Sunday, November 30, 2008

UK - Police shoot man dead in church grounds


A man has been shot dead by police in the grounds of Guildford cathedral in Surrey. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said the shooting took place after police responded to reports of an armed man in the area at around 15:00 GMT. The cathedral was featured in the 1976 horror movie, The Omen. The man has not been named but is thought to be local [BBC / Sky News].

Shuttle Endeavour lands safely


Space shuttle Endeavour code named STS-126 arrives in California

Space shuttle Endeavour has landed safely at California's Edwards Air Force Base. Previous opportunities for landing had been delayed because of poor weather and was eventually switched from Florida to California. The shuttle touched down safely at around 13:25 local time [21:25GMT], an hour ahead of a scheduled landing. The mission had been extended by a day because NASA wanted the shuttle's crew to make repairs to a machine which makes drinking water from urine. During the 16 day mission astronauts took part in four space walks to repair a mechanism meant to keep the station's solar panels pointed towards the sun. However they encountered several problems after Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper lost her tool bag during the first space walk. That event in itself has excited amateur astronomers who have attempted to spot the orbiting space debris [BBC]. Inside the station, ISS commander Mike Fincke supervised work on the malfunctioning water regeneration system which distils, filters, ionises and oxidises wastewater - including urine - into fresh water [BBC / CNN]

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai siege over after 58 hours of terror



At a chaotic press briefing in the early hours of Saturday, an Indian army chief told the assembled media that the siege at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel was effectively over. He said that his officers were however sweeping the hotel checking every room in the vast building. The chief of the operation which has lasted 58 hours said three terrorists had been killed. In total there have been around 12 militants killed over the three days, but the death toll they brought to the streets of Mumbai stands far higher. Officially the civilian death toll stands at 156 but may rise significantly as bodies are recovered from the Oberoi and Taj hotels. Already questions have been asked over how the security operation was handled and if enough was done to prevent such attacks. But for now there will be relief that the worst is over. The work now starts to rebuild, not only the damaged properties, but also the shattered lives of hundreds of families who will be grieving in the coming days as they bury their loved ones. India too will have to pick up the pieces as it tries to repair its image, much tarnished by this terrorist attack.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bloggers and Twitters change face of news


CNN show one of Shanbhag's pictures

Bloggers have been on the frontline in providing information around the world as events unfold in India’s latest terror attack. Internet users, not only in India but in countries around the globe, have used various platforms to air opinions, post pictures and give moment by moment accounts of events as they happen. While media organisations broadcast Live pictures from outside the Taj Mahal hotel, amateur photographers were posting their own pictures on blogs and via such platforms as the photo-sharing website Flickr. One amateur Shanbhag posted a number of pictures showing the attempted rescue at the Jewish Community Centre known as Nariman House while Vinu posted dozens of pictures showing the fire at the Taj Mahal hotel and the ongoing scenes in the streets. Their photographs were also becoming part of the story as news organisations like CNN contacted them for their side of the story and showed some of the pictures on air.

But it wasn’t just people with cameras that were making their digital mark during the terror attacks. Thousands turned to the Internet to post comments on blogs and via the micro-blogging service Twitter [search #mumbai]

Others were using Google Docs to post a constantly updated list of known injured and dead [link]. Blogs were also set up to help aid the victims [mumbaihelp.blogspot.com] and several Facebook pages have been created to draw people together and provide a virtual help centre.
But the use of the internet by citizen reporters has not pleased everyone. Indian authorities are said to be concerned by those posting a running commentary on Twitter. One person wrote, “Police reckon tweeters (are) giving away strategic info to terrorists via Twitter” [The Times].
Although there was a slight risk of informing the militants about the movements of security forces, the terrorists were unlikely to have the ability to keep a continuing watch on the Internet. Indeed they would have gleaned more useful information via television pictures broadcast by the world’s media.

India bans CNN from live broadcasting


CNN have been refused a licence by Indian authorities to broadcast Live pictures via satellite from the country. TV anchor Becky Anderson told viewers that the refusal of a permit that the news broadcaster was only able to bring reports via phone. It is a clear instance of selective censorship as both the BBC and Sky are broadcasting unimpeded from outside the Oberoi and Taj hotels as well as from the location of the Jewish Community Centre.

CNN-IBN’s feed was still available via the Internet [Stream-1 / Stream-2] but it appears CNN International are unable to relay the pictures themselves. CNN has often had difficulties in broadcasting from trouble spots around the world. During both Gulf Wars the news organisation was banned from the country and Zimbabwe continues to exclude the broadcaster.

Victims include Americans, British & French


Andreas Liveras who had earlier spoken to media before he was shot

Two Americans have been confirmed dead in the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the US State Dept has said. Three Australians were also declared to be amongst the dead last night. They were identified as a 50 year old woman and two men aged 49 and 73. A number of French citizens are also amongst those killed as is one British citizen, identified as Andreas Liveras. A Japanese man was also killed in what has become nearly 48 hours of terror in one of India’s largest cities. It has not yet been confirmed officially but a number of Israelis are believed to be amongst those that died at the Jewish Community Centre earlier today.

Battles continue at Taj Mahal hotel


Mumbai’s police chief has told the Associated Press that 143 people had now died from the terror attacks. CNN-IBN were however declaring 155 killed. An Israeli diplomat, speaking on the Israeli television channel 2, has confirmed that 5 hostages were killed at Nariman House, also known as Chabad House, the Jewish centre where a Rabbi and a number of others had been held captive by militants. Other reports suggest that 2 militants were killed. Meanwhile a military operation continues at the Taj Mahal hotel where fires have broken out in a number of rooms. Battles could be clearly heard on live coverage on Sky News with a massive series of shots ringing out at 19:47 local time [14:17].

'All militants & hostages dead' at Jewish Ctre


Police and officials have told the assembled crowds that the siege at the Jewish Community Centre was not yet over and asked them to calm themselves. Sky News has reported that two bodies, believed to be hostages, have been found at the centre. Besides the source of the information coming from India’s guard chief, Israeli Ambassador Mark Sofer told Sky News he would prefer to wait for absolute confirmation before commenting. He also denied reports that Israeli paramilitary operatives were involved in the assault. CNN-IBN have reported that five hostages have been found dead and that two terrorists have been killed.

Jewish Ctre siege is over, reports say


The siege at Nariman House, the Jewish Community Centre in the heart of Mumbai, is over according to television news reports. Intense media activity was seen near to the building as commandos emerged. However there has been no sign of the hostages believed to have been inside. Police have denied the siege is over and say the operation is still ongoing but now entering the end-game according to Sky's Lisa Holland.

Seige continues at Taj Mahal hotel


The situation on the ground in Mumbai remains extremely fluid with the siege at one of the hotels continuing. Hundreds of journalists have gathered outside the Taj Mahal hotel. At around 17:00 local time [11:30 GMT] there was some confusion after explosions were heard and reports that some journalists had been wounded by gunfire. However, these reports were not immediately able to be unsubstantiated. The BBC later reported that a journalist had been injured by flying glass. Police and officials have pushed the media further away from the hotel and sporadic shots can still be heard and smoke can be seen issuing from the roof. Alex Crawford reporting from the scene for Sky News said the police were directed mainly at the second and third floors. She said there had be no sign of any civilians or hostages coming from the hotel. She reports that the police are firing rockets into the hotel from the front.

Earlier, a number of hostages were freed by security forces at the Oberoi hotel. At least 90 foreigners were seen to emerge and the authorities say they have control. The death toll rose once again after several bodies were found inside.

The siege at Nariman House continues and it is not known how many hostages are being held. Two hours ago [15:00 local time / 09:30 GMT] commandos were scene to be making an assault. Explosions were also heard but all has gone quiet since. Sky News are providing rolling news coverage as they maintain a Live camera position at the Taj Mahal hotel. The BBC, CNN and al-Jazeera have meanwhile switched back to regular programming and are only updating viewers at the top of the hour.

Commando operation launched at Jewish Ctre



Commandos belonging to the Indian army have move on Nariman House where a number of hostages have been held since the Mumbai attacks began some 33 hours ago. A helicopter circled overhead dropping off a number of troops onto the roof and there are reports of sniper fire. Some pictures have been shown on al-Jazeera and CNN but it is unclear whether the pictures are live. Explosions are also reported but the picture as to what is happening on the ground is confused. Twitter is alive with feeds and speculation as to what is occurring at the Jewish Community Centre where one Rabbi and several others are being held.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Death toll rises in Mumbai attack


Mumbai attacks leave 125 dead, 300 injured & unknown number of hostages in terrorists' hands

Twenty four hours after one of India’s worst terror attacks, fires were still burning and there are some reports of sporadic gunfire and explosions. Eleven locations were targeted by the attackers and so far at least 125 people have died and another 300 have been injured. The almost simultaneous attacks started at around 21:00 local time in central Mumbai. The first attack came at the Sasoon Dock and soon after gunmen stormed into the Leopold Cafe and opened fire on diners. An attack then followed at Nariman House, a Jewish outreach Centre, though there are few details available as to casualties. There were unconfirmed reports of a Rabbi and his wife having been taken hostage. Chabad House which is situated in the Nariman business and residential complex was later surrounded by police. Attacks then started at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus [CST] station, formerly known as Victoria Station. Two gunman opened fire on passengers and threw grenades killing at least ten and injuring dozens of others.

Gunmen then burst into two hotels, the Oberoi Trident and Taj Mahal, and opened fire before taking a number of hostages said to be mostly British and Americans. It is not known how many foreigners were killed in the hotel but at least one Japanese citizen was reported killed at the Taj Mahal hotel. A massive fire later engulfed the Taj Mahal and was still burning as dawn broke. Reports suggest that most hostages have been freed from the Taj Mahal but others are still believed to be held captive at the nearby Oberoi hotel.

At the same time as the hotel attacks, a hospital was also reported to have been attacked. One report from the Cama hospital said that four militants hijacked a police van and fired bullets from inside, before two were killed and the other two captured by the authorities. Sky News also reported that a cinema and a market were also targeted by militants.
The situation remains extremely fluid and some people remain trapped in the hotels and other locations. Hundreds of Indian troops are on the streets and there are continuing reports of explosions or gunshots.

An unknown Islamic militant group, the Deccan Mujahedeen, have claimed responsibility for the attacks and issued a statement in which it said, “We urge the Indian government to return stolen Muslim lands”. Meanwhile the Indian Prime Minister, Manhohan Singh, blamed “external forces”.

Speaking tonight the Foreign Office said they would not speculate on the number of British casualties until the information had been clarified. Earlier the British High Commission said 7 Britons had perished but Foreign Secretary David Miliband would only confirm the death of one Briton. He described the attacks as “callous and indiscriminate” and said “this was not just a war against the West; this is also an attack against India”. He pointed out that the majority of victims were ordinary Indian citizens and said Britain would offer any help and support needed by India. Miliband said he did not wish to point the finger at al-Qaeda and asked that people wait for the facts to emerge.

Amongst the dead are at least 14 police and one national guard. Hemant Karkare, the terror head of Mumbai’s security operation, was also killed in the attacks. A hospital in Mumbai has also named a British fatality as Andreas Liveras [pictured above, top centre]. It is unclear how many or if any hostages remain in terrorist hands. Authorities are unable to provide details to journalists and even the British Foreign Office has said the facts as to what is happening on the ground have yet to be established.

The unfolding story was reported not only on the news channels but also via citizen reports using social networking sites and the internet. One resident posted photographs on Flickr while others reported from the scene using Twitter and Facebook [Sky News]. Television news channels have not stopped their saturation coverage with CNN, Sky News and the BBC providing the most intensive reporting [BBC - rolling ticker] .

Other links - arunshanbhag.com / mumbaihelp.blogspot.com /
CNN-IBN Live

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

78 dead in Mumbai's night of terror


Security Chief Hemant Karkare moments before he was shot dead

At least 78 people have died in the Mumbai terror attacks. Nine locations were targeted by an unknown number of terrorists and some incidents are still ongoing with several people having been taken hostage by gunmen at the Taj Mahal and Oberori Hotels. The hostages are believed to be Westerners and some reports suggest the terrorists specifically singled out British and Americans. Hemant Karkare, the terror head of Mumbai’s security operation, was also killed in the attacks. In footage shown on CNN the anti-terror head could be seen putting on a bullet-proof jacket and helmet only moments before he was fatally shot. Four terrorists have been captured according to police sources but it is not known if any have been killed. CNN’s Phil O’Sullivan, who is in a hotel some two kilometres from where hostages are being held, said that the situation was ongoing with reports of several police having been killed. He said that the streets were deadly quiet and not even dogs were could be seen [CNN / BBC]. India is no stranger to terrorism and more than 700 have died in the last three years from terror attacks. CNN report that between 2004 and 2007 around 3,600 died in terror attacks across the country.

Many dead as Mumbai hit by terror attacks


A series of coordinated terrorist attacks have been targeted at a number of key locations in the Indian city of Mumbai. There are reports of explosions and gunfire at hotels, rail stations and restaurants in the city and media reports have said at least 11 people have died. Two terrorists armed with automatic weapons are said to be holed up in the Oberoi hotel where a fire in the lobby is also reported. CNN reported a taxi had its roof blown off and embedded into a tree. A police officer has confirmed to CNN-IBN that a taxi was destroyed by an explosion. The Taj Mahal Hotel is also said to have been attacked by gunmen and a petrol station in the Colaba district has also been targeted. As well as automatic weapons, some reports suggest the terrorists also used grenades in the attacks which targeted popular tourist locations. The main Victoria Station has closed after an attack there and there are reports of a fire. Phil O’Sullivan CNN Producer described the situation as “chaotic” and had returned to his hotel for fear of his own safety. The attacks are said to be continuing with reports of shooting and explosions continuing to come in.

Woolworths file for administration


Woolworths has become the latest victim of the recession

Woolworths, which has been in business for nearly 100 years, has filed for administration [BBC]. Woolworth's was running at a loss and has accumulated more than £385m in debt. Its largest shareholder, property tycoon Ardeshir Naghshineh, called on the retail business to delay a plan to sell the enterprise for just £1 and instead sell some of its 840 UK stores. The £1 offer is said to have come from restructuring firm Hilco. However, both Hilco and Woolworths have declined to comment on whether they were in talks. Shares in Woolworths have dropped some 95% in 2008 and the firm announced a record first-half pre-tax loss of £90.8m in September. In a last ditch attempt to save the company it was announced today [26/11/2008] that Woolworths may sell its stake in a video-publishing venture with the British Broadcasting Corporation. The firm also suspended the trade in its shares which now stand at £1.22. As the company fails more than 30,000 jobs are at risk and another icon of the British High Street may well see its 850 stores disappear [The Times / Bloomberg / BBC].

The news comes as MFI also filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators. The furniture giant has 110 stores across the country and more than 1,000 employees may face redundancy. Earlier the GMB trade union had warned the firm might face the risk of administration if it was unable to agree a rent-free period with its landlords [BBC]. The company which started business in 1964 has been experiencing financial problems for a number of years culminating in a buy out by Merchant Equity Partners who purchased the stores for just £1 in 2006.

Rail networks affected by financial crisis


Railway restaurant cars are becoming a thing of the past

Restaurant cars are to become the latest victim of the credit crunch as train operators attempt to cut costs. National Express East Anglia which runs trains between Norwich and London have announced they are going to remove their restaurant cars and instead provide a buffet style service. The company claim they want to improve its buffet and at-seat service and say the change is “in response to changing customer needs”, but cynics claim it is merely a way of cutting back costs.
The restaurant service is available on 22 of National Express East Anglia trains each day accounting for more than 110 trains a week. Diners can choose from a wide variety of options throughout the day at relatively modest costs and experience something often only seen in the movies. At breakfast the choices includes Oak Smoked Kippers, Smoked Salmon and Scrambled Egg or Eggs Benedict. The lunch menu offers a number of options from Sausage and Mash, Ham and Eggs, or a Chicken Caesar Salad.
And it may soon be last orders for the dinner menu which covers a wide range of dishes from Fillet Steak, Scottish Salmon, Chicken Proven├žal, Pork with a Cider Sauce, Filled Roasted Peppers, Citrus and Herb Crusted Alaskan Pollock or even a Rack of Lamb [National Express East Anglia / National Express Group].

Not surprisingly the menu has been voted the UK’s best for three years running by Rail magazine. The decision has even prompted some to take their protest to parliament. The MP for Colchester in Essex, Bob Russell, is putting down an early day motion deploring the rail operator's announcement that it was to discontinue the restaurant car service on the Norwich to London line. And Norwich North MP, Dr Ian Gibson, has added his voice to hundreds of angry commuters saying he believed passengers wanted hot food on a journey and that dining cars made people use the railway [BBC].
Around 300 jobs will be lost if the proposals go through [Echo]. But it will be more than just a loss of livelihoods; it will also be another part of rail history consigned to the past [Guardian / BBC / National Express Group News].

Monday, November 24, 2008

Obama announces economic team


President-elect Barack Obama has officially announced his team which will help him tackle the economic crisis. He named Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary and Lawrence Summers as his top economic advisor. Summers was a Treasury Secretary himself under the Clinton administration and should provide valuable input. In addition Obama said Christina Romer would join as his key economic adviser. Melody Barnes will also join Obama’s transition team in the role of Head Domestic Policy Council.

Despite gathering together what he call a strong team, Obama said that “we can’t expect full recovery to come immediately”. Asked about his plans for America’s ailing car industry, Obama said he wanted to “see a plan that made sense” band acknowledged that the public did not want to see money wasted. He also sent a message to the auto industry saying that they must realize there was an ecological shift taking place and that they should adapt [CNN].

Mixed reception for pre-budget speech


Darling's plan: VAT down, some taxes up, and a lot of borrowing

The FTSE rose sharply during an address by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as he laid out steps to “protect and support businesses and people” in the UK. Alistair Darling said he was exploring a credit guarantee scheme to help lending to families and businesses. “Maintaining financial stability was crucial” the Chancellor said before the UK parliament. He claimed that inflation was likely to fall but that manufacturing output was also likely to fall in the first two quarters of 2009. He said he and the government would “do whatever it takes to get the country though these rough times”.

His pre-budget statement came on the back of “economic uncertainty not seen for generations”. He conceded that government borrowing would rise from £78 billion in 2008 to £118 billion in 2009, equivalent to 8% of GDP. He said that the UK net debt would be 48% next year peaking at 57% in 2013-14. But he insisted that allowing borrowing to rise was the “right choice for the country” adding that “if we did nothing the recession would be longer and deeper”.
While saying the government would cut back on government spending, he said the focus would be to inject available funds into roads and affordable housing. He also said that the government would continue to pursue it green energy goals which he said would provide energy security, new jobs and reduce energy bills. In addition he said the government would invest £530 million in sustainable energy schemes.

In order to boost consumer confidence and spending Darling said he would temporarily reduce VAT from 17.5% to 15%. The change would take effect on 1st December and continue throughout 2009. However, he said the duty on petrol, tobacco and alcohol would be increased to offset the drop in VAT.

He also set forth proposals to give the country’s poorest 8 million people 50p for every pound saved and increase child benefit in January. Pensioners would also benefit from a £60 one off payment in the new year.

The Tories immediately criticised the Chancellor for increasing the national debt to more than a trillion pounds, doubling the British debt in less than five years. “Stability has gone out the window, prudence is dead, Labour has done it again”, George Osborne said to the house following the Chancellor’s speech. He decried Labour’s claim that it’s all America’s fault; “What total nonsense” the shadow Chancellor exclaimed. In contrast to Darling’s assertion that Britain would not see as deep recession as other countries, Osborne read out a statement from the IMF which said that Britain’s recession would be worse than any other major economies. “Darling thinks he can borrow his way out of debt”, Osborne continued, accusing Labour of getting out the government credit card. He also criticised the VAT rate reduction, accusing the government of “offering a temporary cut and telling people their taxes will go up to pay for it”. In a final blow towards the Labour benches, Osborne bellowed, “This isn’t just a bombshell its a precision-guided missile at the heart of a recovery”. However, the economy did rather better today with the FTSE closing 9.84% up on the day’s trade, its highest ever daily rise. Gains had already been made throughout the day and was around 6% up as the Chancellor took his place at the bench. But the rise continued from 4080 points to 4160 by the time he finished [BBC] .

Hysteria surrounds Baby P killing


Clockwise from top: Beverley Hughes, Maria Ward, Gillie Christou, Sharon Shoesmith,
Katie Price signs The Sun petition, Dr Sabah al Zayyat, Ed Balls, pixelated faces of the killers and Baby P

A ‘herd mentality’ has built around the tragic death of Baby P, a young child who died after months of abuse at the hands of his mother, her partner and lodger. When the story first came to light, there can’t have been many people unaffected by the circumstances of the tragedy. The child, who has only been identified as Baby P, suffered appalling injuries at the hands of his mother and step father. Blame has been directed not only towards the abusive parents, but also social services, the police and government. There are undoubtedly failures exhibited by social services. The law has also failed the young child, and the law may also be lacking in failing to properly protect the vulnerable. But anger and disbelief has culminated in petitions and even calls of vendettas against the mother and the stepfather.

Facebook has become a particular gathering point for those wanting to vent their anger. There are petitions calling for the sacking of social workers. Some Facebook and other social networking webpages specifically direct their anger towards the mother. Owners of the sites have closed many of the pages down, specifically those that identify the mother and call for retribution. The websites themselves have now become a focus of a police investigation [BBC]. Jason Owen, 36, from Bromley, a 32-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman were convicted of the specific charge of causing or allowing Baby P's death. But a court order, which remains in place, prevented the publication of the identities of the baby's mother and her boyfriend, as well as the child, who lived in the north London borough of Haringey. However the picture of Baby P is allowed to be printed.

The stories surrounding the abuse have followed almost daily with the tabloids leading the way with salacious details of the torture met out to the child. The Sun has started its own petition in which it calls for the sacking of social workers Sharon Shoesmith, Maria Ward and Gillie Christou. The paper also calls for the resignation of the Children's Minister, Beverley Hughes, and Ed Balls, the Education Secretary and the doctors involved in the case, Dr Sabah Al-Zayyat and Paulette Thomas, to be relieved of their duties.

But all the venom and furore surrounding the case has become almost surreal. On Thursday last week the Sun asked Katie Price, the glamour model also known as Jordan, to sign their petition while she promoted her new line of lingerie. The picture did not make it to press as she wrote “name and shame the people, wankers” on the newspaper. And in another bizarre sight, hundreds gathered in the rain at the final resting place of Baby P, some having travelled hundreds of miles. One well wisher had taken his wife, young daughter and mother in law the 300 km [190 miles] from Leeds to attend the memorial. The event highlighted in The Sun became the subject of discussion on the London radio station LBC in which talk-show host James O'Brien described the event as “weird” and suggested that there was a sense of a “herd mentality“ surrounding such phenonema.

The law may not be harsh enough; it has emerged the mother may be released within months. Procedures over the care of vulnerable children may not be strict enough. And doctors and police may not be trained well enough to identify signs of abuse. But ‘mob rule’ is not the solution to child abuse. The Baby P case may have captured the public imagination and anger, but it is only the latest of what is an all too common incident. In the last 40 years hundreds of children have been beaten, starved, burned, suffocated, poisoned, shaken, strangled or stabbed to death by their parents according to the NSPCC. The charity's director Mary Marsh speaking to the BBC in 2002, said that while the "vast majority" of children were well looked after at home “the level of child abuse killings in this country is a national disgrace”. In 2007 the number of children who died at the hands of their parents rose to 33 from the previous years figure of 24
[Guardian]. The statistics do not reflect the numbers of those who survived their abuse, nor do they reveal the causes. The case of Baby P is yet another grim statistic. But the hysteria surrounding the case may finally spurn the government into taking some affirmative action [Sky News - timeline].

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Indonesia hit by 6.8 magnitude quake


A large magnitude earthquake has struck off 130 km the coast of Indonesia, CNN has reported. The USGS said the 6.8 magnitude quake struck at 23:01 local time [16:01 GMT] near to Sumatra [4.188S, 101.009E] at a depth of 4 km. Another 6.8 magnitude earthquake also struck within seconds of the Indonesian tremor near the South-East Loyalty Islands in the Pacific Ocean [22.519S, 171.235E]. However the depth was measured at around 55 km, thus posing a less significant threat. An aftershock also struck off Indonesia, measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale. Hitting 10 minutes after the first tremor it was deeper, at around 10 km, and 100 km from the coast [CNN].

Credit crunch brings unrest to China


China may be seen us a fast developing economy but the global financial crisis is starting to see an impact as factories shut and export orders dry up. There have been protests seen outside several factories in the last few weeks and there are fears that if financial instability continues there will be a rise in such disturbances and riots [CNN].

About 2,000 people rioted on Monday in the north-western province of Gansu over plans to move Longnan's city government offices, which were damaged in the May 12 Sichuan earthquake, to a nearby county. Residents, fearing the change would reduce their property values and threaten their livelihoods, clashed with police and looted government offices, the Gansu Daily reported [BBC]. The paper also reported a strike by several hundred taxi drivers who were protesting a decision to put more taxis on the roads in Chongqing, south-west China. The drivers fear the proposal will increase competition and reduce their profits.

These reports reflect the growing anger felt by ordinary workers across the vast continent. And the situation may well worsen. More than 65,000 Chinese factories have gone bankrupt this year alone and although unemployment is said to be only around 4%, less than the government’s own projected figures, the picture is bleak [BBC].

On Thursday, the BBC showed pictures of a lone police officer being surrounded by an angry group of factory workers who had not been paid. It is a scene repeated across the country as hundreds lose their only livelihood. Over 700,000 were laid off in Shandong in northern China this year and in the southern province of Guangdong hundreds of firms have closed. The forced redundancies has made the government implement new rules making companies seek permission before laying off staff [BBC]. But even those who keep their jobs are seeing huge cuts in both their work hours and wages.

Chairman Mao talked of the importance of China’s self-reliance. But with China opening up to the world it has also become vulnerable to the effects of a global economy; an economy which is not working very well right now.
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Friday, November 21, 2008

Obama treasury secy pick rallies stocks


After a disastrous week on global markets, Wall Street has ended higher regaining much of the value lost in the last few days. However, the news is far from good. Citigroup has seen shares plummet. The company lost 83% of its value this year, 50% this week alone [BBC]. And there are fears that a collapse of the US car market could trigger a domino affect in Europe.

In the UK car sales have fallen significantly over the year. Several car manufacturers have made cuts in staff. Renault are laying off 6,000 employees as are Volvo, and Peugeot are cutting 3,500 jobs. Even Rolls Royce announced job losses this week of around 2000 employees, though it did not say whether this would be amongst its car manufacturing sector [BBC]. The debate in the US Congress over whether to bail out the US car industry has divided opinion, but President-elect Barack Obama has pledged not to allow America's iconic auto industry to collapse. The credit crunch is also affecting the construction industry. The latest victim is the Russia Tower, designed by Norman Foster. All building work has stopped on the 600 metre sky scraper which towers over Moscow’s business district [CNN].

While the Dow and Nasdaq ended over 5% higher on the end of Friday’s session, Europe’s indices continued to fluctuate. The FTSE fell by 2.43% on Friday while the Dax dropped 2.2%. The CAC fared the worst falling by 3.33%. The rally on American markets came shortly after the Wall Street Journal announced that President-elect Barack Obama had chosen Timothy Geithner as his Treasury Secretary. Geithner, who is the President of the New York Federal Reserve and has worked at the IMF.

John Authers of the Financial Times, speaking on CNN, said that the rally may not have been only down to Geithner’s choice for Treasury Secretary. Geithner is however said to be well respected in Wall Street and may well have boosted confidence, if for a short time, in an otherwise volatile market which has lost over $10 trillion in the last few weeks [CNN].
The financial crisis has taken its toll at a more personal level as thousands of families are put out of work. Foreclosures have increases and it has put not only families on the streets but also their pets. Animal shelters across the US are reporting record numbers of cats and dogs being placed in their hands as more and more people struggle with the costs of veterinary bills and pet food [CNN].

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

al-Qaeda leader posts message to Obama


Ayman al Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second in command, has weighed in to criticise President-elect Barack Obama. In the taped message he called Obama a “house-negro” a derogatory term, gleaned from Malcolm X, for a black man who sides with whites [You Tube - Malcolm X]. During his audio address he claimed Barack Obama’s plans in Afghanistan would fail. "What you have announced before ... that you will withdraw [US] troops from Iraq [and send them] to Afghanistan is a policy that is doomed to failure," al-Zawahiri said. "If you still want to be stubborn about America's failure in Afghanistan, then remember the fate of Bush and [Pakistan's former president] Pervez Musharraf, and the fate of the Soviets and British before them," al-Zawahiri added. In another part of the tape, al-Zawahiri scorned Obama for turning away from Islam. “You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews” the al-Qaeda militant said.

The message which appeared on several Islamic websites was made available to media organisations by the SITE Institute, a US organisation that monitors Islamic groups. Author Ron Suskind, speaking on CNN, said the message was “not as coherent as previous tapes” and described it as an “own goal” in as much as Obama is one man who understands Muslims more than any previous American president. He said some were surprised that there was not a taped message or terror attack leading up to the election, but that this was al-Qaeda’s attempt to gain attention from the new administration. Daniel Benjamin, a former counter terrorist expert told CNN the tape was relevant if only for its timing. CNN’s Kelly Arena speaking on the Situation Room described it as “ugly” but Barack Obama has not commented on the tape. However, on last week’s 60 minutes broadcast on CBS, the President-elect said, “it’s time to stamp out al-Qaeda once and for all” [BBC / CNN / al-Jazeera]

Dow falls as car bosses ask for bail out


The Dow has closed on a five year low. The index lost nearly 8000 points on Wednesday adding to the woes already felt on world financial markets [CNN / BBC]. Europe also saw losses with the FTSE, CAC and Dax all dropping more than four percent. The FTSE closed 4.82% down while the CAC and Dax closed at 4.03% and 4.92% respectively. The worsening situation on the main indices came as motor manufacturing bosses flew into Washington on private jets to ask for government handouts. But their choice of transport was not welcomed by some lawmakers who criticised their extravagance. US democrat Gary Ackerman described their arrival on private jets as “delicious irony” and added that it was “almost like a man turning up at a soup kitchen with top hat and tuxedo” [CNN]. The executives of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler had appeared before congress to ask for loans for their ailing companies and had warned that the failure of the industry would have dire consequences for the U.S. Economy [CNN / BBC].

The US car makers aren’t the only ones asking for money. In China auto manufacturers were also appealing for financial assistance. One reason behind the request was because of increased competition and an inability to compete effectively. "China is the last booming market nowadays, and foreign automakers are investing more money and building more factories here, threatening our own businesses," Xu Heyi, chairman of Beijing Automobile Industries Holding Co., a partner with Hyundai Motor Co. and Daimler AG, said [AP].

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cargo ship hijacked in Gulf of Aden


Another ship has been hijacked according to the BBC. The Hong Kong cargo ship is said to have been boarded by pirates in the Gulf of Aden [Sky News]. The ship is reported to be carrying 36,000 tonnes of wheat towards Iran and has a crew of 25. The incident comes less than 24 hours after it was reported that a massive oil tanker was hijacked near to the east coast of Africa. The Sirius Star, a super tanker carrying a full load of crude oil, worth more than $100 million, has been moored off Somalia near to the port of Eyl according to the latest reports [CNN / BBC].

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tanker hijacking pushes up oil price


Described as “daring” the hijack of the Sirius Star seriously threatens the oil industry. As it headed past the coast of Kenya the hijackers pounced on the tanker carrying thousands of barrels of oil, said to be a quarter of the daily Saudi output. Reports that the crew and ship had been freed turned out to be false. The latest information available suggests the ship is being steered towards Somalia’s coast and the small port of Eyl. There is little information known as to the fate of the 25 crew and the British Foreign Office has said they are trying to find out more.

Lt Commander Jane Campbell of the Fifth Fleet, which patrols the waters near the Gulf, described the situation as “a difficult scenario”. The Fifth fleet command say they will not intervene and are only monitoring the ship’s movement adding that they did not see it as a threat. However with 84 ships attacked off the coast of Somalia and with 12 vessels still in hijackers hands, the threat posed by the Somalian rebels is clear. The Sirius Star is likely to be another vessel joining the haul of ships in the rebels’ hands. What they do with the ship and its massive cargo of crude oil is unclear, but their actions have already affected oil markets where the price lifted above $58 per barrel [Channel Four News].

Tanker may have been freed, reports say


The Sirius Star [pic: shipspotting.com]

Unconfirmed reports from al-Arabiya TV suggest the crew and tanker, hijacked in the Indian Ocean, has "been freed". The one line of information could not be verified by Sky News with quoted Reuters who in turn had disseminated a report from the Arabic news station. Further details emerged earlier about the super tanker hijacked by pirates near to the coast of Africa. Sky's Tim Marshall said their were several problems facing NATO in attempting to launch a rescue. Speaking on the News channel he said the vessel, which he described as being as large as three US aircraft carriers, was actually in the Indian Ocean, not in the Arabian Sea as the BBC reported earlier. The vessel had minimal security on board and would have been unlikely to have been able to repel a concerted attack. At least 30 vessels have been hijacked this year alone on the high seas. There have also been around 75 attempted hijacks and only last week the British Royal Navy killed several hijackers as they launched a rescue mission. But the Sky correspondent said that it was “not an easy situation” for NATO.

There were issues over the “rules of engagement” as well as the fact that much of the NATO fleet was situated in the Arabian sea. There was also the issue of launching an attack on a vessel which in effect was a massive bomb with 2 dozen hostages on board. According to latest reports, 20 are believed to be Philippine nationals, 2 are British, and the other three are Indian, Polish and Croatian.

The Saudi Arabian owned Sirius Star, which is flagged under Liberia, left port and began its maiden voyage in March. According to the Vela Tanker Construction Department the vessel was built to the latest maritime regulations and to Vela’s safe, reliable, and environmentally friendly specifications to ensure the reliable transportation of Saudi Aramco’s crude oil to its customers. Launched and named at the Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Co. Ltd. shipyards in South Korea, the event marked the first time that a Saudi woman had performed a Vela naming ceremony. Vela Board member Huda M. Ghoson, who is Saudi Aramco’s director of Human Resources Policy and Planning, was given the honour of naming the new ship. Also in attendance were Won-Kang Ki, senior executive vice president and Chief Productions Officer of Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Co. Ltd., and Saud A. Bukhari, manager of the Vela Tanker Construction Department, plus team members from Dubai and the Korea site office. Vela released a statement via its website today which read, "The Sirius Star, an oil tanker belonging to Dubai-based Vela International Marine Ltd., was seized by a group of armed men approximately 420 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia on Sunday. All 25 crew members on board are reported to be safe and the vessel is fully laden. Vela response teams have been established and are working to ensure the safe release of the crew members and the vessel" [Sky News / BBC / CNN].

Oil tanker hijacked by pirates off Africa


An oil tanker travelling close to the east coast of Africa has been boarded by pirates who have taken control of the vessel. The US Navy has described the ship as a very large Saudi crude vessel and named it as the Sirius Star. There are believed to be 25 crew members on board and the Foreign Office have said that two British nationals were on the ship. Other nationals said to be on board are crew members from Croatia, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia. Tim Marshall, International Correspondent for Sky News, said that the exact details as to who the pirates are may not emerge for the next few days. The tanker was seized 450 nautical miles south-east of the Kenyan port of Mombasa in the Arabian Sea according to the BBC, though their website was later updated to show the correct location as the Indian Ocean [BBC / Sky News].

David McKenzie, a CNN correspondent, said that the US Navy had told him the super tanker, with a 300,000 metric tonne capacity, had been hijacked in the last two days by Somali pirates. The interruption to the flow of oil if such hijackings continue will be of great concern not only to oil producers, but also to security analysts.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shuttle Endeavour docks with ISS


Space shuttle Endeavour has docked with the International Space Station [BBC]. Unlike the launch which was carried Live on CNN and BBC, the event achieved scant coverage. There were minor concerns earlier after it was revealed the shuttle lost a small piece of its protective heat shield during take-off. However NASA has said the area affected is not critical to the shuttle's safety. A spokesman said it was "not of great concern". An antenna was also damaged as the spacecraft made its ascent into space, NASA's Leroy Cain said that the problem would affect the mission's ground crew more than the astronauts and that it most likely came from problems with a software upgrade. It was believed the radar and communications problems might affect the docking procedure, however the shuttle docked without a hitch at 17:01 GMT [CNN] .

Indonesia - Tsunami warning lifted



The tsunami warning which followed a large earthquake in Indonesia has been lifted. The tremor which was initially measured at 7.7 on the Richter scale has now been downgraded to 7.5. Two further aftershocks followed the main tremor. One was measured at 5.5 the other at 5.6. There have been no reports of any damage or casualties in a region which sees frequent earthquakes. In December 2004 a tsunami, which followed a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, killed nearly a quarter of a million people, many of them in Indonesia's Aceh region.

7.7 earthquake strikes southern Indonesia


A powerful earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale has hit southern Indonesia. A tsunami warning has been issued, however there are no current reports of casualties or damage. The USGS have reported the earthquake to have struck around the Gorontalo area of the Sulawesi island [1.275N, 122.103E] at a depth of 10km. The incident occurred at 01:02 local time on Sunday [17:02 GMT Saturday] [BBC]

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tolls increase at Dartford River Crossing


Congestion is common at the Dartford River Crossing


The charge to use the Dartford River Crossing is to rise by 50%. The Department for Transport claimed it was an attempt to reduce congestion on what is one of the UK’s busiest sections of toll roads. Motorists using both the northbound tunnels and southbound bridge will now have to pay £1.50 for a car, an additional 50 pence. The changes come into force from 10pm on Saturday 15 November 2008.Rising costs of operating the river crossing are thought to be a reason behind the increase, but Le Crossing, the company responsible for collecting the toll charge, claimed the decision was made by the Department for Transport (DfT) and The Highways Agency. The DfT says the increase is a result of the continuing demand placed on the busy link joining the two ends of the orbital M25 motorway. "The prospect of demand rising has led to a cash price increase on the Crossing," said Paul Malley, spokesman for the Department of Transport. "It will give people an incentive to pay without cash, which will help traffic flow more smoothly."The original £1 fare will still be available to users of the Dart-Tag electronic payment system, while local residents will pay just 20 pence per crossing. Off-peak travel between 10pm and 6am will now be free.

Charges for the Crossing were originally scheduled to end in 2003, once the cost of building the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge had been repaid. Charging continued as a way of managing the predicted 17% increase in congestion. More than 150,000 vehicles use the crossing every day. Critics say the increased charges will do little to decrease congestion, since there are few public transport nor road alternatives. The tolls themselves often add to increased congestion as motorists queue to pay the fee [BBC].

Shuttle Endeavour lifts off safely


Space shuttle Endeavour has launched successfully from the Kennedy space center in Florida. In a night time launch the shuttle lifted off with NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson commanding the seven-member crew, which includes Pilot Eric Boe, Mission Specialists Donald Pettit, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Steve Bowen, Shane Kimbrough and Sandra Magnus. In Endeavour's payload bay, the spacecraft is carrying the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module Leonardo packed full of about 30,000 Kg of equipment and supplies, making it one of the heaviest modules in shuttle history. Also included in the payload, are additional sleeping quarters, a second toilet, an exercise device and other household-type equipment. The mission will last 15 days during which four space-walks are planned. They will focus on servicing the station's two Solar Alpha Rotary Joints, or SARJ, which are needed to track the sun for electric power.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Obama offers Clinton Secy. of State job


CNN have said that Barack Obama may have offered the job of Secretary of State to Senator Hillary Clinton. Democratic insiders have told the news channel that the former Presidential candidate had effectively been offered the post if she wanted it. However, although there have been no denials from the Obama camp, there has been no official comment from either Obama nor Clinton herself [CNN / Sky News / BBC]

Shuttle Eandeavour ready for launch


Space shuttle Endeavour is set to launch late Friday [early Saturday 0:54 GMT]. The mission, code named STS-126, will carry supplies to the International Space Station and replace crew members [NASA / BBC / CNN - video].

India was celebrating today after part of their lunar mission was successfully completed. A Lunar Impact Probe detached from the unmanned lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1 and made a hard landing on the lunar surface around 20:34 New Delhi time [15:04 a.m. ET]. CNN reported a discrepancy in time of 3 minutes. Space official Shiv Kumar said the 34 kilogram probe hit the lunar surface travelling at 1.6 km/sec, equivalent to 5,760 km/hr [3,579 mph]. Kumar said the probe transmitted sufficient signals to the mother craft before landing, but no more were expected after the impact [CNN / BBC].

There was also celebratory cheers from astronomers after the first images of planets outside the solar system were revealed. Paul Kalas of the University of California, Berkeley, led an international group that used the Hubble Space Telescope to image the region around a star called Formalhaut in the constellation Piscis Austrinus. Images gathered by the HST showed the two Jupiter sized bodies, the first ever time that planets have been photographed beyond the confines of the solar system. The team estimates that the planet, designated Fomalhaut b, is some 18 billion kilometres [11 billion miles] away from its star, and completes an orbit in about 870 years. It may also have a ring around it according to the scientists. The objects are a long way from Earth, estimated at around 25 light years [2.3651321 × 1014 km] - [BBC / CNN]

Eurozone falls into recession


The Eurozone has officially fallen into recession adding to the concerns already felt by fanciers and members of the public alike. Official figures showed that overall the economy shrank by 0.3% in the third quarter. The second quarter of the year had already seen a downturn of around 0.2% and unemployment has also risen across the member states [BBC / CNN] .

In the US there was further bad news as new figures showed retail sales had fallen by 2.8% in October. Job losses are also adding to people’s reticence to spend and two more major companies announced today massive cuts in their workforce. Citigroup is to lay off 10,000 staff and Sun Microsystems said they were making cuts of some 6000 employees. US unemployment now stands at at 6.5%, a 14 year high. There were marginal gains on some indices around the globe. The Hong Kong Hang Seng closed 2.4% up and European stocks also made marginal gains after losses seen earlier in the week. The FTSE closed 1.5% up while the CAC closed 0.7% up and the Dax finished 1.3% up. In contrast the Dow closed around 3% down on Friday while the Nasdaq dropped about 5% [CNN].

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hard times ahead as UK enters recession


Closed pubs and shops are becoming a more common sight

Millions of Britons are facing financial ruin, bankruptcy and unemployment as the financial crisis bites harder. Today the Bank of England said that the UK had already entered a recession and was likely to continue well into 2009 [BBC]. The news came on the back of new figures which showed another jump in unemployment. The number of people now out of work in the UK in the three months to September jumped by 140,000 to 1.82 million, the highest in 11 years. The unemployment rate rose to 5.8%, up from 5.4% in the previous quarter, this according to official figures [BBC / Sky News].

The economic outlook has had a dramatic effect on the money markets which saw the pound dropping rapidly today against several currencies. The pound fell to around £1.50 to the dollar its lowest rate in six years. It also fell sharply against the Chinese Yuan. Latest figures show the pound being worth around 11 Yuan. The Chinese currency has gained nearly 30% in the last year against the pound despite the economic slide seen in many international markets [BBC]. The fears over recession has resulted in drops on most of the major indices. The Dow dipped sharply today, falling by 3%, as did the Nasdaq. European markets also fell. The FTSE dropped by around 1.5% while the CAC and Dax both fell by around 3% [CNN].
Despite cuts in interest rates and bank bail outs consumers are seeing little change to their own financial insecurity. Banks are still reticent to lend money and continue to impose draconian bank charges on those who exceed over-draught limits. Credit card companies have also been criticised in recent days for continuing to charge high interest rates and in some cases increasing them [BBC].

With Christmas around the corner and the retail business seeing a significant drop in custom, the knock on effect is likely to worsen as manufacturers and retailers lay off even more staff to lessen their costs. For small businesses and sole traders the future is potentially even more bleak as they struggle to pay bills, seek credit, and stay afloat while experiencing a reduced customer base.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fishing boat "wreckage found"


Top left: Colin Dolby, right: The Louisa fishing boat, and below: the RNLI

Wreckage thought to belong to a fishing boat that went missing in stormy seas off the Essex coast may have been found according to coastguards. Fred Caygill, a spokesman for the RNLI, told a local newspaper that "fresh wreckage" had been located off the Shoebury coast near Southend on Sea. However, the body of the fisherman has yet to be found. Colin Dolby a 47 year old from Old Leigh had called home to say he was returning to port after weather worsen on Monday 10th November. Despite a huge air and sea search involving an RAF helicopter, a hovercraft and RNLI vessels, neither his boat, the Louisa, nor Mr Dolby were found.
Colin Dolby who called himself “Salty the Fisherman” on his MySpace page, used to run angling trips on his boat via the website Star Fishing. The family had been involved in the fishing industry for around 300 years according to Colin’s father, Kenneth who is now 80 and introduced his son to fishing at the age of 4. Colin is quoted as saying "A bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work!" However, Monday proved more than tragic for the fisherman who leaves behind a wife and four children.
The Essex Police Marine Unit is continuing to search for the boat and its skipper and is hoping for information from the public. The boat was last seen trawling for seaweed near the west Shoebury buoy [51° 30’32” N, 0° 45’55”E] [Echo].

At least 3 die in British storms


A coastguard vessel searches for a missing fisherman off the Essex coast on Tuesday

A fisherman is believed to have died after running into trouble off the Essex coast. The 47 year old, Colin Dolby, had called home on Monday afternoon to say that the weather had worsened and was making back to port at Leigh on Sea. But at 15:00 the coastguard was alerted and several lifeboats along with an RAF 125 helicopter from RAF Wattisham was dispatched to search for the missing vessel. However as darkness fell there was no sign of either the boat named Louisa, or its sole occupant. A search and rescue mission was resumed early Tuesday but failed to find any sign of Mr Dolby. The matter has been handed over to local police and an RNLI spokesman said the man had been declared “missing presumed dead”.

The incident occurred as Britain endured torrential rain and widespread flooding yesterday. Hundreds of motorists found themselves stranded in flood water across several counties and dozens of properties were also affected. A motorcyclist was killed and his passenger was seriously injured on the A396 near Exeter. It is believed the 39-year-old man's Triumph Tiger bike crashed into a car as he and his female companion were travelling to work in torrential conditions. Strong winds also caused havoc across parts of the country. In Essex a building site worker was crushed when a strong gust of wind sent a crane spinning out of control at Broomfield Hospital [Echo / BBC / Daily Mail]

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weather warning as floods hit UK


Heavy rain across parts of England has caused havoc for motorists and the weather is likely to worsen according to meteorologists. In Essex surface spray made for difficult driving conditions on the M25 and the M11. Across the county the fire brigade were called to several incidents involving vehicles stuck in flood water. In Clacton on Sea a disabled woman had to be rescued after the car she was travelling became stuck in deep water. Another man was also extricated from his car late this afternoon after driving into a flooded road. In south Essex several cars were reported to be stranded along a stretch of the A129 in Wickford and the fire service were also called to deal with flooding in several properties. Shops in Laindon were badly affected after a metre of flood water built up in a service road in Danacre Road and firefighters spent much of the afternoon pumping water away. Floods were not only confined to the south. One man had to be rescued from the roof of his car by the fire service at Bishampton in Worcestershire. And several reports of stranded vehicles have come in from the Midlands which has also been badly affected.

Across the country there are 22 flood warnings in effect, with the majority affecting southern counties [Environment Agency]. The BBC reported a weather warning on Monday afternoon affecting many parts of the country. The Highlands and the Hebrides were likely to be hit by heavy rain up to 40mm combined with severe gales gusting to 113 km/h [70mph]. Southern England and East Anglia was also likely to experience heavy rain with totals of up to 25mm possible. Gusty winds may also be a hazard, particularly to south coasts where gusts of 113 km/h were likely. The rain is expected to subside in the next 24 hours but high winds may continue for some time to come [Sky News].

Sunday, November 09, 2008

India achieves lunar orbit


There has been barely a mention of India’s achievement of reaching the Earth’s nearest neighbour. Chandrayaan 1 began to orbit the Moon on Saturday after initiating a 817 second burn to put the craft into an elliptical orbit about the satellite. The craft is now in an 11-hour polar ellipse that varies between 7,502 km and 504 km. Further adjustments will bring the spacecraft into a near circular orbit some 100 km above the lunar surface. At this point it will begin to map the surface in 3D and create a detailed analysis of mineral deposition. Other experiments firing a 30kg probe slam into the lunar surface. The Moon Impact Probe (MIP) will record video footage on the way down and measure the composition of the Moon's tenuous atmosphere. On arrival it will also leave an Indian flag upon the Moon’s surface.
CNN and Sky News have not reported on India’s astronomical feat, and the BBC have so far only reported the news on their website. However, unsurprisingly the news dominated the front pages of India’s newspapers on Sunday with leads in The Telegraph, Anandabazar Patrika and the Mumbai edition of DNA.

In other space news, a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope has had a set back after replacement computer modules failed to be delivered. America’s Space Shuttle Atlantis had already been delayed in September after an onboard computer failure. Space Shuttle Endeavour was prepared for a launch date of November 14th, but the unit that was to be fitted on the HST is not considered to be “flight ready”. Another launch is being proposed for April or May next year [CNN]. Endeavour will launch as scheduled, but won’t visit the HST. The mission coded STS-126 will instead visit the International Space Station to deliver supplies and replace crew members. Endeavour will carry a reusable logistics module that will hold supplies and equipment, including additional crew quarters, additional exercise equipment, equipment for the regenerative life support system and spare hardware. STS-126 is the 27th shuttle mission to the International Space Station [NASA].

Bali bombers buried amid protests


Clashes in Tenggulun, Samudra's funeral in Serang and the self-proclaimed 'martyrs'

Tensions are high following the execution of three men convicted for the 2002 terrorist attack in Bali. There are already reports of clashes in the home town of the men as hundreds of their supporters attended the funerals in Java. There are also fears of terrorist reprisals following the execution. Earlier many British relatives of the bombing victims had expressed regret that the men had been put to death [BBC / Sky News]. Susanna Miller, whose brother Dan was killed in the attacks, said the execution transformed the men into martyrs. She said the execution made "a mockery of justice." Miller, who is a member of the Bali Bombings Victims Group, told the BBC, "Justice is supposed to have two strands to it. One is to pay recompense for the crime committed and the other is a deterrent. If you undermine the deterrent by effectively encouraging, allowing these people to be seen as martyrs and encouraging the Islamist cause, then no it makes a mockery of justice. Can we be clear? They didn't kill my brother... They were secondary to the bombing plot and the most important person in relation to the plot is currently held in Guantanamo Bay."
Tobias Ellwood MP, who lost his brother Jonathan, 37, in the attacks has said many questions remained unanswered. The British MP said there had been no explanation as to why Hambali, the suspected mastermind behind the attacks and currently held at Guantanamo Bay, had not been brought to trial. He also criticised the British government for not having offered compensation to the families of those affected by the bombings. He also condemned British authorities for not warning of the attacks despite MI5 intelligence that showed the increased threat. "The threat level to British citizens should have been raised to 'high'... Failure to update the threat level meant many travel plans, including my brother's, went unchanged," Mr Ellwood said. The execution is also seen by some as a disposal of potential intelligence sources since dead men can't talk.
But not all were happy at the delays in executing of the men, which had been held up with appeals. Survivor and Coogee Dolphins player Erik de Haart lamented last week saying, "It's been going on for six years. The only people who have got excited about this are the press. Most of us have been in this situation for a long time now. We're saying 'Just don't tell us when these bastards are going, just let us know when they have gone'." Terrorist experts had also urged the Indonesian government to carry out the death penalty so as not to look weak in the face of terrorist threats. As Imam Samudra’s coffin was carried through Serang, a small town in west Java, supporters shouted “God is great” and called them holy warriors. Clashes were reported between supporters and security forces in Tenggulun in east Java as the bodies of Amrozi bin Nurhashyim and his brother Mukhlas, also known as Ali Gufron, were carried through the town [CNN].

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bali bombers executed


Remorseless: Ali Ghufron, Imam Samudra and Amrozi Nurhasyim

Three Indonesian Islamic militants convicted over the 2002 Bali bombings have been executed by firing squad. Imam Samudra, Amrozi Nurhasyim and Ali Ghufron (Mukhlas) were shot dead on the island prison of Nusakambangan at 00:15 local time [17:15 GMT Saturday], according to officials. They had been found guilty of planning twin attacks on nightclubs at the resort of Kuta, popular with Western tourists. The bombings killed 202 people and injured over 300 others[BBC / CNN]

Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama gives first press conference


In his first address since being elected as President of the United States, Barack Obama talked about the major issues facing both his country and the rest of the world. He said he wanted to tackle the economic crisis “head on” but although he was making plans he said he didn’t want to conflict with the current administration. “I am not the President and I won’t be until January 20th” he told reporters. But he called on help from economic experts. The US economy was in “bad shape” he said, “and people need help”. Obama said he understood the scale of the problem and said, “We cannot under estimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead” but added “America is resilient".

He named Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff and said he would announce other members of his team in due course.

Asked a question about Iran he upheld the current policy and said Iran’s developing of nuclear weapons was “unacceptable”.

He was also asked about what type of dog he might pick for his daughters. He described it as a “major issue”. Obama said he would like to get a shelter dog but given one of his daughters was allergic, he said he had to balance the need of a “hypoallergenic dog” with other criteria.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Speeches of victory & defeat


In a victory speech in Grant Park, Chicago, Barack Obama set out his determination to put America back on track. In his openining he spoke of how history had been made. “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer” he said, “It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America”.
He thanked John McCain for his earlier congratulatory call and said “I congratulate him, I congratulate Governor Palin, for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise in the months ahead”. Beyond the thanks to both his friends, family and running mate Joe Biden he set out the challenges facing America. “Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century” Obama said, “The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there”. America’s new President elect was also pragmatic about the difficulties and possible disagreements ahead. “There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree”. He called on everyone to join in the effort to “reclaim the American dream”.

“This is our moment, this is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: yes, we can” [BBC].

His rival John McCain accepted defeat, saying "I deeply admire and commend" Barack Obama. He also called on his supporters to lend the next president their goodwill. “We have come to the end of a long journey” McCain said to the assembled crowds in Phoenix, Arizona. “A little while ago I had the honour of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him” McCain told the audience. As parts of the crowd booed, McCain raised his hands and gestured for them to pay due respect. “Please” he said before continuing. “His success commands my respect for his ability and perseverance” McCain told the crowd. “I urge all Americans, who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but by offering the next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger and better country than we inherited”. He asked his supporters to “move beyond the disappointment” and spoke of his “gratitude for the experience and to the American people for giving me a fair hearing before deciding Senator Obama, and old friend Joe Biden, should have the honour of leading us for the next four years”. As the crowd booed once again, McCain raised his hand. “Please, please, I would not be an American worthy of the name, should I regret a fate that allowed me extraordinary privilege of serving this country for almost half a century. Today I was a candidate for the highest office in the country I love so much. And tonight I remain her servant. That is blessing enough for anyone. And I thank the people of Arizona for it” John McCain said.

In his summing up, McCain was humble, yet proud in his defeat. “I wish god-speed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president. And I call on all Americans who I have often in my campaign to not despair of our present difficulties, but to always believe in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here, Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history, we make history. Thank you and god bless you and god bless America”.
[BBC / Sky News / CNN]