News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta

Tributes are left for those killed in the hotel attacks

Indonesian officials say there are “strong indications” a key wanted fugitive was behind Friday’s deadly attacks on two hotels in Jakarta.

Noordin Mohamed Top is wanted for plotting the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 and other Indonesian attacks.

Nine people, including two suicide bombers, died in the attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott.

At least four of Friday’s victims are said to be foreigners but have not all been formally identified.

Police in the Indonesian capital are studying DNA and other evidence to try to identify those behind the attacks.

The anti-terror chief, Ansyaad Mbai, has told the News he believes there are strong indications that Noordin was the mastermind behind the blasts.

NOORDIN MOHAMED TOP
Noordin Top (archive image)
Born in Malaysia, fled to Indonesia after 9/11
Wanted for planning bombings on Bali in 2002 and 2005 and other attacks
Said to have split from Jemaah Islamiah over strategy disagreements and set up new group
Main accomplice Azahari Husin killed by police in 2005
Escaped police raid in 2006 and continues to evade capture

Noordin was said to be a key financier for the Jemaah Islamiah militant group but is now thought to have set up his own splinter group.

Jemaah Islamiah has links to al-Qaeda and has a long track record of bomb attacks in Indonesia including the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.

Friday’s bombs contained nails, ball bearings and bolts, identical to ones used by Jemaah Islamiah, police said.

Mr Mbai said he believed the aim of the attacks was to embarrass Indonesia’s government at a time when the country was enjoying a greater degree of stability than it had in the past.

The Indonesian people have been truly shocked by these attacks as they thought they had put events like this behind them.

Investigators on Friday recovered an unexploded bomb and other explosives material from what they said was the “control centre” for the attacks – room 1808 in the Marriott.

The attackers paid to stay at the hotel and smuggled in the explosives before detonating them in two restaurants on Friday.

CCTV footage showed one attacker wearing a cap pulling a bag on wheels into the Marriott restaurant, followed by a flash and smoke.

Security has been tightened across Indonesia in the wake of the attacks, with 500 troops put on standby to support police in the capital.

‘Shoulder to shoulder’

A New Zealander, businessman Tim Mackay, has been confirmed killed.

I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones
Barack Obama

Indonesian police say Australians Nathan Verity and Garth McEvoy also died.

Their countryman, diplomat Craig Senger, was at the same breakfast meeting. He is missing and feared dead.

A health ministry report said a Singaporean and an Indonesian were also confirmed dead.

At least 17 foreigners were among the wounded, including eight Americans.

Other foreign nationals wounded included visitors from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the UK.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the attacks as “cruel and inhuman”.

US President Barack Obama said: “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones.”

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is due to arrive in Jakarta on Saturday.

He said he wanted to stand “shoulder to shoulder with Indonesia at this terrible time”.

The Manchester United football team had been booked to stay in the Ritz-Carlton next week ahead of a game in Jakarta.

The team has cancelled the Indonesian leg of their tour.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for the series of bombings more than five years ago.

Jakarta map

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July 17, 2009

Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels

Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels

At least nine people have been killed, including two suspected suicide bombers, in two blasts at luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

One explosion hit the Ritz-Carlton, ripping off its facade, and the other the JW Marriott. As many as 50 people were hurt, including many foreigners.

At least one attacker was a guest at the JW Marriott, police said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has visited the scene and condemned “the cruel and inhuman attack”.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts. One foreign national has been confirmed dead – a New Zealander.

Indonesia suffered a number of bomb attacks – mainly linked to the militant group Jemaah Islamiah – in the first years of the century, but has since been praised for its campaigns against militants.

‘Barbaric’

President Yudhoyono said Friday’s attacks were carried out by a suspected terrorist group, though he said it was “too early to say” if Jemaah Islamiah was involved.

He added: “Those who carried out this attack and those who planned it will be arrested and tried according to the law.

I heard two sounds like ‘boom, boom’ coming from the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton – then I saw people running out
Eko Susanto, security guard

“This act of terrorism… will have wide effects on our economy, trade, tourism and image in the eyes of the world.”

The attacks, with homemade bombs, were on the basement car park of the Marriott and a restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton, police said.

Police said that two suicide bombers were involved, and at least one attacker, and possibly more, was staying at the Marriott.

An unexploded bomb and other explosives material were found in room 1808, which officials said was the “control centre” of the attacks.

National police spokesman Nanan Soekarna said: “We still don’t know who booked room 1808.”

Gen Wahyono said a suicide bomber was suspected of carrying out the car park attack as a severed head was found there.

AT THE SCENE
Karishma Vaswani
Karishma Vaswani,Courtesy
BBC News, Jakarta

It was a scene of confusion and chaos outside the Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott hotels this morning. Ambulances and security forces arriving at the hotels came to rescue the injured and treat anyone who was hurt.

People milled around outside, onlookers wondering what had happened as hotel staff and guests stood around shocked on the streets. The blasts took place at breakfast time in one of the most prestigious areas in Jakarta’s commercial centre.

Many Indonesians we spoke to this morning told us how shocked and upset they were by what had happened here today and how worried they are about the damage this will do to the reputation of their country.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key confirmed a New Zealand national was among the dead.

Reuters news agency named him as Tim Mackay, president director of PT Holcim Indonesia, quoting the company’s marketing director Patrick Walser.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd condemned the attacks as “barbaric”.

He said he had “grave concerns” for an embassy official and two other missing Australians.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said they were “senseless” and that the threat of terrorism remained “very real”.

The Manchester United football team was due to arrive in Indonesia on Saturday and was booked to stay at the Ritz-Carlton.

The team have now called off the Indonesian leg of their tour, saying they “cannot fulfil the fixture in Jakarta” against an Indonesia Super League XI on 20 July.

The two blasts, in Jakarta’s central business district, occurred at about 0730 (0030 GMT).

INDONESIA ATTACKS
Dec 2000 – Church bombings kill 19
Oct 2002 – Bali attacks kill 202, many Australian
Dec 2002 – Sulawesi McDonalds blast kills three
Aug 2003 – Jakarta Marriott Hotel bomb kills 12
Sept 2004 – Bomb outside Australian embassy in Jakarta
Sept 2005: Suicide attacks in Bali leave 23 dead, including bombers

Businessman Geoffrey Head, who was in the Ritz Carlton, told the BBC he did not hear the blast but that his colleagues had called him after it happened to tell him to leave the building.

“I looked out of the window – I could see down to ground level and I saw there was a lot of broken glass. I thought it was time to actually get out.”

Mr Head said there had been no warning to evacuate the building.

“The surreal thing was going down in the elevator and walking through the lobby and looking across to my left and noticing the cafe was completely blown out,” he said.

A 50-year-old South Korean man, Cho In-sang, was taken to hospital with minor injuries.

“I don’t remember exactly but suddenly the ceiling is falling down and the sound was big,” he said.

Anti-terror training

Consular staff are trying to track their nationals, and Australia issued a warning against unnecessary travel to Indonesia.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for a series of bombings more than five years ago.

Attacks on two nightclubs in Bali in October 2002 killed 202 people, most of them Australian.

The Marriott Hotel was the target of a bomb attack in August 2003 in which 13 people were killed.

Since then, a combination of new laws, anti-terror training, international cooperation and reintegration measures have kept Indonesia peaceful, analysts have said.

Jakarta map


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October 4, 2008

OJ Simpson convicted of robbery

OJ Simpson convicted of robbery

OJ Simpson has been found guilty on 12 charges of armed robbery, conspiracy to kidnap and assault with a deadly weapon by a court in the US city of Las Vegas.

The former US football star and actor was accused of robbing two sports memorabilia dealers a year ago.

The armed robbery charges carry a mandatory jail sentence, and kidnapping carries a possible life term.

Simpson, 61, who denied the charges, was acquitted of murder in 1995 in what was dubbed “the trial of the century”.

CHARGES AGAINST OJ SIMPSON
Conspiracy to commit a crime: guilty
Conspiracy to kidnap: guilty
Two counts of first degree kidnapping: guilty
Burglary in possession of a deadly weapon: guilty
Two counts of armed robbery: guilty
Two counts of assault with a deadly weapon: guilty
Two counts of coercion with use of a deadly weapon: guilty

The charges in the latest trial centred on an incident in the Palace Station hotel in Las Vegas in September 2007.

Simpson was accused – and convicted – of kidnapping two sports memorabilia dealers and holding them in the hotel.

The former National Football League running back seized the pair in an attempt to reclaim items in their possession related to his sporting career, which Simpson claimed still belonged to him.

Handcuffed

Asked by reporters on his way into court for the latest verdict, which was read late on Friday night local time, Simpson said he was prepared for the judgement.

“You gotta be ready,” the former Buffalo Bills star running back told journalists.

OJ Simpson in 2006

Inside the court both Simpson and his accomplice, Clarence Steward, were found guilty on all charges by the Las Vegas jury.

Simpson blew out his cheeks and nodded as the verdicts were read out.

He was then led away with his hands cuffed by police. He will be sentenced in December.

The judge refused to grant him bail pending sentencing.

In his previous trial, Simpson was accused of murdering his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994.

The not-guilty verdict came 13 years to the day before his conviction in Las Vegas, and shocked many in America.

Mr Simpson was later found liable for the deaths in a civil case and ordered to pay $33.5m (£19m) to Mr Goldman’s family.

September 7, 2008

Protests greet Turkish president’s ‘football diplomacy’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:30 am

Protests greet Turkish president’s ‘football diplomacy’

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Thousands of Armenians lined the streets of the capital Yerevan Saturday, protesting the Turkish president who drove past in the first ever visit by a Turkish leader. Many held placards demanding justice for massacres that took place nearly 100 years ago.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul boards a plane at Ankara before departing on an historic visit to Armenia.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul boards a plane at Ankara before departing on an historic visit to Armenia.

Abdullah Gul arrived in Armenia to watch a Turkey vs. Armenia football World Cup qualifier game with President Serge Sarkisian that many hope will help the two countries overcome decades of antagonism rooted in Ottoman-era massacres of Armenians.

Gul is the first Turkish leader to set foot in Armenia since the ex-Soviet nation declared independence in 1991. The two neighbors have no diplomatic ties and their border has been closed since 1993.

Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Ties have also suffered from Turkey’s opposition to Armenia‘s occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, a close Turkish ally.

As Gul left the airport, the presidential motorcade drove along streets lined with thousands of people holding up placards, mostly in English and Armenian, that read: “We want justice,” “Turk admit your guilt,” and “1915 never again.”

Others held up names of places in Turkey from which their ancestors were forced to leave as the Ottoman Empire uprooted Armenian communities between 1915 and 1922.

Little progress is expected on the genocide issue or on Nagorno-Karabakh when Gul meets Sarkisian for talks just before the game — which Turkey is favored to win.

Still, the visit is a sign of a diplomatic thaw.

“I hope that (the visit) will help lift the obstacles that stand in the way of rapprochement between the two peoples and contribute to regional friendship and peace,” Gul said before his departure.

Gul’s decision to accept Armenia’s invitation to the match is linked to Turkey’s desire to carve out a regional peacemaker role amid tensions sparked by Russia’s invasion of neighboring Georgia.

Turkey, a NATO member, has cause for alarm about how Russia’s recognition of the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia might inspire its own separatist Kurds, or provoke Armenia to boost support for separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the wake of the Georgia conflict, Turkey proposed a regional grouping for stability in the Caucasus that would include Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

“About a month ago, we all saw how conflicts that have remained unresolved threatened regional stability and peace in the Caucasus,” Gul said in reference to the Georgia crisis.

Armenia is the last of Turkey‘s neighbors with whom Ankara has failed to mend ties since the end of the Cold War. Turkey has gradually improved relations with old foes such as Greece, Bulgaria and Syria.

Improved ties with Armenia are likely to help lift strains on Turkey’s relations with other countries that have or plan to formally recognize the massacres as genocide.

In October, a measure that would have declared the Armenian deaths as genocide in the U.S. Congress was stopped after President George W. Bush’s administration warned relations with strategic ally Turkey would be damaged.

On the plane, Gul paid tribute to the Armenian president.

“President Sarkisian was brave in taking the opportunity of inviting me to this game,” he said.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 during a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a Muslim ally of Ankara, in order to pressure Yerevan into ending the conflict. he move has hurt the economy of tiny, landlocked Armenia.

Armenia’s bitter ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey have resulted in the tiny country being excluded from strategic energy pipelines that connect Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia.

Armenians, supported by numerous scholars, claim an organized genocide was carried out in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire and are pushing for the killings to be recognized as among history’s worst atrocities.

Turkey contends the 1.5 million death toll is wildly inflated. It also says the Armenians were killed or displaced in civil unrest during the chaos that surrounded the empire’s collapse.

Turkey has called for the establishment of a committee of scholars to study the WWI events in a bid to improve ties, but Armenia has declined to consider this until relations are forged.

August 31, 2008

Sign of the times

Sign of the times

Courtesy BBC

As Russia and the West warn of a new Cold War after the Georgian conflict, the BBC’s Humphrey Hawksley in Moscow tries to imagine what it would look like.

Corridor inside the bunker
A complex network of narrow tunnels broke out into vast, high-ceilinged chambers with the sides curved cylindrically like the hull of a ship

Evgenia Evlenteva strode past a row of old radiation suits hanging on pegs like raincoats.

With a bounce in her step and a torch stuck into her jeans back pocket, she asked: “Right, it’s more than 60 metres (200ft) deep so do you want to take the stairs or the lift?

“Oh and by the way, the door weighs three tonnes. It’s made of lead and metal, and it still works.”

She jabbed a button and, with a groan and a creak, a huge slab slid back and let us into one of Moscow’s key Cold War nuclear bunkers.

It was decked out with its own air, water and food supplies for 2,500 people, should the city have come under nuclear attack.

With Russia and the West now exchanging accusations about starting a new Cold War, it seemed a good place to go, once hidden in a leafy street near the Moscow River and just off Taganskaya Square, where it linked up to the Metro station so the top brass and supplies could get in there.

International crisis

I found out later that, at the same time as our small tour group was taking the stairs down, Russia was testing an intercontinental ballistic missile from its recently modernized Topol system, more than capable of reaching Washington.

Russian Topol intercontinental ballistic missiles

Topol missiles during rehearsals for Russia’s annual Victory Day parade

Over the past couple of weeks, each day it has seemed either Russia or the West was ratcheting up the stakes, as if both sides were relieved to get away from the insoluble nihilism of Islamist terror and work on something that they could get their teeth into.

Russia spoke of tensions resembling the eve of World War I. Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that this international crisis marked a clear end to the relative calm enjoyed by Europe since the Cold War finished.

But it has been difficult to reconcile this exchange of apprehensions with snapshots here, where the bus stops are decorated with posters for the new Batman movie, hoardings advertise global brand-name products and you sweep out of a ring-road tunnel towards a skyline of cranes putting up new high-rise office blocks to keep up with Russia’s high economic growth.

No longer isolated

From the mobile phones, to the makes of cars, to the news-stand Russian editions of the celebrity magazine Hello!, it is pretty impossible to envisage how a new Cold War would actually work.

Room inside the bunker
It’s no longer safe down here from a nuclear attack… The bombs are too big now. It’s not deep enough
Evgenia Evlenteva, Moscow bunker guide

Boeing, for example, has a huge factory outside Moscow. Russia’s Gazprom, the conglomerate much feared for its ability to turn on and off Europe’s gas supplies, is one of the biggest companies listed on international stock exchanges.

And would some Western package of punitive sanctions mean that the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich would have to sell Chelsea Football Club?

In the last Cold War, Russians were seen as isolated behind their Iron Curtain, with their own ropey technology and a grim-faced population oppressed by secretive monosyllabic leaders.

Now you can barely stop them talking, as they ferry between 24-hour news channel chat shows.

As we finished our climb down the stairs, Evgenia snapped on the lights to the bunker.

It was a complex network of narrow tunnels that broke out into vast, high-ceilinged chambers with the sides curved cylindrically like the hull of a ship, made of reinforced lead and concrete.

The museum had put in telex machines, old telephones, maps and wooden desks to show what it had looked like.

Present-day thinking

Evgenia ushered us into a lecture hall for a video briefing, where I got perhaps a glimpse of Russia’s present-day thinking.

Black and white film drawn from once-classified Soviet archives began by naming America as the only nation that had ever used a nuclear weapon in conflict, and telling how the Soviet Union was forced to catch up to protect what it called its “sphere of influence”.

The 1962 Cuban missile conflict was a brilliant piece of brinkmanship that re-defined Russia’s global power.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was a tragedy. The motif of the film was nuclear tests, exploding into bigger and bigger mushroom clouds, both Russian and American.

New bunkers

“So,” I asked Evgenia, when it is finished, “will you be re-opening this bunker for the new Cold War?”

She pushed back her dark hair and creased her brow in confusion. She would have only been a child when the last one ended.

“No, why?” she said. “Who wants that? What family wants that – that you could be blown up at any moment? Why would anyone want to go there again?”

Then, as we set off towards the next tunnel, Evgenia came up to me and said:

“But it’s no longer safe down here from a nuclear attack, you know. The bombs are too big now. It’s not deep enough.

“We have new bunkers in Moscow, though. Maybe 100 metres deep, I don’t know.

They’re still secret and I’m not allowed to go there.”

August 25, 2008

Obama sets out to sell his vision

Obama sets out to sell his vision

Barack Obama has a hard act to follow at this convention: himself.

Barack Obama speaks in Wisconsin

Barack Obama faces a career-defining moment

Four years ago, when Democrats gathered for their national convention in Boston to nominate John Kerry, the then-US Senate candidate made a much-lauded, career-defining speech. His message of a unified America, coming from the mouth of a young, mixed-race politician, marked the effective launch of the history-making Obama phenomenon.

It also brings a level of expectation ahead of his speech on Thursday, which the last Democratic candidate, who went on to become president, did not have to face.

When nominee Bill Clinton spoke at the 1992 Convention in New York, it was four years after he had made a convention speech that was widely seen (including by Clinton, himself) as rather long-winded and boring.

He did not repeat his mistake. With his “I still believe in a place called Hope” speech, the Arkansas governor defined himself in a way that resonated with the country at large.

Weight of history

Barack Obama needs to do something similar. With opinion polls placing him in a tight race with Republican John McCain and suggesting that sections of the public still do not have a clear impression of who he is, his goal is to come out of the week having defined himself as someone whom Americans can feel comfortable about as a leader.

He needs to sell his vision, his experience and his unconventional background.

Pepsi Center, Denver

Mr Obama must unite the Democrats behind his campaign

He will be selling that vision of himself on an auspicious date: the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech.

But, while that may add to the weight of history on his shoulders, the location of his speech represents a break with history.

Obama will not accept the nomination in the Convention Hall, but at the 70,000-seater Invesco Field, home of the Denver Broncos Football team. This will provide a unique spectacle, but it also presents a certain danger of perception for a candidate who – since securing the Democratic nomination in June – has faced accusations of being too presumptuous about his chances of winning the November election.

Clinton tensions

And while the 1992 Clinton experience offers him a something of a blueprint for success, the 2008 Clinton presence, on the other hand, presents him with potential pitfalls.

Both Hillary and Bill Clinton will be speaking at the Convention. Their performances – on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively – will be watched closely for signs of party disunity, that could harm not only Barack Obama’s chances, but those of Democrats running for Congress in November.

Despite a joint appearance with Senator Obama in Unity, New Hampshire earlier this summer, Hillary Clinton is still dogged by questions about her level of support for the man who narrowly beat her to the nomination. Many of her supporters are still unhappy about the manner of her defeat. There is also concern that she was not seriously considered for the position of running mate, which Senator Joe Biden has secured.

Bill Clinton, file picture

Observers will be closely watching Bill Clinton’s mood

By allowing Senator Clinton’s delegates to participate in a formal nominating roll call vote – recognising the historical nature of her campaign – the Obama team hopes to defuse some of the remaining tensions and shore up the support of the millions who voted for the former First Lady. Neither outcome is a foregone conclusion.

John McCain’s campaign is doing its mischievous best to stir things up: releasing an advert, showing Hillary Clinton asking some of the same questions about Barack Obama’s experience and judgment during the primary campaign which they are asking now.

But, perhaps, it is Bill Clinton’s speech that will be the most closely dissected; both for its words and for the body language of the man delivering it. By his silence, the former president has given the impression that he is still sulking about Obama’s victory over his wife.

Many Convention-goers will be looking for him to swallow his pride and give the sort of full-throated endorsement of the party’s nominee, that will sway Democrats flirting with John McCain, and help to repair some of the damage done to President Clinton’s own reputation during the primaries.

As he effectively hands over the role of party leader to a younger man, he can still play the role of party healer.

How to measure the success of this? The time-honoured tradition has been to look at the “convention bounce” – the boost in the opinion polls which a candidate gains from his moment engulfed in balloons and ticker tape. Bill Clinton, for example, got one in 1992 and never relinquished his lead over George H W Bush.

Time is not Barack Obama’s side, though. No sooner has the Democratic Convention finished, than the Republicans meet in St Paul, Minnesota.

So the onus is on Senator Obama to make the most of his time in the spotlight, before the spotlight quickly turns to his Republican rival, John McCain.

August 24, 2008

Beijing primed for Olympic finale

Beijing primed for Olympic finale

The Bird's Nest stadium hosts the closing ceremony

Plenty of fireworks are in store at the closing ceremony

The Beijing Games draw to a close on Sunday after what many have described as one of the best Olympics ever held.

China, having beaten the United States to top the medals table, will hand the Olympic flag to the 2012 hosts London at a closing ceremony from 1300 BST.

Great Britain surpassed all targets by winning 19 golds at the 2008 Games – their best haul for a century.

Kenya’s Sammy Wanjiru won the men’s marathon on the final day, with basketball and boxing finals to come.

Six boxing titles are being decided while the men’s basketball final, featuring the United States and Spain, starts at 0730 BST.

Later, the spectacular farewell in front of a packed house of more than 90,000 at the Bird’s Nest stadium is set to last three hours and will include fireworks displays at 18 locations across Beijing.

The organisers have promised a more light-hearted show than the opening ceremony, which focused heavily on Chinese history.

Scottish cyclist Chris Hoy, who claimed three gold medals at the Games, will carry the flag for Team GB at the closing ceremony.

The ceremony will also see London mayor Boris Johnson receive the Olympic flag to signal the countdown to the 2012 Games.

Team GB have been congratulated for their efforts in a message from The Queen.

“As a nation we now look forward to holding the Olympic Games in London in 2012,” she said.”The golden triumphs of the present British team can only serve as further inspiration to those who will be working hard over the next four years to make the London Games a shining example of Olympic success.”

China staged the Olympics against a background dominated by fears of pollution, worries over security and protests about its human rights record.

But the sporting action has been enthralling, with highlights including Michael Phelps swimming to a record eight gold medals and Jamaican Usain Bolt breaking three world records as he bagged a sprint title treble.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who spoke on Sunday of his hope that a UK football team could compete in the next Olympics, will attend the closing event.

Prime minister Gordon Brown and footballer Beckham

Brown rubs shoulders with Beckham in Beijing

The London Olympics will also have a eight-minute slot that will feature a version of Led Zeppelin classic Whole Lotta Love performed by the group’s guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Leona Lewis.Footballer David Beckham will be involved as will the Royal Ballet and the London Symphony Orchestra.

The closing show will also feature a duet by Chinese folk singer Song Zuying and Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, along with a performance by a 350-strong kung-fu group.

There promises to be another spectacular show earlier in the day when the US basketball team, aka the ‘Redeem Team’, look to reclaim their crown against world champions Spain.

There are also six boxing gold medals to be decided, with Ireland’s Kenny Egan going in the light-heavyweight final.

Other finals are taking place in the men’s water polo (0840), men’s volleyball (0500), and men’s handball (0845).

In the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around event, Russia defended their title to take gold, while China claimed silver and Belarus bronze.

In total, there will be 12 gold medals won on the final day of action before the Games are handed on to London.

August 17, 2008

Murdered man ‘conned’ university

Murdered man ‘conned’ university

Xi Zhou and her boyfriend Zhen Xing Yang

Xi Zhou and her boyfriend Zhen Xing Yang studied at Newcastle University

A Chinese student who was tortured and murdered along with his girlfriend may have lied about his qualifications to get into university, police have said.

Zhen Xing Yang and girlfriend Xi Zhou died after a “frenzied” knife attack at a flat in Newcastle’s West End.

Police believe the pair, both 25, were involved in a betting scam, which may have been a motive for their murders.

Officers are now investigating whether Mr Zhen forged documents to enroll on a masters course at Newcastle University.

Police are in telephone contact with the couple’s families and are trying to speed up Visa applications so they can come to the UK.

Police said Mr Zhen dropped out of a Cardiff University undergraduate degree course in 2005.

A university spokesperson said: “Cardiff University can confirm that Zhen Xing Yang, born 1 February, 1983, attended Cardiff Business School from 2004-5.

He may have gained entry to his MA degree course at Newcastle University as a result of producing fraudulent documentation
Det Supt Steve Wade

“Mr Yang did not continue with his course and left without an award.”

Mr Zhen then gained a place on a postgraduate course at Newcastle University, gaining a masters degree in 2006.

Det Supt Steve Wade, leading the investigation, said: “We can confirm new evidence has been provided about Zhen Xing Yang.

“It suggests he may have gained entry to his MA degree course at Newcastle University as a result of producing fraudulent documentation stating he had successfully completed an undergraduate degree.

“Officers are continuing to work with Newcastle University to establish if this information is correct.

“Community intelligence supported by the examination of computer equipment and mobile call data has shown that both of the victims have been involved in fraudulent activity which has angered and upset a number of people.”

Murder scene

The bodies were discovered in a ground floor flat

One line of inquiry into the murders is that Mr Zhen recruited spectators online to send live updates from UK football matches as part of a betting scam.

It is claimed syndicates in China, where matches are televised a minute behind, could take advantage of this.

The couple were found dead in separate bedrooms at the downstairs flat by friends.

Police said Mr Zhen was assaulted for more than an hour before being stabbed.

Examinations also showed Miss Xi may have been asphyxiated as well as stabbed during the attack.

August 14, 2008

Murdered couple in ‘scam’ probe

Murdered couple in ‘scam’ probe

Xi Zhou and her boyfriend Zhen Xing Yang

Xi Zhou and her boyfriend Zhen Xing Yang studied at Newcastle University

A Chinese couple murdered in Newcastle may have been involved in a range of internet scams, including betting and providing false visas, police said.

Zhen Xing Yang and girlfriend Xi Zhou died after a “frenzied” knife attack at a flat in Newcastle’s West End.

Detectives revealed information on a seized computer and three mobile phones showed the pair may also have arranged forged professional qualifications.

The 25-year-old Newcastle University graduates, were found dead on 9 August.

Det Supt Steve Wade, leading the murder investigation, said: “A possible motive for the killings is beginning to emerge concerning the lifestyle of Xi Zhou and Zhen Xing Yang.

“Community intelligence supported by the examination of computer equipment and mobile call data has shown that both of the victims have been involved in fraudulent activity which has angered and upset a number of people.

Televised matches

“We are currently investigating this as a possible motive for the killings.”

One line of inquiry involves claims Mr Zhen recruited spectators online to send live updates from UK football matches.

It is claimed syndicates in China, where matches are televised a minute behind, could take advantage of this.

Information passed to Northumbria Police includes details of adverts placed on UK-based Mandarin-language websites, recruiting people to watch football matches around the world.

One reads: “It is a very simple job, any student who is interested, please contact Zhen Xing Yang.”

An ad posted under the name CICI-UK, his girlfriend’s nickname, on the powerapple website last October, reads: “Work: Watch football games and send live information to people.

“Requirement: Basic understanding of football rules, no professional background needed, advantage if you have a car.

“Location: Sheffield, London, Blackpool, Portsmouth, York, Hull and many other places.”

Similar adverts requested live information from the Mexican League.

CCTV of Xi Zhou in street

Xi Zhou was caught on CCTV travelling home from work

The couple were found dead in separate bedrooms at the downstairs flat by friends on the afternoon on 9 August.

Police said Mr Zhen was “assaulted for more than an hour” before being stabbed. They believe passers-by may have heard his screams.

A post-mortem examination revealed he suffered extensive bruising to his arms before he died.

Examinations also showed Miss Xi may have been asphyxiated as well as stabbed during the attack.

The body of a cat, which had been drowned and hidden in a washing bowl underneath the bathroom sink, was probably killed by the couple’s murderer, said police.

An offender profiler has been brought in to help establish a motive for the killings.

Police have also released CCTV images taken as Miss Xi traveled home from work at the Wagamama restaurant in Newcastle last Thursday afternoon.

Police have not been able to find any occupation for Mr Zhen since he completed his degree in September 2006.

A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “We continue to look into the lifestyle of both victims and internet websites form part of this investigation.

“We cannot comment further at this stage.”

Around the Olympics in 800 minutes

Courtesy BBC

Beijing

If they ever do get around to trimming tennis from the Olympics, I would like to suggest a thoroughly amateur activity to take its place: competitive spectating.

The game is simple: you watch as much live, in-the-flesh sport as possible within an allotted time.

Like cricket, there are shorter and longer versions of the game, but unlike cricket there is no time for lunch or tea. I believe the one-day format would work best at an Olympics.

It requires speed, planning and a change of shirt. I know this because I have tried it and I think I’ve set a new world record.

Beijing tour map

Between 10am and 11pm on Wednesday, I rode my mate’s mountain bike (cheers Paul) to 19 different Olympic venues and saw world-class sport in 15 of them, world-class press conferences in three more and 20 Chinese volunteers pretend to be modern pentathletes in another.

I covered about 50km, drank 20 bottles of water, went through three maps and met the entire judging panel from the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles.

Perhaps the best way to tell that story, in fact, the whole story, is to start at the beginning. So I will.

Like all elite athletes I think breakfast is the most important meal, so I decided to skip the fare on offer in the media village and have a slap-up feed in a decent hotel downtown – they may now be reconsidering that all-you-can-eat deal.

Adequately fuelled and aboard my mode of transport, I set off from the Financial District and headed southwest for the softball. The thinking here was to start at my southernmost point and move around the city in a clockwise fashion.

Having meandered my way to Fengtai, I found myself at the top of the seventh inning with China pounding Venezuela 7-1.

I can’t remember much about the game mainly because I was worrying about Paul’s bike being destroyed in a controlled explosion.

Because while Katie Melua may be right about there being nine million bikes in Beijing, none of them are welcome at an Olympic venue. Not if you ask for permission first, that is. I would learn that as the day progressed.

From softball I rode north to Wukesong to taste two more slices of Americana, baseball and basketball.

Here my arrival was not particularly well received and my gestures to say, “Can I chain my bike to this please, officer?” were met by stern shakes of the head. Perhaps they didn’t understand my gesture. Strange, I thought that one was universal.

In the end I left it behind some portaloos. I’m not proud.

I got into the baseball in time to see Canada’s Stubby Clapp (honestly, look him up) pop up to right field and was looking at my map when one of his team-mates blasted a three-run homer minutes later. That made it Canada 3-0 China.

Canada's Stubby Clapp

I then went to the basketball and watched Spain’s Anna Montanana drain a jumper for two of her 20 points in the win over the Czech Republic.

From there it was northeast towards the Capital Gymnasium and a dose of clothed women’s volleyball. To be honest, even regular volleyballers don’t wear much and there was a lot of leg on display in this clash between Russia and Kazakhstan.

The Russians were winning but the highlight for me was seeing Kazakh volleyball’s answer to Peter Crouch. I didn’t catch her name but she was wearing number five and you’d know her if you saw her.

Four hours in and I was at the Institute of Technology to see some gymnastics – the hundreds of people heading the opposite direction should have told me I was too late.

I went in anyway, though, and listened to two minutes of a Chinese press conference. As I left I heard a group of volunteers singing little ditties to each other through their megaphones. One of them might have been the girl who actually sang at the Opening Ceremony.

Table tennis was next and the hardest thing here was getting in. You see the staff are only trained to deal with very specific tasks. A journalist coming in through the main entrance (and not arriving by media bus) causes the system to grind to a halt. The fact he was sweating profusely probably didn’t help either.

This would become a recurring theme but competitive spectators have got to deal with these kinds of problems so I was able to overcome all this and catch eight different games of ping-pong at once.

Too much of a good thing? Yes, probably. I tried to concentrate on Ma Lin’s tussle with Panagiotis Gionis of Greece and not the cute Spaniard playing on the other side of the room.

China's Ma Lin in action against Panagiotis Gionis of Greece

It was judo next. Not much to say here except I filled my pockets with Oreo cookies in the media lounge and saw a Colombian beat an Italian in the women’s 70kg category.

Six hours in and it was time to wrestle. To be honest, it was all starting to blur a bit now and the only real difference I can remember between the judo and the wrestling is the costume. And it’s a big difference.

I also got lost in the bowels of the venue (I’d come in the “wrong” entrance again) and ended up in a room with 20 muscular blokes in blue blazers. They were the judges.

I eventually saw Steeve (usual spelling) Guenot beat Konstantin Schneider, apparently, and he would later win gold. Good lad.

I then pedalled hard past the Olympic Village and pushed on to my northernmost point, the Olympic Green Sports Cluster – archery, hockey and tennis.

This is where my ride started to become a cyclo-cross event. Bikes really aren’t allowed this close to the heart of the “Green Olympics” so I was forced to park and proceed by foot.

The next 30 minutes saw me show my face (very briefly) at the tennis (Nadal was winning), narrowly miss Alan Wills’ last-dart victory in the archery (I saw a Korea-Qatar match-up instead) and try to gain entrance to the Great Britain changing room at the hockey (it was locked).

That was 11 venues and 10 sports in just over seven hours. I was knackered. But then I remembered Emma Pooley’s words after her silver-medal performance: “there’s no secret, you just have to make it hurt”.

So I headed south to the Water Cube for swimming, wandered around the corridors under the pool for about 15 minutes and eventually sat down to watch Malta’s Madeleine Scerri win a three-woman, 100m freestyle heat. Now that’s what the Olympics are really about, Michael.

From there it was a short trip to the National Indoor Stadium and an even shorter stay. It was locked. But the fencing venue was just across the road for me to bring up my dozen.

Fencing, by the way, is a great sport to watch. I wish I could have stayed for longer than three minutes. That was long enough, however, to see Yuki Ota of Japan win his semi-final and go absolutely bongo.

Japan's Yuki Ota on his way to a semi-final victory over Italy

I probably should have stopped now. It was dark and I was tired, hungry and smelly. But I wanted more and I really, really wanted to see some handball.

So it was south again to the Olympic Sports Center cluster for five minutes of Norway’s demolition of Kazakhstan (I think I was bad luck for the Kazakhs all day) in the women’s event.

I will definitely return if only to hear more from the American announcer who ticked off a Norwegian player for “roughhousing”.

The next 30 minutes saw me just miss the last water polo game of the day and follow my ears to the modern pentathlon stadium, where Olympic volunteers were pretending to be show-jumping ponies and the stadium announcer was practising his medal ceremony script (he thinks Cuba is going to win).

What happened next was an Olympic event of its own – the 20-minute time-trial to the Workers’ Stadium for the last 10 minutes of the Argentina v Serbia football match.

And my lung-busting, salt-staining effort was rewarded when I flopped into a commentary position to see Diego Buonanotte curl a free-kick home from 25 yards out. Good night, indeed, Diego.

This was my 18th venue, 14th sport and 12th hour. It was time for the coup de grace. Step forward, you beauty, David Price.

Now is not the time to relay all that happened in the Workers’ Gymnasium at around 2200 local time but suffice it to say Team GB’s boxing captain hit the world number one from Russia harder than he had ever been hit before and he didn’t like it.

Cue huge celebrations from Price and his loyal band of Scouse supporters. It was also great to see his team-mates James DeGale and Joe Murray jumping in the aisles too.

So that’s the challenge. Can any of you top 15 different sports in a day?

Until I hear otherwise I’m going to assume it’s a world record. I reckon it will be safe for four years at least.

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