Sunday, March 30, 2008

Racing driver named as crash victim


David Leslie pictured in 2003

Sources have told Sky News that former touring car driver David Leslie and motorsport executive Richard Lloyd were amongst the 5 who died in a plane crash Sunday. The news channel has also named one of the pilots as Mike Roberts.

Police confirm 5 dead in plane crash


All five people on board a plane which crashed Sunday have died, police have said. The Cessna Citation 500, which had just taken off from Biggin Hill airport in Kent, plunged into a house in Orpington. Number 5 Romney Close was virtually destroyed by the impact of the eight seater plane, but the occupants of the house, Edwin and Patricia Harman, are believed to have been away on holiday. Ian Todd from the Ambulance Service told Sky News that only two people were being treated at Princess Royal University Hospital in Orpington suffering from shock. A wide area around the crash site has been cordoned off by police and the London Fire Brigade are still tackling fires in the vicinity. The plane is said to have lost power and sent out a distress warning before crashing. Two pilots and three passengers were on board and it is believed the aircraft were heading to France. The identities of the occupants have not yet been released by authorities. The plane, identified by Sky News as having the registration of VP-BGE, was built in 1975 [BBC / Sky News / CNN]. Besides much coverage on Sky News there has also been significant activity on pilot’s forums [pprune.org].

UK - 5 feared dead after plane hits house


Five people are feared dead after a plane crashed into a residential area in Kent on Sunday afternoon. The Cessna Citation, an eight seater aircraft, came down shortly after 15:00 BST [14:00 GMT] near to Farnborough, Kent. Residents in the area say they saw the aircraft appear to circle before crashing into houses in Broadwater Gardens. Sky News have been running some pictures sent in by viewers showing flames issuing from the roofs of residential properties in the street. Large amounts of smoke could also be seen filling the sky above the crash site. It is not known if anyone was in the house which the aircraft hit. The BBC and CNN have so far shown little coverage on this Breaking News story.

China delays live coverage of Olympics


Euronews showed Live coverage, but CCTV-9 was delayed by 40 seconds

There were protests in Athens during the handing over of the Olympic torch to the Chinese in Athens today but they were well away from the cameras and the ceremonial proceedings. Few television stations covered the events at the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens as Liu Qi, the BOCOG President, was handed the Olympic torch.

Neither CNN or Sky News covered proceedings and the BBC only showed 3 minutes leading up to the torch handover. The BBC announced that the event would be taking place ‘in the the hour’ as the one o’clock news bulletin started. At 13:15 BST [12:15 GMT] the BBC report started with renewed protests in Katmandu where Nepalese police are said to have arrested around 100 protesters. The coverage moved on to Athens where Live pictures were relayed, but after only three minutes the BBC cut away to other news. The report was critical of Greek ‘muzzling of the media’ which the BBC described as echoing the military dictatorship that once existed in the country.

Coverage continued throughout the events on CCTV-9 and also on Euronews. But the Chinese news channel delayed ‘Live’ coverage by nearly 40 seconds, presumably due to the fear that protest might disrupt proceedings Before accepting the Olympic torch, Mr Liu said, “We are willing to fulfil the noble ideals of the Olympic movement, and firmly contribute to the Olympic spirit which will combine people from all over the world”. The BOCOG President was then handed the Olympic torch and passed the flame specially constructed which will be transported to Beijing by plane.

The torch will arrive back in Europe within a few days and is set to be carried through London on 6th April. Heavy security will surround the carrying of the torch through London’s streets where pro-Tibetan protests are expected. There was further controversy today after it was announced that Fu Ying, the Chinese Ambassador for London, was to carry the torch through part of Chinatown. It had been expected to be a Chinese athlete. Ms Fu Ying said, "I'm very worried because for days, for weeks we have heard about the Beijing Olympics as if it's a UN conference for solving all domestic problems. For the Chinese it's about sports." She added, "There's a lot more awareness about the influence of politics and there are better means for solving political problems, but you don't solve them on the football ground, you don't solve them in the swimming pool." Meanwhile, TV presenter Konnie Huq, has announced that she will take part in the Olympic torch relay through London despite condemning the Chinese government's treatment of Tibetan protestors. The 32 year old said she had “battled with her conscience” over whether to turn down a role as a torch bearer. But she has now said she will go ahead with the event, despite condemning the Chinese regime's actions as "despicable". "After much consideration, I have decided to take part in this ceremony because I am committed to the Olympic ideals which reach out to people across the globe,” Ms Huq said. "I am also carrying the torch for London 2012 which I believe will be an event which will enhance the lives of everyone in the capital as well as encapsulating all the true Olympian values.”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chaos at opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5


There has been massive chaos at the opening of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport. At least 30 flights were cancelled after a catalogue of problems at the new terminal. Miles of new conveyer belt systems ground to a halt and some passengers arrived at their destination without their baggage. Others were left standing as they waited to check in luggage at the £4 billion terminal billed by British Airways as ‘state of the art’. Those who arrived on flights also suffered long delays as they waited to collect their baggage. BA described the problems as ‘teething problems’, but passengers were left angry by the disruption [Sky News / BBC / CNN].

Monks speak out as foreign media visit Lhasa


Journalists were taken on a guided tour of Lhasa by Chinese authorities today, but there was little mention of their visit in many news bulletins. CNN and Al Jazeera did broadcast a report, giving over about 3 minutes each to the story. But there was no coverage of the visit on BBC News 24 or Sky News, though their respective websites did report the story [BBC / Sky News].
On both the CNN and Al Jazeera reports, the focus was an angry response from Tibetan monks. “They don’t trust us they lock us up and treat us unjustly” one monk told reporters. Another told Al Jazeera, “They don’t trust us, the government thinks we will destroy, rob and burn, but we didn’t do anything like this.” Many looked visibly distraught as the aired their grievances. “We want freedom, but they’ve imprisoned Lamas and normal people” said a wailing monk, while another holy man, referring to the Chinese statements about the riots said, “it’s all a lie, they’re treating us so badly.”

But there have been victims on both sides, and Al Jazeera was one of few broadcasters showing the other side of the story. In bulletins shown today, the Arabic station showed pictures of a shift memorial erected for 5 Han Chinese girls burned to death in a building during the rioting.
There were many journalists in the carefully controlled visit including reporters from the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Al Jazeera. But the BBC, CNN and a number of other media organisations were denied permission to join the excursion following anger by some Chinese people over ‘misreporting’ of the events over the last two weeks.

“You in the media should all reflect on this public outcry”, said Qin Gang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, “it is a reaction by all Chinese people against irresponsible and unethical reporting”.

CCTV-9 reported on the continuing problems in Tibet and surrounding provinces for nearly 15 minutes. Zhang Lu, reporting for the news station, said restaurants were beginning to reopen after recent disturbances in northern Sichuan province. She said 900 people had been “handed over to police” and would be “dealt with according to the law”. China says that in Tibet itself 18 civilians and one police officer were killed during the riots; riots organized and instigated by what China calls the ‘Dalai clique’. Zheng Dui, a researcher at the China Tibetology research centre, said, “Religious precepts ask monks not to kill, steal or lie. Religious people in Tibet take the view that monks who resorted to violence had broken religious precepts and should be punished”. And in a counterattack to claims that Tibetan people are sidelined by the minority Han Chinese population, Tanzen Lhundrup, Deputy Director of the Institute of Social and Economic Studies, said that there had been much investment in the area of Tibet. “People’s living standards, infrastructure, medical care and the education have all been greatly improved in the 30 years of China‘s opening up,” Mr Tanzen insisted, “anyone who visits Tibet can see the Tibetans have fully benefited from the country‘s reform and development.”

CCTV-9 also focused on what it called “distorted reports” by western media. In one example, the BBC was criticised for a web page dated March 17th. On the page a picture of an ambulance was used with the caption ‘There is a heavy military presence in Lhasa’. The page appears either to have been updated on the BBC website. CNN was criticised for ’doctoring a photograph of civilians throwing stones at police trucks’, while the Berliner Morgenpost was cited in distorting the truth for showing a rescued Han Chinese citizen with the caption of ‘police arresting Tibetans‘. However in an unusual move by Chinese authorities, the BBC website became accessible throughout China.

Iraq - Mahdi army ceasefire 'collapsing'


A breakdown in a declared ceasefire by the Mahdi army is threatening a fragile peace that has existed between Shi’ite militants and the Iraqi government. On Tuesday fighting in Basra left 12 dead and at least 32 wounded as gunmen loyal to the Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al Sadr clashed with Iraqi security forces.
By Thursday more than 100 had died in clashes in the southern Iraqi city. But the violence wasn’t confined to the south. Clashes between militia and security forces were also seen in Hill, Kut and Baghdad. The unrest looks likely to continue with members of the Mahdi army ignoring calls from the Iraqi Prime Minister to lay down their arms. On Wednesday, Nouri al Maliki said the gunmen faced “severe consequences” if they failed to stand down. But the attacks have increased with at least one pipeline targeted by a bomb blast and the heavily fortified Green Zone hit by several mortar bombs.

Some commentators say that the clashes are being orchestrated by rogue elements of the Mahdi army. Some are frustrated by continued attacks on the Shia by terrorists and heavy handed treatment by security forces. Author Patrick Cockburn told CNN the situation is extremely volatile and could threaten the downturn of violence that has been seen since the US led surge earlier this year. CNN reporter Kyra Phillips speaking from Baghdad said the clashes are mainly confined to the Shia neighbourhoods and that so far US forces are leaving the security situation in the hands of the Iraqi army. Meanwhile, the Iraqi PM is holding talks with Moqtada al Sadr in the hope of brokering the peace and re-establishing the long standing ceasefire [BBC / CNN / Al Jazeera].

The clashes started after another grim milestone in Iraq as the US death toll passed 4,000 [BBC]. Since then a further three American servicemen have died. And another British soldier died in clashes in the capital Baghdad bringing the UK death toll to 176. Other members of the coalition have lost 133.

Space shuttle Endeavour lands safely


Endeavour - safely home


The space shuttle Endeavour has made a safe landing in Florida, USA, after 16 days in space; the longest of any shuttle mission. There are total of 11 missions scheduled before the space shuttle is finally retired. Ten missions are required to complete the International Space Station whilst one mission is reserved for maintenance to the Hubble Space Telescope. In an unusual night landing Endeavour touched down at 0:40 GMT [NASA]. The BBC provided extensive Live coverage of the landing as did CNN.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Network Rail fails commuters...again


Commuters at Shenfield, Essex wait for replacement buses

Commuters faced serious travel delays on Tuesday after a points failure disrupted rail routes into London. The BBC reported that the chaos was as a result of overrunning engineering works. However, Network Rail denied that the work had overrun, saying that the problems were caused by an unrelated points failure. But Operator National Express East Anglia said work due to finish on Monday had overrun, contradicting earlier statements made on BBC Essex radio throughout the morning by a spokesman from Network Rail. It is not the first time the company has been in trouble. Network Rail was fined a record £14m after engineering work at Rugby in late December and January 2008 overran by four days causing massive disruption.. “Passengers are losing faith” the BBC reporter said on BBC Look East. But many were also losing money as they stood outside several stations in Essex waiting for the few buses that were transporting passengers between Ingatestone and Romford stations. Some commuters gave up and went home, while others made it to their destination several hours late.

Outside Shenfield station, where the points had apparently failed, hundreds of passengers waited in the bitter cold. Many were resigned to the long wait to get on crowded buses, but some took to taxis or called friends or relatives to organise lifts.

There was disruption too, on the West Coast main line as engineering work continued. And travellers were further delayed after a derailment disrupted trains into Birmingham [BBC]. Welsh commuters were also left standing as overrunning engineering works caused delays for Arriva trains travelling to London [BBC]. But while around 200 commuters were delayed on Arriva trains, more than 10,000 are believed to have been affected by the problems which hit the south-east.

When they finally arrived in London, some met further delays after an underground train broke down and disrupted the Circle line and District Line services.

Europe also saw severe disruption to several major routes. In Austria one person was killed as more than 100 vehicles became entangled in a multi-vehicle crash [BBC]. And in the Netherlands 500 motorists became stuck in one of the worst traffic jams on record after heavy snow fell across the region [smh.com]

Tibet violence may threaten Beijing Olympics


Liu Qi remained composed, but China is rattled by recent protests

Jacques Rogge, chief the International Olympic Committee, hinted for the first time yesterday that continuing violence in Tibet and surrounding provinces might threaten the Beijing Olympics. “We are concerned about what is happening in Tibet, of course” Mr Rogge said, “This is not something which is compatible with the values of the games so we call for a rapid appeasement and we hope the violence will subside.” The words will further worry Beijing as the games inch ever closer.

Protests have continued around the world. In Kathmandu on Monday, Nepalese police broke up at least one demonstration that turned violent arresting at least 450 people. In the India town of Dharamsala, which saw the visit last week by Nancy Pelosi, hundreds held a prayer session and called on the United Nations to help in the continuing turmoil within China. According to Chinese media a policeman was killed in the latest violence to hit Sichuan province. The true picture of what is happening in China is very hard to gauge.

The news from Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan is still filtered by Chinese state media with western journalists banned from the area. Of the few broadcasters that had made the difficult journey to Sichuan, some were arrested and ordered to leave the area. The restrictions to fair reporting prompted the group Reporters Sans Frontières [rsf.org] to make their voices heard at the opening of the Olympic torch lighting ceremony. As Liu Qi, president of the Beijing organising committee, began his two protesters ran forward to disrupt the proceedings. One unfurled a flag displaying the Olympic symbol made up of handcuffs. Both men were dragged away by police. The incident was not mentioned in Chinese media but it became the main item of news on Sky News, the BBC and CNN. According to Reporters Without Borders, three men from the media organisation were charged with “insulting national symbols” under article 361 of the Greek criminal code, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison or a fine.

The protest by RSF was not the only disruption to the Olympic torch ceremony. As one of the torch bearers made their way through the streets pro-Tibetan protesters waved flags and one, covered in fake blood, blocked the route by lying in the street. Both demonstrators were swiftly dragged away by security, but the interruptions are likely to worry organisers as the torch makes it journey around the world. The torch follows a route though 23 cities on five continents taking 34 days to complete its 137,000 km journey. It is a journey that will also take the torch through the troubled region of Tibet. “It’s going to give activists ample time to put their case across while the world‘s spotlight is focussed on China”, said Sky’s correspondent in Beijing. In London, security is expected to be tight as the torch is carried through the streets on 4th April. Beijing is critical of the protests saying they disrupt a “sacred event”.

And it is an event that may not be broadcast Live. Apparently unnerved by recent unrest among Tibetans and fearful of protests in the heart of the capital, China has told broadcast officials it will bar live television shots from the vast Tiananmen Square during the games. A ban on live broadcasts would disrupt the plans of major international networks, who have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to broadcast the games and are counting on live shots from the iconic square. Earlier this week officials with the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee, or BOCOG, told executives at the Beijing Olympic Broadcasting Co. [BOB] that the live shots were cancelled. The matter was conveyed by members who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. However it is hoped that pressure from the IOC may help BOCOG change its mind [CNN].
And the list of those speaking out against China, whether for its human rights record or even its smog covered capital, is growing. Earlier this month marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie said he was unlikely to race in the Olympics because he was worried the pollution would exacerbate his asthma. In fact, the Ethiopian confirmed that he would opt for the 10,000m and not the marathon when it became clear that the IOC would not move the race out of the city centre. But it is the crackdown on protestors and rioters in Tibet that has galvanised people. However, while no leader has yet called for a boycott of the Beijing games, some have expressed their concerns. Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he will meet soon with the Dalai Lama, which in turn angered Beijing. Kate Hoey MP, a former sports minister, has called for a boycott of the opening ceremony. And today Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, said he had not yet ruled out the boycotting of the opening ceremony scheduled for 8th August [BBC]. "All options are open and I appeal to the Chinese leaders' sense of responsibility" Mr Sarkozy told reporters on Tuesday. Meanwhile, French TV has said it might boycott coverage of the Games if Beijing censored protests during the event. Last month saw Steven Spielberg withdraw as artistic advisor after pressure from Sudan campaigner Mia Farrow. And now Olympic sponsors are looking at the situation carefully as they themselves become the target of protest groups. For China, its slogan of “One World, One Dream” is slowly becoming “One World, One Nightmare”.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter snow hits Britain


Blizzard conditions on the A12 in Essex

Much of the UK was hit by heavy snowfall and bitter winds on Easter weekend creating hazardous conditions on Britain's roads and disrupting parts of the rail network. Even southern England and the East was hit by snow on Easter Sunday. The Met Office issued severe weather warnings as snow showers swept across the region. Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire was shut due to visitors' safety and concerns cars could skid off the road and hit animals. In Norfolk and Cambridgeshire police forces dealt with a number of crashes as motorists struggled with the severe weather. "We've had a number of minor crashes but nothing serious," said a Cambridgeshire Constabulary spokesman. "Unfortunately, we've got a lot of people who can't drive. They see a bit of slushy stuff and don't adapt." In Essex there was only one report of a car having left the road and crashed into a lamp post near to Southend on Sea. The picturesque scenes soon melted away, however, and by midday much of the snow in the south-east had melted [BBC]. But motorists were warned to expect bad driving conditions into Bank Holiday Monday [Sky News]

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hundreds join Tibet protest in London


Hundreds of protesters demanding the independence of Tibet marched through the streets of London today. At least 500 joined the protest and shouted 'China out' and 'Free Tibet' as they stopped for a short while outside the Chinese Embassy. There was a significant police presence, but there was no signs of trouble throughout the demonstration. TV crews from Sky News, BBC and ITN covered the event, however very little footage made it to air. Sky News showed only a few seconds, while the BBC report ran for a little over one minute. Many of the demonstrators called for a boycott of the Olympic games, a call that has become louder over recent days [BBC / Sky News].

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tibet - media bias as China bans western press


Peng Xiaobo weeps as he tells CCTV-9 how his sister died

Tibet remains in the news despite Chinese authorities preventing western journalists entering the region to report. But the restrictions are themselves, skewing the way in which western media is reporting the events. While state television has been allowed some access to Lhasa, BBC, CNN and Sky News television crews have experienced varying levels of restriction from Chinese authorities. CNN’s John Vause made his way by car from Beijing to Sichuan province and managed to get past countless roadblocks without being stopped. A report he made on one evening was made using night-sight camera equipment so as to avoid attention from local police. A Sky News team arrived in Gansu province and secretly filmed convoys of army trucks making their way towards Tibet. But on Thursday the crew were detained by police after a scuffle in Sichuan. The BBC has also faced restrictions in their attempts to get closer to where rioting has left many dead. BBC's James Reynolds spent 24 hours in Hezuo in Gansu, where earlier this week Tibetan protesters tore down the Chinese flag. But attempts to move towards Tibet have been thwarted by roadblocks.

But while western media has relied only on second hand reports and smuggled pictures, CCTV-9, Chinese media’s international arm, has been able to report from Lhasa itself. On Thursday the Chinese channel gave in depth coverage to the story. Although there was bias within the 15 minute broadcast, there were many aspects of the troubles not reported by western media.

Reporters for the state broadcaster spoke to a number of Han Chinese who were targeted by the rioters. Some spoke of how they had lost not only their businesses but also members of their family as rioters set fire to shops and houses. Several described how friends and relatives were burned alive after being trapped in burning buildings. Peng Xiaobo, a businessman, who lives in Lhasa, told CCTV that the rioters set fire to his business. Several of his family had to jump from an upstairs room to flee the flames, but his 18 year old sister died in the fire. Five girls were also burned to death in another building set on fire by rioters. One of them, Chen Jia, had sent a text message to her distraught father saying they had hidden in a building because they were fearful of going outside. A friend of the girls spoke of her grief and said “I can’t understand why the rioters killed innocent civilians”. According to CCTV even ambulances and medical staff were targeted by the rioting crowds.

Pictures showed the vast areas of the city damaged by the rioting. The broadcast blamed the rioting on what it called the ‘Dalai clique’, but gave no analysis as to the grievances or reasoning of the Tibetan people [CCTV]. The paranoia exhibited by the Beijing authorities has resulted in many aspects of the ‘uprisings’ and rioting going unreported by western broadcasters. Attacks on the Han Chinese population have been little reported and there have been no reports on either CNN, Sky or the BBC of the deaths amongst the Chinese population. The western broadcasters have reported much on the high death toll of what it calls ‘protesters’, and what the Chinese media refer to as ‘rioters’. The numbers vary wildly with figures ranging from 10 to as high as 100. But without independent journalists on the ground it is difficult to assess the true scale of violence, destruction and the number of casualties.

While the true picture of events on the ground is still unclear, many voices are beginning to speak out in support of the Tibetan people. Nancy Pelosi called for an inquiry into the Chinese crackdown on protesters when she met the Dalai Lama on Friday. "We call upon the international community to have an independent outside investigation on accusations made by the Chinese government that His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] was the instigator of violence in Tibet", Ms Pelosi said. The speaker of the US House of Representatives was on a visit to Dharamsala in India where the Tibetan leader remains in exile. “Freedom loving people should denounce the actions of China in Tibet” the senior US lawmaker said. But her words were swiftly condemned by Beijing who said the west should not meddle in China’s internal affairs [BBC / CNN / Sky News]. But other world leaders have also spoken out against what is seen by some as a harsh crackdown by Chinese authorities against Tibetan protesters. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking this week in Parliament called on the Chinese to act with restraint. But he too was criticised by Beijing for raising the issue.

The news coverage of the protests, riots and deaths on the streets of Tibet and in neighbouring provinces has angered the Beijing Olympics Organising Committee. This week Jiang Xiaoyu said, “These disruptive protests are a challenge to the Olympic charter ... and a challenge to peace in the world”.

There appears to be a lack of understanding of PR skills by the Chinese authorities. By disallowing foreign journalists into Tibet, Gansu, Sichuan and other flashpoints, the reporting will tend to be biased against China. While stories and pictures are unobtainable legitimately, they are instead secured from less reliable sources. The story can of course be exploited by people for their own political agenda. The visit to India by the US Speaker pushed the story to top of today’s news agenda once again. Tibet was the top Story on CNN, Sky News and Al Jazeera while the BBC placed the item second after Easter travel chaos in the UK. Meanwhile, there has been criticism within China that the media has been not only biased but inaccurate in its reporting [China Daily]. Of course, allowing western journalists into Tibet, may have solved many of these concerns.

While the Chinese authorities might be rightly criticised for being less than restrained in quelling the riots, such disturbances have often been violently put down in the west. In 1972 the army in Northern Ireland opened fire on demonstrators killing 13 in what has become known as Bloody Sunday. And in 1970 the US National Guard killed 4 students when they opened fire on peaceful demonstrators at Kent State University. Rioters have also been sought after in a determined way in the west as was seen following the Poll Tax Riots in the UK. Hundreds were rounded up by police following the 1990 disturbances which saw violence met out by both the authorities and demonstrators. Damage to central London was estimated in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Iraq - 5 years of conflict


It is 5 years since George W Bush and the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ launched the War in Iraq. Under the codename Operation Iraqi Freedom, President Bush said the action was necessary to rid the world of dangerous leader who possessed weapons of mass destruction. In 2003 in the days leading up to the invasion George Bush said, “If war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means, sparing in everyway we can the innocent”. But five years on, it is mostly the innocent who have suffered and died.

A total of 4,300 coalition troops have died, 3,993 of them American troops [icasualties.org. But it is the Iraqi population that has suffered in the last 5 years. iraqbodycount.org reports the civilian death toll as exceeding 80,000. But some independent bodies suggest the figure could be as high as one million dead. Certainly the number of citizens displaced by sectarian violence has topped more than a million and hundreds of thousands have fled the country.
Besides a lull in the violence, bombings still continue daily. On Wednesday a Colonel in the Interior Ministry was killed, a truck bomb injured 14 people in Mosul and a female suicide bomber killed four in Diyalah province, 70 km north of Baghdad. Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, told CNN “The last five years have been a violent, difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy” he said, but admitted “Iraq still had a long way to go”.

“Many Iraqis feel more optimistic” besides the country having “paid a heavy price to gain the freedom promised by the coalition forces and the United States” the minister said.
But it was not optimism that was expressed on the ground. “Bush only wants to justify the US losses” says Abdul Qadir Al Aani, an Iraqi journalist who spoke to Al Jazeera on the streets of Baghdad. Abu Ammar, a lawyer told the news station, “Bush makes these comments because he doesn’t value Iraqi blood, his alleged democracy is a lie”. Similar sentiments were felt by women on Baghdad’s streets. “The people of Iraq have given great sacrifices“, said Fatma, a public servant, “we have seen what has happened with our own eyes”. A taxi driver was dismissive of the achievements the war aginst the Saddam regime brought with it. “war has taken us back 60 years”, said Laith, “the only things we gained from this war are destruction, killing and kidnapping. We don‘t have water to drink. President Bush has to experience the real life in Iraq, and then he can say whether the war was good or not”.

When President Bush spoke on Wednesday he said that great achievements had been made.
“On this day in 2003 the United States began Operation Iraqi Freedom. As the campaign unfolded, tens of thousands of our troops poured across the Iraqi border to liberate the Iraqi people and remove a regime that threatened free nations. Five years after this battle there’s an understandable debate as to whether this war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning, and whether we can win it”.

Mr Bush said that, “Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight that America can and must win”. But it is a war that has cost more than lives. The US has spent more than $500 billion in fighting the continuing conflict. Some recent estimates suggest the ultimate cost could exceed $3 trillion but President Bush described these estimates as “exaggerated”.

But President Bush insisted the war had not only stopped a tyrant and closed his torture rooms, children’s prisons and rape rooms but “because we acted the world is better and the United States is safer”. However many have argued that one horror has been replaced by another.
Mr Bush conceded the cost has been greater than previously anticipated, but that it was “a fight we must win”. He said that the world has seen a “young democracy rise from the rubble of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny”. He once more put the case that “defeating the enemy in Iraq will make it less likely we will face the enemy here at home”. The “surge” that President Bush initiated earlier this year had “driven the terrorists from places they had once held”. However, besides the diminishing violence and attacks, there was “still hard work to be done”.
“Osama bin Laden once said when people see a strong horse and a weak horse by nature they will take the strong horse. By defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq, we will show the world that Al Qaeda is the weak horse” President Bush said, “The future of the Middle East does not belong to terror, the future of the Middle East belongs to freedom”.

But according to one BBC correspondent, many Americans feel the war was not worth it. But as the US economy suffers, Iraq is far from many people’s minds. According to the BBC’s Richard Lister, the US TV networks are giving far less coverage to the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war.
Even anti-war protests on the streets are have been little covered in the press. But in the UK there have been several programmes covering the anniversary. BBC’s Newsnight gave over the entire programme to the events of the past 5 years of conflict. ITV 4 showed a retrospective introduced by Ragi Omar while the anniversary topped many news bulletins throughout the day. The anniversary was consigned to the inside of many UK newspapers. The Guardian’s front page was one exception, contrasting the words of George Bush with those of a Baghdad resident who spoke of living in a nightmare with “death and carnage everywhere”. Across Europe only the Herald Tribune and the US Military paper, Stars & Stripes, made the story its front page.
While President Bush pushed the case for continuing the surge in Iraq, Democrat hopeful Barack Obama was making his assessment of the continuing conflict. “Fighting a war without end will not force the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future. And fighting a war without end will not make the American people safer”.
[BBC / CNN / Al Jazeera]

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Albania - 6 die in weapons dump blast


A massive explosion at an ammunition dump has killed at least 6 and injured at least 175. The incident occurred in a small town north of the capital of Albania [BBC].

Pakistan saw another bomb explosion Saturday. The blast, which targeted an Italian restaurant popular with foreigners, killed an employee of the US Embassy. She has been named only as Elaine. A further 10 people were injured in the blast [BBC].

Three militants have been killed in Gaza after renewed air strikes by Israel [Al Jazeera].
And in New York, 4 people died after a crane collapsed [BBC].

"100 dead" in Tibet riots, say exiles


Violence in Tibet as Hu Jintao talks of One World, One Dream

Hu Jintao has today been re-elected as President of the Peoples Republic of China and the Chairman of the Military Commission [BBC / Xinhua]. Several others also kept their posts within the heart of the Chinese government as the People’s National Congress comes to a conclusion this weekend. Although the Congress has been little mentioned in Western media, CCTV-9 has broadcast extensive coverage throughout the week. Tonight they informed viewers of Hu Jintao’s list of achievements, which manifested itself as a long list of posts he had previously held. CCTV-9 also said that Wu Bangou had been re-elected to his post in the standing committee of the politburo and Xi Jinping had been elected vice president of the PRC. Some of the proposals put forward at the PNC was for China to use energy more efficiently and promote recycling and environmental protection. In order to tackle air pollution during the Beijing Olympics, it has been proposed that industry shuts down in neighbouring provinces.

And it is the Olympics that have focused the world’s eyes on China. Not only because of the smog that covers the capital, but more recently because protest groups are using the sporting event to promote their agenda.

Pro-Tibetan activists have marked the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising by protesting in India, Nepal and in Tibet itself. Dozens of monks were arrested throughout the week in Tibet, but on Friday some Tibetans turned to violence. Pictures broadcast via Chinese state media showed gangs of people attacking Chinese owned shops and overturning cars and other scenes of burning buildings. According to CCTV-9 the mob had attacked innocent civilians and “violated the law”. Xinhua News has reported the death toll to be 10 and inferred they had been killed by the rioters. CCTV said that the authorities were offering an amnesty to any “law breakers who hand themselves in and give information leading to the arrest of other lawbreakers” but added those “who shelter lawbreakers will be dealt with according to the law”. There is certainly some evidence that beatings have taken place. Footage shown on Al Jazeera showed one man being punched and kicked. A man, wearing a bright red jacket, is seen punching a motorcyclist and is later joined by another man, also wearing a red jacket, who punches the rider to the ground. The identities of the men are unknown.

In contrast to the violence on the streets of Lhasa, Beijing was today hosting exchange students from Japan [Xinhua]. Intended to soothe the relationship between the two countries, the “Friendly Exchange Year of the Youth” event was praised by President Hu Jintao who said he was “delighted to see the young Japanese and Chinese joining together”. Earlier the Japanese students had painted the message “One World, One Dream” in Chinese calligraphy. President Hu said that calligraphy was an important part of both China and Japan and served as a cultural bridge between the two countries. It is less of a dream and more of a nightmare for those in Lhasa and other cities in Tibet as armed forces lay siege to monasteries and order tourists to leave the region. Reports in some media suggest the death toll in the recent violence has risen dramatically. The BBC said the number killed was between 10 and 30, while CNN said the number could be as high as 100. In an advertisement on CCTV-9 following tonight’s news the commentary said “This March, China is in the spotlight...with coverage of the People’s National Congress”. However, it is Tibet, the Olympics and the environment that is focusing the world’s attention.

It is not only pro-independence protestors that China is hitting hard. The Chinese authorities have already cracked down on other potential threats to the Beijing Olympics with raids on terrorist cells. One plot was said to have planned the hijacking and crashing of a plane into an unspecified target in Beijing. Today authorities further strengthened security measures on domestic flights. As of 14th March all liquids will be banned on all domestic flights with even stricter regulations than seen in Europe and the US. According to Xinhua News, passengers with an infant will now need to apply in advance with the airline to provide them with formula or baby food free of charge, according to the notice.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Atlanta, USA - 1 seriously injured by tornado


One person has been confirmed to be in a life threatening condition following the possible tornado that struck Atlanta on Friday night. The person is said to have been injured near to the CNN Center which was substantially damaged in the severe storm. At least nine others were injured seriously enough to be treated at hospital. Power has also been lost in many parts of Atlanta with up to 10,000 people being affected according to WSBTV.

Tornado hits CNN Center in Atlanta


A tornado has swept through Atlanta, Georgia, USA, slamming trees into cars and homes. A number of people have been injured, 8 according to CNN. The tornado swept thrown the city at around 21:45 local time disrupting a college basketball game and damaging the building that houses CNN. One witness told CNN’s Don Lemon, “it was like being in a movie”. Damage is extensive, but is relatively localised to a few hundred square metres [CNN]. National Weather Service officials said they were unsure if the 60mph [97 km/hr] winds in the city were caused by a tornado.

Tibet - "two shot dead" in protest riots


A man lies injured after rioting in Lhasa, Tibet

After a week of protests both in India and within Tibet itself, clashes with the authorities have led to arrests and injuries. In the latest reports emerging from Tibet suggest that at least two have died in riots after Chinese security forces opened fire on crowds.

There have been many protests calling for an independent Tibet but in the last seven days the protests have gained momentum as demonstrators mark the 49th Anniversary of a Tibetan uprising. That uprising saw the Dalai Lama flee Tibet and flee to India. On Monday CNN reported that about 300 Buddhist monks from Drepung Monastery near the Tibetan capital Lhasa hard towards the centre of the city but were stopped by armed police and some arrests were made. According to reports the monks were seeking the release of monks detained after they celebrated the Dalai Lama's receipt of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal in October. That award had led to strong condemnation from Beijing.

By Monday afternoon further arrests were reported after fifteen monks from Sera Monastery near Lhasa, joined by two laypeople, lead a peaceful pro-Tibet march from Tsuklakhang Temple. Proclaiming pro-independence slogans the monks distributed pamphlets and raising the banned Tibetan national flag at Barkhor Street in the city centre. They were arrested immediately and were reportedly beaten. Nearby shops were ordered to close and armed police were deployed on the streets. There were also demonstration in neighbouring Qinghai province, but no arrests were reported.

Trouble escalated the following day when police fired teargas in a crowd of 2000 monks demonstrating at Sera monastery in Lhasa. Police also arrested 500 students at Lhasa university. Protests continued into Wednesday and Thursday and police began to seal off several monasteries in and around Lhasa. In one report 2 monks are said to have stabbed themselves in the chest, hands and wrists in protest of the 17 arrested at Sera monastery on Monday. The monks, from Kirti monastery in Sichuan province, were not expected to survive. But by Friday anger spread amongst the civilian population as the monks were blocked once again by police. Rioting spread across parts of the city of Lhasa with shops looted and cars set on fire.

The news coming from Tibet has become the top headline on the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. The news has been little reported on Sky News which has continued throughout Friday with rolling coverage concerning the finding of missing schoolgirl, Shannon Matthews [Sky].
Al Jazeera reported tonight that the Chinese authorities had denied firing on demonstrators, contradicting countless eyewitness reports. "We fired no gunshots," Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government, told Xinhua News, the Chinese state news agency. The reporting was very different from Western media - Xinhua reporters in Lhasa saw many rioters were carrying backpacks filled with stones and bottles of inflammable liquids, some holding iron bars, wooden sticks and long knifes, a sign that the crowd came fully prepared and meant harm. The mobs assaulted passersby, sparing no women or children, witnesses said. They hit at things along their path, smashing windows, automatic teller machines and traffic lights. Several clothing shops, restaurants, and mobile phone stores were looted. Bikes, motorcycles and cars were burnt down.
The internet is once again proving a valuable resource in spreading news of the situation behind closed borders. Chinese media has in the past week, consistently censored both CNN and BBC World whenever reports about Tibet have been broadcast. But CCTV4 in China did start showing pictures of the rioting on Saturday morning. Most pictures showed only rioting with little footage of either army or police attempting to control the crowds. Omitted too from the Chinese news reports were pictures of the Buddhist monks that have been protesting for the last week. Al Jazeera and the BBC have shown pictures of protests outside the Chinese Embassy in London. A few dozen protesters shouted “Free Tibet” from across the street of the guarded building. New York has also seen protests calling for Tibetan independence. But foreign governments have been cautious about there reaction to the violence in Tibet, and the possible overzealous use of force by Chinese authorities. According to the latest reports the situation was calm on the streets of Lhasa. Meanwhile, in India, the Dalai Lama has expressed deep concern and said the protests were "a manifestation of the deep-rooted resentment of the Tibetan people" under Chinese rule. But the Chinese authorities have blamed the Dalai Lama, exiled since 1959, for the unrest [CNN blog / CNN - timeline]

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Security breach at Heathrow airport


A man has been arrested after breaching security at Heathrow Airport. The man, apparently wearing a rucksack, was arrested after running into the path of a plane on the north runway. He was first spotted at 14:05 GMT and detained by armed police. Sky News have said the individual had two rucksacks and had scaled a 4 metre fence in order to gain access to the airfield. Police have said a controlled explosion has taken place on the north runway. Sky have been showing still photographs depicting the arrext of the man while the BBC have been showing pictures shot from their news helicopter. According to the latest reports there were no explosives in the rucksacks and it has been suggested he may have been a protester. The incident comes less than a month after Greenpeace breached security at the airport in protest of the airport expansion plans. The new terminal 5 opens at the airport tomorrow.

Shuttle docks successfully with ISS


On final approach - Endeavour less than 30 m from the ISS

The Space Shuttle has docked with the International Space Station. After completing an underside inspection to check for any heat-shield damage, the shuttle began to make its final approach to the ISS. For two hours Endeavour made a slow approach to the ISS from a distance of 4 km at a rate of approximately 37 metres per minute. By 03:00 GMT Endeavour was within 50 metres of the space station and its rate of approach had slowed considerably to less than 3 cm per second in the final manoeuvres. The entire operation was of course covered by NASA TV, both via satellite and the internet. However the BBC, Sky News, nor CNN covered the docking Live. Endeavour finally docked at 03:49 [10:49 CT] over Singapore and the Malaysian peninsula [NASA].

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

UK - More storms expected


The UK is braced for more stormy weather after high winds swept across Britain yesterday. The sometimes hurricane strength winds lashed the western and southern coast creating a spectacular display. But the storm passed over almost uneventfully. There was disruption to some electrical supplies, transport links and a few reports of damage to buildings but for the most part it was not the major storm predicted by some. However, the storm did leave some dramatic images in its wake. In west France a Dutch registered ship, the Artemis, drifted off course and became beached at the popular seaside destination of Les Sables d‘Olonne [YBW]. In England it was mostly transport systems that suffered. Flights from Britain‘s airports were cancelled, bridges were closed on major road networks and ferry services were also halted. Weather forecasters have said there may be more bad weather to come. But there is a feeling amongst some that the warnings are exaggerating the threat [BBC]

Deadly blasts in Iraq and Pakistan



Iraq has seen further bombings killing at least 16 near to the southern city of Nasiryah. The roadside bomb hit the bus as it made its way along the vroad between Najaf and Basra. A further 20 were injured in the blast. Meanwhile, 5 were killed and 14 injured when a suicide truck bomber drove into a checkpoint in Dhuluiya, about 70 km north of Baghdad [CNN].

Pakistan also saw deadly suicide blasts today which killed 24 and injured over 175. Two suicide car bombers targeted a federal police building, while another struck a suburb of the city of Lahore. President Pervez Musharraf said, "Acts of terrorism cannot deter government's resolve to fight the scourge with full force" [CNN / BBC].
Meanwhile, Pakistan's new parliament will be sworn in next week after President Pervez Musharraf cleared the final hurdle for it to convene. Musharraf has signed a summary of election results so the newly-elected lawmakers can now take the oath of office on Monday. The Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N won the majority of National Assembly seats in the February 18 parliamentary election. They have formed a coalition and recently called on Musharraf to immediately convene parliament.

Successful launch for Shuttle Endeavour


Space Shuttle Endeavour has made a successful launch on its mission to deliver a Japanese laboratory and a robotic arm to the International Space Station. In what is often spectacular, STS-123 lifted off in a night time launch. It will rendezvous with the ISS in around 36 hours.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Shuttle Endeavour set for launch


The US Space Shuttle is set for launch early Tuesday. It is a swift turn around since the Space Shuttle Atlantis returned on the 20th February. The mission, STS-123, is set to send Endeavour to the International Space Station where it will deliver the first section of the Japanese-built Kibo laboratory [JEM] and the Canadian Space Agency's two-armed robotic system called Dextre. Weather looks good for the proposed launch window which is due at 02:28 Florida time [06:28 GMT]. During its 16 day mission Eandeavour will spend 12 days at the ISS [NASA / BBC].

On Sunday the European Space Agency launched what has been called ‘space truck’ as part of its contribution to the International project [BBC]. The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is the biggest and most complex spacecraft Europe has ever tried to put in orbit.The 20-tonne unmanned freighter left the Kourou spaceport at 04:03 GMT on Sunday, on board an Ariane 5 rocket. The vessel will provide the largest refuelling and waste elimination capability for the ISS; and it is the only vehicle on the current timeline that will be able to de-orbit the $100 billion platform when it is retired sometime towards the end of the next decade. The freighter is currently sitting in a 260km high orbit and is due to deliver just under five tonnes of supplies to the space station on 3rd April. But there have been a few glitches that has forced engineers to rethink the module’s trajectory after one of the propulsion systems failed. Back up systems were put into action following the failure [BBC].

UK - Man pleads guilty to terror charge


A man has pleaded guilty to possessing an al-Qaeda training manual contained on a CD-ROM. Khalid Khaliq is likely to receive a 2 year sentence, the maximum tariff that can be imposed for such an offence. Leeds Crown court heard that the disc was recovered during a raid on Khaliq’s home shortly after the suicide bomb attacks on London’s transport system in July 2005. He was one of several individuals photographed during a canoeing holiday in the Lake District [The Sun]. In the same photograph a number of other terror suspects are depicted including the some of those involved in the bombings of 7th July 2005. Khalid Khaliq, a 35 year old man from Beeston in Leeds, was one of four people arrested on 9 May in West Yorkshire and Birmingham by anti-terrorism officers investigating the 7/7 bombings. The other three, Hasina Patel, the widow of 7/7 ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan, her brother Arshad Patel and Imran Motala, were released without charge in May 2007.

UK - cost of war rises to £3 billion per year


The Royal Anglian Regiment which lost 9 troops in Afghanistan

The cost of Britain’s roll in both the Afghanistan and Iraq has risen once again. New figures released show that the cost of operations in Iraq has risen by 52% to £1.5 billion for the financial year 2007-2008. The cost of operations in Afghanistan was also up by 48% to £1.4 billion. The combined cost is up by 94% on the previous financial year. In 2006-2007 the cost of Afghanistan and Iraq was £1.7 billion. But this last year that has risen to £3.3 billion. MPs on the Commons Defence Committee have requested a full breakdown of the figures [Sky News]. The other cost in the war also remains high. In Iraq a total of 175 British service personnel have died, in Afghanistan the death toll stands at 89.

The US has lost 5 more troops today in a suicide attack which targeted them whilst they were patrolling Baghdad [CNN]. It brings the US death toll to 3,980 since the conflict started in March 2003. The cost of the war in Iraq is also rising is the US with latest projections suggesting the entire war may cost as much as $3 trillion. Already the cost has exceeded $12 billion per month in 2008 [CNN]

Sunday, March 09, 2008

UK - Severe weather warning issued


The Environment Agency has issued a severe flood warning for the whole of the Devon and Cornwall coast amid storm warnings for south and west Britain. Large parts of England and Wales are braced for what experts warn may be the worst storm of the winter. The Met Office issued severe weather warnings for much of the UK, with winds of up to 80mph (130km/h) expected. Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, has held an emegency meeting ahead of the bad weather [BBC / Sky News]

China - Terror plots foiled


Officials give out details at a press conference

Two terrorist attacks have been thwarted by Chinese authorities, Chinese officials have told the state-run media Xinhua News. One of the alleged attacks is said to have targeted the Summer Olympic Games. Chinese authorities say the attacks were to have been carried out by separatists operating out of an autonomous region in northwest China. According to Xinhua, militants who were killed earlier this year in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region were planning an attack on the Games, set to begin on August 8th 2008. The autonomous region is home to about 19 million people, most of whom are Muslims and other minorities. Many of them oppose Beijing's rule.

Also Sunday, another Chinese official told Xinhua that a China Southern Airlines plane was forced to land because "some people were attempting to create an air disaster." The flight had taken off from Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Militants had failed to hijack the plane after being “foiled by the flight crew” according to reports. Wang Lequan, chief of the Xinjiang regional committee of the Communist Party of China, said the government was prepared to strike against the "three evil forces" in the region whom he referred to as terrorists, separatists and extremists. "We are prepared to strike them when the evil forces are planning their activities," he told Xinhua.

Wang said the group had been trained by and was following the orders of a Uighur separatist group based in Pakistan and Afghanistan called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM. The group has been labelled a terrorist organization by the United Nations and the United States. East Turkestan is another name for Xinjiang. Chinese forces reported raiding an ETIM training camp last year and killing 18 militants allegedly linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Chinese authorities have for years been battling a low-intensity separatist movement among Xinjiang's Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim people who are culturally and ethnically distinct from China's Han majority [BBC / CNN / Fox News].

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Gunman kills 8 in Jerusalem


A gunman armed with a Kalashnikov rifle has shot and killed at least 8 people at a school in Jerusalem. The terrorist entered a religious school and opened fire. Around 35 others have been injured in the incident and have been conveyed to hospital. There was celebratory gunfire in Gaza following the attack, but there has been no claim of responsibility. Some reports suggest that one gunman may still be at large. Police say they shot one gunman who was wearing explosives but they failed to detonated. The attack occurred at 19:30 local time, but two hours after the attack there is still a highly tense situation in the heart of Israel. A Hamas spokesman called the attack "heroic" and said "it would not be the last". Fawzi Barhoum described the attack as a "normal reaction" to recent attacks on Gaza by Israeli forces. [Sky News / BBC / CNN / Al Jazeera]

US - 'explosion' in Times Square, NYC


Police are investigation what has been described as a small explosion in New York. Some reports say that the explosion, which has not been officially confirmed, occurred near to a military recruitment office in Times Square. The subway has been closed and a large part of Times Square has been cordoned off while police and bomb disposal experts scour the scene. The news has only been reported via Sky News and the BBC while CNNi continue with their repeat of last night’s Larry King Live. However CNN has reported the incident via their website. Fox News which are providing Sky with some pictures are also covering the story extensively.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

China - NPC tackle inflation & increase military spend


One of China's submarines which the US see as a threat

The National Peoples’ Congress has opened in China with inflation being one of the major issues being discussed. Inflation rose by 7.1% in January - the highest level in more than a decade - and opinion polls show it is one of Chinese people's top concerns. Over 7% of annual production is exported and accounts for a significant proportion of China’s GDP. But speaking at the NPC, Premier Wen Jiabao said economic growth could slow. Chinese politicians are worried higher food prices could lead to discontent and social unrest. Prices, particularly for basic food items such as pork and eggs, rose markedly last year in China, partly because of supply problems. This was further exacerbated by a severe winter which destroyed many crops [BBC / CNN].

China is set to increase its military spending this year, causing increased concern in the West. [BBC]. China has said it plans to increase military spending by nearly 18%, to 417.8bn yuan ($59bn; £30bn). This week the Pentagon released a 66 page document [PDF] outlining China’s military expenditure. The document laid out many concerns that the US has over Chinese military spending. While the “United States continues to encourage China to participate as a responsible international stakeholder by taking on a greater share of responsibility for the stability, resilience and growth of the global system” there was “much uncertainty” surrounding “China’s future course, in particular in the area of its expanding military power and how that power might be used” the summary said. The concerns also outlined in the Pentagon report talks of China’s development of space weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. “China’s nuclear force modernization, as evidence by the fielding of the new DF-31 and DF-31A intercontinental-range missiles, is enhancing China’s strategic strike capabilities. China’s emergent anti-access/area denial capabilities – as exemplified by its continued development of advanced cruise missiles, medium-range ballistic missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles designed to strike ships at sea, including aircraft carriers, and the January 2007 successful test of a direct-ascent, anti-satellite weapon – are expanding from the land, air, and sea dimensions of the traditional battlefield into the space and cyber-space domains.” The Pentagon says that the “lack of transparency in China’s military and security affairs poses risks to stability by increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation.” [CNN]

However, China has dismissed the assertions laid out by the Pentagon saying that the document was a “distortion of the facts”. Most of this year's military increase will be spent on increasing salaries and accommodating higher oil prices, according to Jiang Enzhou, a spokesman for China's National People's Congress, which began its annual meeting today [Wednesday]. "China's limited military capability is solely for the purpose of safeguarding independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and does not pose a threat to any other country" Mr Jiang said. But it is the ‘safeguarding of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity’ that is perhaps of some concern to the US especially as China continues to reassert its ‘contentious claim to Taiwan’. The Pentagon report makes it clear that the Taiwan issue is one of the major reasons behind increased expenditure. “China’s near-term focus on preparing for contingencies in the Taiwan Strait, including the possibility of U.S. intervention, is an important driver of its modernization” the report says. Regarding Taiwan, President Hu’s 17th Party Congress speech did not emphasize military threats, but affirmed the importance of continuing China’s military modernization and urged the Party to “accelerate the revolution in military affairs with PLA characteristics [and] ensure preparations for military struggle”. Hu’s speech also included an offer to hold consultations with Taiwan, based on Beijing’s One China principle, toward “reaching a peace agreement.” However, Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian rejected the offer. China also places many advanced military systems opposite Taiwan leading to further worries by foreign observers. By November 2007, the PLA [Peoples Liberation Army] had deployed between 990 and 1,070 CSS-6 and CSS-7 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) to garrisons opposite Taiwan. It is increasing the size of this force at a rate of more than 100 missiles per year, including variants of these missiles with improved ranges, accuracies, and payloads. For its part the United States continues to make available defense articles, services, and training assistance to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. Speaking on CNN, James Mulvenon, from the Centre for Intelligence Research & Analysis, said this week that “China is currently engaged in probably the largest most aggressive defence industrial production of submarines of any country in the world”. It is the strategic use of such machines that worry US military strategists. One of China’s submarines surfaced within torpedo range near to the USS Kitty Hawk in 2006 sending a clear message to some the potential threat China might pose in any future conflict [BBC]. “It brought home the message that the Chinese might be able to sneak up on our aircraft carriers, and perhaps sink a couple of them in a battle”, said Hans Kristensen, a China military analyst. The Pentagon has called on China for greater transparency with regards its military spending. “Misunderstanding can lead to conflict or crisis” said Admiral Timothy Keating, of the US Pacific Command, on a visit to Beijing last year.

It is Taiwan’s continued moves towards ‘independence’ from the mainland that continues to rattle leaders in Beijing. Recent representations to the United Nations by Taiwan to become recognized as a member state have drawn strong statements from the Chinese government.

Jiang Enzhou made China’s feelings very clear this week when he said, “Attempts by Chen Shui-bian and his administration to move forward a UN referendum on Taiwan is a key step to deny the reality of one China and declare de jure independence. This is tantamount to declaring independence. If the authorities succeed it will undermine the interests of all and jeopardize the peace and stability of both sides of the Taiwan Straits and Asia Pacific at large” [CNN]

China - Tourist bus hijacker shot dead


The incident occurred in the popular city of Xian

Chinese police have shot and killed a hijacker after the man refused to release two hostages in the Northwest Shaanxi Province. Xia Tao, a resident of Xi'an City's Yanliang District, hijacked a bus and took an Australian tourist and a translator hostage in the downtown Zhonggulou Square at 09:52 local time on Wednesday. Armed with explosives, he wanted to negotiate with police. Initially, a total of 10 tourists were held by Xia, but 9 were released as police accepted Xia's demand to change buses and to go to the airport to avoid violence in the downtown core. But police opened fire as the bus approached the airport toll station at 12:36 pm. Chinese state media said that according to the local public security bureau; negotiations had been “unsuccessful”. The 48 year old woman from New South Wales and the translator escaped unharmed. But the attack raises the possibility that foreign tourists could be targeted by individuals with a grudge before and during this summer's Olympic Games [China Daily / CNN].

McCain wins nomination, Obama & Clinton battle on


Hillary Clinton has won the Texas primary in a shift from her perceived downslide in the candidacy race. Barak Obama still managed yet another win in Vermont taking 60% of the vote significantly larger than that achieved by Clinton’s 38%. But Hillary Clinton also scored another two wins in yesterday’s ongoing political battle. She took both Ohio and Rhode Island, but the margins as with Texas were extremely thin. In Texas she took 51% against Obama’s 48% while in Ohio Hillary led by only a 10% lead over Obama’s 44% of the vote. The biggest margin was in Rhode Island where Clinton took 58% against Obama’s 40%. The new gains by Clinton still leave her way behind Obama. So far Barak Obama is out in front with 1,451 candidates against Clinton’s 1,365. However, whatever the outcome of the upcoming primaries, the final decision in the candidacy race will fall on the so called super-delegates. The new shift towards Clinton maybe due to recent criticism of Senator Obama. There has also been a focus on perceived media bias towards Barak Obama. The so called Red Phone ad is also argued to be a factor in the recent polls. The advertisement asked voters who they would trust to answer the White House hot line at 3 a.m, Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama.

But the big news of the night was McCain’s clinching the Republican nomination for the Presidential candidate. Achieving the required number of candidates, John McCain has been declared the Republican candidate that will take the party to the White House. He will be given the endorsement by President Bush later on Wednesday. In his celebratory speech, John McCain told his supporters, “We are the captains of our fate…We don’t hide from history, we make history”, and called on the people of America to pledge their support in November’s Presidential election [CNN / BBC / Sky News / CNN in depth].

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Baby dies in new Israeli incursion


Within hours of Condoleezza Rice having left the West Bank, Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza. Already there are reports of a baby having died and several militants being injured in fighting. The two hour incursion also secured the capture of two ‘Islamic Jihad’ fighters by Israeli soldiers. The continued incursions will do nothing to improve the situation on the ground between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. Peace talks are already on hold after Mahmoud Abbas pulled out of negotiations earlier. Besides the deteriorating situation, President Bush said he was “optimistic” there would be a peace deal before he leaves office at the end of the year. Speaking during a visit to Jordan where he met King Abdullah, President Bush said, "Ten months is a long time. It's plenty of time to get a deal done" [BBC / CNN / Al Jazeera]

Peace talks failing in Mid East crisis


Besides both US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas calling for peace, there is little sign that the militants in Gaza or the Israeli military will give way [BBC / CNN].

Many Israeli citizens complain that Western media is unbalanced, often only showing the suffering of the victims of Israeli air strikes with little explanation as to what Israel is attempting to achieve. President Ehud Olmert is often quoted as saying that Israel is merely trying to defend itself from Qassam rockets. Hamas has launched dozens of such rockets into Israel this year, but there have been relatively few casualties. It is the fear they provoke amongst the civilian population which has culminated in Israel’s incursions into Gaza. However there is continued criticism that Israeli strikes not only results in the death of civilians but increases militancy within Gaza. And besides the continued military action little impact is made in destroying the Hamas infrastructure. The rockets still fly across the border, the air-raid sirens still sound and Israeli citizens still run for the shelters.

Mr Abbas called a halt to peace talks this weekend after recent Israeli incursions killed at least 110 Palestinians, twenty of them children. The Palestinian leader has described the incursions as “unjustifiable”. But it is unlikely that Olmert will be dissuaded from launching further attacks. "The objective is reducing the rocket fire and weakening Hamas. Everything is possible... air strikes, ground strikes and special operations are all being discussed," President Olmert said on Monday. Three Israelis have also died in the last week. One civilian was killed by a rocket attack on Wednesday and two soldiers were killed on Saturday during the recent incursion into the Gaza strip. Israel has claimed a partial success with at least 13 militants killed in recent days.

Israel and the US have accused Iran of arming Hamas, something which is disputed by Iran. "It is very clear that Hamas is being armed. And it is very clear that they are being armed in part by the Iranians," Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday. "So if the answer is that if Hamas gets armed by the Iranians and nobody helps to improve the security capabilities of the legitimate Palestinian Authority security forces, that's not a very good situation." However, she refused to elaborate on reports which say the US planned to arm Fatah in an attempt to overthrow the Hamas led government. The March 2007 plan surfaced first in Vanity Fair but has subsequently been reported in other media [Guardian / Al Jazeera / Jerusalem Post].

Monday, March 03, 2008

Putin's 'puppet' wins Russian election


L-R: Andrei Bogdanov - Vladimir Zhirinovsky - Vladimir Zhirinovsky - Dmitry Medvedev

Dmitry Medvedev has won a landslide victory amid criticism from Western observers that the election was flawed [BBC]. President Putin’s chosen successor took 70% of the vote in this weekends national poll way in front of other contenders. The Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, only secured 18 percent of the poll while Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, secured only 10 percent [CNN / Sky News / Tass].

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Afghanistan arrivals received mixed reception


Troops march in Essex, and [right] Afghan refugees on M25

Prince Harry touched down at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire today, returning after a 10 week tour of duty in Afghanistan [BBC / Sky News / CNN]. He had been expected to serve a further month, but the MoD cut short his visit to the front line after news leaked that he was fighting in the country. His visit has been criticized by some commentators as an expensive publicity stunt by the MoD. But many members of the public have commended the Prince for his efforts in fighting in the war on terror.
Harry was met by his brother, William, and his father Prince Charles. But there was no public welcome home, only a few members of the press. The picture was very different to the east of London as hundreds greeted a march through Brentwood of the 1st Battalion of the Anglian Regiment, two thirds of whom have served in Afghanistan. The battalion has lost 9 members in the fighting. Crowds waving union flags clapped in appreciation of the troops as some shouted “well done” as they marched by.
Some arrivals from Afghanistan were less welcome. Police were called on Monday this week to a lorry on the M25 where they detained 8 illegal immigrants who had stowed away in the back of the HGV. The German lorry driver was not detained, but the 8 Afghani nationals were taken to a number of police stations for processing by the Border & Immigration Agency.

Pakistan bomb kills up to 60


A bomb blast has targeted the funeral of a police officer in Pakistan killing at least 30 with some reports saying the death toll could be more than 60. The officer was one of three killed only hours earlier by a roadside bomb. The attack hit the north-west Pakistan town of Mingora in the Swat valley. The officer was a superintendent of police. He along with two other officers were killed on Friday in Lakki Marwat, also in north-west Pakistan. Police official Wakif Khan told the BBC that about 65 people were injured in the attack in Mingora, the main town in the valley of Swat. On Monday, a suicide bomber in Rawalpindi killed Pakistan's surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Mushtaq Ahmad Baig, along with his driver and five civilian bystanders, according to a military news release [CNN]. The news was little reported on British media which was saturated with coverage of Prince Harry’s adventures in Afghanistan. In another incident 8 militants were killed by a missile strike in Waziristan which borders Afghanistan. However the US military deny they had any hand in the incident [CNN].