News & Current Affairs

July 17, 2009

US firm averts French explosion

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US firm averts French explosion

Gas bottles have been placed around the New Fabris site

A threat to blow up another French factory has not been defused

A US construction equipment firm has agreed to pay extra compensation to French workers who had threatened to explode gas canisters at their plant.

Staff at JLG Industries in Tonneins, south-western France, made the threat in order to get better redundancy terms for 53 workers.

It is the third such incident in which workers have threatened violence against employers.

Elsewhere, French workers have taken managers hostage in “boss-nappings”.

The French Employment Minister, Laurent Wauquiez, described the tactics as “blackmail”.

In the JLG deal, the 53 affected workers were each guaranteed 30,000 euros (£26,000; $42,000) in severance pay.

JLG Industries is a subsidiary of the US company Oshkosh, which makes cranes and work platforms.

Meanwhile, a tense stand-off continues at the bankrupt New Fabris car plant in Chatellerault, south-west of Paris, where workers have also made a threat to blow up the factory.

They have given a 31 July deadline for Renault and Peugeot, which provided 90% of the plant’s work, to pay them 30,000 euros each.

Renault and PSA Peugeot said it was not their responsibility to pay workers.

The BBC’s Emma Jane Kirby in Paris says there is an acute sense of injustice in France at the moment, with many workers complaining that while their bosses continue to reap company benefits and bonuses, they are paying for this economic crisis with their jobs.

July 16, 2009

New element named ‘copernicium’

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:19 pm

New element named ‘copernicium’

Periodic Table (Science Photo Library)

The Periodic Table will be one element longer

Discovered 13 years ago, and officially added to the periodic table just weeks ago, element 112 finally has a name.

It will be called “copernicium”, with the symbol Cp, in honour of the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

Copernicus deduced that the planets revolved around the Sun, and finally refuted the belief that the Earth was the centre of the Universe.

The team of scientists who discovered the element chose the name to honour the man who “changed our world view”.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) will officially endorse the new element’s name in six month’s time in order to give the scientific community “time to discuss the suggestion”.

Scientists from the Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany, led by Professor Sigurd Hofmann, discovered copernicium in fusion experiments in 1996.

“After IUPAC officially recognised our discovery, we agreed on proposing the name (because) we would like to honour an outstanding scientist,” said Professor Hofmann.

Copernicus was born 1473 in Torun, Poland. His finding that the planets circle the sun underpins much of modern science. It was pivotal for the discovery of gravity, and led to the conclusion that the stars are incredibly far away and that the Universe is inconceivably large.

Under IUPAC rules, the team were not allowed to name the element after a living person. But when asked if, rules aside, he would have liked to have “hofmanium” added to the periodic table, Professor Hofmann told News: “No, I think copernicium sounds much better.”

June 29, 2009

New Honduran leader sets curfew

New Honduran leader sets curfew

Interim President Roberto Micheletti has imposed an overnight curfew in Honduras, hours after being sworn in.

The Congress speaker took office after troops ousted elected leader Manuel Zelaya and flew him to Costa Rica.

The removal of Mr Zelaya came amid a power struggle over his plans for constitutional change.

Mr Zelaya, who had been in power since 2006, wanted to hold a referendum that could have led to an extension of his non-renewable four-year term.

Polls for the referendum had been due to open early on Sunday – but troops instead took him from the presidential palace and flew him out of the country.

New Honduran President Roberto Micheletti

Roberto Micheletti will govern until elections are held, Congress said.

The ousting of Manuel Zelaya has been criticised by regional neighbours, the US and the United Nations.

In the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, groups of Zelaya supporters were said to have set up barricades, while troops were at key sites.

Mr Micheletti told a press conference that a nationwide curfew was being imposed for Sunday and Monday, running from 2100 (0300 GMT) to 0600 (1200 GMT) on each night.

Days of tension

The swearing in of Roberto Micheletti – constitutionally second in line for the presidency – was greeted with applause in Congress.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in Costa Rica on Sunday 28 June 2009
This was a plot by a very voracious elite, which wants to keep this country in an extreme level of poverty
President Manuel Zelaya

In a speech, he said that he had not assumed power “under the ignominy of a coup d’etat”.

The army had complied with the constitution, he said, and he had reached the presidency “as the result of an absolutely legal transition process”.

Congress said he would serve until 27 January, when Mr Zelaya’s term was due to expire. Presidential elections are planned for 29 November and Mr Micheletti promised these would go ahead.

Both Congress and the courts had opposed Mr Zelaya’s referendum, which asked Hondurans to endorse a vote on unspecified constitutional changes alongside the November elections.

Tensions over the issue had been escalating for several days, with the army refusing to help with preparations for the referendum.

Just before dawn on Sunday, troops stormed the president’s residence. There was confusion over his whereabouts for several hours before he turned up in Costa Rica.

Mr Zelaya called his ouster “a plot by a very voracious elite, an elite which wants only to keep this country isolated, in an extreme level of poverty”.

He urged Hondurans to resist those who had removed him and late on Sunday flew to Nicaragua for a meeting of regional leaders.

Congress said it had voted to remove him because of his “repeated violations of the constitution and the law and disregard of orders and judgments of the institutions”.

In Tegucigalpa, groups of Zelaya supporters were setting up roadblocks around the presidential palace, Reuters said.

One man told the news that he had been in the city’s main square all day, along with 2,000 Zelaya supporters. Jeronimo Pastor described the situation as tense and called on the international community to get involved.

But another resident of the capital said people were relieved at Mr Zelaya’s removal. “Now we have a new president and will have elections and things will go back to normal,” Kenneth Bustillo told the news.

The removal of Mr Zelaya has drawn criticism across Latin America and the wide world.

The Organization of American States held an emergency meeting, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for “the reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country”.

US President Barack Obama urged Honduras to “respect the rule of law” and a State Department official said America recognised Mr Zelaya as the duly elected president. The European Union called for “a swift return to constitutional normality”.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, meanwhile, blamed “the Yankee empire”, and threatened military action should the Venezuelan ambassador to Honduras be attacked.

August 14, 2008

Mumbai’s slum solution?

Mumbai’s slum solution?

Courtesy BBC

By Mukul Devichand
BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents


Dharavi is a bustling hive of activity and commerce

Mukesh Mehta wears a crisp shirt and tie as he picks his way past makeshift shacks and stinking open gutters in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum.

Dharavi is a dense labyrinth of dirt roads in the centre of India’s biggest and most economically important city, Mumbai (Bombay).

Estimates of its population size vary but it is likely that up to a million people live in these crowded lanes.

But now the slum faces complete demolition under an audacious plan designed by Mr Mehta.

As a wealthy architect turned property tycoon, Mr Mehta makes an unlikely development visionary. A decade ago he became a government consultant after returning to Mumbai from his career designing bespoke mansions for rich clients in Long Island, New York.

His scheme is unique because it uses India’s surging private sector to develop slums, instead of relying on government funds or international aid. It is being closely watched as a potential blueprint for a slum-free future across the developing world.

But will it offer a fair deal to the urban poor?

Win-win solution

Mukesh Mehta

Mukesh Mehta says he hopes others make money from his plans

“I’m not ashamed or embarrassed that I’m going to make money out of it,” Mr Mehta told me late last year. “In fact I hope that others do too.”

I first met him in his own sea-view mansion flat, in a salubrious part of Mumbai worlds away from the tower blocks being built for Dharavi residents.

He explained that the urge to turn a profit is what drives the scheme forward.

Private developers are being asked to demolish the low-rise slum and re-house the residents in tower blocks on the same site, rather than moving them out of the city.

But Dharavi is right next to a prime office district, and is surrounded by three important railway lines. The companies can use the plum real estate left over after they’ve built tower blocks, to build lucrative shopping malls and office blocks for the middle classes.

The poor get a home in a block in a prime location, the companies make money and Mumbai’s residents get a posh new city quarter.

Theoretically at least, everyone wins.

‘Bombay Dreams’

But Mr Mehta is facing an avalanche of opposition from slum locals.

His visits to Dharavi are an exercise in diplomacy. I watch him press flesh and bat away questions as crowds of industrial workers confront him.

Although Mumbai’s transformation is being closely modelled on Shanghai, China’s glitzy commercial capital, India’s democratic system means the demands of the slum’s myriad opposition groups cannot be ignored.

Annapa Konchikor is an affable, portly Dharavi shopkeeper who wanted to show me why he opposes the plan. So he invited me to sleep over in his home in the heart of the slum.

Dharavi pottery

The entrepreneurial spirit of Dharavi can been seen everywhere

Late at night we strolled around his local lane, alive with a sea of human bodies and the whirr of industry.

In parts of Dharavi almost every shack doubles up as a small scale industrial unit, where the residents stitch garments, recycle rubbish, make pots or handicrafts, melt scrap metal, or do just about anything else to make money.

They are taking advantage of what Mumbai is famous for in India.

Bollywood films celebrate Mumbai as a city where even the poorest migrant can “make it” in the informal slum economy if they work hard enough.

Annapa told me that he fears this aspect of slum life will be lost after redevelopment.

Self-made man

“If the government were developing Dharavi for the people who have been living here, it would be OK,” Annapa told me.

Instead he suspects the planners real aim is to serve what he call’s Mumbai’s “hi-fi” groups – in other words the burgeoning middle class of white collar workers – in pushing the poor out of the city centre.

Annapa Konchickor

Annapa Konchikor worries about the prospects for the people of Dharavi

His own family were once snake charmers who migrated from south India.

Annapa was born in Dharavi and worked as a taxi driver and security guard before saving enough to open a shop in his slum shack.

Now he is a self-made man with four concrete rooms, an air conditioner and a grandchild he sends to boarding school.

His fear is that although each slum family will get a free flat of 269 square feet, the poorest locals will find it difficult to run small scale industries high up in concrete blocks.

Winners and losers

The next morning, he took me to a block where redevelopment had already happened.

The block had problems with running water and there was a pungent smell in the stairways. But despite the dire conditions, I found middle class families had snapped up almost all of the tiny apartments.

Highrise tower blocks being built for the residents of Dharavi

Block like this are being built to house the people of Dharavi

“We bought it from some lady in a slum area, she was given it by the government,” I was told by a girl in American-flavoured English in one of the flats.

Her father, the main bread winner, was not home – he lives and works in Switzerland.

It will be illegal at first for slum-dwellers to sell their free flats. But the supporters of the demolition plans point out that eventually if they do sell, the poor stand to make a sizeable profit, despite having illegally squatted on slum land for free.

Poor country

So far the political campaigns and litigation by the slum activists have kept the bulldozers away.

The lobbying has seen Mukesh Mehta’s plan altered in several ways that benefit the poor – allotting more square feet for the free flats, and allowing more families to apply for them.

These changes have gone some way towards pacifying the scheme’s opponents. The demolition is set to start soon.

But even if many of Dharavi’s current residents profit from the plan, it remains unclear whether the floods of migrants who still pour in from India’s countryside will find a place to live in the redeveloped Mumbai.

Despite its economic growth, India is still a country where hundreds of millions of people live below the bread line and for many families, moving to the big cities is the only option.

City planners seem to have accepted that building a world-class financial capital is more important than catering to this influx – although few are bold enough to say this openly.

“We firmly believe that this is likely to be the way not just for Dharavi, but for the rest of India’s slums and the world’s slums,” says Mukesh Mehta.

After all, he says, decades of aid and socialist planning have done little to remove slums. “Give me a better solution,” he demands. “Until then you might want to accept this one.”

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