Friday, October 28, 2005

UK - Bird flu case creates media frenzy

Pegasus Birds and its owner Brett Hammond
Media speculation and public concerns over bird flu continue to dominate many local and national newspapers in the UK. In Essex particularly, a recent concern has been that of a worker from Pegasus Birds who is also employed in the NHS [National Health Service]. Pegasus Birds hit the headlines earlier this week when it was discovered that a parrot which died there had been infected with the H5N1 virus. It was the first case of its kind to be discovered in the UK. The owner, Brett Hammond [pictured above] had earlier declined to comment following the death, but today broke his silence to speak to BBC Essex. In a report broadcast early Friday he said the newspaper reports in the week had been ‘unfair’ and ‘exaggerated’. The Mirror had reported that Mr Hammond had been involved in “tax evasion” for which he was imprisoned. “Customs and Excise were aware of his trade back in 1993, but he was only nailed for a £650,000 VAT dodge, meaning he was allowed to resume his business after 12 months in jail,” the paper is quoted as saying [Daily Mirror 26/10/2005]. The Daily Telegraph reported on the same day that Brett Hammond had also been convicted of the “sale of smuggled birds”. The parrot which died at Pegasus Birds had been infected by finches imported from Taiwan, according to reports. The parrot had been imported from Surinam, in South America. One further bird has died at the premises. Throughout the country 250,000 birds are legally imported into the UK every year, but thousands more are smuggled into the country.
Brett Hammond may have been the unwitting owner of the first UK case of bird flu, but he is also the subject of a media frenzy as further reports persist in the tabloids. Today’s Sun in an Exclusive report said that one of Mr Hammond’s employees was also working at a hospital. The BBC also picked up on the story and talked to Graham Tosh a spokesman for Southend Hospital who said that there was “no risk” from the individual besides him having come into contact with birds carrying the H5N1 virus. The employee, Howard Savage, 55, is a part-time maintenance worker who does not have direct contact with patients. Mr Hammond remains in ‘hiding’ according to The Sun, who said he had gone to Germany to “escape the uproar”.
[21:42 GMT 28/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

US - Clear up after hurricane Wilma

Minor damage in Lakeland, Florida
In Florida the clear up has started following hurricane Wilma’s sweep across the southern part of the state. Around 3.2 million people are reported to be without power and damage has been estimated at $10 billion. Queues at gas stations throughout southern Florida has also been reported. But the damage is far less severe as that seen in New Orleans following hurricane Katrina. [CNN]
[20:19 GMT 26/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Blair in Strasbourg as bird-flu spreads

Tony Blair speaking today in Strasbourg said that the energy policy is of a major importance to the EU. He also spoke of proper controls on illegal immigration but that controlled migration could have economic benefits. On recent terror threats he spoke of cooperation between nations to deal with radicalisation.
No mention was made however of the crisis now gripping Europe, that of the bird-flu which has today also been confirmed in Croatia. A further case has also been confirmed in the UK at a premises in Essex, east of London. The disease has not jumped the species barrier, but this has not calmed the hysteria surrounding the health ‘threat’ it may pose to consumers of eggs and poultry. [BBC]
[20:15 GMT 26/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Israel - Bomb blast in Hadera

Breaking News – Israeli Radio has reported up to 20 casualties in a town north of Tel Aviv after suicide bomb blast. The bombing in a market place in Hadera is the first since July. CNN have said the details are not yet clear.
[14:07 GMT 26/10/2005]

Monday, October 24, 2005

Iraq - 17 dead in hotel blasts

Three powerful explosions have killed at least 17 people outside Baghdad hotels used by foreign media and contractors, Iraqi police have said. Suicide bombers drove vehicles into barriers outside the Palestine and Sheraton hotels where the attacks were caught on camera. One of the vehicles was a cement mixer loaded with explosives [BBC].
[21:43 GMT 24/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Blast hits hotel in Baghdad

The Palestine hotel in Baghdad, home to many journalists, has been hit
by at least 3 blasts. More soon.

US - Hurricane Wilma makes landfall

Hurricane Wilma’s outer edge made landfall as a category 3 at 05:45 ET [09:45 GMT] with wind speeds in excess of 194 km/h and gusts of 241 km/h. It is moving north-east at 31 km/h bringing with it large risks of storm surges and flooding. Up to 30 cm of rain is expected. Meanwhile tropical storm Alpha is weakening in the Atlantic Ocean near the coast of the Dominican Republic.
[10:26 GMT 24/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 23, 2005

'Panic' as bird-flu spreads

Panic is beginning to spread, if the tabloids are to be believed, as the so called bird flu virus A/H5N1 too spreads. Many countries throughout Europe have identified the virus in dead birds. So far the virus has been seen in the Arabian Peninsula, Croatia, Romania, Hungary, Sweden and most recently Britain.

A ban on live bird trade has been suggested by the British government after a parrot held in quarantine died [BBC]. Tests have not yet been shown to be conclusive, but the parrot, which was imported from South America, had been housed with birds from Taiwan, a high risk country. Taiwan has had no recent cases however. China has stated that it will close its borders if the virus crosses the species barrier a Hong Kong based newspaper reported. China has also announced a fresh outbreak of bird flu, saying 2,600 birds have died from the disease in Inner Mongolia. The deaths, at a farm near the region's capital of Hohhot, were due to the H5N1 strain, which is potentially lethal to humans, the Xinhua news agency said and the BBC also relayed. And as the reports affect the public imagination, sales of Tamiflu are hitting record prices on auction sites such as Ebay. In Taiwan, patents are being ignored as production of the drug is put into motion according to the BBC. Although Tamiflu may be of use, it is no miracle cure. And its usefulness may not be realized until the virus itself mutates and begins to spread. Border controls will do little to thwart the spread of this virus as the mass migration of birds gets underway. They are, after all, to coin a phrase, "free as a bird".
[04:25 GMT 23/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Breaking News - 737 crash in Nigeria

Breaking News on CNN this morning reports that a plane has crashed in Nigeria shortly after take off from Lagos airport. There were at least 114 people on board. One reporter, speaking to CNN, speculated that the plane could have crashed as a result of a terrorist or rebel attack. There were storms in the area at the time which may also have been a factor. Flight 210 was due to fly to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. The plane, said to be carrying many dignitaries, crashed into the sea. Helicopters and search and rescue teams are surveying the area.
[03:40 GMT 23/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 20, 2005

US - Wilma batters Yucatan en route to FLA

In Yucatan, Wilma is battering the coast and soon it turn towards the Florida coast. But there is uncertainty as to the path it will follow, and the dates keep changing. Many believe the hurricane could fall as low as a category 2. But Florida has 18 Blackhawk helicopters and 18,000 troops on stand-by. Tampa, Florida has not been directly hit by a hurricane since 1921. And as another state prepares for a hit, accusations are flying over warnings being ignored when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. CBS reported tonight that many calls made to as high as the White House were ignored. "I think there was a systematic failure at all levels of government to understand the magnitude of the situation," said Marty Bahamonde, a FEMA Director
[23:52 GMT 20/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Iraq - Journalist released by gunman

Rory Carroll, the Guardian journalist who was kidnapped in Baghdad yesterday has been freed. Dermot Ahern the Irish Prime Minister said tonight that all efforts had been put in place to free the journalist. But his father, Joe, received an unexpected phone call late Thursday, and before any procedures to secure his release had been put in place. [BBC]
[23:18 20/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Worries as freak weather and bird flu spreads

Hurricane Wilma is threatening to hit the Florida Keys soon. With wind speeds of 282 km/h and gust of up to 343 km/h, parts of the Florida Keys have already started to evacuate. The storm, which has so far killed 11 in its wake, is expected to arrive in Florida by Saturday. [CNN] It has turned quickly from a category 2 into a category 5 as it passes through the Gulf of Mexico and is the 12th Hurricane this season, a new record. The region is still reeling from a death toll exceeding 1,000 dead after Hurricane Stan hit Cuba, Guatemala and Mexico last month. Weather prospects look bleak for the UK too as meteorologists predict an extremely harsh winter. Describing the warning as an “Amber Alert”, Chief Meteorologist Ewen McCallum told the BBC he did not wish to scaremonger, but to ensure forward planning. London Mayor Ken Livingstone warned that London and the South East could face the worst winter since 1962-1963, when Britain was frozen from Boxing Day until April with an average temperature of 0.2C. And if that wasn’t enough, the UK government is currently braced for an outbreak of bird-flu and a possible pandemic. And as more cases of the virus were reported in Turkey, Russia and Romania, Jack Straw made statements in front of an ill chosen backdrop depicting flocks of swans. Britain holds the EU Presidency and the backdrop display had been designed prior to the recent outbreak. He said the “EU was responding swiftly”. And in Wales, duck hunters have been asked to test their quarry for the virus to check if indeed it has spread to Britain’s shores. [BBC]
[20:23 GMT 19/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Iraq - Saddam trial starts

The trial of Saddam Hussein started today and so to did the media coverage. But it was unlike any normal trial. As Saddam and his seven co-defendants shuffled into court and proceedings started, the world did not watch. Instead, media networks awaited over 30 minutes until a tape of the proceedings was handed to broadcasters. But then there were sound problems which persisted for some time. CNN provided the most extensive coverage, but as tapes of reasonable quality became available, other networks dipped in. Then the circus started with a refusal of Saddam to answer the judge’s questions. He refused to accept legitimacy of the court and of providing his identity to the judge who repeatedly asked his name. Saddam Hussein instead asked the judge his name. The proceedings were then held up as it was debated whether the other defendants were allowed to wear their traditional head-dress. After a short while the judge relented and after a bizarre interlude, during which the men dressed themselves, each identified themselves and declared their innocence. The proceedings were then halted for a number of reasons; one being that no witnesses had made themselves available. And so with Judge Rizgar Amin setting a date of 28th November, the proceedings ended. [BBC]
Outside the protective cordon of the Green Zone life continued as usual. There were shootings; at least one reported bombing and a kidnapping. Guardian journalist, Rory Carroll, 33, was kidnapped Wednesday after he left a house in Baghdad. He had been covering the Saddam Hussein trial and was getting a perspective from an Iraqi family who watched it on television. He had earlier spoken to Ireland’s RTE radio network. But soon after he had spoken by phone on Today with Pat Kenny he was in the hands of unknown captors. A bomb exploded in the square honouring the 8th founder of Baghdad. No-one was killed in that attack but at least 19 died after a shooting near Abu Graib on the outskirts of Baghdad. ABC News also reported the deaths of a US and British soldier, killed in attacks on Tuesday night.
[19:52 GMT 19/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

UN seeks more help for quake victims

As the death toll rises following the devastating earthquake in Pakistan, Kofi Annan tonight asked NATO and the International Community to dig deeper to help in a deteriorating situation. The BBC earlier reported a 47,000 death toll in Pakistan, but shortly after 19:00 GMT the Associated Press reported that the death toll had exceeded 79,000 and was reported as Breaking News on Sky. Speaking at the United Nations, the Secretary General said there were 42,000 dead and at least 67,000 injured as a result of the 7.6 earthquake which hit on the 8th of October. “In the most affected area, all infrastructure has been destroyed,” Kofi Annan said tonight. He said that an estimated 3 million people were homeless and he urged the International Community to step up relief efforts. “The Global relief effort,” he said, required “more funds”. “These are unprecedented logistical challenges,” he added, and finished by saying, “If we are worthy of calling ourselves part of humankind, we must rise to this challenge”.
[19:48 GMT 19/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Iraq - Saddam faces trial

As the count continues for Iraq’s vote in the new constitution the country prepares for a new phase in its history. Saddam Hussein, the former ruler, is today, Wednesday 19th October 2005, to face charges of crimes against inhumanity [BBC]. The main charge against him centres around the death of 143 men in the village of Dujail, following a failed assassination attempt. He also faces charges of violating international law with regards the invasion of Kuwait, of political suppression of the Kurds and Shi’ites, and of genocide. Particularly the gas attack on Hallabja, which is seen as both a pivotal point in the war against Iraq’s regime and one of the first significantly covered events of a chemical attack on civilians. Some might argue however that the attack was against ‘insurgents and rebels’ and that civilians were merely caught in the bombardment. Collateral damage during a civil war!
Of course chemical weapons have been used against people in the past both during and outside of peace. The Aum Shimrikyo cult gassed many civilians in an attack on the Tokyo subway in Japan in 1995. Twelve were killed and hundreds more were injured. Agent Orange, described as a defoliant by the US, was used in Vietnam. It killed, disfigured and poisoned many civilians as well as combatants in America’s campaign in Vietnam. World War I also saw the use of chemical weapons. Many suffered the effects of mustard gas and other agents. And in World War II the Nazis used Zyklon B, a nerve gas, on thousands of civilians including, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, subversives, communists and criminals.
Iraq meanwhile has seen a worsening situation on the ground with almost daily attacks on civilians, US and allied troops and on the oil infrastructure. And as moral falls to an all time low amongst British troops station in Iraq, a British Captain is found dead. The British military investigator was found dead Monday at his quarters in Basra. No suspicious circumstances were reported. Captain Ken Masters had conducted investigations into Iraqi prisoner abuse by British troops. He is the 96th serviceman to die in Iraq since March 2003 [BBC].
Baghdad was meanwhile enveloped in a dust storm as US continued its operations against insurgents near Ramadi. Disputes continue over an air bombardment which killed 70 insurgents, according to the Americans, or 20 plus civilians according to reports from tribal leaders and a doctor who attended the scene [Reuters].
[02:09 GMT 19/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 16, 2005

China - back from the stars

Fei Junglong and Nie Haisheng after they touched down

As two Chinese taikonauts landed safely in northern China, the world failed to watch. Besides a far more open coverage of an historic mission, western media only made a brief mention as to its success. CNN continued to cover ‘World Sport’ as UK broadcasters continued with their regular programming. Headlines in the UK are otherwise dominated by the spread of Bird-Flu and the lack of any health plan, if it should mutate and become a pandemic. In that regard there is a twisted irony. The main weapon against the virus is Tamiflu. And the source of its active ingredient; Star Anise. Described in Saturday’s Independent as “the world’s only weapon against bird flu”, Star Anise or Illicium verum is a herb which is widely used in oriental cooking as well as Chinese traditional medicine. Only Star Anise grown in four provinces of China is said to be suitable for the manufacture of Tamiflu, according to its makers Roche pharmaceutical of Switzerland. With much of the harvest being taken by Roche, supplies are almost exhausted. Roche also holds the patent on the drug, Tamiflu, and has faced pressure to allow other manufacturers to produce it. Roche say that it “would be difficult for another manufacturer to set up production”. Indeed the process is complicated, requiring the initial extraction of shikimic acid from the seeds which is in turn converted to epoxide in a process requiring three chemical steps. Parts of the process carries with it some risk as highly explosive bi-products are created in its manufacture. The active ingredient, oseltamivir, is crystallized and placed into capsules. But as arguments over manufacture continue, a blackmarket in the drug has started. Tamiflu tablets have sold for £9 a tablet in Turkey, scene of one outbreak. Roche have issued a warning not to purchase Tamiflu via the internet, citing the risk of buying counterfeit products. Professor Hugh Pennington, who has previously headed government health investigations in the UK, said that people need not over-react. “Tamiflu is not the wonder drug some people claim”, he said.
[22:47 GMT 16/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

China's Shenzhou 6 returns to a chaotic world

Chinese taikonauts returned to China tonight. CCTV 9 brought extensive coverage to viewers around the world as Shenzhou 6, Divine Vessel, returned to Earth. This was in stark contrast to China’s first manned mission At 04:26 CCTV 9 reported the craft had broken through the ‘blackout area’. PCNE Chinese also brought extensive coverage, but there was no Live coverage of this historic mission on CNN, Sky News, BBC 24 nor ITN. And at 04:32 Beijing time, CCTV 9 reported the craft to have landed safely in the northern province of Inner Mongolia. The only Live shot was of scientists and engineers at the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Centre. Although pictures were said to have been received by the centre from the taikonauts, no pictures were made immediately available to the media. But soon Live pictures said to be near the landing site showed helicopters over the area. Fei Junglong and Nie Haisheng blasted off Wednesday from the edge of the Gobi desert, in Gansu province.

They return to a world with many troubles. In Iran a bomb exploded in the south-west of the country and has been blamed on Britain by President Amedinajad. Britain denied any links. There was said to be a high turnout for Iraq’s constitutional vote, Saturday. Sixty one percent of registered voters cast their vote amid fears of an upsurge in violence. But few attacks were reported. Twenty attacks were said to have occurred in Baghdad, and a man was reportedly shot dead near a polling station. The US backed constitution has been widely criticised for swaying too heavily toward Shi’ite interests. Meanwhile, relief operations continue in Pakistan where death tolls are said to exceed 40,000 following a 7.6 earthquake, eight days ago.
[21:08 GMT 16/10/2005 / 05:08 BEIJING 17/10/2005]

Saturday, October 15, 2005

China - on the world stage

China has been in the news this week with a number of developments which will no doubt ruffle western business interests. First came an announcement that China was set to launch HD DVD [Hi-Definition Digital Versatile Disc] to rival Sony’s Blu-Ray DVD technology. China's next-generation DVD is based on, but not compatible with, today's HD-DVD format. But a statement on Xinhua News seemed to clarify the reasoning behind such developments, “China produced about 70 percent to 80 percent of the world's DVD players. However, Chinese manufacturers need to pay licensing fees to overseas patent holders in the DVD industry. The licensing fee accounts for 40 percent of the rough cost of each DVD player.” The format is likely to hit the streets in 2008.

China’s space program was given a boost with an announcement of another manned launch. “China's successful launch of its second manned spacecraft Shenzhou-6 on Oct. 12 has drawn worldwide applause in recognition of the technological advances to become the world's third nation capable of putting a man into space,” said Xinhua News. The worldwide applause may not have been in evidence, as suggested by China’s state press agency, but there is a quiet realization of China’s increased abilities amongst western nations. This was China’s second manned mission into space and a fanfare surrounded this launch with state television showing live broadcast of the launch and pictures beamed from space. The intimate view differs dramatically from two years ago, when no pictures of the first Chinese manned venture was shown on live TV, apparently over fears something would go wrong. [CNN]
Meanwhile at the G20, President Hu Jintao has made a keynote speech at the Seventh G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting, which opened Saturday [15th October] in Beijing [Xinhua News Agency]. In it he said the world was “faced with both opportunities and challenges”. He added that China “must strengthen international cooperation to seize opportunities and meet challenges together so as to promote balanced and orderly development of the world economy.” But China’s slow moves towards democracy are still being criticized, even if not highlighted during the G20 forum. The BBC reported on further unrest in Taishi, in Guangdong province, which has thrown fresh doubts of China’s claim to introduce democracy “from the bottom up.” Direct elections of local officials by almost a million villages across the country have in recent years been widely welcomed as a possible first step towards a multi-party state. But there is criticism that China’s move towards democracy is not moving fast enough and that the government is no more serious about grassroots democracy than any other sort of political reform. But with increased co-operation with the West, there has been much investment in China by western brands. Coca-Cola, Ikea and Starbucks are just some of the western brands seen regularly around Beijing. But a bid by BP this week for a stake in China’s oil industry was firmly rejected. The world's second-largest oil company by market capitalisation offered to swap interests in oil or gas fields in return for a big chunk of Sinopec, as China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation is better known, sources told Reuters. "BP has misread what the Chinese want ... They (the Chinese) said 'no'. They've said they're not doing it," one source said.
Wargames held in the last month have brought fears to some countries which see the exercises as a prelude to hostile action against disputed territories. Taiwan, Korea and Japan have all expressed their dissatisfaction over the exercises which were a joint operation between Russia and China. Fox News reported, “The two would-be superpowers held unprecedented joint military exercises Aug. 18-25. Soothingly named “Peace Mission 2005,” the drills took place on the Shandong peninsula on the Yellow Sea, and included nearly 10,000 troops. Russian long-range bombers, the army, navy, air force, marine, airborne and logistics units from both countries were also involved.” Both Moscow and Beijing claimed the maneuvers were aimed at combating terrorism, extremism and separatism (the last a veiled reference to Taiwan), but, said Fox, “It’s clear they were an attempt to counter-balance American military might.”
This week also saw the opening of a new railway in Tibet. China announced on Saturday completion of the world's highest railway, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which stretches 1,956 kilometers from Xining to Lhasa cities in western China. Construction of the 1,142-km-long Golmud-Lhasa section of the railway, which runs across the Kunlun and Tanggula mountain ranges, started in June 2001 and has cost 24 billion yuan (3 billion US dollars) to build thus far, Xinhua News reported. Sources from the Ministry of Railway say after the test runs next year, the railway will link Lhasa with five major Chinese cities -- Beijing, Shanghai, Xining, Chengdu and Guangzhou. It will also carry 75 percent of all the inbound cargoes into Tibet, cutting transportation costs and boosting local economy. The railway is at least 200 metres higher than the Peruvian railway in the Andes, reaching 5,072 metres above sea level at some points along its route.
And finally, scientists have discovered the world’s oldest noodles at an archaeological site in Lajia, north-west China. The millet noodles are said to be 4,000 years old, predating earlier discoveries by more than 2,000 years [USA Today].
[15:15 GMT 15/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Earthquakes, bird-flu and disaster relief

The earthquake in Pakistan has dominated international news this week. CNN has provided almost continual coverage, but significant space has been given to the story by other leading broadcasters. The death toll his risen to an estimated 30,000, with some predictions of it rising to as many as 40,000. The true figure may never be known. Some villages have all but disappeared. Other remain cut off and only accessible by air. Appeals are broadcast, and advertisements appear in much of the UK national press, but as the Independent highlighted on Wednesday, ‘compassion fatigue’ may set in after many disaster relief funds this year. The British public alone have donated millions of pound to disaster relief including the Asian tsunami, Live 8, and the Katrina hurricane relief fund amongst others [Disaster Emergency Committee]. Meanwhile, scientists and medical staff are braced for a worldwide pandemic of Bird-flu. All eyes have been on one particular strain for sometime. A/H5N1 has already been found in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, as well as other Asian countries in the past two years. But with recent discoveries in Romania, Turkey and along the Arab peninsula, many scientists believe it is only a matter of time before the necessary mutation occurs and bring forth a human form of the virus [BBC /CNN ]. Due to the way in which flu is spread, it may bring a worldwide death-toll as high as 150 Million according to the World Health Organization. Pandemics can last a year or more, and according to one scientist, and quoted in USA Today [11/10/2005], the US was “not prepared”. A/H5N1 has so far killed only 60 people but this accounts for a death rate of 51.2% with 117 having been affected in the past two years. The “Spanish Flu” pandemic of 1918-19 killed between 20 and 50 million worldwide, the 1957 “Asian Flu” killed around 2 million and the “Hong Kong Flu” of 1968 about 1 million. What is becoming clear, is the world faces a far bigger threat than earth tremors and bad weather. Whether the world is ready when it hits, besides very clear warnings, is open to speculation.
[20:22 GMT 13/10/2005] Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 10, 2005

China - accusations of state beatings

The Guardian today led with a story which may set back China's image many years. Since the student protests of 1989 in Tiananmen Square, which were so savagely quelled by authorities, China has being attempting a face-lift both politically and culturally. But while western shops can be seen on the streets of Beijing and journalistic freedoms are being increased, others are still feeling the full might of the state on their shoulders. According to The Guardian, Lu Banglie, a pro-democracy activist, had been beaten and left for dead by "uniformed thugs" employed by the state. Foreign journalists travelling to Taishi have also been targeted. A French radio journalist and a Hong Kong print journalist were said to have been beaten. The Guardian correspondent, Benjamin Joff-Walt, his translator and Mr Lu set off for Taishi. But their path has blocked by more than 30 men who shouted at the taxi driver, "What the f*** are you doing here?" The taxi driver in turn uttered his displeasure to his passengers. "F*** all of you, look now you've gotten me into trouble" he said. Then Mr Lu was dragged from the car and beaten, for 10 minutes. He was left with an eye hanging from its socket, torn ligaments in his neck and blood streaming from his mouth. As Joff-Walt was then searched, and found to be a journalist, one man screamed, "You foreigners are ruining Taishi? You write so much about what's happened here the businesses have fled the new industrial zone". Then Mr Joff-Wolt and his translator were driven away for interrogation. Mr Lu has not been heard from since.
[17:57 GMT 10/10/2005]

UK - Southend pier "will cost millions to rebuild"

Fire crews were today damping down the scene of Sunday night's blaze which partly destroyed the world's longest pier. The fire, which started at 22:40 UK time [21:40 GMT], was still smouldering on Monday morning and fire fighters were carrying out investigations and damping down. Several businesses were completely destroyed by the fire but no-one was injured. The cause is as yet unclear, but it is believed to be arson.
As the sun rose over the estuary, smoke could still be seen enveloping the pier's end. Many local residents were shocked and saddened as they were greeted with the sight of the famous landmark again devastated by fire. There was an eerie silence on the seafront, the area having been sealed off to traffic. Only an occasional walker disturbed the otherwise deserted streets. Beaches were cordoned off and debris from the pier littered the shore.
At a morning press conference borough council leader Anna Waite said, "We will be looking to restore it to its former glory. It's a very sad day and the pier will cost millions of pounds to rebuild." She added that it was fully insured, and although the cause had not yet been established, suggested a smoking ban on the restored pier.
But any investigation into the cause will not explain the failure to bring the fire under control more quickly. Fire boats were not immediately available and fire fighting was hampered by a lack of water. A sprinkler system was not in place in the bar according to an Essex Fire spokesperson, and there may well be questions over how well the tourist attraction was protected.
For the foreseeable future, Southend will be without its most famous of landmarks. [BBC Essex]
[16:48 GMT 10/10/2005]

Sunday, October 09, 2005

UK - Longest pier hit by major blaze

The pier as seen from a Kent based webcam late Sunday [IOSSC]

Southend pier, the longest pier in the world at 2,138 metres, has caught fire for the fourth time in its chequered history. The latest incident has occurred at the end of the structure and twelve appliances were in attendance late Sunday night with more than 50 fire fighters struggling against the blaze. Water supplies proved to be a problem, and a fire tug was ordered to the scene. Crews were expected to be fighting the incident throughout the night. There are no current reports of injuries. The pier has been devastated by fire in 1959, 1976 and 1995. It has also been hit by a boat, the MV Kingsabbey, which caused severe damage to the pier in 1986. The pier was built at the mouth of the River Thames in 1889. Situated 50 km to the east of London in the county of Essex, it has been a tourist attraction ever since.
[23:30 GMT 09/10/2005]

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Pakistan - Death toll rises as rescue efforts begin

1,337 people are now confirmed dead in Saturday's earthquake. The quake was felt as far away as India and the damage throughout Pakistan, India, Kashmir and Afghanistan is substantial. Rescue efforts are ongoing in many areas with CNN showing live pictures of operations at a collapsed apartment building in Islamabad, Pakistan. Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, has said that rescue workers have been dispatched to the area. There have been at least 9 aftershocks of significance, some as high as 6.3 on the Richter scale. The situation is worsening in Mexico and the surrounding area which has been ravaged by bad weather over the last few days. At least 800 people have died today alone in a major mudslide in Guatemala. And the clear up continues in Louisiana, USA following the devastation left by hurricane Katrina. Levies need to be rebuilt before next year's hurricane season. And the sooner they are rebuilt, the sooner the inhabitants can rebuild their homes.
[19:11 GMT 08/10/2005]

Pakistan - 7.6 quake kills hundreds

Pakistan today suffered a major earthquake with tremors measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale. The USGS reported the quake, which hit at 08:50 local time [03:50 UTC/GMT], as being some 88 km NNE of Islamabad [34.43N 73.54E] near the border with India. The damage is reported over a wide area and the loss of life is likely to be substantial. The BBC reported a casualty figure of 172. But hundreds are feared dead and rescue efforts are beginning to swing into action. Many areas hit by the quake are in remote parts of the country which will make rescue efforts difficult and slow. There have been at least 4 aftershocks, each of which measured 5.6. An earthquake also hit Mexico on Friday. The 5.8 quake occurred at 11:43 local time [17:53 UTC/GMT] off the Pacific coast near El Salvador. It follows recent seismic activity in the area which has also seen volcanic eruptions, mud slides, and heavy rain with the arrival of Tropical Storm Stan. The death toll in the region from the storms has reached 256 according to the BBC.
[11:32 GMT 08/10/2005]

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Threats against Iran increase

"Can you imagine what tactical strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities would do...this is barmy to suggest such a thing." This was the reaction by Labour MP Fabian Hamilton speaking on BBC's Newsnight programme to suggestions made by Dr Nile Gardiner. Recent warnings from the US and escalations of violence in Iraq against British troops, which are believed to have Iranian links, are now putting Iran firmly on the map of George Bush's 'War on Terror'. Dr Nile Gardiner, a former advisor to Margaret Thatcher, claimed that the Iranians were deliberately trying to undermine the reconstruction policy in Iraq. "We've already caught intelligence officers on the ground...and there must be consequences," said Dr Gardiner, "We need to crack down on the leadership of these organizations...and send a clear message that ultimately the use of force may be necessary".
"No-one is proposing an invasion of Iran...but to take out Iranian nuclear facilities if they proceed with their nuclear program, but we must explore all avenues of diplomacy first," he added. A senior British official had earlier accused Iran of supplying a Shia militant group and claimed that the group were responsible for attacks on British troops recently. "It would be entirely natural that they would want to send a message 'Don't mess with us'. It would not be outside the policy parameters of Tehran," the official was reported to have said on Sky News. It is believed the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had been responsible for supplying the explosives technology used in a series of deadly attacks on British troops over the summer. "We think it has come from Lebanese Hizbollah via Iran," the official added.
But Iran denies any involvement. "From the very beginning, we have stated our position very clearly - a stable Iraq is in our interests and that is what the Iraqi authorities have said themselves on many occasions," Hamid Reza-Asefi told the BBC. A stable Iraq is far from certain. Further attacks on a mosque today killed 25 and injured 87 according to CNN . The bombing in Hilla was a further strike at the Shi'ite population. The general theory discussed throughout the media, is that the Sunni insurgents are attempting to provoke the Shia majority into civil war. There is, however, occasional messages released by insurgents and Shia clerics citing solidarity for each other. The truth is far from clear as is the future.
[23:16 GMT 06/10/2005]

Monday, October 03, 2005

War on Terror - Bombs in Bali, attacks in Iraq...

The War on Terror and the terror attacks continued throughout the globe this week. Bali again hit the headlines after at least 3 suicide bombers hit tourist spots in Indonesia. They killed some 26 and injured many others in a repeat of a similar attack in October 2002 which killed 202 people and injured 209. The target was the same, Kuta, a popular tourist resort. But the death toll was significantly lower. And fewer tourists from developed countries were caught in the explosions, one of which hit the nearby resort of Jimbaran. Early reports stated that 1 Japanese tourist and 2 New Zealanders had been killed, but some British tabloids reported some British citizens also amongst the dead. Footage emerged later of one of the explosions and a possible suspect being caught on the tape. The investigation continues, but all eyes are on the group Jemaah Islamiyah. JI are believed to be linked with al Qaeda by many terror experts.
The war in Iraq brought another US death bringing the toll to 1,939. CNN reported that he was killed in Ramadi in the western Anbar province. The soldier was killed in the latest of many anti-insurgent operations, Operation Iron Fist. The renewed clampdown on insurgents comes ahead of the referendum on the new Iraqi Constitution. Many believe the constitution will fail and further undermine the new government.
In Afghanistan there are reports that recent operations by Afghan troops saw the deaths of 31 insurgents. CNN reported that no US troops were involved in the four hour battle near the Pakistani border.
In the Britain, authorities arrested 5 individuals “whose presence in the UK” was “not conducive to the public good for reasons of national security”. Ten had already been detained under new powers in August, and a further 7 in September. The number detained under the new law now stands at 22 according to the BBC. One man not amongst them is Zayead Christopher Hajaig. The Ilford Recorder in east London, this week reported that the man was “Wanted by the FBI…but set free by court to return to his home”. The paper reported that he had ‘fled back to the UK’ after the ‘FBI launched a manhunt after finding the 35 year old was living illegally in the US and owned 3 high power rifles, one of which was later found dumped in a river.’
The paper had failed to contact Mr Hajaig, who was born in Nigeria, and further deatails were not revealed from the ‘secret 20-minute hearing’ at Snaresbrook Crown Court on Friday 23rd September. Reports from earlier this year paint a more detailed picture. According to a WXIA-TV report, Hajaig was the subject of an alert issued by the Joint Terrorist Task Force earlier this year after allegedly attempting to have his flying rating upgraded when he was not qualified. Hajaig was also indicted by a federal grand jury on charges he was an illegal alien with the possession of three assault-style rifles. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Hajaig fled the country before they could question him. Agents said he allegedly dumped weapons he owned in the Chattahoochee River before he left the country. But Hajaig blamed many of his problems on his own passion for flying in correspondence with Leonard Harris, who runs a pilot supply store at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. “I left town in a hurry for fear of being deported,” Hajaig says in an e-mail. “The next thing I know the feds think I’m a blinking terrorist...I love the U.S. and am loyal to the UK and America,” he told WXIA in April 2005.
“He came in here and wanted to learn how to fly and we taught him how to fly,” Harris told 11Alive News. “He was a jovial guy, he was a lot of fun, he was very intelligent.” Harris said he was shocked when the task force issued the alert bulletin. “I thought it was a joke to start with,” he said. “I thought they've got him mixed up with somebody else.”
In an email to Harris, Hajaig admits to overstaying his visa and to throwing away the guns that the authorities found in the Chattahoochee River. “He said he panicked and threw away the guns on somebody else’s advice,” Harris said. And he also protested his innocence. "I am not a bloody terrorist," Hajaig wrote. "All I am guilty of is overstaying my visa and that has mushroomed to something that is frankly quite embarrassing." Hajaig's name first surfaced on April 7, when an Atlanta Joint Terrorism Task Force bulletin leaked to the press. The bulletin said Hajaig became aggressive after being denied the chance to upgrade his pilot rating while taking flight lessons in Georgia, his home at the time. To add to the suspicions, he was an illegal alien who trained at the same airport where 9/11 terrorists Muhammad Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi once rented a plane. Hajaig says that's all "bollocks" and that a "disgruntled friend" put the finger on him after a falling-out. The Feds admit they have no evidence of a "link to terrorism." But in the war on terror, law-enforcement officials don't take chances. Hajaig remains free until at least 14th October when he is due for sentencing after pleading guilty to “stealing a man’s identity to obtain a bogus British passport”. He had use the name of Barry John Felton a name also on the original FBI indictment as one of his aliases, dated 20th April. The passport had been used by Hajaig to flee the US. [sources - UPI, Newsweek, WXIA-TV, FBI]
[23:19 GMT 03/10/2005]

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Weather - 'Dragon King' hits China

Typhoon Longwang, which means Dragon King, hit Taiwan Saturday. But few deaths and only a handful of injuries have been reported. At least 10,000 people have lost their electricity supply according to CNN, but most of the 23 M population were well prepared for the now weakening typhoon which caused only moderate damage. Transport was heavily disrupted, however, and a 5.4 earthquake in the region was also a cause of concern. The category 1 storm is now hitting the southern coast of China, bringing with it heavy rain. Three people have been reported dead and at least one missing. Up to 200,000 people have been evacuated from Fujian province [Xinhua News]. Meanwhile Texas and Louisiana continue to pick up the pieces after the two major hurricanes that have hit the area. There are three more names on the ‘list’ before they are called by Greek letters in what has been a very active season. Storms are also hitting Mexico and several deaths have been reported as a result of hurricane Otis. And in El Salvador a volcano erupted causing panic but no significant injuries.
[22:28 GMT 02/10/2005]