Europe launches its version of GPS

By wire services
Published December 29, 2005

PARIS - Europe on Wednesday launched the first in a planned network of orbiters expected to make satellite navigation on Earth more precise, wider-ranging and free of U.S. control.

Four hours after launch, the test satellite began transmitting the first test signals in a $4-billion rival to the United States' Global Positioning System.

The American military network has grown around the world in recent years to reach civilian users, but the military retains control. President Bush last year announced plans for disabling the network in a national crisis to prevent terrorists from using it.

"If the Americans want to scramble GPS, they can do it whenever they want," European Space Agency spokesman Franco Bonacina said. "Whereas our system is a civilian-based system run by a civilian authority and would be completely autonomous."

ESA and European Commission officials also say their system, known as Galileo and developed in cooperation with China, Israel and Ukraine, will be more precise than GPS and will more than double existing coverage.

The Galileo system should be operating by 2010 and consumers will be able to buy receivers that can switch back and forth between GPS and Galileo, Bonacina said.

Belgian asked to take over Hariri assassination case

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations has asked a Belgian prosecutor to take over its investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, according to a spokesman for the prosecutor.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants Serge Brammertz, the deputy prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, to succeed German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who will step down next month after leading a six-month U.N. inquiry that has implicated members of Syrian President Bashar Assad's inner circle in the Feb. 14 killing.

Mehlis has received frequent death threats. A Lebanese newspaper, An-Nahar, reported Wednesday that a pro-Syrian organization that claimed responsibility for murdering the paper's editor, Gibran Tueni, issued a new threat against Mehlis' successor. The group said that Mehlis was lucky it had not killed him.

A spokesman for International Criminal Court, Christian Palme, said Brammertz had been offered the post but is still mulling the offer through holiday break before making up his mind.

Two U.S. troops killed separately in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan - A bomb in eastern Afghanistan killed one U.S. service member and wounded two Wednesday, said Sgt. Maj. Larry Lane, a military spokesman.

Meanwhile, another U.S. soldier was killed and four hurt when their armored vehicle rolled over in the country's south Wednesday, the military said. "Enemy activity was not a factor," the U.S. statement said.

The deaths brought to 208 the number of U.S. troops killed in and around Afghanistan since American-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001 for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.