Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Chinese send death threats to reporters

As China celebrates 100 days until the Olympic games there are disturbing reports that some foreign journalists operating in the country have received death threats. It is not clear who has made the threats nor who the journalists are, but the reports are likely to concern the tens of thousands of reporters expected to descend on Beijing later in the year. fromthefrontline reported the development today amid a continuing war of words with the West that has exploded in recent weeks following disturbances in Tibet and disruption of the international torch relay. The news has not been widely reported but Japan Today says that ten journalists have received threats [AFP / Sky News / ]

Tax bombshell for UK motorists

1997 warnings are beginning to come true

The British motorist faces car tax increases which may see some paying in excess of £400 per year. The tax plans were laid out in the budget report but were not announced in the Chancellors speech. Besides the less than clear statements the government has denied claims it concealed the full extent of changes in car tax set out in this year's Budget. Chancellor Alistair Darling announced in March he wanted to encourage manufacturers to produce cleaner cars. But he did not say explicitly owners of the most polluting cars registered after March 2001 would have to pay more than £400 in tax from next year.

The Conservative party has accused the Treasury of "duplicity". The Automobile Association and the RAC have both said more should have been done to explain the changes. In his Budget speech, Mr Darling set out "a major reform to Vehicle Excise Duty" (VED) which he said would "encourage manufacturers to produce cleaner cars".

The Budget report says, "From 2009, VED (Vehicle Excise Duty) will be restructured with new bands, based on carbon dioxide so that people gain financially by choosing the car with the best environmental performance in a given group.

"Six new VED bands from 2009-10 - including a new top band (band M) for the most polluting cars that emit more than 255g CO2 per km." Owners of cars which emit more than 255g of carbon dioxide per kilometre will pay £430 duty in 2010 compared to £210 this year. Cars made before 2001 are unaffected [Sky News / BBC].

The ‘stealth taxes’ will be another burden for many families who will have little choice in paying the increased charges. Few will be able to sell the vehicles and even less able to buy a new less polluting car [Budget].

The announcement comes shortly after the Government made a U-turn over its so called 10p tax plan [BBC]. Besides the promise to reimburse families affected by the plan much of the British public may feel that warnings of a tax bombshell outlined by the Conservatives in the 1997 election are beginning to fall.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Prince William visits Afghanistan

Prince William, second in line to the throne, has made a secret visit to Afghanistan. The news which broke at 22:30 local time [21:30 GMT] on the BBC, has been confirmed by Clarence House. The Prince is said to have spent three hours in the war zone and met troops on the ground. Sky News also reported the news at around the same time though the news has been known long enough to some journalists as the Daily Mail’s Wednesday edition is already devoting its front page to the story. Prince William’s visit to Kandahar comes only two days after an assassination attempt on President Karzai. His visit also coincides with a deadly suicide blast in the country which killed 18 people including 11 police officers [BBC].

US suffers from tornadoes and wildfires

At least 200 were injured after tornadoes swept through Virginia, USA. Virginians faced a massive cleanup project Tuesday after at least three tornadoes damaged dozens of homes. On Tuesday morning officials said that a search of the wreckage had found no fatalities. "We have had some injuries. Most of them are minor, so in many ways we are blessed," Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson said.
Pictures on CNN showed massive damage to a wide area with houses turned to match wood. A state of emergency was declared following the storms which struck at 16:00 local time [CNN].

Meanwhile the West of the US was continuing to suffer from deadly wildfires. The fires which have burned for a third day have destroyed large areas of grassland in California. Hundreds of people had been evacuated at the height of the wildfires, but many were beginning to return to their homes as the threat subsided on Tuesday. There have been no deaths reported but at least three firefighters have been injured as they tried to contain the flames [CNN].

China suffers further criticism by media

Hundreds gathered in Shandong today to watch the countdown to the 100 day marker until the opening of the Beijing Olympics, but as they cheered there are continuing critical reports in the Western media over abuses of China’s human rights record. Last night’s Channel Four News highlighted how Muslims in north-west China are under increased scrutiny by the authorities. Lindsey Hilsum, rarely one to place China in a positive frame, talked to Muslims who said they were fearful of Chinese authorities, who, they say, curtailed their religious practices. Many Uighur Muslims who live in Xinjiang province complain of heavy handed tactics by Chinese state police. Indeed the Chinese authorities have said that some Muslim factions have been ’infiltrated’ by al-Qaeda elopements and pose a threat to the Beijing Olympics. Already there have been several reports this year that the Chinese have thwart terror plots aimed at disrupting the games. Khotan, in the south of the province has seen protests and arrests of Uighurs demanding better treatment. Lindsey Hilsum says many of the 8 million Uigher population want independence and that they’re afraid to speak in public. In her report a drama portraying Uighur terrorists is shown to highlight the ‘state propaganda’ which paints a dark side of the Muslim people. According to the authorities though, the threat is real. Wang Lequan, Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang province, says “They have links with people outside China, some people came to Xinjiang just top help them with this attack. From the material we got from this group after we captured them, we know that their goal was to specifically to sabotage the staging of the Beijing Olympics”.

Meanwhile in Tibet, 30 people have been convicted over their role in the riots in Lhasa in March. The sentences vary from three months to life in prison [BBC].

Amid the domestic crises, China continues with its Journey of Harmony taking the torch through North Korea and Vietnam. In Pyongyang there was no sign of trouble, but there were arrests during its short journey through Ho Chi Minh City despite high security. Seven were taken into custody by police after scuffles on the last part of the torch relay before arriving in the Chinese mainland [CNN / BBC]. While the flame heads to Hong Kong, a separate flame has made its way to a base camp at the bottom of Mount Everest. But the small core of Western journalists have complained that they are unable to cover events and are being kept uninformed over the itinerary. The BBC, which only gave a minute to the story today, said the group of journalists were being “very heavily controlled” by Chinese authorities. Reporting from Mount Everest, BBC’s Jonah Fisher said they arrived at Lhasa airport but were not allowed into the city itself and were swiftly conveyed to the base at the foot of the world’s tallest mountain.

The report on CCTV-9 was upbeat by contrast. And, as is often the case, the report was out of date, despite being broadcast Live. Despite having already being completed, CCTV spoke of the Vietnam part of the relay as though it was yet to happen.

The report concerning the coverage of the Everest ascent was also positive. Nineteen Chinese journalists and 11 foreign reporters from 7 organisations were amongst the group to arrive at the media centre in Qomolangma. Despite exclusions on previous media tours, the BBC and CNN were amongst the group which also included Reuters. The CCTV report focused on the hospitality offered to the journalists and spoke to a Reuters reporter who said he was “impressed with the food” adding that it was “very fresh”. But there was no mention of when the flame would reach the summit.

CNN’s Tomas Etzler spoke of how none of the reporters were allowed to leave their base and said he had been ill informed over the schedule of events but was putting pressure on the organisers to get more information.

Meanwhile back in Shandong, while Olympic supporters cheered, others were in mourning following China’s worst rail disaster in 11 years. Excessive speed has been blamed for the crash which killed 70 and injured more than 400 near to the town of Zibo [CNN / BBC].

Monday, April 28, 2008

China - 70 dead in rail crash

At least 70 people have died in Shandong province, China after two trains collided in the early hours of Monday morning. According to reports one train derailed and was hit by a high speed train travelling in the opposite direction. It happened at 04:43 local time (2043 GMT on Sunday) at a bend in the tracks in the suburbs of Zibo, about 70km east of the provincial capital Jinan. Over 400 people were injured in the incident which has shut down a major rail route in the east of the country. The crash is the second major rail disaster to occur in the Shendong province this year. It is the worst train crash to occur in China since 1997 when 126 died in Hunan province [Xinhua / BBC / CNN].

Saudi blogger freed

A popular Saudi blogger who was detained by the authorities in December has been set free. Fouad al-Farhan had used his website to criticise alleged corruption and call for democratic reforms in his country. No official explanation was given for either the detention or the decision to free him. On Sunday blogger Fouad al-Farhan said that his four months in detention has given him a new focus [BBC / CNN /].

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Karzai survives assassination attempt

Live TV pictures showed confused scenes

Three people have been killed and about 10 injured in an attack on a military parade in Kabul attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Taliban militants opened fire at the military ceremony in the Afghan capital on Sunday morning. According to reports a lawmaker, a tribal leader and 10-year-old child were killed, but President Hamid Karzai escaped unhurt. The attack also wounded more than 12 people, including a member of parliament, a Health Ministry official told reporters. The attack occurred at a Mujahedeen Victory Day ceremony, observing the 16th anniversary of Afghanistan mujahedeen fighters' overthrow of President Mohammad Najibullah's Soviet-backed regime. Small arms fire erupted as a military band played the Afghan national anthem and as soldiers fired a 21-gun salute with artillery rounds. What was of even greater embarrassment for the Afghan government was that the incident occurred during a Live television broadcast though it was swiftly cut, switching instead to music. It is not the first time that Karzai has been targeted by assassins. In June 2007 Taleban fire rockets were fired at a school in Ghazni province where he was speaking. In September 2004 a rocket was fired at the landing site of a helicopter taking Mr Karzai to Gardez in the south-east. No-one was killed or injured in either of these incidents but in September 2002 a militant dressed in Afghan army uniform fired at Mr Karzai's car in Kandahar, wounding the province's governor and a bodyguard [CNN / BBC].

Disruption at Seoul torch relay

After completing its relay in Seoul, South Korea, the Olympic torch has made its way to Pyongyang. The South Korean relay completed successfully in 5 hours according to CCTV-9. However the Chinese International state broadcaster failed to mention the disruption encountered on its journey through the city and the website was still not updated several hours later and continued to report the start of the relay. One man attempted to set himself alight after dousing himself with petrol and scuffles broke out several times along the route. But demonstrators were largely outnumbered by Olympic supporters and Chinese flag waving crowds. Despite the violence there has still been relatively little coverage on the BBC, Sky News and CNN.
There are unlikely to be any protests when the torch is carried around the North Korean city of Pyongyang however. Nor is the television coverage likely to be extensive. Live TV coverage from both Japan and South Korea was virtually non-existent in the West and is likely to dwindle further as the torch makes its way around China. Of course as the flame arrives in Tibet the Western media will once again return to report on this epic journey which has brought more disharmony than the Harmony it was supposed to bring with it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Little coverage as Olympic relay starts in Japan

As the Olympic torch began its 16th relay on its world tour there were no Live pictures relayed to European viewers. CNN showed a few clips on its hourly news bulletin. The BBC also showed a few minutes Live coverage just after 01:00 BST [12:00 GMT, 09:00 local time], and Sky dropped into Live coverage at around 01:20 BST. But coverage is very low key compared to the London, Paris and San Francisco relays. Ashley Hayes, the only Westerner on the Japanese leg, spoke to CNN and told of her wish for the torch to be seen as a symbol of friendship. John Wood, a pro-Tibet activist, also spoke to the news channel. He insisted he would protest peacefully. Nonetheless there have already been arrests as some protesters have attempted to disrupt proceedings. Lined with thousands of Chinese supporters the torch is continuing to make its way through Nagano. A plan to start the relay from the Zenkoji temple was abandoned after protests from monks and the relay instead started from a parking lot in the town.

Friday, April 25, 2008

UK - Three treated for rabies in Essex

Three people are being treated for exposure to rabies after being bitten by an infected puppy. The dog attacked the three victims at a quarantine centre where it had been taken after arriving in the UK from Sri Lanka. Dr Dilys Morgan, a rabies expert from the Health Protection Agency, has told Sky News, "This animal died whilst in quarantine which has effectively contained any public health risk. We understand that three individuals connected to the quarantine centre and rescue centre were bitten by the animal and all have received or will be receiving prompt protective treatment with appropriate vaccination.” The dog is said to have died on the 18th April at a quarantine centre in the south east of Britain. Officials have not said where the incident took place, but Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith said he had been informed it was in his Chingford and Woodford Green constituency in Essex. Rabies has been virtually eliminated from Britain though a few cases have been observed in bats [DEFRA / Sky News / BBC].

China may talk to Dalai Lama's aides

According to reports on the BBC and CNN, Chinese officials will hold talks with the Dalai Lama's representatives. The reports quoted the state news agency Xinhua and said the meeting would take place "in coming days". A spokesman for the Tibetan spiritual leader has said he welcomed the offer of talks. Chinese authorities have consistently blamed what it terms the "Dalai clique" for inciting the unrest in Tibet, an allegation he has strenuously denied. The report was not prominent on the Xinhua website which has put out daily reports refuting the Dalai Lama’s claims [Xinhua]. Tonight’s Channel Four News claimed that the protests had forced Beijing to rethink its position about talking with the ‘Jackal in Monk’s robes’. Lindsey Hilsum, who often delivers highly critical reports about China said that the talks may be an effort to placate Western observers in this Olympic year. And as the August Olympics approach Interpol today warned of possible attacks at the games. The threats have already prompted China and Interpol to set up a hotline to exchange intelligence information [Xinhua]. It is security of a different magnitude that faces Japanese authorities as the Olympic torch arrives at Tokyo [CNN / Xinhua]. On Saturday morning, eighty torchbearers, including three Chinese, will run a 18.7 km long route in Nagano covering most of the city's famous historical sites and modern landmarks. The event will last about three hours starting at 08:30 local time [23:30 GMT Friday].

Panic buying of fuel as refinery strike looms

The shutdown of the Ineos oil refinery at Grangemouth in central Scotland has begun creating uncertainty for Britain’s motorists. The closure of the plant began ahead of a two day strike over pension plan changes. The strike which begins Sunday has concerned many as to whether fuel supplies will be disrupted. Motorists have been told not to panic buy, but already there are signs of fuel shortages on some forecourts in Scotland. BP has said it would have to close the Forties oil pipeline if the strike went ahead effectively cutting off North Sea oil production with Grangemouth. This in turn would halt the output of a third of Britain’s daily oil supply. The shutdown comes at the end of a troubled week for the oil industry which has seen oil rise to nearly $120 per barrel [BBC / Sky News]. Motorists have been particularly hard hit over the last few months as prices for fuel has topped £1.20 per litre [$2.38] in many areas of the UK. By contrast, drivers in the US have aired complaint over $4 per US gallon, which equates to $1.05 per litre or £0.52.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

China arms ship returns from Zimbabwe

A Chinese ship that was blocked from unloading its cargo in South Africa may return to China because of difficulties at African ports, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Tuesday. The An Yu Jiang freighter, with more than 3 million rounds of ammunition on board, as well as AK-47 assault rifles and rocket propelled grenade launchers, earlier attempted to dock in South Africa before being turned away has also attempted to unload in Mozambique. It is also believed to have made attempts to unload in Namibia and Angola. But it appears that after pressure from African governments as well as Britain and the US, the ship is returning home. The United States has said it is "pleased no country in the region has allowed the vessel to offload" its cargo of weapons. Deputy U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the United States had been "tracking this vessel for a few days now, and we don't think it is appropriate for anyone to provide additional weapons in Zimbabwe as they are going through a political crisis" [CNN / BBC]. Earlier British PM Gordon Brown echoed calls by Zambian leader Levy Mwanawasa to stop arms being shipped to Zimbabwe [CNN / BBC].

Meanwhile Robert Mugabe continues to cling to power following a much disputed election. And as the beatings and intimidation of opposition supporters continues in the country the US is putting pressure on Zimbabwe’s neighbours to exert their influence on the Mugabe regime [BBC].

Bangers & Mash in a cone for rainy UK

Gavin Reynolds serves up a 'Mash Cone' at Lakeside shopping centre

After last summer in Britain became a washout, some enterprising vendors have dreamt up an idea that may help them break even if ice-cream sales slump once again. If the heavens open and the temperatures drop there will be some trying to tempt the British public with bangers and mash in a cone. Specially adapted ‘ice-cream’ vans will offer the variation of the familiar 99, but instead of ice-cream, it will be replaced with mashed potato. And to top it off a traditional English sausage! When the story was first reported a few weeks back the Sky News anchor said she found the idea rather queasy during the paper review. But those that came uyp with the ‘Mash Cone’ believe it will be a “nostalgic thrill of buying a cone from a van – but without the chill.” Recent warnings from the Met Office say that Britain is likely to experience wetter summers because of global warming [Daily Express].

Olympic torch coverage wanes

A protester holds a placard reading "CNN needs to apologise"

Western media has all but lost interest in the continuing Olympic torch relay. After the San Francisco leg of its world tour, coverage has gradually dwindled both in newspapers as well as on TV news reports. The Argentine was only covered partially by broadcasters and there was little reference to events in many Western papers. Tanzania came and went with out a mention as did the arrival of the Olympic flame in Oman. Coverage picked up for the relays in Pakistan and India but dropped as the flame touched down in Bangkok. As the torch made its way around the Thai capital few broadcasters gave any time to events on the ground. Even Chinese protests in Europe and the US have been virtually ignored. The protests, which aimed to bring to public attention the anger many Chinese felt about Western coverage of events in Tibet, fell mostly on deaf ears. CNN has been the most criticised broadcaster by many Chinese. Perceived media bias and comments by CNN commentator Jack Cafferty has prompted angry responses from many Chinese, both at home and abroad. Ironically, it is CNN that has provided the most intensive coverage of both the protests as well as the Olympic torch relay. When the relay hit the streets of Kuala Lumpa in Malaysia and Jakarta in Indonesia, only CNN broadcast Live reports. Sky News have almost completely ignored the continuing journey of the Olympic flame, billed as the Journey of Harmony. Even when the flame was carried around Canberra in Australia, only the BBC and CNN carried some Live pictures of the event. Of course the coverage was not as intensive as that given over to London and San Francisco.
The BBC only dipped into pictures broadcast by Australia’s Channel 9 only sporadically with a short Live report by their reporter which he gave by phone. CNN’s Andrew Stevens gave his Live report from Canberra on camera, during which one pretty Chinese girl held a hastily written notice reading ’CNN Apologise’. The impromptu protest seemed to cause an amused reaction from Kristie Lu Stout in the Hong Kong studio, who was heard to stifle a laugh. Stevens did not seem so amused as he ended his broadcast however, seemingly perturbed by something off camera. The next stop on the relay is Nagano in Japan which has already seen protests and changes to the route. Monks at one temple have protested their anger and forced the relay to change its plans to start from the Zenkoji Temple. There were also reports that the temple had been sprayed with graffiti ahead of the flame’s arrival [CNN].

Meanwhile the French Prime Minister has attempted to calm the anger that has been directed towards the country over the last few weeks. Nicholas Sarkozy wrote a personal letter to Jin Jing, a disabled torch bearer who was attacked several times during the Paris relay earlier this month. In his letter handed to her by Christian Poncelet, the president of the French Senate, Sarkozy offers his condolences and also invites her to visit him at the Elysée Palace in Paris [Independent]. His effort to build reconciliation between France and China was dampened after the Paris Mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, made the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen. The bestowing of such an award is purely symbolic but has further angered many Chinese [BBC]. Protests have continued at many Carrefour store across China. At Wuhan, in central China, two men waved a French tricolour daubed with swastikas and insults in French and English such as "Jeanne d'Arc = prostitute", "Napoléon = pervert" and "Free Corsica". Corsica has long demanded independence from mainland France [BBC].

The nationalistic protests, which have been quietly encouraged by the Chinese authorities, are now being reined in. In Tuesday’s China Daily the Editorial called on protesters to act with “responsible patriotism”.

“A stubborn insistence that those who do not join the protests and boycott Carrefour are not patriotic is false patriotism... Patriots are supposed to adopt a tolerant attitude toward others and be broad enough to see what is good and what is bad in them. Over-the-top nationalism is not constructive, but can do harm to the country. If we want to improve things, we will have to encourage responsible patriotism." Even amongst the bloggers there is a call for calm. One Chinese blogger launched a forum asking readers not to boycott Carrefour, arguing the store sells Chinese goods and has nothing to do with Tibet. But comments left on the site are weighted in favour of continued boycotts of at least 6 to 1 [CNN].

China has experienced similar spasms of public outrage before. The bombing by the U.S. of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, and the collision of a Chinese fighter jet with a U.S. surveillance plane near Hainan Island in 2001 both sparked much anger amongst many Chinese. But with increased technology the youth of China is far more connected. According to newly released figures China now ranks above the US with the numbers of people connected to the internet.

And the views expressed should be noted says Paul Mason on the Newsnight blog. “Western journalists should listen to these protests: you don't have to agree with them but if you listen to them you will learn more about what is driving them”, he says. The current war of words and vitriol that has been thrown at each other from both China and the West has been largely exacerbated by the lack of understanding of two diametrically different cultures. Both sides need to understand each other more if there is to be a Journey of Harmony and an achievement of One World, One Dream.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bob Spink becomes first UKIP MP

The UK Independence Party has its first MP after former Conservative Bob Spink announced he is to join its ranks. Mr Spink resigned the Tory whip last month in a row over apparent efforts by his local party to deselect him. He claims the Conservatives have been "dishonest" over their Europe policies and says a by-election in his Castle Point constituency is unnecessary. UKIP say they are "delighted" about their new recruit. Senior Tories say they are "relaxed" about the move. UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: "I am delighted to welcome the hard-working and deeply principled Bob Spink as UKIP's first Member of Parliament. Mr Spink has sometimes been a controversial figure who fell out with the Conservative leadership following bitter rows with his local constituency. In February he claimed members of his local Conservative Association had been working to deselect him. During the 2005 general election campaign he was accused of whipping up racial tension for running a newspaper advert on immigration, headlined: "What bit of 'send them back' don't you understand Mr Blair?" He was at the time accused of resorting to the politics of Enoch Powell after placing an advertisement in his The Yellow Advertiser. Mr Spink is the third Conservative MP to lose the Tory whip in the last year. The others were Derek Conway and Andrew Pelling. Quentin Davies defected to Labour in June 2007. Mr Spink was first elected to Parliament in 1992, but lost his seat in 1997, before regaining it in 2001.
Some have criticised the defection as it effectively gives UKIP an un-elected MP. Last month, Bob Spink said, “It is for Castle Point residents to decide who will be their MP, not a small number of self-selected individuals with their private agendas.” But the Castlepoint MP has dismissed calls for a by-election. In 1997 George Gardiner resigned from the Conservative Party after being deselected by his local Party association. He had survived one de-selection attempt in June 1996, but an article where he compared Prime Minister John Major to a ventriloquist's dummy to the pro-European Chancellor Ken Clarke proved the last straw for his constituency party. After unsuccessfully challenging the decision in the courts, Sir George joined the Referendum Party with whom he contested the 1997 general election. He was therefore, briefly, the only person ever to have sat as a Referendum Party MP. [BBC / Basildon Echo]

Zambia calls a halt to Zimbabwe arms shipment

Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa, has joined calls to several African countries not to allow a shipment of weapons dock at its ports. The Chinese shipment of arms aboard the An Yue Jiang failed to unload its cargo in South Africa last week and was forced to return to sea. Its cargo of 3 million rounds of ammunition, AK47 rifles, RPGs and mortar rounds was set to be delivered to Zimbabwe, but the volatile situation in the country has increased concerns over how the arms might be used. Dock workers in South Africa had expressed their fear that the weapons may have been used against the civilian population. Results from the national election still have not been released, and while opposition parties insist Zanu-PF and its leader lost, Robert Mugabe is still clinging onto power. Retribution against those that voted for the opposition appears to be increasing. On Monday, Channel Four News showed pictures of men beaten with bicycle chains, sticks and axes. While the Zimbabwe government denies claims of intimidation, the opposition says the weapons could be used to "wage war" on its supporters ahead of a possible run-off in the presidential vote. The International Transport Workers Federation says it has asked its members across Africa not to help unload the An Yue Jiang which was later turned away from Mozambique. The Chinese vessel was said to be bound for Angola but the US is reported to be pressuring port authorities there and in Namibia not to allow them to dock. “I hope this will be the case with all the countries because we don't want a situation which will escalate the [tension] in Zimbabwe more than what it is," said Mr Mwanawasa.

Zambia, formerly known as northern Rhodesia, is situated to the north of Zimbabwe and like South Africa sees many refugees crossing its borders. Although Zambia’s tourist industry has increased as Zimbabwe’s economy and political situation has become unstable, there is a strong desire to see the situation improve. Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa who is also chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional grouping, was diplomatic with regards to the origin of the shipment. "The Chinese can play a very useful role in Zimbabwe without (offering) firearms," Mwanawasa said. Zambia has to play it carefully with regards its criticism of China. The country has strong ties with China and there is heavy investment in the country.

Namibia is a strong ally with Zimbabwe and may ignore pressure from neighbouring countries. However the Namibian authorities have not released any statement as to whether they would allow the ship to dock. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has also been noticeable by its silence, but the ship's master, who identified himself as Captain Sunaijun, said by radio phone: "I am awaiting orders from my owner."
[BBC / Al Jazeera / CNN / SMH].

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pope visits Ground Zero

Pope Benedict XVI has begun to wrap up his US visit with a tour of Ground Zero in New York. Arriving at 09:38 local time [13:38 GMT], the pope arrived in his Pope-mobile to give his blessing and offer prayers to victims of 9/11. Sky News and the BBC cut into proceedings at 09:35 local time. Both stations covered events for nearly twenty minutes. But CNN International did not start did not start broadcasting Live pictures from the scene of America’s worst terrorist attack until 09:59. But by the time CNN started coverage, the proceedings ended and the Pope was seen to leave shortly afterwards [CNN]

Iraq - Militant leaders threaten more violence

Threats: Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al Sadr and al-Qaeda leader Abu Hamza al-Muhajir

Moqtada al Sadr has threatened ‘open war’ against the Baghdad government if it does not stop operations against his Medhi army [BBC]. "I'm giving the last warning and the last word to the Iraqi government," Moqtada Sadr said in a statement released Saturday. Clashes between the Mehdi army with the US army helped by Iraqi troops have increased tensions in Sadr City, Baghdad. Local reports suggest seven have died in recent fighting. There were further reports of fighting in the southern city of Nasiriya over the weekend and increased military activity in Basra.

The threat of increased violence also came from al-Qaeda in Iraq. A speaker identified as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, posted a recording on several Islamist Web sites calling for its ‘heroes’ to offer the ‘deceitful Bush’ a ‘gift’. In the recording the militant says, “The reason I give this speech is that the enemy declared -- even though it might be lying -- that its death toll in Iraq has reached 4,000. So we call upon our heroes ... to ask every group within a month from the time it hears this, to offer the head of an American as a gift to the deceitful [President] Bush”. As of Saturday, 4,036 U.S. troops had died in the Iraq war [CNN].

In Baquba there were more signs of the increased instability after three male students and their driver were kidnapped. The students, who were returning to Diyala University after a weekend break, were halted by gunmen at a fake checkpoint and taken away. The province of Diyala, where the incident took place, is seen as one of the most dangerous parts of Iraq. In the last week alone, two attacks in or close to Baquba itself killed at least 80 people [BBC].

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chinese protest as Thai relay starts

Chinese protesters in London on Saturday

Hundreds of Chinese protested today opposite the UK parliament to air their anger over what they see as bias in the Western media. The Protesters, many wearing masks emblazoned with the BBC, stood in quiet vigil. Only after two hours protest did they break their silence and launch into the Chinese national anthem. The protests were timed with several others in Manchester, Paris and Berlin as the Olympic torch set on its latest relay in Thailand. The BBC reported the protests but no British newspapers covered the story on Sunday. Thousands of people watched the relay in Bangkok which was held amid high security [BBC]. But events in Thailand were almost entirely absent from news bulletins and non existent in Sundays papers.

Meanwhile there have been further protests in China against French supermarket chain Carrefour though few Western papers have picked up on the building protests in China [BBC]. A planned on CNN's website was, however, 'canceled' because "too many people were aware of it". These were the words from so-called cyber-attackers who have declared a tech-war against the American broadcaster [PC World]. According to The Dark Visitor, the hackers were due to launch their cyber-warfare at a later, as yet unspecified, date. The Dark Visitor is a blog run by ex-United States Army officer Scott J. Henderson that focuses on the activities of Chinese hackers. The blog was one of the first Western world websites to break the news about the April 2008 organized DDOS attack by mainland Chinese hackers on [updated 20/04/2008]

Hackers target CNN website

CNN's website has been targeted by hackers resulting in slow or unavailable pages across much of Asia, the news group has said. In a statement CNN said it was unaware who had hit the site with DoS or Denial-of-Service attacks. "CNN took preventative measures to filter traffic in response to attempts to disrupt our Web site. A small percentage of users in Asia are impacted. We do not know who is responsible, nor can we confirm where it came from," the statement said. Problems began around midday on Thursday, but on Friday morning service appeared to have returned to normal. The attempt to disrupt the news website came as tech-oriented Web sites in Asia were reporting calls from hacker groups in China for Denial-of-Service attacks to be launched against the CNN Web site on Saturday over the network's coverage of unrest in Tibet. Angry Chinese bloggers have accused CNN and several other Western news organizations of being unfair in covering recent pro-independence protests in Tibet, which is controlled by China [CNN]. Chinese students are expected in Paris, London and Manchester later on Saturday to protest their anger over media reports.
Meanwhile a Chinese boat that was set to deliver arms to Zimbabwe, is on the move and heading from South African waters. The BBC reported it may have been heading for Mozambique after failing to unload its cargo in South Africa. Dock workers at Durban port had refused to touch the cargo for fear the weapons might be used against the civilian population within Zimbabwe in light of the volatile situation [BBC]

Friday, April 18, 2008

British are "thieves" says Mugabe

Robert Mugabe today delivered a speech marking 28 years of independence. In his address to loyal party supporters he called Britain “thieves” who were trying to steal the country [BBC / CNN].

On Thursday, Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said South African President Thabo Mbeki needed to be "relieved of his duties" as a mediator in the crisis caused by the presidential poll, for which results have not been released. Mbeki has been almost entirely silent over the election crisis. “What kind of an election is it when you won’t let the will of the people be known?” George Bush said yesterday as he added his voice to many others calling for results to be released. “I appreciate those in the region who have spoken out on this issue, I appreciate that some in the region have spoken out against violence” but he said “more leaders in the region need to speak out, and the United Nations and the AU [African Union] must play an active role in resolving the issue in Zimbabwe”. But many leaders in the region have failed to raise their voice against the Mugabe regime.

Meanwhile, South African dock workers were refusing to unload a shipment of arms from China destined for Zimbabwe. The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union said it did "not agree with the position of the government not to intervene".

Reports suggest the Chinese cargo ship An Yue Jiang, anchored off Durban, is carrying 3m rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades and 2,500 mortar rounds. The shipment of arms to Zimbabwe is not embargoed under UN rules at present. The shipment will however pull China into yet further political discussion and criticism as it is seen to prop up the Mugabe regime [Sky News]. While the South African government did not wish to interfere with Sino-Zambian trade, trade union members felt very differently. SATAWU General Secretary Randall Howard said, "We are concerned that the current stand-off could mean the arms would fall into the hands of those who want to use military force against the people of Zimbabwe. The South African government cannot be seen as propping up a military regime".

According to some a crackdown has already started against those seen as supporting the opposition [BBC]. And today Times journalist Jonathan Clayton told how he had been beaten by the Zimbabwe police after his arrest for ‘illegally’ reporting in the country.

UK - Jail for terrorism supporters

Abu Izzadeen and Sulayman Keeler photographed in 2002

Two men have been sentenced today for terrorism fundraising and inciting terrorist activities. Abu Izzadeen, also known as Omar Brooks, and Sulayman Keeler, born Simon Keeler, were both sentenced to jail terms at Kingston Crown Court today. Izzadeen was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for fundraising for terrorism and four and a half years for inciting acts of terrorism abroad. However, as is often the case in the UK, the terms will be served concurrently. Keeler, a British born Muslim convert, was handed the same sentence. Three others were also given jail sentences. Abdul Saleem, who was found guilty at Kingston Crown Court of inciting terrorism, was jailed for three years, nine months.

Ibrahim Hassan was handed a sentence of two years, nine months after being found guilty of the same charge. Abdul Mahid, who was found guilty of fundraising for terrorists, was jailed for two years. Mahid will serve this sentence once he has completed his current jail term for soliciting murder during protests against the publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper depicting the prophet Mohammed.

Shah Jilal Hussain, who absconded while the jury was deliberating but handed himself in at court this morning, was sentenced to two years for his part in the fundraising charge, and three months to be served consecutively for breaking his bail conditions [Sky News / BBC].

Olympic boycotts 'threaten world economy'

Carrefour has been singled out by many Chinese protesters

Peter Mandelson has warned the continuing ‘China bashing’ and ‘protectionism’ could have disastrous repercussions in world trade. Speaking in Brussels he told the European Parliament's trade committee that he did not underestimate the political pressures on governments, but he said such policies were unhelpful [BBC / Xinhua]. Mandelson also called threats to boycott the Beijing Olympics a “political gimmick”, and cautioned against trying to humiliate China.
China is now blamed for everything from human rights abuses, war and genocide to pollution, abortion and rising food prices. But while China is tackling these issues, their efforts are often not seen to be sufficient to appease Western observers. And besides there being many problems associated with China, they are a part of the global village. By calling for boycotts and angering 1.6 billion people, the West plays a dangerous game. In The Times [Friday 18/04/2008] Mike Hume describes the dangers of what he calls the new Olympic sport of China bashing.
The Olympic furore is underpinned by fears about the rise of China at a time when, if we did boycott Chinese goods, there really would be a recession on the high street. In a saner world it would surely be seen as a good thing that the Chinese economy is booming - and subsidising the West - and that China is investing in roads, railways and hospitals in Africa; makes a change from UK charities sending the odd goat” [The Times].

The concern is well founded. Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Aileen Mccabe describes the threat of boycotts as being a ‘two-way street’. The Internet in China is jammed with calls for a boycott of French products and, in particular, the French supermarket chain Carrefour S.A., which has more than 100 outlets around the country. The calls have followed what many Chinese people see as ‘vile’ and ‘disgraceful’ scenes in Paris where pro-Tibetan protesters attacked a disabled Olympic torchbearer [BBC]. Speaking at a forum in Britain last Friday, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned ominously that there could be long-term repercussions. "The outrage in China, especially among the young, can be read on the flooded Internet bulletin boards, all carrying virulent anti-foreign sentiments," he said. "Pity they are in unintelligible Chinese ideographs. Were they in the English language, young Americans and Europeans would realize that these displays of contempt for China and things Chinese will have consequences in their lifetime, well beyond the Olympic Games."

At a time when Europe is trying to boost trade relations with China, Peter Mandelson warned of the possible backlash. "Some Europeans appear to assume that a course of direct confrontation in connection with the Olympics and Tibet serves Europe's interests, and indeed Tibet's ... but we will not be able to dictate the solutions to China's problems," the EU trade commissioner said yesterday, "Whatever our political differences, our interdependence remains a central fact of the global political economy".

And he is not alone in his concerns. Katinka Barysch, of the Center for European Reform in London, say it is difficult to know whether a Chinese boycott of European goods will be effective. "It's very difficult to foresee at the moment how many people would join such an unofficial boycott. The European trade commissioner has just warned of the tit-for-tat spiral - one side starts boycotting and then the other side starts boycotting and then before you even know it, a highly profitable trade relationship is disrupted" she said, "I mean you cannot not engage with China. It's a rising superpower. It's a hugely important market. We have disagreements that we have to speak very openly about. There's no way we can ignore or isolate China" [VOA].

The row looks set to intensify as protests against the French supermarket chain gain momentum. Today Reuters reported that protestors burned a French flag and shouted slogans outside one branch in Qingdao. Smaller demonstrations have also been seen at a number of other branches in Beijing. But the big day of action comes in less than two weeks when a May 1st boycott on the store is expected.

Brown & Bush insist 'special relationship' exists

“It’s a beautiful day” said George Bush as he introduced Prime Minister Gordon Brown to the assembled media in the Rose Garden. He spoke of how he had discussed many issues with the British Prime Minister from the continuing war on terror to the situation in Zimbabwe.
Economy was high on the agenda as were discussions about the environment. With regards the environment the President said he was looking into “developing technologies” to tackle climate change “without wrecking our economy”. President Bush specifically singled out India and China who he said must play a more participative role in any agreement to tackle climate change.
Gordon Brown spoke too of how important there was a “special relationship” between the two countries especially when it came to fighting global terrorism and said the “World owes George Bush a huge debt of gratitude”. He said the bond between the two countries was “stronger than ever” and that “no international partnership has served the world better than the special relationship between our two countries, the United States and the United Kingdom”. With oil rising above $112 per barrel, Brown said that by encouraging oil producers to increase output the price of the important energy resource would be reduced.

Regards the debacle of an election in Zimbabwe, President Bush was critical of the Mugabe regime. “What kind of an election is it when you won’t let the will of the people be known?” he said. “I appreciate those in the region who have spoken out on this issue, I appreciate that some in the region have spoken out against violence” but he said “more leaders in the region need to speak out, and the United Nations and the AU [African Union] must play an active role in resolving the issue in Zimbabwe”
Mr Bush said he “shared frustrations” with regards the situation in Darfur and that UN security forces were slow in arriving. But President Bush has made the decision of not placing US troops on the ground, placing responsibility in the hands of the UN and the AU. Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia were also highlighted in his address as Mr Bush said he had discussed increased efforts to train healthcare workers in those African countries, specifically in attempts to curb malaria, HIV and AIDS. Gordon Brown talked of the “scandal of avoidable deaths” resulting from malaria and said he would join with the US in committing resources to tackle the health problems in Africa.

The focus also turned to Iran and its continuing nuclear policy. Gordon Brown said that Iran continued to “defy the international community” and said that both the US and the UK would seek to increase further sanctions against Iran and “ensure these sanctions are effectively implemented”. He said that he would also discuss these issues with other EU leaders to move the process forward. President Bush linked the issues of Iran and Iraq saying that failure in Iraq would send a message to Iran that the US and its allies were not committed in stopping the developing of nuclear weapons by rogue states. “Failure in Iraq would send a message to our friends that you can’t count on America” he said. But despite having taken longer than he expected President Bush was determined to complete the mission. Success in Iraq would be a “significant blow to al Qaeda and Iran’s ambitions” he said. And he said the fight was “worth it”. He added that “so for as long as I’m the President my measure of success is victory and success...I’ve only got ten more months of the Presidency”. Mr Brown said that there was “no artificial timetable” and asked that we “not forget that Iraq is a democracy” and that there is “economic development” in the country.

The ‘special relationship’ that was mentioned several times throughout the press conference and the British Prime Minister was asked if it would continue after the upcoming Presidential elections. Gordon Brown said he was “Delighted to meet the three presidential candidates” but said he was confident that who ever the new leader was “the relationship between Britain and America will remain strong and steadfast”. He would not commit himself as to who he found more amenable adding, “It is for Americans to decide who their president is going to be”. But for now President Bush insisted that he and Mr Brown had a “great relationship” and that they would continue to fight terrorism which he described as the “fundamental threat facing civilisation in the 21st century and Prime Minister Brown sees the threat, he‘s lived through the threat, so our relationship is very special” [CNN / BBC / Sky News].

Thursday, April 17, 2008

UK - 6 found guilty on terror charges

Abu Izzadeen, sometimes known as Omar Brooks, has been found guilty of terrorism fundraising & inciting acts of terrorism. A total of eight individual were on trial at Kingston Crown court for various terror related offences. Some charges related to speeches made at the Regent’s Park mosque in London [BBC]. During one speech Izadeen was heard to say, “the US and British only understand one thing; the language of blood”. Five others were found guilty at the London court, but one man has absconded. Shah Jalal Hussain, 25, from Whitechapel, east London, is currently on the run. He is said to have attended most of the trial but failed to attend in recent days. Two other individuals were released by the court after the jury were unable to come to a verdict. They are Ibrahim Abdullah Hussan, 25, from Leyton, east London, and Rajib Kahn, 29, from Luton in Bedfordshire. Izzadeen, Simon Keeler, 36, from Whitechapel, Omar Zaheer, 28, of Southall, west London, Abdul Saleem, 32, of Poplar, east London, and Jalal Hussain will be sentenced later [BBC / Sky News].

Brown fails to grab attention in US

The Pope has overshadowed Brown's US visit

Gordon Brown on his 3 day visit to the United States has already courted controversy after he spoke out against Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has already called Brown a “dot” in the political landscape, and it looks unlikely that demands for a release of election results will be headed. Speaking at the UN, Brown said “no-one believes” that Mugabe had won the election and that a “stolen election would not be an election at all” [BBC].
South Africa’s leader Thabo Mbeki has resisted calls to put pressure on Zimbabwe and meeting in Zambia by a number of African states failed to move the situation forward. Amid the war of words the Zimbabwe government has accused Britain as well as opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of treason [CNN].

Brown’s visit has been somewhat overshadowed by Pope Benedict XVI who arrived just ahead of the British Prime Minister. While CNN, Sky and the BBC showed Live pictures of the Pope’s visit to the White House, the UN convened a meeting to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe. Only when Brown started to address the assembled leaders did Sky and the BBC cut away to coverage of events there. But as soon as the British PM finished, coverage returned to the White House lawn where the Pope delivered a speech which addressed issues of world peace.

Today, Gordon Brown is set to meet with political leaders and presidential candidates, John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He is also expected to discuss the global credit crunch with President George W Bush [BBC]

Olympic torch completes India relay

Thousands of police were deployed in Delhi on Thursday as the Olympic torch landed in India. Hundreds of protesters had already been arrested in the lead up to the torch relay which was rerouted to avoid the troubles seen in other countries. Police were also issued with fire extinguishers and blankets because of the fear that some demonstrators may have set fire to themselves.
Three layers of police and paramilitary security forces surrounded the route which was cut from 6 km to 3 km. Originally the procession had been expected to start from Red Fort heading south to India Gate. But after security concerns the torch was carried the short distance along the Rajpath from the Presidential Palace to India Gate. Earlier in the day protesters held their own unofficial torch relay between Jantar Manta and the Ghandi Memorial.

The BBC described the procession as “sanitised” and a “damp squib” as it began in the Indian capital New Delhi. Most ordinary Indians were kept well back from the 3 km route which ran from the Presidential Palace to India Gate in the heart of the city. Coverage was sporadic with Sky News, the BBC and CNN showing some Live pictures from the ground. Sky News commentators made particular issue of the blue and white track-suited Chinese security which have caused controversy in London and elsewhere. Lisa Holland said the lack of numbers of the ‘flame attendants‘ struck her as significant. She said they were “caked in so much controversy” and were “oppressive” in their “taking control of the situation” in previous relays. She also referred to Lord Coe’s comments. He had said the Chinese security were “thugs” who had pushed him around several times in London. Another observation made by Sky's reporters was how long each of the torch bearers were holding the torch. With only 3 km and 70 torch bearers, the torch remained in the hands of each runner for a short time. CNN’s Anjali Rao said each runner held the torch for less than thirty seconds before handing it onto the next person in the relay.
CNN provided the most extensive coverage providing Live pictures throughout most of the event. Both Sky and the BBC showed only sporadic coverage of the Live event. There were none of the violent scenes that have disrupted previous relays and only a few supporters along the route waving Chinese flags. “It is certainly not the unrestrained joy expected” said John Vause reporting from Beijing. The CNN correspondent said that China were using the relay as a temperature gauge. “It’s all about the countries which have supported it [China] and those that did not” John Vause said.
As for the temperatures on the ground, runners had to endure blazing sunshine and 33 degree heat as they jogged along the Rajpath to India Gate. They did not however run into protestors who were kept well back. Sky News, quoting AFP, said that 180 demonstrators had been arrested along the route of the torch relay. But the relay itself finished peacefully with the Olympic cauldron being lit at 11:50 GMT bringing a close to proceedings at least as far as Live television coverage was concerned. The next instalment of this Olympic saga continues in Bangkok, Thailand where temperatures of 36 degrees and possible thunder storms are expected. Tempers are also expected to be high during the next stop in this controversial torch relay [Beijing 2008 / 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay / CNN / BBC / Sky News].

Meanwhile China has summoned CNN’s bureau chief to the Foreign Ministry following controversial comments by Jack Cafferty earlier this month. The network's bureau chief in Beijing, Jaime FlorCruz, said he was summoned on Wednesday evening to meet with Liu Jianchao, the senior Foreign Ministry spokesman. He said the spokesman told him that the ministry did not view CNN's statement about the comments as an apology. A CNN statement issued Tuesday said, "It was not Mr. Cafferty's, nor CNN's intent to cause offense to the Chinese people, and (CNN) would apologize to anyone who has interpreted the comments in this way."
The TV network said Cafferty was offering his "strongly held" opinion of the Chinese government, not China's people. It also noted that "over many years, Jack Cafferty has expressed critical comments on many governments, including the U.S. government and its leaders." Neither CNN nor the Chinese authorities have said if any action might be taken against the news channel which has several correspondents working both in Beijing and Hong Kong [CNN].

India prepares for Olympic torch relay

Thousands of police have been deployed in Delhi on Thursday as the Olympic torch landed in India. Hundreds of protesters have already been arrested in the lead up to the torch relay which has already been rerouted. Police have been issued with fire extinguishers and blankets because of the fear that some demonstrators may set fire to themselves.
Three layers of police and paramilitary security forces have surrounded the route which has been cut from 6 km to 3 km. Originally the procession had been expected to start from Red Fort heading south to India Gate. But after security concerns the torch will now be carried along the Rajpath from the Presidential Palace to India Gate. Earlier in the day protesters held their own unofficial torch relay between Jantar Manta and the Ghandi Memorial.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pakistan - Olympic relay underway

Pervez Musharraf holds the Olympic flame

The Olympic torch has begun its journey around the Jinna Stadium well away from members of the public. The ceremony began shortly after 17:30 local time [11:30 GMT] and was watched by dignitaries of both Pakistan and China. Sky carried Live pictures for 3 minutes before cutting away to other news. CNN have given over more coverage to the events with only a short break interrupting the feed from Pakistan Television. The BBC have shown little of the proceedings and no major networks showed the actual lighting ceremony when the torch was finally lit at 18:00 local time [12:00 GMT]. President Pervez Musharraf was handed the torch amid cheers from the invited guests and balloons were released. The relay was bizarre in as much as each torch bearer jogged only a few metres before handing it to the next one. Within 10 minutes of lighting the flame the 10th torch bearer was on their way around the stadium. Only 65 men and women were expected to carry the torch, 15 less than seen in other cities around the world. The Olympic flame arrives in India tomorrow where pro-Tibetan protests have continued with 50 demonstrators arrested in the last day according to reports [Official website - Beijing 2008]

CNN 'apologises' as torch arrives in Pakistan

CNN have apologized over comments made by Jack Cafferty on the 9th April. Cafferty had criticized China during the Olympic torch relay in San Francisco saying “I think they’re basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the last 50 years” [You Tube] Cafferty is a regular contributor to the Situation Room and known for he forthright views. But speaking on the programme on the 14th April he told the host Wolf Blitzer he meant no offence to the Chinese people. “Last week, during a discussion of the controversy surrounding China's hosting of the Olympic Games, I said that the Chinese are basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they have been for the last 50 years. I was referring to the Chinese government, and not to Chinese people or to Chinese-Americans,” Cafferty said. CNN also released a statement which read, “It was not Mr. Cafferty’s nor CNN’s intent to cause offence to the Chinese people, and we would apologise to anyone who has interpreted the comments in this way. Cafferty was offering his “strongly held” opinion of the Chinese Government, not China’s people” [Times / CNN].

While netizens continue to debate Western media in China, the Olympic torch was making ready for its 11th relay in its global journey. Touching down in Pakistan on Tuesday the torch was expected to make its way through Islamabad on Wednesday [BBC]. The procession will be carefully controlled with only an invited audience able to watch the proceedings. Plans to hold a public relay were abandoned for security reasons. CNN have shown a few seconds of Live coverage from Pakistan but as yet only Sky’s interactive service is relaying Live pictures from the Pakistani capital.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in US

Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in the United States, the first papal visit since the terror attacks of 11th September 2001. His plane touched down shortly after 20:00 GMT and was met by President Bush. CNN and the BBC broadcast Live pictures from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. He is expected to talk at the UN during his 6 day visit.

Iraq - 60 dead in deadly day of bombs

At least 60 people have died in a series of deadly bomb attacks in Iraq. Four cities were targeted in what the US military say have all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda. In Baquba a car bomb killed 40 and injured 75. This was soon followed by an explosion at a restaurant in Ramadi. That attack killed 15 dead and saw 13 injured. In Baghdad 5 were killed and 12 injured by another blast and several Iraqi police were injured in Mosul when they were hit by a double car bomb attack. All the bombs occurred within minutes of each other at around noon local time. Meanwhile there is no resolve in continual battles with Shi’ite groups loyal to cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

Dozens dead in Congo plane crash

A plane has crashed in the Democratic Republic of Congo shortly after take off near to the town of Goma. The plane was en-route to the eastern town of Kisangani. Early reports suggested that 83 were killed after the DC-9 came down on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo with Rwanda. However a UN spokesman later said there had been 4 survivors [CNN spoke to a DRC government official who said that 5 crew and 10 passengers had survived the crash which came down in a residential area of Goma. Antoine Ghonda MP said only 75 had died in the latest in a series of air disasters. The DRC has one of the worst air safety records in the world with 24 recorded crashes in the last year alone. The cause of the latest crash is as yet unknown, but it has been suggested engine failure played a part in the disaster [BBC].

Anna Ridout, of World Vision, has told CNN that the plane careered through a highly populated area of Goma which she described as a market area of the town. The plane came down at around 15:00 local time. Ridout said that large crowds of shocked residents had gathered near to the crash site where there was “extensive damage” on the ground. Eric Joyce, a British MP who was also in the area at the time of the crash, told the BBC it was hard to tell what the situation on the ground was. He said he had seen at least six dead and many injured brought into the local hospital.
Lionel Healing, an AFP photojournalist who witnessed the crash, told Al-Jazeera he saw the aircraft plunge into a row of shops and continue into the centre of town across a busy road. He said he saw a large numbers of dead bodies pulled from the wreckage.

China and West in propaganda war

Propaganda or coincidence: Gere in the 1997 film Red Corner

When Fu Ying spoke of a ‘counter reaction’ to anti-China protests, she may not have expected the barrage of criticism to her article in the Daily Telegraph which was published last Saturday. The Chinese ambassador had written her account in reaction to protests seen in London on the 6th April when the Olympic torch was carried on its 52 km route. Following her article hundreds of comments have been posted on the Telegraph website criticizing her defence of China and its stance over Tibet. While there were supportive comments left on the British newspaper's forum many accused her of perpetuating 'lies' and 'revisionist drivel'.

Almost daily the output from Xinhua and CCTV-9 has included reports of how the further evidence has been collected that showed links to the Lhasa riots and the Dalai Clique. Today the Dalai Clique was the 3rd item in the news followed by another report about life in a Lhasa primary school. Todays report showed how children learned both Tibetan language as well as Mandarin Chinese.
Life in Tibet has been reflected in several documentaries broadcast by several networks over the last few weeks. The BBC has broadcast A Year in Tibet which showed the life experienced by both ethnic Tibetans and Han Chinese in the region. While the programme, which was aired on BBC4, was generally balanced, another documentary shown on Channel Four was highly critical of state repression in Tibet. Undercover in Tibet told the story of how some Tibetan had been subject to enforced sterilization whilst others were the victims of religious persecution. According to the documentary some Tibetans had been moved from their traditional farm lands and forced to live in walled compounds.
Several historical documentaries have also been broadcast in both Western and Chinese media. Over the weekend CCTV-9 showed an in depth historical documentary about Tibet and how China had ruled over the region since the early 18th century. The discussion programme Dialogue also looked at the history of Tibet, looking particularly at the Western interference in the early 20th century which saw the British invasion. The BBC also showed an hour long documentary in which Dan Cruickshank looked at the history of Tibet and how the Dalai Lama fled to India in the latter half of the 20th century.
While all the documentaries were relatively truthful in what was discussed, many were not balanced and only focused on one specific polemic. While Chinese media focused on how many Tibetans were killed by British troops and that others lived a life of serfdom before Chinese rule the programmes ignored the repression of religious freedom and persecution of some Tibetans. Similarly, documentaries broadcast in the UK were selective in their coverage of Tibetan life and history. Dan Cruickshank’s Lost World of Tibet gave little perspective of what happened prior to the Chinese invasion or what China calls the liberation of Tibet. Undercover in Tibet only focused on the problems existing in the region and did not cover any positive issues.
Whenever there is conflict between two states, propaganda plays an important tool for both sides. During the Yugoslav conflict, the state broadcaster showed films like Wag the dog. The 1997 film starring Robert de Niro, is about a Washington spin doctor who distracts the electorate from a U.S. Presidential sex scandal by hiring a Hollywood producer to construct a fake war with Albania. It would be easy to be cynical as Five showed the 1997 Hollywood film Red Corner [紅色角落] in the midst of the current rift between the West and China. The film which is currently banned on the Chinese mainland tells the story of a wealthy American businessman working in China and attempting to put together a satellite communications deal as part of a joint venture with the Chinese government. Before the deal goes through, he is framed for the murder of a powerful Chinese general's daughter, and the satellite contract is awarded to his competitor. In a bid to prove his innocence, the businessman and his appointed lawyer gradually unearth further evidence that not only vindicates him, but also implicates powerful figures within the Chinese Central government administration and exposes high levels of conspiracy and corruption. Though China has changed significantly since the film was made, many might have viewed the film as a current critique of China’s justice system. The film also shows real footage of executions, smuggled out of China and included in the film to give added authenticity. Besides the possible coincidence of the scheduling of the film, there is added irony since the main actor is Richard Gere, an outspoken critic of China and pro-Tibetan activist. Because he strongly supports the Tibetan Independence Movement, he is permanently banned from entering The People’s Republic of China. The actor was also banned as an Academy Award presenter in 1993 after he used the opportunity to condemn the Chinese government. In September 2007, Gere called for the boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and to put pressure on China to make Tibet independent.
It is extremely unlikely the Chinese government will heed any calls to soften its hold on Tibet. President Hu made a statement this week in which he reaffirmed that Tibet remained a part of China [BBC], and Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu further criticised Western media for their “malicious remarks”. She particularly singled out CNN’s Jack Cafferty who she said displayed “arrogance, ignorance and hatred towards the Chinese people”. The spokeswoman demanded an apology from the broadcaster and from Cafferty himself who had “denigrated China and the Chinese people” by “seriously breaching journalistic ethics” [Xinhua]. During the coverage of San Francisco Olympic torch relay Jack Cafferty was particularly scathing of China saying “I‘ve never seen anything like this...for the people in Beijing this is a preview of the kind of thing they‘re going to have to deal with at some level when these games happen later this summer. Memories of Tiananmen Square come to mind when the military finally cracked down on those pro-democracy demonstrators, what are the Chinese going to do when people sympathetic to the folks in Darfur or Tibet dare to venture out into red square ... with a Tibetan flag or something? The Chinese government is going to be in a very, very difficult position”.
“I think based on China’s record in some of these places like Darfur and Tibet, that you can justify boycotting some of these opening ceremonies but the bigger issue is how do you separate the games from the politics? And I don’t think you can, unless you establish a permanent home for the Olympics like Geneva, Switzerland. It’s a small global village that we’re a part of now...I don’t know if China’s any different, but our relationship with China is certainly different. We’re in hock with the Chinese up to our eyeballs because of the war in Iraq for one thing. They’re holding hundreds of billions of dollars worth of our paper, we’re also holding hundreds of billions of dollars of trade deficits with them as we continue to import their junk with the lead paint on them and poisoned pet food and export jobs to places where you can pay workers less than a dollar a month to turn out the stuff we‘re buying from Walmart. I think they’re basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the last 50 years.”

CNN has reported the story on their website but so far have not made a comment on Jiang Yu’s demand for an apology. tvnewswatch has attempted to obtain a response from CNN and Cafferty but as yet has not received a reply.

Unusually, CNN’s Live coverage of the relay was not censored in China, though according to John Vause, CNN’s Beijing correspondent, few would have seen the pictures. Only a few select apartment blocks and Western hotels have foreign satellite reception. Most potential viewers in China were likely to have been in bed as the relay started at 04:00 Beijing time.
Besides the propaganda war, business continues. Today the British Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling was on a visit to China to seek a £100 billion investment deal. But besides the top headline on CCTV-9, the news of the Chancellor’s visit to the Orient was not mentioned in the bulletins of the BBC and Sky News. The news of the visit was however briefly mentioned on the BBC website. The headlines in the UK focused instead on Gordon Brown’s stated aims to minimise the fallout of Britain’s credit crunch [BBC].

Monday, April 14, 2008

CBS journalist freed by Iraq forces

CBS journalist Richard Butler has been freed by Iraqi security forces after two months captivity by insurgents. Speaking after his release Butler said, “I'm looking forward to seeing my family and my friends at CBS”. He talked briefly about the rescue. "The Iraqi army stormed the house and overcame my guards and they burst through the door - and I had my hood on, which I had to have on all the time...They shouted something at me and I pulled my hood off...and they ran me down the road." CBS News spokeswoman said: "We are incredibly grateful that our colleague, Richard Butler, has been released and is safe." [BBC / Sky News]

Olympic torch sets off in Oman

Fuzzy but Live - Internet coverage of the Oman torch relay

The Olympic torch has set off on its latest relay around the streets of Muscat in Oman. Live pictures were only available via the Oman Television internet stream with no coverage given to events by Sky News, the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera or CCTV-9. There appears to be none of the chaotic scenes that have plagued the Olympic relay on earlier routes. Pictures relayed by the Ministry of Information show a jubilant crowd waving Oman and Chinese flags as the torch passed through the streets.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Rain fails to dampen Olympic relay & Marathon

While there was no Live coverage of events in Tanzania today but some media organisations have shown pictures following the relay. CCTV-9 were the first to show stills of torch bearers running along the 5 km route. The Tanzanian mayor, Adam Kimbisa, said he was happy to see the torch being carried through the city on the only African stop on its world tour. "It is a great honour and privilege for Tanzania to host this torch” he said [BBC]. There were a few protesters along the route but little sign of the disruption seen in Europe and the US. Some held placards criticizing China’s business practices in Africa but most of the hundreds of spectators were in a celebratory mood despite heavy rain throughout the day. CNN later showed some video pictures of the relay, but most British media filled its bulletins of other runners; that of the thousands who took part in the London Marathon. More than 30,000 jogged through the streets of London to raise money for countless charities. There were also large crowds who had braved the rain and low temperatures to cheer them on. The weather was in direct contrast to last year when runners had to endure blazing sunshine and temperatures as high as 22 degrees Celsius [BBC] .

While the Olympic torch relay has been rerouted by demonstrators, the marathon had to be rerouted today after a gas leak resulted in a 200 metre exclusion being set up. Some runners wore Tibetan flags in support of pro-independence activists and monks in the region of Tibet but politics were largely ignored by media reports. The race saw many unusual participants including Maasai warriors who were raising money for their Tanzanian village. The winner of the 42 km race was Martin Lel of Kenya who completed the men's race in a course record of 2 hours 5 minutes.