Wednesday, February 28, 2007

China stock sell-off affects world markets

Chinese share markets and others around the world were shaken yesterday with millions of dollars being wiped off the value of shares. The Tuesday sell off was said to be the new influence of Chinese financial markets.

CNN described the Chinese market place as being like a ‘bull market like no other’. The Daily Telegraph in the UK also put the slump in share prices down to “China’s growing global influence”. The Shanghai fall was the biggest since the death of Deng Xiaoping, ten years ago. Yesterday’s fall coincided with Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao’s announcement that China would “maintain socialism for 100 years”. A share-buying frenzy which has been seen in China over the last few years was turned around by what many saw as a possible clamp down by Beijing. As the sell off peaked on the Shanghai markets, world markets reacted sharply with the FTSE 100 closing 148.6 points lower at 6,286.1 and the Dow Jones closing 416 points down. More than $140 M was wiped off Chinese share market whilst the Nikkei closed 3% lower and the Nasdaq nearly 4% down. In the US $600,000 M were wiped off the value of stocks. Chinese stocks have doubled in the past year prompting some analysts to suggest many are overvalued.

The fall was not entirely blamed on Chinese markets. Falls had also been seen earlier in the day after the failed suicide attack on US Vice President Dick Cheney during his visit to Afghanistan. The fall in sales of US cars and other commodities as well as a drop in house prices was also seen as a contributory factor.

There are some who suggest the sell off is a ‘storm in a tea cup’ and that markets would soon recover. There was some sign of recovery early Wednesday, but it may take some time for investors to regain their confidence in the changing global financial markets [BBC]

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Iran - 'case for war' is building

In America's sights. But is it a game of bluff [pic. The Independent 12/02/2007]

Iran is once again in the crosshairs of the US and UK coalition as Tehran continues to defy the international community’s request to halt its Uranium enrichment. In the last few days their has been a series of statements from both the United States and from the United Kingdom which many broadcasters are taking as a possible prelude to military action against the country. During a recent visit to coalition ally Australia, Dick Cheney said that “all options were on the table”. And today Tony Blair in his monthly news conference told the assembled media that “it was a big mistake” for Iran to continue Uranium enrichment.
During Dick Cheney’s Australian visit he described Iran’s role in the Middle East as being “fairly aggressive” and reiterated America’s belief that “they appear to be pursuing the development of nuclear weapons.” [BBC]

The threat to Iran went up a notch on Monday as the US military presented what some media organisations described as a ‘smoking gun’ in Iran’s perceived complicity in supplying Iraqi insurgents with weapons [BBC]. Earlier this month US defence officials in Baghdad told reporters that the Iranians were supplying sophisticated bombs capable of penetrating the armour of a US-made Abrams tank. This latest find consisted of 120mm mortar rounds, 122mm rockets and bags of C4 plastic explosives. All were of Iranian origin and were found near to a village stronghold of the Shia Mehdi Army of leading cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The speculation in the media of possible military action was heightened by a report in one journal which suggested plans were already being drawn up [BBC]. In the weekly New Yorker magazine, journalist Seymour Hersh said a special planning group was planning raids to be carried out within 24 hours of a presidential order for military action. According to the article which quoted unnamed sources, covert intelligence-gathering inside Iran had been stepped up in recent months, with special operations groups entering from Iraq to pursue Iranians suspected of working against US interests. The operations were said to be co-ordinated by Vice-President Dick Cheney and relied heavily on support from Saudi Arabia.

Iran was not the only country criticized during Dick Cheney’s Australian visit. He spoke too of China’s military build up which he said was at odds with their stated peaceful aims [BBC]. Whilst he praised the Chinese government’s efforts in securing a peace deal with North Korea, he said China's destruction of an inactive weather satellite last month, as well as its "continued fast-paced military build-up are less constructive, and are not consistent with China's stated goal of a peaceful rise". His praise for the Chinese government’s help in brokering a deal with the DPRK was punctuated with an element of cynicism. He said that China was motivated by its own interest in that "the Chinese understand that a nuclear North Korea would be a threat to their own security."

After a brief surprise visit to Pakistan where he met with Pervez Musharraf, he touched down in Afghanistan. But whilst he had met with protest in his Australian visit, in the Afghan capital he was greeted with bombs. The blast which one US military spokesman described as “a direct attack” on the Bagram air base, killed 14 people according to reports. At least one US soldier, a South Korean soldier and a contractor, whose nationality has not been released, were amongst the dead [BBC]. Mr Cheney was unhurt in the blast which also took the life of the bomber. The Taleban have said that Dick Cheney was their target. After the attack he met with the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, though few details have emerged as to what they discussed [CNN].

As the case for war with Iran builds, many Iranians are feeling they are being unduly singled out, particularly with supposed support of the Shi’ite militias. Other surrounding nations have often been criticized for their part in aiding the continuing insurgency, but the case being built against Iran is worrying many Iranians, both at home and abroad. There are also voices of concern that military threats are building so readily whilst the threat from Iran has not been entirely established. The head of the UN nuclear watchdog Mr ElBaradei has said it could take Iran another six to 12 months to get 3,000 centrifuges running, and four to six years to be able to produce a bomb [BBC]. And this if indeed it wanted one, which Iran insists it doesn’t. There is still time for negotiations on the nuclear front but US trigger finger appears to be getting very itchy.

UK shifts focus to Afghanistan

British forces in Afghanistan are set to increase to 7,300 personnel. The UK government’s Defence Secretary, Des Browne, today announced 1400 extra British troops would soon be deployed to Afghanistan. But he said that every NATO partner should do more. He said only a small number of key allies were prepared to take part in continued effort against the Taleban. But he said the mission was vital and in the national interest. The announcement comes less than a week since Tony Blair said a significant number of troops would be withdrawn from Iraq with remaining personnel deployed to Basra airport to be used only in a supporting role [BBC]

Monday, February 26, 2007

Rail crash - RAIB report blames points

Missing components point to sabotage
or bad track maintenance

An RAIB report released shortly after the Cumbria rail crash suggests that a stretcher bar failure may have been to blame [RAIB report / RAIB report BBC]. According to the report, the stretcher bar and a number of bolts were missing. Checks that should have been made on the 18th February had not taken place and that the last logged check on the points was a week earlier. Network Rail has said they were “unable to explain the errors” but they “apologised unreservedly”.
A 13 week full reassembly check should be made with smaller checks between this period. Every 7 days the stretcher bar should be checked for tightness with a maintenance vehicle checking them every 14 days. However, the interim report suggests that at least one check was not made. There are also unexplained questions. Why was there no record of maintenance of work being done on the set of points concerned? Why were there no scheduled checks completed? And where is the missing stretcher bar? There are suggestions that sabotage may have been the cause due to the inexplicable set of circumstances. John Armitt, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, said he would “leave no stone unturned” to find out what went wrong.
His comments will be of little comfort to those that were injured in Friday’s crash. Mr & Mrs Langley, close relatives of the 84 year old woman Margaret Jones who died, remain in hospital. Iain Black the driver also remains in hospital in a critical condition with a neck injury. Stuart Durham, from the A& E unit where many victims were being treated, described the victims as having been “thrown around like socks in a washing machine” and were very lucky.

Network Rail was formed after Railtrack’s farming out track maintenance was seen as part of the problem for a series of rail accidents including the Potters Bar tragedy in which missing bolts and poor track maintenance were to blame. Most track work is now kept ‘in house’. However there is still a demand from train operators that the track should be maintained by themselves. As Richard Branson visited the scene the day after the crash, he raised the issue as to whether there should be a review of who maintains the track. Looking visibly upset, he said a worse tragedy was only averted by the strength of the Pendolino trains which “had proved themselves” due to being “built like tanks”.

Richard Branson, speaking after the report’s release, said lessons should have been learnt after Potters Bar. “Every member of the public needs to rely on Network Rail”, he said, but “We need to meet up with the government to talk about see if things can be done differently.” Meanwhile the RMT spokes person, Bob Crowe demanded a public enquiry [BBC].

Friday, February 23, 2007

UK - train crash - 9 carriages derailed

Within two hours the BBC had pictures and reporters on scene

A Virgin train travelling from Euston to Glasgow has crashed in Cumbria near the Scottish border. Police and emergency services received the first call at 20:26. The BBC has reported that some carriages have rolled down the embankment near to Grayrigg, a small village in a rural area. A police spokesman speaking to the BBC was unable to confirm the numbers of casualties or how many carriages had fallen from the line. He did say that a liaison point had been set up at Glasgow station for relatives. Another police spokesperson, Inspector Mairi Stamper of Glasgow Police, told the BBC that up to four carriages may have fallen down the embankment. Four RAF helicopters have been dispatched to the scene as well as a number of other emergency vehicles.

The 17:15 service, a Pendolino, train was described as being six to eight carriages long by Sky News. The BBC speculated that is may have hit an obstruction, or that a rail may have broken, or even that it may have travelled too fast. The train concerned was capable of travelling at 120 mph. The train was travelling through an area marked at 95 mph. A BBC executive who was on the train gave some of the first hand accounts of how the crash happened and the aftermath. Caroline Thompson told the studio she was standing in a muddy field and that it was pitch black but from she could see at least one carriage was upside-down. She said that some people were trapped under one carriage. The mobile phone pictures she had sent to her employees have remained the only photographs on the TV news. Sky had to rely on a map for several hours. Jane Little a BBC reporter that had made it to the scene said she had seen a number of people carried away on stretchers. Her report broke up as the mobile phone signal juddered. But in her broken reportage she described a very dark and bleak scene. It was not raining but she said it was damp. The train had crashed near a tiny village called Docker and the roads were tiny. She said she had seen at least 5 persons stretchered away and a tractor attempting to pull an ambulance from the mud. Although many people have been ferried away from the scene there are not believed to be any fatalities. The exact number of people involved is unknown and the ambulance service could only confirm some persons were still trapped. They also said all nine carriages had derailed and that two people had been conveyed to hospital. A significant number of walking wounded. Around 50 ambulance personnel were on the scene dealing with the incident. They had accounted for 48 passengers of a full compliment of for the train was 180 according to the BBC. The most serious injury was described as head and back injuries. But the spokesperson said there had been no reports as yet of life-threatening injuries. There was a train incident in the same area in February 2004 when a sleeper transporter trolley with defective brakes carrying 16 tonnes of rails became detached from a maintenance train south of Carlisle and rolled down the falling gradient until it struck and killed 4 workmen in a team repairing the line at Tebay, just north of Penrith. The owner of the sleeper transporter truck (a contractor working for Network Rail) was subsequently prosecuted. Since 2000 there have been a significant number of crashes including the Potters Bar and Hatfield train crashes which jointly killed 11 and injured dozens more. One of the worst UK rail accidents was the Ladbrook Grove crash which killed 31 [List of British rail accidents]. Rail crashes so far this last seven years has killed 42. The British Transport Police have released an emergency number which the BBC gave out shortly after 22:44 GMT – 0800 40 50 40. [BBC / Sky News]

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

UK govt announces troop 'withdrawal'

British withdrawal comes as a report shows terror attacks are rising

The UK is to scale down the number of British troops in Iraq [BBC]. The numbers which currently stand at 7,100 are to be reduced by 1,600 over the coming months. As the news leaked out many media organisations called it a withdrawal. But government officials preferred to refer to the reduction in more measured terms. When Tony Blair finally made his statement during the weekly Prime Minister’s question time he said the reduced force would be redeployed to Basra’s airport where they would remain to provide a supporting role to Iraqi troops.

During the address to a packed parliamentary session, Tony Blair acknowledged the increased violence in the country and blamed much of it on al-Qaeda. He also said Shi’ite militant groups were also responsible for some of the violence but that the British role in Basra was ‘complete’. However there were still dangers and attacks on troops. “The problems remain formidable,” he said, but “the next chapter will be written by the Iraqis”. He praised the support of other coalition countries including Denmark. But as he spoke, the Danish Prime Minister announced he would withdraw his country’s 460 troops by August 2007 [BBC]. Besides the changes of commitment by coalition countries, Condoleezza Rice insisted “the coalition remains intact”. But the danger for the US who have made little response to the UK decision is the increased role they may have to play in the south, as well as the north, of the country. Sky’s Keith Graves pointed to the risk that US troops may be “sucked into the area to protect the only sea port at Um Qasr” as well defending the nearby border against any Iranian breaches. CNN’s Robin Oakley in his report said, “Tony Blair has been dogged by his case for war in Iraq” and suggested that the pressure on his leadership was forcing these decisions. Blair has continually echoed the statements of his ally George W Bush, saying there was “no suggestion of getting out before the job is done”. But with the rise in casualties, 29 last year alone, was forcing his hand. The decision and setting out a plan for withdrawal also contrasts with the US president’s stand. Bush has constantly stated that “it would be a mistake to set a time table” and in a CNN report it was suggested that today’s news Bush on the spot as his key ally sets out an agenda for withdrawal. The coalition has weakened considerably over the last 4 years with several countries having removed their troops. Amongst those that remain there exists much political pressure. One case in point is John Howard’s administration in Australia, which are preparing to fight an election against a backdrop of strong public opposition. The UK decision to scale down the troop numbers was broadly welcomed by politicians on all sides. But there were still questions to be answered. David Cameron the opposition leader said there were issues over the continuing security situation and especially for any remaining British troops. Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, also welcomed the ‘withdrawal’ but suggested the decision to invade Iraq was a failure and will be seen as one of the worst foreign policy decisions in many years. Criticism came too from one CNN report which said that far from denying terrorists a ‘safe haven’, the war was creating new terrorists and providing a training camp. New figures emerging from one study group does give some credence to this view. Before 9/11, the report says that there were around 30 terrorist attacks per year, worldwide leaving an average of 500 dead. Since 9/11 attacks had risen to more than 200 per year leaving 1,700 dead. In 2005 terrorist incidents tripled [Washington Post]. A more recent report painted an even grimmer picture [report]. According to the report ‘fatal jihadist attacks’ have increased seven fold since the Iraqi invasion []

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

War on Terror failing as insurgency builds

Besides prominent trials and thwarted plots, attacks continue

The war on terror might appear to many to be failing in its attempt to thwart attacks worldwide. Iraq is the main focus of many news reports as daily attacks continue to take dozens of lives. But attacks linked to Islamic groups are also occurring in many other countries.
Iraq is where the worst violence still occurs. A chemical truck blast in Iraq today seems to show a new shift in tactics employed by insurgents in the country. At least 6 were said to have been killed when a tanker carrying chlorine exploded. More than 100 were injured in the blast which CNN described as a ‘dirty bomb attack’. In Baquba, north of Baghdad, al-Qaeda in Iraq appears to be gaining strength despite best efforts by coalition initiatives to break up terror groups. Since last Monday, which saw one of Iraq’s worst terror attacks in weeks, the death toll has continued to soar dramatically. In last Monday’s attack at least 90 people were killed and 190 wounded in explosions that ripped through central Baghdad. Also on Monday, an RAF Hercules transport plane crashed injuring two British military personnel. It was not said to have been involved in any hostile action [BBC]. Friendly fire was said to be the cause of an incident a few days earlier when US helicopters fired on Iraqi military forces killing at least 8 [BBC]. It came soon after a media furore surrounding a friendly fire incident in the early days of the war in which US planes targeted a British convoy. The Sun newspaper in the UK leaked cockpit video from that incident after the US military refused to give permission for the video to be shown at an inquest of one of the soldiers. Soon after the UK tabloid named one of the pilots as Colonel Gus “Skeeter” Kohntopp [The Sun]. The reaction at the Pentagon, to the reporting of this and the leaking of the tape can only be imagined. It was later reported, that besides the widespread distribution of the video and the transcript of the dialogue between the two pilots, the evidence will still not be shown to the inquest into Matty Hull’s death.
On Friday it was reported that the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq had been injured in clashes north of Baghdad [CNN]. But within hours the US military cast doubt on the claims which had been reported on a number of Arab TV stations quoting Iraqi military sources [BBC]. Whatever the truth of the claims, the insurgency continued to unleash its fury during the weekend. On Sunday at least 60 died in several car bombings throughout the Iraqi capital [BBC].

Outside Iraq, al-Qaeda is blamed for increased attacks in India. Monday saw one of the worst atrocities in many months with more than 60 killed in a train bomb blast. Today, Indian police released pictures of two of a possible five suspects said to have been behind the attack [CNN]. The attacks in India and recent increased attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan are blamed on Pakistan’s inability to squash the safe havens said to exist in the north of the country. President Bush recently described parts of Pakistan as being “wilder than the wild west”. Peter Bergen, CNN’s terror analyst said that Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri are likely to be living somewhere in northern Pakistan where terror camps are said to still be training al-Qaeda operatives. He painted a grim picture describing how such groups may already possess resources to launch radiological terror attacks or bring down passenger jets with missiles. It is clear that Taleban fighters have the ability to down military aircraft, but the US military dispute the claims that the insurgent groups shot down a Chinook in Afghanistan last week [BBC]. Thailand also saw an upsurge of violence these last few days with several bombs throughout southern provinces. Eight people died in those attacks [BBC].

There have been some successes in the War on Terror. But the success comes mainly in the form of terror trials. Last week saw the culmination of one such trial in Turkey which saw the conviction of seven al-Qaeda militants said to be responsible for the 2003 attacks on British interests in Istanbul, Turkey. The seven suspected al-Qaeda militants were all sentenced to life imprisonment for their part in the bombings which killed 58 Sky News reported. As they were sentenced, one defendant, Syrian born Loai Mohammad Haj Bakr al Saqa, shouted, "Hey my hero brothers. Do not worry for me. Victory is very near." He also recited verses from the Koran. He had been charged with masterminding the bombings. A total of 74 people were tried in connection to the attacks which hit the Turkish capital on the 15th and 20th November 2003. Most received lighter sentences and 26 of them were acquitted [BBC]. The court had heard the group who called themselves Warriors for Islam, had taken their orders directly from Osama bin Laden, and that some had attended terror training camps in Afghanistan. Although some defendants admitted attending such camps, only one, Harun Ilhan, admitted to plotting the attack and to being a member of the terrorist group al-Qaeda. Following the verdict, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said, "These were abhorrent acts, two of which specifically targeted British interests." The attacks were the first major attacks against coalition countries following the invasion of Iraq in March of the same year. But three and a half years on the [BBC] reports that many are unperturbed by the bombings.

Last week a court in Spain saw the start of a trial against a number of suspects said to have been responsible for the Madrid train bombing in March 2004 [BBC]. And in the UK, proceedings against 6 suspects said to be behind the 21/7 failed attacks in London, a jury saw evidence of how one of the suspects escaped London wearing a burka [BBC]. The jury at Woolwich Crown Court saw footage of what prosecutors say is Yassin Omar, 26, wearing a black full-length dress and burka with a handbag over his arm. He is said to have travelled by bus to Birmingham from Golders Green in north London on 22 July 2005 - the day after an alleged attempt to bomb the Tube. This trial continues, and several other terror trials are pending including an alleged plot to kidnap a Muslim soldier and behead him in an Iraqi style execution. A number of other terror suspects, arrested last August, await their trial for an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights to the US [BBC]. The success of these and other trials is of little comfort for many as the threat both home and abroad continues.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Iraq - al-Qaeda leader 'wounded'

Iraqi police have wounded the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and killed his top aide, a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry has told CNN. The spokesman said Iraqi police have the aide's body but would not comment if Abu Ayyub al-Masri was captured. The U.S. military, who wrongly reported last October that al-Masri had been killed, has so far made no comment on the report. They referred reporters to the Iraqi government. CNN has not independently confirmed the report.
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Thursday, February 15, 2007

War on Terror - Bush asks for support

War on Terror is not over - "Our strategy is not to be on
the defence, but to be on the offence"

A resolution to end the stand-off with North Korea over its nuclear policy neared completion on Tuesday [BBC]. There were periodic interjections throughout the day on Sky News as developments took place. During the 6 Party Talks, Japan announced they would not supply the DPRK with oil. Sky’s Tim Marshall put this into context by describing the ‘racism’ that still exists between Japan and the Korean peninsula which was at one time occupied by Japan. Japan has a particular issue with North Korea in that many Japanese citizens have been kidnapped over the years from nearby islands.

As a possible resolve to North Korea’s nuclear issue was placed on the table there was a mixed response from many notable figures. Condoleezza Rice said it offered a new way forward [BBC], but ex-UN Ambassador John Bolton rejected the proposal saying, “It sends the wrong message to would be nuclear proliferators” [BBC]. The media were somewhat positive in the main [BBC] but there are still issues to resolve [BBC].

Outside of the 6 party talks over the DPRK’s nuclear policy, George W. Bush reiterated his determination the stop Iran developing nuclear weapons. In a speech made on Valentine’s Day, there was no sign of love lost on a country he once used to describe as an Axis of Evil [CNN].

In his 30 minute address he re-emphasised his commitment to see the job done in Iraq. "If we fail there, the enemy will follow us here,” he said [BBC / Whitehouse-Bush Speech 14/02/2007 /].

Also in the news Wednesday was the clearing of British soldiers who it had been alleged were culpable for the deaths of Iraqi prisoners [BBC]. It has also emerged that a number of EU states were in collusion with the US in turning a blind eye to rendition flights [BBC].

Today, in another address, George W Bush repeated his determination to complete the mission in Iraq. Naming other coalition countries helping in fighting the War on Terror, he said, “We are not in the fight against extremists and terrorists alone.” But it was important not to lose focus, “The enemy is active and it is up to us to keep up the pressure.”

“This war against the terrorists takes place on many fronts…and the frontline is Iraq.” With regards his plan to send troop reinforcements to the capital he added, “Baghdad is the top security priority…I chose this course of action because it offers the best chance for success.” He said it was important for “people to understand the consequence of failure…extremists would be emboldened. If we fail in Iraq, the enemy would follow us home.”

And he asked once again for support, not only for his planned initiative but also for the troops in the field. “Our troops are risking their lives as they carry out this operation, and they need our patience and they need our support,” he said. As regards Afghanistan he said, “it wasn’t all that long ago that we saw how terrorists operate… and we saw in Afghanistan how terrorists in a safe haven were able to plot a deadly attack that killed 3000 of our citizens…we have learned that terrorists must not be allowed to make a safe haven to operate anywhere.” He claimed that five years after the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan was now free with a democratically elected government led by president Karzai. “Our work is bringing freedom,” he said, but added that the work was not yet finished. He acknowledged violence had increased on many fronts. “In 2006 this enemy struck back with vengeance … they struck back in Iraq, they struck back in the Lebanon…across Afghanistan roadside bombs doubled,” he said. But his resolve remained strong. “How do you react? Do we forget the lessons of September 11th, the answer is not. Our strategy is not to be on the defence, but to be on the offence” [CNN].

Monday, February 12, 2007

Africa - Hu's exploiting who?

Thebo Mbeki: China represents an "important economic" partnership

China has been under fire recently over its ‘exploitation’ of the African continent. A number of issues have to be acknowledged however. It is true that China may invest in African countries without setting conditions as to whether the countries concerned treat their respective populations fairly. It may also be partly true that so called cheap Chinese products are being foisted on an unstable market and the local labour force is being exploited in the form of ‘wage slavery’. But for all this there is the issue of who would otherwise invest in Africa as a whole.

Much of the criticism about China’s investment in Africa comes from America and other western nations. But both historically and currently, these nations have exploited labour forces and other nations to procure their resources. Sino-African trade accounted for more $55 Billion in 2006. President Hu Jintao said in a recent statement that, “A new China-Africa strategic partnership is a shared desire of our two people, it is also the calling of the times. We must sustain the momentum of this trend by maintaining close friendship treating each other as equals, and working closely to promote mutual beneficial cooperation, and common development.” During his recent 12 day tour of the African continent Mr Hu said he was "looking for strategic and mutual friendship" in Africa [BBC].

China’s interest and investment is by no means altruistic. China relies upon Africa for over 30% of its oil imports. Despite criticism from African leaders, including South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, there is an acknowledgement of the importance of Chinese investment into Africa. South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki backtracked on earlier criticisms recently, when he said, “From our point of view, China is indeed one of our critical, most important economic partners globally. And that will increase.”
China has helped build a number of infrastructural projects over many decades. These include roads, railways and most recently telecommunications networks. But it is China’s failure to criticise human rights, that has brought the loudest voices. David Monyae, from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, speaking on BBC’s The World, said that whilst many welcome the trade China offered, there was disquiet. There was “a need to emphasise the issue of human rights … particularly in countries like Sudan” he said.

Speaking in defence of China, Yan Xueting, Tsinghua University, said that the issues pertaining to Sudan are not representative of Chinese investment in Africa as a whole. He said although he, and his country, supports the UN in sending peacekeepers to Sudan, China has a “principle of not interfering in domestic affairs of foreign countries”. He said his country would join any peacekeeping force that was mandated by the UN. But there was, he said, “a difference between advice and interference” and China would not use force to implement change.

Also speaking on this contentious issue was Anver Versi, editor of African Business Magazine, who said much of the criticism was exaggerated. During the Cold War, “interference was common place” by western governments and the Soviet Union and “no-one was talking about governance” he added. He said that it was “patronizing to Africans, by talking about conditionalities [preconditions]; suggesting that Africans cannot rule themselves unless you hold them in tight reign.”

Yan Xueting added that whilst help and advice can be given, “we cannot force countries to accept these kind of decisions.”

With regards cheap Chinese goods flooding the market and whether African markets need protecting, Yan Xueting claimed that China does do not export goods that can be made in the countries concerned. The absolute truth of this may be in dispute, but the very nature of globalisation brings with it risks to local economies. This is true both in European and US markets as well as African ones. But Yan Xueting said that by investing in factories on the African continent, China was providing new employment opportunities. Indeed, while Anver Versi said he was no advocate for the Chinese, he acknowledged that China’s investment in Africa was good for the African people as a whole. “The Beijing Construction Company, which is State owned, was in Sierra Leone before the end of the war. They built one of the hotels, they built the houses of parliament, they’ve built government offices…but the problem with the Chinese is the Chinese workers”.
Western nations are less concerned over the rights of African workers than they are for China’s increased position in a global economy. But where other nations have declined to take risks in investing in unstable or fragile regimes, China has taken the initiative. In the long term both Africa and China will prosper.
As to how African workers are exploited it must be remembered that many have died from cancers associated with the mining of Uranium for western companies over many years. Rio Tinto Zinc which continues to mine Uranium in Africa [] has blocked many attempts to take the company to court besides well documented cases of Uranium miners dying from cancer associated with radiation. One worker who worked at the mine from 1977 to 1982, told the BBC that when he started working at Rossing in Namibia, "Nobody had a mask there, nobody, at the mine... they never offered them a mask. We were told it was quite safe, it's low grade.” Little is said of this exploitation of African states, perhaps because it affects western interests! []
The press has remained divided over President Hu’s visit and what the future offers for Africa, China and the world [BBC].

Iraq - Iran under fire as attacks worsen

First reports understate the massive loss of life

Dozens have died in the continuing sectarian violence that has enveloped Iraq. The news broke at around 10:00 GMT on CNN and other news broadcasters. Two blasts at the Shorja market have killed at least 68 according to early reports and more than 150 were injured. The Bab al-Sharqi market was earlier targeted killing at least 10. The death toll in both incidents is likely to rise as the day progresses. As the first reports broke the death toll was put at 9 but the figure rose as the hours ticked by. At 10:45 GMT the BBC said 45 were dead. But by 11:45 GMT reports showed a dramatic increase to 68 [Sky News]. By midday CNN were reporting the death toll as having risen to 74. The bomb attacks came as many were commemorating the attacks on Samarra’s golden mosque this time last year. That attack was the trigger for much of the sectarian violence. The Al Askari Mosque is one of the most important shrines to Shia Muslims. Built in 944 AD, it was nearly completely destroyed by the blast on the 22nd February 2006 [Al Askari Mosque bombing]. Following the 2006 attack, a former CIA Middle East specialist Reuel Marc Gerecht told CNN, "I think this is probably the most dangerous event that has occurred since the fall of Saddam Hussein" adding that, “it risks our entire enterprise in Iraq."
George W. Bush’s new initiative to stop the violence shows few signs of working. Though it has been less than a month since he announced his plan which has been dubbed the “seize and hold” initiative by some media outlets. Few broadcasters showed the address by Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki as he addressed the population to commemorate the 2006 mosque attack. As he spoke the blast of the market bomb attack could be clearly heard. The look of unease and concern could be seen on the faces of both the Prime Minister and the staff that stood along side him.
Baghdad was not the only place to see bomb blasts this weekend. In northern Iraq, Tikrit was hit by a car bomb blast killing at least 30 and injuring 50 [Sky News]. Also this weekend two US soldiers were killed in fighting, taking the death toll this month to 38.
And as the US death toll increases, the Pentagon has accused Iran of perpetrating attacks on its troops [BBC]. Up to 170 soldiers are said to have been killed since 2004 from weapons allegedly supplied by Iran according to to US authorities. Iran is in a position of ‘plausible deniability’ in allegedly supplying a number of insurgent groups. The proxy war against the US is similar to that employed by the CIA and US against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s [CNN]. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union avoided fighting each other directly, with both great powers fearing direct battles could escalate into a nuclear war. Instead, they supported opposing sides in conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola, Korea, Vietnam and other hotspots around the world.
When President Bush recently accused Iran of providing weapons and training to militias attacking U.S. troops in Iraq, he said U.S. forces would kill or capture Iranian operatives in Iraq, but would not attack Iran directly. But the threats have gone up a notch as U.S. military officials in Baghdad accused "the highest level" of Iran's government of supplying Iraqi militants with armor-piercing roadside bombs called "explosively formed penetrators," or EFPs, that have been responsible for the deaths of 170 members of the U.S.-led coalition. The risk this so called ‘proxy war’ poses, is all too evident from a look into recent world history. "We're scared Iraq might turn into a war, not only between the U.S. and Iran, but drawing in people from all over the world who want to fight," one Arab diplomat in the U.S. who spoke on condition of anonymity said in an interview. "Thousands went to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, got trained, and spread throughout the world - and that's how we ended up with al-Qaeda." [Mercury News]

Iraq - death toll

Friday, February 09, 2007

UK - 5 charged in 'Kidnap terror plot'

UK terror trials - At least 5 cases are underway

Five of the nine men arrested over an alleged kidnap plot have now been charged. A further individual remains in custody and is still being questioned. A total of three others arrested on the 31st January have now been released without charge. Parviz Khan, 36, is accused of devising the plot between 1 November last year and his arrest on 31 January. The five men have all been charged with offences under the Terrorism Act 2006 and the Terrorism Act 2000. Amjad Mahmood, 31, Mohammed Irfan, 30, Zahoor Iqbal, 29, Hamid Elasmar, 43, and Mr Khan have been charged with supplying equipment and funding for a terrorist act between 30 March last year and their arrest [BBC]. One man released without charge has spoken out against the police action. Abu Bakr, who works in the Maktabah bookshop, targeted in the raids, told the BBC that the UK was "a police state for Muslims".
Abu Izzadeen, a radical Muslim, who was seen heckling the Home Secretary last year, has been arrested on unrelated terror offences. He is set to appear today in a central London court [BBC].
Also in today’s news is that an Islamic school, at the centre of a terror raid last year, has been closed by authorities [BBC]. The Department for Education and Skills has removed the independent Jameah Islameah school in East Sussex from the Register of Independent Schools. This means it is illegal for the school to operate.

Clashes at Jerusalem mosque

Clashes between police and Muslim worshippers have occurred in Jerusalem after disputes over a proposed building of a tunnel and renovation work. Injuries have occurred on both sides. Sky News have broadcast Live pictures from the scene along with a split screen showing earlier pictures and a Live shot outside a London court where Abu Izzadeen, arrested yesterday on terror related charges, was expected. According to Sky News up to 300 protesters had barricaded themselves in the Al Aqsa mosque where Friday prayers had taken place earlier today. At least 17 protesters and 15 police officers have been injured in the clashes which had seen several volleys of teargas being fired at the crowds.
Yossi Mekelberg, an expert on Middle East affairs, speaking from Chatham House, spoke to Sky News and described Jerusalem as a “Cocktail of nationalism and religion in a small area”. He suggested that nationalist issues needed to be addressed [Sky News / BBC].

UK - 10 cm of snow brings chaos

Ungritted roads kept traffic to a crawl in many places

Snow caused chaos in the UK yesterday. Thousands struggled to make their way to work on icy roads and on heavily disrupted public transport networks. The loss to British industry is said to run to more than £500 M with many workers taking the day off. Hundreds of schools were closed across the country and many children instead took the opportunity to take to the slopes with their sledges, build snowmen or pelt each other with snowballs. There were reports that some youngsters had shown signs of antisocial behaviour by throwing snowballs at motorists and members of the public. Freezing fog, low temperatures and the further threat of snow may cause more disruption in the coming days [BBC]. There was much criticism on local radio stations throughout the day that local authorities had failed in their duty to grit the roads. Air travel was also severely disrupted with flights cancelled and runways closed at many of Britain’s airports [BBC]. London’s subway network was also affected with some lines shutdown all together. By Thursday the thaw had begun in many urban areas and the public transport system was beginning to return to normal. The disruption caused by 10 cm [4 inches] of snow begs the question as to how Britain might cope with weather commonly seen in Canada and the US which cause much less havoc. In upstate New York, more than 2 metres [6 feet] of snow has fallen with more expected [Fox News]. Although disruption has occurred, it is nothing compared to the disruption seen in the UK yesterday.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Iraq - US Chinook 'shot down'

Pictures on Al Jazeera show the burning wreckage

A Chinook has crashed in Iraq, but as yet there is no official word on casualties or the cause. An insurgent group has claimed to have shot it down according to a CNN report. It is the 6th helicopter to be lost this year. Major-General William Caldwell, the US military spokesman, told reporters: "We have a CH-46 that is down," referring to the twin-rotor Sea Knight, the marine version of the Chinook. A Chinook has two crew members and can carry up to 55 passengers according to an Al Jazeera report, however the BBC correctly say the CH-46 can only carry up 25 personnel. The reports come five days after a US army helicopter crashed in a hail of gunfire north of Baghdad. That was the fourth helicopter lost in Iraq in a little over two weeks. Twenty one soldiers and contractors died in those incidents. Witnesses have told Al Jazeera the helicopter had been shot down in a field in the Sheik Amir area northwest of Baghdad, sending smoke rising from the scene, in a Sunni-dominated area between the Taji air base 20km north of Baghdad and Garma, 30 km to the west of the capital.

7 Feb: CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter goes down north-west of Baghdad
2 Feb: Apache helicopter goes down near US air base at Taji, two lives lost
28 Jan: Apache downed while supporting Iraqi troops near Najaf, two lives lost
23 Jan: OH-6A helicopter used by private US security firm Blackwater crashes in Baghdad after coming under "heavy gunfire"; four civilians killed
20 Jan: Black Hawk goes down near Baghdad, with loss of 12 lives

UK - 2 'kidnap plot' suspects freed

Police complete searches but are forced to release 2 suspects

Whilst saturation coverage of the UK letter bomb campaign continues, other news has gone mostly unreported. In developments surrounding another possible terror plot, police have had to release 2 persons who were arrested last week. The men, who were both released from custody in the early hours of Wednesday, were amongst nine other individuals arrested in a supposed kidnap plot. Police had asked for more time to question the suspects but had their request turned down by a district judge. No official confirmation has been made that the suspects were involved in such a plot, but it has been widely reported the men had intended to kidnap a Muslim soldier and behead him in a so called ‘Iraq style execution’. Neither of the released suspects was told why they had been arrested according to their lawyer. Gareth Peirce, solicitor for the two released men, told the BBC, "They have left the police station without any better understanding of why they were there than when they first arrived seven days ago. Not a word was ever mentioned to either of them about a plot to kidnap or the grisly suggestion of a beheading or even of a soldier at all." Police have until Saturday to question the remaining 7 suspects. Meanwhile police say have completed searches at 18 locations connected with the alleged plot.

UK - 7 bombs in 3 weeks police say

Police have confirmed that 7 letter bomb attacks have occurred over a period of 3 weeks. At least 7 people have been injured as a result of the various explosions, four in today’s attack alone. All the injuries are said to be minor. Additional to the London, Wokingham and Swansea attacks, police have confirmed that a device was sent to a private address of a 53 year old man in Folkestone, Kent. He is believed to be a security firm manager according to Sky sources. Three other locations have not yet been identified by police, but they have said they are now investigating any possible links to the series of incidents. Sky News report that the devices were sent to companies in the Oxfordshire and the West Midlands area. All three were said to be ‘firework-type explosive devices’ which arrived in A5 padded envelopes bags. Sky News has reported that the devices sent to addresses in Oxfordshire and the West Midlands were probably connected to animal rights extremists. According to their sources the names of vivisectionists were on the envelopes concerned. Meanwhile in parliament the Prime Minister Tony Blair offered his condolences to the victims but said he could not say much more at this time. Police have warned the public and particularly those involved in mail sorting operations to be vigilant [BBC]. Sky News have also examined whether Britain is under attack from a Unabomber style terrorist. The Unabomber was a one man campaign against technological society. In Industrial Society and Its Future (commonly called the "Unabomber Manifesto") he argued that his actions were a necessary (although extreme) ruse by which to attract attention to what he believed were the dangers of modern technology. In his twenty year bombing campaign he killed three and injured 23 throught the US.

UK - DVLA hit by bombing campaign

For the third day running, a letter bomb has exploded at offices related to motoring offences, licensing and law enforcement. The latest incident occurred at the DVLA [Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency] in Swansea. Sky News broke the news to viewers shortly after 10:00 GMT. The device, which exploded at 09:23 GMT, injured a female employee who was removed to hospital. Her injuries were described by police as “non-life threatening”. Shortly after this incident police were called to a suspicious package at offices in Pimlico in London. That package, apparently addressed to Britney Spears, was later declared to be a hoax. It highlights the concern raised by the three day campaign which has so far injured 4 people.
On Monday a letter bomb exploded at the offices of Capita. The company is connected to the collection of London’s Congestion Charge. Police sealed off Victoria Street for several hours and a woman with slight injuries to her arm was taken to hospital. It is understood she was not the person to whom it was addressed.
On Tuesday, Vantis, a company in Wokingham, Berkshire, was targeted. The company was described as being a provider of speed-check services and digital cameras to police. Two persons received minor injuries in that incident.
Today’s incident appears to show an emerging theme. Sky News speculated that the series of incidents were being targeted by an “enraged motorist trying to make a point”. John Reid, Home Secretary, in a brief statement said “naturally such incidents are worrying”. He added that the police should be allowed to carry out their investigation without “undue speculation”.
Thames valley police are said to be overseeing the investigation, although the terrorist branch at New Scotland Yard are said to be looking closely at developments. Dr Clifford Jones, an explosives export, told Sky News that the knowledge needed to construct a letter bomb was “not huge”. Indeed the first recorded instance of a letter-bomb being dispatched was 100 years ago in Sweden. The IRA [Irish Republican Army] employed the use of such devices over their 25 year campaign and many caused fatalities [List of terrorist incidents in the UK / BBC].

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pentagon fuming after 'Friendly fire' video leak

The British tabloid which leaked the video © The Sun

The Sun newspaper in the UK has obtained a leaked copy of the cock-pit video from the US plane which fired upon a British convoy in Iraq. The video has been of some controversy since its existence came to light during the inquest of a British soldier who died in the ‘friendly fire’ incident. The MoD, in the UK, as well as US authorities had both resisted calls to release the tape to the court overseeing the inquest of Matty Hull. Four days ago there were strong criticisms from the court over the defence departments refusal to hand the tape over [BBC]. Now further questions are being asked as to how the sensitive video landed on the desk of the British tabloid newspaper.

Investigations and reaction

Andrew Walker, the coroner at the inquest, had adjourned the hearing in order to seek advice.
The US ambassador has been talking to MoD officials, but there was no immediate reaction. At the time of the incident US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers, apologised and said he would make it his “quest” to prevent further incidents. As he spoke investigations were underway into what events surrounded the downing of a British GR4 tornado by US Patriot missiles [BBC 2003 report]. Lance Corporal Matthew Hull was the fifth soldier to die from ‘friendly fire’ in the early days of the Iraq War. He was killed near to Basra in southern Iraq [BBC 2003 report].

According to Sky News a Pentagon official was quoted as saying, “However leaked this would be criminally responsible”. The tape had only been given to the MoD on the understanding that it would be used only for ‘internal inquiries’ and not be made available to the British public nor indeed other authorities. Even the existence of the tape was hidden from Matty Hull’s family, the court and the public.

The release of details of the ‘Blue on Blue’ or ‘Friendly Fire’ incident will create a sense of distrust between two key allies in the war on terror and may affect future cooperation and sharing of information.

"We're in jail dude"

The Sun newspaper ran with the headline “God dammit, we’re in jail dude”, the voice from one of the pilots after they realised they had targeted allied troops. A graphic in the newspaper shows the incident in further detail and the full transcript between the pilots. As the pilots engage their target one is heard saying, “Hey, I got a four ship. Looks like we got orange panels on them though. Do we have any friendlies up in this area?” After four minutes the two pilots come to the conclusion that the orange panels are “orange rockets”. With fuel running out they make the decision to open fire. “We need to think about getting home” one of the pilots says, and the other responds moments later “I think killing these damn rocket launchers, it would be great”. Three minutes later one of the jets fires on the convoy. But less than twenty seconds after the incident another transmission is received by the pilots from ground control, “Be advised that in the 3122 and 3222 group box you have friendly armour in the area. Yellow, small armoured tanks. Just be advised.” The reaction from one pilot is immediate. “Oh shit” he says. Then comes further confirmation of their mistake as another transmission is received. “You got a, looks we might have a blue on blue situation,” the voice from ground control says. After a series of expletives, one pilot asks, “Let me know how those friendlies are right now, please.” The reply is not well received. “We are getting an initial brief that there was one killed and one wounded, over,” a voice says. The pilots then utter a series of comments which indicate their shock as well as fear for their own careers. “I’m going to be sick” says one pilot, whilst the other curses, “ahh fuck!” Moments later he says “We’re in jail dude” whilst his colleague replies, “Yeah, I know that thing with the orange panels is going to screw us. They look like orange rockets on top.”

Media reaction

The story was the main headline on Sky News as well as the BBC. CNN initially ran the report as their third story but gave no detail of US reaction to the information leak. Fox News described the event as an “alleged ‘friendly fire’ incident”. France 24 and Al Jazeera headlined with child soldiers and flooding in Indonesia respectively. Al Jazeera ran with the story some twenty minutes into their lunchtime bulletin, but there was no obvious reference to the story on their website. ITN, Britain’s Independent Television News broadcaster, led with the story and put much blame at the door of the US military. In the report from Paul Davis, it was suggested that a failure to wait for confirmation and the not giving of coordinates was partly to blame.
The MoD told ITN they had not intended to deceive by denying the existence of the video. Then followed specualation that any forthcoming statement from the Pentagon would be “bland” and that they were a “law unto themselves”. ITN have a particular axe to grind. In 2003, one of their own reporters was killed by ‘friendly fire’ near Basra. The US refused to release information, including purported video evidence, to the inquiry into his death. Following the inquest, which ruled that the reporter Terry Lloyd was unlawfully killed, the solicitor for Terry Lloyd’s widow Lyn, described the Americans as being “out of control”. Speaking after the case, Louis Charalambous said, “US forces appear to have allowed their forces to behave like trigger happy cowboys”.

'Friendly fire'

ITN also gave a list of other ‘friendly fire’ incidents. In the first Gulf War, American A10 aircraft targeted a British armoured personnel carriers killing 9 soldiers (the same number as were killed by enemy fire in the whole war). In 1994 two British officers were amongst 26 NATO killed when their helicopter was downed by American fire. And in Afghanistan a British Royal Marine, Jonathan Wigley, said to have been killed by an American A10 according to some witnesses [BBC]. British have not been the only victims of US ‘friendly fire’. Bulgarians, Italians and Canadians have all been victims of US ‘Blue on Blue’ incidents. And American troops have also been the victim of mistakes made in the theatre of war. In 2004 Pat Tillman, a famous American football player, died in Afghanistan after being hit by his own side. ‘Friendly fire’ is nothing new. Historically there are many recorded instances of troops dying at the hand of their allies or comrades. It is estimated that 75,000 French troops died in such incidents throughout WW I. In WW II allied anti-aircraft fire mistakenly downed 33 allied planes resulting in over 300 casualties. Several incidents occurred during the 1982 Falkland Conflict resulting in the death of at least 10 British servicemen. The US have also lost significant numbers over many years. In WW II up to 16% of the casualty list has been attributed to ‘friendly fire’. Vietnam saw 8,000 dead due to such incidents accounting for 14% of all deaths. And during the first Gulf War, 23% of the casualty list was put down to ‘friendly fire’, though the numbers were much lower standing at 35 [Friendly fire-Incidents and persons].

Transcript sources: CNN / Sky News

Video source: The Sun

Monday, February 05, 2007

UK outbreak of H5N1 causes concern

Biohazard - containing Britain's birdflu outbreak

Besides UK government officials saying that an outbreak of the H5N1 virus was contained, there have been accusations that DEFRA did not act quickly enough. The outbreak occurred at a Bernard Matthews turkey farm in Holton, a small town in Suffolk in the east of England. Details have been relatively slow to emerge but it has become clear that DEFRA were informed last Thursday after 71 birds were found dead at the factory farm the previous day. It was not until Saturday, when more than 1500 birds had succumbed to the virus, that DEFRA ordered a cull. By the weekend DEFRA were undertaking the disposal of nearly 160,000 birds. The dead carcasses were then transported 320 km [200 miles] to Cheddleton, Staffordshire, a journey in excess of 5 hours. Besides concerns from local residents, government officials have said the transportation poses no risk to the general public. Dr Freda Scott-Park, a veterinary expert, told Sky News that the transportation was “completely safe”.
The serious nature of the outbreak was exemplified by the convening of the government emergency body COBRA. But besides messages from the government that every thing was under control, several countries have already banned the import of UK poultry. Russia, Ireland and Japan have all banned imports. Poultry exports amount to £370 M per annum, 80% of which are sent to EU countries. The effect on the UK poultry industry could be devastating. The discovery of a dead swan in Scotland in 2006, which was found to be infected with the H5N1 virus, cost the industry £60 M in lost trade. Late Monday, Tesco were already repording a small drop in poultry sales.
It is still unknown how the birds at the Bernard Matthews turkey farm contracted the virus, but there is the suggestion that there may be a link to another of the company’s farms in Hungary which also had a recent outbreak.
The H5N1 virus has not made headlines in the past few months, but cases still persist in the Far East. Japan, which toady imposed a ban on UK poultry imports, has themselves been victim to the virus in recent weeks. This year there have been 8 human cases of H5N1, of which 7 have already died. These cases occurred in Nigeria [1 case/fatal], Indonesia [6 cases/5 fatalities] and Egypt [1 cases/fatal]. Worldwide, there have been 271 cases of human contracted H5N1 since 2003. Of that number, 165 have died, accounting for a 61% fatality rate. There has been no confirmed case of human to human contraction of the virus to date. There is the fear the virus may mutate and cross the species barrier. Indeed there are cases that show a possible species jump. There have been several cases of cats having being infected by H5N1 [BBC / BBC].
Risks in the spread of the H5N1 virus in other animals were highlighted in February 2006 after it was confirmed that a domestic cat had died in Germany from the lethal virus. The cat which was believed to have come into contact with some swans was found dead on the Baltic island of Reugen [BBC]. The development prompted French ministers to warn pet owners not to allow their cats near areas where H5N1 had been reported [BBC]. Cats may in fact be part of the threat. According to the New Scientist, published 24th January 2007, an Indonesian scientist has found that in areas where there have been outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry and humans, 1 in 5 cats have been infected with the virus, and survived. This suggests that as outbreaks continue to flare across Asia and Africa, H5N1 will have vastly more opportunities to adapt to mammals than had been supposed. Chairul Anwar Nidom of Airlangga University in Surabaya, Indonesia, told journalists in mid January that he had taken blood samples from 500 stray cats near poultry markets in four areas of Java, including the capital, Jakarta, and one area in Sumatra, all of which have recently had outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry and people. Of these cats, 20 per cent carried antibodies to H5N1. Nidom's findings are the first to indicate what proportion of cats can become infected by H5N1. No cats have been tested in Hong Kong or China. In Bangkok, Thailand, all the cats in one household are known to have died of H5N1 in 2004. Tigers and leopards in Thai zoos also died, while in 2006 two cats near an outbreak in poultry and people in Iraq were confirmed to have died of H5N1, as were three German cats that ate wild birds. In Austria, cats were infected but remained healthy.

Related resources: / World Health Organisation

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Iraq - Deadly attacks kill 120

More than 100 have died in one of the Iraq’s worst atrocities in weeks. It is by no means the only attack in recent days. Several smaller attacks over the last week have left hundreds dead and many more injured. Today’s attack not only left at least 102 dead, but injured 220. The suicide bomber drove his truck laden with explosives into a Baghdad market place which is frequented by Shi’ites, Kurds and Sunnis and exploded his device at around 16:45 local time. The scene was described by CNN as being a scene of complete devastation. Al-Jazeera described the attack as “A bloody attack even by Iraq standards”. In the north of the country at least 6 bombs hit the town of Kirkuk. Sixteen died in those attacks.

Friday, February 02, 2007

UK - more searches in 'Kidnap terror plot'

Suspects arrive at court Thursday under high security

In the wake of 9 people arrested in Birmingham with connection to an alleged kidnap terror plot, the Association of Muslim Police Officers has asked for a risk assessment after some officers expressed concern over their safety. The nine men at the centre of the alleged terror plot remain in police custody after a judge granted further time to the police to question the suspects.
Asst Chief Constable, David Shaw, in a press conference, said the police had completed 6 searches and it would be likely that a further 8 should be complete be Saturday. He said police, “had recovered a significant number of exhibits” in the searches, but would not reveal the nature of the objects found. David Shaw refused to answer most of the journalists’ questions. He still refused to clarify the nature of the alleged terror plot, nor why as yet the suspects had not been questioned. He also refused whether anyone was under protective custody. The only new fact to emerge was that search warrants had been served on three more properties. He said no arrests had been made at the addresses. Meanwhile tensions amongst the Muslim population have risen with many feeling that their community is under siege [BBC].

UK - Terror trial sees bomb factory pictures

Photographs of a bomb factory said to be part of the failed 21/7 attacks in London were released to the media today. They form part of the evidence against six men charged in connection with the attacks [BBC]. The pictures showed an untidy flat at 58 Curtis House which the prosecution say was used to construct the failed explosive devices. Some chemicals and chemical traces were said to have been found in the flat which belonged to Yassin Omar. The trial continues.

Climate change is 'man-made' report says

Greenpeace outside DEFRA protest against UK policy

Lady Lake in Central Florida has been hit by a number of devastating tornados killing at least 14. The tornados swept through the state in the early hours of Friday morning, but it was not until daybreak that the true impact of devastation became apparent [TBO / BBC].
The aberrant weather comes as a new report from the IPCC suggests the world is heading for an environmental disaster [BBC]. The report suggests that climate change was 90% affected by man-made emissions. Many scientists have left the organisation which put the report together. Part of the reason for the departures, stem from their feelings that any criticism of the climate change debate is not properly debated. Not all scientists are in agreement with the connection between ‘global warming’ and the influence upon it by man. Part of their argument centres around the lack of long-term records which stretch back little over a century. Some also point to the fact that the Earth’s climate is always in a state of flux and that extreme weather has and global changes in temperature have occurred long before man’s arrival on the planet. The last ice-age was over 1 million years ago, well before the industrial revolution. The passing of that period in geological history also took place without man’s interference.
Besides the scepticism of some scientists, most politicians are attempting to draw public support with greener policies. Recently, in his Sate of the Nation address, George W Bush acknowledged a need to cut carbon emissions. Some have criticised his approach, saying it was led more in line with America being self-sufficient with respect to energy. Not relying on Middle-East oil would not put the country in danger of being held hostage by terrorists. In London, Tony Blair’s government was under fire from environmental groups for not doing enough on global warming. Greenpeace poured a lorry-load of coal at the steps of DEFRA [Dept of Fisheries & Rural Agriculture] in Smith Square.

War on Terror - Iraq in 'civil war' as US on alert

Heightened security: Terror alerts in Boston

A new US report describes key elements in Iraq as tantamount to “Civil War”, Sky News has reported. Only a few segments of the report have emerged so far but it paints a grim picture as to how the US might turn the chaotic situation in the country around [BBC]. Also connected with America’s war on terror was a statement from US Defense Secretary Robert Gates which stated that the US was not planning for a war with Iran. Meanwhile Afghanistan saw renewed violence today with Taleban militants taking over the town of Musa Qala in the south of the country [BBC]. In Washington, there was a security alert near to the White House after a sniffer dog found something suspicious. But within 30 minutes of reports emerging, the all-clear was given. It comes two days after a terror alert in Boston shutdown parts of the city. That was due to a ‘guerrilla marketing campaign’. Several devices, which later turned out to be electronic boards displaying a cartoon character, were recovered by police. Some were initially destroyed in controlled explosions [Fox News].
A UK court is currently locking horns with the US over a tape said to be cockpit video from a US plane involved in a ‘friendly fire’ incident. The tape which had earlier been reported not to exist, later fell into the hands of the coroner overseeing the inquest of Matty Hull. He was in a convoy of tanks when they were hit by US fighter jets. Matty Hull was killed and four others were killed in the incident which occurred over four years ago. The US are refusing to release the tape [BBC].