News & Current Affairs

September 13, 2008

Blogger’s detention sparks fears

Blogger’s detention sparks fears

Malaysiakini)

Raja Petra’s website was temporarily closed before his arrest

Late on Tuesday night, I spoke to Raja Petra Kamarudin. We were supposed to meet face-to-face earlier in the day, but Malaysia’s most vociferous anti-government campaigner could not make it. He was in hiding.

Three days later, he was detained.

The ostensible reason for the blogger’s arrest was that he published a blasphemous article about Islam on his website, Malaysia Today. In the predominantly Muslim country, such an offense can carry a jail sentence.

But several weeks ago, the campaigner had also made allegations against one of Malaysia’s most powerful men, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Mr Petra suggested the minister may have been involved in the 2007 murder of a Mongolian model. Mr Najib denied any involvement.

Shortly afterwards, the government ordered internet service providers to block access to Malaysia Today. The ban was lifted the day before Mr Petra was arrested.

Internet crackdown?

As Malaysia strives to keep pace with Asia’s fastest-growing economies, the internet is flourishing: Kuala Lumpur offers citywide wireless access and high-speed connections are being rolled out across the country.

The influence of online news sites and bloggers – who are often critical of the government – is growing exponentially.

Anwar Ibrahim – the charismatic opposition leader being touted as a future prime minister despite being mired in decade-old sodomy allegations – has detailed every stage of his political rehabilitation on his own website: anwaribrahimblog.com.

Although there is tight regulation of traditional media in Malaysia, with newspapers requiring an annual licence from the government to publish, there have been no such restrictions online. So far.

But Mr Petra’s arrest is being seen by some as evidence that the online free-for-all is about to end. Within hours of his detention, an ethnic Chinese journalist was reportedly arrested. A wider crackdown is feared.

Racial harmony

During our interview on Tuesday, Mr Petra told me he wanted “to be available to help in the dissemination of information that is going to be greatly required” for the next 10 days.

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at a press conference in Permatang Pauh (25/08/2008)

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim updates a regular blog

The period he was referring to is crucial for the government: Malaysia’s resurgent opposition has promised to bring down the administration of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi by 16 September – the date of Malaysia’s anniversary.

It is an ambitious, and perhaps overly-optimistic, pledge. But the opposition has been gathering momentum since it made historic gains in March’s general election.

The government, meanwhile, is embroiled in internal fighting, some of which is due to the growing influence of independent websites like Malaysia Today.

The government remains adamant there is no crackdown. Just days before Mr Petra’s arrest, Home Minister Syed Hamid told me the temporary closure of Malaysia Today was merely a “cautious” step.

He emphasized the government had to maintain stability and peace among the Malay, Chinese and Indian communities that make up modern day Malaysia.

But fears are growing among some that there is going to be a repeat of a famous clampdown the government ordered 20 years ago.

Two further arrests have been made overnight. An opposition politician and a journalist who works for a Chinese language newspaper have both been detained under the internal security act.

Backs to the firewall?

Mr Petra has rejected the implication Malaysia Today sowed discord, arguing that the site’s main theme was one of racial harmony.

I think the Pandora’s box has opened… The government is going back on its word
Raja Petra

“What Syed Hamid is accusing us of, it is them who are doing it, not us,” he told me during our interview.

“I think the Pandora’s box has opened. The government started off by guaranteeing freedom of the internet – no censorship, no restrictions. Now the government is going back on its word.”

Jeff Ooi, a blogger and opposition MP, said the government’s temporary closure of Malaysia Today was an infringement of Malaysia’s cyber laws, and hinted it could be the start of something more sinister.

“I do not know whether Malaysia is following the footsteps of China,” he said, referring to the firewall that blocks access to sites deemed inappropriate by the Communist authorities in Beijing.

“If that is the case, then Malaysia is regressing.”

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September 12, 2008

Surrender by ‘uranium theft’ man

Surrender by ‘uranium theft’ man

Photo by Anirban Roy

Local objections have stopped mining from officially starting

A tribal man wanted in connection with the smuggling of uranium ore has surrendered to the police in India’s north-eastern state of Meghalaya.

Earlier this week, police arrested five people and recovered a packet of about 1kg of unprocessed uranium from them.

It is not clear how much ore the group had, or what it planned to do with it.

The arrests are at an embarrassing time for India, just days after the Nuclear Suppliers Group ended a ban on civilian nuclear trade with the country.

Indian officials had worked hard to persuade members of the group, which governs global trade in nuclear components, that its nuclear industry was in safe hands.

Uranium is the basic fuel for nuclear weapons, but it has to go through complex processes before it is sufficiently enriched for use.

‘Stolen’

John Khongmin gave himself up to the police in the West Khasi Hills district late on Wednesday after police circulated a look-out notice for him.

Mr Khongmin’s father is an employee of the government-run Atomic Minerals Division.

The Domiosiat mining site. Picture by Anirban Roy

Children play at Domiosiat – prized by experts for the quality of its ore

“We are trying to find out whether the group has stolen more and where were they trying to sell it,” district police official M Khakrang said.

Police say they are not sure whether the men are part of an organized global enterprise, or simply some amateurs, trying to make some quick money.

The seizure was made in the village of Mairang on Monday when police detained four people, including a village headman, for stealing a quantity of uranium.

A fifth man surrendered on Tuesday after the police carried out a search of the area.

Earlier in May too, police arrested five people for stealing uranium ore.

Others have been arrested in the past for trying to smuggle uranium out of the state.

“But we don’t know yet whether this is an organized racket. It could well be and we may have not yet found the kingpins,” Mr Khakrang said.

Proposed mines

Early in the 1990s, India’s Atomic Minerals Division discovered huge deposits of uranium at Domiosiat and Wakkhaji in the West Khasi Hills.

The Indian government announced in January it wanted to open cast mine 375,000 tonnes of uranium ore annually in the area.

But mining has been unable to start so far because of objections from local tribespeople who fear radiation contamination.

Officials say the proposed mines contain 16% of India’s known uranium deposits.

India is desperate for enriched uranium to boost its nuclear power generation.

It recently signed a controversial accord with the US under which it will receive civilian nuclear fuel and technology. The deal now awaits approval from the US Congress.

September 4, 2008

Seven killed in Dubai air crash

Seven killed in Dubai air crash

Keppel Corporation website]

The helicopter crashed on the Maersk Resilient

Seven people were killed when a helicopter crashed into an oil rig off the coast of Dubai, officials say.

The victims were a Briton, an American, a Filipino, a Venezuelan, a Pakistani and two Indian nationals, the country’s Civil Aviation Authority said.

The helicopter crashed into the deck of the rig during take-off, Petrofac, the operator of Dubai government’s offshore oilfields, said in a statement.

An investigation is under way into the cause of the crash.

The incident happened on at 2020 (1720 GMT) on Wednesday.

The Aerogulf Bell 212 helicopter, carrying two crew members and five passengers, was on a routine flight from the Rashid oil field, 70 kilometres (43.5 miles) from Dubai, Aberdeen-based company Petrofac said.

“During take-off the helicopter crashed onto the deck of the Resilient, the Maersk jack-up drilling rig,” it said.

“The aircraft then broke up and fell into the sea.”

Map

The helicopter accident happened off the coast of Dubai

The company added: “Immediately following the incident, a fire broke out on the main deck of the drilling rig which was quickly contained and extinguished.”

The company said there were no survivors on board.

There were no additional casualties on either the drilling rig or the platform.

All operations on the Rashid field have been suspended and the platform and drilling rig have been secured, Petrofac said.

The company confirmed that the victims were foreign contractors and said that their relatives were being informed.

September 1, 2008

Indian floods cut off thousands

Indian floods cut off thousands

Half a million people in the Indian state of Bihar remain stranded in villages which have been devastated by massive flooding, officials say.

Correspondent reports chaotic scenes as soldiers try to reach those cut off and people attempt to scramble from rooftops into rescue boats.

With 1.2 million people homeless, India is struggling to cope with the crisis.

The flood waters are spreading to new areas, and conditions in relief camps are overcrowded and unsanitary.

The floods are known to have killed at least 75 people in Bihar but the death toll could climb once the situation in remote areas emerges.

Tens of thousands of people have also been displaced in neighboring Nepal where some of those who have lost their homes are camping under plastic sheets.

Disorganization

Visiting the Bageecha relief camp in Purnea, the BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder could find no camp co-ordinator or government official in charge of distributing aid.

map

Trucks and vans carrying relief material stood parked on the highway as volunteers waited to be organised.

Several tonnes of aid had arrived but the volunteers were not quite sure how to distribute it.

The situation was symptomatic of what was happening across Bihar’s flood-affected areas, our correspondent says.

The disaster began on 18 August when a dam burst on the Saptakoshi river in Nepal.

The Saptakoshi, which becomes the Kosi when it enters India, subsequently broke its banks in Bihar.

Officials in Nepal say hundreds of people there have been hit by illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia and an estimated 50,000 are homeless.

They say nearly 1,000 houses have been completely destroyed. Power supplies and transport have been severely affected.

The costs to the economy are now estimated at one billion Nepalese rupees ($14.25m).


Have you been affected by the floods in Bihar? Send us your comments and experiences.

August 30, 2008

Police killed by India mine blast

Police killed by India mine blast

Map

Twelve police officers have been killed by a landmine explosion in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, police say.

The officers were carrying out a patrol in a police vehicle through the Maoist rebel stronghold of Burudih, 160km (100 miles) south of the capital, Ranchi.

A police spokesman said the rebels had been planting mines in the area to deter attacks by the security forces.

More than 6,000 people have died during the Maoist rebels’ 20-year fight for a communist state in parts of India.

Last week, at least nine people, including six policemen, were killed in clashes between security forces and Maoist rebels in Bihar state.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the Maoist insurgency is the “single biggest threat” to India’s security.

The rebels, who operate in several Indian states, say they are fighting for the rights of poor peasants and landless workers.

Capsize in India floods kills 20

Capsize in India floods kills 20

Villagers sit on a makeshift raft in India's Poornia district (29/08/2008)

Many people say they have lost everything in the flooding

At least 20 people have been killed after a boat capsized while carrying dozens of refugees from flooding in the Indian state of Bihar, say police.

More than 70 people have now died in the floods and hundreds of thousands are stranded without food or water.

Indian soldiers are using boats and helicopters to reach several hundred remote villages.

The flooding occurred as water flowing from Nepal caused the Kosi river to breach its banks and change course.

More rain is expected in the next two days so authorities are moving as swiftly as they can to evacuate villages before the waters rise again.

The continuing bad weather is hampering efforts to get aid to about 2.5 million people who have been displaced.

‘National calamity’

Our correspondent says many of those stranded in remote villages are sitting on the roofs of their submerged homes.

map

There is an acute shortage of food and some people are eating uncooked rice and drinking stagnant water to stay alive.

Tens of thousands of people have crowded into temporary relief camps.

The boat incident took place on Friday in the worst-affected district, Madhepura, 150km (95 miles) north-east of Bihar’s capital, Patna.

Police said 40 people were saved.

ON Bhaskar, superintendent of police, told the Associated Press news agency: “The boat was overcrowded because people panicked to be rescued and clambered on board.”

Angry villagers in Madhepura said they had no idea where to take shelter and complained they had received no food or aid.

“We have lost everything,” said Bimlesh Yadav, escaping with his family to a nearby town.

August 19, 2008

Jade enters the Indian BB house

Jade enters the Indian BB house

Reality TV star Jade Goody has spent her first night on the Indian version of Celebrity Big Brother.

It comes 18 months after the 27-year-old was accused of racism towards Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in the UK show.

Goody told Indian audiences before she went in to the house the incident with Shetty was “in the past” and that she was “not proud of it”.

Shetty takes Davina McCall’s role on the Indian show, known as Bigg Boss.

“I know I have behaved wrongly but that was my yesterday,” Goody said.

“Today, I have changed for the better and I am here to prove it. I am determined to be myself and win everyone’s heart.”

‘Sorry’

Jade Goody

Goody arrived in Mumbai on Friday

So far on the show, Goody has learnt Hindi phrases and Bollywood-style dancing.

As the only non-Indian contestant and first international celebrity on the show, Goody is immune from nominations this week as a mark of hospitality.

Last year’s British show attracted 45,000 complaints to media regulator Ofcom over the alleged bullying of Shetty by Jade Goody and fellow contestants, model Danielle Lloyd and singer Jo O’Meara.

It also led to a protest in the eastern Indian city of Patna which saw the burning of an effigy.

A month after leaving the house, Goody visited India and told the Indian community: “I am sorry for the hurt and pain that my actions caused.”

Paraguayan Indian named minister

Paraguayan Indian named minister

Margarita Mbywangi in Asuncion in March 2008

Margarita Mbywangi pledged to serve all indigenous communities

An indigenous woman in Paraguay who says she was sold into forced labor as a girl has been made minister for indigenous affairs.

Margarita Mbywangi, a 46-year-old Ache tribal chief, is the first indigenous person to hold the position.

She has been an activist for many years, defending her tribe’s interests.

She was appointed by the new president, Fernando Lugo, who was sworn in on Friday, ending more than 60 years of government by the Colorado Party.

The new president, a former Catholic bishop, seems keen to demonstrate a decisive break with the past, through his ministerial appointments.

‘Forced labor’

But some Indian leaders have voiced fears Ms Mbywangi will give preferential treatment to her own tribe.

The mother-of-three promised to meet those who opposed her appointment, in order to ease their concerns.

“We are immediately going to help colleagues from different communities who are experiencing a difficult situation due to lack of potable water, food and clothing,” she told local Channel 2 television.

The new minister said that as a four-year-old girl she was captured in the jungle and was sold several times into forced labor with the families of large land owners.

She told the television station that she had also been sent to school, so she could read and write, and was now studying for a high school diploma.

The new minister also identified indigenous land rights as a priority, as well as protecting forests.

For an Indian the forest represents “his mother, his life, his present and future”, she said.

About 90,000 people say they belong to one of Paraguay’s estimated 400 Indian communities, in what is one of Latin America’s poorest countries, according to government figures.

August 15, 2008

Goody ‘will appear in Indian BB’

Goody ‘will appear in Indian BB’

Jade Goody on visit to India

Goody visited Delhi after the row to apologize to the Indian community

Jade Goody is to appear in the Indian version of Celebrity Big Brother, according to reports.

It comes 18 months after the 27-year-old reality TV star was accused of racism towards Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in the UK show.

Goody is expected to join the Indian house this weekend. Shetty is the host of the program, known as Bigg Boss.

A spokeswoman for makers Endemol said the identity of contestants was never confirmed or denied at this stage.

Because I’ve been there, done that, I’ll be able to relate to the housemates in a more empathetic way because I can imagine what they’re going through at that point in time
Shilpa Shetty

Bollywood reporter Harshita Kholi told that “a source from the production house has said that they’re under confidentiality”.

“But what they do so say is, yes, there is a buzz, there is a possibility of her being on the show,” she added.

Last week, speaking in an interview ahead of the show, Shetty said her advice to housemates was “just be yourself”.

“Because I’ve been there, done that, I’ll be able to relate to the housemates in a more empathetic way because I can imagine what they’re going through at that point in time,” she said.

Last year’s British show attracted 45,000 complaints to media regulator Ofcom over the alleged bullying of Shetty by Jade Goody and fellow contestants, model Danielle Lloyd and singer Jo O’Meara.

Cooking comment

In a report on the series, Ofcom ruled that, on three occasions, broadcaster Channel 4 had had failed to appropriately handle material.

It said one was where Goody referred to Shetty as “Shilpa Poppadom”.

Shilpa Shetty

Shilpa Shetty became a household name in the UK because of the show

Another was when Lloyd told Shetty, using foul language, that she should return to India.

The third was when Lloyd and O’Meara were seen making offensive comments about Indian cooking.

Gordon Brown – then Chancellor of the Exchequer – became involved in the row while on a visit to India during the show’s run.

Mr Brown said the issue had been raised repeatedly during his trip, adding that Britain should be “seen as a country of fairness and tolerance”.

It also led to a protest in the eastern Indian city of Patna which saw the burning of an effigy.

I am sorry for the hurt and pain that my actions caused
Goody’s apology to Indian community

But after Shetty eventually won the show, she insisted that Goody “didn’t mean to be racist”.

Endemol, meanwhile said it “sincerely regretted the level of offense caused by events in this series”.

When she left the house, Goody said her behaviour had been “nasty” and added: “I’m not racist but i can see why it has had the impact it’s had.”

A month after leaving the house, she visited India and told Indians: “I am sorry for the hurt and pain that my actions caused.”

Shilpa, meanwhile, became a household name in the UK after the series.

August 14, 2008

Federer hit by shock Olympic loss

Federer hit by shock Olympic loss

Roger Federer’s disappointing season continued as his hopes of winning Olympic gold in the men’s singles were ended by an inspired James Blake.

Blake had not beaten the top seed in eight previous attempts but won their quarter-final 6-4 7-6 and will play Fernando Gonzalez in the semi-finals.

Second seed Rafael Nadal will play Novak Djokovic in the other semi-final.

Spaniard Nadal beat Jurgen Melzer 6-0 6-4 and Djokovic, from Serbia, defeated Gael Monfils 4-6 6-1 6-4.

In the other quarter-final 12th seed Gonzalez, who is from Chile and claimed the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics, cruised past Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4 6-4.

I know I can beat the best in the world on my day and I proved it
Federer’s conqueror James Blake

Federer, who will lose his world number one ranking to Nadal on Monday, made a number of unforced errors and will need a dramatic reversal in fortunes if he is to successfully defend his US Open title later this month.

“It’s a big disappointment obviously. The Olympics was one of the goals of the season for me. So obviously the quarter-finals is not going to do it,” he said.

“But I’ve still got to look forward to the US Open. I still have that and then the Masters Cup in Shanghai to really do well now and try and save my season.

“I think James played well. I can only really say how well he played. I’ve played him on many occasions, but I think this was the best I’ve seen him.

“I’m happy for him. I hope he can go all the way now.”

Blake, the world number seven, had won only one set in his previous matches against Federer, but he unnerved the five-time Wimbledon champion with a near faultless service game and an aggressive forehand.

“I always believed in myself,” said Blake. “I’d lost to him eight, nine, 10, 50 times, I don’t know how many, but I had the feeling it could be my day.

“He didn’t play a good first game and that put me up straight away. I played loose and free and I always fancy my chances on the 5-4 game.

“I know I can beat the best in the world on my day and I proved it.”

The 28-year-old broke Federer when the Swiss was serving to stay in the first set and then broke again early in the second to take a 3-0 lead.

Federer, who was struggling with his serve and forehand, broke back in the fifth game to take the set to a tie-break only for Blake to win it after racing into a 4-1 lead.

Federer was due to play in the doubles quarter-finals with Stanislas Wawrinka later on Thursday against the Indian pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi but the match was postponed because of rain.

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