Friday, August 31, 2007

UK - Govt has few answers to solve youth crime


London and the rest of the UK have seen a rise in violent youth crime. At least media reports give this impression. But last night London saw its nineteenth teenage victim of gun and knife crime. The unnamed 17 year old was stabbed to death in the Newham area of the capital [BBC]. And it’s not just knife crime there has been a spate of shootings recently. One has particularly grabbed media attention, that of 11 year old Rhys Jones who was shot in Liverpool whilst playing football [BBC]. But it’s not just teenagers at risk from Britain’s violent youths. Today a court found five youths guilty of stoning a 67 year old man to death [BBC]. Shockingly one of the five was aged just ten years old at the time of the attack. This and other attacks have prompted a widespread media debate [BBC] as well as politicians attempting to address the problem. Few have any real answers to solve the problem of youth crime or to identify the underlying causes. While the Conservative Party criticizes ‘Gun Amnesties’ as too feeble [BBC] Jack Straw, Labour’s Justice Minister, has the put ball firmly in the public arena, saying, “I think that everybody has accepted now this is an issue beyond politics".

UK - Memorial for Diana 10 years on


Ten years after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, British television has been saturated with coverage of memorials to her. Sky News spent much of the morning reporting on events from around the country. Live coverage from Harrods was conveyed with Mohamed Abdel Moneim Fayed standing mournfully at the loss of his son Dodi. The BBC broadcast Live coverage of the memorial service in London which was attended by Diana’s sons Harry and William. Sky also broadcast pictures but had to rely on delayed pictures provided by the BBC. There has also been retrospective coverage of Diana’s life. Sky reported on her campaign against land mines and later brought viewers coverage of how the crash was reported ten years ago. CNN were also set to screen special programming with ‘Growing Up Diana’ which was plugged to show the “Diana you didn’t know”. Larry King Live also ran with a '10 Years Later' special.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Troubled times for Bush's War on Terror


In Iraq this week Shi’ite gunman believed to be members of the Maadi Army loyal to Moqtada al Sadr engaged in gun battles with Iraqi security forces. The battles took place on Monday night in Kabala where religious festivities were taking place. At least 50 were killed in the fighting, many of them believed to be Iraqi police [BBC]. The incident later prompted Moqtada al Sadr to announce a ‘ceasefire’ whilst he attempted to draw his factionalized army together [BBC]. This was welcomed by the Iraqi government [BBC].
The political fallout of the continued conflict has hit the Bush administration hard. Several key members have resigned in recent weeks. On Monday the US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned [BBC]. Karl Rove, sometimes referred to as Bush’s brain [BBC], and Hariet Miers [BBC] have also quit in recent weeks. The timing is partly brought about by rules requiring resignations to be tendered before Labour Day.

On Tuesday, George Bush, speaking to veterans in Nevada, spoke of his new strategy to quell the continuing insurgency. He said the initiative was “designed to help clear the terrorists out of Iraqi cities and communities so that local government could take control. It was designed to help Iraqi security forces time to grow in size and capability so that they can ultimately bring security to their country.”

“The central objective of this strategy was to aid the rise of an Iraqi government to protect its people, deliver basic services and be an ally in this war on terror.”

“To carry out this new strategy I sent reinforcements to Baghdad and Anbar province. I put a new commander in place, General David Petreaus, an expert in counter-insurgency. Those reinforcements have been in operation for a little over two months, yet there are unmistakable signs that our strategy is achieving the objectives we set out.”

Quite what achievements have been accomplished is difficult to reconcile with the increased numbers of coalition casualties and continuing insurgent attacks. However President Bush said his initiative had resulted in the capture or killing of 1,500 enemies of the Iraqi government. Meanwhile a GAO Report says little progress has been achieved in the country [CNN].

Sky News covered much of his address to the veterans Live, though the sound quality was poor with much distortion. The BBC carried some of his speech in later bulletins with similar poor quality recordings. CNN, which broadcast the event Live, provided a clean audio feed.

As he continued his address the President set out his plans to deal with Iranian interference in Iraq. He said Shia death squads had been targeted and accused Iranian agents of supplying missiles to anti-US forces in Iraq. In order to stop this supply President Bush said he had authorised US commanders to confront “Iran’s murderous activities.” [BBC]

He said that the “International community increasingly understands the importance of a free Iraq. They understand that a free Iraq is important for world peace and that is why we will continue to rally the world for this noble and necessary cause.”

In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown set out his commitment to the war on terror [BBC]. In his visit to the US in July Mr Brown said, “In Iraq we have duties to discharge and responsibilities to keep” and in response to a recent letter from Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, he said there would be no early pull-out. However as the British forces are scaled down in areas such as Basra, there is a feeling that his words are somewhat hollow. The war has cost Britain over £6 billion according to one estimate stated on a CNN report. And the costs are likely to play an important part in decision making in the future. General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of British Armed Forces, has said the British Army was involved in a “wider conflict that may last a generation.” This interpretation will provide little comfort to the UK government as it struggles to fund the continuing battle against domestic terrorism and the war on terror in general.

Whilst Bush threatened to reign in Iranian agents, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said he was willing to fill the political vacuum in the region. US troops were later reported to have detained Iranian diplomats at a Baghdad hotel. But while the US stated the arrests were part of an ongoing operation, Iran said the men were on official business and were electricity experts helping to build a power station. Iran said they were also making a formal complaint to US authorities. Pictures of the blindfolded men were shown being led from a hotel by US troops. But within hours the eight men were released after the US conceded the men were indeed diplomats [BBC].

It is not the only blunder that has been cited against Bush and his war on terror in recent days. A week ago he appeared to criticize the Iraqi government in one address which prompted the Iraqi Prime Minister to react angrily. Nuri al-Maliki released a statement saying, “We can find our own friends …no-one has the right to put a timetable on Iraq.” [BBC]


Mr Bush had said there was a level of frustration with regards not being able to get laws past and whether the Iraqi government was responding to the demands of the people. The US President was later forced to make a statement saying that it was not up to US administrators to decide how Iraq was run, but the Iraqi people.

Besides the political rhetoric the killing has continued unabated. At least 28 were killed by truck bomb at a police station in Baiji, 240 km north of Baghdad last Wednesday. Another 45 were injured. And on the same day 14 US troops died after their Black Hawk helicopter crashed [BBC]. It brings the total US losses to 3,735 since the war started in March 2003.

And as the battle against the Taleban continues in Afghanistan, families of three British soldiers killed in a "friendly fire" incident have demanded an inquiry [BBC]. The men died after a U.S. fighter plane dropped a bomb on allied troops during a clash with Taliban militants in Helmand province last Thursday. Another British troop died in Afghanistan yesterday bringing the UK death toll to 74 [BBC].

To add to Mr Bush’s worries President Musharaff of Pakistan has said he may step down as head of the Pakistan Army [BBC. Earlier this month a wanted terrorist was released from custody by a high court judge further worrying the sincerity of Pakistan’s commitment to the War on Terror [BBC].
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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

UK - Prison strike ends with little disruption


Prison staff enjoy the sunshine outside Chelmsford Prison in Essex

Thousands of prison officers defied a High Court injunction and refused to end their national strike over a pay dispute today. All 129 of Britain’s prisons were affected by the wildcat strike. They later returned to work as the government threatened to arrest union leader and sequestrate funds.
The surprise walkout by members of the Prison Officers' Association (POA) in England and Wales began at 0700 BST on Wednesday 29 August. The action came after it pulled out of a no-strike agreement with government concerning pay and conditions. The government denied it had failed to address concerns about pay and falling morale.
John Hancock, one of the union leaders, said they would return to work after it was agreed that the government would hold “meaningful discussions” with the POA. Earlier Jack Straw, Britain’s Justice Secretary, said the strike was “illegal and unjustified” and a High Court injunction against the strikers. But after negotiation the strike was abandoned on Wednesday evening. General Secretary of the POA, Brian Caton, told BBC News 24: "After a day of what we describe as somewhat traumatic times in the history of the union, we will lead our membership back to work and we will do that in an orderly fashion and that is regardless of any court injunction."

Monday, August 27, 2007

UK - Plane crash & shooting overshadows Bank Holiday


Police at the scene of the crash

A man and a three year old child have died in a plane crash 50 metres from the busy M25 in the UK. A woman who was thrown clear from the wreckage was injured and taken to a nearby hospital. Her injuries were not thought to be life threatening. The crash happened at around 15:00 GMT [16:00 local time] near Brentwood, Essex [BBC]. The tragedy came at the end of a hot Bank Holiday weekend in the UK. Meanwhile at the Notting Hill Carnival a man was shot. At least one arrest has been made in connection with the shooting.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Afghanistan - British troops killed by 'friendly fire'


Three British soldiers have been killed in a suspected "friendly fire" incident involving a bomb dropped from a U.S. fighter plane during a clash with Taliban militants in Afghanistan. The three British troops were died during an operation against the Taliban near Kajaki in the southwestern province of Helmand, the UK Ministry of Defense said in a statement. It said air support from two U.S. F-15 aircraft was called in during the clash. The MoD said the soldiers, from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, were killed at around 18:30 local time (15:00 BST) on Thursday [CNN / BBC]
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US - Pigeons may have caused bridge collapse


Pigeon droppings may have been the cause of the Minneapolis bridge collapse this month [The Guardian]. A total of 13 people died in the disaster which increased concern in the US as to the structural integrity of America’s bridges. The remains of the last missing victim was found earlier this week [CNN].
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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Afghanistan - German hostage in video plea


Hostage: Blechschmidt, "I am in very bad shape"

A German taken hostage over one month ago, has appeared in a video released by his kidnappers. Rudolph Blechschmidt is one of two Germans and five Afghans who were seized by militants in Maidan Wardak province on July 18, a day before insurgents in neighboring Ghazni province abducted 23 South Koreans from a bus. In the video he said, "I ask my friends, my family, my two sons to put more pressure on the German authorities in order to get us free." He also said his heart medication would soon run out. His colleague, 43-year-old Ruediger Diedrich, was found shot dead 3 days after the kidnapping [CNN].

Afghanistan has also seen more coalition casualties this month. Two Canadians along with their interpreter died Thursday bringing Canadian losses to 71 since November 2001. A total of 16 coalition troops have died this month alone. The numbers have risen sharply over the last two years. In the first three years of conflict the numbers of coalition casualties reached a maximum of 68. In 2001, 12 were lost in the two months of conflict. Between 2002 and the end of 2004, a total of 183. But numbers of troops lost in 2005 rose to 130. The following year the figure rose again to 191. This year has already seen 144 fallen in battle; shot by snipers, killed in helicopter crashes or blown up by road side bombs. Two thirds of the losses are American, but British and Canadian forces have collectively lost 141 in the continuing violence.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

China just the latest in manufacturing scares


China continues to be the subject of criticism over sub-standard product manufacture. The most recent case to be highlighted is concern over high levels of formaldehyde found in clothing exported to New Zealand [BBC]. Formaldehyde is often used to reduce the formation of mildew in textile products. However, high levels can cause allergies, irritation and cancer.

China has reacted to the bad press, saying that many claims are exaggerated and that the reports represent isolated cases. Chinese officials have also said that the reports are politically motivated. Whilst some of the product recalls are indeed a cause for concern, specifically food, China is by no means the only exporter of shoddy or dangerous products. In recent years there has been countless product recalls which indicate the problem of substandard products is not confined to China.

In 2005, Sudan I, a red dye which is considered to be highly carcinogenic, was found in chilli powder. The powder which originated in India found its way into thousands of products resulting in a massive recall and a loss of millions of pounds [BBC]. The product recall was the biggest in British history and cost in excess of £100 million.

China has been criticized recently for producing dangerous tyres. But in 2001 a Japanese manufacturer in the US was in the spotlight after tyres became the subject of controversy. Dozens of crashes were blamed on Firestone tyres made by Bridgestone, and resulted in a multi billion dollar recall [BBC]. Another Japanese manufacture was also in the spotlight less than three years later after wheel hubs on lorries were found to be faulty [BBC].

In February 1990 the Perrier company was forced to recall all 160 million bottles on store shelves around the world after significant amounts of the carcinogen benzene were discovered in its water. The dirty filter that caused the problem was replaced but consumers outside France were without the product for about 10 weeks which is forever by marketing standards. Coca Cola were also forced to recall their purified water after it too was found to be contaminated in 2004. Coca Cola withdrew its Dasani brand of bottled water which was found to contain illegal levels of the chemical bromate. And when it comes to whether tap water is safe to drink, China is not the only country attempting to make its water clean. In the UK there are findings which point to rising oestrogen levels in river water, thought to derive from nitrates in fertilisers and residues from contraceptive pills, and the effect these might have on humans when water is recycled. There is evidence that some male fish are changing sex, perhaps because of this, and it might explain why average sperm counts among men have dropped significantly in a generation. In 2002, the Environment Agency said oestrogen in water did not present a risk to people as it was routinely treated with chemicals that removed pollutants, including oestrogens. But some continue to doubt the theory. "I'm not saying anything is certain here, but I'm not prepared to take chances," says Dr Carey, who advised the English rugby team on nutrition in 2005.

China’s pharmaceutical industry has been under scrutiny with the culmination of one official being executed after being found guilty of taking bribes to pass products. But European products have also been the subject of controversy. In 1982 the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson had a crisis on its hands. Its leading non-prescription painkiller Tylenol was laced with cyanide resulting in the deaths of seven people around Chicago. The company's adroit response to the tampering incident was a text book case study on corporate responsibility and crisis management. The capsules were removed from shop shelves, a $100,000 reward was offered for help in tracking down what seemed to be a random killer and a new tamper-proof container was introduced. Johnson & Johnson’s then-CEO James Burke visibly took responsibility for public safety and brought back consumer confidence.

Of course, it is food which is of most concern to consumers. But China is not alone when it comes to producing substandard food or introducing bad farming practices. The UK was the focus of several food scares in the 1980’s and into the early 21st century. The egg market was sent reeling in the 1980s when Edwina Currie, then Health Secretary, said that the majority of British eggs were infected with salmonella. In the face of plummeting sales the British Egg Industry Council introduced a new code of practice and chicken "passports" to protect the public against the bacteria [BBC]. The next major food scare was Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy which resulted in exports bans of all British beef, a ban which lasted for more than two and a half years and cost the British meat industry in excess of £4 billion. Still reeling over the devastating effects of ‘mad cow disease’ as it was often referred to, the British beef industry was hit by another crisis; foot & mouth disease. And as the country was in lock-down to prevent the spread of this latest bovine infection, the first cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease began to be discovered. CJD, the human form of BSE, is contracted from the eating of meat infected with ‘mad cow disease’, and by 2001 clusters of the disease began to occur [BBC]. By the end of the year nearly 100 had died from CJD and it was feared the disease would be a medical time-bomb. However, to date there have only been around 170 cases worldwide.

China may be in the spot light now for its lack of quality control. But the focus may shift as other countries come under scrutiny. The ‘made in China’ label may be in jeopardy in the near future, and for authorities in the PROC it will be a struggle to quell the anger as hundreds of factory workers find themselves unemployed. One toy factory in southern China has already closed with all of its 5,000 workers now jobless. The Lee Der factory, in Foshan, was a major production base of Fischer Price toys and the massive recall prompted further tragedy when the factory CEO committed suicide. His co-workers were shocked and many learned of the recall and factory closure from the newspapers. Many are migrant workers who will have to find work elsewhere. "We're staying until the boss's funeral - he paid us everything we were due - then we'll go and find new work," said one former employee [BBC]. As is often the case, the workers are the innocent victims. Many work away from their homes for months at a time, and are often poorly paid. Few would have had any idea of the threat their toys may have posed to children half way around the planet. “We didn't know what was in the paint when we made the toys, we were shocked, we found out from the newspapers," one worker said. The fear is that other factories may close and with it increase the poverty which is still commonplace in this vast country. There are over 10,000 toy factories in China making 80% of the world’s toys. Toys are only one industry. China is also facing criticism for safety scares in everything from food and drug production to the manufacturing of tyres and toothpaste. In Beijing, the government is well aware that if it does not move quickly to shore up the reputation of goods made in China, then other workers, like those in Foshan, could be at risk of losing their jobs.

The best the Chinese authorities can hope for is that media reports begin to focus on another issue. The general public often have short memories. Few in Britain will remember the scare over Perrier and Dasani water. The chili powder risk is but a faint memory and long forgotten. BSE and foot & mouth disease still raise some concern, but fears over the risk of contracting CJD has all but vanished.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Shuttle makes safe landing at Kennedy


Space shuttle Endeavour has made a perfect landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. The space craft touched down at 16:32 GMT [12:32 local time]. Besides fears that damage to the heat shield might have posed, Endeavour made a successful re-entry. Hurricane Dean also proved not to be a problem as it passed well clear of the Florida peninsula.

Hurricane Dean makes landfall in Mexico


Hurricane Dean has made landfall on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico at a category 5 storm. It is the first category 5 storm to make landfall since the devastating hurricane Andrew in 1992. It hit land with winds gusting at up to 300 kph near Chetumal at 04:30 local time. CNN International have been showing USA domestic coverage whilst BBC and Sky News continued with regular programming. However, the main headlines on both major 24 hour news station was hurricane Dean. The BBC gave the first 5 minutes at the top of the hour to the story before moving onto domestic news. Sky News also brought scant coverage with less than 4 minutes being given over to the story.

Many tourists have heeded warnings and left the area but an estimated 5000 UK tourists remain most of whom have taken refuge in their hotels. A further 15,000 other foreign nationals are also stranded in the area. Residents on the peninsula have little choice other than to brave the storm.

The hurricane has already caused devastation throughout the Caribbean as the storm swept through the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. BBC 5 Live radio last night reported on the situation in Jamaica where looters were taking advantage of the widespread destruction. One woman who was speaking from the island said she had heard several gunshots and added that the storm had not affected the incidence of criminal behaviour. The storm has taken 12 reported casualties so far. It will only be at first light that the true damage may reveal itself [CNN].

Monday, August 20, 2007

Copycat 'terror attack' aimed to kill UK police


A BBC viewer filmed the aftermath of the explosion

Police have said that a driver of a vehicle which exploded after a chase had attempted to lure officers to their death. The white van had been followed by police on a low speed car chase in the Toxteth area of Liverpool in England earlier this month. But when the vehicle came to a halt and police approached, the van exploded killing the driver and injuring a number of officers. At the time Inspector George Dawson said the incident was “not linked to terrorism” [BBC / Liverpool Daily Post]. However, following the release of details calls this into question. Several gas canisters were found in the vehicle, a white Transit van, bearing similarities to an attack at Glasgow airport in July. It is likely the attempted murder of officers was the result of a grudge bourn by Terry Langrell, the driver identified in the blast, but mystery continues to surround the attack [BBC]. It is not known if Mr Langrell was wanted by police or if he had a police record.

Product recalls "politically motivated" says China


China has reacted to recent product recalls saying they are politically motivated. Speaking on what CNN described as a carefully choreographed’ television show, Li Changjiang told an audience of Chinese and foreign journalists the safety concerns regards the ‘made in China’ label were exagerated. "More than 99 percent of our goods meet standards," he said, "Demonizing Chinese products or talking of the Chinese product threat, I think, is simply a new kind of trade protectionism." He cited examples of product recalls including the Mattel made Big Bird and a Thomas the Tank Engine train set made by the RC2 Corporation. He pointed to the fact that only the eyebrows on Big Bird contained lead and that the only part in the train set was a stop-sign. "Children won't eat this sign, or smell it every day. The effect is very limited," Li said.
"It's exaggerated. In the first example it was the eyebrows which exceeded standards. And in this whole set, it's only the stop sign. It's not fair to say China's products are not up to scratch. Not fair at all." He said the recall was large because it was hard to distinguish which parts contained lead and which did not [CNN]

However, Li failed to mention that lead was also found in significant quantities on other Thomas the Tank Engine parts. The Daily Mail reported in June that lead paint was found on several items in the Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway range. They included a Red James Engine; a Red Skarloey Engine; a Red Water Tanker Truck; a Red James No. 5 Coal Tender. Others on the banned list were a Red Hook & Ladder Truck; a Red Lights & Sounds Engine; a Red James No.5 Lights & Sounds Coal Tender; a Red Musical Caboose; and a Yellow Railroad Crossing Sign.
Meanwhile China is to send officials to the US in August and September to discuss the issue of product safety [CNN]. But a trade war looms as China today sent back what they called faulty ‘made in the USA’ pacemakers. The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said the shipment of 272 pacemakers valued at about $250,000 that arrived in Shanghai in April did not meet standards [Reuters]. Interestingly it is not the first time US made pacemakers have been the subject of quality control in China. In 2001 China's State Drug Administration (SDA) Tuesday issued an urgent notification of a nationwide investigation of cardiac pacemakers produced by the US-based St. Jude Medical, Inc. The statement said incompetent joint welding for the "Tempo" implantation pacemakers may incur early exhaustion of the batteries and lower their reliability.
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Financial markets begin recovery


Financial markets around the world have begun to recover losses after the US interest-rate was cut at the end of last week. London's FTSE 100 index was up 0.85% by 1050BST, Germany's Dax-30 added 0.6%, and France's Cac-40 gained 1.05%. Earlier, Japan's Nikkei share index had closed 3% up, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index ended 5.6%. [CNN / BBC].

China and US - trapped miners feared dead


In China relatives say the rescue effort has been too slow

In China 181 remain trapped in what maybe the country’s worst mining disaster on record. Officials are being criticized by families of the miners for the slow response to rescue them. Pumping water from the mine was only begun on Sunday and many relatives are angry, some say officials are keeping information from them. A mine disaster hit two mines near the town of Xintai in Shandong province. The first incident occurred when a dike on the Wen River broke Friday afternoon, sending water gushing into a mine run by the Huayuan Mining Co. trapping 172 miners. A further 9 were trapped in the nearby Minggong Coal Mine. Up to 500 miners managed to escape when water rushed into the mine. China has the deadliest safety record for mine accidents. More than 5,000 died in mine accidents last year, and at least 2,100 have been killed this year alone [CNN].

In the US, families and relatives of 6 miners trapped in Utah are also angry at authorities. They say that rescue efforts to free the men have been halted and that the authorities have “given” up on the men. It is feared 6 miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon mine may be dead. The miners have been trapped since the 6th August after a collapse which owners of the mine say was caused by an earthquake. There is some evidence for this in that a 4.5 earthquake occurred nearby [39.465N, 111.236W] at 02:48 local time the same day [08:48 GMT]. The mine is situated 5.8 km to the east. Authorities dismiss the theory however and blame is focussing on whether mining methods were the cause of the collapse. The attempted rescue has resulted in further tragedy with 3 team members being killed and another 6 injured [CNN].

Afghanistan - German hostage rescued


Christina Mejer in a video released by her kidnappers

Afghan police have freed a female German hostage from a Kabul neighborhood and arrested a group of kidnappers, an Interir Ministry spokesman has said. The 31-year-old aid worker was freed on Monday during a raid in the western part of the capital not far from the restaurant where she was seized Saturday while dining with her husband, Zemary Bashari said. On Sunday, Afghan television broadcast what it said was video of the woman, who identified herself as Christina Meier, calling for the release of unspecified prisoners while being prompted by a man [CNN].

Fire destroys a Taiwanese China Airline


A Taiwanese China Airways jet has caught fire after landing in Japan’s Naha airport in Okinawa. The plane, a Boeing 737-800, was completely destroyed by fire. All 165 passengers and crew were safely evacuated after an explosion in one of the engines. It is the latest in a string of incidents to hit China Airlines in the last 10 years. Crashes in 2002, 1999, 1998 and 1994 have killed more than 1,000 people [BBC / CNN / Sky News].

Hurricane Dean heads for Mexico


Around 4,000 British tourists remain stranded in parts of the Caribbean after flights were suspended following the arrival of Hurricane Dean. In Mexico there are alt least 10,000 British tourists “scrambling to get out”, according to Sky News. A curfew has been imposed in the Cayman Islands as the storm, now a category 4, heads towards Mexico. All but essential staff have been evacuated from oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and the space shuttle Endeavour is expected to make an earlier return to Earth on Tuesday due to the impending storm. There is still the fear the hurricane may even develop into a category 5, the highest level, by the time it reaches the Mexican and southern Texas coast. The storm swept across Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday and the south of Jamaica on Sunday. Gusts in Kingston, Jamaica were measured as high as 330 kph. There has been massive destruction in the wake of hurricane Dean and at least 3 people are reported killed. It is expected to hit Mexico on Thursday [CNN / BBC].

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Afghanistan - German aid worker kidnapped


A German woman has been kidnapped at gunpoint in the Afghan capital, Kabul, the first foreigner to be abducted in the city for more than two years.
The aid worker, who is in her 30s, works for a Christian organisation called Ora International.
She was abducted by gunmen while having lunch with her husband at a small restaurant in western Kabul [BBC] . The incident come less than 48 hours after 2 South Koreans were released by the Taleban. It is not yet known who kisnapped the German citizen.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hurricane forces early return for space shuttle


Live coverage was only available on interactive TV services and the internet

Astronauts on board the space shuttle Endeavour today completed their last spacewalk of mission STS-118. There has been little Live coverage on Sky, BBC or CNN, however Sky News Active did provide continued coverage, while the BBC provided access to coverage on their website. However the crew will do nothing to replace heat resistant tiles which were damaged during take-off. NASA has made the decision to allow Endeavour to return to Earth without making any repairs to the heat shield. It is thought that any effort to make a repair might result in more damage. Keith Cowing, of nasawatch.com, speaking on CNN said the small hole has been assessed and is considered safe for re-entry. The spacewalk was due to be cut short due the hurricane Dean bearing down on the US [CNN]. There are fears in may increase to a category 5 storm and delay the scheduled landing. Endeavour may return on Tuesday, one day ahead of schedule.

180 trapped in China mine after floods


A mine disaster has hit China with floods trapping 180 in the east of the country. Two mines have been affected. Both are near the town of Xintai in Shandong province. The first incident occurred when a dike on the Wen River broke Friday afternoon, sending water gushing into a mine run by the Huayuan Mining Co. trapping 172 miners, the Xinhua News Agency reported. Later a further 9 were trapped in the nearby Minggong Coal Mine. China has the deadliest safety record for mine accidents. More than 5,000 died in mine accidents last year, and at least 2,100 have been killed this year alone [CNN / BBC].

Meanwhile rescuers are still making efforts to rescue 6 miners trapped in Utah in the USA. The miners have been trapped for 10 days after a collapse which owners of the mine say was caused by an earthquake. There is some evidence for this in that a 4.5 earthquake occurred nearby [39.465N, 111.236W] on the 6th of August at 02:48 local time [08:48 GMT]. The mine is situated 5.8 km to the east. Authorities dismiss the theory however and blame is focussing on whether mining methods were the cause of the collapse. The attempted rescue has resulted in further tragedy with 3 team members being killed and another 6 injured [CNN / BBC].

WHO warning on Beijing pollution


On some days visibility is cut to only a few hundred metres

Beijing embarked on a four-day experiment on Friday in order to assess if taking 1.3 million cars off the city's streets will substantially reduce air pollution in preparation for next year's Beijing Olympics [CNN / BBC]. There are over 3 million vehicles on Beijing’s roads pumping out vast quantities of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter into the air. From 6:00 a.m. until midnight on Friday, drivers with an even final digit on their licence plate face fines if they take to the city roads. Odd numbered cars are banned on Saturday and Monday, while vehicles with even numbers must also stay off the roads on Sunday. Meanwhile Dr Michal Krzyzanowski of the World Health Organisation has told the BBC that those with a history of cardiovascular problems should take particular care if they visit Beijing next year. "All of the cities are pretty highly polluted by European standards, but even by the standards of Asia, Chinese cities are pretty highly polluted," he told BBC Sport.
"The main problem in Chinese cities is air pollution, small particles which are suspended in the air and penetrate deep into the lungs." [BBC]

Friday, August 17, 2007

S Korea - 2 kidnapped return home


Two South Koreans kidnapped last month in Afghanistan returned home today after being released by the Taleban. Looking solemn as they appeared before a large media presence, one of the former captives, Kin Kyung-Ja said, “I would like to thank you and say sorry to cause so much concern.” The other released captive, Kim Gi-na said she hoped her other colleagues would soon be released. Only on arriving at Seoul airport did both individuals learn about the execution of two other kidnap victims. The group has been criticized for being wreckless in travelling to Afghanistan and the South Korean authorities has banned all unauthorized visits to the war torn country. Meanwhile negotiations continue to secure the release of the remaining 19 kidnapped aid workers [CNN]

Natural disasters take their toll on planet Earth


The death toll in the massive earthquake which hit Peru Wednesday has risen to 447. The official figure is likely to rise as emergency teams sift through the devastated areas hit by the tremors. The main quake was upgraded to 8.0 late yesterday by the USGS and several aftershocks measuring as high as 6.0 have hampered rescue efforts [CNN.com/impact].

Meanwhile residents and authorities in Cuba and other Caribbean island are braced for another possible natural disaster as a category 3 Hurricane heads across the Atlantic. Hurricane Dean, packing winds of 267 kph and gusts of up to 204 kph, is the first major hurricane of the season. On the other side of the globe Taiwan experiencing the equivalent of a category 2 hurricane as Typhoon Sepat sweeps across the island. The country has already been battered by previous storms in the past few weeks. Winds in excess of 180 kph have already disrupted flights and forced residents to leave their homes [CNN].

Emergency aid is beginning to arrive in North Korea after an unprecedented request from Pyongyang following devastating floods killed 221 and left thousands homeless [BBC]. Asia has been particularly badly hit by floods over last few months. China, India and Bangladesh have been hit the hardest with hundreds dead and millions of people displaced. In China, 141 people were killed last moth by lightning strikes alone [BBC].
More than 700 people have died in floods in central China, while millions of others have been hit by drought in the past few weeks. Vietnam saw storms kill at least 43 this month [BBC] while in India figures range from 500 to 3000 dead [BBC]. It is estimated that nearly 30 million were affected.
Britain also saw flooding devastate parts of England. Though the death toll was low, there is dichotomy of opinion as to whether these freak weather events are a symptom of global climate change. Some have no doubt that climate change is occurring. China's top meteorological official has blamed global warming for the extreme seasonal weather. CMA chief Zheng Guoguang said earlier this month, "Extreme weather has incurred frequent natural disasters such as rainstorms, floods and droughts across the country this year." While some suffered extreme wet weather others have suffered extreme heat. Droughts and soaring temperatures have swept across parts of Europe and particularly the US where much of the country suffered temperatures well above 30 Celsius [CNN]. In both continents brush fires increased with Europe losing over 3000 square kilometers of forest land [BBC]. The apparent effect on the climate by human activity has spawned many protests. Last month saw millions take part in Live Earth. The event was intended to bring people together and make a pledge to be more environmentally friendly. However due to the large carbon footprint the event itself made, along with the large carbon footprints of those performing, the event was widely criticized. Similar criticism has also been lodged against those protesting at Heathrow and other UK airports. The demonstrators are seeking to bring attention to the effects of air travel on the planet [BBC], however many have pointed out that they are relying on globalization and have themselves made a significant carbon footprint themselves. Some will have undoubtedly used a car or a carbon emitting form of transport. The tents in use will have traveled half way around the planet, and so too will much of the food they will eat.
Whether global warming is real or not, the extreme weather is certainly real enough. And if the trends continue, mankind will have to adapt and find solutions to the increase in storms, floods and droughts.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

World markets 'in freefall'


A slump in world markets has seen millions of pounds wiped off value of UK shares. Sky’s Business Editor Michael Wilson said we should be “very worried” especially as regards the fall in the value of pensions. The BBC described the market decline as being in freefall.
The slump started in the US last week with nearly 170 points being lost on the Dow Jones index in just one day. The underlying fear relates to the collapse of the so-called sub-prime mortgage market in the US. In the past five years, extraordinarily low interest rates in the US have led banks and other financial institutions to lend substantial sums of money to people with poor or no credit histories. However, as interest rates have risen, so have repossessions. The US housing market has collapsed and the banks have found themselves left with many bad debts. One reason why this has had such a large worldwide impact is due to globalization. Globalization has meant that much of this mortgage debt has been sliced up into small pieces, repackaged as "collaterised mortgage obligations" and sold on to financial institutions and individual investors around the world.
Today the Dow Jones lost over 160 points. The FTSE 100 dropped 4.1% today closing at 5,859 the biggest drop in a single day for nearly ten years [BBC / CNN].

Asian markets have also seen a dramatic downturn. The China Daily reported that the Shanghai composite dropped 2.14% or 104 points to a close of 4765.44. The Shenzhen Composite faired little better after it fell 1.65% to 16,053.1 points.

Sinopec, China's largest oil refiner, fell 3.43% to stand at ¥14.90 per share. In the US crude oil dropped $2 to $71.30 as the credit fears pounded global financial markets and as a storm threat to U.S. Gulf refineries and rigs receded.
There are fears there will be a drop in consumer spending and further rises in inflation. Only the next few days in trading with give a clearer picture. However, there is likely to be further losses before any recovery develops.

Peru - 7.9 earthquake kills hundreds


A massive earthquake has hit Peru measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale. At least 337 people were killed and 1,300 injured in the earthquake which struck at 18.41 local time [23:41 GMT]. One witness told CNN he initially thought it was an aeroplane passing over then the building started shaking for well over a minute. Many major routes have been cut off and a state of emergency has been declared by the Peruvian president Alan Garcia. Most casualties were reported in the town of Ica, 265 km south of the capital Lima [BBC / CNN].

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

'Made in China' recalls hit financial markets


Chinese manufacturers are once again in the spotlight after Mattel yesterday made a further recall on more than 18 million Chinese made toys. Some toys were recalled after small magnets were found to have worked loose giving rise to the risk of small children choking on the parts [CNN]. The BBC said that there had already been three cases of such instances. Mattel made public statement to alleviate the damage control. But whilst China has been blamed for poor standards and lack of proper quality control, the country’s authorities have reacted little citing only that of thousands of exports to the US, only 1 in 10,000 had created cause for concern. China has also said that US importers should take some of the responsibility, saying that the products had been checked by US importers. Meanwhile there is little coverage in the Chinese media and difficult to gauge the public reaction to the vast number of reports that continually surface in the western press. The damage to the ‘Made in China’ label could seriously affect the whole Chinese export market. Even if, as China’s authorities suggest, the cases are isolated, the public perception is shifting dramatically. Consumers in the west are becoming increasingly uncomfortable when it comes to buying products made in China, seeking where they can to by domestically made items.

For those that live in China, or even those that visit, food safety has become an issue of extreme concern. John Vause, CNN’s Beijing correspondent, writing about his living experience in China’s capital, says he is filled with dread when eating out. “Eating out in China used to be one of the great experiences of living here. I often thought going out with friends and colleagues for dinner was a bit like the game of "Hungry Hungry Hippos" -- vast quantities of amazing food that made dining a pleasure. Best of all, it was affordable and palatable,” he says. But after all the recent food scares “the joy of anticipation of what the next dish will bring has been replaced with, well, the dread of what the next dish may contain.” He talks about how his wife, who lives with him in Beijing, seeks out US made products and milk imported from Australia and New Zealand. But avoiding Chinese made products is, he says, “unavoidable”. Drinking water is of particular concern with, even according to Chinese authorities, more than a third of bottled water found to be counterfeit. Many of his friends who have lived in China for some time, say his fears are unfounded. They express the view that “in a country this size there will always be isolated cases like the ones that have surfaced lately”. Outside of China, avoiding products made in the PROC is virtually impossible. CNN reports on one Louisiana shopper who has made an effort to buy products not made in China. The experiment started soon after Christmas 2004 as Sara Bongiorni sorted through gifts and wrapping paper. It quickley became apparent that almost all of it came from China. "I thought, you know, it would be fun just to see if we could go a whole year ... without China," she said. "It certainly took over our whole life. It became an all-consuming project."

When it came to food, she says it was impossible to discern if the ingredients had originated in China. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found 46 percent of those polled are "very concerned" about the safety of food imported from China; another 28 percent said they were "somewhat concerned" about Chinese food products. The United States requires labels on seafood to mark where it came from. However, that's the exception. With most foods, companies are not required to label where ingredients come from, only where the food was packaged or processed. The same is true in European countries where labeling is often unclear or ambiguous.
Ms Bongiorni, who has documented her experiences in a book A Year Without ‘Made in China’, says "You know the source of your tennis shoes, but you don't know the source of your processed foods…you are really at a loss to make an informed decision."

Domestically, China may be seeing the result of bad quality control checks. Shoddy construction has been blamed after a bridge collapsed and killed 36 on Monday. Two officials have been arrested according to authorities [CNN]. Witnesses say they heard a rumble and saw stones fall from the structure Monday afternoon after construction workers removed scaffolding from the 42 metre high, 270 metre long vehicle and pedestrian bridge across the Tuo River in the southern town of Fenghuang. "The whole thing collapsed," said Nong Xiaozhong, one of two survivors in a 12-man construction team working under the bridge. CNN reported that the collapse was likely to fuel already deep public concerns about the quality of construction in a country undergoing breakneck economic development and where corruption among contractors and officials is common.

The effects of these negative reports emanating from China is adding to the the pressure on an already volatile world financial market. Stocks have been rocked this week by domestic problems in the US which saw several days of uncertainty with the Dow dropping significantly [BBC]. The sudden spate of recalls of Chinese made products is also affecting the Asian share market and western companies which rely heavily on Chinese exports. A recall by Nokia of mobile phone batteries also upset the finacial markets this week [BBC]. The batteries made by Matsushita were said to pose a risk of fire or explosion. It is not the first time Matsushita has been the focus of a battery recall. In 2006, laptop batteries were recalled after a similar fault was identified [BBC]. In each case the country of origin has not been identified.

Iraq - 200 dead in deadly attacks


Iraq yesterday saw a series of devastating attacks which killed over 200 people. They were victim to 3 suicide tanker bombs which targeted Qahtiniya in the Sinjar area of north-west Iraq. The blasts, which occurred at around 20:00 local time, is one of the worst string of attacks to hit the country and the first to hit the Kurdish area of the country for some time. Early reports which broke at around 21:00 GMT suggested 175 had died and at least 200 were injured in the coordinated attacks. But this morning numbers had increased sharply [BBC / CNN]. This week has also seen more US casualties. A sniper shot and killed a U.S. soldier, then lured his comrades to a booby-trapped house where four more troops died in an attack believed to be the work of Al Qaeda in Iraq on Saturday.A further five US personell died this week when their helicopter crashed to the west of Baghdad [Reuters]. It brings the total US casualty count to 3,699 since hostilities began in March 2003. Forty one have died in August so far with 71 killed last month.

Monday, August 13, 2007

China - Toy manufacturer commits suicide


The head of a Chinese toy manufacturer has committed suicide. Zhang Shuhong, head of Lee Der Industrial was found dead over the weekend according to Xinhua State News Agency. His company had been the focus of criticism after lead tainted toys were supplied to Fischer Price who this month recalled over one and a half million items from sale. Lee Der made 967,000 toys recalled earlier this month by Mattel Inc. because they were made with paint containing excessive amounts of lead. The plastic preschool toys, sold under the Fisher-Price brand in the U.S., included the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters [BBC / CNN].

Friday, August 10, 2007

Iraq - British under fire from bullets and rumours


The Honey Badger which has "terrorized" Iraqis near Basra

“THE Iraqi port city of Basra, already prey to a nasty turf war between rival militia factions, has now been gripped by a scary rumour – giant badgers are stalking the streets by night, eating humans.” So reported the Australian Telegraph in mid-July. The news also appeared in other publications worldwide and forced the British army to make a statement saying they were not responsible for releasing the supposed ferocious beasts. UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer told reporters, "We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area.” Rumours spread among the populace that UK troops had introduced strange man-eating, bear-like beasts into the area to sow panic. But several of the creatures, caught and killed by local farmers, have subsequently been identified by experts as honey badgers [BBC]. Not convinced, many residents of Basra cited incidents of attack. One housewife, Suad Hassan, 30, claimed she had been attacked by one of the badgers as she slept. "My husband hurried to shoot it but it was as swift as a deer," she said. "It is the size of a dog but his head is like a monkey," she told AFP.

The danger to British troops over the last few weeks from insurgents has been far more real. Eight troops died in July and four others have died this last week alone. It brings the total body count to 168 since March 2003 [BBC]. Another British soldier also died today in Afghanistan bringing the total to 69 the number fallen since 2001 [BBC].

To help curb the chaos a British/US joint resolution for the UN to play a greater role in Iraq was today passed by the Security Council. The UN pulled out in 2003 after a terrorist attack at their Baghdad headquarters killed 22 [BBC].

British losses haven’t only been confined to the theatre of war. This week saw the deaths of two on board a helicopter which crashed in North Yorkshire. Ten others were injured when the Puma crashed at around 21:00 GMT on Wednesday [BBC].

Thursday, August 09, 2007

UK - Legionnaires disease probe at Pirbright


A worker at the Pirbright Laboratory has contracted Legionnaires disease. The Laboratory is already in the spotlight and is currently being investigated over a possible leak which may have caused the recent foot and mouth outbreak. Samples of water have been taken from the site. Thomas Moore, Sky’s health correspondent said the disease is only spread from inhaling water droplets containing the bacteria and is not spread from person to person. It is often found in air conditioning systems. Meanwhile restrictions on the movement of animals were lifted last night. However the movement only allows direct transportation of animals to slaughter [HSE / BBC]

Tourist boat hit by ice in Arctic


Eighteen people on board a tourist boat in the Arctic have been injured. According to early reports, the boat was hit by either an iceberg or ice falling from a glacier. Sky News reported the Norwegian boat encountered trouble near the Svalbard Islands. According to Norwegian authorities there are 72 persons on board the Alexey Maryshev a former Russian trawler, 50 of whom are British. At least 18 have been injured and 4 have been conveyed to hospital. Two are said to be serious [IHT]

US - Shuttle Endeavour lifts off safely


Space shuttle Endeavour lifted off last night in what was a perfect launch. As well as a compliment of six NASA astronauts, STS-118 carried Barbara Morgan, a former Idaho teacher who was selected as teacher Christa McAuliffe's backup for the doomed Challenger mission 21 years ago. Several family members of the Challenger crew were said to have watched the launch yesterday. The mission which left the ground at 18:36 local time [22:36 GMT] is set to stay for two weeks in space and carry out assembly work, repairs and deliver supplies to the International Space Station [CNN].

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Beijing marks 1 year until Olympics


Lu Ming was cut off in mid flow as he made his Live report from Tiananmen Square on CCTV-9. CNN also experienced technical problems as John Vause made a Live report yesterday and also today. The broadcasts are all part of the build up to the 29th Olympic Games which are 366 days away. But whilst CCTV-9 is up beat about the celebrations, CNN has reported on the pollution that shrouds the city of Beijing. Many countries have said they are concerned about the quality of the air with some telling their athletes to arrive at the last minute. Australia has said they will send an asthma specialist whilst Britain says they are also making unspecified arrangements.

There has been little coverage on Sky and the BBC leading up to today’s events. But CNN and Channel 4 News, in the UK, have both had special reports throughout the week. Channel Four’s Lindsey Hilsun has reported on residents being displaced for building projects and children undergoing gruelling training routines leading up to the Olympics. Her highly critical reports have been broadcast on both Channel 4 and CNN, but CNN has also looked at the problem of pollution. CCTV-9 this week showed Prime Minister Wen making a visit to a food manufacturing plant and declaring that efforts were in place to ensure food was safe to eat. The report comes on the back of much criticism in the Western media over the quality and safety of food coming out of China. The IOC has said that air quality is the number one worry. Jacques Rogges, the IOC Chief, says pollution may delay some events but acknowledged the authorities were to make attempts to clean up the air by closing plants, shifting from coal to gas and taking more than a million cars off the road.

Today however was a day for celebration. Though it appears there are a number of technical issues surrounding the relaying of pictures from the Chinese capital. Whilst CNN brought intermittent Live coverage of the performances in Tiananmen Square, CCTV-9 disappeared altogether from the Astra satellite downlink for twenty minutes. During the build up to the finale there were songs sung in both Chinese and English including one entitled “Forever Friends”. Officials were then seen arriving in one brief shot and film star Jackie Chan made a brief appearance on stage before the countdown to the year marker.


There then followed a spectacular fireworks display and a performance by dancers and Chinese Lions. John Vause described the performance as being “like a sensory overload”. Then the Mayor of Beijing, Wang Qishan, officially opened the ceremony to mark the occasion. Flags of all nations were then carried into the arena. Then the Olympic anthem was played to the estimated 10,000 people in attendance and millions watching around the world. After introducing a number of officials some gave their own address to the assembled crowds. Liu Peng, President Chinese Olympic Committee announced the Olympics would inspire others to take up sporting activities and live a healthier lifestyle. Jacques Rogge then took to the podium “vast achievement and great potential ahead” he also said China was at a point of “opening up to the world” and said he hoped all who come to China enjoy the upcoming games. Wu Bangguo Chinese Parliament Chief said the Chinese people were committed to the Olympic Games and made tribute to all comrades who had made the project possible. It is a project that has cost in excess of $45 Billion, and the most expensive Olympic Games in history. It is set to start at 8:08 pm 08/08/2008, less than 366 days away…

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

UK - Foot & Mouth found on 2nd farm


Pirbright Laboratories from where the disease may have leaked

A second farm in Surrey has been identified as having contracted foot and mouth disease. The farm is within the protection zone already in place. Over the weekend a possible source of the foot & mouth outbreak was identified as being a laboratory less than 5 km from Wolford Farm, site of the first outbreak. The strain found in the infected cattle was found to be identical to that used for vaccines at an animal disease research site at Pirbright. Defra could not say the laboratory complex was the source but has increased the size of the protection and surveillance zones in the area. In a statement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said: "The present indications are that this strain is a 01 BFS67-like virus, isolated in the 1967 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Great Britain." The strain was used in a vaccine batch manufactured on 16 July by a private pharmaceutical company Merial Animal Health [BBC / Sky News]. The outbreak has resulted in many countries restricting imports of meat from the UK. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland both closed their ports to livestock, fresh meat and non-pasteurised milk imports within hours of the first outbreak having been identified. They also ordered for disinfectant measures to be put in place at ports and airports all over the island. Canada also blocked the entry of any livestock from the United Kingdom into the country, and Japan and the United States blocked the entry of pigs and pig products. British beef was already banned in both of these respective countries as a result of BSE being identified in cattle several years ago.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Foot & Mouth returns to UK


Thousands of animals were culled in the 2001 outbreak

Cattle at a farm in Surrey have been found to be infected with foot-and-mouth disease.
Some 60 animals on the farm near Guildford have tested positive for the disease which wreaked havoc in 2001.
A 3km protection zone has been put in place around the premises and a UK ban imposed on movement of all livestock. Gordon Brown has cancelled his holiday in Dorset and taken part in a meeting of the government's Cobra emergency committee by telephone about the issue [BBC]. Earlier in the day restrictions on imports into Northern Ireland were implemented after a farm was identified as being infected [BBC]
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Friday, August 03, 2007

5th of Chinese products 'sub-standard'


With Chinese made products once again in the spotlight with the recall of more than 1.5 million Fisher Price toys being recalled due to lead paint contamination [BBC], how much is the consumer at risk? Even Beijing authorities have acknowledged that up to a fifth of Chinese products are substandard [BBC] with the worst problems being identified in canned fruit, dried fish and fruit drinks. In recent months China has been criticised for exporting a number of products which could endanger life or were otherwise substandard. Earlier this year a number of Chinese made toothpastes were withdrawn from sale after some were found to contain Diethylene glycol, usually used as an engine coolant [BBC]. Prior to this recall, cat and dog food came under scrutiny after it was found some products contained Melamine, used to boost perceived protein levels. The downside was that many pet owners in the US suffered the loss of their animals as a result of the poisonous additive. Then came a US ban of Chinese shell-fish products. This came after carcinogenic chemicals were found to have been used in the farming process [BBC]. The chemicals were intended to allow prawns and other shell-fish to tolerate polluted water. The chemicals included Nitrofuran, Malachite Green and Fluoroquinolone, all of which have been identified as having serious adverse health effects in humans.
In reaction to the criticism and the ban of imports, China says it is acting to prevent the production of “fake and shoddy foods and pharmaceuticals” [BBC] and even tried to alleviate international criticism by sentencing a corrupt food and drug administration official to death [BBC].
But it is becoming a struggle for authorities to curb the increase of badly made products reaching consumers. This is damaging not only for the consumer but also for the reputation for Chinese made products.
And this week’s recall by Fisher Price is by no means the first case of lead having been found in children’s toys. In June, a recall was issued for Thomas the Tank Engine toys after lead was found in the paint.

All of these cases leave the consumer with a dilemma. There is of course a choice of not buying a ‘made in China’ product. However, they are often left without an alternative. A browse along any toy store will soon reveal that over 90% of products are made in China. And Chinese goods are not only confined to the cheaper stores; even Harrods’ teddy bears are manufactured in China. A visit to a motor store reveals the same lack of choice. In a Halfords store, most motoring accessories are Chinese made. Even ‘high-quality’ brand name products are manufactured in the PROC, the Peoples Republic of China, a label now seen on many goods. tvnewswatch has direct experience of badly made goods originating in China. A Chinese made tent broke after only ten days of use. A Sony-Ericsson mobile phone charger failed after less than two months use. A hair-clip, bought in the French superstore, Carrefour, in Beijing, and made in China, broke after less than a month’s use. A folding stool’s ‘canvas’ seat has begun to tear and the bracket to a car fan broke whilst in transit. For all these products there is no alternative. There are seemingly no British, US or European made tents, hair-clips or car fans available. A recently acquired, Chinese made, in-car compass only points north! Perhaps it should point east, since that’s where everything seems to be coming from.
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Thursday, August 02, 2007

IPPC report blasts Asst Commissioner over Menezes death


The IPCC, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, has ruled that Asst Commissioner Andrew Hayman deliberately misled the press and even his own Commissioner Ian Blair over the facts behind the mistaken shooting of Charles de Menezes in 2005. The Brazilian was shot after police mistakenly identified him as a terrorist and would be suicide bomber. The events came the day after a series of attempted suicide attacks on London’s transport network and a week after several suicide attacks left 52 dead. The £300,000 IPCC investigation said Sir Ian Blair was “almost totally unaware” of events and did not “wilfully mislead the public”. The IPCC saying he was “not well-served by his staff”. AC Andy Hayman is accused of inconsistency in providing different information to the press and to his Commissioner Sir Ian Blair
The IPCC also concluded that Mr de Menzes did not disobey police instructions. [BBC / Sky News]
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US bridge collapse kills 9, injures 64


A bridge has collapsed in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the US killing at least 7 people according to CNN. Federal authorities say that the collapse was not due to terrorism but the event has nonetheless shocked a nation and posed many questions over the structural integrity of America’s other bridges. Only yesterday a partial collapse on a bridge in Orville, California, injured one lorry driver. In Oakland, California a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed back in April this year. That incident was blamed on a truck which crashed and burst into flames and melting structural supports. In 2002 in Webber Falls, Oklahoma, a barge crashed into a bridge crossing the Arkansas River. Fourteen were killed in that incident. In 1983, three died when a section of a bridge crossing the Mianus River, in Connecticut, collapsed. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, in a report released in 2003, up to 160,000 bridges across America were “structurally deficient” and “functionally obsolete”. According to the report it would take an annual spending of $10 billion for the next twenty years to bring these structures up to standard.

CNN International was today broadcasting domestic news coverage and was showing exclusive footage taken from a security camera which captured the actual collapse as it happened. At least 60 people are said to be injured and a further 20 are missing.

The I38 interstate bridge collapsed suddenly and without warning, however there are questions as to whether there were structural problems with the bridge which spans a distance of 140 metres. Besides having passed inspections in recent years the bridge, which was built in 1967, was undergoing engineering work at the time of the collapse with only 4 of the 8 lanes open to traffic. Around 50 vehicles plummeted into the water when, after a creaking sound, the roadway gave way at 18:00 local time. Witnesses described the centre of the 8 lane bridge collapsing into the river below. Many had a lucky escape even as their cars plummeted 20 metres into the river, some escaping through their sun-roofs. Around 60 school children were rescued after their bus, returning from a swimming trip, was caught up in the disaster. It became wedged precariously at an angle on one of the collapsed sections.

Besides the tragedy, in terms of loss of life and injury, the collapse will have a significant economic impact as well as creating transport chaos in the local vicinity. The bridge carries more than 200,000 vehicles per day, traffic that will have to be rerouted. The collapse also severed a major railway line and also blocks a much used water way.

Meanwhile, the search for victims will continue at first light after being called off at midnight.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

UK smoking ban 'adds to global warming'


The China Daily reported last month a ban in Guanzhou

A month after the nationwide smoking ban in public places came into force in Britain, the country has seen a dramatic decline in numbers going to pubs, bars and bingo halls. There has also been an increase in the use of patio heaters, drawing criticism from environmentalists [BBC]. Whilst the relatively warm summer months give smokers refuge in pub gardens, many establishments, especially those in towns and cities are losing customers. And even those with gardens are increasingly using patio heaters which can issue more carbon dioxide than a domestic gas cooker. "Just to give you some idea of the scale, the average patio heater uses the same amount of energy as a gas hob uses in six months and we estimate that the average patio heater would emit around 50kg of carbon dioxide per year," says Jon McGowan, of the Energy Saving Trust, who is leading a campaign against their use. Over the last 18 months, their use in pubs and restaurants has increased with the smoking bans, to 12,500.

Pub customers 'down 40%'

But besides efforts by some establishments to make their gardens a little more comfortable for their smoking clientele, customer numbers are dropping. According to the Sunday Mirror, some establishments had seen a 40% drop in business [Sunday Mirror]. According to the article more than half of the 70 pubs, members-only clubs and bingo halls had lost money since the ban came into effect. Simon Olley, landlord of Beacon Court Tavern in Gillingham, Kent, told the Sunday Mirror, "We've had a slide of about 10 to 20 per cent. I'd like to know where the nonsmokers that were supposed to be coming into pubs when the ban was introduced are. I haven't seen any."
In Scotland, where the ban was introduced in March last year, beer sales are down seven per cent and 34 per cent of pubs have laid off staff, whilst Ireland has seen a 7% a year drop in sales. And with hostility amongst consumers increasing, some publicans are allowing customers to continue smoking rather than subjecting staff to possible violence and abuse. Tony Blows, of the Dog Inn at Ewyas Harold, in Herefordshire, said the ban, introduced across England on 1 July, contradicted health and safety laws. Herefordshire Council said it may review whether Mr Blows was a "fit and proper person" to hold a pub licence. Mr Blows said that under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty of care to provide a safe place of work for all staff. He said he believed asking bar staff at the village pub to confront smokers would contradict those guidelines. Mr Blows said: "When people come in here I tell them that smoking in a public place like this is against the law and they could face a £50 fine or a court appearance. "However, because of the previous health and safety rulings, we can't enforce it. "This is not an excuse to just get us out of the smoking ban - anyone who looks on the Health and Safety Executive's website can see the contradiction there in black and white." [BBC]. But while the Sunday Mirror suggested a decline in sales and hostility to the ban, a survey by the BBC suggested more than 50% of publicans had reported ‘positive feedback’ from customers, and said only a fifth of pubs had experienced a loss in sales. As the nights get colder even these conservative figures may increase as the refuge of the pub garden becomes an uncomfortable refuge for the committed smoker.

World ban on the way

Whilst Britain’s smokers suffer the latest inconvenience in their lives, restrictions against smokers are increasing all over the world. France, once considered the land of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, is due to implement a smoking ban in public places next year. And in Germany, measures are already been test for a country wide ban [Deutche-Welle]. The small Himalayan state of Bhutan faces the toughest restrictions where tobacco products are entirely banned from sale [BBC]. In Europe, smoking restrictions are already in place in Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Montenegro, Serbia and Spain. Even China is set to impose restrictions on smokers. Guangzhou is to become the 89th city in China to ban smoking in cinemas and department stores later this year with further restrictions to come. The city, home to 1.6 million smokers, faces a fraught task in stopping any flouting of the proposed rules. Smoking in public, especially amongst the male population, is common place and one will often see people smoke in places long considered taboo in the West. Smokers can be spotted in shops, at swimming pools and in taxis. Even police officers in uniform can often be seen taking a cigarette break as motorcyclists, without crash helmets, pass by drawing on a 555 International.
As ‘health-fascism’ and the ‘nanny-state’ imposes restrictions on the individual, in the supposed effort of reducing smoking-related deaths and disease, governments still draw huge amounts of tax from such products. Little of this is allocated to public health care. In addition, there is continued ignorance of industrial polluters who, it could be agued, create a greater or equal risk to the general public at large.

Iraq returns to violence after football victory


After brief celebrations over Iraq’s win against Saudi Arabia [BBC] this week the violence soon returned to the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere in the beleaguered country. Even during the festivities four people died after being ‘accidentally shot’ during celebratory gunfire.

Today at least 67 died and more than 100 were injured in a series of bomb blasts [BBC]. The biggest death toll resulted from a petrol tanker being exploded at a filling station near Mansour, a mainly Sunni district of Baghdad, killing 50 [CNN]. And whilst coalition casualties have dropped in July from the previous month, Iraqi officials say that civilian casualties have risen by almost a third to 1600. However July’s troop casualty rate still towers above figures for the same time last year besides the new security initiative. This July saw 87 coalition troops killed, nearly double from the same month last year [icasualties.org]. The rising casualty rate, standing at 3,950 including 164 British and 129 other coalition countries, is making difficult reading for the US and British public alike. Many see no end in sight to the conflict, and besides Bush and Brown’s resolve to turn the country over to Iraq’s own security forces, few see this as coming any time soon. Unfortunately, even for critics of the war, to leave Iraq in the near future, may we well see the whole area become further inflamed, spilling over into the region as a whole. As the Americans might say, they’re ‘caught between a rock and a hard place’.