News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Turkey smoke ban extends to bars

Turkey smoke ban extends to bars

A man hangs a no smoking sign in Istanbul, Turkey (16 July 2009)

Local authority staff will impose fines on those breaking the ban

Turkey has extended an existing ban on smoking in public places to all bars, cafes and restaurants.

The ban has come into force despite opposition from some bar and cafe owners who fear losing business.

It comes after the government banned smoking from most enclosed public spaces in May last year in an effort to improve the nation’s health.

Turkey has more than 20 million smokers but polls suggest 95% of people support the ban.

“We are working to protect our future, to save our youth,” said Health Minister Recep Akdag.

Anyone caught lighting up in a designated smoke-free area faces a fine of 69 liras ($45:£28) while bar owners who fail to enforce the ban could be fined from 560 liras for a first offence up to 5,600 liras.

Local authorities have hired thousands of extra staff to track down smokers and impose the fines.

Many people in Istanbul said they thought the ban was a good move.

“We were being destroyed in the places where you were allowed to smoke inside,” said Istanbul cafe patron Hanife Demirm.

“I was choosing the non-smoking places automatically, but after the ban is extended I will not need to be selective. I’ll be very comfortable in every place that I go,” he told the AP news agency.

‘Unnecessary stress’

A man smoking in a cafe in Istanbul, Turkey (17 July 2009)

Turkey is one of the world’s heaviest smoking countries

But the BBC’s David O’Byrne in Istanbul says many Turkish people see the ban as an erosion of their democratic rights and have called for bars to be able to apply for a smoking licence.

Some cafe owners have also said they were concerned the ban would drive away customers.

“They will simply leave and never come back, or we would get in trouble for letting them smoke,” said Istanbul cafe owner Selahattin Nar.

“Then both we and they would be filled with unnecessary stresses. In the end they will not be able to relax and we will have to shut down.”

But Mr Akdag said there was no reason for cafe and bar owners to be worried about a drop in trade.

“The public supports a smoke-free environment and the only ones to suffer will be the cigarette producers and sellers,” he said.

A no smoking rule has been in place for the past 15 months in government offices, workplaces, shopping malls, schools and hospitals.

All forms of public transport, including trains, taxis and ferries, are also affected but there are exemptions for special zones in psychiatric hospitals and prisons.

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September 6, 2008

Police: Gunman kills self after standoff in bank

Police: Gunman kills self after standoff in bank

WHEATON, Illinois (AP) — A gunman who took a dozen hostages in a suburban Chicago bank after wresting a gun from a police officer Friday died after shooting himself in the head, police said.

Hostages were released Friday after a gunman killed himself in suburban Chicago, police say.

Hostages were released Friday after a gunman killed himself in suburban Chicago, police say.

The standoff began around 1:30 p.m., after a Wheaton police officer responded to a call of a hit-and-run accident near the bank.

When the officer arrived, the suspect grabbed the officer from behind, held a knife to his throat and demanded his gun, Deputy Chief Thomas Meloni said.

During an ensuing struggle, the officer was cut on a forearm and the suspect was able to take the gun and run the lobby of the Wheaton Bank & Trust, where he ordered everyone to the floor, Meloni said.

Police in Wheaton, about 20 miles west of Chicago, did not immediately release the gunman’s identity.

As officers evacuated nearby businesses and homes and shut down streets and rail service, hostage negotiators talked to the gunman by phone. They were able to persuade him to release 10 hostages, leaving two behind, Meloni said.

“At one point the suspect began to close the blinds from inside the bank and he disconnected the phone contact with the hostage negotiators,” Meloni said.

Shortly afterward, about 4:15 p.m., officers heard a single gunshot and they rushed in, Meloni said. He said the man was dead of a single gunshot wound to the head.

A spokeswoman for Central DuPage Hospital, Amy Steinbruecker, said the hospital treated and released the police officer who scuffled with the suspect for minor injuries.

Television footage showed dozens of people running from the four-story bank building, which includes other businesses, with their hands above their heads.

“We locked our office door, turned off the lights, drew the blinds,” said Donna Price, 52, of McHenry, who works in the office building. “Then we heard a knock on the door and it was a SWAT guy. He told us to get out right now.

“I said, ‘Let me get my purse.’ He said, ‘No, now.”‘

Price said police held people in a stairwell of the building before ordering them out.

“We all had to put our hands up on the back of our heads and run,” Price said from a convenience store across the street where more than 100 people were crowded.

Popular comic strip ignites controversy

Popular comic strip ignites controversy

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — For most of our lives cartoonist Lynn Johnston has had us hanging on every plot twist and complication she could pack into 29 years of “For Better or For Worse.”

Lynn Johnston ended the original run of "For Better or For Worse" Sunday, but is now returning to the past.

Lynn Johnston ended the original run of “For Better or For Worse” Sunday, but is now returning to the past.

Take one of the biggest, longest-running ones: Would Elizabeth, seriously challenged in picking men, finally dump that silly helicopter flyboy boyfriend of hers and just marry Anthony, for God’s sake? He’d been her sweetheart off and on since their grade-school days and had rescued her from the crazy would-be rapist she once worked with. So forget that the mustache Anthony grew in recent years made him look so much like a dork that even other comic strips began making fun of it. Life is, as Johnston would say, for better or for worse.

But then the cartoonist pulled the rug completely out from under us Sunday with a plot twist that made even the heartbreaking death of the Patterson family dog Farley (as he saved little April from drowning) seem pale in comparison. Even the comic strip that outraged readers by the thousands in 1993 when Lawrence acknowledged he was gay couldn’t top this.

There it was in full color in the big Sunday strip: As Elizabeth’s parents are dancing at her wedding (to Anthony, thank God) Johnston herself enters the strip in cartoon form and tells us that starting the next day “For Better or For Worse” will rocket back almost 30 years in time to soon after it began.

Elizabeth, now 27, would be a baby again. Michael, who loved to taunt his sister, calling her “Lizard Breath” when they were growing up, would be about grade-school age. On the positive side, family patriarch John Patterson would shed that pot belly he’d been growing in recent years and his wife, Elly, could finally put away all those anti-wrinkle products she’d been obsessing over for about the last decade.

And readers of some 2,000 newspaper comic sections would be left to scratch their heads and mutter, “What the … ”

“Interesting idea and it may very well work with the fan base that she’s got,” says Dave Strickler, a comic-strip fanatic who runs the Web site comicsaccess.com and has compiled a list of every comic strip syndicated in the United States from 1924 to 1995.

Strickler, like other fans of the strip, complains that it has gotten a little too sentimental in recent years, with Johnston concentrating too much on the philosophical musings she is famous for saving until the final panel and not enough on the story line.

At the same time, he says, the strip has grown to include so many characters that it was getting hard to tell them apart. He would sometimes mistake Elizabeth for her younger sister, April, or even her mother, Elly. (Those anti-wrinkle products must really be working!)

“If she goes back to the original art and carries on with the wit she’s capable of, there’s no reason to believe current fans won’t be loyal and new fans won’t enjoy it as well,” he said of the change.

For the time being, fans are left to try to figure out what would have happened to the gang had they kept on aging.

Johnston did tie up some loose ends in that last strip, explaining that Michael, who nearly died a few years ago when he ran into a burning apartment to save the manuscript of his Great Canadian Novel (the comic strip is set in Johnston’s native Canada) has gone on to publish four books and sign a movie deal.

Ailing Grandpa Jim, she said, would live long enough to hold Elizabeth’s first baby before dying at age 89.

Barely able to speak after suffering a stroke, Jim still managed to think one of the strip’s better quips last month when, after seeing the bride and groom rush into his hospital room straight from their wedding, he declared their act “a classic case of hitch and run.”

Whether editors will embrace the strip or cut and run remains to be seen.

About 2 percent of the 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada that carry “For Better or For Worse,” canceled when Johnston changed things from a real-time serial to a daily comic set in a fixed time, Universal Press Syndicate spokeswoman Kathie Kerr said Wednesday.

For some of the newspapers that did, reaction was swift.

Kathy Lu, features editor at The Roanoke (Virginia) Times said about 100 people e-mailed or phoned over the next two days, most of them unhappy.

“It felt like we were just going to be doing the same thing over again, even though she said she was going to be drawing some new stories,” Lu said of deciding not to continue the strip.

It was an argument die-hard fans weren’t buying.

Although Johnston has said that from this point the strips will be about a 50-50 mix of “classic” repeats and what she calls “new-runs” that will be drawn in the old style and set in the previous time but involve new stories, one man told Lu he wouldn’t care if every strip was old.

“He said, ‘It’s like watching ‘(The) Andy Griffith (Show),’ ” she said of the 1960s sitcom still in reruns. “He said, ‘I watch that show over and over again.’ ”

In an interview she recently posted on YouTube, Johnston said she was aware of fans’ concerns and hoped they would “hang in there with me and see what I do because it’s never been done before.”

In recent years, she has talked of simply ending the strip when the time came or of handing it off to someone else. She indicated in the YouTube interview that splitting with her husband of more than 30 years last year prompted her to abandon those plans.

“I never thought I’d be single at this time in my life,” the 61-year-old artist said. “And with that in mind, I still want to work. I still want to keep my hand in it.”

September 3, 2008

Bush backs McCain for president

Bush backs McCain for president

President George W Bush has praised John McCain’s service and leadership in a speech to the Republican convention.

Speaking via video-link from the White House, he told delegates in St Paul, Minnesota, that Mr McCain was “a great American and the next president”.

Mr McCain is due to be nominated on Thursday as the party’s presidential candidate for November’s election.

The main talking point so far has been the news that the teenage daughter of Mr McCain’s running mate is pregnant.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, chosen as the vice-presidential nominee last week, announced on Monday that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, would have the baby and marry her boyfriend.

In his eight-minute address, Mr Bush described Mr McCain as a president ready to make the tough decisions needed “in a dangerous world”.

John McCain’s life is a story of service above self
President George W Bush

“John McCain’s life has prepared him to make those choices. He is ready to lead this nation,” Mr Bush said.

He also spoke of Mr McCain’s life as “a story of service above self” and emphasized the “independence and character” he showed in backing the administration’s “surge” strategy of pouring more forces into Iraq.

Former Senator Fred Thompson, who ran against Mr McCain in the party’s primaries, opened a lively speech with criticism of the Democrats and the media for their scrutiny of Mrs Palin and her family.

He also spoke of Mr McCain’s military service, his courage while a prisoner of war in Vietnam and his commitment to reform in Washington.

Mr Thompson went on to attack the Democrats and their record since taking control of Congress in the 2006 mid-term elections.

Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat who was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, spoke of Mr McCain as “the best choice to bring our country together and lead our country forward”.

Gustav appeal

Most of the first day’s political events were suspended out of respect for communities affected by Hurricane Gustav.

Instead, Mr McCain’s wife, Cindy, and First Lady Laura Bush made calls to support those under threat.

Mrs Bush told delegates that such events transcended party politics and reminded people that they were Americans first.

Gustav was downgraded to a tropical storm after making landfall on Monday west of New Orleans, where hundreds of thousands of people had been evacuated.

The storm came three years after Hurricane Katrina struck, killing more than 1,800 people and resulting in huge damage to the city and its surrounding area. President Bush was strongly criticised over his handling of the crisis.

Palin talking point

The Republican Party convention is now getting down to work after the uncertainty brought on by Hurricane Gustav.

Tuesday’s events are focusing on Mr McCain, a concentrated piece of political image building with a keynote speech from Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-independent senator, who has decided to support the party’s candidate, our correspondent says.

John McCain and Sarah Palin (31 August 2008)
Sarah Palin’s announcement has so far overshadowed the convention

President Bush cancelled his planned opening night speech amid concerns that overt political campaigning would play badly with voters at a time of potential crisis.

But many Republicans will be glad he is not here in St Paul in person, our correspondent says, and much of this week will be about defining Mr McCain as very different to his unpopular predecessor.

Meanwhile, media attention has continued to focus on Mrs Palin, who is facing an ethics investigation in her home state and whose daughter’s pregnancy made headlines on Monday.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Bristol’s boyfriend, named as 18-year-old Levi Johnston, would be joining the Palin family at the convention in Minnesota.

The AP quotes Mr Johnston’s mother, Sherry, as saying he had been put under no pressure to marry and that the pair had been planning to wed before they knew she was pregnant.

Our correspondent says Mrs Palin’s selection as vice-presidential candidate has caused great excitement among social conservatives and evangelical Christians here.

But across the broader Republican Party there seems to be some unease – she is an unknown quantity, and when she is finally brought out on to the convention stage on Wednesday, many McCain supporters will be crossing their fingers and hoping she performs, he adds.

The 72-year-old Arizona senator is expected to formally accept his candidacy in a prime-time speech on Thursday evening.


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