Friday, December 25, 2009

DTN News: Financial News TODAY December 26, 2009 ~ Debt-Laden Japan Shocked By £630 Billion Spree To ‘Save Lives’

DTN News: Financial News TODAY December 26, 2009 ~ Debt-Laden Japan Shocked By £630 Billion Spree To ‘Save Lives’ *Source: DTN News / The Times Leo Lewis in Tokyo (NSI News Source Info) TOKYO, Japan - December 26, 2009: Yukio Hatoyama, the new Japanese Prime Minister, has stunned a nation already mired in huge public debt by unveiling the country’s biggest ever postwar budget: a 92.3 trillion yen (£630 billion) spending spree aimed at “saving people’s lives”. (Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama attends a press conference on financial year 2010 budget at Hatoyama's official residence on December 25, 2009 in Tokyo, Japan. Hatoyama's cabinet approved record high 92.29 trillion Japanese Yen ($1 trillion USD) draft budget for the nest fiscal year.) The unprecedented budget, which supposedly shifts Japan’s fiscal spending focus “from concrete to lives”, comes amid rising concern about the solidity of sovereign debt in the world’s second-largest economy. The new budget will require additional debt issuance of Y44.3 trillion — within the Government’s expected band, but still at a level that will raise Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio to nearly 195 per cent. Of foremost concern, analysts for Nomura said, is that Japanese tax revenues are expected to fall to Y37.40 trillion this year, the lowest that they have been since 1984. It was, analysts said, a watershed moment — the first time that new debt issuance has exceeded tax revenues since the Second World War. Mr Hatoyama said: “We were just able to stay at a level in which we can maintain fiscal discipline.” Mr Hatoyama swept to power in August with grand promises that the era of wasteful public spending would end. Japan’s unnecessary and notoriously expensive “roads to nowhere” public works projects would be curtailed and the money diverted to supporting beleaguered households. Four months on from that victory and Mr Hatoyama has spent more than any of his predecessors and has yet to make any serious impact on the wider effort of repairing Japan’s shattered economy. Unemployment is falling from its March highs, but not at anything like the pace in other Asian economies. Mr Hatoyama has also been hurt personally by the arrest of a former aide this week amid a money scandal that bore all the hallmarks of the politics of “old Japan” — precisely the sort of venality that Mr Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) were elected to crush. Prosecutors in Tokyo accused Keiji Katsuba, 59, of falsifying funding reports beginning in 2000 and listing dead people as donors. Political analysts said that the episode would not be crippling to Mr Hatoyama, who has denied knowledge of the matter and does not face charges, but it adds to pressures that already include a weakened domestic economy and strained relations with the United States. Seiji Adachi, senior economist with Deutsche Bank, said: “The scandal in itself is not so serious, but it tarnishes his reputation further and diminishes his power to be an effective prime minister.” The Government hopes that the budget’s inclusion of steps such as allowances for families raising children and free public high school education will boost its popularity before an Upper House election next summer. That election is critical for Mr Hatoyama and the DPJ. Only by winning an outright majority in the Upper House can the new Prime Minister be free of the various coalitions that have hampered his first months in power. “I believe that we have delivered all we can without compromising fiscal discipline,” Mr Hatoyama said. “Our country’s economic and employment conditions are very severe. The most important thing for us is to protect the lives of the Japanese citizens.” The budget plan will contain Y53.4 trillion in policy spending; 51 per cent of that will go to social security programmes. This is the first time that social security has received more than half of policy spending, reflecting the new Government’s focus on jump-starting consumption rather than the big public works projects carried out by former administrations. Tax revenues are expected to make up less than half the Government’s 2010-11 budget, falling behind new debt borrowing for the first time since the Second World War after a deep recession that devastated company profits.

DTN News: Sudan Is Going Back In Chaos As North And South Are Arming For Eventual Conflict

DTN News: Sudan Is Going Back In Chaos As North And South Are Arming For Eventual Conflict *Source: DTN News / Int'l Media (NSI News Source Info) CAIRO, Egypt - December 26, 2009: North and South Sudan are sliding back towards war, a think-tank warned as a separate report said both sides were caught up in an "arms race" in defiance of global embargoes.Fighters of the Sudanese Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) driving their armoured battle wagon at an unknown location on the Sudan-Chad border in northwest Darfur.
The oil-producing nation's north and south fought each other for more than two decades until a 2005 peace deal that promised national elections, due in April, and a referendum on southern independence in January 2011.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) said relations between the two sides had since broken down and Sudan needed more time to prepare for a widely expected 'yes' vote for southern independence if it wanted to avoid a violent break-up.
Armies from both sides, and array of rebel groups and militias, are also stocking on weapons ahead of any conflict, despite arms embargoes imposed by the European Union and the United Nations said a report by the Small Arms Survey.
"Sudan is sliding towards violent breakup," said ICG Sudan adviser Fouad Hikmat in a statement.
"Unless the international community cooperate to support both CPA (the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement) implementation and vital additional negotiations, return to north-south war and escalation of conflict in Darfur are likely," the report from the Brussels-based group said.
Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers arming with new light and heavy weapons
The ICG publication, titled 'Preventing Implosion', said northern and southern leaders needed to negotiate a new agreement setting out how any transition to an independent south would be managed.
It also called on Sudan to delay its national elections to November 2010 to give it more time to pass a raft of democratic reforms and get a ceasefire in the separate Darfur conflict, to give that region's citizens a chance to vote.
The ICG urged the United Nations, the African Union and other blocs to agree on incentives and penalties to press Khartoum, and to appoint one mediator to keep the process going.
Arms deliveries reported by Sudan's government rose sharply from 2001 to 2008, the Small Arms Survey said, adding more weapons were getting through from neighbouring countries and other sources with the help of brokers, some of them European."Both the NCP and the government of Southern Sudan continue to acquire small arms and light weapons destined for their armed forces in what is taking on the character of an arms race," the Small Arms Survey report said.
Iran and China were the main suppliers to the north, it added, while the south was getting much of its weapons via Kenya and Ethiopia, with a transfer of tanks coming from Ukraine through Kenya documented in 2007 and 2008.
The report said Sudan's northern army had around 225 000 troops, armed with an estimated 310 000 small arms, while the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) had around 125 000 men with 175 000 small arms.
Both armouries were dwarfed by the estimated 2 million weapons in the hands of Sudanese civilians, the report said.
Two million people were killed and 4 million fled their homes between 1983 and 2005 when Sudan's north and south fought over differences in ideology, ethnicity and religion.

DTN News: South Korea Coast Guard Orders Another AW139 Helicopter

DTN News: South Korea Coast Guard Orders Another AW139 Helicopter *Source: DTN News / AgustaWestland (NSI News Source Info) VERGIATE, Italy - December 26, 2009: AgustaWestland is pleased to announce that the Korean Government has signed a contract for one more AW139 medium-twin helicopter in Maritime Patrol configuration for the Korea Coast Guard. The order represents the third helicopter to be sold to the Korea Coast Guard and the sixth AW139 helicopter to be sold to the Republic of Korea. Earlier in the year the first AW139 was delivered to the Gangwon Fire Fighting Department and recently Samsung Corporation took delivery of its first of two AW139 corporate helicopters. On the 10th December 2009 the first two Korea Coast Guard AW139 Maritime Patrol Helicopters were handed over to the Coast Guard during a ceremony held at Gimpo Airport in Seoul. Speaking after the ceremony Andrew Symonds, Vice President NE Asia, AgustaWestland, said “The delivery of the first two AW139 helicopters represents a significant stepping stone in developing the market in Korea and we are proud to be ale to achieve this by working closely with such a professional organization as the Korea Coast Guard. The contract for a third AW139 helicopter order not only demonstrates the expansion of the AW139 into the demanding and rigorous role of offshore search and rescue but indicates how the AW139 is highly considered by organizations such as the Korea Coast Guard.” The Korea Coast Guard AW139 will be used for Maritime Patrol, SAR and EMS missions and will be equipped with Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR), search/weather radar, rescue hoist, emergency flotation system and a four-axis autopilot with SAR modes. The AW139 is a new generation medium twin-turbine helicopter setting new standards against which all new search and rescue-dedicated medium twin helicopters are measured. Designed with inherent multi-role capability and flexibility of operation, the AW139 is capable of carrying up to 15 passengers or six litters with four medical attendants at the highest speed, in the most spacious cabin and with the best power reserve of any other helicopter in the medium twin-engine class. The internal dimensions of the AW139’s roomy unobstructed cabin make it an ideal choice for SAR applications. The flat floor and unobstructed ceiling provide maximum cabin flexibility for easy and quick conversions to various configurations. The Pratt & Whitney engines with FADEC together with a state-of-the-art 5-bladed main rotor provides excellent maximum cruise speed in demanding hot and high conditions at all weights, with outstanding power to weight ratio. Extensive range and endurance allows extended search patrols and the AW139’s excellent one engine inoperative capability ensures the aircraft can safely complete its required missions. Cutting edge technology includes the Honeywell Primus Epic® fully integrated avionics, a 4-axis digital AFCS and large flat panel colour displays in the cockpit, reducing pilot workload and allowing the crew to concentrate on the patrol and rescue missions. The AW139 has become the benchmark medium-twin helicopter and orders for more than 440 helicopters have been placed by more than 120 commercial, government and military customers from almost 50 countries to perform a wide range of roles including maritime protection, search and rescue, law enforcement, emergency medical services, offshore transportation and VIP transport.

DTN News: Bulgaria's Ministries Of Finance And Interior Order An AW139 To Meet Border Police Requirement

DTN News: Bulgaria's Ministries Of Finance And Interior Order An AW139 To Meet Border Police Requirement *Source: DTN News / AgustaWestland (NSI News Source Info) VERGIATE, Italy- December 26, 2009: AgustaWestland, a Finmeccanica company, is pleased to announce that the Ministries of Finance and Interior of Bulgaria have ordered an AW139 medium twin helicopter to meet the latest Bulgarian Border Police helicopter requirement. The main mission of the helicopter, procured with Schengen Facility programme funds, is to provide a reliable air surveillance capability on the outer EU borders, since Bulgaria is expected to be a Schengen Zone Member starting from March 2011. This contract marks the entrance of the AW139 into the Bulgarian market and adds another AgustaWestland helicopter type to the Bulgarian Police helicopter fleet, which already includes the AW109 Power. This latest sale confirms the growing success of AgustaWestland’s range of modern high performance helicopters in the law enforcement market. The Bulgarian Border Police, thanks to the AW139's outstanding capabilities, will be able to provide a greatly enhanced aerial policing service in the country as well as a comprehensive SAR capability over the sea and in mountainous areas. The Bulgarian Border Police’s AW139 will feature an advanced range of dedicated mission equipment including an Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), moving map, weather/search radar, cargo hook, emergency floats, rescue hoist, external loudspeaker, searching light, NVG-compatible cockpit, FLIR, video downlink and mission console. The AW139 has the largest cabin in its class for the task with large sliding doors to enable easy and quick access and to perform fast roping. The cabin also allows easy configuration changes to meet operational requirements. With a maximum speed of 167 knots (306 kph) and excellent range and endurance the AW139 can be quickly deployed to any crime scene or accident location on the land or sea border. Also, the AW139 is the only medium twin-engine helicopter in production that not only meets, but also exceeds, the latest FAR 29 certification standards for safety. Numerous law enforcement and security agencies around the world have chosen the AW139 to fulfil their requirements in various countries also including Japan, China, Italy, Estonia just to name a few. Orders for over 440 aircraft have been sold in almost 50 countries worldwide to more than 120 customers so far to perform a number of roles also including law enforcement, EMS/SAR, offshore transport, VIP/corporate transport, utility and government missions.

DTN News: British Army's First Four Lynx Mk9A Helicopters Delivered Just 12 Months After Contract Award

DTN News: British Army's First Four Lynx Mk9A Helicopters Delivered Just 12 Months After Contract Award *Source: DTN News / AgustaWestland (NSI News Source Info) LONDON, UK - December 26, 2009: AgustaWestland, a Finmeccanica company, is pleased to announce that the first four upgraded Lynx Mk.9A helicopters for the British Army have been delivered, with the fourth aircraft delivered today, just 12 months after contract award. Three of these four aircraft will be used by the Army Air Corps for conversion to type and conversion to role training at its Dishforth base in Yorkshire. In 2010 the Lynx Mk.9A helicopters will deploy to Afghanistan to support British and coalition forces, where its exceptional hot and high performance will enable the aircraft to operate year round in the demanding environmental conditions experienced there. Nick Whitney, Senior VP - UK Government Business Unit, said at the handover of the fourth aircraft “Everybody involved at AgustaWestland, our suppliers and the MoD Project Team are to be congratulated for delivering the first four aircraft in just 12 months against an extremely tight programme schedule. We know the enhanced operational capabilities these aircraft will deliver will be of great benefit to our troops in Afghanistan and we are now working around the clock to ensure we deliver the remaining aircraft not just on time but ahead of schedule.” Following the flight of the first aircraft in September 2009 the Lynx Mk.9A completed its qualification test programme successfully demonstrating the airframe was capable of maximising the improved performance provided by the LHTEC CTS800 engines, thus meeting or exceeding the customers’ Key User Requirements. In addition to upgrading the aircraft AgustaWestland has successfully completed maintainer and aircrew training programmes at its Yeovil facility, delivered new Integrated Electronic Technical Publications, spares packages and lap-top based training emulations. A further three aircraft will be delivered by April 2010, followed by the final batch of five aircraft by September 2010, giving the British Army 12 Lynx Mk.9A helicopters three months ahead of the contracted date. AgustaWestland is also working with the MoD on a follow-on-contract to upgrade the remaining 10 Lynx Mk.9s to Mk.9A standard, which would see the final aircraft being upgraded by early 2012.

DTN News: Malaysia's Stolen Jet Engines Traced To Argentina According To Police

DTN News: Malaysia's Stolen Jet Engines Traced To Argentina According To Police *Source: DTN News / Int'l Media (NSI News Source Info) KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - December 26, 2009: Two missing US-made fighter jet engines, worth 29 million dollars and stolen from a Malaysian military airbase, have been traced to Argentina, police said Thursday.*
Honduran F-5E Tiger II aircraft are serviced on the flight line as a firefighting and rescue truck stands by during a joint exercise between the 425th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron (425th TFTS) and Honduran air force units. Two F-5E Tiger II aircraft of the 425th TFTS are in the background. Two missing US-made fighter jet engines, worth 29 million dollars and stolen from a Malaysian military airbase, have been traced to Argentina, police said Thursday. Police chief Musa Hasan said officers were checking with their counterparts in Buenos Aires to confirm if the missing engines are still in the country. "The stolen engines have been taken to Argentina," the police chief told AFP. "We have to check if the engines are still in that country." Musa told the Star newspaper that several top airforce officers, including generals, are expected to be questioned in connection with the theft. Four people, including three low-ranking personnel, have already been arrested and freed on bail for their alleged role in the theft, he said according to the daily. "We need to question all of them as it is not easy to just cart away the engines without authorisation and proper documents," he was quoted as saying. The Malaysian government is facing a storm of criticism over allegations of official corruption after the theft of the engines. News reports this week said the two Northrop F-5E jet engines had been sold on the black market by military officers to a South American company after being taken from a military airbase, apparently last year. Armed forces chief Azizan Ariffin said the theft was only the "tip of the iceberg" after a newly completed audit revealed equipment worth millions of ringgit was missing, the New Straits Times reported Tuesday. Besides the engines, military equipment including parts of the jet fighter were stolen. A number of countries subject to US arms embargoes, including Iran, Sudan and Venezuela, have F-5 fighters that use the antiquated engines. The jet first flew in 1963 and Northrop ended production in 1989.

DTN News: Afghanistan TODAY December 26, 2009 ~ Taliban Issue Video Of Captive U.S. Soldier

DTN News: Afghanistan TODAY December 26, 2009 ~ Taliban Issue Video Of Captive U.S. Soldier *Source: DTN News / Reuters (NSI News Source Info) KABUL, Afghanistan - December 26, 2009: The Afghan Taliban on Friday issued a new video tape of a U.S. soldier captured this summer, which was condemned by the U.S. military as propaganda, and the decision to release it on Christmas day as cruel.Undated image from video footage taken from a Taliban-affiliated website shows a man who says he is Private First Class Bowe R. Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier captured by the Taliban in southeastern Afghanistan in late June. The Afghan Taliban said on December 25, 2009 that they had issued a new video tape of Bergdahl and added that in it he asks his government to take part in a prisoner exchange deal. Private Bowe Bergdahl appears in the video wearing sunglasses and a U.S. military style uniform including a military helmet. He gives his name, hometown and other personal details before saying he is a prisoner of war of the Taliban. It is not clear when the video was made. He goes on to attack U.S. leaders for their treatment of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan and warns that the U.S. military is no match for the Taliban. "I'm afraid to tell you that this war has slipped from our fingers and it's just going to be our next Vietnam unless the American people stand up and stop all this nonsense," he says. But a military spokesman said the statements should be considered coerced, and condemned the timing of its release. "This is a horrible act which exploits a young soldier, who was clearly compelled to read a prepared statement. It reflects nothing more than the violent, deceitful tactics of the Taliban insurgency," said U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, director of communication, with NATO-led forces in Afghanistan. "To release this video on Christmas Day is an affront to the deeply-concerned family and friends of Bowe Bergdahl, demonstrating contempt for religious traditions and the teachings of Islam. We will continue our search for Bowe Bergdahl," he said in a written statement. In the video, Bergdahl tells his fellow soldiers they are facing a well-organized and patient enemy -- perhaps a reference to a statement made by the White House last month saying the United States would not be in Afghanistan in nine years' time. "To all you soldiers out there who are getting ready to come over here for the first time because of the stupidity of our country and leaders ... you are fighting very smart people who know exactly how to kill us and are extremely patient." A spokesman for the Taliban also urged the U.S. government in the video to make a prisoner swap deal for Bergdahl. "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has demanded and still demands release of a limited number of prisoners in exchange for this American prisoner, Bowe Robert Bergdahl." The soldier, who was 23 when he was captured by the Taliban in southeastern Afghanistan in late June, was in good health, Zabihullah Mujahid said. The man in the video looked healthy and said he had been well-treated, contrasting his fate to that of prisoners held in U.S. military prisons, including the infamous Abu Ghraib. "I bear witness I was continuously treated as a human being, with dignity, and I had nobody deprive me of my clothes and take pictures of me naked. I had no dogs barking at me or biting me as my country has done to their Muslim prisoners in the jails that I have mentioned," the man said. In July, Bergdahl appeared in a video urging the U.S. government to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, which was denounced by the Pentagon as Taliban propaganda that violated international law. The capture and detention of the soldier comes amid the bloodiest period in Afghanistan since the Taliban's ouster by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001. To try and quell mounting violence, Washington has begun the gradual dispatch of some 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan, before starting to pull them out in July 2011. There are about 110,000 foreign troops, more than half of them Americans, fighting the militants.

DTN News: Pakistan TODAY December 26, 2009 ~ Pakistani Troops Kill 13 Militants In Swat, Orakzai

DTN News: Pakistan TODAY December 26, 2009 ~ Pakistani Troops Kill 13 Militants In Swat, Orakzai *Source: DTN News / Int'l Media (NSI News Source Info) MINGORA, Pakistan - December 26, 2009: Troops killed four militants in an exchange of fire near Swat’s Amludarra area, DawnNews reported. Pakistani villagers gather at the compound of a judiciary complex allegedly blown by militants in Bannu near tribal area of Waziristan where Pakistani security forces fighting against Taliban militants, Friday, Dec. 25, 2009 in Pakistan. Separately, in Orakzai, nine suspected militants were killed in different areas of the agency. According to official sources, fighter jets pounded hideouts of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan chief Hakimullah Mehsud in Orakzai’s Ferozkhel-Mela area. Security forces also destroyed three other militant hideouts and four vehicles. Orakzai agency is a stronghold of militants. A large number of militants have also entered the agency from the Kurram agency after the military operation in South Waziristan began.

DTN News: Yemen Attacks al-Qaeda Hideouts, Killing 30

DTN News: Yemen Attacks al-Qaeda Hideouts, Killing 30
*Source: DTN News / Int'l Media
(NSI News Source Info) SANA'A, Yemen- December 26, 2009: Yemen's military hit suspected al-Qaeda hideouts on Thursday, killing at least 30 militants and targeting a gathering of top leaders in a remote mountain valley, officials said.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and Saudi Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz, assistant minister for defence and aviation, review the guard of honour in a military vehicle during King Abdullah's visit to Jizan near the border with Yemen recently. The pre-dawn strikes were carried out with the help of U.S. intelligence. Yemeni warplanes hit what officials called a gathering of senior al-Qaeda figures in Rafd, a remote mountain valley in eastern Shabwa province with sparsely populated tribal villages that are often little more than a collection of tents. Shabwa is one of three provinces where al-Qaeda is believed to have been increasingly gaining refuge among tribes discontented with the government. The top leader of al-Qaeda's branch in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, and his deputy, Saeed al-Shihri, were believed to be in Rafd, Yemen's Supreme Security Committee said in a statement. But Yemeni officials said they could not confirm for certain whether the two were there or if they were injured in the strikes. Yemen's deputy defence minister, Rashad al-Alaimy, told parliament Thursday that three important leadership members were killed, but he did not identify them. He said the strikes were carried out "using intelligence aid from Saudi Arabia and the United States of America in our fight against terrorism." The newly aggressive Yemeni campaign against al-Qaeda is being boosted by a heavy dose of American aid, a reflection of U.S. fears that the terror network could turn the fragmented, unstable nation into an Afghanistan-like refuge in a highly strategic location on the border with oil-rich U.S.-ally Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon recently confirmed it is has poured nearly $70 million US in military aid into Yemen this year, compared to none in 2008.

DTN News: Iraqi Insurgents Hack Pentagon’s Surveillance

DTN News: Iraqi Insurgents Hack Pentagon’s Surveillance *Source: (NSI News Source Info) WASHINGTON - December 25, 2009: Iraqi insurgents have intercepted a Pentagon surveillance and weapons system, officials said. Further, The Wall Street Journal reports it was done using a Russian software program. As a result, the militants were reportedly able to view live video feeds from cameras onboard U.S. predator drones. However, U.S. officials say the feeds were of poor quality and didn't contain information on targets or location. While Wayne Madsen, RT contributor, says that the incident is unlikely to present a real risk to US security since the National Security Agency, which oversees US military and diplomatic immunity, is well aware of all that is happening. “The National Security Agency absolutely knows about it. And if they thought there was a risk here they’d make all the encryption keys. They would have dictated that these feeds be encrypted, which they did not,” Madsen explained. In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal claims the insurgents were using software created by a Russian company for downloading satellite TV and radio. Andrey Mikhailyuk, editor-in-chief of Hardware Magazine noted that it is comparatively easy to intercept such signals, from the technical perspective, and anyone with the proper equipment could do it. Disclaimer statement Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information supplied herein, DTN News ~ Defense-Technology News cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. Unless otherwise indicated, opinions expressed herein are those of the author of the page and do not necessarily represent the corporate views of DTN News ~ Defense-Technology News.

DTN News: Christmas Greetings To Our Readers & Viewers From DTN News Defense-Technology News

DTN News: Christmas Greetings To Our Readers & Viewers From DTN News Defense-Technology News *Source: DTN News
(NSI News Source Info) TORONTO, Canada - December 25, 2009: In the Western world, the birthday of Jesus Christ has been celebrated on December 25th since AD 354, replacing an earlier date of January 6th. The Christians had by then appropriated many pagan festivals and traditions of the season, that were practiced in many parts of the Middle East and Europe, as a means of stamping them out. There were mid-winter festivals in ancient Babylon and Egypt, and Germanic fertility festivals also took place at this time. The birth of the ancient sun-god Attis in Phrygia was celebrated on December 25th, as was the birth of the Persian sun-god, Mithras. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a festival dedicated to Saturn, the god of peace and plenty, that ran from the 17th to 24th of December. Public gathering places were decorated with flowers, gifts and candles were exchanged and the population, slaves and masters alike, celebrated the occasion with great enthusiasm. In Scandinavia, a period of festivities known as Yule contributed another impetus to celebration, as opposed to spirituality. As Winter ended the growing season, the opportunity of enjoying the Summer's bounty encouraged much feasting and merriment. The Celtic culture of the British Isles revered all green plants, but particularly mistletoe and holly. These were important symbols of fertility and were used for decorating their homes and altars. New Christmas customs appeared in the Middle Ages. The most prominent contribution was the carol, which by the 14th century had become associated with the religious observance of the birth of Christ. In Italy, a tradition developed for re-enacting the birth of Christ and the construction of scenes of the nativity. This is said to have been introduced by Saint Francis as part of his efforts to bring spiritual knowledge to the laity. Saints Days have also contributed to our Christmas celebrations. A prominent figure in today's Christmas is Saint Nicholas who for centuries has been honored on December 6th. He was one of the forerunners of Santa Claus. Another popular ritual was the burning of the Yule Log, which is strongly embedded in the pagan worship of vegetation and fire, as well as being associated with magical and spiritual powers. Celebrating Christmas has been controversial since its inception. Since numerous festivities found their roots in pagan practices, they were greatly frowned upon by conservatives within the Church. The feasting, gift-giving and frequent excesses presented a drastic contrast with the simplicity of the Nativity, and many people throughout the centuries and into the present, condemn such practices as being contrary to the true spirit of Christmas. The earliest English reference to December 25th as Christmas Day did not come until 1043.