mainland Europe suggest that the event must have occurred sometime between 450,000 and 200,000 years ago.
"We now need to drill into the sediments to get an accurate date," Gupta said.
The great flood could help explain why Britain remained an uninhabited region for a large chunk of the archaeological record.
"There seems to be a large gap in the evidence for human occupation [of Britain] during cold and warm phases from about 180,000 until about 60,000 years ago," said Nicholas Ashton, an archaeologist at the British Museum in London.
(Related: "Humans Sped to U.K. After Ice Age, Study Says" [November 3, 2003].)
When the climate was warm, sea level between the island and the mainland was too high for humans to cross, Ashton said.
And during the much colder ice ages, humans could have crossed, but seem to have preferred to live in sunnier regions such as modern-day Italy and Spain.
"It wasn't until 60,000 years ago," Ashton said, "that humans—late Neanderthals—had the technological capabilities, such as more effective clothing and shelter, to survive the cold conditions."
Humans Sped to U.K. After Ice Age, Study Says
James Owen in England
for National Geographic News
November 3, 2003
Humans hotfooted it to Britain after the last ice age, scientists say. The new research, which challenges previous studies, suggests these early settlers advanced rapidly as the glaciers melted away.
A team of European scientists estimated the speed and timing of human resettlement in late glacial Britain by comparing radiocarbon dated remains with ice-core climate records. Their findings, now published in the Journal of Quaternary Science, suggest a wave of migration coincided with a sudden rise in temperature and the northwards spread of herd animals such as wild horse and deer.
Previously, scientists thought repopulation had been a drawn-out affair, preceded by centuries of sporadic forays from mainland Europe.
"The big question has always been how quickly, and in what number, did people return once the glaciers had retreated," said research team leader Nick Barton, from the anthropology department of Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, England. "Now with the benefit of larger numbers of radiocarbon dates corrected against a highly accurate record of global climatic change from the Greenland ice record, it seems reoccupation was an almost instantaneous event across northern and central Europe."
Early modern humans reached Britain by around 30,000 years ago, but within 3,000 years they were driven out by the advance of the last ice age.
The archaeologists looked for evidence of their return in ancient caves in western and northern England. The team radiocarbon dated bits of butchered bone from animals the settlers hunted such as red deer, and wild horse and cattle. The data reveal repopulation began as far back as 16,000 years ago.
Roger Jacobi, from the paleontology department of the Natural History Museum, London, said: "When you compare the pattern of radiocarbon dating against the Greenland ice core, humans get back when the ice cores are showing quite a sharp temperature rise."
Jacobi says the oldest bones came from a cave at Cheddar Gorge, Somerset. He added: "They were a group of neck vertebrae from wild horses that had been butchered and were therefore covered in cut marks. It's very clear humans had been instrumental in dismembering them."
The bones are only slightly younger than earliest dated human-modified remains from countries such as Belgium and Germany, suggesting a rapid advance from mainland Europe. Their progress was helped by the fact Britain was a peninsula, not an island.
"Most of the English Channel and southern North Sea would have been dry land," added Jacobi. "So Britain would have been joined eastwards to the northern tip of Denmark. It was a huge land connection."
Jacobi and his colleagues suggest it was the movement of animals across this same land connection that triggered the wave of human migration.
"It seems clear that people were following herds of large animals, like horse, which expanded to occupy the continent," said co-researcher Martin Street, from the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Neuwied, Germany. "Humans can be seen as part of that pulse."
They brought with them a tool kit of projectile points and knives used to kill and dismember their prey. Analysis of flint tools specific to the late glacial period shows these early settlers were highly mobile and covered large distances.
"For instance, we know from flint evidence at Cheddar Gorge that hunters were moving at least 70 kilometers (43 miles) on a regular basis," Jacobi added.
One of the strongest patterns to emerge from the study is the correlation between the location of early settlement sites and the edges of upland areas. Jacobi says this again highlights the importance of prey animals as a catalyst for human repopulation.
"It looks as if there was a whole range of micro-environments at the interface between uplands and lowlands," said Jacobi. "The joy of living on an upland edge is that you are able to exploit a whole range of environments and with it a more diverse fauna. The typography of places like Cheddar Gorge also make them ideal for trapping game against rock walls."
Remains found at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire suggest these early Britons were also partial to Arctic hare. "As well as its meat, they were probably going for the white winter pelts which were thick and look so attractive," Jacobi added.
The recent discovery at Creswell Crags of the world's northernmost ice age cave art lends weight to the study's findings. Though no match for the artistry of examples from caves in France and Spain, one of the animals depicted hints at the speed at which migrants spread from mainland Europe.
Archaeologists made out the outline of an ibex, an animal which is thought to have been absent from Britain.
"It's possible evidence that these people came from an area like Belgium, as ibexes certainly occurred in places like the Ardennes," said Jacobi. "Some researchers have interpreted this as indicating that groups had seen ibex on the continent and were drawing them from memory."
Yet these early colonizers secured only a temporary foothold in Britain, as Jacobi explains. "Interestingly, radiocarbon dating seems to show that humans, having resettled Britain in the late glacial period, then go away again for several hundred years, when it gets very cold again."
So it appears humans were cleaned out of Britain one last time, around 12,000 years ago. But they soon returned, hot on the heels of those deer and wild horses. And this time they were there to stay.
Posted by lmurx at 8:53 PM
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi
Lockerbie bomber case key to medics deal: Kadhafi son
PARIS, Aug 1, 2007 (AFP) - A deal with Britain that could see a Libyan convicted for the Lockerbie bombings extradited home was key to last week's release of six foreign medics, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's son said in comments published Wednesday.
Former Libyan secret agent Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, who was jailed for the 1988 bombing of a US airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, won the right to a new appeal in June after a court ruled he may have been wrongly convicted.
In an interview with France's Le Monde newspaper, Saif ul-Islam Kadhafi said Tripoli had drawn a link between Megrahi's judicial situation and that of the five nurses and doctor jailed for infecting children with the AIDS virus.
Asked whether the two cases were connected, Saif ul-Islam replied: "Yes. We established a link".
He also told Le Monde he hoped Megrahi would soon be sent back to Libya.
"We will soon have an extradition agreement with Britain," he said, referring to a memorandum of understanding on an extradition deal signed with Libya during a visit by Prime Minister Tony Blair in May.
Saif ul-Islam also said the medics' release -- in which France played a key role -- had paved the way for the signing of major arms contracts with France.
"With the French, we have been in negotiations for a long time. We asked Sarkozy to accelerate things. Now that the nurses' case is settled, a golden opportunity has arisen," he said.
A day after the medics' release, French President Nicolas Sarkozy travelled to Tripoli where he signed an agreement with Libya pledging to cooperate on several nuclear energy projects, including building a reactor for water desalination.
The nuclear deal has been criticised by environmentalists as a potential proliferation risk, but according to Le Monde, "the heart of the matter" was not the nuclear project, but a wide-ranging defence agreement.
"Firstly, the accord covers joint military exercises, of course. Then we will purchase anti-tank Milan missiles from France, for about 100 million euros I believe," he was quoted as saying.
"Afterwards, there is a plan to manufacture arms, to maintain and produce military equipment.
"You know this is the first agreement by a Western nation to supply weapons to Libya?"
"Representatives of Thales and Sagem are in Libya as we speak," he said, referring to two French defence and electronics manufacturers.
As head of the Kadhafi foundation, which negotiated the medics' release and a 400-million-dollar compensation deal for the sick children's families, Saif ul-Islam repeated the claim that "no Libyan money was paid to these families".
"What I can say is that the French sorted things out. The French found the money for the families. But I don't know where they found it," he said, adding that Libya had got "a good deal" out of the case.
Sarkozy and the European Union both denied paying any financial compensation for the medics' freedom.
Asked whether Qatar, which helped negotiate the deal, had served as a financial intermediary, Saif ul-Islam replied: "We did not ask questions. We did not want to embarrass our friends."
Posted by lmurx at 8:15 AM