Sunday, April 30, 2006
Work began on Thursday on the building of the new Freedom Tower in New York. It has been a long wait. But after years of legal battles the go ahead was finally given. The war on terror initiated after the terrorism which saw the destruction of the two towers has also continued unabated throughout the week. On Sunday last week Usama bin Laden released his latest audio message which was broadcast on al-Jazeera. Soon thereafter terrorist struck a tourist destination in Egypt. Blame was attributed to al-Qaeda and there were reports in the press that bin Laden taped message triggered the cell to launch their latest in a series of attacks in the country. More messages from Iraq’s most-wanted surfaced on the internet, that of Zarqawi, who has taken the role of being the leading member of Iraq’s continued insurgency. In the video the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq was seen discussing terror plots and training with machine guns in the desert. Then came another message from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s so called number two. And in the same week that these messages surfaced, so too did a number of reports which painted a grim picture of the increased number of terrorist strikes worldwide since 9/11. CBS cited that more than 11,000 attacks had occurred in the 5 year period with more than 3,000 occurring in Iraq alone. Britain also saw the release of a report which said that Britain’s nuclear power stations were under risk from a terror strike and recommended that radioactive waste be buried underground. The situation on the ground in Iraq sees little improvement and terror attacks and suicide bombing happen almost daily. And besides President Bush’s upbeat messages and surprise visits to Iraq by top US official there is little sign of change to a country which is sliding further towards a state of civil war.
And as the coalition death toll increases even further, the fear of an imminent strike on Iran, following its refusal to stop uranium enrichment, looms. Though in a recent speech, President Bush insisted that diplomatic resolutions were still not exhausted. Though his recent track record will do little to comfort those who fear a strike against Iran is inevitable.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Blair is under great pressure after a week of scandals. But he attempted to put a brave face on the matters that have dogged his party a week before local elections. The week has seen bad news for the Blair government nearly every day this week. And it comes after another recent scandal and at least one arrest over the ‘money for peerages’ affair. Job cuts in the NHS culminated in heckling of the Health Minister at a conference this week. And headlines in the Sun berated Patricia Hewitt with lines such as “What planet are you on, Patricia?” Tony Blair quickly stood to the defence of the Health Minister. But no sooner than he had, another revelation hit the news. Charles Clarke was the next target for Fleet Street. The Minister was blamed for the release of 1,023 convicted foreign criminals onto the streets by mistake instead of deporting them after their sentence. Amongst them were five murderers, as well as a number of rapists and paedophiles. But the media frenzy only increased when the Daily Mirror broke with an exclusive on Wednesday which revealed the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, had been involved in an extra-marital affair with his secretary. Any sliver of information was followed up by the tabloids. Sensationalism was the order of the day as many papers were filled with picture specials and ‘kiss and tell’ revelations. One Karon Bolden from Basildon in Essex accused Mr Prescott’s mistress of being a “home-wrecker” and “a man-eater”. Speaking to the Sun newspaper, she revealed that her marriage to former husband Clive was destroyed by Tracey Temple. Tony Blair dismissed the matter saying, “I do regard it as a private matter”. He insisted there were far mare important issues at hand and that Labour’s record on education, the health service and crime fighting were strong. “Are we taking the steps to make the country stronger…Yes” he insisted.
Friday, April 21, 2006
China’s President Hu Jintao’s visit to the US culminated in a visit to the White House and a meeting with George W Bush. Several issues were on the agenda, the value of the Yuan, trade and counterfeit products. But little progress was made with regards trade issues. An undervalued Yuan has brought strong criticism from congress for creating unfair advantages to Chinese manufacturers [CNN]. The days proceedings were also sent off track by a protester who heckled the Chinese President during his speech on the White House lawn. Wang Wenyi, 47, a naturalized U.S. citizen who is working as a journalist for The Epoch Times, was shown on Live television berating Hu Jintao over human rights abuses. She shouted in English, "President Bush, stop him from persecuting the Falun Gong!" and in Chinese, "President Hu, your days are numbered." After a short while she was led away by Secret Service agents. President Bush later apologized to the Chinese leader over the outburst which failed to make it to TV screens in China. State television did not carry the live ceremony, and CNN's live broadcast of the event was interrupted during the brief protest -- and afterward as reporters discussed it [BBC]. China's state-run flagship channels CCTV-1 and CCTV-4 chose not to carry the events live, preferring correspondents' summaries. At the time of the heckling incident, CCTV-4 was showing a special programme on President Hu's visit entitled "Voice of Peace From China". And Shanghai's Oriental Satellite TV quickly interrupted coverage when the protester began to shout. The channel switched back to the studio anchorwoman, who summed up the leaders' speeches in an apparent effort to prevent the noise from being heard. Few Chinese viewers saw a slip of protocol as President Bush grabbed President Hu’s sleeve as he passed his required position for a photograph. The Chinese President looked surprised and shocked before breaking into a smile.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Ahead of China’s President Hu Jintao’s arrival, the Yuan was a big issue in the US. It is likely to be high on the agenda when President Hu meets with the US President on Thursday. Pressure is on Washington to increase tariffs on Chinese imports. This is in response to China’s continued resistance to revalue the Yuan which many feel is highly undervalued and gives China an increased competitive edge. Hu Jintao flew into the US on Monday but there was little fanfare and even less news coverage. CNN brought viewers a few special reports about China’s attempted crackdown on pirated software and DVDs and the continuing sandstorms that are sweeping across from Mongolia and covering Beijing in a fine covering of red dust. Software piracy was the issue of the day as Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, met with the Chinese President on Wednesday [CNN / BBC]. Hu is under great pressure to curtail the manufacture of pirated and counterfeit products. CCTV 9 reported that several thousand Yuan in damages were awarded to companies affected by Beijing’s Silk Street market which has seen the selling of many pirated goods. In January the International Herald Tribune reported that Chanel and Prada as well as other leading companies had won a lawsuit against the market [IHT]. The piracy trade accounts for losses estimated at $60 million per year throughout China. It is believed to be te first such case against a landlord for preventing the sale of counterfeit products. Cases brought against those whom have infringed copyright are not new however. In another case Shanghai Xingbake Coffee Shop was ordered by a Shanghai court to pay Starbucks 500,000 yuan [$60,000]in damages and to stop using its name and logo, the Seattle-based retailer said. The award against Xingbake, whose name translates to Starbucks in English, may be one of the largest against a Chinese company for trademark infringement, said Fred Mostert, former president of the International Trademark Association. In the last 18 months China has prosecuted nearly 200 individuals and imposed fines exceeding 400 million Yuan [$48 million]. But China expert James McGregor told CNN Wednesday that "time has run out" for Beijing on intellectual property rights abuses, saying support for China in the U.S. Congress was being eroded by this issue. In contrast to the lack of congressional support, film director Steven Spielberg has pledged his support to help design Beijing’s 2008 Olympic ceremonies [China Daily]. He is to aid top Chinese film maker Zhang Yimou.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Sky presented a rare look at the way in which Chinese authorities are evicting poor residents in order to make way for developments. “We went to the Chinese media that they wouldn’t report it,” complained one man who had been reduced to living in a tent. “This is the flip side to Chinese growing development”, Sky’s correspondent declared. Footage of pitched battles in rural provinces last year are further proof of growing unrest in the wake of the displacement of the poorest of China’s people in order to build new roads, factories, and office developments.
Only days later it was reported that President Hu had expressed a view that economic progress was of lesser importance to that of improving the lives of ordinary people [BBC]. "We are concerned about the pace of development and the quality and the effect of our growth," he said during a meeting in Beijing with former Taiwan opposition leader Lien Chan. And Sky also received and angry response from the Chinese government. A spokesman admitted the pictures were “not good” for China’s image in the run up to the 2008 Olympics. Counsellor Zhang Lirong instisted the people shown in the report were isolated cases. “I will not deny that it happens in China but I do think they’re individual cases” he told Sky News, “China is in a period of rapid economic development and there are many problems we face” [Sky]. On the issue of Taiwan, President Hu has continued requested new talks on Taiwan [BBC / CNN]. But Taiwan has rejected recent offers from China.
Iran continues to stoke international concern with fresh evidence of the country’s increasing nuclear infrastructure [BBC]. The ISIS released new satellite photographs showing new tunnels at Natanz and Isfahan. Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has also raised temperatures in Washington with claims that new technology developed in Iran may speed up the enrichment process.
Monday and violence in Israel has marred the inauguration of the Palestinian parliament. A 17 year old suicide bomber blew himself up at a busy railway station killing nine and injuring dozens more. Islamic Jihad have claimed responsibility and is the first bombing since the new Palestinian authority took power three weeks ago [BBC]. Hamas have refused to condemn the attack, describing it instead as an “act of self defence”. The Saddam Hussein trial resumed Monday but was adjourned within hours [BBC]. The court will reconvene on Wednesday the 19th of April after prosecutors ask for more time to scrutinize signatures on orders alleged to have been signed by Saddam. Meanwhile violence continues around the country. And with the ever growing spiral of violence, Donald Rumsfeld has received fresh criticism. Several retired generals have claimed the Secretary of Defence’s Iraqi invasion plan was ill thought through. But the White House is standing by their Defence Secretary [BBC]
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has made a key speech to the nation reiterating his determination to pursue its nuclear ambition. The proceedings opened with a fanfare of music and singing and an short speech by the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, “Brothers and sisters across the country who are watching this event through television…we invite you to send salutations to the prophet and the Iranian nuclear energy program”. The official went on to say the production of nuclear energy would soon be well underway. He then went on to provide a list of technical data. He said that Iran had made a significant amount of UF6 [nuclear fuel] from 'Yellowcake' , and that industrial production of nuclear fuel was proving successful. The gathering of top Iranian officials then watched a short dance to hails of Allahu akbar, ‘God is Great’. Then came the much expected speech from the President. However he only re-emphasized Iran’s right to pursue nuclear technology and praised the success of Iranian scientists for having successfully enriched Uranium for use in power station. Iran’s key nuclear advance [BBC] did not impress everyone. The White House has responded by saying that Iran is “moving in the wrong direction”. Scott Mcclellan said the country was likely to be “further isolated” by their actions [ABC]
Romano Prodi claims to have won the Italian election. But the race for the premiership was at one point too close to call and the opposition have demanded a recount. Early results suggested that Berlusconi had been ousted from office with significant gains having been secured by his rival. But as the evening wore on, the swing away from Romano Prodi became more evident. As the polls closed, most broadcasters quickly brought viewers the Breaking News that Prodi’s win was certain. However, within hours Sky News and others were beginning to change their position. Romano Prodi has fought the election in a country which has seen rising unemployment and inflation, and has promised economic reforms. He has also established himself as being against the Iraq war bringing with his win a possible withdrawal of Italian troops from the Iraqi theatre.
And in the Iraqi theatre, the killing continues. Suicide attacks on Shi’ite mosques on Friday and Saturday last week has killed over 50 and injured more than 100. And against the backdrop of suicide bombings, sectarian fighting and kidnappings, world leaders have been arguing as to whether Iraq is in a state of civil war. Adding to the debate over the weekend was Hosni Mubarak who stated that there was an ongoing civil war in Iraq which threatened the whole region. He also courted controversy from other parts of a televised interview. Iraqi leaders reacted angrily on Sunday to claims by the Egyptian leader that Iraq’s Shia majority was loyal to Iran.
But further leaked documents referred to in the Independent suggested the country was in greater turmoil than officials admitted publicly. The confidential assessment of the security situation across Iraq carried out by US officials portrayed a country beset by violence and sectarian division. The report also states that the stability of six of Iraq’s 18 provinces was considered "serious" and one was said to be "critical".
Lock & load - a B61-11 being prepared on a B2 bomber
George W Bush has dismissed reports in this week’s New Yorker magazine that he was considering a “tactical nuclear strike” on Iran. The article, written by Seymour Hirsch, said one of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, called for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. The Brookings Institute described the B61-11 as having “unique earth-penetrating characteristics”. Despite its useful properties there has been widespread discussion on the use of such weapons. On July 8, 1996, the International Court of Justice ruled that any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons, other than possibly in the case where the very survival of a nation was threatened, was against international law. After this landmark decision, it is difficult to legally support the deployment, let alone the new development, of any tactical nuclear weapon? Especially one whose development appears to have been motivated by a desire to target non-nuclear weapon states. Upon publication, the US President dismissed the article as “wild speculation” [Sky News]. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana insisted that Europe would have no involvement in any such action. “Any military action is out of the question for us,” he said.
And as the world reeled to he latest revelations coming from the White House, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has said that Iran would “soon join” the world nuclear technology club. The Iranian president has been highly criticized over recent months for not cooperating with the international community and specifically the IAEA. If a strike against Iran were to be initiated, one target would be Iran’s main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly 300 km south of Tehran. But one Pentagon adviser questioned the value of air strikes. “The Iranians have distributed their nuclear activity very well, and we have no clue where some of the key stuff is. It could even be out of the country,” he said. He warned, as did many others, that bombing Iran could provoke “a chain reaction” of attacks on American facilities and citizens throughout the world: “What will 1.2 billion Muslims think the day we attack Iran?” A question that should be seriously considered by all involved.
A 15 storey high structure of scaffolding has collapsed in high winds which have swept across Britain today. There are said to be at least 3 casualties, all described as serious. At least 1 person was reported to be in theatre undergoing surgery. The collapse occurred at around 12:40 at the Jurys Inn hotel development in Milton Keynes. By 15:00 Sky were still without pictures as BBC 24 brought viewers both still and live shots from the scene. A police officer from Thames Valley police was unable to provide any fresh details nor was he able to state if there were any fatalities. By 15:12 Sky News had managed to bring live pictures from their Skycopter with a few camera-phone images provided by viewers. Darren Little, Sky’s correspondent, was able to provide on the spot coverage a short time later, but was himself unable to provide any fresh information. Sky quoted a witness as describing the scene a being “like a disaster movie”
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
A swan has been identified as to having contracted the H5 virus with further tests being conducted to test for the more deadly H5N1 virus. The dead bird was found near Cellardyke, Fife in Scotland on a coastal region in an emaciated state. A security cordon has been set up. Sky and BBC 24 broke with the news at around 21:00 BST [20:00 GMT] with CNN reporting the development at 21:30. If this is confirmed to be the H5N1 virus, it with be the first such case on the UK mainland. Test results are not expected until Thursday morning. It comes in the same week as a leaked report which set out the government’s response to a possible flu pandemic. Such a pandemic would be extremely likely if the H5N1 virus jumped the species barrier.
The Saddam Hussein trial reconvened Wednesday, but the farce continued as the former leader dismissed the charges against him and then read a poem [CNN]. He told the court that prosecution witnesses at his trial in Baghdad had been bribed and coached in what to say. During Wednesday's proceedings, the prosecution produced documents suggesting that 28 people whose executions Saddam approved had been under 18. But then there were further theatrics. One defence lawyer was ejected for attempting to present pictures of prisoner abuse by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib, to the court. "This is what the Americans did to Iraqis in Abu Ghraib," she said, as the court was examining alleged deaths during interrogation under Saddam Hussein's rule. The judge eventually allowed her to return to court. During the remainder of Wednesday's proceedings, the prosecution produced documents suggesting that 28 people whose executions Saddam approved had been under 18. Saddam Hussein, who appeared on his own, is on trial with seven others for the killing of 148 people in 1982. a nearly six-hour session, Abdel-Rahman adjourned the session until Thursday [BBC].
Bird flu has been found in poultry for the first time, around 2 months after being identified in wild birds. The authorities have put up a protection around the farm in Leipzig in the state of Saxony in an attempt to stop the spread of the virulent virus which has so far claimed 100 lives worldwide. Orders have also been given to destroy nearly 10,000 animals on the farm [BBC].
The H5N1 virus has also recently been found in the Czech republic, Israel’s west bank and Nigeria. As the threat of a global flu pandemic nears ever closer, a leaked government document has shown that up to 700,000 people could die in the UK as a result of such an outbreak. The report also outlines possible actions by the authorities such as quarantine zones and implementation of large scale vaccinations of Britain’s population. However the report highlighted how much the country was ill-prepared for such an eventuality. In a report published in the Scotsman this week the paper states that “the armed forces may not be available to help in an emergency because of Britain's extensive international military deployments.” The article also raised the risk that there may not be enough vaccine to combat the deadly virus. The document says that effective drugs "would not be available until at least four to six months after a pandemic had struck, which could be well after the first wave of illness in the UK". The Cabinet Office paper has been circulated only to "Category 1 responders" - emergency services chiefs, local authorities, NHS officials and others responsible for drawing up contingency plans. It details the preparations under way for a flu pandemic arising in a number of ways, including the mutation of the H5N1 virus among birds.
The document warns that, once such an infection arrived in Britain, it could take as little as two weeks to become widespread. Published in late February, it contains the latest updated projections for the spread of a "novel" form of the common flu virus to which people would have no immunity. The document declares a "prudent worst-case" death toll of 320,000. In such an event, the Home Office estimate that bodies could be stored for up to 18 weeks before being buried. But the paper accepts that the prospect of mass burial may cause public anxiety and says, "Common burial stirs up images of the burial pits used in the great plague of 1665 - where in London 70,000 people died." In fact, the mass burials envisaged would more closely resemble temporary sites used after major wars. The dead would be consigned to individual coffins and buried in discreet graves, with names clearly marked, in unconsecrated fields. A bleak prospect indeed.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Denis Donaldson , a former British secret agent for over 20 years, a former Republican Sinn Fein politician and head at Stormont, has been found shot dead at his Donegal home in the village of Glenties. He had been living in the run down cottage in self imposed exile, without electricity or running water.
Peter Hain, Northern Ireland Secretary told Sky News, “I am completely appalled by this barbaric act”. His son was ‘viciously beaten’ recently in an attack in Northern Ireland, Sky News reported. There are rumours that the body had been ‘ritually mutilated” according to Sky’s Adam Bolton. The IRA has said that they had “no involvement” in the killing. Bertie Ahern the Irish Prime Mininister said he condemned the “brutal murder”. DUP leader Dr Ian Paisley told Sky News, “It seems to me to point the finger of blame towards the IRA and Sinn Fein”. He cited that it was further reason “not to go into government with them [Sinn Fein]”.
Monday, April 03, 2006
The jury has reached a verdict in the sentencing part of the trial of the so called 20th hijacker. Zacarias Moussaoui is the only person to have been put on trial for his alleged part in the terror attacks in the US on 9/11. On count 1. the jury found unanimously that the defendant was 18 at the time of the offences, that on count 2. he did intentionally set out to commit an act that may result in death or injury, that 3. he did commit an act that might result in death or injury, and 4. at least 1 person died on 9/11 as result of his actions. As a result Zacarias Moussaoui is eligible to receive the death sentence under US law in the state of Virginia.