News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta

Tributes are left for those killed in the hotel attacks

Indonesian officials say there are “strong indications” a key wanted fugitive was behind Friday’s deadly attacks on two hotels in Jakarta.

Noordin Mohamed Top is wanted for plotting the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 and other Indonesian attacks.

Nine people, including two suicide bombers, died in the attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott.

At least four of Friday’s victims are said to be foreigners but have not all been formally identified.

Police in the Indonesian capital are studying DNA and other evidence to try to identify those behind the attacks.

The anti-terror chief, Ansyaad Mbai, has told the News he believes there are strong indications that Noordin was the mastermind behind the blasts.

NOORDIN MOHAMED TOP
Noordin Top (archive image)
Born in Malaysia, fled to Indonesia after 9/11
Wanted for planning bombings on Bali in 2002 and 2005 and other attacks
Said to have split from Jemaah Islamiah over strategy disagreements and set up new group
Main accomplice Azahari Husin killed by police in 2005
Escaped police raid in 2006 and continues to evade capture

Noordin was said to be a key financier for the Jemaah Islamiah militant group but is now thought to have set up his own splinter group.

Jemaah Islamiah has links to al-Qaeda and has a long track record of bomb attacks in Indonesia including the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.

Friday’s bombs contained nails, ball bearings and bolts, identical to ones used by Jemaah Islamiah, police said.

Mr Mbai said he believed the aim of the attacks was to embarrass Indonesia’s government at a time when the country was enjoying a greater degree of stability than it had in the past.

The Indonesian people have been truly shocked by these attacks as they thought they had put events like this behind them.

Investigators on Friday recovered an unexploded bomb and other explosives material from what they said was the “control centre” for the attacks – room 1808 in the Marriott.

The attackers paid to stay at the hotel and smuggled in the explosives before detonating them in two restaurants on Friday.

CCTV footage showed one attacker wearing a cap pulling a bag on wheels into the Marriott restaurant, followed by a flash and smoke.

Security has been tightened across Indonesia in the wake of the attacks, with 500 troops put on standby to support police in the capital.

‘Shoulder to shoulder’

A New Zealander, businessman Tim Mackay, has been confirmed killed.

I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones
Barack Obama

Indonesian police say Australians Nathan Verity and Garth McEvoy also died.

Their countryman, diplomat Craig Senger, was at the same breakfast meeting. He is missing and feared dead.

A health ministry report said a Singaporean and an Indonesian were also confirmed dead.

At least 17 foreigners were among the wounded, including eight Americans.

Other foreign nationals wounded included visitors from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the UK.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the attacks as “cruel and inhuman”.

US President Barack Obama said: “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones.”

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is due to arrive in Jakarta on Saturday.

He said he wanted to stand “shoulder to shoulder with Indonesia at this terrible time”.

The Manchester United football team had been booked to stay in the Ritz-Carlton next week ahead of a game in Jakarta.

The team has cancelled the Indonesian leg of their tour.

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 the series of bombings more than five years ago.

Jakarta map

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


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September 14, 2008

NZ firm warned of China milk risk

NZ firm warned of China milk risk

Babies suffering kidney stones possibly related to defective baby formula in hospital in Lanzhou, Gansu province, on 9 September

Babies have been suffering kidney stones – rare in young children

A Chinese firm accused of selling milk powder that has made babies unwell was warned in August over the safety of its product, its partner and co-owner says.

New Zealand-based dairy giant Fonterra said it had urged China’s Sanlu Group to recall the tainted powder six weeks before Sanlu took adequate action.

The Fonterra farmers’ co-operative owns a 43% stake in Sanlu.

More than 400 babies in China have been taken ill after using milk contaminated with the industrial chemical, melamine.

Melamine is used to make plastics and is banned from food. Ingesting it can lead to the development of kidney stones.

At least one child has reportedly died in China as a result of using the contaminated milk, which the firm recalled from sale on Thursday.

‘Severe punishment’

In a statement released on Sunday, Fonterra said it had urged Sanlu’s board to recall the milk powder as soon as it learnt of the contamination – on 2 August.

“From the day that we were advised of the product contamination issue in August, Fonterra called for a full public recall of all affected product and we have continued to push for this all along,” the statement said.

Chinese officials have complained that they were only alerted last Monday of the dangers posed by the milk. They said Sanlu’s customers had been complaining about the milk since March.

China’s Health Minister, Gao Qiang, said on Saturday that Sanlu “should shoulder major responsibility for this”.

He said those responsible for the contamination “would be dealt with severely”. Nineteen arrests have so far been made over the scandal, Chinese authorities say.

Some of the tainted milk had been sent to Taiwan but none had been sold to other foreign markets, Mr Gao said.

Melamine has been used by Chinese suppliers of animal feed components to make them appear to have more protein.

It was linked to the formation of kidney stones and kidney failure in pets in the United States last year, leading to thousands of deaths and illnesses.

A fake milk powder scandal in 2004 killed at least 13 babies in China’s eastern province of Anhui.

Investigators found that the milk given to these babies had no nutritional value, and the resulting scandal triggered widespread investigations into food safety.

September 12, 2008

New Zealand leader calls election

New Zealand leader calls election

PM Helen Clark

PM Helen Clark may hope that a lengthy campaign could help her win

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has called a general election for 8 November, aiming to win a fourth term in office.

However, Ms Clark’s Labor Party has trailed the opposition National Party in opinion polls for the past year.

Economic woes and a scandal-hit foreign minister have given the opposition its best chance of power in a decade.

But the country’s aversion to the Iraq war and strong anti-nuclear stance are unlikely to change, whoever wins.

Ms Clark, 58, a successful campaigner, told a news conference on Friday that the election would be about trust.

“It is about which leader and which major party we New Zealanders trust our families’ and country’s future with,” said the prime minister.

“What I see is that as the election nears people are focusing very much on what the real choice is. And at that point it comes down to what matters most to our families and our communities,” she said.

The latest date on which elections could have been set was 15 November, and some analysts have suggested Ms Clark’s choice of date will give her time to claw back support.

Correspondents say the nation’s economy is expected to be a key issue in election. A recent cut in interest rates may help Labour, and promised tax cuts are due to take effect in October.

Public opinion polls show the Labor Party trailing the main opposition National Party by at least 6.5 percentage points – an improvement on a 16-point gap earlier in the year.

Party problems

New Zealand’s voting system is mixed-member proportional representation, which shares power with smaller parties, in a 121-seat single-house parliament.

Ms Clark’s government has led a minority parliament in recent years, relying on parties such as United Future and New Zealand First for support.

New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters, has been her foreign minister but stepped down on 29 August as he is now under investigation for donations allegedly made to his party by wealthy business figures.

Ms Clark has distanced herself from Mr Peters in recent weeks.

Just before the election announcement, Ms Clark’s government passed a promised major piece of legislation to set up an emissions trading scheme.

Parliament will be dissolved on 3 October and nomination day is 14 October, allowing for a five-week campaign period.

“I do believe the future of New Zealand is at stake,” Ms Clark said.

“I believe that Labor has shown through its record in office that we can be trusted with the future of New Zealand.”

She said her Labor Party was “ambitious” for New Zealand, whereas the opposition party was “ambiguous”.

National leader John Key did not immediately comment.

August 30, 2008

Website maps surnames worldwide

Website maps surnames worldwide

David Beckham

There are more Beckhams in the United States than Britain

A website which maps global surnames has been launched to help people find the origins of their name and how far it may have spread.

The Public Profiler site plots eight million last names using data from electoral rolls and phone directories.

The site covers 300 million people in 26 countries, showing the origins of names and where families have moved to.

David Beckham, for example, has an English name, but there are more Beckhams in the US than Britain.

But the region of the world with the highest concentration of people called Beckham was even further from the footballer’s east London origins – in the New Zealand province of Northland.

The site – http://www.publicprofiler.org/worldnames – also reveals which of the five million forenames are most closely associated with different surnames and lists the top regions and cities for each surname.

A name is now not just a statement of who you are but where you are
Professor Paul Longley

It was developed by a team of geographers from University College London.

Professor Paul Longley, one of the researchers, said: “The information is not just historical but geographical.

“We can link names to places – a name is now not just a statement of who you are but where you are.”

Most surnames originated in specific places in the world and remain most frequent in those areas, but have often spread to other countries because of migration, the research showed.

Searches for Britain’s three multi-gold medallists at the recent Olympics and the leaders of the three main political parties revealed some mixed results.

• Swimmer Rebecca Adlington’s surname is most prevalent in New Zealand

• Cyclist Chris Hoy’s surname is Irish but more common in Denmark

• Cyclist Bradley Wiggins’s surname is most popular in the US

• Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s surname tops the list in Australia

• Conservative leader David Cameron’s surname is most prevalent in New Zealand

• Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s surname is still most common in Britain

Prof Longley said that the site was currently struggling to cope with demand.

“We are being deluged with requests and we ask people to be patient. There is obviously a lot of interest in family names and family history globally,” he said.

August 14, 2008

All because the lady loves a foreign accent

All because the lady loves a foreign accent

Bride of the Rif, The Sheikh's Reward and  At the Sheikh's Command

Courtesy BBC

By Samanthi Dissanayake
BBC News

It is the stuff of escapist fantasy. A tall, dark and handsome type sweeps a cream-and-roses Home Counties heroine off her feet. In its 100 years of publishing, the exotic alpha male has been a staple of the Mills and Boon romance.

The tale of the passionate desert sheikh who sweeps secretary Janna Smith h off her feet in Violet Winspear’s 1970 romance Tawny Sands is perhaps the quintessential Mills and Boon story.

Still from 1921's The Sheik

Silent film sex symbol Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik

“His tone of voice was softly mocking, but she knew he didn’t really jest. He was Raul Cesar Bey and the further they traveled into the desert the more aware she was of his affinity with the savage sun and tawny sands.”

Shocking, suggestive, the tale of their love was wildly popular with a generation of romance readers.

It is also typical of a taste for foreign pleasures when it comes to romantic fiction.

It’s 100 years since Mills and Boon published their first book. Sold in 109 countries and translated into 26 different languages, it is arguably Britain’s best-known publishing house worldwide.

From early in the company’s history, its winsome heroines have looked beyond Britain’s shores to find love.

Nobody can quite identify the very first Mills and Boon romance to feature an exotic hero or location. But Dr Joseph McAleer, author of Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills and Boon, says it was probably in the 1910s, following the lead of Hollywood cinema and its preoccupation with desert sheikhs and jungle escapades.

The fascination still exists today with the best-selling title of the June 2008 Modern Romance series being Desert King, Pregnant Mistress by Susan Stephens.

“Exotic locations gave great scope to authors to be a bit racier. It is usually an English person going into the tropics to experience this different culture,” Dr McAleer says.

“But they never lose their moral foundation. The heroines normally wind up reforming the sheikh.”

Steamy scenes

In 1915 Louise Gerard wrote The Virgin’s Treasure, the story of Dr Keith Harding, who leaves England for Africa to treat tropical diseases.

British woman dancing with an American GI in 1942

A fine wartime romance

“This was not England but the tropics where blood was hotter and where incredible things happen with amazing swiftness” Gerard writes, preparing the reader for the steamy scenes to come. It was only in the 1930s that Mills and Boon became a dedicated romantic fiction publishers. Since then, enigmatic sheikhs, brooding Spaniards and sardonic Greek tycoons have become a staple of their storylines.

These international tales have tended to mirror broader social trends. The experience of World War II enhanced the possibilities of love abroad. WAAF Into Wife, by Barbara Stanton, follows the fortunes of Mandy Lyle, who falls under the spell of Count Alexei Czishkiwhizski, leader of a Polish squadron.

“With horizons being broadened and more international travel, the romances set in rose-covered cottages did not have the same cache as Greece, Ibiza, and South Africa,” Dr McAleer says.

The exotic and the international became a key measure of the ultimate romantic lead.

“The alpha male has to be larger than life, an incredibly heroic figure. He was usually fabulously wealthy with a mystery about him,” says Dr McAleer.

Greek shipping magnates emerged in the 70s and 80s, and the Mediterranean hero rose in popularity as package holidays became the norm.

The growth in air travel also saw the rise of the air hostess/pilot romance, with many tender words lavished on the captains holding passengers’ lives in their manly hands.

Woman reading on a beach

It could happen to you…?

Nowadays, Italians and Spaniards remain popular heroes and at least one sheikh romance a month is published. Even Russian oligarchs have made an appearance.

“As the world has become more globalised our settings have had to become more exotic, more luxurious and exciting. Where our heroes were once millionaires, now they have to be billionaires,” says Clare Somerville, marketing director for Mills and Boon.

Middle Eastern tycoons feature frequently but hail fictional countries and kingdoms – there is little room for the realities of the region’s geopolitics in escapist fiction.

The company’s largest markets have been the UK, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Demographically, North America is the biggest market but with the launch of English-language editions in India earlier this year, Mills and Boon acknowledges this could change.

Harlequin Mills and Boon
The real aim of romance is to provide escape and entertainment
Violet Winspear

As India’s middle classes exercise their consumer muscle, so the company wants to expand its roster of romantic heroes.

“We are also looking at the Indian prince idea. He is a clear extension of the alpha male and we are looking at launching this next year,” says Ms Somerville.

It is also running a competition to find new local authors in India. Mills and Boon novels are translated in China, and for some years now its romances have graced Japanese bookshelves in the form of manga comics.

Exotic escape

Mills and Boon claim its readership all over the world look for the same thing: identification with the heroine and intense romantic relationships.

Shirley Valentine

You’re not in Liverpool now, Shirley

Violet Winspear, one of Mills and Boon’s best-selling authors in the 1960s and the author of Tawny Sands, set many of her books in Greece, Spain and North Africa.

But she was a spinster who reputedly never left south-east England – instead she meticulously researched her far-flung settings at the local library.

Miss Winspear caused considerable controversy when explaining her archetypal hero – the sort of men “who frighten and fascinate” and “the sort of men who are capable of rape: men it’s dangerous to be left alone in the room with”.

Although this comment would haunt her, Dr McAleer says she thought hard about what exotic themes brought to her readers. In a letter to her publisher, she wrote: “Who on earth can truly identify with a sardonic Spanish Don, a handsome surgeon, a dashing Italian or a bittersweet Greek? The real aim of romance is to provide escape and entertainment, not to dish up ‘real life’ and ‘real life people on a plate with egg on it’!”

Shirley Valentine would surely agree.


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August 13, 2008

ICC aims to avert Trophy boycott

ICC aims to avert Trophy boycott

ICC says safety will not be compromised at the Champions Trophy

ICC says safety will not be compromised at the Champions Trophy

Cricket’s governing body the ICC is hoping to head off a possible boycott of next month’s Champions Trophy over security worries.

Delegations are visiting England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in an attempt to persuade them to take part in the tournament in Pakistan.

They have expressed serious safety concerns about the event.

Rawalpindi has already been removed as one of the venues after its security arrangements could not be verified.

Matches will now take place only in Lahore and Karachi.

ICC president David Morgan said: “Our desire is to ensure that every stakeholder is content with arrangements and is comfortable with the ICC Champions Trophy taking place in Pakistan.”

The ICC is to receive feedback from the visits by 20 August.

“We are committed to a safe and secure event in Pakistan,” Morgan added.

“We believe these visits and the feedback we get from them will play a major role in us achieving those ends.”

The competition, the so-called mini World Cup, is set to be held between 11 and 28 September.

But Australia and New Zealand players have been advised by their players’ associations not to travel to Pakistan and the South African players’ body has criticized the ICC decision not to move the tournament out of Pakistan.

August 8, 2008

Potter star used to crack crime

Potter star used to crack crime

Robbie Coltrane poster

The poster has been distributed around the local area

A wanted poster featuring Robbie Coltrane is being used by police in New Zealand to try to catch a teenage burglar who resembles the actor.

Detectives stressed the Cracker and Harry Potter star is not suspected of any crimes, but said the thief looks like a 16-year-old version of him.

The poster has been distributed to homes in the Christchurch area of the South Island.

New Zealand law bans the publication of pictures of juvenile criminals.

Below the heading ‘Wanted’ is the picture of Coltrane, underneath which are the words ‘Active burglar in this neighbourhood’.

Bicycle burglar

The text below explains that the photo is of Coltrane and continues: “Robbie Coltrane is not the burglar but imagine him aged 16 with lank greasy hair and you have the picture.

“He is 16-years-old, lives locally, travels by bicycle and burgles houses in your street.

“He will break windows to gain entry and ransack the property targeting electronic items, cash and jewellery.”

It explains the reason for the use of the Scottish star, who the New Zealand police describe as English.

“Because of the Children and Young Persons Act 1989 Police cannot show you a picture of the 16-year-old burglar operating in your neighbourhood,” it states.

Residents reportedly welcomed the leaflets and praised the ingenuity of the police. Coltrane was unavailable for comment.

August 6, 2008

Reptile ‘first-time’ dad at 111

Reptile ‘first-time’ dad at 111

Phillip Capper)

Tuatara are the last surviving reptiles of their kind

A rare 111-year-old New Zealand reptile is set to become a father, possibly for the first time.

Henry, a tuatara with prehistoric origins, had previously shown no interest in females during nearly 40 years in captivity, say keepers.

But his 80-year-old partner, Mildred, laid 12 eggs in mid-July, 11 of which are due to hatch in about six months.

Henry’s keepers have put his newfound vigour down to a recent operation to remove a tumour from his bottom.

Henry arrived at Southland Museum in the South Island city of Invercargill in 1970 and, his keepers say, soon became overweight and idle.

‘Raging hormones’

Museum curator Lindsay Hazley told AFP news agency: “He bit the tail off his previous female companion twice. But since the operation his hormones have been raging.”

It is not known whether Henry had ever mated in the wild.

Tuatara, which are only found in New Zealand, are sometimes referred to as “living fossils”.

He’s become a real Jack the Lad since he lost his virginity
Lindsay Hazley, curator

They are the only surviving members of a family of species which walked the Earth with the dinosaurs more than 200m years ago.

Mr Hazley said he was confident Henry would continue to make the most of his new lease of life and was already showing interest in the other two females in his enclosure, Lucy and Juliet.

“He’s definitely up for it, he’s become a real Jack the Lad since he lost his virginity,” he said.

But he warned it was probably too early to start further prenatal celebrations.

“With these guys, foreplay might take years,” he said. “One has to be patient.”

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