Sunday, August 31, 2008

More than 22 dead in south China quake

An earthquake measuring 5.6 according to the USGS has struck southern China killing at least 22 people. According to Xinhua News more than 100 were also injured in the earthquake which struck near to the borders of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. The tremor hit at 16:30 local time on Sunday [08:30 GMT} near to the town of Panzhihua in Sichuan province [26.335N, 101.906E] and reports say rescue efforts have been hampered by heavy rain [BBC].

US braced for "storm of the century"

President Bush is making his way to Texas to oversee hurricane relief and rescue efforts ahead of the expected landfall of Gustav. The hurricane swept across Cuba last night packing winds in excess of 240 Km/h. The storm which has been measured at a category 4 and has since dropped to category 3. But it may increase to a category 5 by the time it strikes the southern US coast early Monday morning. Thousands have been urged to leave New Orleans where the hurricane is expected and curfews have been put in place by Mayor Ray Nagin [BBC]. The mayor minced no words as he described the hurricane as the "storm of the century" and told residents to "get their butts out of New Orleans".
There are fears the hurricane might do devastating damage to the region’s oil facilities. The 4,000 rigs in the Gulf supply 25% of the US's crude oil and 15% of its natural gas. Around 100 were severely damaged by hurricane Katrina three years vago and there are fears that any significant damage will greatly affect fuel prices [BBC].

Speaking tonight, President George W Bush said it was, “Very important to listen to instructions made by officials“ and asked residents not to “take unnecessary risks”. He said he would travel initially to San Antonio but would not immediately travel to Louisiana until the “situation allowed” [CNN / Sky News].

Saturday, August 30, 2008

More attacks in Xinjiang leave 2 cops dead

Two police have died in more violence in north west China
Xinhua News has reported.
The incident occurred on Wednesday as they investigated an attack which happened on August 12th . Besides the two officers killed, five others were also injured in a knife attack in a corn field in Kizilboyi Town, in Kashi's Jiashi County. And on Friday police in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region killed six people and arrested three others during their investigation into the killings of five police and security staff this month, this according to the state news agency. According to the report on the Xinhua website police encountered nine suspects in a corn field in Ying'erlike Township, Shule County, Kashi Prefecture.

During a "desperate struggle" one militia man and an armed soldier were injured a police spokesman was quoted as saying. At least 6 people were killed after police then opened fire. Three others were injured and taken into police custody. Police say the suspects were linked to attacks on August 12th and the 27th .

Four security staff were attacked at a road checkpoint in Yamanya Town, Shule County, on August 12th . Only one of the four survived, but suffered injuries [China Daily / BBC]. On the 4th August 16 police died and another 16 were injured after they were attacked by militants armed with grenades [BBC].

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain names Sarah Palin as running mate

John McCain, has formerly introduced Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate. After many thank yous to the crowds assembled, McCain said he had been looking for a running mate “who will best shake up Washington”, someone with a “reputation for fighting corruption and injustice”.
“I am especially proud in the week of celebration of Women’s Suffrage, to introduce a wife and mother of five. She’s not from these parts and she’s not from Washington, but she has the devotion” insisted McCain who then welcomed the “Governor Sarah Palin of the great state of Alaska”. Palin said she was “honoured” and she promised “nothing less” than “the best she had to give”. Cheers of ‘USA’ punctuated parts of her speech before the thousands assembled in Ohio. But while the enthusiasm was evident, the event lacked the enormous spectacle of the Democratic convention in Denver last night. On policy issues Palin spoke of “energy independence” and of “serving the common good” of America. She praised McCain for “serving his country and not just his party”.

"In a dangerous world it is John McCain who will lead our friends and allies to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons" she insisted . This was the man she said she wanted as her “Commander in Chief” as cheers of ‘USA’ echoed across the hall. It seemed clear why a woman had been chosen when she praised Hillary Clinton’s campaign for office but then called on the “Women of America to shatter the glass ceiling which Hillary Clinton has cracked”. If elected she will be the first woman vice-president in US history. And the choice has rattled many commentators. One called it an “out of the box” decision rather than a well decided decision. But it will be the voters who will make their decision in 67 days from now.

"Now is the time for change" says Obama

Barack Obama was welcomed to a rapturous applause as he took to the rostrum to give his speech at the Democratic convention in Denver on Thursday. After thanking the crowd and introducing his running mate Joe Biden as the next Vice-President he launched into a wide ranging address.

He blamed the problems in America as a “failure to respond and the failed policies of George W Bush”.
“Enough, this moment, this moment this election is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive...we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look liker the last eight. On November 4th we must stand up and say ‘eight is enough’”. The crowd responded by joining in a chant of “8 is enough”.

Obama then launched into criticism of his main opponent. “Let there be no doubt that Republican nominee John McCain has worn the American uniform with distinction and served the country well. But he has voted with George W Bush 90% of the time. Where is your judgement when you vote with George W Bush 90% of the time? I don’t know about you but I’m not ready to take a 10 % chance on change”.

He praised Americans in the military and on the factory floor for their perseverance despite risks of the battle field and the threat of unemployment hanging over them. He accused McCain of being out of touch with the average American’s plight. In Washington, he said, they have an attitude of ignoring the poor and disaffected. “If you’re out of work, you’re on your own. If you’ve no health care, you’re on your own. If you’re born into poverty they tell you to pull up your own boot straps even if you‘ve no boots” he said. “It’s time for us to change America, and that’s why I’m running for president of the United States”.

He said the Democrats measured progress by how many were able to make ends meet and not by the amount of millionaires existing in the country. And he promised to reform the tax system in the country. Unlike McCain he said he would give tax breaks to companies that stay in the USA and not to those that relocated abroad. This was a clear swipe at those firms who have moved many of their operations to China.

Energy was also an important issue raised and Barrack Obama said he would end dependence on oil from Middle East. “Drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a solution” he insisted. The presidential hopeful said he would develop new initiatives to make use of natural gas reserves, make use of clean coal technology and safe nuclear power. Additionally Obama said he would invest $150 billion in renewable energy and bio-fuels over the next decade.

Moving onto education Obama said he wanted to provide affordable schooling for all with better opportunities for those seeking a college education. “Now is time to meet our moral obligation and provide good education for all” he said.

Barrack Obama then set out other pledges for changes in health care and social reform. “Now is the time to provide affordable accessible health care. Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws and protect social security and protect equal pay”. But he conceded that “Many of these planes will cost money” but said he would, “go through the federal budget, line by line and eliminate redundant policies and spending” and by this seek to stop the 20th century bureaucracy in the 21st century.

“We need a president that faces the threat of the future not grasping at the threats of the past” and he accused Bush and McCain of “Tough talk and bad strategy”.

“We are the party of Roosevelt and Kennedy so don’t tell me we can’t keep this country safe” Obama insisted. “As commander in chief I will never hesitate to send our troops into battle to defend our country”. But he said these actions must be taken responsibly.

“Common purpose” had been lost in the US and Obama said this should be restored. Besides differences of opinion on many issues from abortion to same sex marriage, Obama said it was time to “Bridge divides”.

As he approached the end of his 45 minute address he admitted he was different from previous candidates. “I don’t fit the typical category, but I’m standing before you tonight because something is stirring. This election is not about me it’s about you” he told the crowd of some 75,000. “For 18 months you have said no to the politics of the past” he said.

“You have shown what history teaches us. Change doesn’t come from Washington; it comes to Washington”

And as he ended he spoke of a “new politics for a new time”.
“The change is coming; I’ve seen it” Obama told the enthusiastic crowd of supporters, “Together our dreams can be won. America, we can not turn back”.

The speech came 45 years after the infamous “I have a dream speech” and many news broadcasts made links between the two. CNN said ‘History was made” at the Democratic convention. Key phrases were also grasped upon by the political pundits. Many of the supporters continued to chant “Yes we can” throughout the address, but Obama’s use of the word “Change” became the key word for hundreds of newspapers around the world. But one thing doesn’t appear to be changing and that is the polls. The gap between the two main contenders is extremely tight. And with a little over two months to go until election day, anything might happen that will swing voters from one side to the other.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kunming bombs prompt security response

A number 54 bus in Kunming, Yunnan province

A month after explosions rocked Yunnan province killing 2 and injuring a dozen others, Beijing authorities have announced they are to install hi-tech CCTV cameras on buses. In total, more than 1,400 buses in Beijing will each be fitted with four video cameras, Wang Zheng, an official with the company that is making them, told the China Daily newspaper. Some cameras are already fitted to some buses, but the new cameras will be able to transmit images live to a security command centre. “These new vehicles can effectively protect passengers and the vehicle itself from harm,” Wang said. The move to increase security on Beijing’s bus fleet comes after an explosion on a bus in Shanghai in May which killed three people and 2 bus blasts in the city of Kunming in July. Though one Islamist terror group has admitted responsibility for the attacks, authorities have dismissed these claims. No-one has been arrested in connection with the incidents though police in Kunming did put up a reward of 300,000 yuan (about 43,500 U.S. dollars) for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the bus bombs [Peoples Daily / Xinhua].

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Police foil Obama assassination plot

Nathan Johnson told police they didn't want a black president

Police in Denver may have thwarted a plot to assassinate Senator Barack Obama according to media reports. Sky News showed pictures of one suspect who claimed that he and two others were intending to kill the presidential candidate. However, besides finding a rifle and a bullet proof jacket in a car belonging to one of three arrested suspects police say the plot was “not credible” and described the men as “knuckleheads”.

Garin Thartrell, 28, was arrested after a routine traffic stop reveal a stash of drugs and weapons. Detective Marcus Dudley, of Aurora Police Department, told reporters, "The sergeant discovered inside his truck a bullet-proof vest, two rifles, ammunition, walkie-talkies and drugs". Police later arrested Nathan Johnson, 32, in Aurora, and Shawn Robert Adolf, 33, at an Aurora hotel. Sky’s Adam Boulton said police were still trying to determine the credibility of the threat but said it appeared the men were a “fairly ramshackle bunch of redneck supremacists".

CBS News reported the story late last night [Monday] but many American viewers only woke up to the news today. The incident, credible or not, will unnerve security officials as the Democrat Convention gets underway [BBC].

Next stop London as Beijing Olympics end

After 17 days of sporting achievements the Beijing Olympic Games came to a close on Sunday. Although the ceremony which closed the event were not as grand as the opening a little over two weeks ago, it was nonetheless a spectacle of light, colour and sound. The games were declared a success by IOC president Jacques Rogge as the Olympic banner was then handed to London's Mayor Boris Johnson. After waving the flag rather awkwardly there then followed an 8 minute display to celebrate Britain’s position as the next host city for the Olympics. On rolled a red London Bus, not a route master as Boris may have preferred, and from it emerged Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page who launched into a slightly truncated version of “Whole Lotta Love” sung by Leona Lewis. Then soccer star David Beckham appeared who kicked a football into the crowd. Back in London, crowds gathered in front of Buckingham Palace for a free concert cheered. But the ceremonies were not yet finished for the 2008 host city as a series of astounding acrobatic displays and fireworks brought to an end the Beijing 2008 Olympiad.
There were muted cheers as the torch on the Bird’s Nest stadium was extinguished. For Beijing, the dream had come to an end so there may maybe a touch of sadness across China that the Olympics has ended. Billions of Yuan have been spent on hosting the Olympics and the event have brought together Chinese people in a huge patriotic embrace. Even criticism of China by the Western media dwindled as the games got underway. There were a few pro-Tibetan protests and Channel Four News made particular criticism of the stamping out of legitimate protests. But it was the terror threat that nearly overshadowed the games. However, bomb blasts in Yunnan province and attacks on police by Muslim separatists in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region failed to dampen spirits and even the fatal stabbing of an American tourist did not stop the battle for Gold medals. And it was a record breaking Olympics for many countries. Michael Phelps smashed several records in a number of swimming events. Phelps took a record 8 Gold medals in Beijing surpassing records held by the American swimmer Mark Spitz. Team GB also did exceedingly well in the Beijing Olympics coming 4th on the Gold medal table behind China, the US and Russia.
The past few weeks have been memorable, not only for the sporting achievements and festivities but also for China’s attempts to open up to the world. The changes may not be fast enough for some, but China has come a long way since Deng Xiaoping began China’s opening up policy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Spain mourns 153 dead in MD-82 crash

Spain today started 3 days of mourning for the 153 victims of Wednesday’s plane crash at Madrid’s Barajas Airport. Only 19 people survived the tragedy but many of them remain in critical condition. Accident investigators have meanwhile recovered the fight data and voice recorders from the crash scene. One area of investigation will be the reported problem of a fault with a temperature gauge something which is said to have delayed the flight. Although unconfirmed as yet, investigators will also look into reports that one of the rear engines was on fire as the MD-82 took off. According to Sky News the plane had experienced overheating in the air intake probe located near the cockpit. However the probe was turned off before the plane was given the all-clear to take off [BBC / Sky News / CNN].

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

146 dead in SpanAir plane crash

The ill-fated MD-82 on a previous flight

Around 146 people of the 166 passengers and 6 crew have died on the ill-fated flight 5022 which crash shortly after take-off in Madrid on Wednesday afternoon. Rescue efforts were hampered by a large field fire which surrounded the stricken aircraft after it came down in fields near to Madrid’s Barajas Airport. It is thought to be one of the worst air disasters in European aviation history. Less than thirty people have been taken to hospital. Several reports suggest a fire developed in one of the rear engines as it departed before it then veered into the field adjacent to the runway. One Spanish newspaper said the plane had been making a second attempt to take-off. There have been 19 major crashes involving the MD-82 over the past few years according to Sky News.

"45 dead" in Spanish plane crash

Up to 45 people have died following a crash landing in Spain. There are however conflicting numbers of those killed. Al Goodman told CNN that at least 40 were dead and the BBC have reported local authorities as saying the toll was as high as 45. However the news organisation Reuters is reporting the number dead as 20. Sky News, quoting emergency services, has said that all but 25 passengers were killed. According to one report from a Spanish journalist one passenger said they saw a fire at the back of the plane prior to the crash. SpanAir Flight 5022 carrying 164 persons on board crashed as it was attempted a take-off on runway 36L. The plane, said to be a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, was bound for Las Palmas in Gran Canaria off the coast of Africa. Olivia Acosa from the Red Cross said at least 19 people had been conveyed to hospital [BBC / CNN / Sky News]

Spain - Several dead after plane crash

A plane has crashed at Madrid airport in Spain killing 7 people according to early reports. The airliner belonging to Spanish carrier SpanAir skidded off the runway and crashed while attempting to takeoff at Madrid's Barajas Airport. Clouds of black smoke rose from the scene and there are reports of several casualties, according to airport officials. Around 160 people were on board the plane which was destined for Gran Canaria [BBC / CNN].

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Zambian president dies

Levy Mwanawasa - 1948-2008
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has died at a Paris hospital following a series of strokes. The leader had been making “steady progress” according to Zambia's Vice-President Rupiah Banda, but on Sunday night he required emergency surgery. His situation rapidly deteriorated. President Mwanawasa, 59, suffered a mild stroke at an African Union summit in Egypt, late in June and in July, Zambia's opposition called for an investigation into whether the president was fit to lead the country. He was later flown to France following his stroke, where he has remained in hospital. During his political career he attempted to mediate between the outside world and Zimbabwe during the political crisis there. He was one of the first African leaders to speak out against the Mugabe regime. For his own country he has been criticized for failing to tackle widespread poverty. However he has brought in much foreign investment from China, Canada, the US and Britain which has brought much needed employment [CNN].

Islamic militants kill dozens in 3 countries

A day after President Musharraf stepped down from his post after threats of impeachment, a bomb has ripped through a hospital killing at least 25 people [BBC]. According to reports the attack was perpetrated by a suicide bomber as Shia Muslims as they gathered following the killing of a Shia leader.

In neighbouring Afghanistan the violence continues daily but the last day has brought a larger than usual death toll for France after ten of its troops died after clashes near Kabul [BBC]. It brings the French losses to 22 in the war torn country.

Halfway round the world in Algeria at least 43 died in an attack believed to have been carried out by a suicide bomber [BBC]. At least 38 others were injured in the blast which targeted a paramilitary police training centre in Issers, 60 km east of the capital Algiers.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Islamic terrorism growing in China

The Turkistan Islamic Party claimed responsibility for Kunming bombs

Four weeks after bomb blasts hit two number 54 buses in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, Chinese authorities have yet to make any arrests and there has been little official word on who might be responsible. The blasts killed two passengers and injured at least 10 others on the morning of the 21st July, the same date as a number of failed suicide attacks on London’s transport system in 2005. But despite the coincidence of dates and even a claim of responsibility from a little known Islamic terror group, authorities have dismissed any connection with Islamic extremists. Soon after the attacks, described as “deliberate” by Chinese officials, the Turkistan Islamic Party released a video claiming success in their “Holy War (or Jihad) in Yunnan province”. Similar claims of responsibility came following an incident on a Shanghai bus on 5th May [BBC / Shanghaiist]. In that attack the bus became engulfed in flames following an explosion. Three people died and 10 others were injured which some reports at the time described as an “accident” when “gasoline canisters carried by a passenger” caught fire. However, it seems clear that the attack was certainly deliberate even if the motive cannot be established. Posters were soon distributed following the incident asking for help in identifying one of the victims [Link] and one even offered a 50,000 Yuan reward for information [Link / vuilleblog].

When the bomb blasts occurred in Yunnan province three months later some locals speculated that the attacks may have been carried out by someone with a grievance rather than terrorists. Land grabs by authorities have certainly raised tensions in some areas and there have been cases where individuals have resorted to extreme measures following overzealous treatment by police. One individual stabbed several policemen to death and set fire to the police station in Shanghai last July as retribution for perceived maltreatment by the authorities [BBC].

But the timing of the Yunnan bus blasts and the details surrounding the attacks seem to indicate that the authorities are playing down the incident and attempting to dispel any ideas that the bomb blasts were instigated by Islamic terrorists. Both bomb blasts occurred near to the city centre a little over an hour apart. In fact one bus was only a few minutes from the heart of Kunming’s financial district. Despite the “deliberate” nature of the attack authorities quickly cleared the vehicles from the scene and the roads were swiftly reopened to traffic. Many residents that spoke to tvnewswatch on the day of the attack expressed the view that the swift clear up was due to the efficiency and professionalism of the Chinese authorities. Others suggested the authorities wanted to down play the incident because they didn’t want people to worry. But there was nonetheless concern on the streets of Kunming following the blasts.
One week later two incidents on buses in the city made further headlines in local papers but received only scant attention outside the country. A man attempted to set fire to himself on a number 64 bus but was detained by authorities. And a tyre explosion on the K2 route also caused concern. Both incidents made front page headlines in the Shenghuoxinbao newspaper but authorities said there was no connection with the bomb attacks the previous week. A British newspaper meanwhile reported on a “third bus bomb in a week” on the “54 and K2” route. The article in the Guardian said that the incident was near to one of the bus blasts the previous week and said that the “explosion” may have been caused by an engine explosion.

The incidents, whether domestic or terror related, have caused concern not only in Yunnan but in other provinces too. In Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, one taxi driver expressed the worries of many in the city. “It shocked many people here”, he said, “ if it can happen in Yunnan it could happen anywhere in China”. A few days later China was rocked by what was most certainly a terrorist attack after 16 police died in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region [BBC]. The attack on the 4th August was swiftly blamed on the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, said to be closely connected with the Turkistan Islamic Party which claimed responsibility for the Shanghai and Yunnan blasts. And less than a week later further attacks came leaving several militants and a security guard dead [BBC]. Further attacks followed leaving more security personnel dead [BBC].
Despite these continued attacks, China has insisted the Olympic games were safe [BBC]. But the safety concerns, as well as visa restrictions and high hotel prices, have kept many foreign visitors away and hundreds of empty seats at Olympic events have had to be filled with volunteers. Back in Kunming, there are still worries. Yunnan is home to a large Islamic community and if there is a rise of Islamic terrorism the effects may be far reaching. Last week the BBC reported that the bus blasts had bred “fear in Yunnan”. This is not immediately apparent as people continue about their daily lives. But the authorities are certainly concerned as it increases its drive against terrorism, though officials still insist, at least publicly that the Yunnan blasts were not terrorist related.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

British journalist arrested in Beijing protest

The pictures of the incident will do little for China's image

An ITN reporter has been arrested by Chinese police during a Free Tibet demonstration in Beijing. John Ray was bundled into a van despite protestations that he was a British journalist. In the scuffles a Guardian photographer, Dan Chung, was also manhandled as were a number of other reporters and photographers. Ray said he had been prevented from showing his press accreditation and had been subject to a certain amount of physical violence. His shoes were taken from him and he was filmed by police. "I have been roughed up. They dragged me, pulled me and knocked me to the ground. Now they are filming me," Mr Ray told the UK's Guardian newspaper from the back of the police van as he was driven away.

He was held for around twenty minutes and according to some reports his hands were stamped on by police. Upon his release John Ray said he was “extremely angry”. His bag of equipment had also been confiscated in the incident. The fate of the up to eight protesters is still unknown. China pledged to allow freedom for journalists covering the Games, but has since been criticised for trying to curtail coverage of sensitive subjects [BBC].

The controls that Beijing wants to exert over journalists is only enflaming matters. News of the protest today has been blacked out from mainland Chinese press, as has the news of the fake opening ceremony song, the fake fireworks, Olympic connections of the murdered American tourist and the actress who was paralysed in opening ceremony rehearsals. But around the world the stories, and attempts to stop them being reported, are making headlines. “I am just wondering where this fits in with China’s solemn undertaking to allow us to report freely during the Olympics” Ray said after his release [SMH / CNN / Sky News / ITN].

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Parts of Olympic show were fake

Fake: computer graphics and miming singers

In the land of readily available fake watches, counterfeit DVDs and reproductions of branded clothing it’s difficult to know what’s real. And following a dramatic Olympic opening ceremony it has emerged that not all was quite what it seemed. The latest revelation is that a little girl who sang a rendition of “Ode to the Motherland” had in fact mimed to a recording made by another young girl. Lin Miaoke had ‘sang’ to an audience of millions wearing a red dress in the centre of the Bird’s Nest national stadium on Friday. But on a Beijing radio station musical director Chen Qigang admitted the real singer was in fact Yang Peiyi. She had apparently been dropped despite having a perfect voice because she was not as “flawless” as Lin [BBC].
The news follows reports that parts of the firework display were also contrived. Sky News reported that the string of “firework footprints” that were seen over Beijing, in an apparent helicopter shot, were part of an elaborate computer graphic film which took a year to complete.
In recent days there has been much criticism over the cost of the Olympics. Many have said the money could have been better spent given the extreme poverty that exists in parts of the country [Sky News]. Even those who made the Beijing Olympics a reality have criticised the Chinese government. Writing in the Guardian, Ai Weiwei, who helped design the Bird's Nest stadium, has criticised the “autocracy” existing in China. “Whatever shape it takes, whatever justification it gives, authoritarian government always ends up trampling on equality, denying justice and stealing happiness and laughter from the people” Ai wrote in his article last week.

China's limelight fades

Fireworks over the Bird's Nest as seen on Chinese TV

The celebrations in Beijing on Friday night were overshadowed the following day after an American man, closely connected with the Olympic team, was stabbed to death. The assailant also stabbed the man’s wife and their Chinese tour guide before leaping to his death. Besides the high security Tang Yongming, an unemployed divorcee, armed with a knife lunged at Todd and Barbara Bachman, parents-in-law of the US men’s Olympic volleyball team coach. While Barbara Bachman was said to have been left in a critical condition in hospital, the unnamed tour guide’s condition was not revealed. Many Chinese citizens were shocked by the incident which the US embassy described as a “senseless act of violence” [Christian Science Monitor].
But while killing of a foreign tourist is rare there has been a growing rise of patriotic fervour in China and particularly in Beijing. There are rumours and little reported stories that foreigners travelling around the capital with their Chinese wives have been specifically targeted. Only two days before the opening ceremony an employee at Reuters in Beijing warned tvnewswatch that one couple had been targeted by a group of young Chinese men. “Not to put a dampener on things, but I think you should be aware” the employee said. She said the foreign man had been punched in the face breaking several teeth and that his Chinese partner had also bee attacked. The veracity of such incidents cannot however be substantiated, but there was a certain feeling of animosity towards mixed couples felt around the Chinese capital. tvnewswatch observed indifference and even rude behaviour from taxi drivers in Beijing, something not seen in previous years. Of course there are a number of other factors affecting the taxi drivers’ moods. Many complained at a lack of work with migrant workers forced to leave town and a lack of foreign tourists. Some even moaned about the weather, saying the missed the blue skies seen earlier in the month. And while measures had been made to reduce the amount of traffic in the capital road blocks and traffic restrictions were still making driving around the city very difficult.

Further troubles in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region also overshadowed Friday night’s celebrations. Seven Islamic militants and a security guard died in clashes which follows a deadly attack earlier this month when 16 police officers were killed in a grenade attack [BBC]. Last month two buses were hit by explosions in the south-west province of Yunnan but authorities have dismissed any connection to the Olympics or with terrorism. The East Turkistan Islamic Party recently made a statement claiming responsibility for the Kunming bus bombs which left 2 dead [BBC]. But while these claims have been dismissed by Chinese authorities one government official has told tvnewswatch the attacks were “definitely terrorism” but was “uncertain” who carried out the attacks.

Back in Beijing and those that ventured onto the streets to enjoy the opening ceremony celebrations experienced varying degrees of entertainment. In the Qianhai Lake area to the west of the Forbidden City many ordinary Chinese were kept out of the park by lines of police and security. However foreigners and those with special passes were allowed in. Bars alongside the lake were packed with tourists and some local Chinese watching the events at the Bird’s Nest on television screens. But in the tourist area of Wangfujing crowds that had gathered to soak up the atmosphere were left in the dark. As the Guardian reported on Saturday the giant TV screens were “disappointingly blank” and there were no fireworks to be seen. Bizarrely, NBC described an entirely different scene of "hot passion" as tens of thousands gathered to watch giant television screens of pictures beamed from the Bird's Nest stadium.
While these colourful explosions were lighting up the Beijing sky most were oblivious of the building turmoil in Georgia where Russian tanks were rolling in. And for many foreign papers and news broadcasts it was the violence in the former Russian state that dominated headlines [BBC]. China was no longer in the limelight. [tvnewswatch now reporting from London, UK]

Friday, August 08, 2008

Beijing celebrates

Hundreds flocked to see fireworks at the Qianhai Lake on Friday night. The display followed the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing which was watched by thousands on big screens around town and in bars and cafes. There were screams of delight when the Chinese Olympic team emerged at the end of the ceremony and as fireworks showered over parts of the city the mood was one of great celebration. The mood was only slightly dampened as many struggled to get home following the events. There were few taxis on the streets and buses were also scarce. Many resorted to walking long distances though the late night metro service did accommodate most revellers. Others however gave up and could be seen sleeping on street benches in temperatures well above 30 degrees.
[tvnewswatch, Beijing, China]

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Excitement as Olympic ceremony nears

Not to everybody's taste - an NBC presenter tries silk-worm grubs

It has been a long journey for China, but the day has finally arrived when the country will launch the opening ceremony to the Olympic Games. The auspicious date of 08.08.08 will see an extravaganza of fireworks and events across the city of Beijing. There is however a muted sense of excitement. Taxi drivers are disgruntled by the lack of business as many migrant workers have returned home and the numbers of tourists are not as high as expected. Even hotels have been forced to lower their rates in order to attract last minute customers.
Nonetheless in the Wangfujing area of Beijing, near to Tiananmen Square, there has been a steady flow of foreigners soaking up the atmosphere. Giant TV screens have been displaying sporting events and stalls are making a killing in selling ‘I Love China’ T-shirts. Stalls in the area have been selling the unusual fare of silk-worm grubs and other snacks to passers-by but the usual sight of scorpions and locusts are off the menu this year! An NBC TV crew filming a piece about such street food attracted an inquisitive crowd on Thursday evening and one passer-by shouted in Chinese; “NBC, don’t make negative reports about China”. Of course this was not understood by the American TV crew which continued on its journey around the stalls filming the bizarre foods for sale.
Besides claims by the China Daily that the ‘haze in Beijing did not amount to poor air quality’ many taxi drivers have expressed their opinion that the ‘fog’ hanging over the city for the last few days was indeed pollution. Some have also said they miss the blue skies seen in recent weeks. And the heavy ‘smog’ and humid conditions have been almost unbearable at times. Temperatures have hit the mid 30s and the air is very difficult to breath at times. But it hasn’t dampened the spirit for both the Chinese nor the foreign visitors who have begun to poor into the city in the last week. At bars in the Quanhai Lake area of Beijing hundreds of foreigners can be seen relaxing in the evening with a cold TsingTao beer listening to the live entertainment. But on Friday night the climax of all the preparations finally arrives and whatever the weather, some predict rain, there will be little to spoil the mood for the extravaganza that is expected.
[tvnewswatch in Beijing, China]

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Fortress Beijing

Police checks in Beijing

An air of paranoia exists in Beijing, something not seen in previous years. At subway stations bags must be put through X-ray machines and police are posted at exits and entrances. In some stations police can be seen photographing passengers as they leave and CCTV cameras are everywhere.
In a more strict enforcement of an already existing but rarely observed rule, all foreigners not staying at a hotel must register with police. In small towns there is a sense of disinterest from police as the foreigner attempts to register. But in Beijing the rules are strictly enforced with ID numbers of property owners required. The visitor is also required to be photographed and has to provide details of their itinerary. The logging of this personal data may not be all the authorities are storing on foreigners. Various reports in western media suggest that internet connects and telephone call s may be monitored by Chinese authorities. This is something denied by China, but both MI5, the British intelligence service, and US intelligence have warned their citizens not to divulge sensitive information in e-mails and during telephone conversations. The monitoring, security and checks may be an attempt to thwart any possible terrorist attack aimed at disrupting the Olympics.
On Monday 16 police died after they were targeted by terrorists in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Xinhua reported the group responsible may have been connected to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement. At least 16 other police were injured in the attack which comes exactly two weeks after a double bomb attack on the Kunming bus system which left two civilians dead and at least 14 others injured. Around the Olympic village itself security is very tight with road blocks and police security checks everywhere. And around Tiananmen Square there are extensive police cordons and security checks. As the games get ever nearer the tension may increase further making visitors feel more than a little uncomfortable.
[tvnewswatch in Beijing, China]

Friday, August 01, 2008

Total eclipse seen across China

The near total eclipse seen in Tongchuan north of Xian
Thousand watched a total eclipse across Russia and China on Friday. Many gathered in the north western province of Xinjiang autonomous region and neighbouring Gansu province. Hotels raised their rates to astronomical prices according to some reports. In Shaanxi province the total eclipse was also visible north of the city of Xian. Astrologers and feng shui experts in China said earlier the eclipse might "spook the superstitious" a week ahead of the Beijing Olympics. But they added that Chinese authorities had nothing to fear. "Protests and chaos on the street are very likely but they will not do any permanent harm to the Chinese authorities," one of China's most renowned feng shui and astrology experts, Mak Ling-ling, told AFP.
[tvnewswatch in Xian, Shaanxi province, central China]