News & Current Affairs

July 7, 2009

Fans and family remember Jackson

Fans and family remember Jackson

Michael Jackson’s family and fans have said farewell to the pop superstar at an emotional memorial service.

Jackson’s daughter Paris, 11, fought back tears to describe him as as “the best father you can ever imagine”.

The singer’s coffin was placed in front of the stage during the event at the Staples Center in Los Angeles after an earlier private funeral.

Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder and Mariah Carey paid tribute before the family joined a sombre finale on stage.

Stevie Wonder said: “This is a moment I wished I didn’t live to see come. Michael I love you.”

The crowd cheered as the golden flower-draped coffin entered the arena to the strains of a choir singing “Hallelujah, hallelujah, we’re going to see the King” from the song Soon And Very Soon.

Michael Jackson's family

Michael Jackson’s brothers wore his trademark single gloves

Mariah Carey opened the show, performing I’ll Be There, ending with the words: “We miss you.”

Jackson’s brother Jermaine took to the stage to perform the song Smile. It was said to be the King of Pop’s favourite song, featuring the lyric: “Smile though your hearts are aching.”

Others paying tribute included Lionel Richie, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah and Brooke Shields.

Some sang, while others spoke about their memories of the King of Pop and his influence on music and society. Many embraced family members as they left the stage.

The BBC’s Matthew Price, who was in the arena, said: “It’s had to clearly see the family but the glimpses I’m getting show a family both in mourning, and in celebration of his life.

“There are moments of the intensely personal in this very public event.”

Civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton gave a fiery speech, telling Jackson’s children: “There weren’t nothing strange about your daddy.”

“It was strange what your daddy had to deal with but he dealt with it.”

Michael was a personal love of mine, a treasured part of my world, part of the fabric of my life in a way that I can’t seem to find words to express
Diana Ross

Motown boss Berry Gordy, who signed the Jackson Five, ended his tribute with the words: “Michael, thank you for the joy, thank you for the love. you will live in my heart forever.”

Actress Brooke Shields, who first met Jackson when she was 13, broke down in tears as she took to the stage.

Describing Jackson as “pure”, she said: “He was often referred to as the King but the Michael that I knew was always the little prince. Michael saw everything with his heart.”

The 17,500 people in the arena cheered as clips of Jackson’s life and music were played on big screens.

Messages were read from absent guests including former South African President Nelson Mandela, poet Maya Angelou and singer Diana Ross.

Stevie Wonder performing
The stage was adorned with flowers and a tribute to Jackson

The message from Ross was read by Smokey Robinson. “I’m trying to find closure,” it said.

“I want you to know that even though I am not there at the Staples Center I am there in my heart.

“Michael was a personal love of mine, a treasured part of my world, part of the fabric of my life in a way that I can’t seem to find words to express.

“Michael wanted me to be there for his children and I will be there if they ever need me. I hope today brings closure for all those who loved him.”

Other people taking part include Usher and Britain’s Got Talent finalist Shaheen Jafargholi, who has played the young Michael Jackson in the musical Thriller – Live.

The stage is adorned with the star’s image, alongside a mural carrying the words: “In Loving Memory. Michael Jackson King of Pop – 1958-2009.”

Millions of fans around the world are watching on TV.

Roads were closed off and concrete barriers erected outside the Staples Center, where Jackson had been rehearsing a comeback show before his sudden death aged 50 on 25 June.

More than 1.6 million fans applied to attend the memorial event, with 8,750 people chosen at random to receive a pair of tickets.

One person not attending is Jackson’s former wife and the mother of two of his children, Debbie Rowe.

“The onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction to an event that should focus exclusively on Michael’s legacy,” her lawyer Marta Almli said in a statement.

About 50 cinemas across the US are showing the memorial live. It is also being relayed to big screens across the UK, Australia and Hong Kong.

Family members earlier attended a short funeral service at the Forest Lawn cemetery.

September 7, 2008

Swaziland king celebrates in style

Swaziland king celebrates in style

One of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchs, King Mswati III of Swaziland, has held lavish celebrations to mark his 40th birthday and 40 years of independence from Britain, reports.

King Mswati III

King Mswati III was flanked by dignitaries as he delivered his speech

Mswati III arrived in the stadium framed by mountains in the capital Mbabane in a brand new BMW – one of 20 bought just for the occasion.

The king, dressed in traditional clothing and wearing a beaded necklace, was welcomed by cheering, flag-waving supporters.

“We all trust him,” said a young man with a front-row seat, also in traditional dress.

“He’s a good man. He believes in his country. He loves everybody. We are all like the royal family.”

The king has a taste for the finer things in life – something he shares with his 13 wives.

Some of them arrived for the so-called “40-40” celebrations fresh from a shopping trip to Dubai.

With marching bands and dancing troupes, and a garden party to follow, it was a party fit for a king.

But can his impoverished kingdom afford it?

Contempt

The official budget is $2.5m (£1.4m) but some estimates claim the real cost could be five times that.

Critics say that it is money that could have been better spent elsewhere – on education, on health, and on saving lives.

People wave the National flag of Swaziland

Cheering crowds turned out to welcome the king to the stadium

With the world’s highest rate of HIV (adult prevalence of 26.1%), many believe there is nothing to celebrate.

For two days this week trade unions and civic groups took to the streets in protest calling for change and for multi-party democracy.

“We condemn this party with the contempt it deserves,” said Swazi Trade Union leader Jan Sithole, as he marched in the capital.

“People feel so strongly because this is a plundering of the country’s resources in the height of grinding poverty for most of the Swazi masses.

“People feel their money is being wasted, with arrogance.”

Powerlessness

Take a drive into the bush, and poverty is written all over the landscape – dirt roads, rundown homes, and hungry children.

President of Uganda Yoweri Moseveni and President of Botswana Ian Khama

A collection of African heads of state made the trip to Mbabane

Sibusiso Mamba is one of them. His name means blessing. Sibusiso is an Aids orphan, who is HIV positive himself. Now aged 14, he looks more like a seven-year-old.

For the past two months he has been on anti-retro viral drugs (ARVs).

They brought him back from death’s door, according to his grandmother, Ntsambose, who is caring for him at a remote homestead – 80km (49.7 miles) from the nearest hospital.

Now, as the king is having a banquet, she has run out of food.

“I feel bad when I see that he’s hungry,” she said. “It hurts me. He’s better because of the medicine. But the problem of hunger will make him sick again.”

Ntsambose knew nothing of the celebrations in the capital, or of the money being spent.

“Who am I to say anything?” she asked. “There’s nothing I can say about what is done by the king.”

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was among those present

Many feel powerless to speak up against the monarch – criticism of Mswati is still frowned upon here.

Ntsambose can hardly see, so she relies on her grandson to gather firewood.

It takes all his strength to carry a few sticks. He dreams of being well enough for school next year, and of growing up to be a policemen. But he may not live to his next birthday.

Aids campaigners Tengetile Hlope, whose has been helping Sibusiso and his grandmother, believes this is no time for parties.

“HIV is killing the country. When you think of the budget that is being used for the 40-40 celebrations, you just feel like crying,” she said.

“There are people here who don’t have water, food or transport to a clinic.

“They are just out in the rural areas on their own. The people who are organising and celebrating the 40-40, they don’t even know about this place.”

’40 years of poverty’

The government denies that the birthday party is extravagant, and insists it’s a fitting way to mark a milestone.

“I think the nation can celebrate the achievements of the past 40 years,” said Percy Simelane, a government spokesman.

Women who took part in the birthday celebrations for Swaziland"s King Mswati III stand in line for food

After the celebrations, many of those who attended waited in line for food

“The country has changed tremendously. At independence we used to get teachers, doctors and nurses from other countries. Now we export them. ARVs are provided free.

“Aids orphans go to school free of charge, and the government pays for meals.”

But a short distance from Sibusiso’s homestead we found more evidence of the hardships many face, at a neighbourhood children’s centre.

About 60 children visit the centre every day – more than half of them are Aids orphans.

The volunteers who run the centre feed them when they can – that is about two days a month.

On the day of our visit, there were songs, games and informal education for the children, but nothing to eat.

Tengetile Hlope believes this is the reality of life for many in rural Swaziland, four decades on.

“I feel like I am just celebrating 40 years of poverty and hunger in this country,” she said.

August 21, 2008

Swazi anger at royal wives’ trip

Swazi anger at royal wives’ trip

Inkhosikati LaNgangaza (l) and Inkhosikati LaMasango (r)

Nine of King Mswati’s wives left last week to go shopping

Hundreds of Swazi women have marched through the streets of the capital to protest about a shopping trip taken by nine of the king’s 13 wives.

They chartered a plane last week to go to Europe and the Middle East.

The BBC’s Thulani Mthethwa says the protesters handed in a petition to the finance ministry saying the money could have been better spent.

“We can’t afford a shopping trip when a quarter of the nation lives on food aid,” they chanted.

Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, is one of the poorest countries in the world and more than 40% of the population is believed to be infected with HIV.

We could need to keep that money for ARVs
Protest slogan

The march was organised by Positive Living, a non-governmental organization for women with Aids.

Our correspondent says there was a cross-section of women on the march from professionals to rural representatives.

“We need to keep that money for ARVs [anti-retrovirals],” was anther slogan shouted by the women.

King Mswati III, 40, has been criticized in the past for requesting public money to pay for new palaces, a personal jet and luxury cars.

News of his wives’ trip broke in the local press a day after they left, our reporter says.

Earlier this week, senior princes warned the women not to march, saying it defied Swazi tradition.

Search for clues in Madrid crash

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Search for clues in Madrid crash

EFE]

Examination of the wreckage began the morning after the crash

Accident investigators have begun examining the wreckage of a plane that crashed at Madrid’s Barajas airport, leaving 153 passengers dead.

They will also start to analyze the flight data and voice recorders, which have both been recovered.

Three days of official mourning have been declared in Madrid, as relatives arrive at a makeshift mortuary in the capital to identify bodies.

Nineteen people survived the crash and several are critically hurt.

Of the 19 survivors of Spanair flight JK 5022, four are listed as being in a “very serious” condition, with another six only slightly better, Spain’s El Pais newspaper reported on Thursday. Eight remain under observation with one only slightly injured, the newspaper said.

Relatives wait in Las Palmas airport, on Gran Canaria (20/08/2008)
The worst is the identification of the bodies. It is the end of all hope
Jesus Lopez Santana
Spanish Red Cross

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is expected to visit the injured in Madrid’s hospitals, while King Juan Carlos will visit Barajas airport.

The king is also likely to visit anxious families waiting for the grim confirmation that their loved-ones are among the dead.

Experts at a temporary mortuary near the airport say work to identify the dead is likely to be slow and painstaking, as many of the bodies were badly burned in Wednesday’s inferno.

“The worst is the identification of the bodies,” Red Cross spokesman Jesus Lopes Santana told the El Mundo newspaper.

“It is the end of all hope and when we see the worst scenes, because the majority of the relatives break down when they hear the news.”

The Spanair flight, bound for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, took off on Wednesday lunchtime with 172 people on board, among them 10 crew.

Initial reports suggested that a fire had broken out in one of the MD82 plane’s engines during or shortly after take-off, and the plane ended up in a field.

Spanish Transport Minister Magdalena Alvarez said the plane had earlier begun taxiing to the runway, before turning back because of a technical problem, which had caused an hour’s delay in the take-off.

Spanish media said the pilot had reported a fault with a temperature gauge, but it was thought to have been fixed.

Speaking on Thursday, Ms Alvarez said a thorough investigation would be carried out, with a full examination of the flight recorders and available pictures, but that it was very early to draw conclusions about the crash.

A special independent commission has been established to probe the cause of the crash, Spanish media reported.

Anger

Spanair has released the official passenger manifest, confirming reports that 20 children and two babies were on board the plane.

Among those who survived were three children, aged six, eight and 11, reports said. At least one of the 19 survivors has yet to be identified.

Map

Overnight a long convoy of black hearses rolled out of the airport grounds to carry bodies to the makeshift mortuary, where the victims’ relatives had gathered, some of whom had traveled from the Canary Islands.

The convention center on the outskirts of the capital was also used as a mortuary after the Madrid train bombings four years ago.

Many of the relatives have expressed anger and disgust at Spanair, blaming it for the accident.

He says the injured include a young brother and sister, who immediately asked rescue workers about their parents.

Spanish ministers said foul play had been ruled out and the crash was considered to be an accident.

The 15-year-old plane had passed a safety inspection in January, said Sergio Allard, a spokesman for Spanair, which is owned by Scandinavian firm SAS.

Spanish media said some German, Swedish, Chilean and Colombian nationals had been among the passengers.

‘All destruction’

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero cut short his holiday in the south of the country to visit the scene of the crash.

Hearses carrying the bodies of victims of the crash (20/08/2008)

A convoy of hearses removed bodies from the scene of the crash

Speaking at the airport, he said that “the government is overwhelmed, very affected, as are all Spanish citizens, by this tragedy”.

Television images on Wednesday showed plumes of smoke rising over the field in which the remains of the plane were resting.

Emergency services chief Ervigio Corral said that rescue workers had been faced with “a desolate scene”.

“You couldn’t distinguish that there was an aircraft there apart from the remains of the tail,” he said. “There was nothing of fuselage.”

Another rescue worker, Pablo Albella, told AP news agency: “The fuselage is destroyed. The plane burned. I have seen a kilometer of charred land and few whole pieces of the fuselage. It is all destruction.”

Messages of sympathy have been sent to Spain by leaders around the world.

The presidents of Russia, France and Italy, Germany’s chancellor and Britain’s queen joined with Latin American leaders in sending their condolences.

It was the deadliest air accident in Spain since a Colombian airline’s Boeing 747 crashed in Madrid in 1983 killing 181 people.

People concerned for relatives or friends who might have been on board the plane can call Spanair’s helpline on +34 800 400 200 (calls possible from inside Spain only).

Map and satellite image of Madrid airport, plus MD82 graphic
MD82 AIRCRAFT

Passengers 150-170
Cruise speed 504mph (811km/h)
Length 45.1m (148ft)
Height 9m (29.5ft)
Wing-span 32.8m (107.6ft)
Maximum range 2,052 nautical miles (3,798km)


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