News & Current Affairs

September 19, 2008

North Korea ‘to restore reactor’

North Korea ‘to restore reactor’

Hyun Hak Bong (19 September 2008)

Hyun Hak Bong said the US was making unreasonable demands

North Korea has stopped disabling the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and is making “thorough preparations” to restart it, a foreign ministry official has said.

Hyun Hak-bong said that Pyongyang had suspended work to put the plant out of action because the US had not fulfilled its part of a disarmament-for-aid deal.

When asked when it would be restored, he said: “You’ll come to know soon.”

Last month, North Korea said Washington had not removed it as promised from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Pyongyang was expecting to be removed after finally submitting a long-delayed account of its nuclear facilities to the six-party talks in June, in accordance with the disarmament deal it signed in 2007.

It also blew up the main cooling tower of the Yongbyon facility in a symbolic gesture of its commitment to the process.

For its part, the US says it will refuse to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism until procedures by which the North’s disarmament will be verified are established.

‘Robber-like’

Mr Hyun claimed the process of decommissioning the plutonium-producing reactor at the Yongbyon plant was 90% complete.

But he said Pyongyang would respond to the US by halting the process and “proceeding with works to restore [the reactor] to its original status”.

South Koreans watch a cooling tower blowing up, file image
The main cooling tower at Yongbyon was blown up earlier this year

“You may say we have already started work to restore them,” he told reporters in the border village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone before sitting down for talks with South Korean officials on sending energy aid to the North.

Mr Hyun also warned the US not to push for inspectors to verify the disarmament process work already undertaken, saying it was never part of the six-party deal.

“The US is insisting that we accept unilateral demands that had not been agreed upon. They want to go anywhere at any time to collect samples and carry out examinations with measuring equipment,” he said. “That means they intend to force an inspection.”

The diplomat said compelling Pyongyang to permit a “robber-like inspection method in the name of an international standard” would exacerbate tensions.

Meanwhile, South Korea said it will fulfil the deal struck at six-party talks to supply the North with a million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent in exchange for nuclear disablement.

Nearly half has been delivered and AFP news agency quoted a South Korean negotiator, Hwang Joon-kook, as saying the rest would be sent.

“We also want to make sure that the six-party process does not go backward,” Mr Hwang was quoted as saying.

Some South Korean officials have expressed doubt over whether the North’s claims to be reconstructing Yongbyon are genuine or a ploy to exert pressure on Washington.

In separate remarks by North Korea’s Mr Hyun, he reiterated North Korea’s rejection of reports that leader Kim Jong-il remains in ill health after suffering a stroke. He called the reports “sophism by evil people”.

‘Year to restore’

Earlier this month, reports in Japan, backed up by South Korea’s foreign ministry, claimed the North Koreans were actively reconstructing Yongbyon.

The US later said plant workers appeared to be moving equipment out of storage, but that there was no effort to reconstruct it.

Experts believe Yongbyon would take a year to restore, a view supported by a recent International Atomic Energy Agency report.

The IAEA said the regime had already removed large quantities of essential nuclear materials from Yongbyon even before it agreed to dismantle the plant.

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September 10, 2008

Lehman reports third quarter loss

Lehman reports third quarter loss

Lehman Brothers office

Lehman has suffered heavy losses from the credit crunch

Troubled US bank Lehman Brothers has reported a third quarter net loss of $3.9bn as it unveils radical restructuring plans.

The losses were at the top end of analysts’ expectations.

The bank’s shares on Tuesday plunged 45% on fears about the state of its financial health.

Korea Development Bank (KDB) has said talks with Lehman Brothers have ended for now with regard to possible investment in the US bank.

KDB said in a statement: “We are announcing that we ended talks at this point in time because of a disagreement over conditions of a transaction and considering domestic and foreign financial market conditions.”

State-run KDB said the decision came because of disagreement over terms and current financial market conditions.

Lehman, the fourth-largest US investment bank, had hoped to secure a deal with the Korean fund before announcing its third-quarter earnings.

A Wall Street Journal report said Lehman might be considering selling UK property assets to BlackRock.

August 23, 2008

N Korea ‘develops special noodle’

N Korea ‘develops special noodle’

A bowl of noodles (file image)

North Korea does not produce enough food to feed its population

North Korean scientists have developed a new kind of noodle that delays feelings of hunger, a Japan-based pro-Pyongyang newspaper has reported.

The noodles were made from corn and soybeans, the Choson Shinbo said.

They left people feeling fuller longer and represented a technological breakthrough, the newspaper said.

North Korea is dependent on foreign food aid. Last month the UN warned  that residents were experiencing their worst food shortages in a decade.

But the communist country remains reluctant to allow experts to fully assess the scale of the problem or give them adequate access to deliver aid.

UN warnings

According to the newspaper, which is seen as closely linked to the Pyongyang leadership, the new noodles have twice as much protein and fives times as much fat as ordinary noodles.

“When you consume ordinary noodles (made from wheat or corn), you may soon feel your stomach empty. But this soybean noodle delays such a feeling of hunger,” it said on its website.

The noodles would be available soon across North Korea, the newspaper said.

An estimated one million people starved to death in North Korea in the late 1990s after natural disasters and government mismanagement devastated the country’s economy.

In July, the World Food Programme warned that six million people were in urgent need of food aid, following severe flooding last year.

Most households had cut their food intake and more people are scavenging for wild foods, WFP assessors found.

August 14, 2008

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.

August 7, 2008

Beijing air ‘safe for athletes’

Beijing air ‘safe for athletes’

Security personnel stand in front of a Bird's Nest stadium hidden by haze on 7 August 2008

Concerns over air quality have persisted in the run-up to the Games

Beijing’s air quality poses no risk to athletes’ health, Jacques¬† Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, has told reporters.

Mr Rogge said checks were in place to protect competitors amid persistent concerns about poor air quality.

He was speaking as dignitaries from around the world gathered in China’s capital for Friday’s opening ceremony.

Among them is US President George Bush, who earlier expressed “deep concerns” about Beijing’s human rights record.

Speaking in the Thai capital, Bangkok, before travelling to the Games, Mr Bush praised China’s economy but said only respect for human rights would let it realize its full potential.

China later rejected Mr Bush’s criticisms as “interference” in its internal affairs.

Air target missed

A day before the Games, a BBC reading suggested Beijing’s air quality was far below World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.

It put levels of particulate matter (PM10) at 191 micrograms per cubic metre. This far exceeds the WHO target of 50 micrograms/cubic metre, and also exceeds the WHO target for developing countries of 150 micrograms/cubic metre.

Graph

But Mr Rogge insisted there was no threat to Olympic competitors.

“Of course we prefer clear skies, but the most important thing is that the health of the athletes is protected,” Mr Rogge said in the news conference.

He said there was “absolutely no danger” to the health of athletes taking part in events that last less than one hour. But he said if the pollution was bad, events which lasted more than that could be shifted or postponed.

Mr Rogge urged reporters to distinguish between fog and pollution – a point, correspondents say, often made by Chinese authorities.

“The fog, you see, is based on the basis of humidity and heat. It does not mean that this fog is the same as pollution,” he said.

And he praised China’s efforts to clean up the air around Beijing – efforts, he said, which would “continue and have a lasting influence on the climate of Beijing”.

Separately, Mr Rogge said athletes would be prevented from making any political statement or protest in official venues – in accordance with Rule 51 of the Olympic charter, which forbids athletes from making political, religious, commercial or racial propaganda.

But he said they were free to do this in protest areas provided by Chinese authorities, and that “common sense” would be used to judge violations.

China defense

Earlier in the day, the Olympic torch began making its last stops on a journey that has seen it pass through five continents.

America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists
President Bush

Patriotic crowds lined the mist-shrouded Great Wall waving fans and cheering, while streams of confetti shot into the air as the torch was lit from the Olympic flame.

The torch, while welcomed in many nations, has also been a magnet for protesters critical of China’s respect for rights.

Mr Bush hit out at China’s “detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists” before he arrived in China for the opening ceremony.

But China offered a robust defence of its record in response, insisting it “put its people first”.

In other developments:

  • The two Koreas said they would not march together at the opening ceremony, a reversal on the last two Olympic Games
  • Tibetan groups have held large protests in both India and Nepal on the eve of the Games
  • China has selected basketball star Yao Ming to carry the national flag in the opening ceremony.

August 5, 2008

Bush to face S Korea protesters

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:05 am

Bush to face S Korea protesters

US President George W Bush is en route to South Korea where he is expected to get a less than wholehearted welcome.

Thousands of protesters plan to voice their anger over the agreement with the US to restart imports of beef.

Mr Bush is going to Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games, and will stop off in South Korea to discuss the military alliance with the US.

Talks will also focus on a planned free trade agreement and North Korea’s nuclear weapons’ programme.

But Mr Bush will also be given a taste of the public anger over the recent agreement to resume imports of American beef.

The deal sparked months of street protests because of fears that US cattle may be infected with mad cow disease.

The first shipments began arriving last week, but the demonstration organisers say that a large crowd will leave President Bush in no doubt about what they think of his government’s reassurances that US beef is safe.

In his summit meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, though, it is the situation north of the border that will feature prominently.

The US is planning to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a reward for stopping production of weapons grade plutonium.

But the communist state must first agree to allow international nuclear inspectors in, and there are intense efforts underway to try to secure agreement on how those inspections would work.

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