Monday, February 27, 2006
Chen Shi Bian - raising alarm
Taiwan has cuts links with China in renewed tension after President Chen Shui Bian suspended the National Unification Council. Politics is said to be the main reason behind the move. His pro-independence stance may be intended to boost his popularity with the electorate. But in a speech Chen said, “We are trying to defend human rights in Taiwan”. The move puts President Bush in a difficult position after America’s resolve to support Taiwan. In a speech in Kyoto, Japan last year George Bush reiterated his long standing support for an independent Taiwan and urged China to follow a greater move towards democracy. In an article published in the New York Times on November 22nd 2005, the US stance was greeted with caution. “President George Bush fanned the flames of the longstanding conflict between China and Taiwan during his November 16 speech in Kyoto, at the start of a week-long state visit to Asia. In urging China to expand openness and allow its people more freedoms, the president used Taiwan as a model, saying Taiwan had brought prosperity to its people by embracing freedom and creating a democratic Chinese society.”
Although the President had iterated that there should be “no unilateral attempts to change the status by either side,” he insisted that “the United States will continue to stress the need for dialogue between China and Taiwan that leads to a peaceful resolution of their differences”. But China is unlikely to be influenced by all the rhetoric. Following The US President’s speech in Japan, China’s Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told reporters at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), "Taiwan is an inseparable part of China, and China does not brook any interference in its internal affairs”. Today’s move by President Chen will certainly complicate relations between China and the US as well as increase tensions with Taiwan, but as to whether the political posturing will lead to military conflict – only time will tell [reports - News/CNN]
Friday, February 24, 2006
Saudi Arabian security forces have said they have foiled a suicide attack on an oil refinery near Abqaiq. Cars were stopped near the perimeter of the installation and engaged by security guards. All 10 terrorists are said to have been killed during an exchange of gunfire along with three guards at the biggest oil installation in the country. Oil prices spiked following the news with prices rising by $2.11 per barrel to $62.65. [BBC]
Meanwhile the streets are calm in Baghdad after Thursday’s violent repercussions following the bombing of a Shi’ite mosque. But tension remains high throughout the country.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
The Samarra Mosque - Before and after the bomb attack
Iraq is on the precipice of civil war after a week of attacks on Shi’ites culminated in the destruction of one of the world’s holiest mosques. The mosque in Samarra, which has stood on the site for nearly 1000 years, was virtually destroyed by the explosion by unknown attackers. The mosque has been rebuilt several times throughout its history with the gold dome added in 1905 [BBC].
More than 100 have died throughout Iraq since Wednesday [BBC]. Three journalists working for Al Arabiya TV were kidnapped and later found killed. Al-Jazeera had extensive reports of one woman who had previously worked for their organisation. More journalists have died in Iraq than the whole of the Vietnam war. More than 100 Sunni sites have been attacked including at least 50 mosques and reprisal attacks are certain to worsen as radical clerics such as Moqtada al Sadr make a call to arms. Authorities have pointed the finger of blame for the attack on the mosque firmly at al Qaeda and Zarqawi, though as yet there has been no claim of responsibility. Indeed the bewilderment and shock of the bombing has precipitated anger towards the US. The shocking images beamed around the world by al-Jazeera, CNN and other networks have certainly incensed many Muslims and there have been renewed anti-US protests in Pakistan and elsewhere. Al-Jazeera’s lunchtime bulletin spent a great deal of airtime talking to prominent clerics discussing the deteriorating situation in Iraq. The story remained the top story on CNN but other broadcasters in the UK dealt with the story less prominently. Sky and BBC News 24’s top story was instead the theft of £45 million from a warehouse in Tonbridge, Kent [Sky News / BBC] and a roof collapse in Moscow which has killed at least 40 [BBC and injured more than 30.
The attack on the mosque comes in a week of continued violence in the country. On Monday at least 17 people were killed throughout Iraq including attacks in Mosul and Baghdad. On Tuesday more than 20 were killed in a car bomb explosion in a Baghdad market place, and more than 30 were injured. Condemnation of the attacks has come from all sides. Jack Straw, who has been in Iraq since Monday, and Condoleezza Rice both condemned the attacks as did the new President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, who said the attack was “a major conspiracy that is targeting Iraq’s unity”.
Monday, February 20, 2006
China’s continued restrictions on internet use has spilled over into political ramifications in recent weeks. With Google recently joining the ever growing internet market in China, the US has forced Chief Executives to explain their bowing to restrictive practices and censorship that have been placed on the companies [Seattle Times]. In the past year Yahoo has been guilty of providing Chinese authorities with names of journalists – both were jailed for ‘subversive activity’. Even the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia has been blocked since October 2005. An article in the Washington Post stated that in December, a message appeared on a Wikipedia page alleging the site had been "conducting anti-China activities under the flag of being neutral" and accusing its senior users of being "running dogs for American imperialism." Some suspected the note was posted by a government agent. This is an ongoing debate which is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. China has a long history of censorship going back many centuries. The first Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the burning of books in order to stem the free flow of ideas and maintain his powerbase. Two thousand years on, information flow is once a major issue for China’s leaders. It is a balance between free-trade and free-speech, and many companies are taking a pragmatic approach as well as a practical one. China maintain that their attitude to the internet was positive [Xinhua]. But Liu Zhengrong, deputy director general of Internet Affairs Bureau of the State Council Information Office, speaking to the Press on 14th of February in Beijing, said, “China regulates the Internet according to law and has accordingly enacted relevant rules and regulations.”
Several dead swans found in the UK and tested by DEFRA have been declared free of the H5N1 virus, Sky News has reported. Tests were being carried out on dead birds found in Bury St Edmonds, Winchester, Preston, Shrewsbury, Thirsk and Hertfordshire, but all tests proved negative.
H5N1 - Dead swans are being tested in UK
Bird-flu is moving closer to Britain with outbreaks of the deadly virus now having been confirmed in 12 European countries. Cases of H5N1 have so far been identified in Turkey, Romania, Greece, Croatia, Ukraine, Cyprus, Italy, Bulgaria, Austria, Germany, Slovenia and France. But there are worries that the UK authorities may not be able to cope with an outbreak in Britain. In 2001 thousands of animals were culled to prevent the spread of Foot & Mouth disease which devastated Britain’s meat industry. And an outbreak of bird-flu is likely to further affect the economy as consumer shy away from chicken products. According to Sky News the virus may have already arrived after nine dead swans were found in a number of counties across Britain. Tests were being carried out on dead birds found in Bury St Edmonds, Winchester, Preston, Shrewsbury, Thirsk and Hertfordshire.
Dead - Menezes shot by armed police
Police officers involved in the shooting of an innocent civilian in July 2005 may face charges of perverting the course of justice. The Independent on Sunday newspaper in the UK carried the story on its front page and was later picked up by Xinhua
news and the Daily Telegraph. But the report into the shooting is likely to take months according to the Telegraph, which went on to say that investigators had already found alleged evidence of “blatant and clumsy attempts” to change a log entry after the shooting of the Brazilian electrician. Jean Charles de Menezes was shot in the head at least 7 times by armed police at Stockwell underground station on 22nd July after surveillance officers mistakenly identified him as Hussein Osman, a suspected suicide bomber. Osman had been wanted in connection with the failed attacks on London’s transport system the previous day. He was later located in Italy and extradited to Britain.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report reveals that a log was changed so that it read: "And it was not Osman" instead of "it was Osman". This meant that surveillance officers could claim the marksmen had shot dead the wrong man despite having been warned that he was not who they had thought.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
London - Thousands gather to protest
As temperatures are raised over the publication of a number of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, protests have escalated. In Libya at least 10 have died in riots and in Pakistan protest descended into violence for the fifth day in a row. In Nigeria, the latest to see protests, 16 died in violent protests [BBC]. In London a few thousand Muslims gathered in Trafalgar Square to protest their grievances over the cartoons. The assembled crowds were relatively peaceful, though noisy. Speakers gave long speeches mainly in Arabic as protesters waved placards declaring the “War on Terror” as being a “War on Islam”. Most of the placards had been vetted beforehand in order to avoid a repletion of events seen in London two weeks ago. In earlier protests placards had called for ‘Revenge’ and the ‘beheading’ of those who insulted Islam. In one small incident stewards moved in to ask two protesters who had fashioned a banner depicting a Danish flag emblazoned with the words “Stick to making pastries”. Denmark was the first country to see the publication of the offending cartoons [BBC/Sky News]. In Italy there was political fallout after one politician wore a T-shirt displaying some of the cartoons. Robert Calderoli, the Italian reform minister, was later forced to resign [BBC]
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Nigeria and Niger are the latest countries to be identified as being host to the deadly virus. And Iran has also seen outbreaks with 175 swans having been identified with the H5N1 virus. Germany is also on alert after two swans were identified there with the virus. H5N1 has been identified in many European countries. Cases of the H5N1 virus have been seen in Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Turkey in recent weeks. But after a lull in reported cases there were at least two reported cases found in Greece and Italy last weekend. [CNN]. There have even been cases reported in Iraq. At least one girl has died from the H5N1 virus according to CNN, and there are further cases in Fallujah and Ramadi. The New York Times also reported that a 25 year old fisherman may have died as a result of the H5N1 virus. So far, almost all humans infected with the virus have caught it from birds, but international health organizations are deeply concerned about the possibility that the strain will mutate to allow widespread human-to-human transmission.
Some of the Abu Ghraib abuse shown on TV networks worldwide
Latest developments in the War on Terror have included new anti-terror laws, riots and the release of shocking images of abuse by coalition troops. Sky News and BBC News 24 both broke with the story of prisoner abuse early Wednesday afternoon. The new images that “they didn’t want you to see” were earlier aired on an Australian TV station. SBS showed the image as part of a documentary about the abuse of Abu-Ghraib prisoners by US troops. Some of the un-shown images are said to show homicide and sexual acts. Channel 4 News described the pictures as being “disturbing” and “depraved”. Many were described as too extreme to show. The release of the pictures under America’s Freedom of Information Act will further outrage top officials at the White House who have attempted to stop the photos getting into the public arena. The timing is also of great concern. Earlier in the week the British paper News of the World showed video evidence of abuse by British troops. Indeed, some Arab TV stations linked both the Abu Ghraib ‘torture’ and the beating of teenagers in Basra by British soldiers. Charles Grainer and Lynndie England have already been sentenced in the US for their part in Abu Ghraib abuse previously investigated. But these new picture will only further enflame tensions throughout the Middle-East. One Civil Rights attorney described the evidence of abuse was only “skimming the surface”.
And as protests over the cartoons of Mohammed continue this will surely add fuel to the fire. Over 70,000 protested in Pakistan on Wednesday, the third such protest in recent days which has seen at least 3 deaths.
New Anti-Terror Laws were today passed in the UK parliament. The laws were “absolutely vital” to stopping the ‘glorification of terrorism’. The word ‘glorification’ sent “a massive signal” to the “likes of Abu Hamza”, Tony Blair told the House of Commons. But the glorification of terrorism may run into problems in the courts. As to what the precise meaning of glorification might mean. Some MPs have expressed a fear that those who celebrated the likes of Robin Hood, Wat Tyler or Che Guevara, might themselves find themselves on the wrong side of the law. But in an interview shown on Sky News at 17:25 GMT, the Prime Minister defended the change in the law. “It’s not just those who perpetrate terrorism [who present a danger] but also those that encourage such acts…or set out to entice or recruit other people”, Tony Blair said.
He insisted the War on Terror was a new threat which Britain and the rest of the world faced and that something needed to be done. “The law will allow us to take more action against such people…we have free speech in this country but don’t abuse it. We must send a clear signal to those that incite terrorism or glorify it”, he said. “This global terrorism threat is new, it’s different”. Referring to protests seen in London following the publication of cartoons of Mohammed he said, “I don’t think there is any doubt that most people in the country think it its abhorrent for people to hold up placards as we saw recently.” Some of the placards had called for those who insulted Islam be killed. One child had been photographed wearing an “I love al-Qaeda” woolly hat, another dressed as a ‘suicide bomber’.
Meanwhile in Iraq, at least 10 have died in continued violence including 3 children killed in a roadside bomb in Baghdad [BBC]. And as the Saddam Hussein trial was adjourned after only 2 days of testimony, it has emerged that Saddam Hussein and a number of his co-defendants have embarked on a hunger strike [BBC].
Monday, February 13, 2006
Italian newspapers cover the story
Bird flu is beginning to spread with new cases identified in many European countries. Cases of the H5N1 virus have been seen in Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Turkey in recent weeks. But after a lull in reported cases there were at least two reported cases found in Greece and Italy this weekend [CNN]. There have even been cases reported in Iraq. At least one girl has died from the H5N1 virus according to CNN, and there are further cases in Fallujah and Ramadi. The New York Times also reported that a 25 year old fisherman may have died as a result of the H5N1 virus. So far, almost all humans infected with the virus have caught it from birds, but international health organizations are deeply concerned about the possibility that the strain will mutate to allow widespread human-to-human transmission.
It has been a relatively quiet weekend in Iraq with few reports coming froming out of the country. A new leader was finally chosen after the recent elections. The United Iraqi Alliance party leader Ibrahim Al-Jaafari has now been nominated as the new Prime Minister of Iraq.
The Saddam Hussein trial resumed Monday and as the former leader entered the court he shouted, “Down with America, long live Iraq.” The defiant Saddam who had been forced to attend the session spent several minutes berating the judge and America. The court heard from two witnesses throughout the morning. Broadcast of the trial is delayed by 20 minutes. The defence team has now been appointed by the judge after the
The main issue dominating headlines is the release of a tape showing British troops abusing Iraqi prisoners. The tape, believed to have been shot in 2004, was widely reported after the News of the World.co.uk/ led with the story on Sunday. The story was extensively shown on many news stations including Sky News, BBC 24 and CNN. The video was also shown in Iraq on Al-Arabiya where it caused further outrage amongst Iraqis. The MoD described the images as “disturbing” and said the tape would be investigated. Tony Blair said he was also concerned over the allegations of abuse but added that the video should not reflect on the majority of British troops who were doing a good job.
Friday, February 10, 2006
Violence continues in Iraq today with at least 11 killed in a car bomb attack in southern Baghdad [Reuters]. Another 38 people were injured. Meanwhile in Fallujah two US marines were killed by a roadside bomb on Thursday bringing the US death toll to 2,263. An Imam was kidnapped yesterday [CNN] adding to the growing list of hostages held by insurgents. Armed men dressed in Iraqi Army uniforms stormed the home of the imam, Sunni Sheikh Adel Khalil Daoud Hassan Al Azzaawi of the Al Nouaimi Mosque in central Baghdad's Karrade neighbourhood. No demands have yet been issued by the kidnappers.
George W Bush has defended his continuing War on Terror and yesterday outlined how the US had foiled a terror plot which had targeted Los Angeles [CNN]. The plot was allegedly set in motion by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks, a month after the airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Bush said. It involved terrorists from al Qaeda's Southeast Asia wing, Jemaah Islamiyah. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is currently in US custody since his arrest by Pakistani authorities in 2003. Jemaah Islamiyah is believed responsible for attacks in Bali in 2005 which killed 129 people from more than 7 nationalities.
Jill Carroll, the American journalist kidnapped by insurgents in Iraq, has resurfaced on a new videotape shown Thursday on a Kuwaiti TV station. In the short recording she said, "I'm here. I'm fine. Please, just do whatever they want. Give them whatever they want as quickly as possible. There is very short time. Please do it fast". Both CNN and Fox News showed part of the video early Friday.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Abu Hamza has been convicted on several charges at the Old Bailey including incitement to murder. The judge said it was “perfectly plain” that Hamza’s speeches were “going beyond the people he spoke to directly”. He then sentenced the radical cleric to 7 years [Sky News]. His British citizenship may be withdrawn and he still may face extradition to the US on terror related charges. Meanwhile in the US one of those allegedly converted to radical Islam by Abu Hamza awaits his sentence. Zacarius Moussaoui, the so called 19th hijacker in the events of September 11th 2001, now faces life imprisonment for his part [CNN]
Monday, February 06, 2006
The row over the printing of a number of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed has spilled over into violence. In several countries around the world Danish flags have been burned and in Beirut in Lebanon and in Damascus in Syria the Danish embassies were attacked and torched by protesters [BBC. The row has already created financial problems for Denmark with several Danish companies now being boycotted in a number of Middle-Eastern countries. In Jordan, two editors, sacked after publishing some of the cartoons, have now been arrested. In Jordan, the Arabic weekly Shihan ran three of the 12 cartoons, including the one that depicts Muhammed as wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a burning fuse. The headline read: “This is how the Danish newspaper portrayed Prophet Muhammad, may God’s blessing and peace be upon him.” The paper said it was reprinting them to show readers “the extent of the Danish offence". The drawings first appeared in a Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, in September. They have now been reprinted in a Norwegian magazine, in January, and in newspapers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and New Zealand. Some leaders have apologized to Muslims and editorials have also tried to explain their actions over reprinting the cartoons. On the Jyllands-Posten Jyllands-Posten website a notice has been posted – “Open letter to Fellow Muslim citizens - please read”. Part of the message reads, “In our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims for which we apologize.” The statement went on to say that “because of culturally based misunderstandings, the initiative to publish the 12 drawings has been interpreted as a campaign against Muslims in Denmark and the rest of the world.” In the name of press freedom, more European newspapers ran the controversial cartoons. The Belgian newspaper De Standaard reproduced the pictures along with letters from readers in favour of publication.
Two New Zealand newspapers, the Dominion-Post in Wellington and The Press in Christchurch - both owned by Australia's Fairfax group - also published the cartoons in defence of freedom of speech.
Rupert Murdoch's flagship newspaper, The Australian, did not publish them, but strongly defended the right of newspapers to do so, saying in an editorial: "Liberal democracies must not give way to bullying when it comes to core values."
Protests in London have been noisy but so far have not descended into violence. However the Metropolitan Police have received dozens of complaints over some of the placards held by some of the protesters. Some were said to be a call to murder with slogans such as “Butcher those who mock Islam” and “Masscre those who insult Islam”. Some protesters were heard to chant “Britain you will pay, 7/7 on its way”, a reference to the terror attacks in London on July 7th 2005. A man was arrested at the demonstration for handing out leaflets depicting some of the offending cartoons [News of the World] . None have been printed in the UK and most broadcasters have pixilated any reproductions used. The BBC has decided not to show the pictures again after only briefly showing them in reports on Thursday. Over 800 complaints were received. The BBC responded saying they did not wish to offend but apologized to any viewers who were offended. One blog did publish some of the cartoons and can be found here. [churchofentropy.blogspot]
30 Sept: Danish paper publishes cartoons
20 Oct: Muslim ambassadors complain to Danish PM
10 Jan: Norwegian publication reprints cartoons
26 Jan: Saudi Arabia recalls its ambassador
30 Jan: Gunmen raid EU's Gaza office demanding apology
31 Jan: Danish paper apologises
1 Feb: Papers in France, Germany, Italy and Spain reprint cartoons
4 Feb: Syrians attack Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus
5 Feb: Attacks on Danish embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.
Friday, February 03, 2006
A row over the printing of a number of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed has increased over recent days and created financial problems for Denmark where they were first published. Several Danish companies have been boycotted since the cartoons, originally published in September 2005, resurfaced in a number of European publications recently. Arla, who make more than £1.5 M per day in the Middle-East, have stopped many of their operations in the region. In Saudi Arabia sales of butter and other dairy produce has been suspended and
In Yemen staff have been advised to remain at home and in Denmark itself 170 employees have been sent home. Lego and Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company, have also been hit by the boycott. Besides a boycott, demonstrations against countries that have seen the publication of the offending cartoons, have continued. Threats of violence have also been made in Gaza [BBC] and in other areas of the Middle-East. The debate over the issue has also created problems for newspaper editors over how they might report the issue. In Jordan and in France, editors of two newspapers have been sacked after reprinting the cartoons. In Paris, the daily newspaper France Soir fired its managing editor after it republished the caricatures Wednesday, and in Pakistan protesters marched chanting "Death to Denmark" and "Death to France." France Soir said it had published the cartoons to show that "religious dogma" had no place in a secular society [CNN]
. In Jordan, the Arabic weekly Shihan ran three of the 12 cartoons, including the one that depicts Muhammed as wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a burning fuse. The headline read: “This is how the Danish newspaper portrayed Prophet Muhammad, may God’s blessing and peace be upon him.” The paper said it was reprinting them to show readers “the extent of the Danish offence".The drawings first appeared in a Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, in September. They were reprinted in a Norwegian magazine in January and in newspapers in France, Germany, Italy and Spain yesterday as editors have rallied behind them in the name of free expression. But the rally for the expression of free speech has become entangled in diplomatic arguments and apologies.
In England radio stations are awash with phone-in debates and the issue of free speech dominates many of the front pages of the British print media. The cartoons are however hidden from those in the UK since many editors have decided not to reprint them. Indeed the increasing number of protests, some held in London, UK, Istanbul in Turkey, as well as Iraq and Egypt, has made many fearful of fueling the debate further. [BBC] The France Soir website was last night inaccessible, and many of the other publications have not posted the offending cartoons online. One blog did publish some of the cartoons and can be found here. [churchofentropy blogspot]
A ferry en-route to Safaga, Egypt from Duba in Saudi Arabia UEA has sunk in the Red sea. At least 15 dead have been recovered and there are 12 survivors accounted for. The Al Salam Boccaccio 98 went down 60 km east of Hurghada carrying at least 1,415 passengers. CNN are carrying significant coverage at this time [13:15 GMT] as are Sky News. BBC are currently covering the row over cartoons said to insult the prophet Mohammed. Details from Sky have revealed that a British frigate, HMS Bulwark, has joined four Egyptian frigates in the effort to search for survivors. The sea temperature is said to be around 22 C, however bad weather is said to be hampering the search efforts. [13:30 GMT 03/02/2006]