Friday, February 29, 2008

MoD: Harry will return from Afghanistan


The MoD has released a statement saying that Prince Harry will be withdrawn from Afghanistan immediately. The Sun website and various other media organisations reported the news at 11:00 GMT, but the news was not confirmed until 11:15. Often referred to as a ‘bullet magnet’ the Prince will return home not only for his own safety but also for the safety of his comrades. The statement, posted on the MoD website, says, “The decision by elements of the foreign media to report Prince Harry’s presence in Afghanistan without any consultation with the Ministry of Defence is regrettable. However, this was a circumstance that we have always been aware of and one for which we have had contingency plans in place. Whilst it had been intended that Prince Harry should return in a matter of weeks with the remainder of the Household Cavalry Regiment Battlegroup, the situation has now clearly changed.”
While much of the focus of news media has revolved around Prince Harry’s role in Afghanistan, few reported on the return of other troops who yesterday marched through the Essex town of Grays. The 1st Battalion of the Anglian Regiment paraded past small enthusiastic crowds. The regiment lost 9 members during their tour of duty [Basildon Echo]. A total of 89 British troops have died during the conflict which started in 2001 [icasualties.org].

Prince Harry fights amid a war of words


Few media outlets picked up early reports in January

The debate over the revelation that Prince Harry was in the theatre of war after all has become very fiery indeed. The MoD has released a statement via its website in which Chief of the General Staff Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the British Army, said he was disappointed the news had leaked. "I am very disappointed that foreign websites have decided to run this story without consulting us. This is in stark contrast to the highly responsible attitude that the whole of the UK print and broadcast media, along with a small number of overseas, who have entered into an understanding with us over the coverage of Prince Harry on operations,” he said.
But the ‘request’ by way of a D-notice placed on the reporting of the story has angered others just as much. “What else are the media keeping from us” George Galloway MP said on BBC Question Time/ on Thursday. He then said that a D-notice had been previously placed on the reporting of the 5 British citizens held in Iraq. “I don’t support the war and I don’t like the fact that the media is part of the war effort,” he added. But the Respect MP said it was admirable that Harry was serving and pointed out that no members of the cabinet had sent their sons or daughters to the front line.

Some members of the audience were just as unhappy. Calling it a “secret war”, one man called the legacy of Afghanistan a “war crime". But he was quickly put down by Annabel Goldie who called Afghanistan a democracy, while Galloway laughed into his beard. But she persevered saying it was up to the West to help nurture the country from the grip of terrorism. The panel was asked of their views regards the Cabinet minutes that may be released under the Freedom of Information Act concerning the lead up to the Iraq War. Galloway said he suspected the information in the minutes would be unlikely to reveal very much. Nicola Sturgeon MSP said the minutes should be released and that the public needed to know why the UK government “took us into an illegal war”. But Annabel Goldie, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said the release of such documents may jeopardize the way in which the Cabinet discussed issues if they knew they might be released publicly.

Later the debate moved onto the subject of a proposed DNA database which has entered the public forum after recent high profile murder convictions that were brought about through DNA technology. Annabel Goldie said that the “Big Brother state may be nearer than we might think” and that DNA databases, along with recent data losses, should be something the public should be concerned about.
Cathy Jamieson, Deputy Leader SLP, was more supportive of a move to create a national DNA database saying that it would make the public safer. This brought scorn from George Galloway who called her a reactionary and echoed Annabel Goldie saying, “You may as well put a camera in everyone’s home, then there’d be no crime but there’d be no liberty either”. He pointed out that “criminals can and often do pick up cigarette butts and drop them at the scenes of crime”. This would make, he said, DNA databases a nonsense and may bring with it false accusations or convictions.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Prince Harry fighting in Afghanistan


The Drudge Report which leaked the news today

News has leaked via American media outlets that Prince Harry has been serving in Afghanistan since 17th December 2007. British media had agreed to a blackout, but after several US News websites and broadcasters reported the information the UK TV News channels swiftly reported on the story. The Drudge Report was the first to report the news at 11:01 ET [16:01 GMT]. This is how the website reported the news: They're calling him "Harry the Hero!" British Royal Prince Harry has been fighting in Afghanistan since late December -- and has been directly involved in gun battle, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned. The prince, a junior officer in the Blues and Royals, and third in line to the throne, has been a "magnificent soldier" and an "inspiration to all of Briton." Prince Harry is talking part in a new offensive against the Taliban. Ministry of Defense and Clarence House refuse all comment. Army chiefs have managed to keep the prince away from media and have encourage fellow soldiers in his squadron to stay quiet.

Ironically an Australian website [New Life 07/01/08 New Life 15/01/08] had already reported the story as had the German publication Bild. But it was only after the Drudge Report picked up the story that the news became more widespread.

The MoD has been highly critical of the leak and made public statements to that effect. CNN broke the news shortly after 17:00 GMT and the UK media swiftly followed. According to reports Prince Harry has been serving on the frontline in Helmand province. The reporting of the news may jeopardize Harry’s role and he may be withdrawn from action. The Prince had been set to serve until April.

[BBC / Sky News / CNN]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

UK - Anti-terrorist police recover CD


Counter terrorism officers have recovered a missing CD belonging to the Home Office. Sky News reported on the discovery shortly before 22:30 GMT and later spoke to Lee Bevan a computer engineer who had found the missing disc hidden inside a laptop computer that had been handed into his shop for repair. He told Sky News that the owner had bought the computer on the internet auction website Ebay and later found the device did not work. Upon investigation, Lee said he found the disc between the keyboard and the internal workings of the laptop. He said he had attempted to see what was on the disc but found it to be encrypted. The engineer then informed the authorities who sent anti-terror police to recover the laptop and the disc. Mr Bevan said both he and his work colleagues had been interviewed, but he was unaware of how the investigation had continued after the officers left.

UK - Security questions after Parliament protest


Security breaches: Heathrow and the UK Parliament

Protests on the Houses of Parliament and recently at Heathrow airport have prompted questions over the security measures in place. Both areas breached by the protesters, who are attempting to stop the Heathrow airport expansion, are in strictly controlled zones and areas which a potential terrorist could wreak havoc. Today several demonstrators from the protest group Plane Stupid managed to make it to the roof of the Houses of Parliament and unfurled banners. One banner read ‘No Third Runway’, another had ‘BAA HQ’ emblazoned upon it. A protester, who identified himself as Leo Murray, talked at length to Sky News but was evasive when asked how he and his colleagues managed to evade security and climb to the roof. The incident comes after Greenpeace breached security at Heathrow and scaled a British Airways Airbus to unfurl a banner.

Today’s protest which started shortly before 10 a.m was covered extensively by Sky with continuing coverage. The BBC cut away after a few minutes while CNN continued with regular programming, showing Larry King Live. CNN did cover the story as of 11:00 GMT with taped pictures from ITN. They too spoke to Leo Murray and gave nearly 5 minutes to the story. The item remained the first item on Sky News, which had so far given one hour and twenty minutes coverage, but it was the second news report on BBC News 24 after the story about the Lincolnshire earthquake. However, the BBC report suffered from constant technical problems throughout the entire 3 minute bulletin.

5.2 earthquake hits UK


The largest earthquake to strike England in 25 years hit Lincolnshire [53.321°N, 0.314°W] in the early hours of Wednesday. The earthquake which measured 5.2 on the Richter scale struck at 12:56 GMT. There were a few reports of injuries including that of one individual who was hit by debris when a chimney crashed through the roof of his home in Barnsley, Yorkshire. The tremor was even felt as far away as London, 200 km south of the epicentre [Sky News / BBC]. The last big earthquake to hit southern Britain was in 1984 when Wales was struck by a 5.4 tremor. The British Geological Survey [PDF report] put the recent tremor at 5.2 striking at a depth of 15 km, but the USGS, which were the first scientific body to release data, put the quake at 4.7 at a depth of 10 km. Such discrepancies are relatively normal with regards the measuring of earthquakes. Much relies on the triangulation and measurements made from seismological equipment placed around the earth.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

US - Florida hit by power outages


A major transmission line has failed in Florida causing massive power outages for thousands of people. WPLG Miami reports that 680,000 people have lost power while CNN (domestic) have said that up to 4 million people had been affected across the entire state. There are severe traffic problems compounded by the failure of traffic lights. The outage hit Miami and surrounding areas at 13:04 local time [18:04 UTC]. A spokeman from Florida Power & Light said that the cause of the outage was not yet clear and power may take some hours to restore. In 2005 over 6 million lost power after hurricane Wilma hit Florida and some remained without power for several weeks.
According to some reports the outage may have been triggered after a reactor at Turkey Point nuclear power station was shutdown for safety reasons. Other reports say that the power station was shutdown because of the power outages [Reuters]. Nuclear power plants require off site power supplies in case of emergencies. As such it may well have been a precaution to shut down the plant after power failures started to occur elsewhere.

Video aired of kidnapped Briton


One of five Britons kidnapped in Baghdad last year, has appeared on a video shown on Al Arabiya TV. Identifying himself as Peter Moore, he is heard to say, “I’ve been held for nearly eight months now" which indicated the video may have been shot in mid-January. He said that his freedom depended upon a prisoner exchange. The men were taken captive on May 20th 2007 from the Finance Ministry in Baghdad but there has been little word on their condition since. Last December another video surfaced which depicted another of the hostages. On both occasions the Foreign Office has condemned the video release and demanded the men’s immediate release [BBC / Sky News].
Also in Iraq today, 14 were killed in a suicide attack on a bus in the northern town of Mosul. The bomber boarded the bus before detonating his explosives [BBC]. And it was bad news for the UK government after a ruling from the Information Commissioner to release the minutes of cabinet meetings which led up to the Iraqi invasion in 2003. The government has continually resisted the release of the documents which had been sought under the Freedom of Information Act [BBC]

UK - Men convicted on terror charges


Terror threat: Mohammed Hamid and Atilla Ahmed

A man accused of running terror camps has been convicted today at Woolwich Crown Court. Mohammed Hamid organised paintball games at White Waltham, Berkshire and in the New Forest in Hampshire. He dubbed himself Osama Bin London and, along with Atilla Ahmed, he organised outings in order to conduct training sessions. Police surveillance and bugging of the radical Muslim showed he had strong links to the 21/7 plotters whose attempts to bomb London failed.

During the trial MI5 surveillance tapes were played to the court. One clearly showed his murderous character. After being informed by Atilla that 52 had died in the attacks on London’s transport system in July 2005, Hamid was heard to say that “That’s not even breakfast for me”. A video shown to the court showed groups conducting what the prosecution described as beheading practice with a watermelon. Found guilty of three counts of soliciting to murder and three counts of providing terrorism training. The jury at Woolwich Crown Court found him not guilty of providing weapons training at camps. His main accomplice, Atilla Ahmet, 43,was found guilty of soliciting to murder. Both will be sentenced at a later date.

Six others were previously convicted of terror related charges. They are Kibley Da Costa, 24 [guilty of attending terrorism training, providing training, holding terrorist articles. Jailed for four years and 11 months], Kader Ahmed, 20 [guilty of attending two training camps. Cleared on third charge. Jailed for Three years and eight months], Mohammed Al-Figari, 44 [guilty of attending camps and holding terrorist articles. Four years and two months], Hassan Mutegombwa, 20 [guilty of seeking cash for terrorism overseas. Jailed last year for 10 years], Mohammed Kyriacou, 19 [admitted attending training camps. Three years and five months], Yassin Mutegombwa, 23 [admitted attending training camps. Three years and five months]

[BBC / Sky News]

NY Philharmonic plays in North Korea


The New York Philharmonic orchestra has played a concert in Pyongyang, North Korea, in what is the first American cultural group visit to the country. After the performance the orchestra received a standing ovation. The concert, which was staged at the East Pyongyang Grand theatre, started with the national anthems of both North Korea and the United States before launching into pieces by Wagner and Dvořák. Before playing Gershwin’s An American in Paris, the conductor Lorin Maazel joked that one day someone may write An American in Pyongyang, which was warmly accepted with applause and laughter. The concert ended with several pieces played as an encore including a piece by Brahms, the Candide Overture by Leonard Bernstein and Arirang, a Korean folk song.

The visit has been likened to the Ping Pong politics of the 1970s between the US and China which eventually led to a visit to the country by President Nixon. But with the relationship between the US and North Korea still very tense, it may take more than music to soothe the savage beast [BBC].
CNN carried the entire concert Live which was also broadcast domestically by North Korean TV. Sky News and the BBC carried little of the two hour concert Live, though the BBC did broadcast the concert by way of its website.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pakistan - bomb kills 8 in Rawalpindi


A bomber targeted a crowd killing the army Surgeon-General in the Pakistani town of Rawalpindi on Monday [BBC / CNN]. Seven others died in the blast which comes a little over a week after two main opposition parties won in the election against Pervez Musharraf. The PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-N have since formed a coalition and have called on Musharraf to step down from politics [CNN]. Today’s suicide attack is the latest in a series of blasts seen in the town one of which killed the former PPP leader Benazir Bhutto.

Russia pledges support for Serbia


Russia has once again pledged its support for Serbia and declared the Kosovo declaration of independence as illegal [BBC]. However, besides continuing to make vociferous statements, it is difficult to see what action Moscow might take. Protests have continued in both Kosovo and Serbia for the past week. Violence has also broken out at some of the demonstrations. On Wednesday, rioters attacked the US and Kosovo Embassies in Belgrade. Serbian authorities have been criticised by the US Ambassador for not doing enough to protect the embassy. One man died during the riots. His burnt body was found inside the US Embassy and is believed to have been one of the rioters. Police arrested 190 during the operation to quell the violence and there were injuries reported on both sides. Following the attack on the embassy the United States has withdrawn all but essential staff from Belgrade [BBC]

Iraq - bombings and incursions leave 200 dead


Turkish incursions are increasing concerns in the region

Iraq has seen further suicide bombings this weekend killing at least 50 people. Yesterday a blast killed 40 when bombers targeted Shi’ite pilgrims making their way to Karbala. At least another 60 were wounded according to the Iraqi police. Another attack targeted Shi’ite Muslims as they left southern Baghdad near to the town of Iskandariya. Three died in that attack when gunmen opened fire and threw hand-grenades at a crowd of pilgrims. The attacks will increase tensions amongst members of the Mehdi army after Moqtada al-Sadr declared a continuation of his six-month old ceasefire. Today in another apparent cynical ploy of using the mentally ill and vulnerable, a man in a wheelchair was sent into a building before the bomb strapped to his seat exploded [CNN]. Three police officers died in the blast which happened north of Baghdad in the town of Samarra. Earlier in the month two mental patients were used as ‘mules’ in a double suicide attack at two Baghdad markets. A doctor was subsequently arrested for allegedly ‘supplying’ the patients for that attack.

Meanwhile further efforts are being made to put Iraq’s oil industry back on track. Despite having the one of the biggest oil reserves the output still remains low, even less than during Saddam Hussein’s reign while under sanctions. Though attacks on Iraq’s oil infrastructure they are nonetheless still occurring. According to Iraqi Pipeline Watch there has only been one attack this year; at the Bayji Refinery, injuring 36 workers. It is at least the 27th attack at the facility since March 2003. The continuing violence and recent incursions into Iraq by Turkish troops have not helped oil prices which have already hit $100 a barrel for the second time this year. The rigs and pipelines around Kirkuk account for about one third of Iraq's oil output, now running at 2.4 million barrels per day [CNN].

The Iraqi government have made representations to Turkey after troops made further incursions into northern Iraq in an attempt to root out fighters belonging to the PKK. Nouri al Maliki’s government has called the incursion a “threat to peace”. The Turkish military said Sunday that a total of 15 soldiers and 112 rebels had died during the most recent incursion which started last Thursday. Eight Turkish soldiers and 33 rebels died in Sunday’s fighting alone. The military also said they lost one helicopter in the raids near Sirnak on the Turkish Iraqi border. The US also lost two troops Sunday in Baghdad during two separate attacks bringing the death toll to US 3,972 since hostilities began in 2003 [CNN]

"Freedom of expression" under attack


Pakistan - Protesters express anger at Danish cartoons

‘Freedom of expression’ has been the focus of several reports over the weekend. In Morocco a man has been jailed for three years after he was found guilty of impersonating a Prince on the social networking site Facebook. The computer engineer, Fouad Mourtada, was accused of stealing the Moroccan Prince’s identity and forging computer documents. He claimed the site was “just a bit of fun”, but Prince Moulay Rachid was apparently not amused by the prank and imposed a $1,300 fine as well as the jail sentence [BBC / CNN]. Dozens of fake profiles exist on the social networking site including that of George W Bush and the late Mother Theresa. YouTube suffered problems over the weekend as Pakistan attempted to block the video website [BBC]. The effort to block the site caused outages worldwide for two hours before YouTube engineers were able to bring the website back online [BBC]. Several countries have attempted or continue to block access to the video hosting website. China, Iran and Brazil have all attempted to thwart access to the website. Last year Thailand blocked the site after video ridiculing the King were posted on the site. Morocco, Syria, Myanmar and Turkey have also attempted to block access. But while some efforts by the authorities are successful, due to the interconnected nature of the internet there are often ways around these curbs.

There has been anger too over the republication of one of the cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. The cartoon was reprinted following the arrest of several men said to be involved in a terror plot to kill some of the cartoonists involved in the furore which divided many Muslims two years ago. Three people were arrested in the early hours of Tuesday February 12th in what police say was a plot to kill Kurt Westergaard, one of the cartoonists who has been under police protection for three months [BBC]. While protests in Denmark have been peaceful there have been stronger voices on the streets of Pakistan with demonstrators vowing revenge and burning the Danish flag [BBC].

Meanwhile an Afghan student journalist, who was sentenced to death after downloading and allegedly distributing material connected with women’s rights, has spoken to the press for the first time. His death sentence has not yet been commuted, contrary to earlier reports, and he remains in jail. He told the Independent newspaper in the UK that his trial had lasted only 4 minutes and he was denied access to a lawyer. Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said earlier this month that she would make representations to the Karzai government. “I do think that the Afghans understand that there are some international norms that need to be respected. Of course, one has national laws and they’re national laws that are in accordance with traditions and religious practice. But there are international norms and I’ll certainly talk to President Karzai about this case” she said during a visit to London on the 6th February. Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has also said he would raise the issue with the Afghan President adding that Britain was “opposed to the death penalty in all cases and believe that freedom of expression is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society”. He said he had already raised the subject with the United Nations and supported the UN Special Representative’s call for a review of the case. But so far all protests have fallen on deaf ears [BBC].

6.9 quake hits Sumatra


An earthquake measured at 6.9 on the Richter scale has hit near to Sumatra. It comes after a 7.3 quake struck the region [2.370S, 100.020E] at 08:36 UTC [15:36 local time] today. There have been several other large earthquakes hitting parts of Indonesia in recent days, but casualties have been low.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

USAF grieve for pilot as 3 planes crash


An F-15 and a B-2 Bomber in the skies over the UK

The US Air Force lost several aircraft this week which may raise concerns in military circles. One pilot died on Wednesday after two F-15 fighter jets collided. The news was only briefly reported on CNN with little or no coverage on BBC or Sky News. The two F-15C jets, costing around $30 million each, collided during a training exercise over the Gulf of Mexico, according to Air Force officials. The crash happened at about 15:00 local time [20:00 UTC], about 80 km south of Tyndall Air Force Base which is in Panama City, Florida. A statement from the 33rd said the pilots were rescued at about 18:00 local time. "The 33rd FW Nomads and Team Eglin have suffered a great loss today and my heart goes out to the family and friends of our former airman," said wing commander Col. Todd Harmer in a written statement. "We will continue to do everything we can to assist our families and airmen at this tragic time."
Two days later the US Air Force lost one of their highly prized B-2 stealth bombers when it crashed shortly after take-off at a US base in Guam, a small island some 5000 km south-west of Hawaii. It is the first reported loss of the $1.2 billion plane which has seen action in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The story surfaced on Al Jazeera early Saturday morning with CNN, Sky News and the BBC following shortly after. Both pilots of the B-2 stealth bomber ejected safely before the jet smashed into the ground at Andersen Air Force Base, pumping a huge plume of black smoke into the air.

Friday, February 22, 2008

6.1 quake hits Indonesia as US feels aftershock


An earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale has hit near to Indonesia, only a day after a 7.1 quake killed three and injured more than a dozen people. The USGS put the position at 2.234S, 99.891E . It struck at 23:55 GMT [06:55 local time, Friday]. In the last hour an aftershock measuring 4.6 hit near to an earlier tremor in Nevada, USA, the USGS reported.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

US Embassy attacked by Serb protesters


Thousands of Serbs have gathered on the streets of Belgrade to protest over Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Some reports estimate at least 150,000 people turned out to listen to speeches and express their anger over losing what it considers to be an important part of its territory [BBC]. PM Vojislav Kostunica told the cheering crowd that Kosovo would always belong to Serbia. Tensions still exist along the border of Kosovo where today some Serbian army reservists clashed with border guards, the BBC World Service reported [BBC / CNN]. As night set in, the situation back on the streets of Belgrade turned to violence with some protesters attacking the US Embassy. CNN quoted the Associated Press saying that parts of the Embassy had been set alight. According to the AP reports some demonstrators had also broken into the Embassy, which is currently closed, and threw chairs from a balcony. The Croatian Embassy was also attacked in the rioting. Alessio Vinci, CNN’s Rome Bureau Chief, said the violence was not representative of all Serbs and was likely to have been perpetrated by “thugs and football hooligans” who were “using the protests as an excuse for violence”. As some rioted, many thousands remained in the centre of the capital peacefully watching religious choral recitals.

UK Govt apologizes over rendition flights


British territory - Diego Garcia which lies in the Indian Ocean

Many today will be asking who is in control of British territory after the government admitted that it had only just become aware that rendition flights to the US had stopped over at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Speaking on the BBC, Menzies Campbell, former Liberal Democratic Party leader, suggested America was “cleaning the house” prior to the upcoming US election. The rendition flights, which were transporting prisoners to Guantanamo Bay in 2002, had landed to refuel. The new information forced the Foreign Secretary David Miliband to apologize after repeated government denials that such flights did not use British territory. He said that those denials were made in “good faith” and that the government had only been alerted to the information last week. The reason they had not known about the two flights was due to “record errors”. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is said to have expressed “deep regret” that the British government was misled [Extraordinary rendition (wikipedia) / Sky News / BBC / CNN]

US - Large earthquake hits Nevada


Early reports of a 6.3 quake were revised down to 6.0

A powerful earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale has hit Nevada in the US. Early reports from the USGS put the strength of the quake at 6.3 but later said it was a 6.0 magnitude tremor. Although there was some damage to buildings there are no reports of injuries. The quake struck at 06:16 local time [14:16 UTC]. [BBC / CNN]

US destroy spy satellite


Despite claims that the missile launch against spy satellite US-193 was all to do with safety, Russia has accused the US of using the mission as a smokescreen for military missile tests. The missile, which was fired in the early hours of Thursday [GMT], is said to have destroyed the satellite completely. Miles O’Brian, CNN’s science and space correspondent, said that reading between the lines the sensitivity of information and technology on board the satellite may have been part of the reason why the US went to such lengths to destroy it. He said there may have also been a certain amount of posturing to the Chinese who last year destroyed an aging weather satellite in a similar manner. But Gen. James Cartwright, the Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman, speaking at the Pentagon dismissed all the criticism and speculation. “Our objective was to intercept the satellite, reduce the mass that might survive re-entry. Vector that mass, as best we could into an unpopulated area, ideally the ocean, and breach the hydrazine tanks so that it would vent off” he told reporters this morning [CNN / Sky News / BBC].

Guilty verdict in prostitute murder trial


Steve Wright who was charged with the murder of five prostitutes in 2006 has been found guilty on all charges. The news broke shortly after 14:30 GMT and soon there after saturation coverage began on both Sky News and BBC News 24. Wright will be sentenced on Friday.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

US prepare to shoot down satellite


An amateur satellite watcher's photo of US-193 in early February

The United States military are preparing to shoot down the ailing spy satellite which has been slowly descending towards Earth for the last few months. US-193 lost power soon after its launch in December 2006 but it still has sensitive equipment on board. Though it is believed the satellite may crash into North America, the US Military say they still aren’t sure exactly where. Nor can they say when. In early February the US military were guarded about the details of the satellite that was falling to Earth. "We're aware that this satellite is out there. We're aware it is a fairly substantial size. And we know there is at least some percentage that it could land on ground as opposed to in the water", Air Force General Gene Renuart, who heads US Northern Command, told reporters. The satellite is a approximately 4 metres long and 5 metres wide and was said to be falling at an estimated rate of 500 metres per day. At the beginning of February it was about 275 km above the Earth, but it will be difficult to assess where it might land until it passes through the atmosphere some 90 km above the surface [Sky News / BBC]. Although the chance of the redundant spy equipment landing on anybody was extremely remote, [BBC] the US military have decided to shoot it down. The United States plans to spend up to $60 million to try to destroy the satellite even though there is only a remote possibility the satellite could fall to Earth, survive re-entry and spew toxic hydrazine gas in a populated area, said James Jeffrey, deputy national security adviser. The cruiser USS Lake Erie will get one 10-second window each of the next nine or 10 days to fire an interceptor missile that will destroy the faltering spy satellite before it can tumble to Earth. The Chinese military destroyed an aging weather satellite last year, prompting questions about whether the United States is merely flexing its muscle to show an economic and military rival that it can destroy satellites, too. Jeffrey denied that when a reporter asked him about it this week. But the Chinese authorities have protested against the decision to blast the satellite down with missiles. This month the Chinese, along with the Russians, attempted to get a treaty signed to prevent the use of weapons in space. The proposed treaty was firmly rejected by the US. Weather has so far delayed any attempt to shoot down the 2.3 tonne satellite [CNN / Sky News / BBC]

Tensions increase at Kosovo borders


Fires at border posts on Tuesday

NATO troops brought in on Tuesday after border posts were attacked are also guarding the bridges near to the Serbian border with Kosovo. The list of countries are growing, both in support of the declaration of independence and opposing the move. Earlier a move to block the UN’s recognition of the split away state was thwarted after the Secretary General, Banki Moon, said it was up to each country to decide their respective positions, a decision echoed by the European parliament [BBC]. Today [Wednesday] Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov declared the EU justice and police mission to Kosovo as illegal [BBC]. Sporadic violence has flared in parts of northern Kosovo near to the Serbian border. On Monday there were already protest seen on Mitrovica [BBC], but the most troubling scenes came on Tuesday when hundreds of protesters converged on two border posts and destroyed police vehicles and set fire to buildings [CNN]. The crossings remain closed and are now guarded by NATO troops [BBC]. However, the commander of NATO forces said that troop numbers would not be stepped up besides the increased tensions [CNN].

Shuttle Atlantis lands safely in Florida


Landing at runway 15 the space shuttle Atlantis touched down safely at Kennedy Space Center at 14:07 GMT [09:07 local time] today. By coincidence it landed exactly 46 years to the day that John Glen blasted off into space aboard Freedom 7, the Mercury mission which took America’s first astronaut into orbit around the Earth. CNN broadcast the whole event while BBC cut away after its landing at 14:11. Sky News continued coverage for a few more minutes until 14:13 GMT. The 13 day mission, which saw the delivery of the Columbus module to the International Space Station, covered some 5.3 million miles.

7.5 earthquake hits Indonesia


A powerful earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale has hit Indonesia. Sky News, quoting AP sources, say that 3 people have been injured. The USGS reported the quake to have struck near to the island of Simeulue [2.751N, 95.966E] at 15:08 local time [08:08 GMT] [BBC].

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fidel Castro resigns as Cuban leader


Fidel Castro has announced he is stepping down as leader of Cuba. As he did, President Bush called on the country to move towards democracy. "I believe that the change from Fidel Castro ought to begin a period of democratic transition," the US President said. Castro, who took power in 1959, will however remain in government as an adviser. Fidel’s brother Raul has effectively led the country while the Cuban leader has suffered from a number of health problems. Raul rose from defence minister to vice president and was handed the reigns of power in 2006. The rule by Castro polarizes many Cubans. Hundreds of thousands who have fled the country over the years see him as a dictator, but many on the island see him as a someone who has maintained Cuba’s independence and stood up against the might of the USA. The CIA are alleged to have initiated 638 attempts to assassinate Castro, all of which failed. But the country is remembered more for the Cuban missile crisis which is widely seen as the closest the world has been to nuclear war. In the poorest areas of Latin America and Africa, Castro is seen as a hero, the leader of the Third World, and the enemy of the wealthy and greedy. On a visit to South Africa in 1998 he was warmly received by President Nelson Mandela. President Mandela gave Castro South Africa's highest civilian award for foreigners, the Order of Good Hope. To others he is seen as a cruel dictator who imprisons his political enemies and has stifled freedom within Cuba. Professor Marifeli Pérez Stable, a Cuban immigrant and former Castro supporter has said that "There were thousands of executions, forty, fifty thousand political prisoners. The treatment of political prisoners, with what we today know about human rights and the international norms governing human rights ... it is legitimate to raise questions about possible crimes against humanity in Cuba.” Castro acknowledges that Cuba holds political prisoners, but argues that Cuba is justified because these prisoners are not jailed because of their political beliefs, but have been convicted of "counter-revolutionary" crimes, including bombings. Most news broadcasters led with the story, from CNN to ITN though the Cuban News Agency did not rate the news at the top of its agenda. George Galloway, of the Respect Party, said there would probably little political change in the country. Speaking on ITV News in the UK, the MP said that many Cubans had far better health care and education than before the revolution. Although he conceded that many poor people have escaped the country, he said that “if you landed a plane in London and offered green-cards and a flight to America, you’d fill it very quickly” [BBC / CNN / Sky News / Fox News].

Monday, February 18, 2008

'Illegal' Kosovan independence challenged at UN


Protests in northern Kosovo

Besides Kosovo declaring their independence, they are having a difficult time gaining international recognition. Some of the European Union states have stated their official recognition of Kosovo’s independence, but many are split on giving such an endorsement. Whilst Britain, France and Germany have state they’ll establish diplomatic ties with Kosovo, other EU nations including Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia have all signalled that they would not follow suit amid concerns about the precedent that such a move would set. They have expressed anxiety about the signal that recognition might send to separatists in their own countries.

Spain's foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos told reporters on Monday “We will not recognize Kosovo independence because we do not consider it in line with international law”. The latest country to officially recognize the former Yugoslavian state is the United States [CNN]. But there have also been demonstrations across Serbia with police battling with rock throwing youths outside the US Embassy in Belgrade. Within Kosova there were reports of sporadic violence. A hand grenade was thrown at a UN court building in the divided town of Mitrovica, and a UN car was reported to have been destroyed in the nearby village of Zubin Potok, near the Serbian border. But so far most protests in Kosovo have been peaceful, if not noisy. Many Kosovo-Serbs took to the streets in Mitrovica, north-west of the capital Pristina, carrying banners reading "Kosovo not for sale" and "No giving up of Kosovo". The anti-independence rallies gained far less coverage in the western media, however Xinhua News reported that ‘thousands’ had come out to protest. China, Russia and Serbia have refused to recognize Kosovo as an independent state and have been the most outspoken. Liu Jianchao, China’s Foreign Minister told the Xinhua News Agency, "Kosovo's unilateral act can produce a series of results that will lead to seriously negative influence on peace and stability in the Balkan region". Russia was far more forceful in its public statement. "Our position is that this declaration should be disregarded by the international community," as well as by the head of the U.N. mission in Kosovo, Moscow's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin said on Sunday.

The efforts to have the country officially recognised may be thwarted if Russia veto the UN over the declaration. Serbia is preparing to ask the UN Security Council to condemn the declaration of independence as illegal and is banking on Russia for support [BBC]. Serbia has called it a “false state” and say they will never accept Kosovo as an independent country. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia can block Kosovo's entry into the organisation as a sovereign state, and it said on Sunday that Kosovo's declaration should be null and void. China rarely uses its veto, despite having a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and is unlikely to make any representations. However it too has concerns that recognition of Kosovo may strengthen moves for parts of its own territory to declare independence. Both Tibet and Taiwan have strong lobbies calling for such a move, something strongly resisted by the Chinese government. The UN will meet at an emergency meeting later on Monday to discuss Kosovo’s declaration of independence which is seen by some as illegal under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. Although the original resolution did not lay out plans for independence, it did allow the UN to facilitate a political process to determine Kosovo's future status, its level and forms of autonomy. In fact the word independence does not occur anywhere in the document [PDF] .

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Darling announces nationalisation of Northern Rock


Alistair Darling stepped onto the rostrum at the HM Treasury to deliver his expected announcement on the beleaguered Northern Bank at 16:14 GMT. In his short statement he said, “We’ve made our choice after considering all proposals … the government has brought legislation forward to put the bank into temporary public ownership” He blamed the Northern Rock crisis on US sub-prime problems and global slumps in shares. He said that “government intervention was necessary to maintain financial stability throughout the banking system as a whole”.
“It became clear that no investor was willing to take over the bank without government support” and that “both proposals involved a degree of risk for tax players,” he said. He suggested that the bank might return to the private sector “after markets stabled”. He said he would also make a full statement to parliament on Monday.

Sky’s political correspondent, Adam Bolton, described the ongoing problems with the bank as being “a major headache for Gordon Brown”. The move to nationalise the financial institution is unprecedented and there are “grim days ahead” according to George Jones, the Press Association’s political correspondent. There is also concern for the share holders in all this and there maybe compensation due which will leave the government out of pocket as it heads to a future election. The government is likely to see a barrage of criticism in parliament this week with possible accusations that they dithered over the issue at a time when an early election was on the cards. This is something vehemently rejected by both Alistair Darling and the Prime Minister.

Northern Rock "to be nationalised"


Northern Rock, which has been in trouble after a run on the bank in September, is to be nationalised according to Sky News sources. Several bids had been put forward including one from Richard Branson's Virgin group, but these proposals seem to have fallen short of government expectations. The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, is expected to make an announcement at 16:00 GMT today [Sky News]

Blasts in Afghanistan & Pakistan kill 120


40 died in north-west Pakistan on Saturday

Weekend news coverage, even amongst the 24 hour news stations is never as comprehensive as its weekday broadcast output. And so the coverage of yesterday’s bomb blast in Pakistan was scant. The BBC, Sky and CNN all had reporters broadcasting Live from the country, however the details were sketchy and there were no pictures from the scene. CBS News, which is broadcast via Sky News in the UK, did show some still pictures from one of the blasts, but the news item came fourth on the agenda, after the Illinois shooting, a fatal drag-racing event and the US military’s proposed attempt to shoot down an ailing satellite. The blasts came as Pakistan heads to the polls in the national election, delayed after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Whilst President Musharaff has said the election will be “free, fair and transparent” there has been many accusations of possible vote rigging. CBS reported 37 dead in the bombing in north-west Pakistan which targeted a candidate for the late Bhutto’s party, the PPP. There was also a suicide attack at an army media centre in the Swat valley. Two people were killed in that incident. Another suicide attack was thwarted in Hyderbad after police arrested a man wearing a suicide vest loaded with explosives [BBC]. The unstable situation has resulted in some candidates withdrawing from the election. Imrad Khan is one who says the election is flawed. He told the BBC that Pakistan was under a dictatorship and said the country faced “far greater problems than it does now”. He added that the sacked judges needed to be put back in office before the country could move forward.

In neighbouring Afghanistan, a suicide attack killed at least 80 people in what is thought to be the deadliest attack since 2001 [BBC]. The attack, which struck a crowd watching a dog fight, occurred on Sunday morning [CNN]. The target of the attack, which happened on open ground on the outskirts of Kandahar, is alleged to have been militia leader Abdul Hakim Jan, according to provincial council president Wali Karzai in comments reported by The Associated Press.

Friday, February 15, 2008

UK - Man convicted in beheading plot


A man has been convicted in the UK for plotting to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier. Zahoor Iqbal was one of five men said to be involved in the terror plot. Last month four other men admitted their roll in the plot, but another man, Amjad Mahmood, was cleared of related charges [Sky News / BBC] The convictions comes two days after 5 students won an appeal against their terror convictions [BBC].

US - University gunman named


Steven Kazmierczak from a 1998 year book [pic: Daily Herald]

A total of 21 people were shot at yesterday's massacre at an Illimois University. Seven people died in the incident including the gunman. He has been identified as 27 year old Steven Kazmierczak, a former student who had graduated in 2006 with a sociology degree. No motive has yet been determined. There has been a number of shootings in the US in the last year, most notably the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007 in which 32 people died, and another at the Amish school in Pennsylvania in which five girls were shot dead. But such incidents are not confined to the United States. In Germany, 17 were killed and another 7 were injured when a student went on the rampage in 2002. And in Argentina a gunman killed 4 and injured 5 others in 2004. Finland was also the scene of a massacre when a gunman shot 9 dead in 2007.

US - Police: 5 dead in university shooting


Sky News has just reported that 5 people have died as a result of this afternoon’s shooting at an Illinois university. The five dead included the gunman according to a police spokesman quoted by Sky News. BBC quickly brought up a strap informing viewers of the new information.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

US shooting - Gunman dead, 17 injured


WBBM, a Chicago radio station, has said the shooting comes after ‘threats’ scrawled as graffiti on walls at the campus last December. According to the reports the message said “things will change” and had racist overturns. Rockford hospital has received at least one of the 3 seriously injured victims. Two are said to have head wounds whilst a third received shotgun wounds to the chest. A further 8 described as stable or condition yellow, having received indirect gunshot wounds. Christine, a witness within the lecture hall at the time of the incident, spoke of the man coming in and “just shooting”. She said she was confused and didn’t take it seriously at first. “He was tall and skinny wearing black pants” but she then hit the ground and was unable to see if he was aiming at anyone specifically. Other reports suggest a lecturer was hit in the chaos that followed. The Kishwawkee Hospital website is updating their website as the situation changes. It is the 4th school shooting in the US this week. Johnathon Peters updated reporters said in a press conference that the gunman entered from the front of the hall, behind a curtain. Kenny Williams said that plans were in place to deal with possible incidents. The police chief said the gunman may have been a university student but not at this university. He said further investigations would continue but they had no known motive at this time. Don Brady said the incident "started and stopped very quickly". "I wish I could tell you there was a panacea ... but it's difficult for someone to stop something like this from the very beginning". He said the man had a shotgun and two handguns, including a Glock, and killed himself on the stage within the auditorium. "We can't be certain of anything but it appears there was a loan gunman" he said. Asked about reports of grafitti he said, "there was grafitti all the time" but wouldn't speculate on whether it was related. The Live broadcasting of the press conference was covered by WBBM and later a few clips made it to the BBC. Sky so far have not reported on the details talked in the briefing.

US - Valentine's Day shooting at university


At least 18 people have been shot at a university in Illinois. According to reports on the University website the gunman was no longer a threat. CNN have said that the gunman had killed himself after killing at least two students. Officers were alerted to a white male with a gun at the campus and were immediately dispatched to the scene. But before they arrived the unknown gunman had apparently opened fire on a class full of geology students in a lecture theatre at around 15:00 local time. According to an eyewitness the gunman reloaded after firing several times. He looked like a "normal guy" according the witness who spoke to a local radio station, Sky News reported. The true numbers are sketchy but the local Kishwaukee hospital has reported 3 or 4 people with head wounds and that 15 people were expected to arrive. Ironically Sky News and BBC News 24 in the UK were providing greater coverage than CNN International. The local Chicago Sun Times have quoted a local police officer as saying the gunman committed suicide. WBBM radio spoke to an eyewitness who treated some of the victims. She said the wound seemed to have been inflicted by buckshot. According to latest reports a total of 17 people have arrived at Kishwaukee hospital. Three are said to be critical whilst another 8 are 'stable'. The other 6 are in 'green' condition. This information contradicts earlier reports that two students were dead as a result of the shooting.

6.7 earthquake hits Greece


A large earthquake has hit off the southern coast of Greece. The 6.7 magnitude quake, according to the USGS, struck at 10:09 UTC [12:09 local time] . The depth of the tremor was only 30 km and was felt as far away as the capital Athens, more than 230 km away. There have been no reports of injuries or major damage, but the country is braced for any aftershocks. Sky News reported the event at 10:50 UTC some 40 minutes after the earthquake struck.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

US rejects Sino-Russian space weapons treaty


Russia and China have put forward a new treaty to curtail the use of weapons in space, but the US has rejected the proposal saying it opposed any treaty that sought “to prohibit or limit access to or use of space.” The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, was adamant that such a treaty was needed. “Weapons deployment in space by one state will inevitably result in a chain reaction,” Mr. Lavrov warned. “And this in turn is fraught with a new spiral in the arms race, both in space and on the earth.” Reporting of this proposal was not high on the agenda for western news broadcasters which today concentrated on Steven Spielberg’s withdrawal as artistic advisor to the Beijing Olympics. It did however feature on the International output of China’s state broadcaster, CCTV-9. The United States may be skeptical of China’s intentions especially after recent revelations of increased spying in the US by Chinese nationals. China’s testing of a space weapon in 2007 may also have had some influence on the US decision not to put their name on the treaty [NY Times / Xinhua / BBC].

Spielberg withdraws support of China Olympics


Drawing the world together or splitting it apart?

US film director Steven Spielberg has withdrawn his support from China’s 2008 Olympic Games. He had played a key role as artistic adviser for the upcoming event. The news item topped the BBC News today running a close second on Sky News. Spielberg withdrew his role in protest of China’s role in Darfur. Since April last year he had attempted to meet with the Chinese President but had failed to achieve any discussions with the leader. Not having signed a contract it was easier for him to pullout. Peter Sharp, Sky’s correspondent in Beijing, said the decision would not have a major effect but if the campaign influenced the big sponsors to pullout, then Beijing would be worried.

The director has said the “unspeakable crimes” in Darfur needed to be ended. It is believed the Hollywood film director had been under increasing pressure from others in the US in making his decision. Mia Farrow has already added her voice to the calls to boycott what she has called the ‘Genocide Olympics’ [miafarrow.org]. Annie Yang, a Chinese torture victim, told Sky News she also called for a boycott. But not everyone was so vocal against the Chinese regime. Andy Burnham MP, the Culture, Media & Sports Secretary, said problems with China should be worked out more diplomatically. Edward McMillan-Scott, conservative politician and MEP, has criticised the Beijing authorities for not doing enough in Sudan and for their dubious roles in countries like Zimbabwe.

Many other countries could also do more in Darfur, so says Professor Stephen Chan, an expert in Chinese and African studies. He agreed that China was “empire building with unsavoury regimes”, as was put to him by the Sky anchor, but said that many other nations were also doing similar things. Other countries also needed to put greater efforts into the peacekeeping efforts in Darfur, of which China were a part, he said.

CNN described the pullout by Spielberg as being “big trouble for Beijing”. John Vause speaking from Beijing said, although the news would be unlikely to feature in Chinese news media, the authorities would see it as a serious blow. China invests heavily in Sudan and is the largest importer of oil from the troubled country. China depends on oil and coal imports from a number of countries in order to keep its growing industry running. China is the second largest energy user and the biggest customer for Sudan’s vast oil reserves buying more than two thirds of its annual output. It places China in a dilemma, caught between its need for oil and the balance of appeasing humanitarian campaigners [BBC]. Oil is the pivotal factor in all this. Many have said that if Saddam Hussein had not had oil, then the war in Iraq may never have been waged. The US has recently become embroiled in a political fight with Venezuelan leader Chavez. Venezuela cut off exports to Exxon after disputes over oil deals [BBC]. President Hugo Chavez has said he will no longer do business with Exxon which he says is not welcome in Venezuela.
Exxon wants compensation following the nationalization of a project in Venezuela's largest oil reserve. This is a fight between two giants - Exxon Mobil, the world's largest private oil firm, versus Venezuela's state energy company. Hugo Chavez has accused Exxon of plundering the nation's resources, claiming their action is part of a wider economic war backed by the US government. The president’s warning of cutting of the export of oil to the US came days after Exxon Mobil won orders in US, UK and Dutch courts to freeze billions of dollars of Venezuelan oil assets. Exxon wants more compensation from the Chavez government after it took control of Exxon oil projects last year [BBC].

China was also in the spotlight in another news item today as Sky News focused once again on Chinese medicine. Environmental campaigners say the Sumatran tiger is at increased risk of becoming extinct as its body parts are sought for the traditional cure-alls. Teeth, claws, penis and bones are just some of the items used in the products. Environmentalist groups say the Indonesian government is failing in efforts to stop the poaching of the rare mammal.

Ian Thorpe, five times gold medal winner, is currently presenting advertisements on CCTV-9 promoting the 2008 Olympic games. The Australian swimmer talks of the Olympic slogan “One World, One Dream” and an event which will bring the world together. It may be prophetic in that many might come together to further criticise China.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mexico hit by 6.7 earthquake


A large earthquake has hit the Chiapas region of Mexico [16.485°N, 94.116°W]. The US Geological Survey [USGS] said the quake's epicentre was about 110km (70 miles) south-west from Tuxtla Gutierrez in the state of Chiapas. Sky News report the magnitude as being 6.7 on the Richter scale and follows a series of smaller quakes that have hit the country in recent days [Reuters]. CNN however earlier reported the earthquake as measuring 6.6 while the BBC and the USGS say the quake measured at only 6.4. CNN later updated the story and reduced the magnitude. The tremors which hit southern Mexico have not caused any major damage and as yet there are no reports of injuries.

Monday, February 11, 2008

US arrest four in Chinese spy probe


A former Boeing and Rockwell employee in the US has been arrested on espionage charges. The man is one of four people arrested early today accused of spying for China. The news will further sour relations between the two super powers which have been at loggerheads for years with regards state secrets.

At 7 a.m on Monday a weapons policy analyst was arrested and at the same time two others were taken into custody. At the Justice Department, Chuck Rosenberg said the employees had “betrayed the trust placed in them by the United States”. He said that the threat of foreign espionage still existed and that the aim was to steal America’s important secrets. “The end of the Cold War did not end that threat”, he said. He outlined how the threat had increased in recent years with a 46% increase in the demand for military information since 2006. He specifically identified China as being aggressive in their efforts to obtain state secrets and said the PRC’s espionage efforts were “reaching Cold War levels”.

One of those arrested was 55 year old Gregg Bergersen, an engineer who had liaised with Tai Shen Kuo, who had then passed the information on. Much of this information related to the passing of military sales information about Taiwan to the PRC. Another of those arrested was Yu Xin Kang, a 33 year old Chinese citizen who had lived lawfully in the US for sometime. She had helped pass the information onto the PRC after receiving it from Tai Shen Kuo . Another engineer working for Boeing and Rockwell was also arrested. He was named as Dong Fan Chung and is accused of stealing restricted technical data, including information relating to the Space Shuttle. He came to the attention of authorities after investigations, by both NASA and the FBI, into another spy, Chi Mak who was convicted last year [BBC]. Mr Chung who had connections with Chi Mak, had worked in the aerospace industry for 30 years. According to the Defence Department Mr Chung also passed on secrets relating to the Boeing C17 transport aircraft, the Delta 4 rocket and the B1 bomber. He had, according to the indictment, been passing information as far back as 1979 and had by the way of e-mails expressed a desire to “contribute to the motherland”. If convicted he could be sentenced to 100 years in prison [CNN / Sky News / BBC].

Six 9/11 plotters charged


Six men detained at Guantanamo Bay have been charged in connection with the 9/11 terror plot. Around 275 people remain at the detention centre, sometimes known as Gitmo or Camp X-Ray, and the US hope to prosecute at least 80 of the inmates. The men have been named as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali [Ammar al-Baluchi], Mustafa al-Hawsawi and Walid Muhammad Salih Bin Attash. [Terror suspects]

Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, speaking at the Pentagon, told the assembled media the trial would not be secret and the proceedings would be open as possible. However he said the trial would not be televised. Some were nonetheless critical of the way the trial was likely to be conducted. Lawyer Zachary Katznelson, who represents other inmates at Guantanamo Bay, told Sky News that evidence gained from ‘torture techniques’ would place a shadow over the fairness of any trial [CNN / BBC / Sky News].

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Massive fire devastates Camden Market


A massive fire has devastated Camden Market and surrounding property. No people were injured in the incident but more than 100 firefighters were involved in dealing with the blaze. The London Fire Brigade have said that the fire involved cylinders but the fire was now under control. Many people were evacuated from the immediate area but all persons have been accounted for. The market is historic for many reasons and the area has even been immortalized in songs. The first calls were received by emergency services at 19:10 GMT and within the hour over 20 appliances and more than 100 firefighters were tackling the massive inferno.

Within an hour of the blaze starting live pictures were being relayed by CNN, Sky News and the BBC with greater coverage being given by Sky [Sky News / BBC / CNN]

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Shuttle Atlantis launches successfully


STS-122 lifts off from Kennedy Space Center

Space Shuttle Atlantis has made a successful launch into space as part of the continuing mission to complete the International Space Station. It is taking Europe's Columbia laboratory to the station a €1.3 billion module which will research the development of advanced alloys [BBC]. The 10 tonne laboratory has seen countless delays in its being dispatched to the ISS so there will be a sigh of relief that it is finally on its way. Three pieces of foam are said to have fallen from the main fuel tank upon launch which may be cause for concern if the debris hit the shuttle's heat shield. This mission was supposed to have been initiated in December but has been delayed for a number of safety reasons. Even today's mission was nearly delayed because of weather [NASA].

Abu Hamza to be extradited to US


The radical cleric Abu Hamza [pictured] is to be extradited to the US to face terror charges [BBC]. The Egyptian-born preacher is currently serving a seven-year jail term in the UK for inciting murder and race hate. The 49-year-old from west London is wanted by the American authorities on 11 charges.

Mitt Romney quits race for White House


Mitt Romney has quit in his campaign for presidential candidate. Before waving goodbye to supporters he said, "This is not an easy decision, I hate to lose". But he said he was standing down for the good of the party adding, "I feel I must stand aside for our party and for our country". In a reference to withdrawal plans much talked about by both Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton he said, "We cannot allow the next president of the United State to retreat in the face of evil extremism". The Republican campaign is now left with the favourite John McCain leading the push for the White House. The other remaining contenders, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul have yet to state their intentions following poor results after Super Tuesday [CNN / BBC / Sky News].

The dangers of blogging


The world of blogging is becoming increasingly dangerous as the state clamps down on dissenting voices. China is the latest to censor one writer who used his blog to highlight human rights in his country. Hu Jia was arrested on 27th December 2006 and remains under house arrest [BBC]. While Mr Hu remains at home, unable to communicate to the outside world, journalist Ching Cheong was released in a ‘goodwill gesture’ ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games [BBC / The Times]. In Saudi Arabia the future of another blogger remains uncertain after he was detained by authorities last month [BBC]. Fouad al-Farhan, whose blog deals with corruption and the plight of political prisoners, has himself become a political cause for other bloggers around the world. His case has even been highlighted on international news outlets such as CNN. In another part of the Middle East blogger Wael Abbas, an Egyptian, received threats for writing about police brutality. At one point, Abbas had both his accounts at YouTube and Yahoo suspended.
Afghanistan is now safe place for bloggers as Parwez Kambakhsh found out earlier this year after distributing material which ‘questioned the Koran’ [New Statesman / BBC]. However after much international pressure his death sentence has been put on hold, though he still remains confined to a prison cell in northern Afghanistan [CNN].

A few years ago blogging was practically unheard of in mainstream journalism, but it has proved itself to be a powerful force in countries such as Burma as a means, not only of freedom of expression, but also often the only way news in those countries can transcend borders.
These days, the Committee to Protect Journalists has taken up the cause of many bloggers struggling to be heard against various authoritarian regimes.

Of course the consequences of blogging can affect one’s personal life or even employment status. Bloggers have been sacked and even sued for their commentary [Blogging consequences]. But it is the political censorship that worries many [BBC] especially if it translates into harsh or even capital sentences [Reporters sans Frontieres].

Death toll rises after US storms


A radar map shows the path of the deadly storms

The death toll has risen to 55 in the US after devastating storms swept through five states; Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi. The storms left widespread destruction but the true scale of devastation did not become clear until daybreak. Hundreds of buildings have been destroyed by an estimated 60 tornadoes which tore through the south-east of the United States. President George W Bush is set to visit the area on Friday [BBC / Sky News / CNN].

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi dies aged 91


The Maharishi in the 1960s

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who founded and developed the Transcendental Meditation technique and related initiatives has died. The religious ‘guru’ became famous after being visited by the Beatles in the 1960s. Throughout his life he started many religious institutions, schools and even two universities; oe in China and another in the US. His influence and beliefs even spread into politics with the Natural Law Party being established in the 1990s. Widely ridiculed for its use of Yogic Flying the party never gained any significant standing in the world of politics.
On January 11th, 2008, he announced his retirement from his normal activities: "Invincibility is irreversibly established in the world. My work is done. My designated duty to Guru Dev is fulfilled." [BBC]

新年快乐 - Happy New Year


新年快乐 Xian Nian Kuai Le - Festivities in Beijing

CCTV-9 today broadcast a spectacular Spring Festival Gala to welcome in the Chinese New Year of the Rat. Lasting some 4 hours the performances ranged from songs sung by well known Chinese stars and theatrical performances of the Peking Opera. In a finale the heroes of the Chinese space programme were celebrated for their achievements. There then followed a fireworks display. The televisual extravaganza is traditional enjoyed by families all over China and has been broadcast every year for the last two decades. Throughout the gala there was praise for the police and People’s Liberation Army who had helped millions return home through the harsh winter snow. Despite their best efforts and the upbeat reports on Chinese State media many were unable to make the journey home and had to remain in their factory dormitories. The year of the rat was welcomed in ancient times as a protector and bringer of material prosperity. It is the first of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. The rat is associated with aggression, wealth, charm, and order, but is also associated with death, war, the occult, pestilence, and atrocities. One hope that 2008 is remembered for the positive attributes of this fluffy creature.