Wednesday, April 29, 2009

WHO declares pandemic is imminent

The World Health Organisation has increased its swine flu threat level to Phase 5, which declares that a pandemic is imminent [WHO].

The WHO amounts to a call for action for governments around the world to actively prepare plans. In Britain the government laid out its plan during a parliamentary session and at an afternoon press conference.

Its health campaign launched on Thursday under the slogan of “Catch it, Bin it, Kill it”. The initiative came as Britain announced the number of people confirmed with the virus rose to five.

New cases

Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an announcement in the British parliament during Prime Minister’s Questions. One of those tested positive was identified as a 12 year old girl who had travelled on the same plane as the two currently being treated in Scotland. Two other adults were also identified as having contracted the virus, one a 22 year old man from south London and the other a 44 year old woman from Birmingham.

The girl from Torbay in Devon is being treated at home and many of her fellow pupils have been administered antiviral drugs. Paignton Community and Sports College, the school at the centre of the latest scare, has been shut for seven days and 230 students are being treated with Tamiflu. Fifty of them are being monitored closely after having come into close contact with the girl.

Although those infected show a direct connection with Mexico, there is no immediate sign of a human to human transmission in the UK, the government said today. But the government has said it is keeping a close eye on developments.

In a more positive note, 7 people who had been closely monitored after showing flu-like symptoms after coming into contact with the Scottish couple, the first in Britain to contract the virus, were today declared infection free.

Health plan

But the British government says it is not sitting by idly. In parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said more anti-viral drugs, namely Tamilfu and Relenza, were being ordered to treat up to 80% of the UK population. In addition the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson said the government had ordered 60 million surgical and respiratory face masks for health workers. These specialist masks were beneficial if used properly, changed frequently and disposed off correctly, Johnson said. However, he dismissed the usefulness of masks by the general public. “There is no convincing scientific evidence to show the effectiveness of wearing a mask,” Alan Johnson said on Wednesday. Chief Medical Officer Professor Liam Donaldson also said that masks were of little use. “Scientific advice is that they are of very little value because they get moist and the virus is so small it goes through the pores,” Donaldson said, whilst adding, “it adds to a false sense of security.”

Instead, government health advice to those showing symptoms is to use a tissue and to dispose of it before then washing hands, preferably with anti-bacterial soap.
Alan Johnson told reporters that the best line in defence was to keep people informed about issues such as hygiene.

On Thursday a special telephone helpline was opened to the public [0800 513 513] and adverts were launched on TV, radio and in print media. Alan Johnson said that leaflets giving advice would also be distributed to every home in Britain on Tuesday next week.

Planning for a pandemic

Even before the WHO raised the threat level, Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson said, “We are planning for all eventualities and we need to understand more about this virus.”

There was a great deal more to learn, he said, both in the way it was transmitted and how long the virus took to take hold. “We don’t know the incubation period yet,” Donaldson added.

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday evening, Britain’s Secretary of State for Health reiterated the country was “well placed to deal with this infection”. In 1968 when Britain was hit by a similar medical emergency, there had been no national plan, Johnson said, but the government had learnt from history. “We can reduce its impact seen in pandemics of the last century,” Johnson said.

While the government is aiming to reassure the public, there is continued concern that the media is overhyping the issue. There is also concern that online discussion on services like Twitter is also adding to people’s worries [CNN]. During the Sky News paper review Kelvin Mackenzie, ex-editor of the Sun newspaper, said that people should “calm down” adding that more people die from seasonal flu. It is has to be said that seasonal flu in the UK kills up to 2,000 people every year and 36,000 die in the US. So far, around 150 have died from so called swine flu.

There issue over its name is raising some debate. The correct name is the H1N1 Influenza A virus, and not ‘swine flu’ as it has been dubbed. It has perhaps angered pig farmers and butchers the most. Russia and China have both banned imports of pork from Mexico, despite there being no link to eating the meat. Egypt has gone further with orders issued to kill the country’s 300,000 pigs.

[BBC / Sky News / CNN / wikipedia].

Monday, April 27, 2009

Concern increases over swine flu

Britain is the second country in Europe to announce an outbreak of swine flu. Two people who had returned to Britain from Mexico were admitted to Monklands Hospital in Airshire, Scotland during the weekend after they showed signs of flu. On Monday at around 18:30 the Scottish Deputy First Minister and Health announced that the two people had been tested positive for the H1N1 virus. She said that 7 of the 22 people who had come into contact with the patients had also developed symptoms. But she insisted Britain was doing everything it could. “The government is responding very quickly,” Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon told the media today.

Slow information flow

But information has been slow in coming from official sources. While the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Health Protection Agency websites had some information, much of it was brief. The National Health Service website gave no advice or information and not one press conference was organised throughout the entire weekend despite increasing concern raised in the media.

The Health Protection Agency [HPA] gave out general advice to travellers returning from affected areas saying they should contact their doctor if they showed signs of influenza. In addition they give general advice about hygiene.

The HPA said that it was important to cover the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and use a tissue wherever possible. Maintaining good basic hygiene such as washing hands frequently with soap and water to reduce the spread of the virus is also encouraged.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] website said that visitors to Mexico should be “aware of the outbreak of influenza”. The FCO advised travellers to “avoid large crowds, shaking hands, kissing people as a greeting, or using the subway” and said people should maintain “a distance of at least six feet from other persons”.

Other agencies had not updated information on their websites nor could many be contacted through their press office. The BAA media centre was shut and there was no response from other agency departments on Sunday.

On Sunday passengers at Gatwick airport reported that they had been asked to fill in a questionnaire upon their arrival from Mexico. But today many said they had not been stopped nor advised.

Even some doctors have said they have received little or no advice.

Media overkill

Front pages of many of Monday’s newspapers in Britain carried sensationalist headlines, and it was not just confined to the tabloids. Suggestions that up to a million could die and that up to nine million could contract the virus.

“Is Swine Flu already here?” the Mail asked, while the Daily Express shouted the headline, “Killer Pig Flu Fear in Britain”. Howard Kurtz one media analyst at the Washington Post says the media was over-egging the story. “The sheer volume of coverage creates the impression that the story is bigger than it really is,” he said on CNN’s Backstory.

“There is no great competing news story at present” he said, thus leaving the door wide open for such sensationalist reporting. The 24 hour news cycle was particularly to blame, Kurtz said, since the story was often repeated over and over again.
“In this business we have the ability to spread fear whether we mean it or not,” he said.

Conflicting advice

While there has been general advice pertaining to general hygiene and the use of a handkerchief of tissue, there is conflicting advice on whether masks are effective. Britain’s health minister questioned the effectiveness of the use of masks while a CNN reporter stationed in Mexico said that part of his kit included N95 masks which he said “seem to be the best to stop the virus entering our lungs”.

There has been little or no information about the use or distribution of Tamiflu and other anti viral drugs in the UK, though the government says it has enough treatment for half the population of Britain according to Health Secretary Alan Johnson.

Sir Liam Donaldson, Britain’s chief medical officer, said today that it could not be ruled out that a pandemic could hit the country and the World Health Organisation raised its level of threat to phase 4, though it stops short of referring to the spread as being a global pandemic.

Threat uncertain

In Mexico where more than 100 have died many streets are empty. A sell out football match was played in an empty stadium. Public buildings have been closed and some fear that the public transport system could be next.

If a pandemic were to occur, scenes like these may be repeated elsewhere

The number of countries so far affected is increasing, but so far no deaths have been reported. The number is changing almost hourly but by late Monday night there were 75 confirmed cases worldwide. There are confirmed cases in the US, Canada, Spain and the UK. Meanwhile there are several suspected cases in France, Israel and New Zealand.

One health and safety expert in New Zealand told tvnewswatch that the risk of a pandemic was worrying.

Speaking on the phone from Auckland, Dave Feickert said, “It sounds like a very serious pandemic and they (the authorities) are going to have to get on to it very quickly. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has acted quickly, too.”

Although Feickert has worked in preventive methods with other types of flu, such as Avian flu, he stressed that the nature of the recent outbreak had still to be determined.

“I was doing some work on how to alter farming methods so that chicken flu could be prevented from passing to pigs and then leaping the species barrier to people,” he said, “However, the epidemiologists and flu scientists are not certain what this new strain is exactly.”

As for New Zealand, he said that the country was very well prepared. “We are very well organised for this kind of thing because New Zealand is a small open country, heavily dependent on its agricultural trade and incoming tourists,” he said.

Nonetheless he was still concerned. “I’m going to be travelling soon and I always think about the risks of contracting something when flying because of the recirculation of air,” Feickert said.

Stocks affected by pandemic threat

The risks posed by air travel have already prompted some authorities to implement new procedures. In Japan and Chile, thermo-graphic cameras have been installed to monitor the body temperature of incoming passengers.

The perceived global threat is already affecting stock markets. Mexican stocks were down 4% and their currency fell 3%. But it was stocks relating to travel and tourism that were particularly hard hit. The situation wasn’t helped by comments from EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou who said, "Personally, I'd try to avoid non-essential travel to the areas which are reported to be in the center (of the crisis)."

Airline stocks Lufthansa and British Airways fell 9.25% and 7.75% respectively and travel agent Thomas Cook dropped 4.42%.

There was some positive news though. Pharmaceutical stocks soared in the wake of the bad news spreading around the globe. Makers of Tamiflu and Relenza both saw their stocks rise. Roche was up 3.5%, Glaxosmithkline rose 6.11% and Astrazeneca lifted 3.01%

Saturday, April 25, 2009

WHO warns of swine flu pandemic

The World Health Organisation has described outbreaks of swine flu in Mexico and the US as a “Public Health Emergency” [WHO]. The virus has so far killed 69 people in Mexico and more than 1,200 have been infected. The virus believed to be a strain of H1N1 has also spread to California and Texas. Latest reports suggest 7 people in California have been infected and an unspecified number in Texas. A variant of H1N1 was responsible for the Spanish flu pandemic that killed some 50 million to 100 million people worldwide from 1918 to 1919.

In a press conference on Saturday authorities in the US say that up to 200 pupils had been absent from school following their recent return from Mexico. Some had reported slight flu-like symptoms and early signs suggest that eight of nine specimens tested show possible swine fever. More comprehensive tests by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta are expected on Sunday.

None of the 200 children had required hospital treatment and many had fully recovered, Dr Thomas Frieden told reporters, but the school could remain closed out of "an abundance of caution".

In the UK the Health Protection Agency has said it is monitoring the situation carefully [BBC]. Travellers to affected areas are advised to consult doctor immediately if they show signs of flu-like symptoms, the HPA has said. There are suggestions that the virus has the ability of passing from person to person which significantly raises the threat of a global pandemic. However, no-one outside Mexico has yet died or been seriously ill.

And there were worrying signs tonight after it was reported that an air steward returning from Mexico had developed flu-like symptoms. The unnamed man had been travelling on flight BA 242 which landed at Heathrow and was taken to Northwick Park hospital in Harrow, north London. A spokesman for the hospital said the man had been placed in isolation and was responding well to treatment. Spokesman Jonathan Street refused to say what treatment the man was being offered though it is known that patients with human swine influenza H1N1 respond well to antiviral drugs such as oseltamavir (Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (Relenza®).

[BBC / Sky News / CNN / wikipedia]

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Britain releases terror suspects

One of the raids which took place on 9th April

Twelve terror suspects arrested earlier this month have all been released without charge. The news barely made headlines due to saturation coverage given over to the Budget. That was perhaps enough bad news for one day. But the release of the terror suspects, who were described at the time as being part of a major threat to Britain, is unsettling. There are suggestions that although evidence exists, it is connected to surveillance which would not be admissible in British courts.

The news broke at mid morning on Wednesday, but despite the importance of the story both Sky News and the BBC switched to Budget coverage.

But there was still strong debate on the BBC World Service. Eleven of the suspects are Pakistani nationals and are now in UK Border Agency custody, facing possible deportation. Earlier today the Prime Minister said, "We are seeking to remove these individuals on grounds of national security.”

"The government's highest priority is to protect public safety. Where a foreign national poses a threat to the country, we will seek to exclude or deport them where appropriate," Gordon Brown added.

Lawyers are however fighting attempts to deport the men who they say are innocent of any crime. The Pakistan High Commission has also called for the men to be allowed to remain in the UK and continue their studies.

Only one man will be allowed to remain since he is a British citizen [Channel Four News / CNN].

Meanwhile Britain’s security threat remains ‘severe’.

"Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic"

Alistair Darling announced his budget in parliament today [Wednesday] but it has drawn a poor reception from opposition parties and commentators. One e-mailer to Sky News described it as merely “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”.

It is a recession that has brought the worst debts in over 50 years and unemployment rates that continue to rise to record levels.

Opposition leader David Cameron said that the government had brought decades of debt. “The last Labour government left the dead unburied, this Labour government leaves the debts unpaid,” he said.

“What is the point of another 14 months of a government of the Living Dead,” he lambasted.

Similar views were expressed by other members of parliament with Liberal Democratic Party leader Nick Clegg accusing the government of being “out of ideas and running out of steam”.

Cigarettes & Alcohol

Many pub goers will be steaming after Darling’s announcement to increase the tax on alcohol by 2%. The decision has angered the British Beer & Publicans’ Association [BBPA] and the Campaign for Real Ale which has lobbied hard to ease pressure on Britain’s pubs, which are now closing at a rate of 39 per week.

There is little solace for smokers who will see cigarettes rise by 2%. And motorists will be fuming after the Chancellor announced petrol would rise by two pence per litre in September and a further penny per litre every April for the next few years.

Tax on beer will hit every drinker in every pub and taxes on fuel will hit every motorist driving to work, Cameron said.

The BBPA said, “Today’s Budget signs the death warrant for thousands of Britain’s pubs and for tens of thousands of British jobs.”

Meanwhile motoring organisations have criticised the fuel tax rises. RAC motoring strategist Adrian Tink said, "Today's announcement is another brutal blow for motorists who have already witnessed a decade of non-stop increases and price rises.”

“It's time for the Government to stop treating motorists' pockets as a bottomless pit of money and recognise their right to drive at a fair, affordable price,” he added.
Car scrappage

There was scepticism over the government’s car scappage scheme which is aimed at reducing the amount of the more polluting cars on Britain’s roads. It is also hoped the scheme will help boost the car industry. From next month, until March 2010, motorists will be offered a £2,000 discount on new cars if they trade in cars older than 10 years. But the cars to be scrapped must have passed an MoT and there has been criticism that the scheme is too bureaucratic.

While the government is putting £1,000 into the scheme it is looking to manufacturers for a matching contribution. It has prompted some to say the scheme may prove to be uneconomic, given that the motor industry will also have to pay for the disposal of the old vehicles.

But Paul Everitt, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders was broadly optimistic about the government plan.

“This is good news for consumers and will get people back into showrooms, kick-starting demand in the market,” Everitt said.

“The scheme recognises the economic value of the motor industry and we are determined to make it a success. There is clearly a great deal to do and we look forward to discussing the finer detail of the proposal with government in the coming days.”


The Chancellor announced he would raise income tax for those earning more than £150,000 per year to 50% as from April 2010. But while this may bring in vast sums of money, some believed it may scare some high earners out of the country.


It was the state of the economy which drew most interest. Chancellor Alistair Darling forecast the economy would shrink 3.5% in 2009, 2.5% worse than expected. He said growth was not expected to start until at least 2010 when it would be at 1.25% and 3.5% from 2011.

The figures have already been described as “fantasy” by acting leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Vince Cable. He said the predictions were “Wildly optimistic and completely unreal.”

Even the International Monetary Fund predicts the British economy is likely to see a 4.1% contraction this year and projects further shrinkage next year.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also said the figures “look optimistic” and warned against such long term predictions. Richard Lambert, the CBI Director-General, said “By pushing out the horizon for balancing the books as far as 2018 the Government is running too much of a risk.”

There were gasps of astonishment when Darling stated public borrowing was set to reach £175 billion by the end of 2009, amounting to 12% of GDP. The total debt would grow over the coming years he said, though the amounts borrowed would fall year on year. He announced borrowings of £173 billion in 2010, £140 billion in 2011, £118 billion in 2012 and £97 billion by 2013. This amounts to a total of £703 billion.

The City was shocked by the mounting debt. City commentator David Buik said many were “blown away by the gargantuan size of the national debt”.

Opposition leader David Cameron accused the government of “Running out of money, running out of moral authority and running out of time.”

But one leading trade union has supported the government’s efforts in tackling the economic crisis head on. Unite's joint general secretary, Derek Simpson said, “Alistair Darling had to deliver the toughest budget in decades but he has positioned Labour as the party for jobs and social justice while exposing the Tories for being the party of cuts and inequality.”


In an effort to tackle the rising unemployment, the Chancellor said the government would offer support to the long-term unemployed under 25s who would be offered a job or training. He announced that an additional £1.7 billion would be made available to the Job Centre network.


Alistair Darling announced a scheme to guarantee mortgage backed securities to boost lending. Stamp duty holiday for homes would rise to £175,000 and be extended to end of year. In addition he said an extra £80 million would be made available for shared equity mortgage schemes.

But opposition leader David Cameron was not impressed by the chancellor’s proposals. “Home buy direct has not made a single sale through the exisiting scheme,” Cameron said.

Savings and benefits

There were announcements to identify and close tax loopholes which he said could raise more than £1 billion. And he proposed a cut in public spending from 1.1% to 0.7% in 2011-2012. In a move to encourage saving Annual limits for tax-free ISAs would rise to more than £10,000 for over-50s this year and for everyone else next year, the chancellor said.


In a bid to cut Britain’s CO2 levels by 34% by 2020, Darling said an extra £1 billion would be spent to support low-carbon industries. Around £500 million would be made available for offshore wind projects over the next two years and £435 million would be spent in support of energy efficiency schemes for homes, firms and public buildings.
But Friends of the Earth's Executive Director Andy Atkins said the government had not done enough. "The Government has squandered a historic opportunity to kick-start a green industrial revolution, create tens of thousands of jobs and slash UK carbon dioxide emissions,” Atkins said

The budget is rarely good news, but this year painted an extremely grim picture. Britain is likely to be in debt to the tune of more than £700 billion within 5 years. Unemployment sees no sign of falling and many expect the number to rise to more than 3 million by the end of 2009.

The opposition parties have made great capital in tearing Labour’s proposals to pieces and called for a change in government. The Conservatives may well win the next election set for 2010, but they will inherit a country in the worst financial situation in living memory. It is an unenviable position they will find themselves [BBC / Sky News].

TV News gears up for historic budget

With a little under half an hour to go until Alistair Darling delivers his budget, TV news channels and news organisations have pulled out all the technological stops to deliver a barrage of information. Sky are deploying political bloggers to issue reports as Darling delivers his speech. The channel is also making use of Twitter as it puts out constant updates. Skype, the internet telephony service, text and email is being used to get views from the public around the UK, to provide what it hopes to be a rich flow of information. The BBC have followed a more traditional path with political commentators providing comment in the studio as well as bringing live broadcasts from the City and around the country. Meanwhile Sky News are not only rooted outside parliament but also flying above bringing aerial pictures from the Skycopter. Even No 10 is a Twitter with its feed and providing online coverage. It may all prove to be information overload for some. But most will nonetheless be listening carefully to see what the Chancellor says.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ahmadinejad profile raised by protests

A walkout by British and EU delegates and protests by some wearing clown wigs at a racism conference has served to increase the voice of Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he called the holocaust a myth and labelled Israel a racist state.

Several other delegates also joined British representatives as they walked from the conference hall in Geneva as the Iranian president launched his attack on the Jewish state. Delegates from some 30 countries took to their feet and France has condemned his comments calling it a “hate speech”. Israel meanwhile had refused to even participate in the conference [BBC / Sky News / CNN].

Some have questioned the purpose of the conference. “I think having Ahmadinejad speak was a mistake,” Crystal Fleming, a researcher in sociology at Harvard said. Speaking on France 24 she said the conference “served no purpose”.

Some television viewers have said the West is hypocritical in boycotting the speech saying that they are ignoring the right to freedom of expression. However, Fleming said that “constructive dialogue and free speech were difficult to balance.”

Schmuel Ravel, from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Ahmadinejad’s comments “were to be expected”. He also questioned the usefulness of such a conference saying that a similar conference in 2001 in South Africa was also turned into an airing of hatred towards Israel.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, speaking today said anti-Semitism persists called on the world not to forget the holocaust. Talking at commemorations during holocaust remembrance day, he also criticised the comments made by Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian leader was unrepentant however. He said that Zionism personified racism and that Israel was guilty of genocide while the West sat by.

But there was no idle sitting by as Ahmadinejad launched into his speech. Two French students wearing colourful clown wigs shouted at him, but were ejected by security guards. Immediately following this incident dozens of delegates arose from their seats and walked from the conference hall.

While UN Secretary General criticised Ahmadinejad’s speech saying it aimed to “accuse, divide and incite”, Press TV reported him as also being critical of those who boycotted the conference. Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the US and New Zealand all stayed away from the five-day conference, citing fears of a possible anti-Israeli atmosphere. "Some nations who by rights should be helping us to forge a path to a better future are not here," Ban Ki-Moon was reported as saying. "I deeply regret that some have chosen to stand aside. I hope they will not do so for long," he added.

Friday, April 17, 2009

G20 officer may face manslaughter charges

A police officer has been interviewed under caution after a post-mortem showed a protester he allegedly assaulted subsequently died from an abdominal haemorrhage. An earlier post-mortem showed Ian Tomlinson had died of a heart attack shortly after being struck by an unnamed officer as he tried to make his way home during the G20 protests. But Dr Nat Cary, who conducted the second post-mortem, rejected the findings and said there had been internal bleeding.

Ian Tomlinson was not taking part in the protests of April 1st and merely trying to get home after a day of working as a newspaper seller outside Monument station.

There have been accusations that police may have been ordered to use excessive force during the G20 protests. But former commander specialist operations at Scotland Yard Roy Ramm insisted that no orders would have been given to use violence. “Every police officer is responsible for his or her actions,” he told Sky News.

Although he welcomed an investigation he said the police had a difficult job to do as they faced “80 or 90 different groups” with differing agendas. Policing such protests “was almost impossible.”

Ian Tomlinson's stepson has called for answers. “First we were told there was no contact. Then there was a heart attack. Now we’re told he died of internal bleeding following an assault,” Paul King said, “We want the truth” [Guardian / BBC / Sky News]. Tonight on Channel Four News former London mayor Ken Livingstone said the case raised many worries. "It gets murkier by the minute," he said.

Ian Tomlinson’s death has already raised concerns as to policing methods employed during the G20 protests. The possibility that a Metropolitan Police officer might be charged with manslaughter will heighten those concerns. It has already emerged that the Independent Police Complaints Commission has received more than 145 complaints [BBC]. At least 70 are connected to assault. The Metropolitan Police may well be facing further charges.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Concerns rise over new data laws

British Internet and mobile phone users are under greater scrutiny after new laws were implemented last week. Under legislation passed by the European Parliament, Internet providers are obliged to store private data including details of web and email traffic as well as Internet phone calls for 12 months. The Data Retention Directive which was passed in 2006, but came into effect on April 6th, also requires mobile phone companies to keep records of where and when phone calls were made [BBC].
State may log phonecalls & email
The content of emails and phone calls will not be recorded, but the details of the communications, such as who was in touch with whom, when and for how long, will be stored. The EU legislation allows countries to choose a retention period of between six and 24 months. ISPs will be forced to retain data on what communications were made from which Internet protocol (IP) address or phone number, what the destination of that communication was, and its duration. In the case of mobile phone calls, the data to be retained will also include information on which cell within a network a call was made from. This will give authorities an indication of the user's location at the time of the call. Reports suggest that addresses of specific web pages do not need to be stored, only the dates and times of a user connecting to the Internet and disconnecting. Although some have described this as a serious erosion of human rights, it is unclear how useful such information would be to authorities. Many Internet users are permanently connected to the web via broadband connections. As such data would be limited [Open Rights Group].
Scheme 'unworkable'
Some small ISPs have said the act may prove unworkable, expensive and give little if any useful information. states on its website that Section 10(1) means that “we do not have to start logging data until we given a notice in writing. We have not been given such a notice.” The statement adds that even if required to comply the legislation was “full of holes.”

Even if, but not stated in the directive, IP addresses of accessed web pages were stored, it would be a mine field of data. And for several reasons it may not be specific to any one individual. A person connected to broadband may share that connection with up to 50 others in what is called a contention ratio. Additionally, wireless users may be susceptible to others piggybacking their Internet access.

Retention of data [Wikipedia] may however not apply to all ISPs since it first requires an order from the Secretary of State. Some ISPs say have yet to be contacted, which begs the question as to how useful this [legislation is to combating terrorism, its supposed and stated purpose.
It may also prove to be problematic especially for small businesses such as Internet cafes which would have to log more data [francisdavey].

Advertisers raise privacy concerns
This week there were fresh concerns raised over the use of Phorm which aims to monitor Internet users’ activity in order to target them with individually tailored advertising.
Ironically it is the European Commission which is raising the biggest concerns and suggested Britain is failing to protect its citizens from secret surveillance on the Internet. Legal action is being brought over the use of the controversial behavioural advertising services which were tested on BT's Internet customers without their consent [The Times / The Independent].
At least one website has already rejected the use of the advertising system. Online retailer Amazon has sent a request to Webwise, Phorm’s marketing name, expressing their wish to opt-out of the scheme [BBC].

However they are the only company to have made any public statement despite request by the Open Rights Group to others not to use the service. Microsoft, Google/Youtube, Facebook, AOL/Bebo, Yahoo, Amazon and Ebay have all been urged to opt-out of Phorm by the human rights group.

Second G20 assault spurs MetPol inquiry

The Independents Police Complaints Commission [IPCC] are to investigate an alleged assault on a young female by a police officer at G20 protests in London. The incident has prompted inquiries into police procedures as well as the behaviour of some officers.

Footage shows assault

Video footage has emerged which shows the officer striking the protester about the face before hitting her on the leg with his baton [You Tube]. During the incident the protester is heard to shout obscenities at the police apparently in anger at another demonstrator who was pushed by other officers [BBC / Sky News / This is London].

Second investigation by IPCC

The incident is the second such accusation of police brutality. The IPCC are already investigating an assault on Ian Tomlinson a newspaper seller who was pushed to the ground by a police officer as he walked through the city on 1st April. Tomlinson later died from a heart attack.

The following day many protesters had gathered in the city some expressing anger at the death of Ian Tomlinson. Many were contained by cordons of police in an procedure known as kettling. The controversial crowd control method has been criticised as being inhumane.

Police methods criticised

Speaking on Sky News recently, former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddock described the procedure as a “tried and tested method” of crowd control. However some believe kettling only serves to antagonise a potentially volatile gathering of protesters. There are also issues of human rights with some pointing out the problems arising after several hours without food, water or toilet facilities. The containment method also appears to be counter to Article 5 of the Human Rights Act which sets out the right not to be deprived of liberty except in five well-defined exceptions. The exceptions concern detention to effect a lawful arrest or compliance with a court order, detention of a child who is unsupervised or of a person in breach of immigration rules, or "the lawful detention of persons for the prevention of the spreading of infectious diseases, of persons of unsound mind, alcoholics or drug addicts or vagrants" [Guardian].

Containment tactics were first used over a long period of time on 1 May 2001 when an anti-capitalist protest at Oxford Circus was corralled by the police for seven hours in bad weather and with no access to toilet facilities.

On 1st April some groups of protesters were contained for more than seven hours. And it wasn’t just supposed violent or unruly protesters who were kettled in. One peaceful protester complained to Sky News that she had been prevented from leaving despite explaining she needed to return home to pick up her child from school. Even members of the press found themselves unable to escape. Journalists not holding a UK press card found themselves in the same predicament as the demonstrators. “My colleagues from China couldn’t get out,” one journalist told tvnewswatch. “I managed to get out by showing my press card but they only had Chinese press cards” Ma, who works for a news agency, said.

Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton & Wallington, writing in the Times said that even British journalists were not allowed to leave despite offering legitimate credentials and contact information [The Times].

Eventually people were released but only after complying to “police requests” for name, address and a submission to being photographed. Amongst protesters the tactic is widely believed to dissuade people from attending future demonstrations and effectively stifle the right to democratic protest [Guardian].

Officers suspended as police launch review

Both officers involved in the two IPCC investigations have been suspended and now the Metropolitan Police has said it is to review its kettling policy. “A number of complaints have been raised in relation to the tactic of containment" Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said today. He said that he has asked Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary to review policing tactics [BBC]. It remains to be seen what the findings might be given that the House of Lords have previously rejected claims to compensation by demonstrators kettled in during the 2001 protests. The Lords ruled that the police had behaved lawfully on that occasion.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Media coverage of Thai riots draws criticism

Protests in Thailand have fizzled out and with it the media coverage. British broadcasters BBC and Sky News which covered the protest by red shirted demonstrators extensively over the past week, gave only scant coverage to the story today. But high tensions remain in the country and there are strong divisions developing amongst the population.

The blogosphere is alive with comments and those in support of the current Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, have been particularly active. Many have left comments on news websites and blogs criticising the media. Impartiality is of particular concern.

Some berated the media for “not reporting the truth.” One insisted that it was not protesters who were killed but instead that “Two annoyed and angried [sic] villagers by destructive rioters' action (who) were shot dead by the red-shirt rioters.” Another writing under the name of Milan says, “PM Abhisit did not even use any violence even when he's almost been killed by the red shirt mob who broke into the Interior Ministry compound, vandalised his car, and beating his security officials. You red shirt mob, if you were in the US, you would probably be history by now. Two people who lost their lives were those who were shot by the red mob during the clash between the residents and this red shirt mob in Nang Lerng market. There they destroyed the shops, carts, and shot the mosque's windows.”

Patriotism was also in much evidence. “I love my country, I love my King, I love my people” said one who left a comment on this blog. “Thaksin has corrupted Thai people for long long time. He cheated Thai people. He tried to sell my country,” he adds.

It is a sentiment repeated by dozens of others. Many posted their comments anonymously but one writing under the name of Paul Cooper said the former prime minister Thaksin “raped Thailand dry once and now he wants to do it again.” Writing on the Sky News website he adds, “The majority of Thais follow the Yellow shirt ideals, it is wrong to suggest Thaksin is popular amongst the poor.”

In a report broadcast on CNN, ITN’s John Ray described the protesters as “outnumbered and outgunned” and that Thaksin Shinawatra remained “popular”. But it is difficult to gauge the true support he may have.

Both the pro-Royalty yellow shirts and the pro-Thaksin red shirts have been vocal in their demonstrations over the last few months. Last year the yellow shirted protesters shut down international flights into the country after they occupied the main airport. Those demonstrations also brought international headlines but the protests ended peacefully. The recent red shirt demonstrations have also brought international press attention, but outside the country there is little understanding as to the dynamics of the situation or the complicated politics of this Asian state.
The protests have left much damage in their wake. At least 120 were injured in the sometimes violent protests and two people have died. There has also been widespread damage to property including a fire which damaged part of the Interior Ministry [CNN]. It remains unclear what will happen over the coming months. But there are some deep wounds that need repairing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

At least two dead in Thai riots

After days of protests by so called red shirts in Bangkok, the army has moved in to shift them from the streets.
At least two people have been killed in the violence but the circumstances surrounding their deaths is as yet unclear. One report suggested that the two died after clashes between angy villagers and the red shirted protesters. reports that at least two people were killed and nine injured during a clash between the red shirted anti-government supporters and vendors at a market in the capital Monday. Bangkok Medical Department chief Phetpong Kamchornkijkarn told reporters that the dead were identified as Pom Pholphanbua, 50, and Yupha Wisetphanit, 19. The incident happened when protestors linked to ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra clashed with the vendors who were unhappy with their protest that had paralysed the capital since Wednesday. Following the incident, hundreds of residents at the Ratchathewi intersection came out to the street with sticks, knives and poles to confront the anti-government supporters who had battled soldiers on the streets of Bangkok throughout the day which resulted in 77 people, including 23 soldiers, to be injured.
Earlier today troops opened fire on anti-government protesters. Most shots were discharged into the air but many rounds have been fired directly into the crowds after buses were used to drive towards army lines. Some buses were set alight with demonstrators creating barricades in many parts of the city. In response to the gunfire, demonstrators have hurled rocks and petrol bombs. But there have been no reported injuries amongst the security forces. More than 100 protestors have been injured according to reports [Sky News / CNN].

The Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that order had been restored and he would not tolerate anything other than peaceful protests. “They must not riot and intimidate people,” he told the BBC.

Meanwhile the deposed former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he was hoping to return to Thailand. “I’m watching closely to find the right time to return,” he told the BBC. But while he said he supported the protesters he said he condemned the violence.

Several governments have warned travellers to avoid travelling to the country. Tourists have conveyed their stories via Twitter, blogs and emails to organisations. Some have described the situation as surreal while others have spoken of how their travels had been disrupted. Natalie Groves, from Surrey in the UK, told the BBC that her travels near to Bangkok had been severely disrupted. Roads blocked with burning buses had forced her party to take many diversions. Britons have been warned by the UK government to reconsider their plans. “We advise against all but essential travel to Bangkok. British nationals should also review travel plans to other parts of Thailand. British nationals already in Bangkok and other cities affected by the violence are advised to stay indoors and to monitor the media and this travel advice,” the Foreign & Commonwealth Office said on its website.

Earlier in the week many demonstrators had stormed buildings where a summit to discuss the global economic crisis was to be held. The occupation forced the cancellation of the event and created embarrassment for the Thai government who had to turn back delegates [BBC].

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Terror chief blunder forces early raids

Bob Quick, Britain’s head of counter terrorism, has resigned after a blunder which forced security services to bring forward an operation. Quick had been photographed entering Downing Street on Wednesday, but he had inadvertently held an important document in full view of the press. Although news organisations were contacted shortly afterwards the potential leak resulted in an anti-terrorism operation being launched earlier than expected [Sky News / BBC / CNN].

Twelve people were arrested in several areas in the north west of England late Wednesday afternoon. At least one person was arrested at Liverpool’s John Moores University in full sight of students studying in the library. Armed officers moved in swiftly to detain their suspect. There are conflicting reports as to how many people arrested at that location with students saying two men were taken away. Police say only one man had been arrested.

Across Liverpool several addresses were raided and a number of suspects were taken away by police. Five addresses in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester, including an internet cafe were also raided in the operation. North of Manchester two men are understood to have been arrested at a Homebase DIY store in Clitheroe, where dozens of police officers carried out a raid.
The operation is said to have been connected to an imminent threat to the UK according to reports, the veracity, of which cannot be established. However the document carried by now former counter terrorism chief Bob Quick reveals some important details of Operation Pathway. Part of the document reads: “This is a Security services led investigation into suspected AQ driven attack planning within the UK”. The AQ is believed to refer to al-Qaeda. The document also mentions that there were 11 suspects at 7 addresses under investigation. Three addresses are identified as being in the Greater Manchester area while three others were in the Merseyside, or Liverpool, area. The other address was identified as being in Lancashire. All but one of the suspects are stated as being Pakistani nationals living within the UK on student visas. One is a British born national. The nationality of the twelfth person arrested in the subsequent raids remains unknown [Sky News / BBC].

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

IPCC to investigate G20 protest death

The Metropolitan Police will be once again attempting to defend their actions and an apparent tissue of lies after footage released tonight showed police officers pushing a man to the floor who later died of a heart attack. Ian Tomlinson had been returning from work as a newspaper vendor outside Monument station on the day of the G20 protests when he was violently pushed to the floor. Protesters at the scene attended to the man and he walked away dazed. He collapsed moments later and died of a heart attack despite a swift response from police paramedics.

Various reports emerged from the police that evening. In the Gold control room there were suggestions the man had been a vagrant or homeless, and that he had been drinking. It was also widely circulated that Mr Tomlinson had taken part in the protests.

His death was breaking news at around 10 pm on Wednesday night on both Sky News and the BBC. Both channels quoted the Metropolitan Police saying that a man had died after “collapsing in the street”. Police later said they had at no point made contact with the man. Though some of the officers may not have known the man pushed to the ground was to be the man who died.

Pictures published later however brought forward many witnesses after they recognised the man in the picture and have reported the earlier incident to the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission].

Yesterday the Guardian ran a story in which they suggested that Ian Tomlinson had been assaulted. Photographer Anna Branthwaite told the paper, "I can remember seeing Ian Tomlinson. He was rushed from behind by a riot officer with a helmet and shield two or three minutes before he collapsed." Branthwaite, an experienced press photographer, has made a statement to the IPCC as have several others. A female protester, who did not want to be named but has given her testimony to the IPCC, said she saw a man she later recognised as Tomlinson being pushed aggressively from behind by officers. "I saw a man violently propelled forward, as though he'd been flung by the arm, and fall forward on his head. He hit the top front area of his head on the pavement. I noticed his fall particularly because it struck me as a horrifically forceful push by a policeman and an especially hard fall; it made me wince."

On BBC Radio 4’ PM programme Tomlinson’s son Paul King called for witnesses to come forward so the family could learn the truth behind his fathers death. He said the family was “devastated” by Ian’s death and described him as a “lovely father”. The Guardian article and radio report has now brought further eyewitness reports and video evidence which not only refute police claims but may bring possible charges if the IPCC find that the apparent assault on Mr Tomlinson resulted in his subsequent heart attack [Sky News / BBC / Guardian]

Children face attempted murder charges

1. Nine-year-old boy found injured on Auburn Road
2. Critically injured 11-year-old found
3. Two boys, aged 10 and 11, arrested

Two boys will be charged of attempted murder and robbery following the assault of two others in Edlington, in south Yorkshire, England, on Saturday. One boy remains in hospital following a horrific attack which left him with serious head injuries. He was found stripped to just a T-shirt after his friend staggered away from the scene, covered in blood, and sought help.

Police were earlier given extra time to interview the 10 year old and 11 year old brothers arrested soon after the attack [BBC]. Their victims a nine year old and an eleven year old were apparently robbed of their mobile phones and trainers in what has been described as a vicious attack. People who found the nine year old child wandering along a road described his injuries as horrific saying he’d been “cut from head to toe”. Local residents told the BBC they believed the two victims had been hit with a brick, slashed with a knife and burned with cigarettes in the Brick Ponds area of Edlington on Saturday.

Lisa Meehan said "I felt sick to my stomach, You couldn't see his face, he was cut from head to toe with a gash across his head. They had slashed his arms and face and he had no trainers or socks on. His face was mashed."

The severity of the attack prompted the Prime Minister to make a statement in which he said it was “clearly a shocking incident” [Sky News].

Italy quake draws little media coverage

Although the story is the top headline, coverage is scant

Unlike previous earthquake tragedies, the Italian earthquake has failed to draw the usual saturation coverage from news channels. Although the news broke in the early hours of Monday, pictures were slow to role in. In Britain several domestic stories also took up much airtime which also pushed the Italian earthquake back on the news agenda. For much of the day CNN continued with regularly scheduled programming with Living Golf and World Sport remaining in place. Other news channels also brought scant coverage of events happening in Italy. Although al-Jazeera, Press TV, France 24 and Russia Today all covered the story, none gave it more than a few minutes airtime.

The 6.3 earthquake struck at 03:32 local time [01:32 GMT] at a depth of only 10 km. Striking in a rural area it has hampered rescue efforts. The tremors also hit towns and villages with extremely old buildings and hardly any remained unscathed. Initially more than 50,000 people were said to have been made homeless in the town of L’Aquila, which means eagle in Italian. But by Tuesday morning the town’s mayor revised this figure down to 10,000. However this still accounts for at least 1 in 7 of the population.

The death toll rose however. First reports indicated a relatively low death toll of some 50 individuals. As night fell the figure had risen to 91. Official figures released on Tuesday morning put the death toll at 179. But many people remain trapped in rubble and rescue efforts are continuing despite there being relatively little coverage of events on the ground.

The effort to dig injured people from the rubble of the ancient town has been difficult. Several aftershocks as large as 4.9 on the Richter scale have shaken the region making the search extremely dangerous. The weather has so far remained clear, but with temperatures falling to as low as 3 degrees Celsius at night, it is imperative to reach those trapped as quickly as possible. Day time temperatures are a little more tolerable reaching about 16 degrees, but Wednesday may bring rain which will add to the problems faced in the rescue effort.

At least 1,500 people have been injured and rescuers have pulled some 100 people alive from the rubble. Authorities say at least 34 people are still missing, but it is not clear whether all the rural areas have been searched. The BBC, which have given the most extensive news coverage, visited the deserted village of Onna where hardly a single property has remained unscathed. The thousands made homeless by this disaster face an uncertain future. New homes will almost certainly have to be built. Even those still standing remain structurally unsafe. As to who will pay for the reconstruction, is also an unknown quantity [BBC / Sky News / CNN].

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Jade Goody's final farewell

Celebrity Jade Goody, who tragically died of cancer last month at the age of 27, was laid to rest today. Her funeral brought out thousands of fans who took to the streets as the hearse carrying her body made its way from Bermondsey in South London to Essex, where she was born and lived most of her celebrity life. The event was very much a media circus, but it very much reflected the life Jade herself lived for the last few years.

Hundreds of photographers had gathered at John the Baptist Church in Buckhurst Hill, to the north east of London, where her funeral service was held. Church staff occasionally brought the assembled media cups of tea and coffee and one photographer organised a collection for the church in thanks. In the streets hundreds of fans had already arrived by the early hours. By the time the funeral cortege arrived there were more than a thousand. It was a bizarre scene as the well wishers bought ice-cream from a vendor, who claimed he “wasn’t proud of selling it” at a funeral.

There were huge cheers as the procession arrived with news helicopters and planes circling above. Flowers were thrown from adoring fans and as publicist Max Clifford arrived someone handed him a single daffodil. Her husband Jack Tweed helped carry the coffin into the church as close members of the family followed, many weeping. As Jade’s widowed husband read a poem during the service the crowds of fans watched on huge television screens that had been specially erected for the occasion.

After the service the coffin was carried to the hearse which made its final journey to North Weald where Jade was to be buried at a more private ceremony. As the hearse drove away, so the crowds too drifted from the streets outside the church, from what was perhaps one of the most surreal funerals ever seen in Britain.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Obama "optimistic" at G20 result

President Barack Obama: "confident and optimistic"

Appearing before journalists following the G20 Summit U.S. President Barack Obama said the meeting was “productive" and “historic”. There was no real sense of excitement as hundreds of journalists waited for the leader to give his thoughts on the outcome. Many were tired after a long day and it was, after all a repeat of what Gordon Brown had already said.

However, Obama was nonetheless the star of the show, exuding a sense of charisma not seen in other G20 leaders. Stepping onto the stage some 40 minutes later than expected, Obama said he was generally confident and optimistic in what had been achieved.

"By any measure the London Summit was historic,” he told the news conference, “not only because of the size and scope of the challenges we face, but also because of the timeliness and magnitude of our response."

"The challenge is clear, and the global economy is retracting," he declared, but said the world was now at the "turning point of our economic and global recovery."

"Today the world's leader have responded with a set of unprecedented and coordinated actions," Obama told reporters.

There was, he said a strong consensus in rejecting protectionism. "History tells us that turning inward can help turn a downturn into a depression" Obama said, declaring that the agreements reached signalled support for open markets. "Today we have learnt the lessons of history and we are committed to growth and job creation," Obama said

He said that there had been agreements on facilitating "bold action to help developing countries" and injecting huge sums into the IMF to help struggling economies. "In an age where our economies are more closely linked than ever before, the whole world is touched by this devastating downturn," Obama said.

The president then made a pledge to help those most vulnerable in the world. Obama saying he would seek authority from the U.S congress to enable 448 million dollars to be diverted into helping Africa's poor as well as those in Latin America. But he insisted this was not charity. It was, he said, an effort to help what he called "future markets" that would one day drive economic growth.

Turning to the importance if implementing a better regulatory system, Barack Obama said, "We must put an end to bust and bubble economic policies," adding that risk taking which had been so harmful to the economy must end. He and the G20 partners had also agreed to greater transparency and said new regulations would be applied to hedge funds and tax havens.

The President did concede that bringing together 20 nations and making a deal was not easy. “Each country has its own non-negotiable issues,” he said, and added that more work may yet need to be done.

"This is not a panacea but it is a critical step," he declared, "But we may have to take additional steps until we get it right." It was hard to bridge differences, Obama said, and not everything was solved. He therefore welcomed another meeting scheduled for late 2009. He said that the summit had however achieved a great deal, partly he said due to the hard work that Gordon Brown had put in to organise the meeting.

"America is a critical actor and leader on the world stage," he said boastfully, but, he added, "We may not always have the best answer" to the problems the world faces. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

While in general there was strong consensus, there did appear to be some conflicts of policy. In an apparent comment at Gordon Brown comments at attempting to stop the rampant bonus culture seen in Britain, Obama said, "We don't want the state dictating salaries." But he added that there must be more accountability.

There are no guarantees in life or economics, Obama said but insisted the steps in the communiqué were necessary.

In his final summing up Barack Obama was thoughtful and philosophical. He even joked with reporters during the Q&A that followed. But he also spoke as a true statesman, with confidence and with optimism.

"Ultimately the challenges of the 21st century cannot be met without collective action. Agreement will almost never be easy, and result will not always come easy. But I am committed to respecting different points of view and to forging a consensus instead of dictating our terms. That's how we made progress in the last few days and that's how we will advance the deals in the months and years to come."

"In a world that's more and more interconnected we all have responsibilities to work together to solve common challenges. And although it will take time, I am confident that we will rebuild global prosperity if we act with a common sense of purpose, persistence and the optimism that the moment demands."

Gordon Brown's 'new world order'

Brown addresses journalists after the G20 Summit

In a press conference to assembled journalists at the G20 Summit, Prime Minister Gordon Brown laid out the agreements that had been made by the G20 leaders. It was in effect long on rhetoric and short on detail. But he made clear that the proposals set forward were an attempt to rewrite the rules of capitalism.

"This is the day that the world came together to fight back against the global recession not with words but with a plan for global recovery," Gordon Brown said in is opening remarks.
He was clear that such an economic crisis that the world is currently facing must not be allowed to happen again and set out the key points that had been agreed upon. In a move that would have pleased French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel he announced measures to deal with what he called the shadow banking system.

"We have agreed there will be an end to tax havens that do not transfer information on request," Brown said, and insisted that "The banking secrecy of the past must come to an end."

In his much repeated phrase he said that the global problems required global solutions, but said that the G20 leaders were committed to solving the crisis. "Today we have reached a new consensus, to deal with the problems we face, [and] do what is necessary to restore growth and jobs," Brown said after the four hour summit.

In order to achieve this goal, Prime Minister Brown announced six pledges which had been agreed upon.

The reformation of the global banking system was high on the agenda and the Prime Minister laid out several points which were to be addressed. He said that international accounting standards would have to be set and that there would need to be tighter regulation with regards hedge funds and tax havens. "We have agreed there will be an end to tax havens that do not transfer information on request," Brown said. He said there had also been agreement to impose tough standards and sanctions for those who did not comply. This was all part of a plan to encourage corporate responsibility throughout the globe. "We will implement new rules on pay and bonuses at a global level that reflect actual performance with no more rewards for failure," Brown added.

There were also proposals to spend huge amounts of money. "We are in the middle of an unprecedented fiscal expansion which will by the end of next year amount to an injection of five trillion dollars into our economies," Brown said. It was necessary, he insisted and said it would save and create millions of jobs.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown went on to announce further injections of cash. "We have also agreed today additional resources of one trillion dollars that are available to the world economy through the International Monetary Fund and other institutions," he said.

These funds would act as an 'insurance policy' for struggling economies, according to John Lipsky, the First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. The money would be made available in what the IMF calls a flexible credit line.

Talking to media on Thursday, Lipsky said the money would be used as part of "a new and innovative facility designed to provide crisis prevention support to countries that have good, strong policies, and economic fundamentals as well as a good track record of implementing solid economic and financial policies, but who could potentially be threatened by external developments by international financial market turmoil."

One such beneficiary might be Mexico who have already made representations. John Lipsky said he had already spoken with Mexico's finance minister, Agustin Carstens, and said he was seeking approval from the IMF's executive board to push through the proposal.

"Mexico has strong fundamentals," Lipsky told reporters, "they have a solid policy framework and a good track record of implementing policies." But he said, while Mexican authorities have indicated they don't intend to use the funds, it should be seen as "a kind of insurance policy; to armourplate the situation."

Several nations have already committed vast sums to the initiative. Lipsky said that Japan had agreed to provide 100 billion dollars, while the European Union has promised some 100 billion. In addition he said the U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner had spoken of providing an additional 500 billion.

As well as injecting money into emerging economies, some money may even filter into struggling Western economies.

Gordon Brown did not hint as to whether Britain would be joining the queue for a hand out. Instead he continued in laying out the role the IMF would play in helping to pull the world out of recession. He said the injection plan would increase global confidence and said that the International Monetary Fund would be called upon "to monitor our progress ... and to report on whatever further actions maybe necessary.”

It was important too that emerging markets and developing countries were given a greater voice and greater representation, Brown said and he promised that such nations would not be forgotten.

As Brown wrapped up his 20 minute address he spoke of his hope for the future. “I think a new world order is emerging and with it a new and progressive era of international cooperation.” It remains to be seen what cooperation materializes in the coming months.

G20 - "long, boring & an anti-climax"

Journalists at the start of a long day at the G20 Summit

It was a long day at the ExCel Centre. For journalists and photographers it was longer. The gathering of politicians perhaps had an easier time, even if the weight of the global economic crisis was sitting firmly on their shoulders.

The G20 leaders arrived in London on Wednesday as thousands protested against capitalism, bankers and the government. But few if any saw nor heard the calls for change. US President Barack Obama was one of the first to arrive, touching down in Airforce One at London’s Stansted airport amid high security. News channels were particularly focused on his arrival while other leaders’ arrivals were virtually ignored.

Obama spent Wednesday meeting with Gordon Brown giving a press conference where he asserted his commitment to solving the economic crisis and affirming that the special relationship between the US and Britain was as strong as ever. On leaving he went on to meet with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev to talk about issues of security ahead of the NATO summit. Meanwhile media speculation grew over whether French President Nicholas Sarkozy would even attend after it was revealed that he was apparently unhappy that certain issues were not being discussed at the summit. He and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a joint press conference later in the day which at least clarified the two leaders were committed to the process.

To watch the entire conference one would have had to tune into Euronews since both the BBC and Sky, who had waited patiently to bring the event to viewers, cut away almost immediately as they had no translation. The Euronews translator was rather whimsical, especially in his description of a French newspaper journalist’s question. “Actually there are so many questions in his question it is hard to know how they [Sarkozy and Merkel] are going to answer,” the translator said. Sarkozy, responded eventually with apparent sarcasm to the journalist’s diatribe.

And there was a certain amount of ridicule in the way Sarkozy was treated by the media. His arrival at Downing Street for the so-called working dinner, a supposed 10 minutes late, was criticised by both Sky and the BBC as being a snub.

The details of what was discussed as the munched through smoked salmon, lamb and Bakewell tart and custard, was not revealed. But there was widespread discussion in the papers as to the seating arrangement. President Hu Jiantao was sat next to Gordon Brown looking somewhat bewildered. He’d have perhaps been better placed next to Australian PM Kevin Rudd where he could have at least chatted about the weather. Rudd of course speaks relatively fluent Mandarin. Sarkozy was not seen in the pictures and it was joked on the Sky News paper review that he may have been served in the kitchen because of his late arrival. As for the wine, French, Italian, Spanish Californian? Nobody knows.

On Thursday the cavalcades of security carried the G20 leaders to London’s Docklands for their final get together. There were some 200 protesters, but they had been kept well back from the ExCel Centre in a so called “designated protest area”. The last time that phrase was used it was in connection with the Beijing Olympics. Though the media did not equate the corralled nature of the protests to the stifled way protests are handled in less democratic countries. Protestors also gathered at the Bank of England, but the numbers were far smaller than seen on the Wednesday. A minutes silence was observed for a male protester in his 50s who died in the early evening of Wednesday. The circumstances of his death are unknown but there was anger expressed towards police with some saying that they had failed to attend to the man quickly enough.

Back at the ExCel Centre journalists, photographers and television crews gathered in a large hall awaiting communiqués arising from the G20 Summit discussions. Representatives from government and institutions paraded around the room giving interviews. Amongst them was British Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling and a rather bored Sir Bob Geldoff.
The G20 leaders meanwhile posed for the family photograph. That in itself proved troublesome with some of the contingent going AWOL. First the Canadian PM Stephen Harper disappeared, apparently on a call of nature. After his return, it was the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who was absent. But on the third attempt they managed to assemble for the picture.
After four hours of discussion the press waited for the release of the final communiqué and addresses from Brown, Sarkozy and Obama. All leaders were late in giving their speeches and their was a further souring of protocol as Sarkozy and Brown gave their speeches at the same time. No sooner than President Sarkozy had said bonjour, than PM Gordon Brown sauntered onto the stage in another part of the centre to deliver his speech. As such their was little coverage of the Frenchman’s delivery as Sky, the BBC and CNN all cut to the British PM.
In his 1,500 word address Brown said there had been a strong consensus from the G20 members and that this was the fist step in solving the global economic crisis. In his dry and wordy speech Brown said an unprecedented era of international cooperation had begun. “I think a new world order is emerging and with it a new and progressive era of international cooperation,” Brown said.

Obama was far more inspiring with his delivery. Confident, optimistic and even witty he delivered his address like a true statesman. For the media, Obama stole the show. British media of course paid lip service to the speech made by Brown, but it was the US President and his glamorous wife that became the focus of attention these last few days.

As the last journalists packed up their laptops and left the ExCel Centre, many were too tired and weary to make any clear assessment of the day’s proceedings. Many had been focused on getting out their stories about what was said and by whom. “I thought it was a bit of an anti-climax,” one Chinese reporter told tvnewswatch, “What does it all mean at the end of the day?” It will take sometime to absorb what effects the G20 will have, and if the Summit’s proposals will solve the economic crisis. But that will be reported on another day.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Protests fail to rattle G20 leaders

It was billed as a potential riot in the making, but for the most part the protests against the G20 did not bring the chaos that had been much hyped in the media. The so called anti-capitalist protests brought some disruption to London’s financial centre yesterday but heavy policing kept violence to a minimum. However, what started out as a carnival ended in tragedy with several injuries and one protester dead.

Four effigies led separate processions to the financial heart of London at around midday. Amongst the crowds were protesters dressed as bankers, others as the devil and the grim reaper. A large effigy of a dead canary, representing Canary Wharf, was carried to the steps of the Bank of England as a band blasted out some music on trumpets and trombones. The voice of dissatisfaction with the government and the banking system was clear. Banners and placards spoke volumes. Amongst them were calls to “Eat the Bankers”, “Smash Capitalism” and a declaration claiming that “Capitalism Isn’t Working”.

As the numbers swelled to an estimated 4,000 people police began to create cordons, blocking several roads and trying to split off one part of the crowd from others. These became the focus fore anarchists and the more militant demonstrators who began to taunt the police. The inevitable clashes soon occurred an one police officer was struck on the head by one protester holding a large pole. Crowds eventually gathered outside a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland, the bank which has been the subject of much criticism following the departure of Sir Fred and his £700,000 a year pension.

It wasn’t long before windows were smashed and several protesters entered the building. As the half a dozen of so members of the crowd attacked the bank surrounding them were dozens of others recording the event with cameras. There were camera phones, compact digital cameras and video cameras held aloft all trying to capture the action. This wasn’t so much a riot than a piece of street theatre. The BBC’s Ben Brown broadcasting Live pictures from a nearby vantage point said that it seemed those perpetrating the attack were a small minority and that around a third seemed to be only interested in taking pictures which another third were merely gathering to watch the spectacle.

Indeed this is what the much talked about ‘riot had become. There was nor riot to speak of. Any attempt of revolution had dissolved into a few sporadic incidents filmed by a thousand cameras.

French Marxist theorist and Situationist once wrote that modern life had become an event that was merely observed rather than experienced. In his book Society of the Spectacle he claimed that life had become “an immense accumulation of spectacles” and that “everything that was directly lived” had “moved away into representation”. Nothing was more true than the scenes that could be seen unfolding in the streets of London yesterday. Direct action had been replaced by so-called ‘Blackberry revolutionaries’ who were spending much of their time Twittering and blogging. It was perhaps epitomised by the arrival of celebrity comedian Russell Brand who told a throng of photographers and news media that he had come to “see what was going on”. It was a far cry from the protests seen in 1984 when more than 2,000 anarchists descended on the financial heart of London to Stop the City or the so called Poll Tax Riot in the early 1990s.
Having made their point the majority of demonstrators drifted away from the city by late afternoon. But some remained, hemmed in by cordons of police. Many complained that they weren’t being allowed to leave. Tired and frustrated several hundred protestors remained outside the Bank of England as hundreds more police gathered around them.

There had throughout the day been several reports of injuries with both police and demonstrators being hospitalised. But at around 10 pm it emerged that one demonstrator had died. The circumstances where unclear, but it is reported that the man has collapsed and fallen unconscious in St Michael’s Alley, close to the Bank of England. Police paramedics, who say they were pelted with missiles while they treated the individual, placed him in the hands of Ambulance personnel who conveyed him to hospital. However the man was pronounced dead upon arrival.

A Climate Change camp outside Liverpool Street station was relatively peaceful throughout the day. But as darkness fell it became a gathering point for demonstrators who had left the city. There were tense stand-offs between protesters and police which continued until the early hours.

There had been intense media coverage throughout the day with almost constant live broadcasting from the city protests and the climate change camp. But there was minimal coverage of the anti-war coalition march which trailed through the streets from the US Embassy to London’s Trafalgar Square. There were speeches from former mining trade union leader Arthur Scargill, CND’s Bruce Kent and veteran politician Tony Benn. But there were no voices heard on television. During a morning interview Tony Benn had called on Sky News to air the views of protesters and speakers. But other than a sound bites from a few demonstrators on the ground, the only message conveyed was one of a large crowd determined to cause disruption.
Despite the protest and the damage to RBS, the effect on the markets was minimal. Although some city workers had ‘dressed down’ and others inconvenienced as they were unable to exit their building for a cigarette or a lunchtime sandwich, the markets actually rose and it was pretty much business as usual. CNN’s business correspondent said that the protestors had affected the smaller businesses who were “just trying to eek out a living”, the types of people whom they claimed to be representing. “This is a side show” Todd Benjamin said.

The sideshow has today moved to London’s Docklands. But the protest today is far smaller than that seen in London yesterday. Only around 200 protesters were present by lunchtime. “Well anarchists don’t wake up early do they?” one police officer told reporters. Many may stay at home given that the protest area is being kept more than half a kilometre away from where the G20 leaders are gathering to “save the world”.