News & Current Affairs

September 8, 2008

Hong Kong democrats keep veto

Hong Kong democrats keep veto

Pro-democracy candidates Emily Lau of The Frontier Party celebrates

Pro-democracy candidate Emily Lau of Frontier Party celebrates

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp has won more than a third of seats in elections in the territory, and so retains a key veto over future major legislation.

The pro-democracy opposition won 23 out of the 30 elected seats in the Legislative Council.

The other 30 seats in the council are not directly elected, but allocated to special interest groups.

The Pro-Beijing camp had expected to make gains at the polls due to a surge of patriotism after the Olympics.

In fact, even some people on the pro-democracy side had been predicting that they would suffer heavy losses.

Some candidates issued statements on Sunday saying the situation was critical. Others were in tears, expecting to lose.

Analysts had believed pro-government parties would make significant gains after the surge in pro-China patriotism sparked by the Beijing Olympics and the Sichuan earthquake.

China had also promised the region some form of universal suffrage by 2017, blunting the democratic camp’s campaign.

Pro-business resignation

Leading figures such as Emily Lau, Audrey Eu and Leung Kwok-hung, also known as Longhair, each fought off stiff competition to keep their seat.

The pro-government party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, or DAB, has also done well, thanks to its strong organization.

And the pro-China independent Regina Ip won her seat.

But the pro-business Liberal party leader, James Tien lost his, and has resigned.

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September 7, 2008

Fireworks, spectacle open Beijing Paralympics

Fireworks, spectacle open Beijing Paralympics

BEIJING, China (AP) — The Paralympic Games opened in Beijing on Saturday with a burst of fireworks as China welcomed another chance to cement its role as a global player to an international audience.

Fireworks at Beijing's National Stadium greet the opening of the 2008 Paralympics.

Fireworks at Beijing’s National Stadium greet the opening of the 2008 Paralympics.

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Thousands of cheerleaders and dancers in puffy, rainbow-colored suits performed a dance routine in the center of the field at the National Stadium before athletes from 148 countries were introduced. The crowd cheered and waved flags as China’s Communist Party leaders and foreign dignitaries looked on.

The guest list included Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, German President Horst Koehler and South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo.

Earlier Saturday, they shook hands and posed for photos with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China’s legislature in the heart of Beijing. Hu gave a brief speech and toasted the games.

“Caring for the disabled is an important symbol for social civilization and progress,” Hu said before raising his glass.

“China’s people and government have always attached great importance to the cause of the disabled,” he said in remarks televised on state television. “We insist on putting people first, carrying forward a humanitarian spirit and advocating equality and opposing discrimination.”

Opening just two weeks after the Beijing Olympics ended, the Paralympics are designed to be a parallel games for athletes with a wide range of physical disabilities. The 10-day competition begins Sunday.

Some 4,000-plus athletes will use many of the same Olympic venues, with 148 countries represented and 472 medal events contested — 170 more than the Olympics.

Hosting the Olympics and the Paralympics is a source of national pride for China and a way to showcase the country on the international stage. The Aug. 8-24 Olympics was overshadowed at times by human rights and censorship disputes surrounding the event.

China is keen to use the Paralympics to underscore what is says it has done for the country’s 83 million disabled citizens.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Beijing used much of its US$100 million budget for the Paralympics to improve handicapped facilities in competition venues, airports, the public traffic system, hotels, hospitals and tourist attractions like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

An editorial on the front page of the ruling Communist Party’s People Daily newspaper hailed the games as a “stage for the world’s handicapped people to realize their dreams.”

“Remarkable progress has been made in basic living standards, medicare, education and employment for the disabled,” the editorial said, “and the preparation for the Beijing Paralympics … recorded fresh achievement made by China in promoting the cause for the disabled.”

But the country has also had a contentious history with dealing with its disabled population.

The government has long advocated sterilizing mentally handicapped people. In the early 1990s, a draft law was presented to the legislature to reduce the number of disabled through abortion and sterilization, a move that unleashed international criticism.

In 1994, China ratified a law calling for the abortion of fetuses carrying hereditary diseases and restrictions on marriages among people suffering mental problems or contagious diseases.

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More recently, Beijing Olympic organizers issued an apology in June for clumsy stereotypes used to describe disabled athletes in an English-language manual compiled for thousands of volunteers.

One section described the physically disabled as “isolated, unsocial and introspective; they usually do not volunteer to contact people. They can be stubborn and controlling.

August 20, 2008

Nadal heads seedings for US Open

Nadal heads seedings for US Open

Rafael Nadal

Nadal has won two Grand Slams this year

Rafael Nadal will be the top seed at a Grand Slam for the first time in his career at next week’s US Open following his elevation to world number one.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic follow him, with Scot Andy Murray seeded sixth. Ex-world number one Lleyton Hewitt has pulled out with injury.

Ana Ivanovic is women’s top seed, with Jelena Jankovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Serena Williams next.

The singles draws for the tournament will be announced on Thursday.

Nadal officially became the new world number one on Monday, ending Federer’s record reign of 237 successive weeks.

Federer was the top seed at the last 18 majors.

Murray will be looking to overcome his disappointing early exit from the Beijing Olympics and rediscover the form that took him to success at the Cincinnati Masters.

The British number one’s best effort in New York was in 2006 when he reached the fourth round.

Hewitt will miss the rest of the season after having arthroscopic surgery on a long-term hip problem.

“Surgery was always the last resort, but unfortunately that’s what it came down to,” the 27-year-old Australian said.

“I am also shattered that I can’t lead the Australian Davis Cup team in Chile (in Santiago from 19-21 September) in our bid to rejoin the world group, and hope that the boys can still come through with a great win.

“I am looking forward to playing again in January in my home country, and using that as a springboard to compete at my best again on the world stage for at least a couple of more years.”

The most notable absence on the women’s side is world number six and 2006 champion Maria Sharapova, who announced earlier this month that she is missing the event to recover from a shoulder injury.

August 15, 2008

Sixth gold for unstoppable Phelps

Sixth gold for unstoppable Phelps

Swimming superstar Michael Phelps won his sixth gold medal of the Beijing Games, breaking his own world record in the 200m individual medley.

The American won in a time of 1min 54.23secs, shaving 0.57secs off his previous best set in July and setting his sixth world record of the Games.

Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh took silver and Ryan Lochte of the US won bronze.

Phelps, who is chasing an unprecedented eight gold medals in Beijing, now has 12 career Olympic golds to his name.

He led from the start of the race and finished strongly on his favoured freestyle leg, 2.29secs ahead of Cseh in second.

Lochte held on for third despite having raced just half an hour earlier, when he broke the world record to take the men’s 200m backstroke title.

Phelps, 23, the dominant story of the Beijing Olympics, has now won the 400m medley, 200m freestyle, 200m butterfly, 4x100m free relay, 4x200m free relay and now the 200m medley, all in world record time.

But he showed little reaction apart from a quick shake of his fist after his latest victory.

He is now closing in on Mark Spitz’s 1972 record of seven golds at a single Games.

Moments after receiving his medal for winning the 200m medley Phelps returned to the pool for the semi-final of the 100m fly, winning in a time of 50.97secs.

“I switched from my dress sweats to my parka, shoes, threw my cap and goggles on and then they pushed us on out. No time,” he said.

“The medal was in my warm-up jacket.”

He added: “There wasn’t much time but I think there’s going to be a lot of time for me to rest over the next 18 hours or so, and I’ll be able to be ready for tomorrow morning’s 100.”

His main rivals in that final will be Milorad Cavic of Croatia and US team-mate and world record holder, Ian Crocker.

“It’s definitely a tough race,” said Phelps.

“With (Cavic) and Ian having a great semi-final, it’s going to be a good race tomorrow.

“I’m going to do everything I can to be a little bit closer in the first 50 and hopefully if I’m there at the 50, I’ll be there at the finish.”

Assuming the US qualify, Phelps will then race in the 4x100m medley relay final on Sunday.

August 13, 2008

Phelps breaks Olympic gold record

Phelps breaks Olympic gold record

US swimmer Michael Phelps broke the record for Olympic gold medals won by taking his 10th and 11th in a double victory on Wednesday.

Phelps, 23, won his fourth gold of the Beijing Olympics and 10th of all time with victory in the 200m butterfly.

And he claimed yet another gold as part of the US 4x200m freestyle team.

Phelps has now surpassed the nine golds won by Paavo Nurmi, Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz and Larysa Latynina to cement his place in Olympic history.

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Rafa fan

He is also bidding to beat Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in a single Olympic games and has moved to within three of that achievement.

The US star swims in the individual medley, 100m butterfly and finally the 4x100m medley relay later in the week.

“There is still something left in the tank,” he said. “I’ve got three races left, so there had better be something left in the tank.”

Phelps began proceedings in the Water Cube on Wednesday in typical fashion, beating Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh and Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda in a world record time of 1:52.03 to claim 200m butterfly gold.

He looked slightly underwhelmed following the victory, despite the magnitude of his achievement, and revealed that a pair of leaky goggles almost scuppered his chances of glory.

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Video – Phelps bags fifth gold in relay

But he battled on despite the fault to shave 0.06secs of his own 200m butterfly world record.

“My goggles kept filling up with water during the race,” he said.

“I wanted a world record, I wanted 1:51 or better, but in the circumstances it’s not too bad I guess.”

And along with US team-mates Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens and Peter Vanderkaay, Phelps later claimed relay gold in the 4x200m freestlyle in another world record time of 6:58.56secs.

Russia took the silver and Australia the bronze, while Great Britain’s four came in sixth.

“I’m pumped about our relay,” said Phelps. “It’s the most fun thing to be in a team environment and be part of a relay.

“It’s cool when you get four Americans who all swim well together. Everyone has to play their part or it’s just not going to happen.

“We’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to do that.”

August 12, 2008

Third gold for unstoppable Phelps

Third gold for unstoppable Phelps

Michael Phelps stormed to victory in the men’s 200m freestyle swimming, claiming his third gold medal and third world record of the Beijing Olympics.

Phelps, 23, finished nearly two seconds ahead of South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan in a time of one minute 42.96 seconds.

The American owned the previous record of 1:43.86 and now has a joint-record nine Olympics career golds.

Phelps’s compatriot Peter Vanderkaay took bronze, while Britain’s Robbie Renwick finished eighth.

“I just wanted to be out on my own which I had done by the 100 metres mark, that was my goal,” said Phelps, who led from start to finish.

“I was out in open water and I was in the middle, which makes it difficult for the other guys to see me.

“I knew Park would have a strong last 50 metres, so I had to keep my focus and concentration.”

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Phelps has already triumphed in the 400m individual medley and 4x100m freestyle relay and looks to be improving with each race.

The 200m freestyle has a medal which eluded him in Athens when he was a bronze medalist behind Australian Ian Thorpe.

“Phelps swam so fast,” said silver medalist Park. “It is my honor to compete with him.”

Phelps’s ninth career Olympic gold draws him level with Mark Spitz Carl Lewis, Paavo Nurmi and Larysa Latynina and keeps him on course to beat Spitz’s 36-year-old record of seven golds in a single Games.

Racing out of lane six, Phelps quickly surged into the lead and led by a full body length halfway through the second of four lengths.

Phelps will race for his fourth medal on Wednesday in the 200m butterfly, yet another event in which he holds the world record.

He advanced to the final as the fastest qualifier just moments after receiving his 200m freestyle gold medal.

August 8, 2008

Beijing Olympics ceremony begins

Beijing Olympics ceremony begins

Opening ceremony, Beijing, 08/08

The ceremony is attempting to tell the story of China’s history

The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics has begun with a spectacular display of dancing, music and fireworks at a packed national stadium.

Some 10,000 performers are taking part in the festivities, being watched on TV by an estimated one billion people.

The city’s main airport has been closed for the ceremony, amid heightened security in the capital.

The build-up to the event has been dominated by worries over pollution and criticism of China’s rights record.

Earlier, President Hu Jintao said: “The historic moment we have awaited is arriving.”

August 7, 2008

Ruling parties in Musharraf talks

Ruling parties in Musharraf talks

Photo of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf seen partially torn down on outskirts of Islamabad

President Musharraf hopes to see out his term

Pakistan’s ruling alliance is expected to decide whether to¬† begin moves to try to impeach President Pervez Musharraf, following three days of talks.

Mr Musharraf has delayed his departure to China to attend the opening of the Olympics, after earlier suggestions he might cancel the trip entirely.

The president’s allies were defeated in elections in February, but he has so far resisted pressure to quit.

The governing coalition is divided over whether to impeach Mr Musharraf.

Latest reports from Islamabad quote “senior coalition sources” saying a deal has been reached in principle on impeaching the president, but these have not been confirmed.

Correspondents say it is also far from clear whether the ruling alliance could muster the required two-thirds majority needed in both houses of parliament.

‘Special relations’

The president was due to leave for the Chinese capital, Beijing, on Wednesday but at the last minute the trip was cancelled. No reason was given.

A statement from the foreign ministry later said that he would leave for China on Thursday.

Work is under way to finalise the draft of a joint statement
PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar

“In view of our special relations with China, the president has decided to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics,” said the foreign ministry statement on Wednesday.

China is one of Pakistan’s closest allies, and it would have been highly unusual for a Pakistani leader to call off a visit at such short notice.

The question of whether or not to impeach Mr Musharraf has threatened to divide the governing coalition.

Early in what was a dramatic day on Wednesday, the threat of a new opposition onslaught appeared sufficient to force him to cancel his Beijing trip. Yet by evening a spokesman said he would travel as planned.

That Mr Musharraf felt confident enough to fly to China would suggest to many Pakistanis that for now at least he feels more secure in his position, our correspondent says.

The president has previously said he would prefer to resign than face impeachment.

Last year, he gave up control of the army, the country’s most powerful institution, but he retains the power to dissolve parliament.

How the military reacts to any efforts to oust him would be crucial in determining his fate.

Opponents’ moves

The governing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and its alliance partners appeared deadlocked by Wednesday evening over the impeachment moves.

Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif met on 5 August 2008

Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif met on Wednesday

At one point, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stormed out following the announcement that Mr Musharraf had issued orders to reinstate some of Pakistan’s top judges.

Mr Sharif argues that the president is attempting to divide the governing coalition.

But progress appears to have been made since then.

PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar told the news agency AFP work was under way “to finalise the draft of a joint statement” by Thursday evening.

A spokesman for Mr Sharif’s party also said an announcement was due.

Mr Musharraf’s political allies were defeated in February elections, from which the PPP emerged as the largest party.

In second place was the PML-N of Mr Sharif, whom President Musharraf ousted in a 1999 coup.

The two parties formed an alliance in March, but have since been split over the issues of presidential impeachment and the reinstatement of judges sacked by President Musharraf during a state of emergency in November.

The PML-N pulled out of the federal cabinet in May when PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari refused to move immediately on these issues.

The rift has caused a sense of paralysis in the government, which is under pressure to tackle militancy and a worsening economy.

Bush chides Beijing over rights

Bush chides Beijing over rights

US President George W Bush has expressed “deep concerns” over China’s human rights record in a speech on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.

“The US believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings,” he said in the Thai capital Bangkok.

He praised China’s economy but said only respect for human rights would let it realise its full potential.

Mr Bush has been criticised by some campaigners for going to the Games.

He was due to fly to Beijing following the speech in Bangkok, a stop on his final trip to Asia before he leaves office in January.

The wide-ranging address, which included criticism of the regime in Burma, was more nuanced than Mr Bush’s past speeches on China.

It is unlikely to cause much offence in China, our correspondent says, and many people will see it more as a valedictory speech for Mr Bush’s record in Asia rather than an outline of future US policy.

‘Firm opposition’

President Bush said he was optimistic about China’s future and said change in China would arrive “on its own terms”.

Young people who grow up with the freedom to trade goods will ultimately demand the freedom to trade ideas…
George W Bush
US president

But his criticisms of China’s human rights record were clear.

“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists,” he said.

When it was controversially awarded the games in 2001 by the International Olympic Committee, Beijing promised to make improvements in human rights, media freedoms and the provision of health and education.

But campaigners, such as Amnesty International, say Chinese activists have been jailed, people made homeless, journalists detained and websites blocked, while there has been increased use of labour camps and prison beatings.

In March, China suppressed violent anti-government protests in Tibet. Beijing said rioters killed at least 19 people, but Tibetan exiles said security forces killed dozens of protesters in the worst unrest in Tibet for 20 years.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, rejected Beijing’s claims he was behind the riots and said he expressed good wishes for the success of Games.

On Thursday, at least 1,500 Buddhists were holding a protest in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu against what they called China’s violation of religious freedom in Tibet. Correspondents say there have been scuffles with police.

In Beijing, police dragged away three US Christians who tried to demonstrate on Tiananmen Square in support of religious freedom.

Four pro-Tibet activists from Britain and the US were arrested and held briefly in the city on Wednesday after a protest close to the Olympic stadium.

Burma refugees

In his address, Mr Bush said the US recognised that the growth sparked by China’s free market reforms was “good for the Chinese people” and the country’s’ purchasing power was “good for the world”.

On foreign policy, he commended China’s “critical leadership role” in the negotiations to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, and the “constructive relationship” between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan.

He also called for an end to what he described as tyranny in Thailand’s neighbour, Burma.

Friday’s Olympic opening ceremony coincides with the 20th anniversary of a democracy uprising in Burma, which was crushed by the military.

First lady Laura Bush flew to the Thai-Burmese border to spend the day at the Mae La refugee camp where about 35,000 refugees live, having fled their homes.

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