News & Current Affairs

September 29, 2008

Maoists’ ugly view of Miss Nepal

Maoists’ ugly view of Miss Nepal

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I feel like we are under a dictatorship more than being a republic or democratic
Pranayna KC

Would-be beauty queens in Nepal have expressed their disappointment after the postponement of the Miss Nepal contest for the sixth time this year.

It should have been held at the weekend but local authorities banned it after pressure from the Maoist party which heads the government.

Contestants due to have taken part have complained of being “victimised”.

The Maoists say that the contest discriminates against certain ethnic groups and demeans women.

It is not often that a beauty pageant is scheduled to take place at the army’s headquarters.

But that is where the organisers, event management company Hidden Treasure, had planned to hold the contest – such were the sensitivities it raised.

At the last moment they got a letter from Kathmandu’s district government. “Keeping peace and security in mind, do not let this event take place,” it said.

The event’s antagonist is the women’s wing of the Maoist party, the All Nepal Women’s Organization (Revolutionary). Last month it stormed the offices of the pageant’s Indian sponsor, Dabur Nepal, and locked out its staff.

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Protesters say beauty contests are anti-women

The Maoists’ most senior woman, Pampha Bhusal, told the BBC the contest discriminated against certain ethnic groups and against shorter and darker women, and that it demeaned women by using them to advertise toothpaste and shampoo.

But the organizers say it is open to all and that the women have been helping flood victims and working in socially useful campaigns.

Different visions

One contestant, 19-year-old Pranayna KC, said the Maoists were violating young women’s rights. The women and the organizers have been in constant dialogue with the former rebels but to no avail.

“The way they talk to us, they always think they are right. Everything they say is right, every view that they say is right,” she said. “I feel like we are under a dictatorship more than being a republic or democratic.”

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The Maoists’ attitude towards beauty pageants is not consistent

The organizers and contestants say that there have been anonymous and threatening telephone calls against them, some in the middle of the night.

The Miss Nepal pageant personifies the quarrel between groups of people with very different social visions.

On the one hand are those who say beauty pageants are a force for good and for the promotion of what is beautiful. On the other are those like the Maoists who say they are un-Nepalese and do nothing to improve the lot of women.

In the middle are many more. Another Nepali woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she did not like the Maoists’ attempts to control people’s lives but on the other hand felt there were better causes than Miss Nepal to fight for.

Opponents of the ban say the pageant builds up women’s skills and profile in all sorts of fields. But Amrita Thapa, head of the Maoist women’s organization, says the contest should decide whether it is about physical beauty or about professional skills and that it cannot be both.

The Maoists have not been entirely consistent about their own reasons for opposing the pageant. Until recently they based their argument on gender, saying the contest demeaned women.

But Pampha Bhusal now says they support certain such pageants including one called Miss Tamang, open to members of one populous but traditionally marginalized ethnic group. Several similar pageants have continued to take place amid the current controversy.

The row has increased the perception of the Maoists, now Nepal’s biggest elected party, as being somewhat puritanical and preoccupied with social control. But they say that just because other countries hold such contests, that is no reason for Nepal to do so.

Meanwhile 17 young women’s hopes of becoming Miss Nepal and taking part in Miss World in South Africa in December look increasingly bleak.

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August 8, 2008

Beijing ready for Olympic opening

Beijing ready for Olympic opening

Olympic volunteers in Beijing, 08/08

Officials are concerned that hazy conditions may affect the ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muted city

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

Pollution graph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China’s ‘extraordinary’ effort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 7, 2008

Bush chides Beijing over rights

Bush chides Beijing over rights

US President George W Bush has expressed “deep concerns” over China’s human rights record in a speech on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.

“The US believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings,” he said in the Thai capital Bangkok.

He praised China’s economy but said only respect for human rights would let it realise its full potential.

Mr Bush has been criticised by some campaigners for going to the Games.

He was due to fly to Beijing following the speech in Bangkok, a stop on his final trip to Asia before he leaves office in January.

The wide-ranging address, which included criticism of the regime in Burma, was more nuanced than Mr Bush’s past speeches on China.

It is unlikely to cause much offence in China, our correspondent says, and many people will see it more as a valedictory speech for Mr Bush’s record in Asia rather than an outline of future US policy.

‘Firm opposition’

President Bush said he was optimistic about China’s future and said change in China would arrive “on its own terms”.

Young people who grow up with the freedom to trade goods will ultimately demand the freedom to trade ideas…
George W Bush
US president

But his criticisms of China’s human rights record were clear.

“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists,” he said.

When it was controversially awarded the games in 2001 by the International Olympic Committee, Beijing promised to make improvements in human rights, media freedoms and the provision of health and education.

But campaigners, such as Amnesty International, say Chinese activists have been jailed, people made homeless, journalists detained and websites blocked, while there has been increased use of labour camps and prison beatings.

In March, China suppressed violent anti-government protests in Tibet. Beijing said rioters killed at least 19 people, but Tibetan exiles said security forces killed dozens of protesters in the worst unrest in Tibet for 20 years.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, rejected Beijing’s claims he was behind the riots and said he expressed good wishes for the success of Games.

On Thursday, at least 1,500 Buddhists were holding a protest in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu against what they called China’s violation of religious freedom in Tibet. Correspondents say there have been scuffles with police.

In Beijing, police dragged away three US Christians who tried to demonstrate on Tiananmen Square in support of religious freedom.

Four pro-Tibet activists from Britain and the US were arrested and held briefly in the city on Wednesday after a protest close to the Olympic stadium.

Burma refugees

In his address, Mr Bush said the US recognised that the growth sparked by China’s free market reforms was “good for the Chinese people” and the country’s’ purchasing power was “good for the world”.

On foreign policy, he commended China’s “critical leadership role” in the negotiations to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, and the “constructive relationship” between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan.

He also called for an end to what he described as tyranny in Thailand’s neighbour, Burma.

Friday’s Olympic opening ceremony coincides with the 20th anniversary of a democracy uprising in Burma, which was crushed by the military.

First lady Laura Bush flew to the Thai-Burmese border to spend the day at the Mae La refugee camp where about 35,000 refugees live, having fled their homes.

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