Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thailand - 53 killed in nightclub fire

At least 53 people have died after a fire swept through the Santika nightclub in Bangkok, Thailand. The fire struck during New Years Eve celebrations and reports suggest it may have been started by fireworks. Around 100 others are said to be injured [BBC / Sky News].

2008 leaves little to rejoice about

Oil prices, China, the US election & a global recession dominated 2008
2008 has been an eventful year but perhaps it is the cataclysmic events that have left the most lasting of memories. January saw the price of oil pass the $100 per barrel mark. The month also saw a stand off between Iranian forces and US warships over territorial water disputes. The year also started with Israeli incursions into Gaza leaving nearly 50 Palestinians dead. Financial markets were also rocked after rogue trader Jerome Kerviel lost more than €4.9 billion for the French bank Societe Generale in what at the time was described as a “large scale internal fraud” by President Sarkozy.

China saw the beginning of what was a turbulent year after thousands became stranded in the worst snow storms the country had seen for years. The clear up continued well into February and left dozens dead. The US also experienced rare February storms which left around 60 dead. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra played a rare concert in North Korea to soften the diplomatic tension between the two countries. But tensions continued in many other countries. Violent clashes occurred in Serbia and Kosovo after the latter declared its independence and bombings continued to wreak havoc in Iraq and Pakistan.

In March Dmitry Medvedev won the Russian election but was widely seen as Putin’s puppet. Attempts at developing a peace process in the Middle East once again fell on stony ground and incursions and terrorist attacks continued. China returned to the headlines after riots in Tibet left up to 100 dead and the fallout became a PR disaster for the country after protests followed the Olympic torch around the globe during April. There were further troubles after a train crash in Shandong province left 70 dead.

May became a cause for celebration for many Londoners after Boris Johnson won the Mayoral election. But it was the natural disaster in Myanmar which dominated headlines after a cyclone left thousands dead and without help as the country’s dictatorship refused foreign aid. China was the next victim after a massive earthquake struck Sichuan province. Around 80,000 died in the earthquake and a quarter of a million were injured, but China was far more accepting of foreign help, though it was less appreciative of the criticism of its building regulations after it emerged many schools appeared to have been badly built. May also saw oil rise beyond $135 per barrel leaving many motorists around the world with increased running costs.

June brought further rises in the price of fuel and tanker strikes in Britain which nearly saw the pumps run dry. Zimbabwe was once again in the news after Robert Mugabe stole another election. But in the US election Hillary Clinton finally conceded defeat in her bid as Democratic candidate and endorsed Barack Obama. China once again suffered the wrath of nature’s power after floods left millions homeless and more than a hundred dead.

July saw violence return to Israel after a man used a tractor to unleash an attack on civilians. Four were killed and nearly 40 were injured before the man was shot dead by police. Bomb attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan left more than 60 dead. July also saw the first signs of the impending recession after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ran into trouble and stock markets around the world began to fluctuate wildly. But it was the Olympics which hit the headlines as August arrived. However, despite the show of the century, the media could not help but criticise the poor air quality, the arrests of foreign journalists and highlight terrorist attacks that struck in parts of the country.

As the US election campaign got into full swing the financial crisis began to bite hard and one institution after another began to fold. China was also suffering from its own crisis after it was revealed that milk had been contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine leaving thousands sick and at least four babies dead. But it was the financial downturn that gripped most people’s attention well into October. Almost everyday there was further bad news as one company after another announced it was running into financial difficulty.

November brought with it a moment of history after Barack Obama became the first black American President. But the celebrations were short lived as the reality of the deepening financial crisis set in. There was further tragedy after Pakistani terrorists killed dozens on the streets of Mumbai in India. A three day siege ensued and around 156 were killed. India was left reeling from the attacks and there were calls from many to retaliate against Pakistan. THere was no retaliation, though tensions remain high between the two nuclear powers.

December saw Greece gripped by riots after police shot a young teenager dead. Zimbabwe, already suffering from financial collapse, was now becoming the victim of a cholera pandemic which Mugabe blamed on the West. But the West was more concerned with its own demise as one company after another shut its doors. For many retailers it was far from a very merry Christmas as many were forced to slash prices in order to drum up trade. And in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christ, it ended much as it had begun with Israeli bombardments on Gaza and with tanks preparing to roll into the Palestinian territory.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Iran's Press TV arrives in Europe

Press TV joins the ever growing number of news channels on Astra

Iran’s news channel Press TV has joined the free-to-air line-up of channels available in Europe via the Astra satellite [channel 525]. Along with Sky News, the BBC News channel, CNN, al-Jazeera English, France 24, Russia Today and Euro News it brings the number of rolling news stations to eight. Though not entirely geared to news coverage, China’s international station CCTV-9 also complements the ever increasing line up of world media broadcasters providing different slants to news around the globe.

As regards its global footprint CNN still provides the best coverage, even available in hotels across China where foreign media is still highly restricted. BBC World is also becoming more accessible in many countries but lags way behind that of CNN. Europe is privileged in as much as it is served by many news channels both domestic and global though some remain encrypted and are only available by subscription. MSNBC, Fox News and India’s NDTV are available on Astra but require a monthly fee.

Press TV’s coverage is in sharp contrast to that of other broadcasters. Opinion aired on the channel is often particularly critical of Israel. During some of today’s programming, a Beirut correspondent, Matthew Cassel, described coverage on CNN and the BBC as biased in respect to pictures it showed. He claimed that while the suffering experienced by Israelis at the receiving end of rockets launched by Hamas was shown, there were few pictures of the suffering endured by those in Gaza. Indeed the rolling pictures shown on Press TV have been far more graphic than those seen on other television news channels. Al-Jazeera has shown some pictures which are often described by TV anchors as ‘disturbing’, but Sky, the BBC and CNN have tended to shield viewers from the most graphic pictures. The BBC have described scenes of carnage and the condition of some victims, but pictures tend to be of destroyed buildings and long shot of distant explosions and flying F-15s.

Bardia Honardar, Press TV’s anchor, said the latest death toll was 385 and that 1,700 had been injured during Israel’s bombardment while they had suffered losses amounting to 5 dead. The numbers of dead vary between different broadcasters. The BBC and al-Jazeera are saying that there are now 360 dead in Gaza while Sky states “at least 360” have perished. Meanwhile, CNN says that the death toll has risen to 375.

Time given over the story also varies considerably. Though somewhat rambling in its coverage, Press TV is almost constant in its reporting. Al-Jazeera and CNN have given almost equal time to the story while the BBC and Sky ‘s reportage has begun to wane after four days of fighting. While it remains the top story for other channels such as RT and France 24, the coverage has dropped to only a few minutes per hour.

[CNN / Sky News / BBC / al-Jazeera / CCTV / Russia Today / France 24 / Press TV / Euronews]

Israeli strikes leave 375 dead in Gaza

Protests around the world have turned violent

Three days of violence has left more than 375 dead as Israeli attempts to destroy Hamas’s capability of firing rockets into its territory. But while Israel says it is only trying to defend itself from rocket attacks, its disproportionate response has come in for much criticism and resulted in widespread protests around the world. The United States have defended Israel’s right to protect itself and called on Hamas to stop firing rockets. But even this ally has asked Israel to act with restraint and avoid hitting civilians.

However, in a region as densely populated as Gaza even surgical strikes on military targets cannot avoid civilian casualties. There are no exact numbers, but Palestinian sources say many of the some 375 so far killed are civilians. There are also many injured and only now after three days of violence are some of the hundreds of wounded being transported into Egypt to receive emergency treatment. Meanwhile the Red Crescent has mobilized an operation to ship medical supplies into Gaza. At least 100 aid trucks are preparing to make their way into Gaza from Egypt. But providing aid is difficult and one aid ship has already run into trouble after colliding with an Israeli warship. CNN’s Karl Penhaul said two Israeli boats shadowed the aid boat Dignity before ramming it in international waters. But Yigal Palmor of the Israeli Ministry said the fact that journalists were on board the vessel indicated it was part of a “publicity stunt”. He insisted that the boat was not rammed despite damage that was evident on the boat.

While Israel’s action might be understood on one level, their bombardment may only serve to perpetuate a continuing cycle of hatred that exists across the region. Already there have been demonstrations, not only in Gaza and the West Bank but also across Lebanon, Iran and in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul. There were also violent clashes with police on Sunday outside the Israeli embassy in London. Protests have also been seen in New York. In Greece which has recently seen anti-government protests, demonstrators took to streets to vent their anger towards Israel.

Ron Prosor, Israeli Ambassador to the UK, speaking on CNN said that Hamas was whipping up propaganda against Israel. He said Israel had been restrained for many years allowing Hamas to arm itself with the help of Iran and Hezbollah. He said the military action would allow Israel the ability to “degrade Hamas’s capability” and put the issue of peace back on the negotiating table. As regards the numbers of civilians killed he blamed Hamas for placing military bases, laboratories and other installations close to civilian neighbourhoods. Israel, like the US, sees Hamas as a terrorist organisation despite its having been elected in a democratic election. “Hitler too was democratically elected”, Prosor said, dismissing their legitimacy to hold power.

Israel’s PM has said the bombardment was only the first stage of an ongoing operation. Already tanks have manoeuvred into position at the border between Gaza and Israel prompting speculation that a ground offensive may follow soon.

Hamas meanwhile continues to launch attacks against its neighbour though it is unable to inflict much damage. Since Saturday despite many such rockets being launched few have caused anything more than panic on the streets of Israel. There has been some property damage but so far only four people have died including one soldier according to Israel [BBC / CNN / Sky News].

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kunming bus bomber identified, police say

A man has admitted to being the perpetrator of a number of bomb blasts that struck in the heart of Kunming, a city in south-west China, earlier this year. The man, named by officials as Li Yan [李彦], was caught after the bomb he was carrying detonated at the Salvadors coffee shop in Kunming on 24th December. However details are only just beginning to emerge after earlier reports suggested the blast was caused by a gas explosion.

Kunming was rocked by two bus explosions on the 21st July this year in the lead up to the Beijing Olympic games [tvnewswatch]. Two were killed in the attack and were named later as Wang Dezhi (王德芝) a 30-year-old woman from the city of Mouding in Yunnan's Chuxiong prefecture and Chen Shifei (陈仕飞), a 26-year-old man from the town of Dayan in Yunnan's Lijiang prefecture. At least another 14 were injured in the bus bombs and there was much speculation as to who carried out the attacks. A little known group called the Turkestan Islamic Party claimed responsibility for the blasts calling it a part of its “Blessed Jihad in Yunnan” [tvnewswatch]. However, officials dismissed any terrorist links to the explosions, saying that the attacks were likely to have been carried out by a disgruntled citizen [Wikipedia - Kunming bus bombings].

According to Chinese police, DNA found at the bus bombing sites and the Salvador cafe linked the incidents. They also claim that Li had “confessed” his involvement to the bombings on his death bed after being severely injured in the explosion that swept through the Kunming cafe.

The blast struck the cafe at 10:30 in the morning of the 24th December despite much damage to the inside of the cafe customers were uninjured according to one of the owners Colin Flahive. He told Go Kunming that three Koreans and one Chinese man who were close to the bomb were miraculously uninjured by the blast. But in the rubble was the bomb suspect who apparently made his own way to hospital where he was subsequently interrogated by police.

Police later went to Li's residence in Xuanwei, where they reportedly discovered 1.1 Kg of ammonium nitrate and bomb casing materials that matched the samples taken from the Salvador's bomb. The device had apparently detonated prematurely, severely wounding the suspect. Li died two hours later at Honghui Hospital. Police say they also found a homemade gun with 21 rounds of ammunition at the man's home and that forensic tests showed the explosives were the same as those used in the Kunming bus explosions in July.

According to authorities, Li had been imprisoned for 9 years in 2001 for his involvement in robbery and assault. He served five years in a prison in Yiliang county, where he spent much of his time involved in electrical repairs, an experience which is said to have aided his alleged bomb-making skills.

The bombing at the Salvador, in 76 Wen Lin Jie, Wen Hua Xiang, Kunming, has shocked many westerners who frequent the coffee shop. Situated near the Green Lake the cafe serves everything from burgers and sandwiches to herbal teas and coffee. Its Kunming branch open in 2004 and has been a magnet for Chinese and westerners alike.

The solving of the Kunming bombing attacks may lift concerns among residents of Yunnan’s capital, however there will still be those who remain sceptical as to whether Li was the bomber behind the blasts. His apparent guilt does raise some concerns as how he managed to construct explosive devices so easily. It is also worrisome that some individuals take such drastic action to air their grievances. Earlier this year a man stormed a police station in Shanghai killing several policemen in an apparent grievance over a wrongful arrest. He was arrested and later executed. The incidents highlight a growing discontent in China amongst some disenfranchised groups and individuals. With rising unemployment and an ever widening rich poor divide, actions such as these may well repeat themselves [New York Times / Xinhua / Huanqiu]

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Israeli airstrikes leave 150 dead in Gaza

Despite calls from religious leaders over Christmas to end the conflict in the Middle East, the region has once again descended into violence. Israel launched a series of air strikes into Gaza on Saturday morning killing at least 145 and leaving 200 injured.
At a press conference Hamas leaders condemned the strikes and said they “held Israel responsible” for the “massacre”. Israel has said the attacks “aimed at Hamas militants” was in response to rocket attacks launched against Israel following the breakdown of a ceasefire earlier this month. The ceasefire breakdown is partly blamed on Israel's failure to open borders and allowing the flow of food, medicine and other supplies.

Major Avital Leibovitch told CNN the aerial bombardment was "in response to continued rocket attacks from Gaza" and that the operation was “just the beginning”. However, Hamas has vowed revenge for the air strikes, saying they were stronger than ever before.

Several countries have criticised the Israeli action saying it would further inflame the region. Egypt’s presidency condemned the air strikes and called for restraint. The country’s borders were also opened up to allow the wounded to be transported to at least two of Egypt’s hospitals. The Arab League called on the UN to take action, while French president Sarkozy's office called on both Hamas & Israel to halt hostilities. But while Hamas had its supporters, others struck out at the group. President Bush said Hamas should stop its terrorist activity. While stopping short of condemning Israel it did call for restraint saying the action did little to help the peace process. Speaking from Gaza, Eyhab el-Ghosain, the Hamas Interior Ministry, told the BBC that Hamas was not a terrorist organisation and was merely defending itself from Israeli aggression. The BBC cut into the Live into the interview to bring viewers a supposed Live address by an Israeli’s Foreign Minister. Tzipi Livni said Israel “had no choice” other than to respond to the continued rocket attacks launched by Hamas militants in recent days. As it turned out the statement was a “recently recorded clip”.

Hamas say that all their police compounds have been destroyed by the attacks and that civilians were amongst the dead. In Israel there is at least one fatality after a Hamas rocket destroyed a house. Two were also injured following the rocket attack on the small town of Askelon. The tit for tat aggression and the pictures that are subsequently broadcast will only perpetuate the violence.

Pictures which were relayed via television news showed scenes of chaos and destruction. Al Jazeera showed graphic scenes of a police compound were dozens of bodies lay dead and injured. CNN, the BBC and other news broadcasters were less graphic in their coverage, but in the Palestinian territories TV news was far less muted. According to BBC News, local broadcaster have showed pictures of bodies laid out in front of hospitals including many children caught up in the explosions. Sky News were broadcasting Live from the area as an explosion hit the centre of Gaza sending up a huge mushroom cloud of smoke. It was not known who or what was at the receiving end of the missile attack which was only one of at least 20 such blasts reported across the Gaza strip. In response Hamas has launched dozens of rockets into the Israeli territory though the damage inflicted is superficial. As the strikes subsided the protests started. Some called for Fatah to join with Hamas in its battle against a common aggressor. There has not been a major shift in support for Hamas, though the scenes of dead bodies and destruction has angered many in the Palestinian territories as well as Gaza. Meanwhile Hamas is continuing to call on its fighters to strike back at Israel. This conflict is unlikely to end anytime soon [CNN / BBC / Sky News / al-Jazeera].

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas brings hopes, fears & laughs

British eccentrity - A swimmer in Southend on Sea, Essex
Christmas Day has passed by with relative calm around the globe though there were some tragedies reported. In Los Angeles a man dressed as Santa Claus opened fire on guests at a party killing at least three people [BBC]. The MoD announced that a soldier had been killed in Afghanistan on Christmas Eve [BBC]. Hamas has continued to fire rockets into Israel for the second day running. Israel’s patience is running thin and action is likely to follow after the Christmas holiday [BBC].

Amid the continuing violence around the planet several prominent figures have given seasonal messages of peace. In Britain the Queen made her annual message in which she spoke about the global downturn [BBC / video]. Channel Four television showed an alternate message from Iranian President Ahmadinejad prompting many complaints [BBC].

“If Christ were alive today he would undoubtedly fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing economic and political systems, as he did in his own lifetime”, the Iranian leader said.
The pope called for an end to conflicts in the Middle East and across Africa and spoke of the “twisted logic of conflict and violence” [BBC]. Britain’s archbishop called on ordinary people to do their own small part to make the world a better place and not wait for “larger than life heroes” to solve the world’s problems

The message of Christmas and its origins were lost on most people however. People dressed in Santa costumes could be spotted making deliveries early Christmas morning using more conventional modes of transport such as motorcycle and car rather than the traditional sleigh. The holiday also brought out the eccentric as swimmers took to the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park [Daily Telegraph] or splashed about in the sea.

For most, Christmas is about eating a large amount of food, drinking and exchanging gifts. The other tradition of Christmas television is gradually being replaced with video games and other home entertainment but the main broadcasters attempted to draw in viewers with special programming. The BBC tempted viewers with Wallace and Gromit cartoons and a Dr Who Special. The offerings on ITV, Channel Four and Channel Five were a little less inspiring. It’ll be alright on the night, a program focusing on film outtakes ran on ITV while Channel five broadcast Most Shocking Celebrity Moments, yet another list style programme. Perhaps it was time to turn off the telly and sing some carols round the ol’ joana!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

UK - Recession claims more retail victims

Sales have already started at many UK stores

The recession has claimed its third victim in less than 48 hours after record store Zavvo called in administrators [BBC / Sky News]. Only yesterday the Officer's Club, a men's clothing store, started to close 32 of its 150 shops immediately after they filed for administration. The remaining stores were set to be sold off. But a last minute buyer may save more than 900 jobs [BBC]. Only hours after the Officer’s Club made the announcement, Whittard of Chelsea chain also filed for administration but was rescued after a private equity firm bought it [BBC / Sky News].

Britain’s retailers have already experienced one of the worst Christmases on record despite launching cut price sales. Many stores slashed prices by more than 50% to attract shoppers. And to some extent it has worked. London's west end streets reported their best day of the year on Tuesday, with more than £60 million of business being done by 500,000 shoppers on Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street. But it is unlikely to make the retailers much profit. The shopper is becoming exceeding savvy and watching how they spend. Some shops have also angered customers after slashing prices by half without warning soon after customers have purchased them full price. There are stories that on some occasions, some shoppers have re-purchased the same item and later returned the previously bought item for a refund.

In order to recoup costs the sales have already started at many retailers. Some stores are even set to open on Christmas Day. For those with money and secure employment there are many bargains waiting to be snapped up. But the future look extremely bleak for thousands of shop workers set to be laid of shortly before the new year. MFI the furniture retailer has already shut its doors and Woolworth is beginning to wind up its business with stores even selling of the fittings [BBC].

Sunday, December 21, 2008

China clamps down on Internet & protests

Hu Jintao delivers a speech while soldiers yawn. Pro democracy protests and the internet remain heavily policed.

China has reverted to its old practices of blocking internet sites not seen as favourable to the views of the establishment. The latest victim in the flow of information in the New York Times New York Times. The US newspaper said its site was first blocked on Thursday and access was still unavailable on Saturday. The blocking of foreign websites can often be arbitrary and not entirely effective. One reader from Beijing wrote on the New York Times’ blog “The nytimes is indeed blocked, but only on the top level domain for some reason. the pages like and are accessible still”. Others have said the NYT site was accessible if the three w’s were omitted. Using so called proxy servers is another work round, but it can be a frustrating and time consuming affair.

This is just the latest in a series of web restrictions that have been imposed by authorities despite assurances that freedoms allowed during the Olympic games would continue. Other sites that have been blocked in the last few days include the BBC’s Chinese language site and Voice of America website. The Hong Kong-based Ming Pao and Asiaweek have also been affected according to Reporters Sans Frontieres. "Right now, the authorities are gradually rolling back all the progress made in the run-up to this summer's Olympic games, when even foreign websites in Mandarin were made accessible. The pretence of liberalization is now over," a spokesman for RSF said last week.

China has defended its right to restrict access to certain websites. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao speaking to reporters last week argued that other countries also regulate their internet usage.

China, which last week celebrated 30 years of opening up [BBC / CNN], is getting jittery as unrest builds in the country as millions find themselves unemployed despite promises of prosperity and a booming economy. The economy is already slowing in China and factories are closing across the country leaving many people desperate.

In this climate some are beginning to protest. Many have simply demanded their right to work or to be paid [BBC]. But there is a growing number of academics and scholars who are calling for greater democracy. Under the banner of ‘Charter 08’ protesters have attempted to air their grievances but their voice has been stifled by the authorities who are not keen in letting the world know about the increasing dissent in China. Charter 08, which takes its title and inspiration from the "Charter 77" document that demanded rights for Czechoslovakia in 1977, calls for an extensive list of rights in China. Amongst the demands are free speech, freedom to form political parties, an independent legal system and direct elections [Time].

But association with Charter 08 has already led to arrests. Liu Xiaobo, one of the Charter’s signatories and authors, was arrested on 8th December. There has been no news of his condition or whereabouts since.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said last week that Washington was "deeply concerned by reports that Chinese citizens have been detained, interrogated and harassed" since the document's publishing, and was "particularly concerned about the well being of Liu Xiaobo".

However China continues to brush aside such statements with disdain. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told journalists on 16th December that the U.S. position was another example of an unwelcome "interference of other nations in China's internal affairs".
Like it or not, China is now a part of the world community. As such China should begin to understand that adherence to human rights is as important as its playing the rules of international trade. The issues are likely to become ever more divisive as the global downturn worsens. And there is further concern too as China nears another historical landmark anniversary. June 2009 marks 20 years since the pro-democracy rallies in Tiananmen Square which was violently broken up leading to the deaths of many hundreds.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Damaged cable cuts Internet for millions

A map showing undersea internet & communications cables

A severed undersea cable has severely disrupted Internet access for millions across Europe the Middle East and Asia. It is thought the FLAG FEA, SMW4, and SMW3 lines, near the Alexandria cable station in Egypt, have all been cut. The cables were cut at around 06:30 GMT on Friday. A fault was also reported on the GO submarine cable 130km off Sicily. The cause of the outage remains unclear [BBC]. It is not the first time that such an incident has occurred. Earlier this year the failure of a cable in the Mediterranean resulted in major communications problems [tvnewswatch]. In December 2006 a 7,1 earthquake also disrupted Internet access for millions when a cable near Taiwan was damaged [tvnewswatch]. Repairs took weeks and trading on some financial markets all but halted. Cables between the US and China were also damaged in 2001 resulting in a lengthy repair [BBC].

After today's fault was reported France Telecom immediately alerted one of two maintenance boats based in the Mediterranean area, the “Raymond Croze”. This France Telecom Marine cable ship based at Seyne-sur-Mer has received its mobilization order and will cast off at 02:00 GMT [03:00 CET] Saturday with 20 kilometers spare cable on board. It should be on location on Monday morning for a relief mission. Priority will be given to the recovery of the SMW4 cable, then on the SMW3. By December 25th, SMW4 could be operating and by December 31st France Telecom say the situation should be back to normal.

British al-Qaeda member jailed

A British Muslim who became the first al-Qaeda suspect convicted in the UK of directing terrorism has been sentenced to life in jail. Rangzieb Ahmed, 33, was found guilty of the offence on Thursday following a trial at Manchester Crown Court. An accomplice, Habib Ahmed, was sentenced to 10 years [BBC / Sky News]

Bush bails out US car giants

With Christmas round the corner the American car industry has been given an early gift in the form of a massive $17.4 billion bail out. President Bush announced the loan on Friday, less than three weeks before he hands his office to President elect Barack Obama.

The reasoning behind the President’s decision was that allowing the US car industry to fail would not be "a responsible course of action". He said that not helping out the industry would leave Obama with added problems. There are conditions though. The firms must show they’ve spent wisely and not paid out in executive perks including the much publicised private jets. But sceptics suggest the problems in the automotive trade cannot be solved quickly. Speaking to
Channel Four News, Dr Daniel Griswold of the Cato institute said that other Foreign car manufacturers were not suffering the same problems and that Bush’s claims suggesting that the US car industry failure would be “too much to bear” were highly exaggerated [BBC].
It is not just US car manufacturers that are running into financial difficulties. As consumers tighten their belt car sales the world over are falling. Britain has seen massive drops in car sales with Jaguar Land Rover being of particular concern. The car firm, which employs about 15,000 in the UK, said last month that it faces "unprecedented trading conditions" as global sales for the whole of the car industry have fallen sharply since the summer. But there is unlikely to be the same help seen in the US. Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson told the BBC, "We are analysing very carefully what is going on in the [car] sector, and we will make good judgments in good time if it is appropriate for the government to take any action or if it is possible for us to do so". But he added there was not “an open chequebook” available.

The financial crisis has taken it toll in many sectors. Besides banking institutions, the retail market has been particularly hard hit. Today MFI, which filed for administration in November, finally closed its stores leaving 1,400 people out of work [BBC]. Woolworths is gradually winding up its business will all store due to shut by early January. Nearly 30,000 will find themselves unemployed when the 99 year old store finally closes its doors, a particularly sad legacy for a business that has survived the Great Depression and several economic downturns. It appears no business is immune from this current recession

Mugabe defiant as cholera kills 1,100

Robert Mugabe declared Zimbabwe belonged only to him adding that only Zimbabweans could remove him from office. An election, perceived by many as flawed, failed to remove the leader earlier this year and since then Mugabe has become all the more belligerent. He has accused other African leaders and the West of plotting invasions and even of causing the current cholera pandemic. His statement today seems only to reveal how out of touch and perhaps paranoid the African leader truly is. “Zimbabwe is mine” he told members of Zanu-PF party conference. “I will never, never, never surrender ... Zimbabwe belongs to us, not the British” he continued.

The collapse of the country has begun to rally African leaders together in a call for Mugabe to stand dow. Already Botswana and Kenya have called for action and on Friday Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade became the latest senior African politician calling for Mr Mugabe to quit. He told the French newspaper, La Croix, that he had supported Robert Mugabe in the past but was forming the view that the president was now the cause of his country's problems [BBC].

And the problems are more than clear. With massive inflation, huge unemployment the economy has all but collapsed [CNN]. There is little in the shops and now a series health problem is threatening not only the Zimbabwean population but also that of its neighbours. Manuel Lopez Iglesias of MSF told Channel Four News there were bodies everywhere and described conditions as medieval. The death toll has risen to more than 1,100 with more than 20,000 infected by the deadly disease. But the figures may be much higher with both health workers and media unable to operate freely in the country.

Of course the demise of Zimbabwe is not a major threat to the West and fails to attract the same attention as the threat of terrorism and rogue states. Help only arrives in the form of aid agencies such as the UN, Médecins Sans Frontières and the ICRC. Even media reports are scant. Channel Four News devoted less than two minutes to the story in its half hour programme and though Sky News and the BBC cover the story it is often buried. CNN and al Jazeera have been more prominent with their reporting. The Arabic station has a greater advantage of being able to operate in the country and bring viewers a broader perspective. Tonight the story topped al Jazeera's headlines. But for other broadcasters the story was way down the list. Zimbabwe is in danger not only of destroying itself, but doing so while no-one watches and does even less

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Microsoft releases patch for IE

Microsoft has finally released its security patch for Internet Explorer. It will be a relief for fans of the most popular browser, but there may still dangers lurking under the hood of millions of computers users.

Even before the security hole became widely publicised, hackers were already exploiting the vulnerabilities and launching attacks on unsuspecting IE users [FT blog]. The holes in IE security weren’t widely publicised and many people may still be open to attack from the unscrupulous hackers phishing for information. Sky News and the BBC made only scant mention of the risk associated with the web-browser. CNN made a small mention of the story but in the main most would have learnt of the risk via the internet itself as word of mouth spread around the globe. Even after the release of the patch the Fox News website was still informing readers that the risk continued and advised internet users to avoid IE.

For those who have updated their browser it is advisable to run anti-virus software after installing any available updates. The update may need to be initiated by some users by going to and clicking the ‘check for updates’ button on the window. The updates may only be accessible by using Internet Explorer and security in the program might also need to be reduced to ‘Medium’ in some cases.

Microsoft ready to launch security patch

Microsoft is set to launch an emergency patch to repair a large security hole that has become evident in all versions of Internet Explorer. While internet users wait to patch up their security many have turned to other browsers. There are several alternatives to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, but while most offer a secure browsing environment, all have their own faults, glitches and bugs.

Google Chrome, which recently came out of beta, has cleaned up some of the problems that existed in earlier versions but many users remain unsatisfied with the program. While fast, there are few of the features that users of other popular browsers will be familiar. There is no Google Toolbar which can provide quick shortcuts to regularly visited sites and there are bizarre anomalies when attempting to copy links from the address bar into documents. While attempting to copy and paste a link into Microsoft Works Word Processor a message greets the user: “The information you copied exceeds the size limit for pasting into the Word Processor. Try reducing the size of your selection and then copy and paste again”. However pasting the same into Microsoft Word does work, but many users of Microsoft’s new operating system Vista will find themselves without this much used programme.

Mozilla’s Firefox has gained a large user base, though still well below that of Internet Explorer, but not everything works swimmingly. Many websites simply won’t open properly in the browser, and web publishing through Firefox can cause problems in other browsers. Foreign language support is a particular issue that is failing in the browser. But in its favour Firefox is relatively fast, though start-up is still slightly slower than IE, and the browser does come with many of the familiar add-ons seen in IE. Some though remain unavailable including the ‘download video’ facility for the popular Realplayer.

Flock is perhaps not as well known but is popular amongst those who participate in a great deal of so called social networking. However, there are similar issues, as with Google Chrome, of copying and pasting links, even into the compose pages of blogger. The layout can also appear very complicated and perhaps overwhelming to many.

Safari and Opera are perhaps the least used of the Internet browsers. Safari, which started life as a Mac specific browser, has spawned its Windows version but has yet to be taken up in vast numbers, despite claims of being the fastest of all the available browsers. Opera is mostly seen in mobile phones and while it has achieved a positive reception amongst desktop users there remains a number of compatibility issues. It remains the 5th most popular browser after Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Chrome.
In usage terms Internet Explorer is the most popular browser with over 71% using the program. Firefox is second but only shares 20% of the market. Safari has a small but loyal 6% of Internet users though many are only on Macs. Both Opera and Chrome have less than 1% of the market share while other browsers fall well below that figure.

Despite the problems plaguing Microsoft’s browser, and with many making temporary use of other browsers, most will probably return to IE. There will be some who find Firefox fires up better, and some may find Chrome more shiny than expected. There may even be some who flocked to Flock and feel sheepish about returning to IE. Some might also start singing the praises of Opera. But most will return to where they feel most comfortable and where the surroundings are familiar. The next dilemma is whether to uninstall the half a dozen or so browsers that some have placed on their PCs [Mashable].

Microsoft is set to release the security patch at 18:00 GMT/UTC [13:00 EST] via all the usual routes [BBC / CNN / Sky News]

Woolworths stores will close by Jan 4th

Woolworths, the beleaguered British High Street store which went into administration in late November, will close all its stores by 4th January. In total 807 shops are affected and more than 30,000 staff are likely to lose their jobs. The closures will be phased in with two hundreds outlets shutting their doors on the 27th and 30th of December with the remaining stores closing on the 2nd and 4th of January 2009.

The hopes of finding a buyer for the troubled chain store have all but faded. Many staff have expressed sadness at the demise at the 99 year old store. But most will be more concerned about finding new jobs. The future for the thousands of staff is extremely bleak as they look forward to joining the list of unemployed. At least 1.86 million are now without jobs, according to official figures; the highest level since 1997. Unemployment has risen by 137,000 on the previous month and the number is likely to increase significantly over the coming months. Even Tony McNulty, the Employment Minister, says he didn’t believe unemployment had reached the bottom in a short statement to the BBC. But Gordon Brown who was on a whirlwind tour of Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Iraq, was far more upbeat. Speaking from Basra in southern Iraq, he told reporters efforts would continue to find people new jobs. “We must do everything we can to get people back to work” he said [BBCSky News].

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Iraqi doctor guilty of terror attacks

A 29 year old Iraqi doctor has been found guilty at Woolwich Crown Court of launching terrorist bomb attacks in mainland Britain.
Bilal Abdullah and his accomplice had attempted to launch attacks in both London and Glasgow. Kafeel Ahmed and Bilal Abdullah had bought second hand cars and DIY supplies to construct their car bombs. Receipts and CCTV footage showed they had visited several B&Q stores and bought nails and other materials. Police believe they bought at least 5 vehicles to launch their attacks which began with London.

On the 29th June 2007 the two men arrived in the West End of London with their bomb laden cars. One was parked directly outside the Tiger Tiger night club while the other was left a short distance away. But both devices failed to explode and the terrorists fled to Scotland where they prepared for the attack on Glasgow airport. But for the two terrorists it went tragically wrong as they crashed their vehicle into the terminal building on the 30th June. As the vehicle became engulfed in flames Kafeel Ahmed himself caught fire and later died from his injuries. Bilal Abdullah survived to face trial and faces a life sentence in prison.
Karen Jones of the CPS said people at the airport and in London were lucky the bombs did not explode properly. She said the men’s intention was to kill and maim as many people as possible. However their incompetence saved many people’s lives. Dr Sidney Alford, an explosives engineer, speaking to the BBC described the terrorists’ bomb making skills as “amateurish” [BBC / CNN]. Another NHS doctor, Mohammed Asha, was cleared of helping the two terrorists.

Bomb threat at Paris store

An explosive device has been discovered in a Paris department store. Reports initially stated that 5 devices were found and that explosives experts had defused them. However within the hour Sky News were reporting that the “sticks of dynamite” had no detonators attached. The incident was further downplayed when CNN reported shortly before 12:00 GMT [13:00 CET] that only one device without detonator had been found.
A little known group calling itself the Afghan Revolutionary Front said they were responsible for planting the device at the Printemps Haussmann. Two days ago another warning was phoned through to police but no action was taken, according to CNN’s Jim Bittermann. The group are reported to have called for French troops to pull out of Afghanistan.
France has 1,900 troops deployed in the country and earlier this year President Sarkozy announced he was to increase numbers by up to 1,000. France has lost 23 troops during the 7 year war. Although the device was not viable, it is a clear signal from terror groups to countries involved in the Afghan campaign. The fear is, the next device may come without a warning, maiming and killing in its wake [BBC].

Media fail to report major Internet risk

Millions of computer users around the world are at risk after Chinese security experts inadvertently revealed holes in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. The vulnerability was first revealed last week by the Chinese security team Knownsec. It said on Tuesday 9th December it mistakenly released exploit code thinking that the problem was already patched, iDefense said [computerworld].

Unfortunately there was no patch and by the weekend around 0.2% of the world’s computers has been “exposed to websites containing exploits of this latest vulnerability according to researchers Ziv Mador and Tareq Saade on their blog. The hole enables hackers to place code on websites which enable them to steal passwords from subsequent visitors. Initially the affected sites appeared to be pornographic websites, however the problem has grown significantly with many other sites now affected. Security experts warned that the number of affected sites was growing exponentially and while some attacks were launched to steal passwords to online gaming their was an increased risk the exploit could be used to steal more sensitive data.

By Sunday many security experts were advising PC users to use a different web browser, such as Firefox, Flock or Google Chrome, until Microsoft came up with a solution. But it was only on Tuesday morning that major news organisations began to cover the story. Many may still be unaware of the risk as the item is buried away in the tech pages of news websites and the back pages of newspapers. The BBC mentioned the news on their website at 09:20 GMT but their 24 hour news channel did not report the ‘Breaking News’ until 11:15 GMT, about a week after the exploit was discovered!

As for a solution, it is unclear when Microsoft, who only recently issued its biggest group of patches in five years, will release a patch for this vulnerability. Such patches often take time to develop and a scheduled patch release is not due until 13th January 2009. An emergency release may come but until then computer users are told to be extra vigilant with their online activity.

Microsoft advises users to use IE in protected mode, but this is only available to Vista users. Symantec gave a far more comprehensive ‘work around’ but many users would probably be baffled by the list.

The news of the security failure could not have come at a worse time for Microsoft as it prepares to launch a new operating system Sky News. Windows 7 may not be out for some time but with more and more holes appearing in Microsoft products, many computer users may start to look elsewhere.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bush attacked with shoes in Iraq

George W Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq on Sunday, but not all went well after someone threw a pair of shoes at him. President Bush shrugged off the incident saying, “so what if a guy threw a shoe at me, it is one way to get attention. It’s like going to a political rally and having someone yell at you. It’s like driving down the street and have people not gesturing with all five fingers”. He dismissed the ‘attack’ as a way of getting attention but said he did not know what the man’s cause was. He added that he “didn’t feel the least bit threatened by it” and went on to say that other journalists in the room had apologized for the reporter’s actions.

During the press conference a journalist had stood up shouting in Arabic, "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog" before throwing a pair of size 10 shoes towards the President. Both shoes missed the President one only missed him by inches and security seemed slow to restrain the man who was eventually pulled to the ground [BBC / CNN / Sky News / al Jazeera].

The shoe throwing incident detracted from the main reason President Bush visited the country. He and Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki had arranged the meeting to sign a new security agreement between the two countries. However footage of the American leader ducking the flying footwear dominated headlines. The throwing of shoes is an Arab insult and after the fall of Saddam Hussein many Iraqis were seen to throw shoes at Saddam’s portraits and statues. Only recently protesters in Baghdad were seen to throw shoes at an effigy of George Bush.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Greek riots continue for 7th day

Riots have continued for a seventh day in Athens following the death of Alexandros Grigoropoulos [pictured above] who was shot dead by police last Saturday. Live pictures relayed by the BBC, Sky News and CNN showed continuing clashes between police and demonstrators with rocks, paint bombs and Molotov cocktails being thrown at police lines. Police responded by launching volleys of tear gas into the crowds in an attempt to disperse them.
The Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis has rejected calls to stand down after the week of violence that has disrupted several cities across the country and caused millions of pounds worth of damage. The Prime Minister told reporters that the violence had been instigated by extremists. “The compassion with which all of us ought to treat the distress of young people cannot be confused with blind violence, with the activities of extreme elements” he said. The continuing violence is beginning to test the patience of many ordinary citizens and business owners. Hundreds of shops and cars have been destroyed in the riots and some are calling on authorities to clamp down harder on the rioters. Some have even attempted to defend their property from the mobs with reports of shopkeepers even fighting with the masked youths. The police are also said to be running out of tear gas according to some reports.

Manchester rejects congestion charge

Manchester has voted overwhelmingly against a proposed congestion charge that would have seen motorists paying up to £5 each day to enter the city. The ‘Yes campaign’ said it was disappointed the scheme had been rejected. Liz Phelan the head of the ‘Yes campaign’ said the turnout had been low and that had resulted in the proposal‘s failure. Ten boroughs were involved in the referendum and as each result was read out there were loud cheers from the ‘No campaign’ supporters. Graham Stringer MP of the ‘No Campaign’ said he was “delighted” that the plan had been rejected and described the scheme as “ill thought through”.

Many motorists had expressed dismay at the proposed charge especially at a time of recession and with many facing financial problems. Photographer Paul Francis told the BBC he could not have passed such costs onto his customers and would have had to swallow the cost himself. A majority of voters in all of the region's 10 boroughs voted against the plans, with 812,815 (79%) no votes and 218,860 (21%) in favour of the charge. The BBC interestingly broke into a Live broadcast from the scene of a multi-vehicle crash on the M6 in order to bring viewers the news of the vote.
Further south in the county of Essex new speed cameras have been erected which councillors say will help reduce congestion. The new SPECs Speed Cameras have been installed on the A127 covering a section of road from the A130 junction to the A129. The stretch of the road is currently 70 MPH but may soon be reduced to 50 MPH.

Michael Page, a spokesman for Essex County Council, is quoted in a local paper as saying, “The introduction of average speed cameras on the A127 is a very positive move ... It will help to reduce the number of accidents and alleviate congestion during peak times”. However many drivers have claimed that badly designed road junctions were to blame for any existing congestion and warned the new cameras will only add to drivers' problems. Others have labelled the scheme as merely a "money making exercise" [pocketgpsworld].

SPECS is a speed camera system manufactured by the British company Speed Check Services Limited. The cameras operate as two or more sets along a route. They work by recording a vehicles number plate at each fixed camera site, using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology. As the distance is known between these sites, the average speed can be calculated by dividing this by the time taken to travel between two points. The cameras use Infrared photography and so can operate around the clock.

Open verdict in De Menezes inquest

Jean Charles de Menezes was shot 8 times, 7 of which were to the head

The jury in the inquest of Jean Charles De Menezes, mistakenly shot by anti-terror police on 22nd July 2006, has returned an open verdict. The verdict has disappointed the family who had hoped that an unlawful killing verdict would have been given. The family have already condemned the inquest as a “complete whitewash” and last week there were angry scenes in court before the jury retired. Last Thursday there had been dramatic scenes in court after protest by family supporters some of who disrupted proceedings prior to the jury being sent out for deliberation. Some of the protesters wore T-shirts proclaiming the jury should have had a right to decide a verdict of unlawful killing. The coroner had disallowed an unlawful killing verdict and “the result has left the jury with little choice other than to give an open verdict”, Jenny Jones, a Green member of the Metropolitan Police Association, told the BBC. She also called for a full public inquiry adding that the open verdict left many issues unanswered and a “cloud hanging over the police”.

Along with an open verdict the jury were also asked to answer a number of other questions relating to the shooting. The jury rejected the police account that Menezes had moved towards them in an aggressive manner. However passengers did back up the police version of events saying that Menezes stood from his seat. The witnesses and jury also rejected police assertions that they had shouted warnings of “armed police”. However a former CO19 officer, who spoke to Sky News, said it was “unrealistic” for people to remember such detail in light of the chaos of events that had been taking place. Roy Ramm, another former officer at Scotland Yard, said that it was “inconceivable” that officers would not shout warnings after hours of anti-terror training. Their procedures he said were “hammered into them”. The jury said there were several contributory factors leading to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. In particular the jury agreed with the assertion that there had been failures in the communication system between teams on the ground and the command centre. There were also questions over poor intelligence being given to officers. Police were given a poor quality photograph of terror suspect Osman Hussain. Thirty clearer pictures were not distributed which may have prevented the false identification of Menezes as being the terror suspect.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson speaking to reporters after the inquest said the Metropolitan Police accepted “full responsibility” for the death of the young Brazilian, an event the police service “deeply regrets”.

“We made a most terrible mistake and we are sorry”, Sir Paul said, but he insisted that the events leading up to the shooting were “unique”. There had been two attacks on London’s transport system and “there were four suicide bombers on the run”. It had not been the intention of his officer to shoot an innocent man, Sir Paul said. They had set out with the intention to protect. But he conceded the family had suffered “the most terrible of losses”. The Metropolitan Police would learn from the events to “minimise the risk” that it ever happens again. He said it is “my duty that lessons are learnt and acted on”. His officers would “continue to protect Londoners” from such events that occurred on 7th of July which killed 52 and injured 977.

However, the jury were unable to decide whether the suicide attacks of 7th July and the failed suicide attacks of 21st July had been a contributory factor to the events in Stockwell Station.

Nick Hardwick of the IPCC described the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes as a “truly shocking event” adding that there was “nothing in his [Menezes] actions that justified his death”. He said the jury had supported the IPCC’s recommendations said the verdict highlighted the need to review operational procedures in anti-terror operations.

Besides the unanswered questions highlighted in the inquest, there remains other unexplained issues particularly the missing CCTV footage, both from the train and the platform which has never been satisfactorily explained.

However speaking after the verdict, the solicitor for the family said it was the “best verdict possible” under the circumstances [BBC / Sky News].

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cholera pandemic worsens in Zimbabwe

World leaders have called on Robert Mugabe to step down as the cholera pandemic worsens in Zimbabwe. At least 600 have so far died though some suggest the figure may be far higher. Hospitals and health clinics are at crisis point, many unable to provide even the most basic care besides claims by the government that the “cholera situation is under control”. The World Health Organisation have said that more than half a million people are at risk from contracting the disease and the ICRC are attempting to mount operations to deliver medicine and other supplies.

But despite the disease threatening to spread beyond Zimbabwe’s borders few African leaders have called for Mugabe to resign his office. On the border with South Africa there are makeshift refugee camps filled with victims of the outbreak. "I think it's going to get worse," Kgetsa Nare, from the South African Red Cross, told the BBC, "We've got between 500 and 1,000 people crossing every day, and most of them are sick, many with cholera". Eight people have died in South Africa alone, and in Zambia which borders Zimbabwe, one has died in the town of Chirundu. Botswana too is said to be on high alert as one Zimbabwean is being treated for the disease.

One African country that has made continued calls for ousting Mugabe is Botswana. The country’s foreign minister, Phandu Skelemani, said in a recent radio interview that if neighbouring countries closed their borders with the landlocked country, President Robert Mugabe's 28 year rule would end in a week. "If no petrol went in for a week, he can't last," Skelemani said. He expressed little confidence in the SADC mediation process being led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, and said the SADC should "own up" and admit it had failed. President Ian Khama of Botswana has been one of Mugabe's staunchest critics, even though both countries are among the 14 members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The worsening situation which some have likened to genocide has prompted some to call for even more drastic action. Former Archbishop and Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu has called for the use of military force if Mugabe does not step down. "If they say to him, 'step down' and he refuses, they must go in ... militarily," Tutu said in an interview with a Dutch television programme on 4th December.

And there was even calls to physically oust Mugabe with force from Kenya which has seen its own troubles in recent months. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga called for Mugabe's removal during an interview with the BBC on the same day Desmond Tutu spoke out. "Power-sharing is dead in Zimbabwe and will not work with a dictator who does not really believe in power-sharing. It's time for African governments to take decisive action to push him out of power".

The rhetoric and calls for Mugabe to step down has seemingly only strengthened the leaders resolve and prompting him to accuse the West of plotting colonialist invasions [BBC].
But when the disease spreads well inside the borders of South Africa, action may follow. It will not be calls by other African leaders and archbishops, nor protestations by Condoleezza Rice, George Bush or Gordon Brown, that will motivate South Africa to mount any action. It will only be the threat to its own security.

Dioxin tainted pork & beef "is safe"

Irish farmers maybe facing a tough Christmas this year after it was revealed that some cattle have been tested positive for traces of dioxin. Consumers had already been told to dispose of any pork products from Ireland after they were found to contain high levels of dioxin. And the latest revelation will do little to boost public confidence.

Dioxin is often produced by combustion such as in forest fires and industrial processes. Although people are exposed to dioxins daily, from cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes and bonfires, high levels can be dangerous. There is evidence that dioxins can cause cancer along with other effects on the immune system. In European regulation, dioxins, along with other potentially harmful chemicals called Furans and dioxin-like PCBs [Polychlorinated biphenyl], are reported as a single value known as the total Toxic Equivalent (TEQ). There are 29 chemicals of concern in this class.
Despite finding 53 cattle herds which had been exposed to contaminated feed and at least three that showed signs of dioxin in the animals, the Irish authorities have said the dioxin levels “do not pose a risk to public health” and were not seeking to remove beef products from the shelves. In fact authorities on both sides of the border insisted that pork, beef and milk were safe to eat [BBC].

In Northern Ireland some Irish pork products were already returning to the shelves after being given the all clear. But it remains to be seen if consumers will be as confident as the UK’s Food Standards Authority and Irish Agricultural Ministry. The effects of the crisis have already been felt with over 1,400 pork processing workers having been laid off and Irish pork products have been pulled from shelves in 21 countries [Sky News].
[Article posted in Chinese at Global News Watch]

Monday, December 08, 2008

Military jet hits US town

At least one building is on fire after a military jet believed to be an F-18 crashed into a residential area of San Diego in California. Channel 10 News said the plane came down near Cather Avenue and Huggins Street in University City and that the pilot ejected safely. Around 60 firefighters have attended the scene of the crash. Pictures on the BBC showed at least one house almost entirely destroyed and clouds of white smoke enveloping the scene. Sky News and CNN have both broken the news but have not yet shown pictures.
Update [01:49] - at least 3 people have died following the crash CNN has reported
Update [02:47] - a fourth person is reported missing in the crash Sky News has reported

Wikipedia blocked in child porn row

A row has broken out over the cover of a 1970s rock album depicting a naked girl. The album cover of Virgin Killer, by the German rock group the Scorpions, was displayed on the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia and was brought to the attention to the FBI in America by World Net Daily in May 2008. The image, which depicts a prepubescent girl with her genitals obscured by cracked glass, then found itself under the scrutiny of Concerned Women for America. A spokesperson for the Christian advocacy group is quoted as saying “By allowing that image to remain posted, Wikipedia is helping to further facilitate perversion and paedophilia”.

The issue finally came to a head when the Internet Watch Foundation, a UK based NGO, added the article Virgin_Killer to its blacklist. The result was that people using many of the UK’s major ISPs found themselves blocked from viewing the page. But Channel Four News also reported that many users found themselves blocked from editing pages on the site and in some cases from accessing any pages altogether. That is because the IWF's system adds both the URL of an image and of a page containing the image to its "blacklist" of pages to be blocked. "Illegal sites often hide images in pages," said Sarah Robertson, director of communications for the IWF.

Despite the block the image is widely available on the Internet and even appears on But moves may now be made against the online retailer which could have a disastrous affect as Christmas approaches. But the IWF declined to say whether Amazon would be the next to be blocked despite acknowledging that a complaint had been received [Guardian / Sky News / BBC].

Irish pork off the Christmas list

Consumers are being told to dispose of any pork products from Ireland after they were found to contain high levels of dioxin. It’s an industry worth £394 million, according to the Food & Drink Industry of Ireland, and the financial impact will be strongly felt across the agricultural industry. The crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time. As Christmas approaches farmers and retailers were hoping to cash in at a time of economic gloom.

At least nine premises in Northern Ireland and 47 in the Irish Republic have been linked to the contaminated meat after being supplied with feed said to be contaminated with dioxin. The pig feed being linked to the contamination is thought to have been feed tainted with oil from a County Carlow firm which recycles food in pig meal. Millstream Power Recycling Limited said it was investigating how the firm's "strict health and safety procedures...could possibly have been breached" [BBC].

China has constantly been in the news over the last few months over contaminated milk, eggs and meat. But this latest food scandal, which strikes at the heart of the European meat industry, will set alarm bells ringing. The EU have only issued a short statement so far saying they are “very concerned about the situation”.

Dioxin is often produced by combustion such as in forest fires and industrial processes. Although people are exposed to dioxins daily, from cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes and bonfires, high levels can be dangerous. There is evidence that dioxins can cause cancer along with other effects on the immune system. In European regulation, dioxins, along with other potentially harmful chemicals called Furans and dioxin-like PCBs [Polychlorinated biphenyl], are reported as a single value known as the total Toxic Equivalent (TEQ). There are 29 chemicals of concern in this class. However the Food Standards Agency says it is awaiting detailed data to show how much of each chemical there is in the contaminated pork.

The reporting of the food scare dropped off the news agenda for national broadcasters though it remained the top story in Northern Ireland on the BBC’s local news programme Newsline. But for the some 5,000 Irish farmers, butchers and other meat industry workers the story remains at the forefront of their minds, with many hoping for an ‘all clear’ from the Food Standards Agency before Christmas, which is a little over two weeks away.