HONG KONG: Just 11 days after Asia's tsunami catastrophe, conspiracy theorists are out in force, accusing governments of a coverup , blaming the military for testing top-secret eco-weapons or aliens trying to correct the Earth's "wobbly" rotation.

In bars and Internet chatrooms around the world questions are being asked, with knowing nods and winks, about who caused the submarine earthquake off Sumatra on December 26, and why governments were so slow to act in the minutes and hours before tsunamis slammed into their shores, killing almost 150,000.

"There's a lot more to this. Why is the US sending a warship? Why is a senior commander who was in Iraq going there?" Whispered designer Mark Tyler, drinking a pint of beer at a bar in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district.

"This happened exactly a year after Bam," said Tyler, referring to the earthquake in Iran which killed 30,000 on December 26 last year. "Is that a coincidence? And there was no previous seismic activity recorded in Sumatra before the quake, which is very strange," he said, nodding sombrely.

After every globally shocking event - from the bombing of Pearl Harbour to the assassination of John F Kennedy, the death of Princess Diana and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States - conspiracy theorists emerge with their own sinister take on events.

This time the Indian and US military are in the frame, while the governments of countries from Australia to Thailand stand accused of deliberately failing to act on warnings of the impending earthquake or the tsunamis it unleashed around Asia.

Among the more common suggestions is that eco-weapons which can trigger earthquakes and volcanoes remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves were being tested.

More outlandish theories include one that aliens caused the earthquake to try and correct the "wobbly rotation of the Earth". Scientists give such theories short shrift.

"This was a natural disaster," said Dr Bart Bautisda, chief science research specialist at Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, debunking the idea that an "eco-weapon" could be used to cause an earthquake or such large-scale tsunamis.

"You would need a very huge amount of energy. It's impossible. A billion tonnes could not do it," Bautisda said. He said wave activity might be able to be triggered very close to the scene of a giant explosion, but the effect would be a tiny fraction of the tsunamis which travelled thousands of kilometres at the speed of a jet after tectonic plates shifted off Sumatra.

"It's possible to cause vibration, but not sufficient to cause disruption," he said. "We can tell the difference between an artificial explosion and an earthquake," Bautisda said. "The mechanisms are different."

Scientific evidence, however, cuts little ice with many conspiracy theorists. The Internet - which has proved invaluable in dealing with the disaster by aiding rescues, providing witness accounts from bloggers and allowing grieving relatives to comfort each other through chatrooms - is abuzz with more sinister explanations.

The Free Internet Press, which claims to offer "uncensored news for real people", has an article saying the US military and the State Department received advanced warning of the tsunami, but did little to warn Asian countries.

America's Navy base on the Indian Ocean jungle atoll of Diego Garcia was notified and escaped unscathed, it said, asking "why were fishermen in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand not provided with the same warnings?.

"Why did the US State Department remain mum on the existence of an impending catastrophe?," author Michel Chossudovsky pondered. "Probably because fishermen in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand don't have multimillion dollar communications equipment handy," said one respondent as readers posted angry replies.

"Maybe rescuers will find Elvis and the gunman form the grassy knoll," jibed another, referring to those who believe Elvis Presley is still alive and that former US president Kennedy was shot by someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald.

The India Daily's website joined the conspiracy theorists noting, "it seems the whole world decided to fail to do anything together at the same time. Are we missing something?

"Can it be that all the government agencies knew what was happening but were told not to do anything? Who told them? Or is this just a tragic coincidence?" wrote Sudhir Chadda, a correspondent. -AFP

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