News & Current Affairs

August 8, 2008

Beijing ready for Olympic opening

Beijing ready for Olympic opening

Olympic volunteers in Beijing, 08/08

Officials are concerned that hazy conditions may affect the ceremony

The Chinese capital, Beijing, is preparing to open the 2008 Olympic Games with a lavish ceremony, amid hazy skies and ongoing pollution concerns.

The event will involve about 10,000 performers, and will be watched on TV by an estimated one billion people.

The lead-up to the Games has been dogged by issues such as China’s rights record, internet access, and pollution.

US President George W Bush was among several world leaders to express concern over a crackdown on dissidents.

Mr Bush told an audience at the US embassy in Beijing on Friday: “We continue to be candid about our belief that all people should have the freedom to say what they think and worship as they choose.”

Meanwhile, 40 Olympic athletes wrote to Chinese President Hu Jintao expressing their concerns over Beijing’s handling of anti-Chinese unrest in Tibet.

And Tibetans have held angry protests in Nepal, with hundreds reported to have been arrested in the capital, Kathmandu.

China frequently dismisses criticism over its domestic policies – particularly in Tibet – as interference in its internal affairs.

Muted city

The 2008 Olympics have been described as the most politicised Games since the boycott era of the early 1980s.

Pollution graph

But after a succession of controversial issues in the build-up to the Games, the focus is now shifting to the opening ceremony.

It has taken seven years of planning, and costs are estimated to have hit a record-breaking $40bn (£20bn).

Film director Zhang Yimou has been charged with portraying 5,000 years of Chinese history in one show.

It will be staged at China’s new national stadium – known as the Bird’s Nest because of its steel lattice construction – and some 10,000 performers will take part.

Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee, who has repeatedly defended the decision to let China host the Olympics, said he hoped the Games would help the world to understand China, and China to understand the world.

But human-rights groups have continued to condemn curbs on journalists covering the Games.

In a statement issued on Friday, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said: “As the 2008 Olympic Games open in Beijing, foreign journalists in China face a host of severe restrictions, ranging from harassment to a censored internet.”

With the authorities determined to clamp down on any possible security concern, some 100,000 extra troops and police have been deployed in the capital over recent weeks.

The BBC’s Michael Bristow, in Beijing, described the mood in the city as muted.

He said streets had been blocked off, there were few cars on the roads and Olympic volunteers seemed to outnumber ordinary people.

China’s ‘extraordinary’ effort

On the morning of the opening ceremony, a BBC reading suggested Beijing’s air quality remained below World Health Organization (WHO) standards.

Visibility was also very poor on Friday, with one official warning that the cloud could interfere with the ceremony.

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“There are clouds covering Beijing and we are really concerned that will have an influence on tonight’s ceremony,” said Guo Hu, director of the Beijing Meteorological Observatory.

But Mr Guo is predicting that heavy rain over the weekend will clear the skies, and he warned that hazy conditions should not be confused with high levels of pollution.

“If the visibility is not good it does not mean the air quality is not good,” he said.

On Thursday, Mr Rogge said if the pollution was bad, events which lasted more than an hour could be shifted or postponed.

But he also praised China’s “extraordinary” efforts to cut pollution ahead of the Games, saying there was no danger to athletes’ health.

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.

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