News & Current Affairs

August 15, 2008

British protester held in Beijing

British protester held in Beijing

The Free Tibet banner

The banner was unfurled on a building next to an Olympic promotion

A British man has been held by police in China after unfurling a pro-Tibet banner on a building in Beijing.

Philip Kirk, 24, of St Albans, Herts, and Australian-Canadian Nicole Rycroft, 41, scaled the Central Television building to make their protest.

The pair, from the group Students for a Free Tibet, and three other supporting protesters were detained on Friday.

Han Shan, spokesman for the campaign group, said the banner read “Free Tibet” in English and Chinese.

Kate Woznow, also from the group, said the protest happened at the headquarters of the state-owned China Central Television building in east Beijing.

She said Mr Kirk and Ms Rycroft were detained after climbing up part of the building to reveal the banner.

Previous protests

Last week, two other British pro-Tibet protesters, Lucy Fairbrother, 23, from Cambridge, and Iain Thom, 24, from Edinburgh, were deported after scaling a 120ft-high (36.5m) lighting pole and unfurling banners reading “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet” and “Tibet will be free”.

The activists said the action had been worth it – but their job was not done and there would be more protests during the games.

We are in touch with the Chinese authorities and we are seeking further details
British embassy spokesman

Eight demonstrators from Students for a Free Tibet were also detained on Wednesday after staging a demonstration.

Wang Wenjie, of the Beijing Public Security Bureau, said he did not have any information about the latest protest.

A spokesman for the British embassy in Beijing said: “We are in touch with the Chinese authorities and we are seeking further details.”

Officials expect Mr Kirk to be deported some time on Friday.

Meanwhile, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Qin Gang, warned activists on Wednesday to obey the law in China, which does not allow unauthorized protests.

He said: “No matter Chinese citizens or foreigners, in China if you want to have processions or demonstrations, you should abide by Chinese laws and regulations.”

August 14, 2008

All because the lady loves a foreign accent

All because the lady loves a foreign accent

Bride of the Rif, The Sheikh's Reward and  At the Sheikh's Command

Courtesy BBC

By Samanthi Dissanayake
BBC News

It is the stuff of escapist fantasy. A tall, dark and handsome type sweeps a cream-and-roses Home Counties heroine off her feet. In its 100 years of publishing, the exotic alpha male has been a staple of the Mills and Boon romance.

The tale of the passionate desert sheikh who sweeps secretary Janna Smith h off her feet in Violet Winspear’s 1970 romance Tawny Sands is perhaps the quintessential Mills and Boon story.

Still from 1921's The Sheik

Silent film sex symbol Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik

“His tone of voice was softly mocking, but she knew he didn’t really jest. He was Raul Cesar Bey and the further they traveled into the desert the more aware she was of his affinity with the savage sun and tawny sands.”

Shocking, suggestive, the tale of their love was wildly popular with a generation of romance readers.

It is also typical of a taste for foreign pleasures when it comes to romantic fiction.

It’s 100 years since Mills and Boon published their first book. Sold in 109 countries and translated into 26 different languages, it is arguably Britain’s best-known publishing house worldwide.

From early in the company’s history, its winsome heroines have looked beyond Britain’s shores to find love.

Nobody can quite identify the very first Mills and Boon romance to feature an exotic hero or location. But Dr Joseph McAleer, author of Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills and Boon, says it was probably in the 1910s, following the lead of Hollywood cinema and its preoccupation with desert sheikhs and jungle escapades.

The fascination still exists today with the best-selling title of the June 2008 Modern Romance series being Desert King, Pregnant Mistress by Susan Stephens.

“Exotic locations gave great scope to authors to be a bit racier. It is usually an English person going into the tropics to experience this different culture,” Dr McAleer says.

“But they never lose their moral foundation. The heroines normally wind up reforming the sheikh.”

Steamy scenes

In 1915 Louise Gerard wrote The Virgin’s Treasure, the story of Dr Keith Harding, who leaves England for Africa to treat tropical diseases.

British woman dancing with an American GI in 1942

A fine wartime romance

“This was not England but the tropics where blood was hotter and where incredible things happen with amazing swiftness” Gerard writes, preparing the reader for the steamy scenes to come. It was only in the 1930s that Mills and Boon became a dedicated romantic fiction publishers. Since then, enigmatic sheikhs, brooding Spaniards and sardonic Greek tycoons have become a staple of their storylines.

These international tales have tended to mirror broader social trends. The experience of World War II enhanced the possibilities of love abroad. WAAF Into Wife, by Barbara Stanton, follows the fortunes of Mandy Lyle, who falls under the spell of Count Alexei Czishkiwhizski, leader of a Polish squadron.

“With horizons being broadened and more international travel, the romances set in rose-covered cottages did not have the same cache as Greece, Ibiza, and South Africa,” Dr McAleer says.

The exotic and the international became a key measure of the ultimate romantic lead.

“The alpha male has to be larger than life, an incredibly heroic figure. He was usually fabulously wealthy with a mystery about him,” says Dr McAleer.

Greek shipping magnates emerged in the 70s and 80s, and the Mediterranean hero rose in popularity as package holidays became the norm.

The growth in air travel also saw the rise of the air hostess/pilot romance, with many tender words lavished on the captains holding passengers’ lives in their manly hands.

Woman reading on a beach

It could happen to you…?

Nowadays, Italians and Spaniards remain popular heroes and at least one sheikh romance a month is published. Even Russian oligarchs have made an appearance.

“As the world has become more globalised our settings have had to become more exotic, more luxurious and exciting. Where our heroes were once millionaires, now they have to be billionaires,” says Clare Somerville, marketing director for Mills and Boon.

Middle Eastern tycoons feature frequently but hail fictional countries and kingdoms – there is little room for the realities of the region’s geopolitics in escapist fiction.

The company’s largest markets have been the UK, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Demographically, North America is the biggest market but with the launch of English-language editions in India earlier this year, Mills and Boon acknowledges this could change.

Harlequin Mills and Boon
The real aim of romance is to provide escape and entertainment
Violet Winspear

As India’s middle classes exercise their consumer muscle, so the company wants to expand its roster of romantic heroes.

“We are also looking at the Indian prince idea. He is a clear extension of the alpha male and we are looking at launching this next year,” says Ms Somerville.

It is also running a competition to find new local authors in India. Mills and Boon novels are translated in China, and for some years now its romances have graced Japanese bookshelves in the form of manga comics.

Exotic escape

Mills and Boon claim its readership all over the world look for the same thing: identification with the heroine and intense romantic relationships.

Shirley Valentine

You’re not in Liverpool now, Shirley

Violet Winspear, one of Mills and Boon’s best-selling authors in the 1960s and the author of Tawny Sands, set many of her books in Greece, Spain and North Africa.

But she was a spinster who reputedly never left south-east England – instead she meticulously researched her far-flung settings at the local library.

Miss Winspear caused considerable controversy when explaining her archetypal hero – the sort of men “who frighten and fascinate” and “the sort of men who are capable of rape: men it’s dangerous to be left alone in the room with”.

Although this comment would haunt her, Dr McAleer says she thought hard about what exotic themes brought to her readers. In a letter to her publisher, she wrote: “Who on earth can truly identify with a sardonic Spanish Don, a handsome surgeon, a dashing Italian or a bittersweet Greek? The real aim of romance is to provide escape and entertainment, not to dish up ‘real life’ and ‘real life people on a plate with egg on it’!”

Shirley Valentine would surely agree.


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August 8, 2008

Kosovo lives: Not gone with the wind

Kosovo lives: Not gone with the wind

Courtesy BBC

Sani, Lili and Dani Nikolic in their room at the Greek K-For camp

The three women thought they would be left alone in Urosevac after the war because there were no men in their house

In the fifth and final piece by BBC journalists on life in Kosovo today, Patrick Jackson meets three Slovenian-Serb women who intend to be the bane of K-For’s life until they regain their ancestral home.

Their great-grandfather built Urosevac, the Nikolic daughters like to say, so how can they leave it now?

Sani (Santipa), the very image of mildness and physical slightness, beams mischievously at the memory of how she floored a US soldier with her karate skills, the day K-For came to evacuate her family.

I am not saying she is over 60, because her disabled younger sister Lili (Liljana) reminded me, when I inquired, that you must never ask a lady her age. A smile of assent crossed the mask-like face of their blind mother Dani (Daniela).

However, the soldier’s commanding officer was certainly impressed by Sani’s resilience, telling her she was “as tough as a Texan lady”, according to Lili.

The Americans evacuated them from Urosevac (Ferizaj in Albanian) on 18 March 2004, to save them from Albanian rioters, who then destroyed the house.

But the Nikolic women have refused to join the thousands of other non-Albanians who fled (most of them in June 1999).

They argue that K-For failed to defend their property and removed them against their will, so it should take them back.

And that is how they come to be living today inside a Greek army base outside Urosevac.

Sickbay

The sole civilians to live on a base in K-For’s eastern sector have a medical ward to themselves at Camp Rigas Fereos.

The Nikolic family's cooking arrangements in the camp

The facilities in the room meet the family’s basic needs

It is a large, spotlessly clean room equipped with the bare essentials such as a fridge and a microwave oven, but no television set or radio.

From the window they can see only the camp and the mountains in the distance. Some paper religious icons are stuck to the blank white walls.

What personal effects they have seem all to come from charity.

Asked what she misses most from her home, Daniela says her family photographs and her jewellery, including her wedding ring from her husband who died before the war (she had taken it off to wash her hands the morning they were evacuated).

There is also the antique furniture, her library of 1,800 “beautiful books in five languages” and her paintings, especially a 17th-Century Italian Madonna she brought with her from her native Slovenia when she married her Serb husband.

Theirs was a wealthy family in its time, Lili explains. Their great-grandfather helped found Urosevac, a late 19th-Century town that arose around the new Belgrade-Thessaloniki railway, after he persuaded the Turkish authorities to let him build there.

Thessaloniki played a new role in the Nikolic family’s history in 2004, when Greek K-For, having sheltered the evacuees at Camp Rigas Fereos for four months, transferred them to its military hospital.

All three women needed specialised medical help.

A military ambulance parked outside the family's room

Life for the women at the base is punctuated by bugle calls

During the evacuation, Lili, paralysed in one leg since a car crash in her youth, was struck by a rioter’s stone, which broke her bad knee.

Daniela was already going blind and Sani suffered from arthritis.

Nearly five years of constant stress had also taken its toll.

Their house was placed under 24-hour K-For guard in the summer of 1999 after intruders robbed and beat them.

The last time Sani had left the building was in October 2000, when she slipped past the guards to go to the nearby market.

Some teenage boys recognised her as a Serb and started to beat her. She fought back with her karate, but she says she “did not want to hurt them”. She returned home covered in blood.

The boys told the police she had fired a gun at them, she adds, and an Albanian policeman turned up at the house. But when he saw the K-For guards, he just said “no problem” and left, Sani says.

In November last year, the women left the hospital in Thessaloniki and returned to Camp Rigas Fereos at their own request.

Private property

While they were in Greece, new buildings were erected illegally on the site of their property, a prime location in the centre of Urosevac.

Sani Nikolic in her room at the Greek K-For camp
We have just this one card left to play, and we are playing it now. We have nothing else to lose
Sani Nikolic

Sani says she was phoned by an Albanian when she was still in Thessaloniki, and advised not to try to come back because there was “no room” in the town for her family now.

“I said to him: ‘You Albanians want to join the EU and from what I know, the English and the Americans respect private property very much. I don’t want yours, I just want my own back. And nobody can deny me that’.”

The UN refugee agency has offered them a new home in a village enclave near Urosevac but they are refusing.

“What would I do in a village?” asks Sani, an architect by profession.

“I have never lived in a village. I know nothing about agriculture. I am ill.

“If we agreed to be relocated to a village enclave somewhere, we know that we, like the other IDPs [internally displaced persons], would never get our home back.”

The newly elected mayor of Urosevac has taken an interest in their case and visited them at the camp this June. They gave him a file of property deeds.

The mayor pledged to ensure their information was processed through the legal system, K-For says.

Last card

K-For also says the Nikolic family cannot stay on the base indefinitely.

After all the family has suffered, and given their ill-health, age and isolation from other Serbs, I ask the women if it is not better to yield and accept a peaceful existence somewhere other than Urosevac – perhaps in Greece, which has they say, offered them asylum.

How can these three women, so proud and outspoken about their Serbian identity, even think of living again in a town that war turned against them?

They admit themselves that they feel uncomfortable in the camp, ever grateful to the Greek army for its hospitality and ever embarrassed about getting in the soldiers’ way.

Sani accepts the difficulty of returning now but her sense of grievance is greater.

“I will be frank,” she says.

“We know that we are like a thorn in the side for the Greek camp because as long as we are here, we are a problem they have to resolve.

“But this is the last card we have to play. We have nothing else to lose.”

Potter star used to crack crime

Potter star used to crack crime

Robbie Coltrane poster

The poster has been distributed around the local area

A wanted poster featuring Robbie Coltrane is being used by police in New Zealand to try to catch a teenage burglar who resembles the actor.

Detectives stressed the Cracker and Harry Potter star is not suspected of any crimes, but said the thief looks like a 16-year-old version of him.

The poster has been distributed to homes in the Christchurch area of the South Island.

New Zealand law bans the publication of pictures of juvenile criminals.

Below the heading ‘Wanted’ is the picture of Coltrane, underneath which are the words ‘Active burglar in this neighbourhood’.

Bicycle burglar

The text below explains that the photo is of Coltrane and continues: “Robbie Coltrane is not the burglar but imagine him aged 16 with lank greasy hair and you have the picture.

“He is 16-years-old, lives locally, travels by bicycle and burgles houses in your street.

“He will break windows to gain entry and ransack the property targeting electronic items, cash and jewellery.”

It explains the reason for the use of the Scottish star, who the New Zealand police describe as English.

“Because of the Children and Young Persons Act 1989 Police cannot show you a picture of the 16-year-old burglar operating in your neighbourhood,” it states.

Residents reportedly welcomed the leaflets and praised the ingenuity of the police. Coltrane was unavailable for comment.

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