News & Current Affairs

July 12, 2009

Shah Rukh honoured to be Dr Khan

Shah Rukh honoured to be Dr Khan

Shah Rukh Khan at the degree ceremony in London, 10 July 2009

Maybe I can keep the robes… ‘I’ve sweated in them’

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan can now call himself “doctor” after being honoured in the United Kingdom for his contribution to arts and culture.

Bedfordshire University conferred the doctorate upon him at a ceremony in London on Friday night.

Khan said he aimed to use the award to help educate underprivileged children.

The actor, who has starred in dozens of films, already has his own waxwork at Madame Tussaud’s and has previously been honoured in France and Malaysia.

‘Top’ award

Khan was able to joke about becoming a doctor after frequent surgery in the past few years, most recently on his shoulder five months ago.

“Interestingly my kids don’t understand this doctorate and believe I will be awarded a stethoscope,” he joked at the degree ceremony.

The star was awarded the doctorate at a top London hotel instead of on university premises north of London because of the summer break.

The university received his nomination from Routes 2 Roots, an NGO that works towards people-to-people contact across the subcontinent, especially India and Pakistan.

Accepting the honour, Khan said he had received numerous awards as an actor but being given an honorary doctorate was the top achievement.

The actor left one of Delhi’s top schools with the best student award – but never finished a masters degree.

So how did he feel about receiving the honour?

“I get the feeling that I should further the cause of those underprivileged children who don’t get the opportunity to educate themselves,” he said, quickly adding that he should perhaps begin with his own children who are “highly uneducated as of now”.

The 43-year-old also added he was most scared of mathematics as a child, and intended to make sure his children were good at the subject.

Khan also joked that he might get to keep his university robes: “I have sweated in them – [they] can’t be returned unless I dry clean them.”

The ceremony was also attended by the famously barefoot Indian painter MF Hussain and British film maker Gurinder Chadha.

Other Indian stars to have been given honorary doctorates in the UK include Amitabh Bachchan, Shilpa Shetty, Akshay Kumar and AR Rahman.

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September 13, 2008

Details of Zimbabwe deal emerge

Details of Zimbabwe deal emerge

Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe, file images

Both Mr Tsvangirai (l) and Mr Mugabe claim to have won this year’s elections

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is to retain control of the army and chair cabinet meetings, according to leaks of Thursday’s power-sharing deal.

South African President Thabo Mbeki said Mr Mugabe had agreed to share power with Morgan Tsvangirai but said details would be released on Monday.

Mr Tsvangirai will control the police force and chair a new council of ministers, the sources say.

The deal followed seven weeks of talks and this year’s election violence.

Mr Mugabe has yet to comment on the agreement, brokered by South Africa’s leader.

Fair division?

BBC News is banned in Zimbabwe, but a correspondent inside the country says MDC supporters are not rejoicing on the streets, nor are Zanu-PF backers protesting.

Instead a silent optimism prevails – and after so many false dawns, Zimbabwe is holding its breath, our correspondent says.

REPORTED DEAL
Robert Mugabe:
President
Heads armed forces
Chairs cabinet
Zanu-PF has 15 ministers
Morgan Tsvangirai:
Prime minister
Chairs council of ministers
Controls police force
MDC has 16 ministers – 3 from smaller faction

International donors have said they would resume financial aid for Zimbabwe’s collapsing economy if Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is given a genuine share of power.

The EU said it would “evaluate the situation” at a foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday.

The agreement appears to give Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai roughly equal shares of power.

In cabinet, Mr Tsvangirai’s MDC and another MDC faction will together have 16 seats, while Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF will have the remaining 15.

Mr Mugabe will control the armed forces, while Mr Tsvangirai will be in charge of the police.

Our correspondent says the devil will lie in the detail and in the ability of the two men and the power blocks under them to wield genuine authority.

Mbeki hails deal

Work on finalizing the agreement will continue over the weekend. Some opposition MDC voices have already called the deal a climb-down, although others have said it is the best available.

MDC chairman and Zimbabwe’s parliamentary speaker Lovemore Moyo told that although his party was pleased with the deal, it had been a compromise.

“We wanted a titular head of state with an executive prime minister but that did not happen,” he said.

“So what we got at the end of the day perhaps was probably nearly a sister-sister power-sharing, so I’m saying it’s not exactly initially what we wanted.”

Negotiations started at the end of July, but stalled over the allocation of executive power between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai – bitter rivals for a decade.

The breakthrough came after the last four days of talks in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

Mr Tsvangirai was first to announce the breakthrough, telling reporters on Thursday simply: “We’ve got a deal.”

Later, Mr Mbeki told a news conference the two sides had agreed to form an inclusive government.

He said: “I am absolutely certain that the leadership of Zimbabwe is committed to implementing these agreements.”

The deal would be signed at a ceremony in Harare attended by African leaders, he said.

British concern

Zimbabwe’s envoy to the UN, Boniface Chidyausiku, told the BBC that the deal was a “triumph for African diplomacy”.

The UN special representative on Zimbabwe, Haile Menkerios, said the announcement marked a way forward that all sides could live with.

HAVE YOUR SAY

This deal will work if outsiders stop prescribing to Zimbabweans what is good or not good for them

Dzvinyangoma, Zimbabwe

Britain’s Foreign Office said it was following the situation closely, adding that “our concern is the welfare of the Zimbabwean people”.

Zimbabwe has the fastest shrinking economy in the world with annual inflation of more than 11,000,000%.

Mr Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, won a controversial presidential run-off election in June.

He ran unopposed after Mr Tsvangirai withdrew, claiming the MDC was the target of state-sponsored violence.

In the first round of the presidential election in March, Mr Tsvangirai gained more votes than Mr Mugabe, but official results say he did not pass the 50% threshold for outright victory.

August 12, 2008

Empty Olympic seats cause concern

Empty Olympic seats cause concern

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Empty seats dot the stadium as spectators await the start of the rowing competitions under heavy rain at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing on Sunday

In a number of events, clumps of empty seats have been visible

Courtesy BBC

Chinese officials have admitted that they are concerned about the lack of spectators at some Olympic events.

They have hired volunteers, dressed in yellow shirts, to fill up empty venues and improve the atmosphere inside.

But Wang Wei, a senior official with the Beijing organising committee (Bocog), said other Olympics had experienced similar problems.

The comments came after spectators and journalists noticed that certain venues were far from full, even though all events are sold out.

Weather?

Speaking at a daily press briefing, Mr Wang said: “We are also concerned about this not full stadium [issue].”

There were heaps of empties, it’s sickening
Judo spectator

He said a number of factors had contributed to this, including the hot and humid weather in Beijing, as well as the rain.

Mr Wang said some spectators were also only turning up for specific events, even though they had tickets for a whole session.

“For competitions like beach volleyball and basketball, [spectators] have one ticket for the whole afternoon, morning, evening,” he explained.

“They may choose to go to one of them, but not all them.”

Mr Wang, executive vice-president of Bocog, said local authorities were hiring volunteers to fill empty seats.

Volunteers enjoy the spectacular opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on Friday

In some cases, volunteers have been drafted to fill the gaps

“If they find that there are not enough people, or if they find that there are too many empty seats, they organize some cheerleaders,” he said.

These cheer for both sides to “create a good atmosphere”, he added.

Although some events are full – such as Sunday’s clash between the men’s basketball teams from China and the United States – others have been less well attended.

Corporate sponsors

These include sessions of judo, badminton and water polo.

“There were heaps of empties. It’s sickening,” said one spectator who went to the judo expecting to see a full house.

There were even a number of empty seats at the opening ceremony on Friday.

One reason for less-than-full venues could be that seats allocated to corporate sponsors are not being used.

Many of these tickets are handed out the night before events take place, sometimes too late for those who get them to attend, according to someone with access to these tickets.

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.”

Bush dedicates new massive US embassy in Beijing

Bush dedicates new massive US embassy in Beijing

BEIJING – President Bush took another swipe at China’s human rights record Friday, the latest tit-for-tat salvo with Beijing before he put politics on hold and switched to fan mode for the Olympics’ gala opening ceremonies.

The past week has seen blunt language from both sides — with China clearly unhappy that its record of repression was being repeatedly aired even as it was seeking to revel in its long-anticipated debut on the world’s biggest sporting stage. But U.S. officials dismissed any suggestion of a widening rift.

“We’ve had these back-and-forths with China for years,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

As Bush opened a massive U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Friday, he prodded China to lessen repression and “let people say what they think.” The communist nation, which tolerates only government-approved religions, has rounded up dissidents ahead of the Olympics and imposed Internet restrictions on journalists that some say amount to censorship, all contrary to Beijing’s commitments when it won hosting rights for the games.

“We strongly believe societies which allow the free expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most peaceful,” Bush said at the vast American diplomatic complex, built at a cost of $434 million.

His comments came on the heels of a speech Thursday in Bangkok in which he urged greater Bangkok for the Chinese people. Beijing responded by defending its human rights record and saying Bush shouldn’t be meddling in its internal affairs.

But Bush also took care during the embassy ribbon-cutting to praise China’s contributions to society and embrace its relationship with the United States as strong, enduring and candid.

“Candor is most effective where nations have built a relationship of respect and trust,” Bush said. “I’ve worked hard to build that respect and trust. I appreciate the Chinese leadership that have worked hard to build that respect and trust.”

The new U.S. embassy is its second-largest in the world, only after the heavily fortified compound in Baghdad, and Bush said this is symbolic of China’s importance to the United States.

“It reflects the solid foundation underpinning our relations,” Bush said. “It is a commitment to strengthen that foundation for years to come.”

The ceremony took place with a heavy haze engulfing the Chinese capital despite concerted government efforts to slash pollution before the games. It was full of emotional resonance, with those attending including Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, and Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of state during the Nixon presidency when the U.S. began a relationship with China.

It was the senior Bush, as chief of the U.S. liaison office during a critical period when the United States was renewing ties with China, who first brought his son to China in 1975. The current president fondly recalls biking around Beijing when that was the predominant form of transport.

Much has changed since. While there still are lots of bicycles, cars dominant the streets today. Skyscrapers have sprouted like mushrooms. And the proliferation of construction cranes shows the building boom is far from over — evidence of the country’s economic growth — though most of the work has ground to a halt to help the anti-pollution battle.

The American embassy, on 10 acres in a new diplomatic zone, is wrapped in freestanding transparent and opaque glass.

The dedication followed China’s unveiling of its own imposing new embassy in Washington last week. That 250,000-square-foot glass-and-limestone compound is the largest foreign embassy in the U.S. capital.

The number eight is considered auspicious in China — Friday is 8/8/08 on the calendar — so the embassy ceremony began at 8:08 a.m. local time. The opening ceremonies begin exactly 12 hours later at 8:08 p.m.

Bush, the first American president event to attend an Olympics on foreign soil, was to meet with U.S. athletes right before the ceremonies.

“I’m looking forward to cheering our athletes on,” Bush said. “I’m not making any predictions about medal counts, but I can tell you the U.S. athletes are ready to come and compete, in the spirit of friendship.”

Also Friday, Bush attended a lunch for world leaders hosted by Chinese President Hu Jintao in the Great Hall of the People.

His known schedule over the next three days is thin, with large gaps left open for Bush to cherry-pick sporting events to watch with the numerous family members who have accompanied him to Beijing.

On Saturday, he meets with Olympic sponsors and watch women’s basketball. On Sunday, he will attend a government-approved Protestant church and then speak to reporters about religious freedom, mirroring his practice during a 2005 trip to China. He then plans to take in some men’s and women’s Olympic swimming.

Business takes over briefly Sunday afternoon, with talks with Hu as well as China’s vice president and premier. But then it’s back to sports: the much-anticipated U.S.-China basketball game Sunday night and a practice baseball game between the U.S. and China on Monday. He returns to Washington Monday night.

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