News & Current Affairs

February 21, 2010

Portugal rushes aid to Madeira after deadly floods

Portugal rushes aid to Madeira after deadly floods

Portugal’s armed forces are sending two ships with helicopters and medical supplies to Madeira island, where floods have killed at least 32 people.

Extra search and rescue teams were expected to arrive on Sunday to help clean up after mudslides and raging floods tore through towns on Saturday.

Officials fear the death toll could rise. Water, power and phones were cut in some areas.

PM Jose Socrates, who is in Madeira, said he would “do everything to help”.

The storms were the worst there since October 1993, when eight people died.

“So far we have confirmed 32 deaths but eventually the number may increase,” regional official Francisco Ramos was quoted as saying by Portuguese newspaper Publico.

Madeira is located about 900km (560miles) from the Portuguese mainland and is popular with foreign tourists.

Debris left behind in Funchal by the flash floods

Officials say the extra emergency teams being sent include 56 military rescuers with search dogs and 36 firefighters.

Portuguese Interior Minister Rui Pereira, who has also flown to the island, said forensic experts would conduct post-mortem examinations to allow funerals to take place soon.

He added: “We are studying the possibility of declaring a state of emergency and then seeking help from the European Union.”

The regional capital, Funchal, among the worst affected areas by Saturday’s floods and mudslides.

Television pictures showed muddy torrents coursing down narrow channels and spilling over the sides, roads awash with water and streets littered with debris.

‘Ghost town’

Trees have been brought down and cars swept away, blocking roads and hampering relief teams. Some bridges and roads have been washed away.

MADEIRA FACTS
map
Autonomous region of Portugal with population of around 250,000
Lies just over 480km (300 miles) from West African coast
The European continent is more than 900km away

British holidaymaker Cathy Sayers told the news Funchal was like a ghost town. She said the infrastructure had been wrecked.

“The drains just cannot cope with the water that’s coming down from the mountains – they are just overfilled with sludge.”

There had not really been any warning that it would be quite so bad, she said.

“I think everyone is extremely shocked that this has happened at this time of year,” she said.

The president of the regional government, Joao Jardim, said outdoor markets would be encouraged to reopen.

“We don’t know how much it will affect the tourism, but there is no point in dramatising the situation too much,” he said.

Local media say the authorities’ main concern now is for residents of Nuns valley – an isolated mountainous region that rescue workers have been unable to reach.

The Weather Center says the severe weather was due a low pressure system, and that while Madeira can expect further rain with heavy downpours on Sunday, there is no danger of a repeat of the flash floods.


Do you live in the area? Have you been affected by the floods and mudslides? Are you visiting the island?

Send your comments

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February 20, 2010

Dubai killing awakes ghosts of assassinations past

Dubai killing awakes ghosts of assassinations past

CCTV footage of alleged assassination team
Mossad has form. Assassination has been one of its specialities since the time that Israel was killing Nazis in the 1950s

Jeremy Bowen assesses the fall-out in the Middle East from the alleged assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh by Mossad agents in a luxury Dubai hotel.

“Shame you are not filming on a Friday,” said a local resident.

Jimmy, the BBC cameraman, was trying to get some decent pictures of the Dubai skyline, but there was a haze that was not helping.

“Why Friday?” we asked.

“Well, there is less building on a Friday,” he said, “so the air is not so dusty.”

Even with Dubai’s well-advertised economic problems there is still a lot of construction going on, by the standards of most places.

This is my first proper trip to Dubai since the late 90s and it is unrecognisable.

Back in the 1960s, according to my uncle who was here with the British army, the runway lights at Dubai airport were barrels of burning tar.

Burj Khalifa
The long war, the century or so of conflict between Arabs and Jews, cannot be defeated by property developers

When I was here first, on my way to Afghanistan in the late 80s, a fairly compact city was surrounded by a sweep of open desert, which just is not there any more.

They must have poured tens of millions of tonnes of concrete to build this sprawling city state.

As I write, I can see a burnt orange sun setting behind the Burj Khalifa, the new skyscraper that is the world’s highest building. It is extraordinarily tall.

Acres of gardens and golf courses in Dubai are green and lush, in a place with almost no rain, thanks to hugely expensive desalination plants.

The climate is wonderful right now, but in the summer it is appallingly hot and humid.

Never mind, everywhere is air-conditioned, especially the indoor ski slope, where they make real indoor snow and have a black run for experts.

‘Unobtainable dream’

Love it or hate it, they have tamed nature to build an incredible city.

Perhaps they never thought they could tame the Middle East too, though minds that could conceive the Burj Khalifa are not short of ambition.

But if not tame it, they were hoping to insulate this place from its dark, violent ways.

The assassination of the Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh proves that was one unobtainable dream.

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh

It is assumed Mossad is behind Mr Mabhouh’s death

The long war, the century or so of conflict between Arabs and Jews, cannot be defeated by property developers.

Its capacity to generate and export violence is unparalleled in today’s world.

Was Mr Mabhouh killed by Mossad, the Israeli secret service?

I do not know. But there is circumstantial evidence that he was.

Bloody hands

And he was an enemy of Israel, according to the press there, involved with arms shipments into Gaza.

In the kind of phrase Israelis use, he had Jewish blood on his hands.

Hamas gave him a hero’s funeral.

Mossad has form. Assassination has been one of its specialities since the time that Israel was killing Nazis in the 1950s.

If Israel was behind the assassination, then its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might well be troubled by the ghosts of assassinations past.

In 1997, during his first stint as prime minister, he authorised a Mossad hit on an up-and-coming man in Hamas, a Palestinian called Khaled Meshaal.

Two Mossad agents approached Mr Meshaal as he was walking down a street in Amman, the Jordanian capital.

Map of United Arab Emirates

They sprayed poison into his ear, but they bungled their escape and were found to be carrying false Canadian passports.

King Hussein, who hadn’t long since signed a peace treaty with Israel, was outraged. For him, it wasn’t just a breach of trust.

Rumours started that he was somehow complicit in the attack. With Mr Meshaal close to death, King Hussein demanded that Israel gave his doctors the formula for the poison and the antidote.

To get their two captured agents back, the Israelis was forced to release dozens of Jordanian and Palestinian prisoners.

They included the spiritual leader of Hamas sheikh Ahmed Yassin. He was a thorn in Israel’s side until he too was assassinated in an air strike in Gaza in 2003

Khaled Meshaal survived and is now the most senior political figure in Hamas, living behind heavy security in Damascus.

Netanyahu’s ‘fiasco’

So it was not a good time for Mr Netanyahu.

King Hussein refused to see him when he went to Amman to apologise and the then head of Mossad was forced to resign.

Israelis viewed the affair as a costly fiasco. It was one of the factors that contributed to a comprehensive defeat of Mr Netanyahu in an election two years later.

Benjamin Netanyahu [File pic]

Benjamin Netanyahu lost an election after a Mossad killing

There is one very significant difference between then and now.

In Amman in 1997 the would-be assassins were apprehended, along with their false Canadian papers.

This time round the alleged assassins’ faces have been published, along with their assumed names.

If they are Israeli agents, or freelance killers, then their identities have been blown.

But they are not in custody and that makes it much harder to prove that Israel did it.

If Israel had nothing to do with the killing, or with the theft of the identities of six British-Israelis for the alleged assassins’ passports, then Mr Netanyahu, now in his second term, has nothing to worry about.

But if Mossad is responsible, and that is the assumption in Israel as well as here in Dubai, then he has some sweating to do in the next few weeks.

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.

Alexander Haig, former US secretary of state, dies

Alexander Haig, former US secretary of state, dies

Alexander Haig appears before the US House Committee on Government  Reform in 1999

Alexander Haig failed in his 1988 presidential bid

Former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig has died at the age of 85.

Mr Haig had been admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on 28 January with complications associated with an infection, his family said.

He was chief-of-staff to President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s.

Mr Haig was perhaps best known for his bungled response when President Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981, erroneously telling reporters he was “in control”.

Mr Haig maintained that he was simply trying to keep the country calm, but he was widely derided for apparently trying to overstep his authority.

Cold War warrior

A spokesman for Johns Hopkins Hospital, Gary Stephenson, said that Mr Haig had passed away at about 0130 (0530 GMT) on Saturday.

BBC defence correspondent Rob Watson says Mr Haig was the ultimate Cold War warrior.

There are contingency plans in the Nato doctrine to fire a nuclear weapon for demonstrative purposes, to demonstrate to the other side that they are exceeding the limits of toleration in the conventional area
Alexander Haig suggests the use of nuclear weapons to warn the USSR

A decorated hero in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, he rose to the rank of general before continuing the fight via the conservative politics of the Republican Party of the 1970s and 80s, our correspondent says.

In 1973, he was asked to take over as President Nixon’s chief of staff at a time when the administration was in serious trouble.

Mr Haig was widely credited with saving the presidency from complete collapse over Watergate, and persuading Nixon to resign.

He then stayed on as chief of staff to Gerald Ford, Nixon’s successor.

After a brief return to the military as Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander, Mr Haig was back in Washington in 1981 as President Reagan’s hawkish secretary of state.

During that time, he courted controversy by suggesting the possible use of nuclear weapons as a warning to the Soviets.

“There are contingency plans in the Nato doctrine to fire a nuclear weapon for demonstrative purposes, to demonstrate to the other side that they are exceeding the limits of toleration in the conventional area,” he said.

He also led failed US diplomatic efforts to negotiate between the UK and Argentina before the Falklands War, in the so-called “peace-shuttle” talks.

In 1988, he ran for the Republican presidential nomination but was beaten by the more moderate Vice-President George H W Bush, a loss which marked the end of his political career.


What are your memories of Mr Haig? Send us your comments

Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan

Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan

A Dutch soldier in Afghanistan

Dutch forces have been in Uruzgan since 2006

The Dutch government has collapsed over disagreements within the governing coalition on extending troop deployments in Afghanistan.

After marathon talks, Christian Democratic Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced that the Labour Party was quitting the government.

He offered his government’s resignation to Queen Beatrix in a telephone call.

The premier had been considering a Nato request for Dutch forces to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2010.

But Labour, the second-largest coalition party, has opposed the move.

Just under 2,000 Dutch service personnel have been serving in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan since 2006, with 21 killed.

Their deployment has already been extended once.

Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together
Jan Peter Balkenende

The troops should have returned home in 2008, but they stayed on because no other Nato nation offered replacements.

The commitment is now due to end in August 2010.

The Dutch parliament voted in October 2009 that it must definitely stop by then, although the government has yet to endorse that vote.

Mr Balkenende’s centre-right Christian Democrats wanted to agree to Nato’s request to extend the Dutch presence in Afghanistan.

But this was bitterly opposed by the Dutch Labour Party.

The finance minister and leader of the Labour Party, Wouter Bos, demanded an immediate ruling from Mr Balkenende.

When they failed to reach a compromise, Labour said it was pulling out of the coalition.

Nato priority

Mr Balkenende said he would offer the cabinet’s resignation to the Dutch Queen Beatrix later on Saturday following the collapse of the government.

It was announced after a 16-hour cabinet meeting which ran into the early hours of Saturday morning.

The prime minister said there was no common ground between the parties.

“Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together. There is no good path to allow this cabinet to go further,” he said.

The launch in 2001 of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) for Afghanistan was the organisation’s first and largest ground operation outside Europe.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said six months ago when he began his job that his priority was the war in Afghanistan.

As of October 2009, Isaf had more than 71,000 personnel from 42 different countries including the US, Canada, European countries, Australia, Jordan and New Zealand.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende

Mr Balkenende had been considering the Nato request

The US provides the bulk of foreign forces in Afghanistan, and President Barack Obama has announced an extra 30,000 American troops for Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has said the next 18 months could prove crucial for the international mission in Afghanistan, after more than eight years of efforts to stabilise the country.

Afghanistan remains a deadly place for foreign forces.

Suicide attacks on Afghan civilians and roadside bomb strikes on international troops are common, with the Taliban strongly resurgent in many areas of the country.

October 5, 2009

Hotmail accounts ‘posted online’

Filed under: Latest, Technology News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:57 pm

Hotmail accounts ‘posted online’

Windows Live logo

Reports suggest Windows Live Hotmail accounts have been hacked

Thousands of Hotmail passwords have been hacked and posted online, Expressyoureself  has learnt.

Microsoft, which owns the popular web-based e-mail system, said that it was aware of the claims and that it was “investigating the situation”.

Expressyoureself  has seen a list of more than 10,000 accounts, which technology blog Neowin.net said had been posted online.

The blog suggested the accounts had been hacked or had been collected as part of a phishing scheme.

Phishing involves using fake websites to lure people into revealing personal details such as bank accounts or login names and passwords.

‘Rapid response’

Neowin claims the details were posted on 1 October to pastebin.com, a website commonly used by developers to share code.

Although the details have since been removed, BBC News and Neowin has seen a list of 10,027 names beginning with the letters A and B.

“[We] can confirm the accounts are genuine and most appear to be based in Europe,” Tom Warren, a neowin blogger, wrote on the site.

The list included details of Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail accounts with email addresses ending hotmail.com, msn.com and live.com.

Microsoft said it had “been made aware of the claims that Windows Live IDs and passwords have been made available on the web”.

“We’re actively investigating the situation and will take appropriate steps as rapidly as possible,” a spokesperson said.

Neowin said that it recommended Windows Live Hotmail users to change their “password and security question immediately”.

Hotmail is currently the largest web-based email service.


Do you have a Hotmail email account? Have you been affected by the issues in this story? Send us your experiences

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

Map locator

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 27, 2009

Saudi sex boasts man apologises

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 7:02 pm

Saudi sex boasts man apologises

Map locator

A Saudi man who boasted about his sexual conquests on an Arabic TV station has tearfully apologised, as calls mounted for him to be punished.

Mazen Abdul Jawad talked about his sexual conquests, starting with a neighbour when he was 14, and how he picks up women in the kingdom.

Saudi media say officials are considering whether to charge him.

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

Discreet society

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, but almost everyone who breaks the rules keeps quiet about it and hopes they won’t be found out.

So it is unusual for a Saudi man to appear on TV freely discussing the ways in which he has transgressed the Saudi code.

Mr Abdul Jawad agreed to be interviewed for the Red Lines show on the popular Lebanese TV station, LBC.

The show deals with taboos in the Arab world.

Bluetooth dating

Mr Abdul Jawad talked openly about his sexual conquests, starting when he was 14.

He also described how he used the Bluetooth function on his mobile to meet Saudi women.

Religious authorities have tried to ban such devices for this very reason.

Complaints have now been filed against Mr Abdul Jawad in his local court and online Saudi forums are full of denunciations of his behaviour.

He says he is considering suing LBC for misrepresenting his views.

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