News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Swine flu pregnancy tips reissued

Swine flu pregnancy tips reissued

A pregnant woman

A suppressed immune system makes pregnant women more vulnerable

The Department of Health has attempted to clarify its guidelines to expectant mothers and parents with children under five on how best to avoid swine flu.

Its advice to practise good hygiene by washing hands and surfaces regularly has been re-issued after a woman with the virus died soon after giving birth.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says all expectant mothers should avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel.

But the DoH says only the “particularly concerned” should consider the advice.

Concern over the effects of swine flu on new and expectant mothers has heightened since the death of Ruptara Miah, 39, in London’s Whipps Cross Hospital on 13 July. Her baby is said to be very ill in intensive care.

Good hygiene

Another child under six months old, who died in London, is also among the latest victims of the virus.

The refreshed DoH advice has been given greater prominence on its website.

Health experts say expectant mothers could suffer possible complications if they contract swine flu, such as pneumonia, breathing difficulties and dehydration, because they have suppressed immune systems. Young children are also vulnerable.

Most mothers-to-be with swine flu are being prescribed Relenza, an inhaled antiviral drug which treats the virus without reaching the foetus. However, where it is particularly severe, doctors can offer Tamiflu instead.

The NHS website stresses that most expectant mothers who contract swine flu will only have mild symptoms and recover within a week.

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), said that while the risks for expectant mothers were low, women needed information to make an informed decision.

“If you are pregnant, you are slightly more susceptible to all infections. One of them is swine flu.

“It is important that pregnant women know that – and particularly other members of the population know that – so that they behave responsibly and if they are sick they don’t go and put themselves close to a pregnant woman.”

If you are pregnant, you are slightly more susceptible to all infections. One of them is swine flu
Belinda Phipps, NCT

The Department of Health said it advised women to plan their pregnancy carefully, but was not advising against trying to conceive.

“Mums-to-be are more vulnerable to any type of flu. It is particularly important that anyone who has existing health problems and is thinking about starting a family should talk to their GP first, as they normally would,” a DoH spokesman said.

Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the RCM, said women could not be expected to wait for the first wave of the pandemic to end before trying for a baby.

Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Alan Johnson, the new home secretary, said an unexpected aspect of the virus was that it was attacking the young, not the elderly as with seasonal flu.

He called on parents to keep using their common sense, saying the “vast majority” had been following public health advice.

Rates of flu-like illness

Twenty-nine people have now died in the UK after contracting swine flu – 26 in England and three in Scotland.

The government has warned that the number of deaths from the virus this winter in the UK could reach between 19,000 and 65,000.

However, during the 1999 to 2000 winter, seasonal flu deaths reached 21,000 and even during average winters there are normally anywhere between 6,000 to 8,000 deaths.

Swine flu public health poster

The National Flu Service will go live at the end of next week


We asked you whether you were concerned about the effects swine flu might have on expectant mothers. Here is a selection of your comments.

I am in the third trimester of pregnancy, and I am asthmatic. I am concerned that neither Tamiflu or Relenza will be suitable for me if I contract swine flu.
Louise, Nottingham

This is such stupid advice. I am pregnant and travel to work every day on a packed Tube. How am I supposed to avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel? It’s impossible. I can’t just stop going to work can I?
Laura, Hertfordshire

My daughter has a 4yr old son who has swine flu, she is 4 months pregnant and worried in case she catches it and it harms the baby, we are also worried about the treatments used in pregnant women. There is to much contradiction going around to know what to believe.
Tina, Essex

I am currently 24 weeks pregnant and have been ill and at home for 5 days now with bad cold symptoms. After consulting the doctor by phone I was told it could possibly be swine flu but how am I to know? I am usually very level headed in these situations but not sure that not swabbing pregnant women with symptoms is wise – at least if we know if we have it we can be better informed!
Anonymous, Wales

I am 36 weeks pregnant and came into contact with Swine flu last week. I experienced a slight sore throat spoke with a nurse at NHS direct and my GP and was completely reassured that I was fine and not displaying any symptoms. There is definitely some scaremongering going on but if you seek appropriate medical advice your fears can be eased.
Jo, Romford, Essex

I have got a 14 month old child and am currently pregnant. I’m very worried we could all catch the virus as a lot of people where we live are getting it. Also it is going round schools where my niece goes. I believe there should be vaccinations soon as possible for young children and those who it could endanger more than others
Nikki, Chelmsford, Essex

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July 17, 2009

Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels

Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels

At least nine people have been killed, including two suspected suicide bombers, in two blasts at luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

One explosion hit the Ritz-Carlton, ripping off its facade, and the other the JW Marriott. As many as 50 people were hurt, including many foreigners.

At least one attacker was a guest at the JW Marriott, police said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has visited the scene and condemned “the cruel and inhuman attack”.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts. One foreign national has been confirmed dead – a New Zealander.

Indonesia suffered a number of bomb attacks – mainly linked to the militant group Jemaah Islamiah – in the first years of the century, but has since been praised for its campaigns against militants.

‘Barbaric’

President Yudhoyono said Friday’s attacks were carried out by a suspected terrorist group, though he said it was “too early to say” if Jemaah Islamiah was involved.

He added: “Those who carried out this attack and those who planned it will be arrested and tried according to the law.

I heard two sounds like ‘boom, boom’ coming from the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton – then I saw people running out
Eko Susanto, security guard

“This act of terrorism… will have wide effects on our economy, trade, tourism and image in the eyes of the world.”

The attacks, with homemade bombs, were on the basement car park of the Marriott and a restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton, police said.

Police said that two suicide bombers were involved, and at least one attacker, and possibly more, was staying at the Marriott.

An unexploded bomb and other explosives material were found in room 1808, which officials said was the “control centre” of the attacks.

National police spokesman Nanan Soekarna said: “We still don’t know who booked room 1808.”

Gen Wahyono said a suicide bomber was suspected of carrying out the car park attack as a severed head was found there.

AT THE SCENE
Karishma Vaswani
Karishma Vaswani,Courtesy
BBC News, Jakarta

It was a scene of confusion and chaos outside the Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott hotels this morning. Ambulances and security forces arriving at the hotels came to rescue the injured and treat anyone who was hurt.

People milled around outside, onlookers wondering what had happened as hotel staff and guests stood around shocked on the streets. The blasts took place at breakfast time in one of the most prestigious areas in Jakarta’s commercial centre.

Many Indonesians we spoke to this morning told us how shocked and upset they were by what had happened here today and how worried they are about the damage this will do to the reputation of their country.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key confirmed a New Zealand national was among the dead.

Reuters news agency named him as Tim Mackay, president director of PT Holcim Indonesia, quoting the company’s marketing director Patrick Walser.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd condemned the attacks as “barbaric”.

He said he had “grave concerns” for an embassy official and two other missing Australians.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said they were “senseless” and that the threat of terrorism remained “very real”.

The Manchester United football team was due to arrive in Indonesia on Saturday and was booked to stay at the Ritz-Carlton.

The team have now called off the Indonesian leg of their tour, saying they “cannot fulfil the fixture in Jakarta” against an Indonesia Super League XI on 20 July.

The two blasts, in Jakarta’s central business district, occurred at about 0730 (0030 GMT).

INDONESIA ATTACKS
Dec 2000 – Church bombings kill 19
Oct 2002 – Bali attacks kill 202, many Australian
Dec 2002 – Sulawesi McDonalds blast kills three
Aug 2003 – Jakarta Marriott Hotel bomb kills 12
Sept 2004 – Bomb outside Australian embassy in Jakarta
Sept 2005: Suicide attacks in Bali leave 23 dead, including bombers

Businessman Geoffrey Head, who was in the Ritz Carlton, told the BBC he did not hear the blast but that his colleagues had called him after it happened to tell him to leave the building.

“I looked out of the window – I could see down to ground level and I saw there was a lot of broken glass. I thought it was time to actually get out.”

Mr Head said there had been no warning to evacuate the building.

“The surreal thing was going down in the elevator and walking through the lobby and looking across to my left and noticing the cafe was completely blown out,” he said.

A 50-year-old South Korean man, Cho In-sang, was taken to hospital with minor injuries.

“I don’t remember exactly but suddenly the ceiling is falling down and the sound was big,” he said.

Anti-terror training

Consular staff are trying to track their nationals, and Australia issued a warning against unnecessary travel to Indonesia.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for a series of bombings more than five years ago.

Attacks on two nightclubs in Bali in October 2002 killed 202 people, most of them Australian.

The Marriott Hotel was the target of a bomb attack in August 2003 in which 13 people were killed.

Since then, a combination of new laws, anti-terror training, international cooperation and reintegration measures have kept Indonesia peaceful, analysts have said.

Jakarta map


Are you in the area? You can send us your comments and experiences

July 6, 2009

Iran frees eighth embassy worker

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:09 pm

Iran frees eighth embassy worker

The eighth of nine British embassy employees detained by Iranian authorities has been released, the UK foreign office says.

The last remaining detainee, an Iranian, is the embassy’s chief political analyst. He has been charged with acting against national security.

UK PM Gordon Brown described the continued detention as “unacceptable and unjustified”.

Meanwhile Iran’s supreme leader warned the West not to “meddle”.

“Some leaders of Western countries at the level of president, prime minister and foreign minister openly intervened in Iran’s internal affairs that had nothing to do with them,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying on Iranian state television.

“Then, they said they don’t intervene in Iran’s internal affairs.”

‘Honourable and patriotic’

Speaking at a news conference following a Franco-British summit in the French town of Evian, Mr Brown warned of concerted action against Iran.

“The Iranian regime must be clear that if this action continues and we are forced to act, we will act together with our European partners”, he said.

It is very important that my cold anger… doesn’t turn into a rhetorical volley at the Iranian regime
Foreign Secretary David Miliband

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said earlier that every effort would be made to secure the remaining detainee’s release.

He said he had learned the “good news” of the eighth release during his daily telephone conversation with Britain’s ambassador to Iran.

“[The ambassador] was told by the deputy foreign minister that the eighth person would indeed be released today, that the papers had been signed, that there would not be a court process or charges,” Mr Miliband said.

“That leaves one more in custody and all of our efforts are now directed towards getting that person out.”

On Saturday, the man’s lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, said he had been unable to meet him in Evin prison in Tehran where he is being held, or see the text of the indictment.

Mr Miliband said the man was “an honourable, patriotic Iranian, who has been working in a completely open and transparent way for the UK”.

“The allegations of improper conduct have absolutely no basis,” he said.

Nuclear question

Protests gripped Tehran and other Iranian cities after June’s presidential election, amid claims the vote had been rigged in favour of the incumbent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Tehran has repeatedly accused foreign powers, especially Britain and the US, of stoking unrest after the election – something they deny.

The embassy workers, who are all Iranian, were arrested last weekend amid accusations they had been involved in the demonstrations.

On Friday, Ahmad Jannati, leader of the Iran’s supreme legislative body the Guardian Council, said: “The British Embassy had a presence and some people were arrested.

Protests outside British embassy in Tehran

Protests have taken place outside the British embassy in Tehran

“Well, inevitably they will be put on trial. They have made confessions too.”

Mr Miliband said he was angry, but would try not to inflame the already sensitive situation further.

“It is very important that my anger, my cold anger, about the way our staff have been treated… doesn’t turn into a rhetorical volley at the Iranian regime, because that doesn’t do anything either for our people or for reform in Iran,” he said.

“What’s important is that I turn my anger into determination to see that justice is done by our people.”

July 4, 2009

UK investigates Iran charge claim

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:14 pm

UK investigates Iran charge claim

Iranian hardline students burn US and British flags during a protest outside the British embassy in Tehran on 23 June 2009

Anti-British protests have been held outside the UK embassy in Tehran

The chief political analyst at the British Embassy in Iran has been charged with “acting against national security”, reports suggest.

The UK Foreign Office is investigating claims by his lawyer that he has been charged and will stand trial shortly.

A senior cleric has said some of the nine embassy staff arrested last month will be tried for inciting protests over Iran’s disputed election.

Britain denies fomenting discontent to undermine Iran’s Islamic regime.

Iranian news agencies have said all but one of the embassy staff have been released, although the UK government claims two remain in custody.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband says he is “deeply concerned” about the situation and has asked for talks with his Iranian counterpart.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman could not confirm reports that the adviser had been charged.

‘Confessions’

“We are still investigating. The situation remains extremely unclear and fluid,” she added.

News agencies have reported the lawyer as saying he has not yet been able to meet with his client or see the text of the indictment.

Protests gripped Tehran and other Iranian cities after June’s presidential election, amid claims the vote had been rigged in favour of the incumbent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On Friday, Ahmad Jannati, leader of the Iran’s supreme legislative body the Guardian Council, said: “The British Embassy had a presence and some people were arrested.

“Well inevitably they will be put on trial. They have made confessions too.”

However, he did not say how many employees would be tried or on what charges.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported this week that one of the detainees had played a “remarkable role during the recent unrest in managing it behind the scenes”.

Nine embassy staff were held last weekend. Britain says all but two have now been freed.

Mr Miliband said Britain was urgently seeking clarification from Iran about any possible trial or charges, which have reportedly been brought against one employee at Evin prison in Tehran.

Deterioration

“We are confident that our staff have not engaged in any improper or illegal behaviour,” he added.

The Foreign Office later confirmed that Iranian envoy Rasoul Movahedian had been summoned and the same message reiterated.

IRAN UNREST
12 June presidential election saw incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with 63% of vote
Main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi called for result to be annulled for electoral fraud
Street protests saw at least 17 people killed and foreign media restricted

European Union governments have summoned Iranian ambassadors to protest against the detentions.

An EU official told us that, in addition, visas for Iranians holding Iranian diplomatic passports would be suspended.

The official said other measures, including the withdrawal of EU ambassadors from Iran, would be considered if the two staff members were not released.

Our diplomatic correspondent  says Ayatollah Jannati’s speech marks a significant deterioration in the already bad relationship between London and Tehran.

Tehran has repeatedly accused foreign powers – especially Britain and the US – of stoking unrest after the election.

In the fallout from the crisis, Tehran expelled two British diplomats and the UK responded with a similar measure.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last month described Britain, as the “most evil” of its enemies.

The issue of how to deal with Iran is set to dominate the summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations in Italy next week.

Some EU countries have urged caution, arguing that Europe should engage with Iran, not isolate it.

But if the embassy staff are put on trial, the EU may have few other options than to tighten the diplomatic screw, correspondents say.

June 30, 2009

US soldiers leave Iraq’s cities

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 11:28 am

US soldiers leave Iraq’s cities

Iraqi soldiers carry the national flag and a banner that reads in Arabic "Parade to Mark the Iraq Pride day" in the city of Karbala

US and Iraqi commanders say Iraqi forces are ready to take over security

US troops have withdrawn from towns and cities in Iraq, six years after the invasion, having formally handed over security duties to new Iraqi forces.

A public holiday – National Sovereignty Day – has been declared, and the capital, Baghdad, threw a giant party to mark the eve of the changeover.

Hours before the midnight deadline, four US soldiers were killed in combat.

US-led combat operations are due to end by September 2010, with all troops gone from Iraq by the end of 2011.

The US military said the four soldiers served in Baghdad, but did not provide further details before families had been notified. They died as a “result of combat related injuries”, the military said.

Iraqi and US troops have been on the alert for insurgent attacks during the handover.

Despite the pullback from cities and towns, due to be completed on Tuesday, US troops will still be embedded with Iraqi forces.

We think Iraq is ready and Iraq thinks Iraq is ready
Christopher Hill
US Ambassador to Iraq

Both American and the Iraqi commanders say they are expecting al-Qaeda in Iraq and other groups to attempt to re-ignite sectarian tensions.

BBC defence and security correspondent Rob Watson says that while the pullback is significant, the actual withdrawal of US combat troops in 2010 will pose a greater challenge.

The success of that depends on Iraq’s political leaders and their ability to tackle the country’s many outstanding problems and tensions, he says.

Some 131,000 US troops remain in Iraq, including 12 combat brigades, and the total is not expected to drop below 128,000 until after the Iraqi national election in January.

‘Now is the time’

Iraqi soldiers paraded through Baghdad’s streets on Monday in vehicles decorated with flowers and Iraqi flags, while patriotic songs were played through loudspeakers at checkpoints.

Signs were draped on some Baghdad’s concrete blast walls reading “Iraq: my nation, my glory, my honour”.

US commanders have said security and stability is improving, and that Iraqi forces are now ready to take over security operations.

The US Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, said there would be no major reduction in forces until 2010 but the pullback was a “milestone”.

“Yes, we think Iraq is ready and Iraq thinks Iraq is ready,” he said.

“We have spent a lot of time working very closely with Iraqi security services… and I think there is an understanding that now it is the time.”

Mr Hill stressed that there would still be “a lot of US combat capabilities in Iraq for months to come”.

“After 30 June, with US combat forces out of cities and villages, localities, we’ll still be in Iraq,” he said.

“We will still have a very robust number of US troops in Iraq and, in fact, those troops will not begin to withdraw from Iraq until probably several months from now.”

The pullback comes two years after the US “surge” of extra troops between February and June 2007, which took US troop levels in Iraq to 168,000.

There was a decline in violence, but recent months have seen an upsurge.

In the past 10 days nearly 170 people have been killed and many more injured in three attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk.


Did you attend Monday’s celebrations in Iraq? Send your comments or pictures

June 22, 2009

Ethiopia looks to revive past cglories

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:28 pm

Ethiopia looks to revive past railway glories

train

A major project is under way to restore Ethiopia’s 100-year-old imperial railway, and there are even plans to build a new national network.

The French built it for the Emperor Menelik in the early 1900s, and French influences are everywhere, from the glazed canopies of the Addis Ababa railway station to the startling sight of the Ethiopian station staff in Dire Dawa talking to each other in French as they dispatch a night goods train down the line to Djibouti.

Like so many rail systems, the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway was neglected for years in favour of road transport, but the loss of its main ports when Eritrea gained independence left Ethiopia totally dependent on Djibouti for an outlet to the sea.

Man on empty platform

This passenger may face a long wait for the next train

The country needed the railway more than ever, but the line was in no fit state for intensive use.

The system is narrow, one metre gauge, with steep gradients on the long haul up from sea level to the Ethiopian highlands.

Some stretches of track are more than a century old; crumbling embankments and decaying bridges limit the weight and speed of the trains.

Recently it has been averaging one derailment a week, and attracting so little traffic that for a time staff frequently went unpaid.

But now, with European Union support, a major restoration project is under way.

Spectacular scenery

Almost a third of the track is being re-laid, using heavier weight rails – 40kg per metre instead of the 20kg rails still in use on some stretches of the line.

The section from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa has been closed while the work is going on.

end of the railway line

The railway to nowhere?

A spectacular stretch of line, near the town of Metahara, where the track runs on a narrow causeway across a volcanic lake, has already been completed.

Workers are strengthening bridges, consolidating embankments, and casting 25,000 concrete sleepers to replace the lightweight metal sleepers which were there before.

Meanwhile, a little desultory traffic still runs on the lower stretch of the line from Dire Dawa to Djibouti – a trainload of fruit and vegetables once a week for sale in Djibouti, coffee for export, trainloads of live camels destined for the meat markets of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

Coming the other way are all the construction materials needed for the project itself.

When the work is finished, in perhaps 18 months time, the system will still be narrow gauge, but much safer and more robust, able to take heavier trains at faster speeds.

‘Pro-poor’

The railway’s general manager, To’om Terie, who now sits in his comfortable office in Addis Ababa above a silent, deserted station, says he expects a volume of something like 10 trains a day and a comfortable operating profit.

map

Mr To’om, who has worked for the railway for more than 30 years, is happy about the prospects for his own railway, but excited too that national policy now officially embraces rail transport.

The government is starting to plan a completely new rail system, with a further 5,000 km (3,100 miles) of lines.

It is early days yet, and Ethiopia is still looking for partners to build such a network.

But the man in charge of the project, Getachew Betru, confirmed that this would be a standard gauge railway, electrified to take advantage of the abundant, cheap electricity expected to be produced by ambitious new hydro-electric schemes soon to come into operation.

It would be primarily designed to carry freight, and although the proposed routes are still confidential, it might – for instance – serve the coffee-producing areas of western Ethiopia, the light industries of the north, the commercial food producing areas south of Addis Ababa, and the fertile, but as yet undeveloped farmlands near the Sudan border.

Sign in Amharic and French

The French influence is still strong

Mr Getachew talks with enthusiasm about rail transport as the engine of development, and of his conviction that railways are inherently more “pro-poor” than any other transport system – of much more use to Ethiopia’s rural dwellers than an expensive network of tarmac road, driven on mostly by tourists and aid workers.

At the moment the new network is still a dream, but given Ethiopia’s dramatically-rugged terrain, if it does get built, then it will surely be one of the outstanding railway engineering feats of the 21st Century.

September 16, 2008

Roma poverty a major issue for EU

Roma poverty a major issue for EU

The European Union’s freedom of movement laws mean Eastern Europe’s large population of Roma (Gypsies) is now spreading west.

Roma family in Hungary

Roma make up around 10% of the population in Eastern Europe

The effect of this influx on national economies, as well as the deep poverty of the EU’s Roma, are high on the agenda as the first summit on Roma integration within the EU begins in Brussels.

Italy and Spain have received the most Roma, mainly from Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia, where they make up more than 10% of the population.

Italy has witnessed the most serious effects – murders blamed on Roma, and revenge attacks by vigilante groups, followed by controversial government attempts to fingerprint Roma immigrants.

In Hungary, there is tension between Roma and non-Roma, after the lynching of a teacher by a Roma mob in one village, and attacks on a lorry driver and his family in another – both after road traffic accidents involving Roma children.

The creation of a “Hungarian Guard”, by far-right groups who arrive in villages after such incidents, is fueling fears of an explosion.

Integration key

“I don’t really know how the EU could help,” said Andras Ujlaky, head of the Chance for Children Foundation in Hungary.

“But perhaps they could start by pressurizing national governments to implement their own declared policies in housing, employment and education.”

Hungarian customs trainee Jozsef Nagy
There weren’t many opportunities… This was the chance for me!
Jozsef Nagy
Trainee customs officer

In Hungary, an earlier policy to give money to schools for the mentally disabled, to which a disproportionate number of Roma were sent, was abandoned when it was realized that it encouraged segregation.

Now funds are focused on mainstream schools which accept more Roma – though they impose limits of 25% Roma in a class.

There has been a wave of school closures in recent years in Hungary, as population figures fall.

That cuts both ways for the Roma. When Roma ghetto schools close, and the children are redistributed among schools with an ethnic Hungarian majority, it helps integration efforts.

The town of Hodmezovasarhely in south-eastern Hungary has been a pioneer, with five out of 11 primary schools closed last year alone.

But in far-flung villages with a majority Roma population, Roma and non-Roma parents alike are upset when local schools close and children are bussed off each day to towns.

The links between the parents and the schools are broken.

An alternative policy, supported by opposition parties, would be to improve the facilities and standard of teaching in existing schools.

Police drive

In eastern Hungary poverty is so endemic – with the Roma blamed for widespread petty theft – that the head of the Hungarian Poultry Board recently complained that people are no longer raising hens in several counties.

One new initiative for Roma integration in Budapest is being run by Gyorgy Makula, a policeman of Roma origin.

Hungarian police officer Gyorgy Makula (left) and some Roma boys

Officer Gyorgy Makula (left) hopes to help Roma boys out of the ghetto

Giant placards will be placed at strategic points around Budapest, to try to encourage more Roma to consider a police career.

Data protection laws make it impossible to measure how many Roma police there are in Hungary, but Gyorgy Makula estimates no more than 200, in a police force of 38,000.

“We should show to the Hungarian people, to the majority, among them the police staff, that there are really excellent people in this community who have been working for the police, who are not criminals of course.

“So we would like to change the mind of the people,” said Capt Makula.

At the Police High School, on Szecsenyi Hill overlooking Budapest, Jozsef Nagy, a third-year trainee customs officer, says he always wanted to join one of the law enforcement agencies.

“There weren’t many opportunities in our village to get somewhere in life. This was the chance for me!” he said.

Bending rules

One obstacle to increasing Roma numbers in the police is the fact that fewer than 10% of Roma students complete secondary school in Hungary.

A new idea is to bend the rules – to let them begin police training, and take their school-leaving exams inside the police academy.

In Csorog, a village less than an hour’s drive north of Budapest, with a large Roma population, the idea of more Roma policemen goes down well.

“I can foresee some problems,” said Zoltan Lakatos, a dustman, “if a policeman was forced to arrest one of his own relatives. But on the whole it’s a good idea. I think it would help.”

But his son, Zoli, 15, cannot imagine himself in uniform, planning a career steeped in Roma tradition.

“I’ve already decided,” he said. “I’m going to be a dancer. I’m going to teach Gypsy dance.”

September 9, 2008

Mexico kidnap suspects detained

Mexico kidnap suspects detained

Hector Slim (left) and Alejandro Marti

Fernando Marti’s father, Alejandro (right), had reportedly paid a ransom

Mexican police say they have detained five people suspected of involvement in the kidnap and killing of a teenager whose murder sparked national protests.

Prosecutors in Mexico City said those arrested included a former policeman.

The death of Fernando Marti, 14, whose decomposing body was found in the boot of a car in August, led to calls for tougher punishment for serious crimes.

In response, Mexican President Felipe Calderon drew up an emergency program to tackle violent crime.

At least 2,700 people have been killed and 300 kidnapped so far this year, mostly in drugs-related violence.

Ransom

Mexico City prosecutor Miguel Marcera said Fernando Marti’s alleged kidnappers disguised themselves as police officers and set up a bogus checkpoint on a busy street in the capital to capture their victim.

Last month his decomposing body was found in the boot of a car, even though his father, a wealthy businessman, had reportedly paid a ransom.

Investigators believe Fernando may have been killed because the kidnappers were not satisfied with the money they received.

What is certain is that in a country with abduction and murder rates among the highest in the world, his treatment sparked off a mass protest movement by Mexicans demanding tougher punishment for serious crimes.

After more than 100,000 people held a march in Mexico City calling for an end to such brutal acts, the government was pressured to draw up an programme to tackle violent crime, including a purge of corrupt police officers, and the building of prisons for kidnappers.

Mexicans have grown weary of politicians’ promises to do something about the violence, but they hope that for the sake of children like Fernando, the government’s pledge to redouble its efforts may start to bear results.

September 3, 2008

Profile: Sarah Palin

Profile: Sarah Palin
Palin considers herself a “maverick” politician, like McCain [GALLO/GETTY]

Sarah Palin, the youngest and first female governor of Alaska, has emerged from relative obscurity to become John McCain’s choice as his running-mate for the Republican presidential nomination.Palin, who describes herself as an “American Thatcher” in reference to the former British prime minister, calls herself a “maverick” reformer rather than a traditional Republican.

She cut her political teeth as mayor of the small town of Wasilla, Alaska from 1996-2002.

And while she has no national or international political experience, she has made headlines by pushing for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The mother-of-five has also angered environmentalists further by opposing the listing of the polar bear as an endangered species.

She is a loyal member of the National Rifle Association who enjoys hunting and supports the construction of a pipeline to move natural gas across the state.

Conservative appeal

Palin beat Frank Murkowski, the state’s Republican incumbent governor, in a primary poll two years ago, despite having little money and little backing from the political establishment.

In focus

In-depth coverage of US election

She has also distanced herself from two senior Republican politicians in Alaska, Ted Stevens and Don Young, who are both undergoing federal corruption investigations.But her anti-corruption reputation has been questioned after an investigation was recently launched by a legislative panel into whether she dismissed Alaska’s public safety commissioner because he would not fire her former brother-in-law from the state police.

The governor, who studied journalism and is a former sports television reporter, will also help attract conservative support for McCain’s campaign.

“When you look closer at Sarah Palin, she’s very very conservative on virtually all of the issues,” says Bill Bradley, a political analyst.

“She has a very compelling and interesting story but she is much more to the right than where the country is today.”

Palin is strongly opposed to abortion, and stands in favour of the death penalty.

She is married to Todd Palin, a part-Eskimo former commercial fisherman who now works in Alaska’s oil fields and who is a four-time winner of the daunting Alaska Iron Dog snowmobile competition.

August 31, 2008

MI5’s D-Day pigeon plot revealed

MI5’s D-Day pigeon plot revealed

D-Day landings

Britain wanted to fuel false rumors of an invasion

British spy chiefs drew up secret plans to use pigeons to spread false rumors about the impending D-Day landings.

The plot in 1943 to drop the birds into German-occupied France is revealed in newly declassified MI5 files released by the National Archives.

Germany had been intercepting pigeons carrying Allied notes, the files say, so MI5 moved to drop false information.

It planned to put extra pigeons over the west coast of France to give the impression the invasion would be there.

The revelations come in newly-released files on World War II called “Channels for deception”.

‘Quite delighted’

One letter to a Capt Guy Liddell said: “On average about 10% only of the birds dropped on the Continent return to their lofts in this country – it must be assumed that a great number fall into German hands.

“During the past few weeks I also understand there has been a great concentration on the Brest and Brittany areas.

“It might therefore be possible to deduce that we have considerable interest in this region.”

It must have seemed like a really good idea at the time but possibly not the next day
Professor Christopher Andrew
MI5’s official historian

The deception operations surrounding the Normandy landings are considered by some historians to be the most important of World War II.

Codenamed Operation Fortitude, they were overseen by the London Controlling Section (LCS), a special unit formed in 1942 within the Joint Planning Staff at the War Cabinet offices.

LCS controlling officer Col John Bevan was said to be “quite delighted” with the pigeon plot, according to the files.

The first mention in the documents of using pigeons to thwart the enemy comes from MI5’s Lt Col Tommy Robertson.

He said: “The pigeon is sent in a cardboard container – which can quickly be buried or burnt – with a little bag of corn and a questionnaire.

“These birds are dropped over a chosen area in the hope at least some of them will fall into the hands of… supporters of the Allied cause.

“It occurs to me that this is a possible means of putting deception over to the enemy by the careful framing of the questionnaires as presumably the Germans must, if they capture some of these birds, take notice of the type of question asked.”

MI5 letter

Letters can be viewed at the National Archives in Kew, west London

The documents make it clear arrangements were made to go ahead with the plan, but it is unclear if it was carried out.

The official historian of MI5, Cambridge Professor Christopher Andrew, told : “Because pigeons are used to pass on messages, it’s understandable someone thought of this.

“It must have seemed like a really good idea at the time but possibly not the next day.”

The use of pigeons in intelligence has its origins in World War I when the British dropped pigeons inside baskets attached to parachutes and balloons to gather intelligence.

The D-Day invasion of German-occupied France took place on June 6, 1944 and marked the start of a major Allied counter offensive in Europe.

Members of the public can view the 152 newly-released files at the National Archives in Kew, west London.

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