News & Current Affairs

February 20, 2010

Police battle illegal Russian gamblers

Filed under: Business News, Entertainment News, Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:27 pm

Police battle illegal Russian gamblers

Police vidoe of raid on ilegal casino

A picture from a police video shows officers catching staff and gamblers red-handed

Illegal gambling has spread rapidly across Russia since a new law came into force last July banning casinos and slots machines in towns and cities, according to a senior police officer in an exclusive interview with the BBC.

Col Oleg Bolderov of the economic crimes department of the Russian police said they had carried out thousands of raids over the past eight months.

“We have closed down 70 casinos and 4,000 slot-machine arcades… and have brought 600 criminal cases against those trying to organise this (illegal gambling),” he said.

A police video of one of the raids given to the BBC shows heavily armed officers dressed in black, breaking into an illegal casino and catching the staff and punters red-handed.

Brandishing automatic weapons, two police officers stand over a poker table busy with startled gamblers.

But despite the crackdown, well-placed sources connected to the formerly legal gambling industry say underground gambling dens continue to flourish in the capital, Moscow, and in St Petersburg, while in more far-flung cities very little actually changed when the law came into force last July.

‘Gambling rife’

There are also allegations that some senior police officers are actively offering to protect illegal casinos in return for huge pay-offs.

“We were approached by a police official who told us that for $400,000 per month we could stay open,” said one source who wished to remain anonymous.

Russian police officer Oleg Bolderov
In parts of Russia, gambling remains rife. Why? Because of corruption
Col Oleg Bolderov

Even Col Bolderov admits that authorities are fighting a losing battle against the continuing huge demand for gambling as well as against corrupt officials.

“One of the most probable explanations for the rise of illegal gambling is corruption,” he says.

“In our police department, we do our best to close down underground casinos and slot-machine halls and we have some success.

“But in parts of Russia, gambling remains rife. Why? Because of corruption.”

In the centre of Moscow it is easy to find slot-machine arcades operating openly, although slightly more discreetly than before.

And it took just a few phone calls to arrange a visit to an illegal casino.

I was told to leave my bag behind to ensure I had no recording equipment or cameras with me.

Lucrative industry

The owner then led me through corridors and heavy doors, which could only be opened using special security codes, into the casino.

It was not large but it had pristine poker tables, a roulette wheel and hi-tech slot machines.

At the bar, a lone gambler, his back turned to me, nursed a drink.

Still from police video of Moscow gambling site

The police have had some success in closing gambling sites down

According to industry sources the illegal casinos were up and running just four months after the ban came into force.

The new law, which should have put an end to gambling in Russia’s towns and cities, was pushed through by the former president and now Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.

Casinos and slot-machine arcades had come to dominate city centres with their gaudy neon entrances.

The gambling industry, which was resurrected after the collapse of the Soviet Union almost twenty years ago, had grown to be worth around $6bn (4.4bn euros, £3.9bn) a year.

And the number of addicts was also growing.

Too remote

The government’s plan was to banish gambling to four specially-designated zones in the remotest regions of the country.

But the zones were so remote that none of the big casino operators was prepared to invest the huge sums of money required to have the slightest chance of attracting gamblers to travel so far.

So for the most part, they remain empty plots of land.

In a forlorn ceremony earlier this month however, one casino in one of the regions did finally open its doors.

It is at least a two hour drive from the nearest city and airport, in the middle of nowhere in the far south of the country.

No other casinos have been built so far in any of the regions.

Already there are calls for the law to be revised on the basis that it has simply driven gambling underground and provided corrupt officials with yet another opportunity to solicit bribes.

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August 9, 2009

Jackson friend claims paternity

Filed under: Business News, Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 2:09 pm

Jackson friend claims paternity

Mark Lester, a former child star and long-time friend of Michael Jackson, says he could be the father of one of the late pop star’s children.

Speaking to the News Of The World, Lester said he had donated sperm to the King of Pop and was willing to take a paternity test.

“I believe Paris could be my daughter,” he said, and noted she bore a physical resemblance to his daughter, Harriet.

Calls to Lester’s home in Cheltenham were not immediately returned.

The 51-year-old, who rose to fame playing Oliver Twist in the 1968 film of the stage musical, had been friends with Jackson for nearly 30 years.

He is godfather to Paris, 11, and Jackson’s two other children, 12-year-old Prince, and Prince Michael II, seven.

The star suffered a cardiac arrest at his Los Angeles home on 25 June at the age of 50.

His mother, Katherine, became the permanent guardian of his three children last week.

Welfare concerns

In a video on the News Of The World website, Lester said he had come forward at this time “because I have concerns about the welfare and upbringing of the children”.

“There’s a contact issue,” he added. “I dearly want to remain in contact with those kids and I feel now this is the only way that I can ensure that.”

The former actor, who now works as an osteopath, also detailed how the arrangement with Jackson had come to pass.

Michael Jackson's children

Paris (left) made an emotional speech at her father’s memorial concert

“Michael Jackson asked me in a private conversation if I would be willing to donate sperm on his behalf,” he said.

“I was phoned up by a London clinic and I was asked what would be a convenient time for me to attend. I made an appointment to go along.”

Lester said he assumed the mother of the child would be Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s then-wife.

There has previously been speculation that Jackson’s dermatologist, Arnold Klein, was the father to his two children with Rowe.

The star’s third child was born to a surrogate mother, whose identity was never revealed.

“Of all of Michael’s children, I would assume that the one who looks most like me is Paris,” Lester said.

“Paris has blue eyes, pale complexion and high cheekbones. My girls all have very similar features.”

There has been no comment on Lester’s claims from the Jackson family.

Saudis shut TV offices in sex row

Filed under: Business News, Entertainment News, Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 2:05 pm

Saudis shut TV offices in sex row

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The Jeddah offices of a Lebanon-based TV station which broadcast an interview with a Saudi man boasting about his sexual conquests have been closed.

Saudi Arabian authorities said the offices had been shut by order of the country’s deputy prime minister.

The 32-year-old Saudi man’s interview shocked conservative Saudi society, prompting calls for him to be punished.

Mazen Abdul Jawad talked about his sexual conquests and how he picks up women in the kingdom.

A spokesman at the information ministry confirmed the decision to close the offices of the LBC TV station in the kingdom’s commercial capital.

“It was because of the interview with Mazen Abdul Jawad,” Abdul Rahman al-Hazzaa said, according to AFP news agency.

Discreet society

Saudi media say officials are considering whether to charge Mr Abdul Jawad over the interview, which appeared on a programme called Red Lines and challenged Saudi taboos.

The Saudi daily newspaper al-Watan said authorities had also closed other offices of the channel, which is mainly owned by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Pre-marital sex is illegal in Saudi Arabia and Mr Abdul Jawad could face imprisonment or flogging.

Saudi Arabia is not only the most conservative society in the Arab world, it is also the most discreet.

If people break its strict Islamic code they face punishment – lashes or imprisonment for drinking or non-marital sex.

These rules are flouted by locals as well as expatriates, correspondents say, but almost everyone who breaks the rules keeps quiet about it and hopes they will not be found out.

Saudi princess robbed in Sardinia

Filed under: Business News, Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:57 pm

Saudi princess robbed in Sardinia

map

Italian police are investigating the theft of some $16m (£10m) in cash and jewellery from a Saudi princess staying on the Italian island of Sardinia.

The thieves used a master key to gain entry to her luxury hotel suite in Porto Cervo before ripping a safe from the wall, Italian media reports say.

They said the safe was only fixed with silicon to the wall in the suite.

Officials have not named the princess but say Italian and Saudi diplomats have had talks about the incident.

“The thieves used a master key. In 10 minutes at dinner time, without making any noise, they managed to remove the safe from a suite occupied by the Saudi princess,” Italy’s La Stampa newspaper reported.

The hotel is located in one of the most chic resort areas on the Italian island.

July 20, 2009

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dance festival

The Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival has been a big hit this year

Hundreds of women of all nationalities sway their hips and twirl in time to the beat of a drum in a hotel ballroom by the pyramids in Cairo.

Belly dancing is said to have been practised in Egypt since Pharaonic times and now it has caught on around the globe.

It is well-established in Europe and the US and has recently spread to Asia. This year dozens of dancers travelled from China for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dancing festival.

“Because this is the land of dance, women have to come!” declares Raqia Hassan, the festival organiser.

“When she comes she can meet famous dancers and musicians. She can see the pyramids. Anyone who comes to Egypt one time, she cannot stop coming back.”

Japanese belly dance fan

Safa Bakr’s shop attracts women from all over the world

Raqia, who has taught many belly dancing celebrities, leads her large class through the basic moves of the dance putting together a routine.

“It’s fun and you can do this at any age,” says Ewa Horsfield from London. “You can express your own personality. It’s an individual dance. You just listen and respond to the music.”

Many speak of the fitness benefits of belly dancing.

“In China all ladies like for their health,” says Angel from Shanghai.

“This kind of dance began here. Here teachers [are] very, very good so all Chinese ladies want to come.”

Contradictions

Belly dancing is big business in Egypt thanks to the global market.

Designer, Safaa Yasser Bakr, runs a belly dancing costume shop in the historic Khan el-Khalili bazaar.

She helps a Brazilian woman try on a sky-blue sequinned bra and a matching skirt with a split up one side.

“In one show big stars change costume many times,” she tells her. “You need maybe five different pieces.”

Nowadays Safaa sells most of her alluring outfits to foreigners.

Safa Yasser Bakr

Safa sells her wares in Khan el-Khalili – Cairo’s Islamic heart

“I see people coming from France, Italy, United States, Argentina, Spain, Japan,” she says.

But in Egypt at large, many experts fear the dance is losing its appeal.

Society has become more religious and conservative over the past generation and belly dancing is not considered a respectable profession.

“I don’t like belly dancing. I don’t like to see a woman half-naked dancing and moving her body like that,” says one man on the street in central Cairo.

“It has a kind of sexual movement. That’s why I don’t like to watch it,” adds his friend.

An older passer-by remembers the famous dancers of the 1960s with affection but says he would not let his wife or daughters dance in public today.

“I liked the old belly dancer because you could not see a lot of her body,” he remarks. “They were very respectable – not like the new ones now.”

Enduring art

Dance historian, Mo Geddawi, accepts belly dancing is facing a challenging time in Egypt but says this must be seen in perspective.

“Forget about different governments and religion,” he says. “When Christianity and then Islam came the dance was taboo, but people continued to dance.”

“Sometimes in public it is less but the dance never died.”

For now though international devotees help to ensure the dance goes on.

Diana Esposito from New York came to Cairo on a scholarship to study the social and economic reasons for its decline but has become an accomplished belly dancer herself.

“The first time I saw it I thought the movements were so sensual,” she says. “I decided to try something new and it became an addiction.”

“I don’t see the dance being done properly anywhere else in the world. That’s why everyone flocks here – this is the capital of belly dance.”

One dead at Slovak music festival

Filed under: Business News, Entertainment News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:23 am

One dead at Slovak music festival

Collapsed tent in Trencin on July 18

The festival was called off after the accident

One person has died after a giant tent collapsed on a crowd of concert goers at Slovakia’s biggest music festival, reports say.

Another 40 were injured – 15 seriously – when a gust of wind lifted and then brought down the tent during a rain storm in the western town of Trencin.

Organisers cancelled the Pohoda festival, which was attended by more than 30,000 music fans.

One report said the accident victim was a young boy.

Mario Gesvantner, a spokesman for the organisers, said weather forecasts had not warned of severe storms.

Milan to enforce teen drink ban

Milan to enforce teen drink ban

Italian teenagers drinking alcohol (file image)

Rising binge drinking is forcing changes to Italy’s relationship with alcohol

Milan has banned the consumption and sale of alcohol to young teenagers in an effort to curb binge-drinking.

Parents of children under the age of 16 caught drinking wine or spirits will be liable to heavy fines of up to 500 Euros ($700;£450).

A third of 11-year-olds in the city have alcohol related problems, it says.

In a country where for centuries wine has been part of local culture – and prohibition would be unthinkable – the ban has come as a shock.

But the authorities are deeply concerned about the increase in consumption of alcohol by children as young as 11 in the country’s industrial and financial capital.

So as an experiment, supplying alcohol – either wine or spirits – to youths under the age of 16 in bars, restaurants, pizza shops and liquor stores will be banned.

Heavy fines will be imposed on the parents of offending children and on shopkeepers or bar owners who serve them.

A national law banning the sale of alcohol to under-16s is only loosely enforced, as Italian families are used to sometimes giving young children a teaspoon of wine as a family party treat.

In past centuries, Italian children would sometimes even be given wine to drink in preference to water which was often polluted.

There has been a storm of protest by bar owners who refuse to act as alcohol police for young people.

But changing social customs mean that old easy-going attitudes towards consumption of alcohol in Italy will have to change.

July 19, 2009

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta

Tributes are left for those killed in the hotel attacks

Indonesian officials say there are “strong indications” a key wanted fugitive was behind Friday’s deadly attacks on two hotels in Jakarta.

Noordin Mohamed Top is wanted for plotting the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 and other Indonesian attacks.

Nine people, including two suicide bombers, died in the attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott.

At least four of Friday’s victims are said to be foreigners but have not all been formally identified.

Police in the Indonesian capital are studying DNA and other evidence to try to identify those behind the attacks.

The anti-terror chief, Ansyaad Mbai, has told the News he believes there are strong indications that Noordin was the mastermind behind the blasts.

NOORDIN MOHAMED TOP
Noordin Top (archive image)
Born in Malaysia, fled to Indonesia after 9/11
Wanted for planning bombings on Bali in 2002 and 2005 and other attacks
Said to have split from Jemaah Islamiah over strategy disagreements and set up new group
Main accomplice Azahari Husin killed by police in 2005
Escaped police raid in 2006 and continues to evade capture

Noordin was said to be a key financier for the Jemaah Islamiah militant group but is now thought to have set up his own splinter group.

Jemaah Islamiah has links to al-Qaeda and has a long track record of bomb attacks in Indonesia including the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.

Friday’s bombs contained nails, ball bearings and bolts, identical to ones used by Jemaah Islamiah, police said.

Mr Mbai said he believed the aim of the attacks was to embarrass Indonesia’s government at a time when the country was enjoying a greater degree of stability than it had in the past.

The Indonesian people have been truly shocked by these attacks as they thought they had put events like this behind them.

Investigators on Friday recovered an unexploded bomb and other explosives material from what they said was the “control centre” for the attacks – room 1808 in the Marriott.

The attackers paid to stay at the hotel and smuggled in the explosives before detonating them in two restaurants on Friday.

CCTV footage showed one attacker wearing a cap pulling a bag on wheels into the Marriott restaurant, followed by a flash and smoke.

Security has been tightened across Indonesia in the wake of the attacks, with 500 troops put on standby to support police in the capital.

‘Shoulder to shoulder’

A New Zealander, businessman Tim Mackay, has been confirmed killed.

I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones
Barack Obama

Indonesian police say Australians Nathan Verity and Garth McEvoy also died.

Their countryman, diplomat Craig Senger, was at the same breakfast meeting. He is missing and feared dead.

A health ministry report said a Singaporean and an Indonesian were also confirmed dead.

At least 17 foreigners were among the wounded, including eight Americans.

Other foreign nationals wounded included visitors from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the UK.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the attacks as “cruel and inhuman”.

US President Barack Obama said: “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones.”

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is due to arrive in Jakarta on Saturday.

He said he wanted to stand “shoulder to shoulder with Indonesia at this terrible time”.

The Manchester United football team had been booked to stay in the Ritz-Carlton next week ahead of a game in Jakarta.

The team has cancelled the Indonesian leg of their tour.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for the series of bombings more than five years ago.

Jakarta map

Sunday ferry makes first sailing

Sunday ferry makes first sailing

Protestors in Stornoway

A small group of protesters gathered ahead of the sailing

The controversial first scheduled Sunday ferry sailing from Stornoway on Lewis to mainland Scotland has gone ahead as planned.

There has been strong opposition on the island, where the Sabbath day has traditionally been strictly observed.

A small group of protesters prayed and sang a psalm as cars boarded the boat, but several hundred people clapped.

Supporters said it would boost the economy of the Hebridean island and offer local people freedom to travel.

A small group of about a dozen protesters gathered in Stornoway ahead of the sailing to Ullapool, which left at 1430 BST.

Equality laws

As cars lined up in the ferry terminal car park, protesters gathered in silence behind a banner.

It read: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”.

They sang Psalm 46 – God is our refuge and our strength – and prayed for the nation to “turn its back from sin and wickedness”.

A number of women wiped away tears as they prayed for a return to the Lord’s commandments.

The crossing was undertaken by the route’s usual ferry, the MV Isle of Lewis, after a fault in the exhaust on Friday was repaired sooner than expected.

A spokesman for ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne said: “We’re pleased to get under way after the difficulties over the last couple of days.

“It’s all gone as planned.”

The MV Isle of Arran was drafted in after the Isle of Lewis broke down.

The former boat ran a number of emergency crossings to clear the backlog of passengers.

CalMac said it could be breaking equality laws if it did not run ferries seven days a week.

It said religion or beliefs were not valid reasons to refuse to run the ferry.

Supporters of the service said it would be good for tourism.

They said it would offer more flexibility to travellers.

As the ferry left Stornoway a crowd of several hundred gathered to applaud, and wave to those on board.

A leaflet handed out by a group of local churches said that the peace and tranquillity of the islands was enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

It said: “By and large we like it like this.

“We are not oppressed by a quiet Sunday.”

It wished tourists who came to Lewis by ferry a “happy and blessed trip to the islands”.

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