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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Sunday ferry makes first sailing

Sunday ferry makes first sailing

Protestors in Stornoway

A small group of protesters gathered ahead of the sailing

The controversial first scheduled Sunday ferry sailing from Stornoway on Lewis to mainland Scotland has gone ahead as planned.

There has been strong opposition on the island, where the Sabbath day has traditionally been strictly observed.

A small group of protesters prayed and sang a psalm as cars boarded the boat, but several hundred people clapped.

Supporters said it would boost the economy of the Hebridean island and offer local people freedom to travel.

A small group of about a dozen protesters gathered in Stornoway ahead of the sailing to Ullapool, which left at 1430 BST.

Equality laws

As cars lined up in the ferry terminal car park, protesters gathered in silence behind a banner.

It read: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”.

They sang Psalm 46 – God is our refuge and our strength – and prayed for the nation to “turn its back from sin and wickedness”.

A number of women wiped away tears as they prayed for a return to the Lord’s commandments.

The crossing was undertaken by the route’s usual ferry, the MV Isle of Lewis, after a fault in the exhaust on Friday was repaired sooner than expected.

A spokesman for ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne said: “We’re pleased to get under way after the difficulties over the last couple of days.

“It’s all gone as planned.”

The MV Isle of Arran was drafted in after the Isle of Lewis broke down.

The former boat ran a number of emergency crossings to clear the backlog of passengers.

CalMac said it could be breaking equality laws if it did not run ferries seven days a week.

It said religion or beliefs were not valid reasons to refuse to run the ferry.

Supporters of the service said it would be good for tourism.

They said it would offer more flexibility to travellers.

As the ferry left Stornoway a crowd of several hundred gathered to applaud, and wave to those on board.

A leaflet handed out by a group of local churches said that the peace and tranquillity of the islands was enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

It said: “By and large we like it like this.

“We are not oppressed by a quiet Sunday.”

It wished tourists who came to Lewis by ferry a “happy and blessed trip to the islands”.

July 16, 2009

Racing for the first Jackson book

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:25 pm

Racing for the first Jackson book

Michael Jackson biography, published by Harper Collins

The first books will be on sale by the end of the week

We don’t know if he has even been buried yet but already the first Michael Jackson tribute biography is bound and ready to go.

Harper Collins is one of 15 publishers racing to get their book onto the shelves first.

A printers in Somerset began running 110,000 copies of their edition on Saturday. Harper Collins hopes this means the book can hit the shops on Friday, just three weeks after Jackson’s death.

How they did it is down to some of the tightest self-imposed deadlines the UK publishing industry has ever seen.

Race begins

The morning after the news Michael Jackson had died, Harper Collins sensed an opportunity. They decided a new book was needed, especially since the most recent Jackson biography in the marketplace was over five years old.

In terms of the reaction to the death of a public figure, it’s probably the most significant publishing event since the death of Princess Diana
Joe Browes, music buyer for Waterstone’s

The trouble is, they knew their competitors would be thinking the same thing.

“We needed text in two days, pictures in three days,” says Carole Tonkinson, publisher for non fiction at Harper Collins. “We started the project Monday afternoon, and by Thursday we had to give it to the designer to put together, which is the tightest schedule in the history of our company.”

To meet the tight deadlines the publisher had set themselves, they quickly brought in a freelance author, sat him down in an office on the editorial floor of their London headquarters, and told him to write 10,000 words of new material in 48 hours.

He shut himself away until he had finished.

Sales boost

“Being first is key, we need to get that slot in the retailers,” says Tonkinson. “If our competitors sell them their Jacko book, then we’re out in the cold. We need to be in that slot, on the shelf in the supermarket, in the book shop before anybody else.”

Books rolling out

Harper Collins gave itself the tightest schedule in its history

The book trade, under pressure from the recession and online media, is excited at what all the publishers might come up with.

“In terms of the reaction to the death of a public figure, it’s probably the most significant publishing event since the death of Princess Diana,” says Joe Browes, the music buyer for Waterstone’s.

For the industry, this is great news. It means extra sales that had not been planned for.

But with four or five publishers rushing to be first to market, it seems likely that there won’t be room in the market for all of the books.

Even though Jackson’s commercial appeal is huge, the pie is finite and not everyone will get a bite.

Reacting fast is everything.

January 9, 2009

Bombs hit Gaza as UN urges truce

Bombs hit Gaza as UN urges truce

The ruins of the Al-Noor Mosque in Gaza City, hit by an Israeli air strike on 8 January 2009

Israeli forces have been striking targets in Gaza for almost two weeks

Israeli warplanes continued to bomb Gaza on the night when the UN called for an immediate end to the fighting between Israel and Hamas militants.

The UN Security Council called for a ceasefire, access for aid workers and a lasting solution to the conflict, as Israel made at least 30 air strikes.

Six Palestinians were reportedly killed in one attack.

Almost two weeks after the conflict erupted, an estimated 770 Palestinians and 14 Israelis are dead.

Reports from the Israel-Gaza border that explosions can still be heard on Friday morning and smoke can be seen drifting over the Strip.

A prominent Egyptian cleric has called on Muslims across the world to stage rallies on Friday to demonstrate anger at the violence.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who heads the Union of Islamic Scholars, said Friday prayers should be dedicated to expressing solidarity with the Palestinians.

‘Durable ceasefire’

Early on Friday, Israeli planes launched fresh strikes on targets in Gaza. Six members of one family were killed in one attack, witnesses said.

In a report which could not be verified independently, Hamas said a bomb had flattened a five-storey apartment block in northern Gaza.

Map

Reports of new attacks came as 14 out of 15 Security Council members backed a resolution on the crisis.

The resolution called for an “immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire” leading to the “full withdrawal” of Israeli forces from Gaza.

It also called for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance”, measures to prevent arms smuggling to Palestinian militants and the opening of border crossings into Gaza.

It is the first time the Security Council has acted since the Israeli offensive in Gaza began on 27 December.

But, in a surprise move, the US chose to abstain.

America “thought it important to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation efforts, in order to see what this resolution might have been supporting”, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained.

Israeli officials visited Cairo on Thursday to hear details of a plan put forward by Egypt and France.

A Hamas delegation is also expected in the Egyptian capital at some stage for parallel “technical” talks, Egyptian diplomats said.

Israel wants to stop rocket attacks on southern Israel and to stop Hamas smuggling weapons into Gaza via Egypt, while Hamas says any ceasefire deal must include an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

The Security Council’s near-unanimous vote represents an important diplomatic punctuation mark in this crisis, correspondents say.

But the US abstention weakened the impact of the vote because Washington’s support would have placed more pressure on Israel to halt its offensive, they add.

Are you or your friends or family in the region affected by the violence? Tell us your experiences

September 14, 2008

Human error suspected in LA crash

Human error suspected in LA crash

Human error is being blamed for a train collision on the outskirts of Los Angeles, California, which has claimed the lives of at least 24 people.

The driver of a train with 222 passengers aboard apparently ignored a red signal, causing it to hit a freight train head on, the rail company says.

The passenger train hit the freight train with such force, its engine was shoved back inside the first carriage.

Officials say the chances of finding any further survivors are very remote.

Firefighters have cut through the roof of the train, which is a double-decker, removing chunks of metal piece by piece.

Sniffer dogs have been brought in to try to detect any signs of life.

A spokeswoman for the rail company Metrolink, Denise Tyrrell, told reporters:

“At this moment we must acknowledge that it was a Metrolink engineer that made the error that caused yesterday’s accident.”

It was not immediately clear whether the driver had survived.

The death toll is expected to rise as more bodies are uncovered. More than 80 people are in hospital.

Commuter train

The worst rail crash in the US for 15 years happened at 1632 local time (2332 GMT) on Friday, at a time when the passenger train was carrying 222 people, most of them commuters.

I heard a loud crash and I saw black smoke… some people were mangled pretty bad
Phil Thiele, Metrolink passenger

The passenger train was travelling from Los Angeles to Moorpark, north-west of the city.

It collided with a Union Pacific freight train on a curving stretch of track in Chatsworth, in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles county.

The front coach of the Metrolink passenger train derailed and was crushed by the engine after the collision. Two other coaches of the train remained upright.

Aerial images of the crash scene showed teams of rescuers using ladders to reach injured people inside the mangled front coach.

The Union Pacific freight train was badly damaged in the accident. Officials say two people – the driver and the conductor – were on board the train.

“I heard a loud crash and I saw black smoke… some people were mangled pretty bad,” Phil Thiele, one of the passengers in the front coach, told the Los Angeles Times.

He said he tried to help one man who was pinned between seats: “I tried my damnedest to get him out but I just couldn’t.”


Were you affected by the crash? You can share your experience

September 13, 2008

Deadly train crash in Los Angeles

Deadly train crash in Los Angeles

At least two people have died and more than 20 are feared hurt in a collision between a passenger train and a freight train in California, officials say.

Several coaches were derailed, and rescuers are scouring the scene in the Chatsworth area, north of Los Angeles.

“I’m sure there are a lot of injuries,” Ron Haralson from the Los Angeles County Fire Department was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

The cause of the accident was not immediately known.

Dozens of firefighters rushed to the scene of the accident, which happened at 1632 local time on Friday (2332 GMT), US officials said.

They battled a fire raging under one of the derailed carriages.

The Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department told AP at least two people had died.

More than 20 people are feared to have been injured, 10 of them seriously, officials say.

Aerial images of the crash scene showed several teams of rescuers using ladders to reach inside the Metrolink passenger train to pull the injured people.

A number of injured people were treated near the scene, while some were airlifted to hospital, and there are fears that the death toll will rise further.

The passenger train was traveling from Los Angeles to Moorpark, north-west of the city, a Metrolink spokeswoman said.

Up to 350 people could have been on the train, she said.

September 12, 2008

Thai party ‘drops Samak for PM’

Thai party ‘drops Samak for PM’

Ousted Thai PM Samak Sundaravej leaves Parliament House in Bangkok on 11September 2008

Protesters have consistently demanded that Mr Samak leave office

Thailand’s ruling party has dropped ousted PM Samak Sundaravej as its nominee for the job, say party sources.

The decision marks an apparent U-turn by the People’s Power Party (PPP), which earlier seemed determined to re-nominate him to the post.

Protesters have been demanding for weeks that Mr Samak should resign.

The apparent confirmation that he is no longer in contention for the post may pave the way for a settlement of the political crisis, analysts say.

Mr Samak had vowed not to bow to the protesters’ demands, but was eventually forced out earlier this week, over an apparently unrelated appearance in a TV cookery show.

The protesters call him a puppet for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in an army coup in 2006 amid accusations of corruption and abuse of power.

New candidates

Reports are confused as to whether the pressure to drop Mr Samak came from within the ruling party or from its five coalition partners.

The Associated Press news agency quoted PPP spokesman Kuthep Kuthep Saikrajang as saying the party had short-listed three party members as its prime ministerial nominee, though they were not named.

Video still of Samak Sundaravej

Mr Samak was a TV chef before becoming prime minister

The party will need to agree on a compromise candidate before Wednesday, when parliament has scheduled a new vote for prime minister.

Earlier on Friday, a planned vote in the Thai parliament to re-elect Mr Samak as prime minister was postponed because too few MPs turned up.

Thousands of protesters who have been holding a sit-in outside Government House calling for Mr Samak’s resignation were enraged by his re-nomination.

Protesters pledged to continue their protest until a suitable replacement for Mr Samak was found – a scenario which may now have materialized, say correspondents.

Although the PPP is the largest party in parliament, it does not have an outright majority and four of its five coalition partners had already said they wanted an alternative candidate.

On top of that, Mr Samak also faces disqualification again later this month if the verdict in a defamation case goes against him.

September 7, 2008

New charges for actor accused in stabbing

New charges for actor accused in stabbing

VISTA, California (AP) — Prosecutors have brought additional charges against a Hollywood actor accused of stabbing his ex-girlfriend 20 times.

Shelley Malil portrayed the character Haziz in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

Shelley Malil portrayed the character Haziz in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Shelley Malil, 43, who played a supporting role in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” was charged Friday with residential burglary and assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly attacking a man who with Malil’s ex-girlfriend, Kendra Beebe, on August 10.

Prosecutors say that was the day Malil stabbed Beebe with two knives while chasing her in and around her San Marcos home as her two children slept.

A man who was with Beebe at the time grabbed one knife, but Malil found another and continued the attack until a neighbor disarmed him, prosecutors said.

Malil previously pleaded not guilty to one count of attempted murder with a special circumstance of premeditation and one count of personal use of a knife and inflicting great bodily injury. He faces life in prison if convicted.

During a Superior Court hearing Friday, a judge reduced his bail from $10 million to $3 million. Malil’s attorney, Steve Meiser, argued that the higher figure was unreasonable and that his Indian-born client was not a flight risk.

Malil has been jailed since August 11.

Beebe, 35, suffered deep wounds to her lungs and throat, but prosecutors said she was expected to recover.

Malil played a co-worker, Haziz, to comedian Steve Carell’s title character in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” He has appeared on dozens of TV shows, including “NYPD Blue” and “Scrubs.”

Serb opposition leader resigns

Serb opposition leader resigns

Tomislav Nikolic

Tomislav Nikolic went too far for party hardliners

The head of the main opposition party in Serbia has resigned after senior colleagues refused to back the country’s efforts to join the EU.

Tomislav Nikolic had recently persuaded his Serbian Radical Party to approve the ratification of an important agreement with the European Union.

But there was a party revolt over the issue, with critics saying it meant abandoning Serbia’s claim to Kosovo.

Kosovo unilaterally declared itself independent from Serbia this year.

Mr Nikolic had steered his party towards the centre of Serbian politics, focusing on social issues such as unemployment and poverty, rather than the militant nationalism of the past.

Mr Nikolic is officially the deputy president of the party as its leader, Vojislav Seselj is facing charges at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

His endorsement of the Stability and Association Agreement, signed earlier this year but still awaiting ratification by the Serbian Parliament, was a bridge too far for many of his party colleagues, our correspondent says.

A meeting of the party leadership on Friday night reversed the decision to endorse the agreement with Brussels.

Mr Nikolic resigned in protest, both from his position as de facto leader of the party, and as the head of its group in parliament.

The parliamentary vote on the agreement with the European Union is expected next week.

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