News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Turkey smoke ban extends to bars

Turkey smoke ban extends to bars

A man hangs a no smoking sign in Istanbul, Turkey (16 July 2009)

Local authority staff will impose fines on those breaking the ban

Turkey has extended an existing ban on smoking in public places to all bars, cafes and restaurants.

The ban has come into force despite opposition from some bar and cafe owners who fear losing business.

It comes after the government banned smoking from most enclosed public spaces in May last year in an effort to improve the nation’s health.

Turkey has more than 20 million smokers but polls suggest 95% of people support the ban.

“We are working to protect our future, to save our youth,” said Health Minister Recep Akdag.

Anyone caught lighting up in a designated smoke-free area faces a fine of 69 liras ($45:£28) while bar owners who fail to enforce the ban could be fined from 560 liras for a first offence up to 5,600 liras.

Local authorities have hired thousands of extra staff to track down smokers and impose the fines.

Many people in Istanbul said they thought the ban was a good move.

“We were being destroyed in the places where you were allowed to smoke inside,” said Istanbul cafe patron Hanife Demirm.

“I was choosing the non-smoking places automatically, but after the ban is extended I will not need to be selective. I’ll be very comfortable in every place that I go,” he told the AP news agency.

‘Unnecessary stress’

A man smoking in a cafe in Istanbul, Turkey (17 July 2009)

Turkey is one of the world’s heaviest smoking countries

But the BBC’s David O’Byrne in Istanbul says many Turkish people see the ban as an erosion of their democratic rights and have called for bars to be able to apply for a smoking licence.

Some cafe owners have also said they were concerned the ban would drive away customers.

“They will simply leave and never come back, or we would get in trouble for letting them smoke,” said Istanbul cafe owner Selahattin Nar.

“Then both we and they would be filled with unnecessary stresses. In the end they will not be able to relax and we will have to shut down.”

But Mr Akdag said there was no reason for cafe and bar owners to be worried about a drop in trade.

“The public supports a smoke-free environment and the only ones to suffer will be the cigarette producers and sellers,” he said.

A no smoking rule has been in place for the past 15 months in government offices, workplaces, shopping malls, schools and hospitals.

All forms of public transport, including trains, taxis and ferries, are also affected but there are exemptions for special zones in psychiatric hospitals and prisons.

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February 24, 2009

US recession ‘may last into 2010’

US recession ‘may last into 2010’

US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke has warned Congress that without the right policies from the government, the US recession could last into 2010.

But he said if the Obama administration and the central bank can restore some measure of financial stability, 2010 could be a year of recovery.

Mr Bernanke made the comments to the Senate Banking Committee.

He also warned that the global nature of the downturn was a threat because exports would be hit.

In its attempts to revive the economy, the Federal Reserve has cut its key interest rate to nearly zero, while the Obama administration has recently signed a $787bn (£546bn) economic stimulus package.

Mr Bernanke said that the potential economic turnaround would hinge on the success of such measures in getting credit and financial markets to operate more normally again.

“Only if that is the case, in my view there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery,” he said.

Vicious circle

Mr Bernanke reassured legislators that he was, “committed to using all available tools to stimulate economic activity and to improve financial market functioning”.

But he also outlined long-run predictions for the economy, which he said reflected “the view of policymakers that a full recovery of the economy from the current recession is likely to take more than two or three years”.

He described a vicious circle of rising unemployment and shrinking house prices and savings forcing consumers to cut back, which would in turn increase unemployment.

“To break that adverse feedback loop, it is essential that we continue to complement fiscal stimulus with strong government action to stabilise financial institutions and financial markets,” he said.

Speaking of the concern about bankers benefiting from bail-outs, he added that the country “ought not abstain from saving the financial system just because it rewards people who erred”.

Sliding confidence

Mr Bernanke’s testimony came shortly after data showed that consumer confidence in February had fallen to the lowest level since the Conference Board began reporting the figures in 1967.

Its sentiment index fell to a much worse-than-expected 25.0 in February from January’s figure of 37.4.

“We just got the worst consumer confidence number ever on record,” said Matt Esteve, a foreign exchange trader at Tempus Consulting in Washington.

“Following yesterday’s awful sell-off in the stock market, it just highlights the risk that there is right now.”

House prices

There were also figures showing that the decline in US house prices had accelerated.

The S&P Case Shiller house price index showed the price of a single-family home had fallen 18.5% in December, compared with the same month of 2007.

It was the biggest drop since the index began being calculated 21 years ago.

“There are very few, if any, pockets of turnaround that one can see in the data,” said David Blitzer, chairman of S&P’s index committee.

“Most of the nation appears to remain on a downward path.”

September 1, 2008

Australia WWII wreck probe begins

Australia WWII wreck probe begins

HMAS Sydney, pre-1941

The wreckage of the Sydney was found earlier in 2008

An inquiry into Australia’s worst naval disaster is to begin hearing evidence from former war veterans.

Some 645 sailors died when HMAS Sydney was lost in a battle with a German cruiser off Western Australia in 1941.

HMAS Sydney was regarded as the pride of the Australian navy and defense officials say the investigation is “important unfinished business”.

The inquiry will be run by Sir Terence Cole, who presided over a hearing into Australia’s AWB oil-for-wheat scandal.

He is trying to uncover the truth behind one of Australia’s most enduring wartime mysteries.

HMAS Sydney perished after being attacked by a German ship, the Kormoran, which was disguised as a Dutch merchant vessel.

It too sank but the majority of its crew survived.

Australian War Memorial]

None of the Sydney’s crew survived, but the Kormoran’s crew did

But all on board the Sydney were lost and over the years various theories about their demise have emerged as the nation became fascinated with this naval tragedy.

Historians have been unable to unlock the secrets of that day in November 1941.

They have provided no explanation as to why such a superior vessel was sunk by a German boat sailing under a false flag.

There was speculation that the Australian cruiser was really sunk by a Japanese submarine – even though Japan had not yet entered the war.

The wrecks of both HMAS Sydney and the Kormoran were finally located by divers earlier this year.

This week the inquiry will hear from former Australian navy personnel who sailed with the Sydney before it sank more than 65 years ago.

August 28, 2008

‘I have a dream’

‘I have a dream’

Courtesy BBC

On 28 August, 1963, Martin Luther King delivered his magnificent “I have a dream speech” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Below is the full text of his speech.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

America has given the Negro people a bad cheque which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds’

But 100 years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

And so we’ve come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a cheque. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honouring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad cheque which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we’ve come to cash this cheque – a cheque that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Sweltering summer… of discontent

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. 1963 is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquillity in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: in the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realise that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back.

Trials and tribulations

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights: “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied and we will not be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

The dream

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed – we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning: “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California.
But not only that.
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Martin Luther King Centre logo

Permission granted by Intellectual Properties Management, Atlanta, Georgia, as manager of the King Estate. Further to Dr King’s legacy by making community service a way of life, please visit the King Center’s website [under related links] to find a service opportunity in your neighbourhood.

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.

August 14, 2008

Minorities set to be US majority

Minorities set to be US majority

The Statue of Liberty, New York's historical landmark for immigrants

Population projections are subject to a variety of factors

White people of European descent will no longer make up a majority of the US population by the year 2042 – eight years sooner than previous estimates.

The big change is among Hispanics and Asians, whose numbers are expected to double by the middle of the century to form 30% and 9% of the population.

It is projected that black people will account for 15%, a small increase.

The US Census Bureau’s latest projections are based on birth, death and current immigration rates.

According to the bureau’s statistics, ethnic and racial minorities will become the majority by 2042 and account for 54% of the population by 2050.

The process of change has been speeded up through immigration and higher birth rates among US minorities, especially Hispanics.

Non-Hispanic whites, who now make up 66% of the population, will account for 46% by the middle of the century.

‘Ageing baby boomers’

It has long been said that the US is a nation of immigrants but in the past the influx has mainly come from white Europeans.

CENSUS PREDICTION
2050: Minorities will make up 54%
Hispanics: Rise to 30% from 15%
Blacks: Small increase to 15%
Asians: Rise to 9% from 4%

It is likely that the demographic changes will be experienced right across the country – and no longer confined to urban areas as in the past.

Overall, the US population is expected to rise from 305 million people to 439 million by 2050.

The white population will also be ageing. The number of people over 85 years old will triple in the next 40 years.

“The white population is older and very much centred around the ageing baby boomers who are well past their high fertility years,” William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution think tank, told the Associated Press.

“The future of America is epitomized by the young people today. They are basically the melting pot we are going to see in the future.”

The Census Bureau points out that its projections are subject to big revisions, depending on immigration policy, cultural changes and natural or man-made disasters.

August 8, 2008

Bush dedicates new massive US embassy in Beijing

Bush dedicates new massive US embassy in Beijing

BEIJING – President Bush took another swipe at China’s human rights record Friday, the latest tit-for-tat salvo with Beijing before he put politics on hold and switched to fan mode for the Olympics’ gala opening ceremonies.

The past week has seen blunt language from both sides — with China clearly unhappy that its record of repression was being repeatedly aired even as it was seeking to revel in its long-anticipated debut on the world’s biggest sporting stage. But U.S. officials dismissed any suggestion of a widening rift.

“We’ve had these back-and-forths with China for years,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

As Bush opened a massive U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Friday, he prodded China to lessen repression and “let people say what they think.” The communist nation, which tolerates only government-approved religions, has rounded up dissidents ahead of the Olympics and imposed Internet restrictions on journalists that some say amount to censorship, all contrary to Beijing’s commitments when it won hosting rights for the games.

“We strongly believe societies which allow the free expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most peaceful,” Bush said at the vast American diplomatic complex, built at a cost of $434 million.

His comments came on the heels of a speech Thursday in Bangkok in which he urged greater Bangkok for the Chinese people. Beijing responded by defending its human rights record and saying Bush shouldn’t be meddling in its internal affairs.

But Bush also took care during the embassy ribbon-cutting to praise China’s contributions to society and embrace its relationship with the United States as strong, enduring and candid.

“Candor is most effective where nations have built a relationship of respect and trust,” Bush said. “I’ve worked hard to build that respect and trust. I appreciate the Chinese leadership that have worked hard to build that respect and trust.”

The new U.S. embassy is its second-largest in the world, only after the heavily fortified compound in Baghdad, and Bush said this is symbolic of China’s importance to the United States.

“It reflects the solid foundation underpinning our relations,” Bush said. “It is a commitment to strengthen that foundation for years to come.”

The ceremony took place with a heavy haze engulfing the Chinese capital despite concerted government efforts to slash pollution before the games. It was full of emotional resonance, with those attending including Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, and Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of state during the Nixon presidency when the U.S. began a relationship with China.

It was the senior Bush, as chief of the U.S. liaison office during a critical period when the United States was renewing ties with China, who first brought his son to China in 1975. The current president fondly recalls biking around Beijing when that was the predominant form of transport.

Much has changed since. While there still are lots of bicycles, cars dominant the streets today. Skyscrapers have sprouted like mushrooms. And the proliferation of construction cranes shows the building boom is far from over — evidence of the country’s economic growth — though most of the work has ground to a halt to help the anti-pollution battle.

The American embassy, on 10 acres in a new diplomatic zone, is wrapped in freestanding transparent and opaque glass.

The dedication followed China’s unveiling of its own imposing new embassy in Washington last week. That 250,000-square-foot glass-and-limestone compound is the largest foreign embassy in the U.S. capital.

The number eight is considered auspicious in China — Friday is 8/8/08 on the calendar — so the embassy ceremony began at 8:08 a.m. local time. The opening ceremonies begin exactly 12 hours later at 8:08 p.m.

Bush, the first American president event to attend an Olympics on foreign soil, was to meet with U.S. athletes right before the ceremonies.

“I’m looking forward to cheering our athletes on,” Bush said. “I’m not making any predictions about medal counts, but I can tell you the U.S. athletes are ready to come and compete, in the spirit of friendship.”

Also Friday, Bush attended a lunch for world leaders hosted by Chinese President Hu Jintao in the Great Hall of the People.

His known schedule over the next three days is thin, with large gaps left open for Bush to cherry-pick sporting events to watch with the numerous family members who have accompanied him to Beijing.

On Saturday, he meets with Olympic sponsors and watch women’s basketball. On Sunday, he will attend a government-approved Protestant church and then speak to reporters about religious freedom, mirroring his practice during a 2005 trip to China. He then plans to take in some men’s and women’s Olympic swimming.

Business takes over briefly Sunday afternoon, with talks with Hu as well as China’s vice president and premier. But then it’s back to sports: the much-anticipated U.S.-China basketball game Sunday night and a practice baseball game between the U.S. and China on Monday. He returns to Washington Monday night.

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