News & Current Affairs

June 30, 2009

Challenges loom as Iraqis celebrate

Filed under: Latest, Politics News, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 11:33 am

Challenges loom as Iraqis celebrate

Iraqi celebrate 29 June 2009

Iraqis celebrated US troop withdrawals from cities in a way that has not been seen since the invasion

There was a pop concert and celebrations in the Baghdad zoo park, fireworks in the night sky, and jubilation in the streets.

Security forces were everywhere, all leave cancelled, for fear that the bombers might strike again.

But even the checkpoints were garlanded with flowers and flags, and many had music blaring.

They were marking the arrival of the last day of June, the deadline for US forces to be out of Iraqi towns and cities.

It’s been named Sovereignty Day, and declared a public holiday. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has said it is a huge victory for Iraq.

But the fact is that for most people in Baghdad and elsewhere, 1 July will look very similar to 30 June or 29 June.

‘A few miles away’

American troops have rarely been seen on the streets in many areas in recent months.

Most of the tasks involving contact with the public have been taken over by Iraqi security forces.

But the withdrawal process did see the US troops either dismantling some 86 bases in the capital or handing them to Iraqi forces.

At one such base, Joint Security Station Comanche on the edge of Sadr City, American soldiers were toiling last week in the baking heat to meet the deadline.

People have tasted democracy, they have worked on democracy… Nobody can enforce dictatorship again on this country
Haidar al-Obadi
Shia MP

Huge concrete blast-walls were taken to pieces and trucked away in the dust to another base outside the city.

The US soldiers from the 1st Cavalry’s Ironhorse Brigade were packing their kitbags and backpacks, stashing them in MRAP armoured vehicles, and being driven away.

“Since we came here in February, our 2,300 men haven’t suffered a single fatality,” said the position commander, Capt Chris Clyde.

“We’re moving to another base a few miles away outside the city, and will continue working with our Iraqi partners from there.”

JSS Comanche is already a thing of the past.

It is no longer a military position. It has been totally dismantled. The building used as its command centre was handed back to its original owners, the Iraqi Agriculture Ministry.

‘Sacrifices’

On Monday, there was a symbolic ceremony at the old Iraqi Ministry of Defence building in the centre of Baghdad, the last US-held position to be handed over to the Iraqi authorities.

At another big ceremony and parade on Tuesday, Mr Maliki paid tribute to the “increasing credibility” of the Iraqi security forces.

Iraqi soldiers on parade 29 June 2009

He said the US withdrawal from the cities vindicated the position taken by Iraqi negotiators in the tough talks with the US that led to the agreement under which American troops should be entirely out of Iraq by the end of 2011, and that the withdrawal timeline would be adhered to.

As far as the towns and cities are concerned, while US forces remain on call outside city limits, their role in urban areas now changes to one of training and advising.

“This is a huge day both for the American and Coalition forces and for the Iraqis,” said the chief spokesman for the US-led Multinational Forces, Brig Gen Steve Lanza.

“This is the culmination of much hard work and sacrifice over the years, as Iraqi security forces now have primacy and control in this country.”

Election test

Much now depends on whether Iraqi forces can prevent the upsurge of violence which heralded the approach of the US withdrawals from triggering another spiral of sectarian violence – the clear aim of a series of deadly bomb attacks directed almost exclusively against Shia neighbourhoods and markets.

It was just such attacks which provoked Shia militias to take brutal revenge against Sunnis in 2006 and 2007, taking the country to the brink of civil war and disintegration.

US soldier in Baquba

More than 130,000 US soldiers remain in Iraq, with full withdrawal due in 2011

“Iraqi society, two years and more ago, looked into that abyss and rejected it, and that is the trend now,” said British ambassador in Baghdad Christopher Prentice, looking ahead to key general elections scheduled for January.

“The concentration and effort across Iraq now is on a very vigorous political campaign. Six months from a landmark election, this is almost unique in the region, a country that is focusing on coalition building, on real politics, and the question is which politicians can win the trust of the electorate to deliver better services and build on the improving security in the way that meets the national needs.”

The period leading up to the elections will be a real test for the Iraqi forces.

They still have 131,000 US troops standing by to help if they run into trouble.

But if they do have to call them back in, it will be seen as a reverse for the Iraqi government, and for President Barack Obama’s hopes of getting all of his forces out of Iraq by the end of 2011 without leaving chaos in their wake.

Changed society

Last January’s provincial elections set an impressive model of democracy in action, with powerful parties in some cases losing out, but accepting the results with good grace.

Will they do so in future elections, when the Americans are no longer around to stiffen the resolve of security forces? Is democracy now sufficiently rooted that it will survive the US withdrawal?

Haidar al-Obadi, a Shia Member of Parliament and close adviser to the prime minister, believes it is.

“There is no going back to a dictatorship or a one-party system in the country now,” he said.

“People have tasted democracy, they have worked on democracy, it is an operation not only at the centre, but also in other areas, in the governorates and in the regions. Nobody can enforce dictatorship again on this country.”

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US soldiers leave Iraq’s cities

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 11:28 am

US soldiers leave Iraq’s cities

Iraqi soldiers carry the national flag and a banner that reads in Arabic "Parade to Mark the Iraq Pride day" in the city of Karbala

US and Iraqi commanders say Iraqi forces are ready to take over security

US troops have withdrawn from towns and cities in Iraq, six years after the invasion, having formally handed over security duties to new Iraqi forces.

A public holiday – National Sovereignty Day – has been declared, and the capital, Baghdad, threw a giant party to mark the eve of the changeover.

Hours before the midnight deadline, four US soldiers were killed in combat.

US-led combat operations are due to end by September 2010, with all troops gone from Iraq by the end of 2011.

The US military said the four soldiers served in Baghdad, but did not provide further details before families had been notified. They died as a “result of combat related injuries”, the military said.

Iraqi and US troops have been on the alert for insurgent attacks during the handover.

Despite the pullback from cities and towns, due to be completed on Tuesday, US troops will still be embedded with Iraqi forces.

We think Iraq is ready and Iraq thinks Iraq is ready
Christopher Hill
US Ambassador to Iraq

Both American and the Iraqi commanders say they are expecting al-Qaeda in Iraq and other groups to attempt to re-ignite sectarian tensions.

BBC defence and security correspondent Rob Watson says that while the pullback is significant, the actual withdrawal of US combat troops in 2010 will pose a greater challenge.

The success of that depends on Iraq’s political leaders and their ability to tackle the country’s many outstanding problems and tensions, he says.

Some 131,000 US troops remain in Iraq, including 12 combat brigades, and the total is not expected to drop below 128,000 until after the Iraqi national election in January.

‘Now is the time’

Iraqi soldiers paraded through Baghdad’s streets on Monday in vehicles decorated with flowers and Iraqi flags, while patriotic songs were played through loudspeakers at checkpoints.

Signs were draped on some Baghdad’s concrete blast walls reading “Iraq: my nation, my glory, my honour”.

US commanders have said security and stability is improving, and that Iraqi forces are now ready to take over security operations.

The US Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, said there would be no major reduction in forces until 2010 but the pullback was a “milestone”.

“Yes, we think Iraq is ready and Iraq thinks Iraq is ready,” he said.

“We have spent a lot of time working very closely with Iraqi security services… and I think there is an understanding that now it is the time.”

Mr Hill stressed that there would still be “a lot of US combat capabilities in Iraq for months to come”.

“After 30 June, with US combat forces out of cities and villages, localities, we’ll still be in Iraq,” he said.

“We will still have a very robust number of US troops in Iraq and, in fact, those troops will not begin to withdraw from Iraq until probably several months from now.”

The pullback comes two years after the US “surge” of extra troops between February and June 2007, which took US troop levels in Iraq to 168,000.

There was a decline in violence, but recent months have seen an upsurge.

In the past 10 days nearly 170 people have been killed and many more injured in three attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk.


Did you attend Monday’s celebrations in Iraq? Send your comments or pictures

Yemen jet crashes in Indian Ocean

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 11:22 am

Yemen jet crashes in Indian Ocean

The Yemenia Airbus 310 that crashed - photo Air Team Images

The plane has been found to have had a number of faults

A Yemeni airliner with more than 150 people on board has crashed in the Indian Ocean near the Comoros islands.

Some bodies have been found and a child rescued alive, officials from the carrier, Yemenia, said.

The Airbus 310 flight IY626 was flying from the Yemeni capital Sanaa, but many passengers on the plane began their journey in France.

The cause of the crash is not clear. A French minister said faults were found on the plane during a check in 2007.

“The A310 in question was inspected in 2007 by the DGAC [French transport authorities] and they noticed a certain number of faults. Since then the plane had not returned to France,” Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau was quoted as telling French TV.

RECENT AIR CRASHES
1 June: An Air France Airbus plane travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappears in the Atlantic with 228 people on board
20 May: An Indonesian army C-130 Hercules transport plane crashes into a village on eastern Java, killing at least 97 people
12 February: A plane crashes into a house in Buffalo, New York, killing all 49 people on board and one person on the ground

“The company was not on the black list but was subject to stricter checks on our part, and was due to be interviewed shortly by the European Union’s safety committee.”

Mr Bussereau had earlier told French media that bad weather was the likely cause.

The European Union Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani said he would propose setting up a worldwide blacklist of airlines deemed to be unsafe. The EU already has its own list.

Reports say the plane was due in the Comoros capital Moroni at about 0230 (2230GMT on Monday). Most of the passengers had travelled to Sanaa from Paris or Marseille on a different aircraft.

The flight on to Moroni was also thought to have made a stop in Djibouti.

There were more than 150 people on board, including three babies and 11 crew.

An airport source told AFP news agency that 66 of the passengers were French, although many are thought to have dual French-Comoran citizenship.

This is the second air tragedy this month involving large numbers of French citizens.

On 1 June an Air France Airbus 330 travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris plunged into the Atlantic, killing all 228 people on board.

‘Aborted landing’

A search is under way, with the French military assisting with the operation.

French military personnel leave Reunion to join rescue operation

French military are assisting with the search operation

Officials told AFP that wreckage from the plane, an oil slick and bodies had been spotted in the water a few kilometres from Moroni, on the island of Njazidja (Grande Comore).

“The weather conditions were rough; strong wind and high seas,” Yemenia official Mohammad al-Sumairi told Reuters news agency.

The BBC’s Will Ross, in Kenya, says that given the fact the crash happened during the night and in the sea, the chances of finding any survivors are slim.

The three Comoros islands are about 300km (190 miles) northwest of Madagascar in the Mozambique channel.

A resident near the airport told the BBC about 100 people were trying to get into the airport to find out more information, but without much success.

The airline Yemenia is 51% owned by the Yemeni government and 49% by the Saudi government.

In 1996, a hijacked Ethiopian airliner came down in the same area – most of the 175 passengers and crew were killed.

Map of aircraft's route


Have you been affected by the crash? Do you have any information about it you would like to share?

June 29, 2009

Ukraine wary of KGB terror files

Filed under: Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:14 am

Ukraine wary of KGB terror files

KGB archives in Kiev

Ukraine’s SBU is declassifying the files selectively

Ukraine is opening up part of its old KGB archive, declassifying hundreds of thousands of documents spanning the entire Soviet period.

But the move to expose Soviet-era abuses is dividing Ukrainians, the BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse reports from Kiev.

Deep in the bowels of Ukraine’s former KGB headquarters there is a deathly silence. Thousands of boxes, piled floor to ceiling, line the walls. Each box is carefully numbered and each one contains hundreds of documents: case notes on enemies of the former Soviet state.

Behind each number, there is a story of personal tragedy.

Volodymyr Viatrovych, the chief archivist, pulled out a brown cardboard folder stuffed full of documents: case number 4076. At the centre of the case is a letter, dated 1940 and addressed to “Comrade Stalin, the Kremlin, Moscow”.

A photo of Ivan Severin shot in the head (right) and the words: Liquidated. 3 April 1947

Ivan Severin was “liquidated” in 1947, his case notes state

“Dear Iosif Vissarionovich,” the letter starts. Nikolai Reva wanted Stalin to know the facts about the great famine of 1932-33, when millions died as a result of the Soviet policy of forced collectivisation.

Like many at the time, Mr Reva believed that Stalin was being kept in the dark, and that if only he knew what was happening, he would surely put a stop to it.

But his letter landed him in the Gulag. He was eventually rehabilitated – 25 years later.

Many met a harsher fate.

Leafing through one of many macabre photo albums, Mr Viatrovych pointed to a picture of Ivan Severin, shot in the head by the Soviet security services. Under the picture, in very neat handwriting, is written: “Liquidated, 3 April 1947”.

Criminal prosecution

Mr Viatrovych and his team are helping people to find out what happened to relatives and loved ones, often decades after they disappeared.

Volodymyr Viatrovych

Mr Viatrovych is helping the victims’ relatives to uncover the truth

But the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), now in charge of the files, is declassifying them selectively.

They are concentrating on older cases, like that of the “liquidated” Mr Severin, who was part of a guerrilla campaign against Soviet rule in western Ukraine after World War II.

The authorities are preparing to mount a criminal prosecution in relation to the famine, or Holodomor, as it is known in Ukraine, though it is doubtful whether there is anyone still alive to stand in the dock.

But SBU head Valentyn Nalyvaichenko hopes this is just the beginning.

“As soon as Russia starts to open and uncover its archives, there will be more and more truth about the real history,” he said. At the moment, he added, Russia is not being especially co-operative.

But there is another obstacle to complete disclosure, and that is the Ukrainian Security Service itself. They are the ones deciding which files to declassify.

I put it to Mr Nalyvaichenko that the SBU is, after all, a successor to the KGB. He came out on the defensive.

“First and most important for me – we are not a successor to the KGB. That’s according to the law,” he said.

Could he state categorically that no-one working for the SBU today had formerly worked for the KGB?

He could not, admitting that 20% of his employees were former KGB officers. Some analysts in Ukraine believe that is a conservative figure.

It seems unlikely that SBU officers who worked for the Soviet KGB in the 1970s and 80s will be enthusiastic about declassifying documents that could incriminate them. Even if, as Mr Nalyvaichenko pointed out, the SBU is trying to recruit younger staff.

‘Not worth it’

But not all young Ukrainians have an exclusively negative view of their 20th-Century history.

To start a process of lustration after 18 years of independence would lead society to the brink of civil war
Dmytro Tabachnyk
Historian and opposition MP

In Kiev, there is a vast monument to the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany: a sprawling bronze relief of soldiers bearing guns and bayonets.

“We love our history,” said Svitlana, a young schoolteacher from the southern city of Odessa, on an outing with her class.

She was not keen for the children in her charge to be forced to examine the darker chapters of Soviet history.

“The past is the past,” she said. “The history of the famine, the killings, all the things Stalin did. I don’t think we should bring them up. There’s enough violence today as it is. If we start blaming each other… It’s just not worth it.”

‘Witch hunt’

The idea of airing the past as part of a healing process, and excluding members of the former regime from positions of authority – a process known as “lustration” – is being actively promoted by some in the Ukrainian administration.

Bykivnia

More than 200,000 bodies may be buried in Bykivnia, outside Kiev

But it is highly controversial. Dmytro Tabachnyk, a historian and opposition lawmaker, thinks the notion is absurd.

“It’s a witch hunt,” he said. “To start a process of lustration after 18 years of independence would lead society to the brink of civil war.”

In a forest just outside Kiev, the tree trunks are tied with thousands of white scarves.

The scarves are embroidered in the traditional Ukrainian way, with red-and-black geometric patterns, and each one symbolically represents a life lost to Soviet oppression.

Under Stalin, the Soviet secret police would bury executed political prisoners at Bykivnia. No-one knows exactly how many bodies lie buried in this wood, but some estimates put the figure at more than 200,000.

But, says Nico Lange, the German director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Kiev, Ukrainians must stop blaming the Russians for their past, and start looking inward.

“Ukrainians have a tendency to perceive themselves as only victims of those historical processes,” he says.

“But coming to terms with the past really starts when you start uncovering also your own involvement: the oppressions by your own state, the offenders who are from your own people. If you do this work, this very painful work, the truth will finally set you free. And you will not invite new dictators to oppress you again.”

The Germans have experience of confronting their own past, both following World War II, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But it will take a lot of united political will for such a process to get under way in Ukraine.

And it may be that, for the moment, there are still too many people alive and in positions of power, who were involved with the Soviet regime in one way or another.

New Honduran leader sets curfew

New Honduran leader sets curfew

Interim President Roberto Micheletti has imposed an overnight curfew in Honduras, hours after being sworn in.

The Congress speaker took office after troops ousted elected leader Manuel Zelaya and flew him to Costa Rica.

The removal of Mr Zelaya came amid a power struggle over his plans for constitutional change.

Mr Zelaya, who had been in power since 2006, wanted to hold a referendum that could have led to an extension of his non-renewable four-year term.

Polls for the referendum had been due to open early on Sunday – but troops instead took him from the presidential palace and flew him out of the country.

New Honduran President Roberto Micheletti

Roberto Micheletti will govern until elections are held, Congress said.

The ousting of Manuel Zelaya has been criticised by regional neighbours, the US and the United Nations.

In the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, groups of Zelaya supporters were said to have set up barricades, while troops were at key sites.

Mr Micheletti told a press conference that a nationwide curfew was being imposed for Sunday and Monday, running from 2100 (0300 GMT) to 0600 (1200 GMT) on each night.

Days of tension

The swearing in of Roberto Micheletti – constitutionally second in line for the presidency – was greeted with applause in Congress.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in Costa Rica on Sunday 28 June 2009
This was a plot by a very voracious elite, which wants to keep this country in an extreme level of poverty
President Manuel Zelaya

In a speech, he said that he had not assumed power “under the ignominy of a coup d’etat”.

The army had complied with the constitution, he said, and he had reached the presidency “as the result of an absolutely legal transition process”.

Congress said he would serve until 27 January, when Mr Zelaya’s term was due to expire. Presidential elections are planned for 29 November and Mr Micheletti promised these would go ahead.

Both Congress and the courts had opposed Mr Zelaya’s referendum, which asked Hondurans to endorse a vote on unspecified constitutional changes alongside the November elections.

Tensions over the issue had been escalating for several days, with the army refusing to help with preparations for the referendum.

Just before dawn on Sunday, troops stormed the president’s residence. There was confusion over his whereabouts for several hours before he turned up in Costa Rica.

Mr Zelaya called his ouster “a plot by a very voracious elite, an elite which wants only to keep this country isolated, in an extreme level of poverty”.

He urged Hondurans to resist those who had removed him and late on Sunday flew to Nicaragua for a meeting of regional leaders.

Congress said it had voted to remove him because of his “repeated violations of the constitution and the law and disregard of orders and judgments of the institutions”.

In Tegucigalpa, groups of Zelaya supporters were setting up roadblocks around the presidential palace, Reuters said.

One man told the news that he had been in the city’s main square all day, along with 2,000 Zelaya supporters. Jeronimo Pastor described the situation as tense and called on the international community to get involved.

But another resident of the capital said people were relieved at Mr Zelaya’s removal. “Now we have a new president and will have elections and things will go back to normal,” Kenneth Bustillo told the news.

The removal of Mr Zelaya has drawn criticism across Latin America and the wide world.

The Organization of American States held an emergency meeting, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for “the reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country”.

US President Barack Obama urged Honduras to “respect the rule of law” and a State Department official said America recognised Mr Zelaya as the duly elected president. The European Union called for “a swift return to constitutional normality”.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, meanwhile, blamed “the Yankee empire”, and threatened military action should the Venezuelan ambassador to Honduras be attacked.

June 26, 2009

Tributes paid to Michael Jackson

Tributes paid to Michael Jackson

Family, friends, colleagues and admirers have been paying tribute to Michael Jackson, following the announcement of the star’s death at the age of 50.

JERMAINE JACKSON, BROTHER

“My brother, the legendary King of Pop, Michael Jackson passed away on Thursday June 25th, 2009 at 2.26pm. It is believed he suffered cardiac arrest in his home.

“Our family requests that the media please respects our privacy at this tough time.

“And may Allah be with you Michael, always. Love you.”

MADONNA, SINGER

“I can’t stop crying over the sad news. I’ve always admired Michael Jackson – the world has lost one of its greats, but his music will live on forever.

“My heart goes out to his three children and other members of his family. God bless.”

BEYONCE KNOWLES, SINGER

“The incomparable Michael Jackson has made a bigger impact on music than any other artist in the history of music. He was magic. He was what we all strive to be. … I love you Michael.”

CELINE DION, SINGER

“I am shocked. I am overwhelmed by this tragedy. Michael Jackson has been an idol for me all my life.

“He was not only a talented person, but he was unique – a genius. It’s such a loss. It feels like when Kennedy died, when Elvis died. My sympathy goes to the family. It’s a big loss and it’s not even sinking in right now.”

URI GELLER, FRIEND

“I’m just devastated, very, very sad. I pray that his soul is up there now. I’m still trying to hold on to the glimmer that it is not true. It is too surreal for me to absorb that Michael is no longer with us.

“Michael was in good shape because he was practising, he was training, he was rehearsing for the shows. Michael was careful with what he ate, he was just fine. Last time I heard of what he was doing, he was in great shape. And this is why I’m so absolutely shocked by this news.”

CHER, SINGER

“I’m having a million different reactions I didn’t expect I would feel.

“He was a great singer – God gives you certain gifts, and this child was just an extraordinary child touched by this ability. He could sing like nobody else and he was able to connect with people.”

QUINCY JONES, MUSIC PRODUCER

“I’m absolutely devastated at this news. I just don’t have the words. Divinity brought our souls together and allowed us to do what we could do through the 80s.

“To this day that music is played in every corner of the world, and the reason is because he had it all – talent, grace and professionalism. I’ve lost my little brother today and part of my soul has gone with him.”

LISA MARIE PRESLEY, JACKSON’S EX-WIFE

“I am so very sad and confused with every emotion possible.

I am heartbroken for his children, who I know were everything to him, and for his family.

This is such a massive loss on so many levels, words fail me.”

LENNY KRAVITZ, SINGER

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz has worked with Jackson

“There will never be another talent like Michael Jackson.

“He was the first live performer I ever saw. I got to see him at Madison Square Garden when I was eight. If not for him, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.

“He gave me joy as a child and showed me the way to go. He was music. Period.

May you rest in peace sweet Michael. You gave us all you had to give.”

JOHN LANDIS, THRILLER VIDEO DIRECTOR

I was lucky enough to know and work with Michael Jackson in his prime. Michael was an extraordinary talent and a truly great international star. He had a troubled and complicated life and despite his gifts, remains a tragic figure.”

REV AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER

“As a friend of Michael’s for the past 35 years, I call on people from around the world to pray for him and his family.”

P DIDDY, SINGER

“Michael Jackson showed me that you can actually see the beat. He made the music come to life. He made me believe in magic. I will miss him.”

JANE FONDA, ACTRESS

“I am stunned. My friend, Michael Jackson, is dead. He lived with me for a week on the ‘Golden Pond’ set after Thriller.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR

“He was one of the most influential and iconic figures in the music industry.

“Our hearts go out to the Jackson family, Michael’s children and to his fans worldwide.”

USHER, SINGER

“My heart goes out to the King of Pop and his family.”

PAUL GAMBACCINI, MUSIC JOURNALIST

“Definitely one of the greatest stars of recorded music. There is no doubt of that. He would be in the top 10 of all time, regardless of who the other nine people were.

“But you also have to remember that he went through different stages and owed some of his popularity to collaborators – Quincy Jones, with whom he did the great trilogy of albums: Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad.”

BRITNEY SPEARS, SINGER

“I was so excited to see his tour in London. We were going to be on tour in Europe at the same time and I was going to fly into see him.

“He’s been an inspiration throughout my entire life and I’m devastated that he’s gone.”

DIONNE WARWICK, SINGER

“We have lost an icon in our industry and my heartfelt condolences go out to his family and children in this hour of sorrow.

“He will live on in my memory, and most definitely through the music he shared with so many.”

WYCLEF JEAN, SINGER

“Michael Jackson was my musical god. He made me believe that all things are possible, through real and positive music.

“He can live forever. I love Michael Jackson. God bless him.”

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, SINGER

Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake has been compared to Michael Jackson

“We have lost a genius and a true ambassador of not only pop music, but of all music. I can’t find the words right now to express how deeply saddened I am by Michael’s passing.

“He has been an inspiration to multiple generations, and I will always cherish the moments I shared with him onstage and all of the things I learned about music from him, and the time we spent together.

“My heart goes out to his family and loved ones.”

DONNA SUMMER, SINGER

“I’ve known Michael for many years and we’ve done many different things together over the years.

“I know his family and it’s just a total shock. I don’t even have words to say. I mean I’ll miss Michael, the world will miss Michael and I’m sure the world is in a state of grief right now.

“I will personally miss him, I will miss his light, I will miss his star, I will miss who he has caused other people to become because of his greatness. He upped the standard.”

MARIAH CAREY, SINGER

“I am heart broken. My prayers go out to the Jackson family, and my heart goes out to his children. Let us remember him for his unparalleled contribution to the world of music, his generosity of spirit in his quest to heal the world, and the joy he brought to is millions of devoted fans throughout the world.

“I feel blessed to have performed with him several times and to call him my friend. No artist will ever take his place. His star will shine forever.”

NE-YO, SINGER

“Michael Jackson will live forever through the thing that he put all of his life energy into: his music.

“Long live Michael Jackson.”

MC HAMMER, RAPPER

“I will be mourning my friend, brother, mentor and inspiration. He gave me and my family hope. I would never have been me without him.”

LL COOL J, RAPPER

“He was one of my childhood idols. I salute you King of Pop. You made the whole world moonwalk together.”

RUSSELL SIMMONS, FOUNDER OF DEF-JAM RECORDS

“Michael Jackson was my generation’s most iconic cultural hero. Courageous, unique and incredibly talented. He’ll be missed greatly.”

BERRY GORDY, US RECORD PRODUCER

“I am shocked beyond words. It’s like a dream, a bad dream. This cannot be. How can Michael Jackson not be here?

“As a kid, Michael was always beyond his years. He had a knowingness about him that was incredible.

“Michael was and will remain one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived.

“He was exceptional, artistic and original. He gave the world his heart and soul through his music.

MATT FIDDES, FORMER BODYGUARD

“He’s the most misunderstood man in world. Everyone thought he was this weird freak but when you’re with him he’s as normal as everyone else. I don’t think he felt he was as famous as everyone else thought, he didn’t know any different.

“He was a very caring guy who would go out of his way to help the sick. One night in London he wanted to see some homeless people. He sent them loads of pizzas in secret. The guy had a good heart.

“We used to dress him up and sneak out of hotel room and do normal things in shops. People wouldn’t know who he was but we wanted to give him a taste of the real life.”

Singer Michael Jackson dies at 50

Singer Michael Jackson dies at 50

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson had been due to play 50 concert dates in the UK this summer

Pop star Michael Jackson has died in Los Angeles, aged 50.

Paramedics were called to the singer’s Beverly Hills home at about midday on Thursday after he stopped breathing.

He was pronounced dead two hours later at the UCLA medical centre. Jackson’s brother, Jermaine, said he was believed to have suffered a cardiac arrest.

Jackson, who had a history of health problems, had been due to stage a series of comeback concerts in the UK, beginning on 13 July.

Speaking on behalf of the Jackson family, Jermaine said doctors had tried to resuscitate the star for more than an hour without success.

He added: “The family request that the media please respect our privacy during this tough time.”

“And Allah be with you Michael, always. I love you.”

TV footage showed the star’s body flown from UCLA to the LA County Coroner’s office where a post-mortem is expected to take place on Friday.

Concerns were raised last month when four of Jackson’s planned comeback concerts were postponed, but organisers insisted the dates had been moved due to the complexity of staging the show.

AT THE SCENE
Rajesh Mirchandani
Rajesh Mirchandani
BBC News

Michael Jackson was brought here to the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles around 12 hours ago. Earlier there were several hundred people here, before it got dark – there was a sense of grief, of disbelief.

But in the last few hours, these people have been singing his songs, dancing, there was a guy on a keyboard earlier, playing his songs for people to dance along to.

This has turned into an impromptu celebration of Michael Jackson’s music. He’s the king of pop as far as they’re concerned. They’re still shocked by his sudden death but they’re here because they want to show their support.

A spokeswoman for The Outside Organisation, which was organising the publicity for the shows, said she had no comment at this time.

Broadcaster Paul Gambaccini said: “I always doubted that he would have been able to go through that schedule, those concerts. It seemed to be too much of a demand on the unhealthy body of a 50 year old.

“I’m wondering that, as we find out details of his death, if perhaps the stress of preparing for those dates was a factor in his collapse.

“It was wishful thinking that, at this stage of his life, he could be Michael Jackson again.”

Tributes have poured in from the entertainment industry. Sir Paul McCartney described Jackson’s death as ” sad and shocking”.

The pair worked together on two hit tracks, Say Say, Say and The Girl Is Mine from Jackson’s Thriller album.

He said ” I feel privileged to have hung out and worked with Michael. He was a massively talented boy-man with a gentle soul.

“His music will be remembered forever and my memories of our time together will be happy ones.

“I send my deepest sympathy to his mother and the whole family, and to his countless fans all around the world.”

Speaking outside New York’s historic Apollo theatre, civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton paid tribute to his friend.

“I knew him 35 years. When he had problems he would call me,” he said.

HAVE YOUR SAY

Can’t believe it. I’m gutted. RIP Michael, thanks for everything you gave us.

Tommy, Cardiff

“I feel like he was not treated fairly. I hope history will be more kind to him than some of the contemporary media.”

Melanie Bromley, west coast bureau chief of Us Weekly magazine, told the News the scene in Los Angeles was one of “pandemonium”.

“At the moment there is a period of disbelief. He was buying a home in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles and the scene outside the house is one of fans, reporters and TV cameras – it’s absolute craziness.

“I feel this is the biggest celebrity story in a long time and has the potential to be the Princess Diana of popular culture.”

Musical icon

Tributes from the world of music and film have already flooded in from celebrities including Madonna, Arnold Schwarzenegger and ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley.

Large numbers of fans have also gathered outside Jackson’s home and at the UCLA medical centre with lit candles to mourn the star while playing his greatest hits.

Facebook groups have also been set up for fans to share their memories.

The singer’s albums are occupying the top 15 slots of online music retailer Amazon.com’s current best-seller chart, led by his 1982 smash hit Thriller.

Paramedics were called to the singer’s house in Bel Air at 1221 (1921GMT) following an emergency phone call.

They performed CPR on Jackson and rushed him to the UCLA medical centre.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department said the robbery and homicide team was investigating Jackson’s death because of its “high profile”, but there was no suggestion of foul play.

Jackson began his career as a child in family group The Jackson 5.

MICHAEL JACKSON 1958-2009
Full name: Michael Joseph Jackson
Born: August 29, 1958, Gary, Indiana, US
Also known as: The King of Pop, Wacko Jacko
Biggest hits: I Want You Back, Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, Billie Jean, Bad, Black or White, Earth Song

He then went on to achieve global fame as a solo artist with smash hits such as Billie Jean and Bad.

Thriller, released in 1982, is the biggest-selling album of all time, shifting 65m copies, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

He scored seven UK number ones as a solo artist and won a total of 13 Grammy awards.

“For Michael to be taken away from us so suddenly at such a young age, I just don’t have the words,” said Quincy Jones, who produced Thriller, Bad and Off The Wall.

“He was the consummate entertainer and his contributions and legacy will be felt upon the world forever. I’ve lost my little brother today, and part of my soul has gone with him.”

The singer had been dogged by controversy and money trouble in recent years, becoming a virtual recluse.

He was arrested in 2003 on charges of molesting a 14-year-old boy, but was found not guilty following a five-month trial.

The star had three children, Michael Joseph Jackson Jr, Paris Michael Katherine Jackson and Prince Michael Jackson II.

He is survived by his mother, Katherine, father, Joseph and eight siblings – including Janet, Randy, Jermaine and La Toya Jackson.

Glastonbury will honour Jackson

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 11:40 am

Glastonbury will honour Jackson

Bands playing at Glastonbury Festival this weekend are set to pay tribute to the King of Pop – Michael Jackson – who has died at the age of 50.

Festival organiser Emily Eavis, writing on the social networking site Twitter, called Jackson a “truly great artist”.

She added: “There will be tributes all over the site, all weekend”.

Gabriella Cilmi will sing a tribute to Jackson on the Pyramid Stage, where she will perform a cover version of his hit song Billie Jean on Friday.

Dave McCabe, singer with The Zutons, told the News more cover versions are inevitable: “Hopefully, ‘cos he’s got good songs and it’s always a winner.”

A Glastonbury spokesman said there was nothing formal planned to mark Jackson’s death, but said: “A lot of the performers will be talking about it during their sets”.

Many festival-goers learned of the news late last night as DJs scattered around the festival site began playing Jackson tracks.

One fan said: “They started playing loads of his music and we thought, ‘Oh, that’s really strange’ and then someone said, ‘Michael Jackson’s dead’ and we were like, ‘No way’.”

Another reveller added: “Everyone thought it was a joke at first – then people started watching the news and saw it was true.”

“Knocked sideways”

Michael Jackson

BBC Radio 1 presenter Jo Whiley is at the festival site and noted a muted mood at Worthy farm on Friday morning.

She said US artists performing later today, such as the Black Eyed Peas and N*E*R*D, would be “knocked sideways” by the news of Jackson’s death.

She added: “Everybody will be celebrating the music of Michael Jackson. You can guarantee tonight there will be loads and loads of Jacko coming out of sound systems here.”

Tommy Bowen, keyboard player for the band White Lies, who play the Other Stage on Friday, said most of the bands playing the festival “can’t help but be touched by what’s happened”.

He added: “He’s such an influential artist, I think many of the people here have been brought up on Michael Jackson.

“His music crosses musical boundaries, it’s a big shock.”

Artists including Lily Allen, Lady GaGa and Neil Young will all play at the festival later.

Web slows after Jackson’s death

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 11:35 am

Web slows after Jackson’s death

Google error page

The sheer number of queries concerned Google

The internet suffered a number of slowdowns as people the world over rushed to verify accounts of Michael Jackson’s death.

Search giant Google confirmed to the BBC that when the news first broke it feared it was under attack.

Millions of people who Googled the star’s name were greeted with an error page rather than a list of results.

It warned users “your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application”.

“It’s true that between approximately 2.40PM Pacific and 3.15PM Pacific, some Google News users experienced difficulty accessing search results for queries related to Michael Jackson and saw the error page,” said Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker.

It was around this time that the singer was officially pronounced dead.

Google’s trends page showed that searches for Michael Jackson had reached such a volume that in its so called “hotness” gauge the topic was rated “volcanic”.

Fail

Google was not the only company overwhelmed by the public’s clamour for information.

The microblogging service Twitter crashed with the sheer volume of people using the service.

Google user graph

Searches for topics related to Michael Jackson peaked at 3PM Pacific

Queries about the star soon rocketed to the top of its updates and searches. But the amount of traffic meant it suffered one of its well-known outages.

Before the company’s servers crashed, TweetVolume noted that “Michael Jackson” appeared in more than 66,500 Twitter updates.

According to initial data from Trendrr, a Web service that tracks activity on social media sites, the number of Twitter posts Thursday afternoon containing “Michael Jackson” totaled more than 100,000 per hour.

That put news of Jackson’s death at least on par with the Iran protests, as Twitter posts about Iran topped 100,000 per hour on June 16 and eventually climbed to 220,000 per hour.

Early reports of Mr Jackson’s death and the confusion surrounding it caused a rash of changes and corrections to be made on his Wikipedia page as editors tried to keep up with events and the number of people trying to update the page.

TMZ, the popular celebrity gossip site that broke the story following a tip-off that a paramedic had visited the singers home also crashed.

There was a domino effect as users then fled to other sites. Hollywood gossip writer Perez Hilton’s site was among those to flame out.

Keynote Systems reported that its monitoring showed performance problems for the web sites of AOL, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and Yahoo.

Beginning at 2.30PM Pacific “the average speed for downloading news sites doubled from less than four seconds to almost nine seconds,” said Shawn White, Keynote’s director of external operations.

He told Data Center Knowledge that “during the same period, the average availability of sites on the index dropped from almost 100% to 86%”.

June 24, 2009

Habitat sorry for Iran Tweeting

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , — expressyoureself @ 6:04 pm

Habitat sorry for Iran Tweeting

Twitter page about Habitat, 24 June

Twitter users have not been impressed with the strategy

Furniture store Habitat has apologised for causing offence after accusations it exploited unrest in Iran to drive online Twitter users to its products.

Keywords – called hashtags – such as ‘Iran’ and ‘Mousavi’ were added to its messages so people searching for those subjects would see the firm’s adverts.

Users of the networking site reacted angrily and the posts were removed.

The retailer has said the use of the hashtags were “not authorised”, but declined to say who was responsible.

Contributors to Twitter posted messages claiming Habitat should be “ashamed” and saying it was “piggy-backing” on the political situation in Iran.

One of the controversial messages – called tweets – which appeared before being removed by Habitat, read: HabitatUK: #MOUSAVI Join the database for free to win a £1,000 gift card.

This was absolutely not authorised by Habitat – we were shocked when we discovered what happened
Habitat statement

In a statement Habitat said it had “never sought to abuse Twitter”.

One online communication expert told the BBC it was hard to imagine how such a “serious misjudgement” could have happened.

Twitter is a social networking tool that has been used widely by people inside and outside Iran to share information and eyewitness accounts, link to news reports and co-ordinate protests disputing the recent election result.

Users following conversations about what was happening in Iran searched for key words and in some cases were directed to adverts for Habitat.

Habitat added: “We would like to make a very sincere apology to any users who were offended by last week’s activity on Twitter.

“The top ten trending topics were pasted into hashtags without checking with us and apparently without verifying what all of the tags referred to.

“This was absolutely not authorised by Habitat. We were shocked when we discovered what happened and are very sorry for the offence that has been caused.”

The business said it was “totally against” its communications strategy, that it had removed the content and would ensure it did not happen again.

They have used a political and human situation that many people are concerned about, to market their products… that is not right
Alex Burmaster, Nielsen Online

When asked whether an outside firm had been responsible for the strategy their spokesman declined to give details.

Alex Burmaster, communications director at research firm Nielsen Online, said while some companies had succeeded in the art of advertising within social networking sites, Habitat had got it wrong.

“What they have done is extraordinary, that they would even risk something like that.

“This could not have led to anything other than a consumer backlash.

“The bottom line is that it was a serious misjudgement. They have used a political and human situation that many people are concerned about, to market their products and services, and that is not right.”

He added that marketers had to be particularly careful about the way they used social media – more so than they would be in any other form of media – because consumers were more “in control”.

“Advertising in social media can be like gatecrashing a party. People who use social media are much less tolerant to have their conversations interrupted by advertisers.

“The art is in being able to tap into those conversations without alienating people.”

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