Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Smog covers Beijing the day before National Day

Heavy smog descended on Beijing on Wednesday, the day before China is due to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Founding of the Peoples' Republic of China. The US Embassy's air monitoring station registered the air quality as hazardous and in Tiananmen Square Chairman Mao's portrait was virtually invisible through the haze.

Security was high throughout the city with armed members of Beijing's elite SWAT teams brandishing their QBZ-95 assault rifles. A Chairman Mao look alike posed for pictures as street vendors sold Chinese flags. Most Beijingers will be unable to wave them at tomorrow's parade however as only invited guests are allowed to attend. Instead most will watch the proceedings on television.

Although Xinhua, the state news agency, is reporting good weather for Thursday there are conflicting reports from other agencies suggesting heavy rain may dampen proceedings. It will all start at around 10 am Beijing time [04:00 GMT] with a flotilla or tanks, floats and marching soldiers taking part in a massive parade.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More Internet blocks ahead of National Day

With only two days until National Day and the start of a week long holiday in celebration of 60 years since the founding of the People's Republic of China, the security noose around Beijing has tightened further still. The physical presence is very obvious. There is a police officer on virtually every street corner in the centre of Beijing. Police and SWAT teams are stationed outside many subway stations armed with QBZ-95 assault rifles and holstered QSZ-92 automatic pistols. Some have even been sporting razor sharp bayonets on their rifles. At other key locations armoured personnel carriers belonging to China's elite Snow Wolf Commando Unit are parked up. Surrounding them are armed personnel wearing balaclavas. Quite what their remit is remains unclear, though regular police can be seen carrying out identity paper checks and spot checks on cars and lorries.

Beyond the show of force, there are less obvious restrictions and controls. Beijingers have been told to stay inside their homes on National Day if they live on the parade route. Hotels along or near the route have been fully booked, mostly by government officials. Others have had to shut. Bars and businesses have also been told to close their doors. On the day there will be a virtual lock-down of central Beijing where, unless one has the right paperwork, there will be no crossing of certain checkpoints.

Kite flying has been forbidden as is the releasing of balloons or even pigeons. It is not known what measures might be taken against any bird that might stray too close to the ceremony which is due to start at around 10 am Beijing time on Thursday, October 1.

More subtle but just as far reaching are tighter controls on the Internet. Since March one major service after another has been unavailable except through a proxy or VPN [Virtual Private Network] based outside China. Many of Google's services have fallen victim to the blocks with YouTube, Picasa Web, Blogger and even Google News services affected. But over the last month those restrictions have become much tighter. Freegate and Ultrasurf, programs that have enabled people to jump over the so-called Great Firewall have themselves been blocked.

A new 'emergency' version of Freegate became available this week, though for many trying to obtain a copy will prove difficult in itself. It appears that it is all an effort to hide any bad news in the lead up to National Day. Stabbings in central Beijing with left 2 dead and at least a dozen injured was not widely reported. And soon after an American living in Beijing posted pictures of last week's explosion at a restaurant on Twitpic, the site which had not previously been blocked, became unavailable.

On Monday this week the Internet was extremely slow in Beijing, despite a supposed 4Mb/s service. Links continually failed especially to foreign news services. While the Internet seemed relatively stable on Tuesday it appeared that yet another Google service had become a victim of Chinese government interference. Since the early hours of Tuesday Google Docs was unavailable with only the usual 'Error' message being displayed.

Twitter wasn't exactly alive with comments. After all Twitter itself is blocked unless using a proxy or one of a few gadgets that circumvent the firewall. Most comments came from Chinese Twitter users, well versed in jumping hoops around Internet censorship.

"The GFW [Great Firewall] is too tough" said one user. Others spoke of their frustration at not being able to access documents or even to work properly. While it appears Gmail and iGoogle are unaffected, there is continued uncertainty as to how reliant one can be on cloud computing in China. Using the Internet is frustrating at the best of times but if restrictions such as this continue, business will surely be affected, especially for western companies more familiar with Google and other similar services. There are work-arounds of course. Other online editing systems like Zoho offer similar services and are so far unaffected, but for how long. The blocks also appear to be sporadic with some saying they could access Google docs while for others all that was returned was an error page. 

In less than two weeks the celebrations will all be over. Maybe the restrictions will lift. But then again there are yet more 'special days' ahead. There is the Expo in Shanghai in 2010 and there will no doubt be more controversial anniversaries for the authorities to worry about. If using the Internet in China, one will probably be seeing this for a long time to come: "ERROR The requested URL could not be retrieved While trying to retrieve the URL: http:// www google com / search? The following error was encountered: Read Error The system returned: (104) Connection reset by peer An error condition occurred while reading data from the network. Please retry your request."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Google celebrates 11th birthday

Google marked its eleventh birthday on Sunday with a redesigned logo which displayed "Goog11e". However the search engine giant's actual birthday is somewhat in dispute. Last year, Google put up its 10th birthday logo on the 2nd September and, according to Wikipedia, Google was incorporated as a privately held company on the 4th September 1998. Google could also choose to celebrate on the 15th September, the date when founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin registered Google's domain name while they were still PhD students at Stanford University.

Google actually began as a research project as far back as January 1996 though it did not become publicly available until sometime later. Originally, the search engine used the Stanford University website with the domain The domain was registered on September 15, 1997, and the company was incorporated as Google Inc. on September 4 1998 at a friend's garage in Menlo Park, California.

The company has now become a household name and if often described as the world's favourite search engine. In China it still struggles however as it faces stiff competition from locally based Baidu as well as continued interference by government censors.

Google's name originated from the misspelling of the word 'googol', the name applied to a one followed by 100 zeros. The company has been busy changing its logos in recent weeks. A series of logos depicting UFOs had many on the Internet puzzling over Google's hidden message until all was revealed with one depicting Martian spaceships on what would have been the author H.G. Wells 143rd birthday. Wells is well known for his book the War of the Worlds.

Google often marks key events with logo changes, a click on which takes the Internet user to a Google search for the subject in question. Today they marked the birthday of Chinese philosopher Confucious. He would be 2,560 today. One of Confucious's well known quotations is, "What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others" (己所不欲,勿施於人). This is very much in line with Google's own unofficial company slogan of "Don't be evil". 

Friday, September 25, 2009

Restaurant blast rattles Beijing

An explosion at a Beijing restaurant has raised tensions in a city which has already seen stabbings and the beating by police of foreign journalists ahead of National Day. The blast struck the Xinjiang Kashgar Delicacy City restaurant at around 9 am on Friday completely destroying the building and causing damage to nearby shops. Police immediately sealed off the street in the Xinjiekou district which is situated in the north west of Beijing. Large plumes of black smoke could be seen following the blast and within minutes fire services were on the scene. 

Little information was published on the state news agency website. A single line on the Chinese version of Xinhua read, "Beijing Xinjiekou an explosion occurred near a restaurant. Witnesses said injuries were reported." A further report attributed to Xinhua on the China Daily website elaborated, saying three employees and a number of passers-by were injured.

Maggie Rauch, an American who lives nearby, posted a number of pictures taken at the scene to Twitpic. The Twitpic website, which enables Twitter users to post photographs, was blocked soon after by Chinese censors. Websites such as YouTube, blogger, Twitter, Facebook and Picasa web have been blocked in the last few months in an attempt to stifle the flow of information in China. However many people are finding ways to circumvent the so-called Great Firewall of China. Today a new version of Freegate, a program that enables Internet users bi-pass the blocks was released, though some users described Internet access as being slow through the portal.

Security has been extremely tight across Beijing ahead of the October 1 celebrations, which will mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples' Republic of China. Access to Tiananmen Square and surrounding areas has been shut off and police have fanned out across the capital to carry out security checks. Troops and masked gunmen belonging to the elite Snow Wolf Commando Unit have also taken up position around the capital at key buildings and intersections.

Police say the blast was caused bu gas cylinders. "According to the initial investigation, the explosion was an accident," a policewoman told Agence France Presse. Journalists trying to cover the incident were ushered away by police though some residents were briefly interviewed. Sun Jia, 43, said she was awakened by the explosion shortly before 9:00 am (01:00 GMT), and rushed from her home to see what had happened. "I looked and I saw that the building was all crumbled and there was some smoke. And I saw a young man with blood all over the side of his head and one side of his body. It looked like his ear had been badly injured," she told AFP. "All I heard was one loud boom," another resident told the news agency. 

Many were obviously shaken by the incident. "In all my years, I've never seen something so horrible," said a 40-year-old man who would only give his surname, Zhao. "I saw a body in the street and he wasn't moving." Zhao, who lives in an alley near the restaurant, said he rents three rooms to several people who worked at the restaurant and a branch not far away. "They're all good, hard-working people," he said, sitting outside his ramshackle house, which he shares with his boarders. "We've lived together for 10 years and we get along well. Clearly this was an accident."

Even if the explosion was an accident, the timing of the explosion, and the fact that the restaurant was run by members of China's Uighur minority, was not lost on residents in the area. One woman working at a nearby noodle shop referred to it as "a bad coincidence." Xinjiang, in the north-west of China has seen much unrest in recent months. Riots have left nearly 200 dead, according to official figures, and a series of syringe attacks have heightened tensions in the region.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China - sources: Xinhua / AFP / NYT / Shanghaiist
picture © Maggie Rauch

Monday, September 21, 2009

Stabbings & beatings ahead of National Day

As National Day approaches the security on Beijing's streets is becoming ever tighter. Security checks at subway stations have been in place for some time but over the last few weeks staff have been strictly enforcing bag checks. On station platforms bomb disposal containers are in evidence and police and security personnel can be seen guarding bridges and other key locations around town. That's just on a normal day. With the weekly rehearsals there comes a security operation usually only seen at G20 summits or Presidential visits.

Last Friday Armoured Personnel Carriers once again positioned themselves around the capital, though quite what their purpose is can only be guessed at. Around the vehicle stand armed police dressed from head to toe in black paramilitary uniforms and balaclavas brandishing automatic weapons. And around them hangs a tape reading: POLICE - LIMIT LINE. As if anybody would start clambering over their APC. But then perhaps they might. Dozens of passing locals seemed unperturbed by the military presence and brazenly took photos with cell-phone cameras, some even posing by the vehicle. 

In the popular shopping area of Wangfujing there were no APCs in evidence, but there were armed soldiers at the junction with Chang'an Ave. Further up the street police dog handlers seemed only to provoke more interest as dozens of local Chinese took photographs. Nearby police SWAT teams jumped from their black military style transit and positioned themselves on a corner, automatic weapons at the ready. At the other end of the street more armed SWAT teams and police carrying out identity checks on anyone considered 'suspicious'.

The nearer to Tiananmen Square, the tighter the security. The square itself was sealed off on Friday as more preparations were made. Fifty six pillars had already been erected representing the different ethnic groups of China. Video screens were being tested and giant lanterns were being hoisted. Meanwhile a helicopter belonging to state broadcaster CCTV flew round and round while police checked bags and ID papers of passers by. 

The high security is in part to prevent any potential terrorist attack. But it is also an attempt to keep other crime to a minimum. Migrant workers in particular have been checked to make sure their papers are in order. There is also the fear amongst Beijing authorities that syringe attacks, which have created major concern in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, may threaten the capital. On September 11th The Times reported that managers of websites had been ordered "to delete any discussion or mention of syringe stabbings in Beijing as soon as these are spotted". It wasn't clear whether any such incidents had taken place, but Beijing authorities are concerned enough to make sure rumours do not snowball out of control. One website manager, who declined to be identified for fear of retribution, told The Times that he had been given no indication of where or when such attacks might have taken place in Beijing. "We don't even know what is in the syringes. But I'm not worried. I'll just make sure I only go out in my car and don't walk in the streets," he said.

Possible syringe attacks weren't all that authorities were sweeping under the carpet. On Thursday night two security personnel were killed and up to 14 other people injured after a man apparently went on the attack with a knife. Only a few lines were mentioned by the state news agency Xinhua who said police had captured the assailant after the attacks on Dashilan street in Qianmen, a commercial area to the south of Tiananmen Square, which is popular with tourists. The suspect was named as Zhang Jianfei, 46, from Jilin province, and some reports suggested he had been drinking after losing his job. 

In another incident a French tourist was slashed with a knife on Saturday. The attack occurred just before noon near the south end of Tiananmen Square around three hours after the latest rehearsals had come to a close. "The attack was not serious, the woman was not hurt seriously and has already rejoined her tourist group," a French Embassy spokesman told Agence France-Presse. Xinhua news agency said the elderly French woman had been rushed to hospital after the attacker, identified as Dou Mingxiang, 41, from east China's Jiangxi province, slashed her. He was arrested on the spot by police. 

Beijing is generally regarded as a very safe city with few attacks on foreigners. But last year, amid similarly tightened security for the Olympics, a Chinese man stabbed to death an American tourist visiting a historic site and injured the man's wife and their guide.

The news of this weekend's stabbings did not make Chinese language newspapers and only a few English language state news websites mentioned the incidents. Though there is a strong desire to cover up bad news, not reporting it can also help to fuel the rumour mill.

Also not reported, in China at least, was the beating of three journalists from a Japanese news agency in their Beijing hotel room. On Friday, as rehearsals for the National Day parade begun, authorities burst into their room and assaulted the men, all employees of Kyodo News. According to the Japanese news agency, police arrived at 8 pm and a reporter and two cameramen were kicked and "hit in their heads to make them kneel down...". During the attack their equipment including two laptop computers were smashed. According to reports the news team had been filming the procession along Chang'an Ave from the balcony of the Beijing Hotel when the men burst into their room. China's Foreign Ministry had ordered news organisations not to take photos when the country conducted a rehearsal September 6, but the ministry has not issued such an order since then, according to Kyodo. 

Yasushi Kato, bureau chief of the Kyodo News Beijing office, told The Associated Press several men stormed into the hotel room after one of the journalists opened the door, but they did not identify themselves. Kato said a reporter and a cameraman were Japanese and the third was a Chinese assistant. Some foreign media were told not to film and photograph the parade. AP Television News carried a live feed of military convoys, but China's Foreign Ministry asked them to stop. Later a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she had not heard about the Kyodo case and said the ministry had not asked news agencies not to take photos of the parade. A woman at the information office of the Beijing Public Security Bureau said she had also not heard about the case. Meanwhile an employee at the front desk of the Beijing Hotel said the hotel had asked guests not to stand on the balconies to watch the rehearsal, but they could watch from inside their rooms. The AFP report was inaccessible on the Internet in China this morning. 

Beijing authorities are seemingly suspicious about foreign news media. tvnewswatch has learned that police have been told to report any foreign journalists carrying out interviews of locals to higher authorities. The memo has been passed around to all police stations across the capital. However it is unclear why they are so nervous about foreign reporters.

The rules of engagement are thus not very clear, either for foreign journalists or tourists. Even when it came to road closures on Friday, information was only posted in Chinese on several news websites. Information Boards in subways and pasted to lamp posts are only written in Chinese except for an occasional and rather unhelpful sign reading 'road closed, please use another way'.  Even before the stabbings restrictions were in place with regards knives. Notices in both Chinese and English prohibit the carrying of knives and other dangerous objects on buses and the subway. But now the sale of knives has been banned at some stores including hypermarkets such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour, after two separate knife attacks near Tiananmen Square last week, according to store officials and state media. A spokesman surnamed Wang for Wal-Mart in Beijing said police inspected the stores on Sunday and asked them to remove all knives from their shelves until further notice.

There's no refuge in the park either. Those wishing to engage in the popular pursuit of kite-flying had better go well outside of Beijing. Authorities have declared war on any flying objects, be they kites, balloons or even pigeons. Even rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes are being exterminated in and around Tiananmen Square, presumedly in case they mount an attack on Chinese leaders as they watch the parade on October 1st. 

But there will be no more rehearsals apparently. It was announced today [Monday], that next Saturday's intended rehearsal would be cancelled so as not to inconvenience the public further. A cynic might have different ideas. There were however some last minute rehearsals above Beijing as dozens of aircraft flew in formation over Tiananmen Square. Flying from the east H-6 bombers, jet fighters and army and navy helicopters flew in formation across the capital in an unannounced air display at around midday. In one downtown Beijing office dozens of staff dropped what they were doing and shot to the windows to watch the spectacle. While the West may scorn at some of the setbacks, the rather draconian rules, the excessive expenditure on flowers and decorations, many Beijingers do seem to be truly excited at the coming event, even if they only see it from their TV.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Sorry I'm late; we were invaded by bats!"

Everyone has probably had a few unwelcome visitors in the house. The common house fly is perhaps the most irritating while wasps and bees can be a little more concerning. Mice, cockroaches and other pests are perhaps a little rarer, but not pleasant to discover. But imagine waking up in your Beijing flat at 4 a.m in the morning to the sound of flapping. 

Being in a strange land, far from home is disorienting enough for some. But waking bleary-eyed to strange and unusual sounds can be extremely disconcerting. "What is that?" is of course the first thought as one pulls oneself from beneath the duvet. It can't be rain, can it? Or is it a moth? No. It was, as turning on the light revealed more clearly, a flying mammal. "It's a f***ing bat!" one exclaims. But how to deal with a bat flying around a small bedroom which is obviously as disoriented and confused as the person who has just woken to find they've been invaded.

While the wife pulls the duvet close to herself in apparent fear of being the next victim of Count Dracula, the sensible procedure of opening the window and retracting the mosquito net was quickly done. Seeking sanctuary in the relative safety of the lounge, information was obviously needed. A Google search for 'how to get rid of a bat' amazingly brought forth several results including one site appropriately entitled / get rid of bats. 

"If you have a bat in your house it's a good idea to get all of the family into one room, close the door, and then open every window and door in the rest of the house to allow the bat to escape on its own," the advice read. Well, one had already completed the first part. "Don't worry too much about the family part; they tend to do this themselves albeit with a lot of shrieking and commentary about the location of the bat," it continued. Well, that was correct. The wife was, as many women might be, quite frightened at this nocturnal intruder. "There's a bat," she exclaimed, as she rapidly exited the bedroom clutching the duvet tightly around her. "Aren't you scared?" she said.

There was of course the concern of being bitten! After all, bats, like other mammals, can potentially carry rabies. This is rare however, accounting for less than 0.05% according to some estimates. But the inconvenience of being bitten was best avoided. While the terror subsides, the wife falls into a deep sleep on the sofa. She manages to sleep almost anywhere. But now wide awake there is little to do but to have a shower and an early breakfast before eventually dozing off at around 7 am. 

On awaking less than an hour later it was time to check if our guest had departed. Tentatively entering the room I could see that despite offering a route of escape, our little friend had decided to remain. Still perched, if that's the right terminology, at the top of the curtains. More drastic action was obviously needed.

If one had been back home in England, there would have been several routes of inquiry. The RSPCA, animal rescue trusts or even seeking help from neighbours and friends. The "get rid of things" website suggested using a fishing net and thick leather gloves to capture and release the creature. Unfortunately, the idea that one might need leather gardening gloves or an array of fishing equipment while living in Beijing had not occurred to us. So, one called the community assistant, a kind of caretaker that helps residents in respect to any number of problems. Bat catching was probably not what he had in mind when applying for the job.

"Have you got any gloves?" he asked. Explaining we had nothing that could help, he said he would arrive soon. A young chap, probably about 18 or so, arrived equipped with a plastic bag and thick gloves and, after standing on a chair, he grasped the small animal before placing it in the bag and departing. However it wasn't very long before a rustle could be heard from inside the curtains. "Oh no, not another one." On explaining this situation, the young newly appointed bat catcher returns and on retrieving the second invader exclaims there was a third. Three bats! But how did they get in? Surely they didn't come through the air conditioner. The answer seemed to lie in a slat in the kitchen ceiling that had somehow come loose. Evidently bats nesting somewhere in the roof of the tower block had found their way to the kitchen by this route.

Excitement over, it was now time to go to work, if not a little late. Few people can claim to have been late because of flying mammals. In England more common excuses for being late are the failing public transport system, heavy traffic or even the weather. On arrival in the office in the heart of Beijing, one's late arrival was commented upon. "Sorry I'm late; we were invaded by bats last night!!"

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

West write off African debts, China make deals

The Central African Republic's president François Bozizé Yangouvonda wrapped up a week long visit to China recently and flew back after signing what China's state news agency called "agreements on economic and technological cooperation". The African nation is rarely talked about in western media but it is one of a growing number of African states doing business with China. President Bozizé must have felt particularly delighted as he returned home to find that not only had he made significant moves in strengthening economic, trade and technical cooperation with China, but that the the Paris Club of sovereign creditors had declared they had cancelled almost all of the $59.3 million debt owed by the Central African Republic. 

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, Switzerland, Britain and the United States took part in the debt deal which leaves the small country with a population of around 4 million with a virtually clean slate. But while it is the west who have bailed out the C.A.R. it is China who are reaping the rich resources from a country rich in gold, diamonds and more notably uranium. 

Uranium is of course not mentioned in any Chinese state media report. But it is clear discussions were held over how China might secure this precious metal. Not only will it provide China with a rich power source, but it will also help in bolstering its nuclear capability. 

 It was President Bozizé's first state visit to China since he won the presidential election in May 2005. But the visit passed by completely unnoticed in the western press. In China, even visitors to Beijing's Tiananmen Square last weekend were puzzled by the unusual flag hung alongside the five stars flag, or the flag of the People's Republic of China. The multicoloured flag might well have been taken as being connected with   the upcoming National Day celebrations. The flag consisting of four horizontal stripes or blue, white, green and yellow intersected by a central vertical red bar and a star striking out at one corner, fluttered in the wind. But few realized its significance.

China has being building strong ties with many African nations. Drawing copper resources from Zambia, iron ore from the Gabon to oil from Angola. There is barely a state across the continent not supplying China's development programme. In 1995 the imports and exports between the two continents barely hit $2 billion. By 2005 that figure had grown to around $20 billion in both imports and exports. And it is rising year on year. 

It is clear tat China sees Africa as important. Chinese President Hu Jintao speaking during Bozizé's visit, said, "China attaches great importance to the friendship with Central Africa, and we are willing to work with Central Africa to create a new era for our bilateral ties." But as to the real substance of cooperation, the details are rarely explained. Xinhua, China's state news organisation, often seen as just a propaganda mouthpiece for the government, is often vague and ambiguous. 

Anyone familiar with the tern Newspeak, as described in the novel 1984 by George Orwell, will see similarities with the way stories are often reported by Xinhua. The reports talk of "personnel and cultural exchanges and cooperation" and efforts to "build platforms for expanding cultural, educational, sanitary, media and non-governmental exchanges, so as to deepen mutual understanding and develop friendship." 

 The rhetoric spoken by politicians is often empty and in China the same is true. "China and Central Africa are friends as well as friendly and cooperative partners," Chinese president Hu said. It has always been the Chinese government's persistent policy to develop long-term, stable, friendly and cooperative relations with Central Africa on the basis of sincerity, equality and mutual benefit, Xinhua also quoted him as saying.

There were few if any comments from Bozizé himself. Xinhua merely stating the Central African president "fully agrees with Hu's notion." With $59.3 million in debt reduced to $3.7 million by the West and with lucrative deals made with China, President Bozizé was probably very happy to agree.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

UK: Liquid bomb plotters jailed

Three men who had plotted to blow up liquid bombs on flights travelling from Britain to North America have been jailed for life, with minimum terms of up to 40 years. The so called ringleader Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, was given a 40 year prison sentence, while plot "quartermaster" Assad Sarwar, 29, must serve at least 36 years, and Tanvir Hussain, 28, at least 32 years.

The judge at Woolwich Crown Court said their aim was a terrorist outrage to "stand alongside" the 9/11 attacks in the US. Mr Justice Henriques called the plot "the most grave and wicked conspiracy ever proven within this jurisdiction". Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the sentences "reflected the severity of this horrendous plot to kill and maim thousands of people". He also praised the police and security services who he described as a "national asset."

"I'm satisfied that there is every likelihood that this plot would have succeeded but for the intervention of the police and the security service," Johnson said. "Had this conspiracy not been interrupted, a massive loss of life would almost certainly have resulted - and if the detonation was over land, the number of victims would have been even greater still."

The men showed no emotion when sentences were read out, though Ahmed Ali shook his head and appeared angry and frustrated at earlier sentencing remarks from the judge. "With this plot you sought the attention of the world and now you have it," Mr Justice Henriques had told him. "You have embraced Islamic extremism and it is that burning extremism that has motivated you throughout this conspiracy and is likely to drive you again."

The men's defence had been that they were planning a political stunt, including small explosions intended only to frighten people at airports. These 'political demonstrations'  would be backed up by a documentary aimed at changing opinion on Western foreign policy. 

Ahmed Ali, Sarwar and Hussain, were found guilty of conspiracy to murder using explosives on aircraft. They were also convicted of a more general conspiracy to murder offence. A fourth man, Umar Islam, 31, convicted of the more general conspiracy to murder charge, was also given a life sentence and will serve a minimum of 22 years in prison. 

Meanwhile the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, is seeking a retrial of three other men for conspiracy to murder, after the jury failed to reach a verdict on this charge against them. A hearing on 5th October will decide whether Ibrahim Savant, 28, Arafat Khan, 28, and Waheed Zaman, 25, will face another trial.

The uncovering of the liquid bomb plot in August 2006 caused chaos in the global aviation industry and prompted continuing restrictions to the amount of liquids passengers can take on to aircraft. This had meant "massive expenditure" and "huge inconvenience for the travelling public" as a direct result of the plot, the judge said during his summing up. "Tons of liquids are confiscated from the public on a daily basis at airports," he said.

Passengers travelling by airlines may often be restricted to bottles of liquid no larger than 100 ml. The restrictions have also stretched to other key locations such as tourist sites and concert venues. In Beijing all liquids, including bottled water, were confiscated from concert goers at a recent performance in July by Stefanie Sun at the Workers' Stadium despite sweltering temperatures. They could however but drinks inside though there was only Coca Cola available in large paper cups at 10 yuan each. No reason for the confiscation was given other than a stated general security risk. 

Similar restrictions also currently apply at the Forbidden City in Beijing. According to the Beijing Youth Daily published on 28th August visitors would be banned from entering the tourist attraction with bottles containing water, alcohol or any other liquids. The ban "is intended to insure visitors' safety and protect the 600-year-old building complex from any possible danger" the paper said. The restrictions come as Beijing tightens up on security as celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China approach.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Osama sends message to Obama

A new audio tape has surfaced on an Islamist website in which al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden sends a message to the US President Barack Obama and the American people. In the ten minute recording the voice, which is purported to be that of America's most wanted terrorist, says the US president is "powerless" to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The authenticity of the audio recording could not be independently verified. 

The message was released by As-Sahab, Al-Qaeda's media wing, and distributed to several Jihadist websites which regularly carry propaganda for the terrorist organization. Part of the taped message condemns the United States support of Israel. "We have already shown, and we have stated many times in more than two decades since the start of our disagreement with you, which is caused by your support for the Israelis who are occupying our land of Palestine, and which led us to carry out the events on September 11, 2001," the voice says. "The time has come for you to liberate yourselves from fear and the ideological terrorism of neo-conservatives and the Israeli lobby," the voice in the tape says.

In several parts of the tape, the al-Qaeda leader refers to recent events. He refers to Obama's speech in Cairo, which took place on June 4, and about former President Jimmy Carter's visit to Gaza in June. Bin Laden also condemned the Israeli invasion of Gaza, earlier this year, saying that American bombs were used by Israel during the conflict.

The terror leader said the United States should work towards Iraq's release instead of "fighting for its liberation." If not, President Obama could suffer "the same fate as former President Kennedy and his brother," bin Laden said. Both President Kennedy and his brother Robert were assassinated. The al-Qaeda number one also criticized Obama's decision to keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, saying the Bush-era leadership at the Pentagon had remained in place. Obama's promise to cooperate with the Republicans was in reality a "cover" and a "big trick" to let Gates remain on his current post, Osama claimed. "You have only changed the faces in the White House," Osama bin Laden said.

The message which comes just two days after the US marked the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America, carries much f the same rhetoric seen in previous recordings. "We carry our weapons, fighting evil from East to West," Bin Laden said, and insisted that "Patience is our weapon." and that al-Qaeda would "Never compromise." In his last known message, in June, he said that U.S. President Barack Obama had planted the seeds of "revenge and hatred" towards the US in the Muslim world.Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding in the mountainous terrain on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Freegate fails as China's censorship tightens

Reports across China are beginning to indicate the authorities are finding ways to block the use of Freegate, a popular and widely used programme that enables Internet users breach the so-called Great Firewall of China. Twitter has perhaps not quite been a buzz with comments, the micro-blogging site is blocked in China after all, but over the past few days there have been several comments left by those frustrated at not being able to scale the Great Firewall. Twitter is still able to jump the restrictions with certain APIs, and bloggers can post to blogger by email for example. But those wishing to update their Facebook page, check out YouTube videos or even access Picasa web photo albums, have to get through China's Internet blocks.

China's Golden Shield Project has become more advanced over the years, helped in part by several Western companies like Juniper systems and Cisco.Now proxy sites are often shut down very quickly. Since June have been blocked along with Others while opening the main page fail to bring a return result, Zend2 has been one case in point. There are dozens of others though, but the list of ones that work is shortening by the day. 

Hence the inception of Freegate, started by the Falun Gong but part funded by the US government, it is promoted as a tool to keep free speech alive. It has also become a lifeline for expats as they use the site to view online video and give updates to their friends through blogs and social networking sites.

But this week attempts to access banned or blocked sites became all the more difficult. Tweets began appearing as early as Saturday 5th September with some users describing it as being slow. Chinese users of Twitter were far fore technical with suggestions in changing computer settings, well beyond most people's capability.

Freegate is a programme for the not so tech-savvy, the illiterati of the web. Its apparent failure was to many almost the end of the world. "I'm heartbroken bcuz my sweetie freegate doesn't work 4 me," [sic] missringo wrote on her Twitter feed Tuesday. Her feelings compounded the following day when she tweeted, "what's wrong w/z freegate there days?Chinese internet life can't live without it."

 "I also have problems," infanring, a Chinese Twitter user wrote on Wednesday this week. Drewjet, writing in Chinese, posted a comment saying he had noticed Freegate was unstable, and sometimes slow. "Sometimes it cannot find the server," drewjet wrote. There have been other tweets suggesting the use of other programmes like Puff or Tor. Puff, though available, is deemed by some to be a honey pot [a trap set to detect, deflect, or in some manner counteract attempts at unauthorized use of information systems] used by either the US or Chinese governments. There are also issues with some anti-virus programmes treating it as a trojan or key-logger.

On Friday some users pointed out that even the latest edition of Freegate did not work. But the frustration is turning to anger amongst some. "WTF! [what the fuck] couldn't use Freegate," Twitter user sophia_oy exclaimed today, 11th September. But it seems few outside the Great Firewall are aware of the building frustration amongst expats and China's so-called netizens. Much of the media spotlight will be focused on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks which occurred 8 years ago today.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Trade wars and Internet blocks

This week Peter Mandelson, or Lord Mandelson as he is often now referred, spoke out against China's failure to play by the rules of international trade. His comments will come at an uncomfortable time for China as it prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the forming of the People's Republic of China. The country is making efforts to stifle any bad news, shutting down websites, blocking Internet access and silencing lawyers and dissidents. But silencing Britain's business secretary was beyond China's reach.

Lord Mandelson spoke out during his five day visit to Beijing where he is attempting to boost UK-China trade links. "We have got a lot out of China in fulfilment of WTO obligations. In the main they have followed them to the letter. But in other cases, I don't think they are keeping to the spirit of their commitments," Mandelson said. "While tariffs have been reduced or have disappeared, more invisible barriers and restrictions and regulatory inhibitions to trade and investment have grown up."

It wasn't made obvious what the business secretary meant by 'invisible barriers and restrictions', but it appears clear to some degree that China's Internet restrictions are affecting western companies, both in the way they carry out business and in the way they promote themselves.

It is a myth to say that Internet restrictions do not affect business. The 20th century benchmarks for international trade were how many containers or freighters were sent across the water from one nation to another. In the 21st century, it is as much more about data, viewers and users. The few big sites that have been blocked and restricted in China are powering thousands of small businesses and driving the future of online commerce. China has become a dead-zone for any business planning on building an international online presence. Twitter for example, though a haven for the likes of Stephen Fry and other celebrities, is also a powerful business tool.

Sites like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter aren't just used for social networking ; increasingly, they are being used by small and medium enterprises as platforms for marketing and communication, and even multinationals have woken up to the potential of these platforms. Some of them have begun to use Twitter, for instance, as a frontline interface with customers to redress their grievances. In a recent poll on a popular media website in China, 84 per cent of those who responded said China's Internet blocks made their work more difficult; 90 per cent said it made their personal life and entertainment access more difficult. And strikingly, about 60 per cent said they would consider leaving China because of the Internet blocks.

Admittedly the sample size was small, a little over 150, and it may have been weighted in favour of heavy Internet users. The respondents primarily came as a result of a Twitter feed put out by the media site Danwei themselves, and a technology blogger in China known as Flypig. Given that both Twitter and Danwei's site is blocked within China, the fact anyone replied to the poll at all is an achievement in itself. It also illustrates how difficult it is to promote an idea or message under such restrictions. A business idea would have failed just as badly.

One businessman working in China as a safety consultant told tvnewswatch that videos posted on his website showing the achievements the company had made in mine safety could not be seen in China since they were hosted by YouTube, which is blocked. The argument might be to use a Chinese equivalent site which isn't blocked. However many westerners are both unfamiliar with those sites or of the language in which they are displayed.

While some of these blocks may be temporary, the uncertainty over when the services will return and if they'll be blocked again is not acceptable to business. YouTube has been blocked since March 2009, and Facebook & Twitter have been down for over two months. In the 24-7 world of online commerce, that level of service interruption is total. YouTube may come back someday, but no IT or Marketing department will ever again be able to rely on the platform in China. The same goes for Twitter and Facebook. Even Google has been restricted and blocked to the point where it is not a 100% reliable business tool within China. For business owners the bad news is already in the market and they are responsible for finding a way around it.

The frustration is heightened by the realisation that traditional methods of using technology to get around the Great Firewall of China are being hampered. Virtual private networks, or VPNs, are increasingly being blocked and proxies are also unreliable. While some enable access to sites blocked by the firewall, sites requiring user identification is impossible due to security issues.

This hurts China at several levels, and reflects poorly upon it. With its crude censorship of the Internet, China is in effect choking the flow of ideas. By drawing up its moat and cutting itself off from the online world, China is showing itself up to be a paranoid power that lacks the self-confidence to deal with the free flow of information -- to the point where it is beginning to neutralise, slowly but steadily, its other advantages as a place that's open for business.

Mandelson, a former EU trade commissioner, said that while Europe had gained though its trading with China, the benefits were dwindling. "I have no doubt we have gained. But I have previously estimated that these barriers were costing us [Europe] something in the region of €20bn [£17.5bn] worth of trade – and I think if anything that is growing," he said in Beijing this week. He said that while it was in everyone's interests for China to continue growing, "We need a constant dialogue with the government to exert quite legitimate pressure; when we are open to China's goods and services, it must become progressively and more speedily open to ours."

There are of course other more fundamental issues at stake beyond the use of the Internet. EU's recently imposed tariffs on steel pipe imports and the United States' consideration of restrictions on Chinese-made tyres concern China greatly. But China too has suggested moves that would hit the west extremely hard. Recently China talked of restricting the export of rare earths that are widely used in developing technologies and the electronics industry. This has concerned many who believe that China is setting out to monopolise certain manufacturing sectors.

There also remains unsolved issues of so-called bribery allegations connected with the arrest of several Rio Tinto staff. The issues are relatively complex but some have accused China of not playing on a level playing field when it comes to domestic and foreign negotiations.

As Mandelson continued his tour of the Chinese capital he met with Premier Wen Jiabao. But while Xinhua, the state run news agency, reported on the business secretary's visit, there was no mention at all of his concerns. Running under the headline "Premier says China's market economy status good for boosting trade with EU", Xinhua quoted Wen as saying the "vitality of the China-Britain all-round strategic partnership" was important. Mandelson's comments were edited down to one line; "We need to develop a clearer and consistent channel for communicating with China, especially on trade and climate change issues."

There is, it appears no free market, no free press, no free flow of information and no level playing field when it comes to doing business in or with China. Anyone who says otherwise is probably hoodwinking themselves.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Google teams up with Hasbro for online Monopoly

Google has teamed up with one of the world's biggest board game manufacturers to create an online version of Monopoly. The Internet search has joined forces with Hasbro to produce the game which will use Google Maps. In Monopoly City Streets, which launches at 18:00 GMT today [Wednesday September 9], players will be able to buy any of the millions of streets around the world. They can then build football stadiums and skyscrapers as well as the more traditional houses and hotels.

Chance cards will give players the ability to build prisons and rubbish dumps on their rivals' streets. Starting with $3 million, each player could in theory be competing with millions of other online players in what may become the biggest online game ever. The free to join game will see far more inflated prices than in the traditional game. London's Downing Street may be bought for $231,000, while Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, where the White House stands, will cost $2 million. Rent is paid automatically each day, from $50,000 for a house to $100 million for a skyscraper.

In a statement Hasbro said, 'It's a chance to escape the harsh reality of recession and enjoy building up an empire.' The official website states that "on the 9th September, a world of property empire building on an unimaginable scale will be launched!" The goal is simple, the site says; "Play to beat your friends and the world to become the richest property magnate in existence." The traditional board game is well known to last many hours before an outright winner is determined. Given the size of the project, the online version could last months, or even years. However the game will, according to the official blog, only run until 31st January 2010.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

UK: Liquid bomb plotters guilty

Three men have been found guilty of orchestrating a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airlines. After 50 hours of deliberation a British court convicted Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 28, and Assad Sarwar, 29, of conspiring to activate bombs disguised as drinks. The convictions followed two trials and an operation which cost more than £35 million. It has also strained UK-US relations. The three were amongst several arrested in August 2006 and the plot revelations led to increased security at international airports. Many of the restrictions applied such as the carrying on board of liquids still remain in place. The threat of liquid based explosives has also resulted in restrictions in other key locations. In China a ban on all liquids from being taken into the Forbidden City was imposed ahead of the National Day celebrations.

The convictions were a vindication of Britain's intelligence efforts, former security minister Tony McNulty claimed. Should the men have been able to carry out their plan then hundreds, possibly thousands, could have been killed, security experts have said. It has emerged that the MI5 surveillance on the terror cell was being followed at the very top of American politics. But there was no proper coordination between British and American counter-terrorist organisations. One key al-Qaeda operative, Rashid Rauf, was believed to be part of the plot and was under surveillance. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2006 following a meeting at the White House chaired by President George Bush. The president and his advisors were said to be so concerned about the threat to America they encouraged the Pakistanis to arrest Rauf. This has however been denied by former advisors to President Bush.

Nonetheless, Rashid Rauf's arrest angered the British authorities running the surveillance operation of the other suspects, as it meant they had to bring forward the operation. The Guardian newspaper said former US homeland security chief Michael Chertoff confirmed that the US administration had been on such a heightened state of alert about the plot that it turned back a plane in mid-air two days before the arrests of the liquid bomb plotters in the Britain. Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorism Command had what they say was "good coverage" of the suspects on that date and were waiting for more definite evidence before acting.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Tanvir Hussain and Assad Sarwa were found guilty in an earlier trial of conspiracy to murder involving liquid bombs, but that jury could not decide whether their plans extended to detonating the devices on planes. This latest trial has now concluded that such a terror plot did exist. During their investigation police found equipment that could have been used to make bombs in King's Wood, High Wycombe, and in Forest Road, east London. Assad Sarwar, the so-called quartermaster, bought a suitcase to store bomb parts in the woods near to his home. There, he hid bottles of hydrogen peroxide, commonly used as hair bleach. This chemical was the key ingredient for the home-made bombs. 

At the bomb factory in east London, the ringleaders experimented with the design of their devices which were to be disguised as soft drink bottles. The small bombs would then be smuggled in hand luggage through airport security. According to the prosecution the drinks would have been removed from the bottles using a hypodermic syringe and replaced with an explosive mixture. The bombs would later have been detonated using adapted batteries and disposable cameras. Although precise details were shown to jurors, they have not been made publicly available. At the time of his arrest, ringleader Ahmed Ali had identified seven US and Canada-bound flights to blow up over the Atlantic within a two-and-a-half-hour period.

Tony Blair, Prime Minister at the time of the arrests, said the convictions were a tribute to "the professionalism, commitment and courage" of the police and security services. Writing in the Sun newspaper he said, "These dedicated men and women work tirelessly behind the scenes, whose names we will often never know, unable to get the full, public credit they deserve. I know we are all safer because of their work." Four other men, arrested as part of the conspiracy, were found not guilty of involvement in the suicide bomb plot.

Meanwhile, British born Rashid Rauf, who escaped from custody in 2007, was reportedly killed by a US drone attack in Pakistan on November 22, 2008. His family have denied that he was killed and in August this year the Asia Times Online reported that he is alive and living in North Waziristan.

Monday, September 07, 2009

"All your O are belong to us"

Google it seems have baffled half the Internet's users, bloggers, Twitterers and others by their use of a UFO in their logo over the weekend. The Internet search giant often pay homage to artists, scientists and to specific anniversaries by designing special Google logos for it's search page. But on Saturday September 5th the incorporation of a UFO apparently pulling the second O of Google into its tractor beam created a flurry of Internet discussions, tweets and blogs. Even supposedly serious newspapers like the Daily Telegraph in the UK reported on the mystery. So, what was the anniversary to which the flying spaceship eluded?

There was no apparent clue by clicking the logo. Usually Google would take the user to a page connected with the date in question. For instance on Charles Darwin's Birthday on February 12, 2009, a click on the logo would send the user to a Google search for Charles Darwin. But last Saturday one merely arrived at a Google search for "unexplained phenomena".

Was this a practical joke by Google? Had they simply run out of ideas? The Internet was buzzing with various possible explanations. The Telegraph itself drew around 75 comments. Some suggested it was a hacking attempt by the aliens while others suggested Google was itself an alien organisation! Was the Internet search company suggesting it was to change its name to Gogle, given the UFO was apparently stealing one of its Os? That it seemed was a clue. A tweet issued by Google on its Twitter feed had every one a-twitter. At first sight the tweet appeared to be random string of numbers. But then someone, obviously someone with far too much time on their hands, noticed that there was a pattern. The number sequence, 1.12.12 15 1.18.5 20.15 21.19, was, if correlated to the letters of the alphabet, a sentence of sorts. "All your O are belong to us" the sentence read. But what of it? According to Internet geeks and experts in trivia and minutiae, it is a reference to Zero Wing, a Japanese computer game, supposedly released 20 years ago, though there's no substantive proof of that either.

In the game the cyborg villain CATS is heard to utter the phrase "All your base are belong to us" [sic]. The broken English phrase has, according to Wikipedia, become an Internet phenomenon or meme. The text taken from the opening scene of the European Sega Mega Drive game was poorly translated however and should read, "With the help of the Federation Government forces, CATS has taken all of your bases." But if indeed this is what Google were making a connection to, it still remains unclear what the inference is.

The weekend marked Google Chrome's first birthday, but there was no reference to this in the logo. It was also Blogger's tenth birthday, and despite a few snippets on tech pages and an entry on the official Google blog there was no nice graphic specially designed for the occasion. But there was another notable event which occurred Friday, which still remains unexplained, but was also widely reported. Google's head in China announced he was to quit the company to start up a new venture. Kai-Fu Lee did not mention the troubles Google has had with censorship in China, nor of the continued blocking of Google owned sites in China. Even in an interview with VentureBeat which was published today [Monday September 7], Lee would only say, "I don't want to say much about Google" and insisted the company remained successful.

So was the UFO logo a veiled comment on Google losing its China head and having its "bases" taken by "Federation Government Forces" or "CATS"; the Chinese word of which is Mao. Maybe that's pushing the conspiracy boat out two far. But the logo has certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons. Meanwhile Google have only confused matters further with an eroneous statement, "We consider the second 'o' critical to user recognition of our brand and pronunciation of our name. We are actively looking into the mysterious tweet that has appeared on the Google twitter stream and the disappearance of the 'o' on the Google home page. We hope to have an update in the coming weeks."

Friday, September 04, 2009

Google's China head quits company

Kai-Fu Lee, the executive who led Google Inc.'s expansion in China, is to leave the company it was announced Friday September 4. Lee will step down as the president of Google Greater China in mid-September to set up a new venture in Beijing, details of which have not been released. Google said Boon-Lock Yeo, director of its Shanghai engineering office, would take over Lee's engineering responsibilities. John Liu, who leads its Greater China sales team, will assume his business and operational responsibilities.


Lee previously worked for Microsoft Inc. and was hired by Google in 2004. He oversaw development of services meant to help the search giant expand its share of China's search market, which is dominated by local rival Baidu Inc.While Google has increased its market share it still trails behind Baidu. Google has achieved only a 29.1 percent share of search traffic compared to Baidu's 61.6 percent according to Analysys International, a technology research firm.

During his employment at Microsoft between 2000 and 2004 Lee helped develop its MSN Internet search technology, including desktop search software which rivaled Google's. He left to lead Google's China operation after being offered a 10 million U.S dollar compensation package. It was an acrimonious split that led to Microsoft suing Lee and Google, contending his job would violate a noncompete agreement that prohibited him from doing similar work for a rival for one year. Microsoft also accused Lee of using insider information to get his job at Google. Microsoft was counter sued by Google and the companies later reached a settlement, the details of which were not released.

Lee's departure comes after months of difficulties faced by the search giant in China. "Lee has faced a lot of pressure from the government, which has really stepped up its censorship efforts, so his departure may be a relief for him personally," said Isaac Mao, a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "Google has been too compliant to the Chinese government, and modeling Baidu too closely. It should be more independent-minded and less concerned with short-term results." In June this year Google suspended its "Suggest" search prompt feature on its Chinese site after the local-language service was criticized by the government for providing links to pornographic material. China also adopted "punitive measures" against the company's international site, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on June 25, as the service became inaccessible to Chinese Web users for hours. Several other Google ventures have also been subject to restrictions including YouTube and Google's blogger service which is celebrating its tenth birthday today. Google's news service also frequently fails to work, and other disruptions happen frequently.

The constant disruption to Google's services have frustrated both Internet users and the company alike. It has also affected the numbers of people using Google's search engine within China according to recent figures showing significant falls. The Chinese government rarely comments on the censorship of websites or on its Internet restrictions. When asked in March why YouTube appeared to be blocked, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, "The Internet in China is fully open and the Chinese Government manages the Internet according to the law. As for what you can and cannot watch, watch what you can watch, and don't watch what you cannot watch."

Lee's successors will have a challenging task ahead of them as they struggle against both competition and the Golden Shield Project, commonly known as the Great Firewall of China. During his time at Google Lee helped start Google's Chinese-language site, and oversaw the roll-out of services including Google Maps, Google Music Search and Google Translate. "It has been a true honor and privilege to work with such an amazing company," Lee said in a statement released by Google, "With a very strong leadership team in place, it seemed a very good moment for me to move to the next chapter in my career." His leaving may also be something of a relief as Lee departs from a constant battle with authorities.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

GMail outage caused by maintenance

Routine maintenance was behind an outage that affected millions of GMail users on Tuesday, Google has said in a statement. Google confirmed its e-mail service GMail was unavailable to the "majority" of its 150 million worldwide users for nearly two hours on Tuesday but the cause of the outage had been identified.

It is not the first time GMail has suffered from an outage. In May a major technical issue affected millions who were unable to use GMail, Google News or its main search engine. Similar outages also occurred in February and March this year. The search giant has also been the target DDoS attacks and restrictions to its service in a number of countries. In June this year China blocked both the search engine as well as GMail services.

On its official blog Google's Engineering Director David Besbris said, "We know many of you are having trouble accessing Gmail right now - we are too, and we definitely feel your pain," The free GMail service has been ranked as the world's third most popular e-mail program, behind services provided by Microsoft and Yahoo.

Users around the globe first experienced problems at 19:45 GMT on Tuesday with both email and chat facilities being affected. According to the company the "widespread outage" lasted about 100 minutes. Google said it took the matter extremely seriously given that many people relied on the service for both personal and professional communications. "I'd like to apologize to all of you — today's outage was a Big Deal, and we're treating it as such," said Ben Treynor, Vice President of Engineering and Site Reliability Czar. Following a thorough investigation Google said it was compiling a list of things that needed to be fixed or improved.

Part of the problem lay in routine maintenance. After taking a small fraction of GMail's servers offline to perform routine upgrades increased traffic effectively overwhelmed the system, Google said. A few of the request routers became overloaded and in effect told the rest of the system "stop sending us traffic, we're too slow!". This transferred the load onto the remaining request routers, causing a few more of them to also become overloaded, and within minutes nearly all of the request routers were overloaded. IMAP/POP access and mail processing continued to work normally because these requests do not use the same routers.

To prevent similar problems occurring again Google says it was "increasing request router capacity well beyond peak demand to provide headroom". as well as looking at "more subtle" actions. Despite the glitch, Google has insisted Gmail remains more than 99.9% available to all users, and that events such as this were notable for their rarity. Google moved out of Beta in July signalling a more stable and reliable service. However, this recent outage, given its widespread impact, will shake confidence for both current and prospective users of the service.