News & Current Affairs

November 25, 2008

Bangkok protesters fire on rivals

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Bangkok protesters fire on rivals

Thai anti-government protesters have opened fire on government supporters during clashes in Bangkok which left at least 11 people injured, officials say.

The incident came after the People’s Alliance for Democracy blocked the road to the city’s old airport in a renewed attempt to unseat the government.

The PAD said on Sunday it had begun a “final battle” to achieve the goal.

Meanwhile, PAD supporters have stormed Bangkok’s main international airport, leading it to suspend outgoing flights.

Witnesses said hundreds of yellow-shirted members of the group managed to break through police lines and enter the main terminal of Suvarnabhumi airport, to the bewilderment of passengers.

Anyone who wants to overthrow or resist the government is attempting a rebellion
Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat

The airport’s manager, Serirat Prasutanon, said the authorities had tried to negotiate with the protesters, “but to no avail”.

“For the safety of passengers, we have to stop flights out of the airport temporarily until the situation returns to normal,” he told the Associated Press.

Exactly what the protesters hope to do there is not clear, the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok says, but they may be hoping to prevent Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from returning from the Apec summit in Peru on Wednesday.

Mr Somchai told reporters in Lima: “Anyone who wants to overthrow or resist the government is attempting a rebellion.”

‘Final battle’

Earlier, Thai TPBS television broadcast pictures of the violence on the main road to the capital’s old airport. The footage showed shots being fired from a truck into crowds after rocks were thrown.

Protesters block the road to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport (25 November 2008)

Thousands of people are taking part in anti-government protests

At least two handguns could be seen and people standing with the gunmen raised up a picture of the revered Thai king, whom the PAD claim to be supporting.

Protesters could be seen running across the empty multi-lane road and setting fire to a motorbike.

A man was also seized by pro-government supporters and what appeared to be a large knife was held to his throat.

TPBS said its cameraman had been threatened at the scene and that PAD personnel attempted to seize his tape.

On Monday, PAD protesters converged on Bangkok’s old Don Muang international airport, from where the cabinet has been operating since its offices were occupied three months ago.

Organisers say the protest is a “final battle” to bring down the government.

Our correspondent says the government appears to have followed a strategy of allowing PAD to attack government buildings while avoiding clashes, in the hope that it will wear the protesters down.

The government has so far resisted calling in the army. Analysts says it is a thinly disguised aim of the PAD to provoke such a move.

The PAD are determined to create drama but many ordinary Thais are sick of the unrest and the protesters appear to be losing steam, says our correspondent.

September 10, 2008

Making the world understand my face

Making the world understand my face

Alison Rich

The two sides of Alison’s face did not develop in tandem

On a packed commuter train, passengers rarely give their fellow travellers more than a passing glance. But Alison Rich is not just another face in the crowd – what is the impact of facial deformity on an otherwise normal life?

Every morning on her way to work, Alison Rich is met with sideways glances and furtive second looks. Some people stare openly, others turn away out of embarrassment.

Alison was born with a condition that impeded the development of the left side of her face and gave her spine a severe scoliosis, curving her back from side to side. From the ages of two to 13, she was strapped into a brace from her waist to her neck. She has had to deal with such reactions all her life.

She now works for Changing Faces, a charity that challenges the prejudices surrounding facial disfigurement. Ahead of a public discussion on Thursday at London’s Wellcome Institute, Alison invited me to follow her daily commute to witness the reactions of fellow passengers.

Crowded train

Don’t look is usually the unspoken rule of a crowded commute

What for everyone else is a momentary shock, followed by a double-take, for Alison is constant undermining scrutiny.

As suited workers file on to the drizzle-stained platform in south London, she is met with a series of second glances. One man stares openly, his mouth slightly open, eyebrows knitted in fascination. A woman looks away, her face full of pity.

No-one actually says anything, but as passengers crowd onto the train, their eyes dart up from a newspaper, or hastily look away and then back again. One woman stares, her eyes wide in grim fascination.

“Some people we work with, people literally stand back in horror. But for me it’s that constant slow drip, drip and you can imagine what that does to someone who is not emotionally equipped.”

Findings by Changing Faces suggest 542,000 – or one in 111 – people in the UK have a significant facial disfigurement. Alison, 35, says the publicity that comes from events such as the Wellcome Trust debate helps challenge responses to disfigurement, engrained from the playground to the workplace.

“We don’t have to be PC about it. We can’t deal with it until people are aware of what they are thinking.”

While society is more accepting of physical disability, the huge growth in cosmetic surgery suggests beauty is increasingly skin-deep.

A 2007 survey by market analysts Mintel predicted people in Britain would spend about £1bn on cosmetic surgery in 2008. They found 577,000 cosmetic treatments were carried out in the UK in 2007, up from 300,000 in 2005.

Woman having cosmetic surgery

Seeking to improve on nature

Alison believes the trend is leading to a narrower definition of what people find acceptable. Professor Alex Clarke, from the Royal Free Hospital – which has ethical permission to perform the first face transplant in the UK – agrees with her.

There is now pressure not just from celebrity culture, but in what is expected from day-to-day life as well.

“It’s more the sort of presentation of highly attractive people in everyday contexts. It’s the sitcoms like Friends or Neighbors, or very good-looking newsreaders. That’s the subliminal message,” she says.

And this airbrushed ideal is emerging at an early age. For someone going through puberty with disfigurement, the anxiety and insecurity can be particularly distressing.

“Because it is coming at you from all angles, from the TV, from the internet, it’s very difficult to stand back from this and say do I agree with this? Am I happy to look the way I am?”

Alison is not opposed to plastic surgery – she has had 15 operations on her face. The decision whether to go under the knife, she says, should come down to individual choice.

And medical advances such as face transplants can raise false hopes of what can be done for people with disfiguring conditions.

Surgeons gave Isabelle Dinoire a new face after her dog gnawed her features trying to revive her from a suicide attempt

Isabelle Dinoire, who received the first partial face transplant

“You look at somebody with a pan-facial scar from a Spitfire, for example, or at somebody with a pan-facial scar from a road accident, the cosmetic result really isn’t much different,” says Prof Clarke.

It’s a point that Alison feels strongly about too.

“The first thing is that they are only available to a very small number of people with particular injuries, so everyone is not going to be suddenly walking out with a face transplant.

“The way the media has presented face transplants is it sets them out as a great white hope and plays into this stereotype that it’s absolutely impossible to lead a decent life if you have a disfigurement, and that just isn’t true.”

Coping strategy

Ultimately Alison has dealt with her disfigurement through inner strength.

At school, girls would be friendly outside the gates, but shun her in the classroom. At discos boys would stand in front of Alison before turning to her friends and refusing to dance with her.

Alison Rich
I don’t look in the mirror in the morning and say ‘oh God, look at my face’

It was one of the cruellest reactions that transformed how she dealt with her disfigurement.

“I was in the student union and this guy came up to me and threw me against the wall and said: ‘You are the ugliest thing I have ever seen, I’d kill myself if I looked like you’. I just didn’t go out for a few days, I was quite bruised by it.

“But it also made me realize how I was going to handle myself and that I had to get strong inside. And I think even more importantly I needed to learn how to deal with these things.”

In a way, she says, he did her a favour. She now has a number of strategies she recommends to anyone concerned about their disfigurement: Look someone in the eye, have a short explanation ready, move the conversation on, and seek expert support.

But she still has bad days.

A young man who had been talking to her suddenly turned round and said: “you’d be really lovely if you weren’t so ugly”; and before her wedding a shop assistant told her: “Oh gosh, I didn’t think that someone who looked like you could get married.”

Alison is always aware of how those around are reacting.

“I never have a day off. But I don’t look in the mirror in the morning and say ‘oh God, look at my face’. I think I’m looking pretty tired today, or shall I pick up some lipstick, or ‘hey, you’re looking pretty good’.”


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September 4, 2008

Seven killed in Dubai air crash

Seven killed in Dubai air crash

Keppel Corporation website]

The helicopter crashed on the Maersk Resilient

Seven people were killed when a helicopter crashed into an oil rig off the coast of Dubai, officials say.

The victims were a Briton, an American, a Filipino, a Venezuelan, a Pakistani and two Indian nationals, the country’s Civil Aviation Authority said.

The helicopter crashed into the deck of the rig during take-off, Petrofac, the operator of Dubai government’s offshore oilfields, said in a statement.

An investigation is under way into the cause of the crash.

The incident happened on at 2020 (1720 GMT) on Wednesday.

The Aerogulf Bell 212 helicopter, carrying two crew members and five passengers, was on a routine flight from the Rashid oil field, 70 kilometres (43.5 miles) from Dubai, Aberdeen-based company Petrofac said.

“During take-off the helicopter crashed onto the deck of the Resilient, the Maersk jack-up drilling rig,” it said.

“The aircraft then broke up and fell into the sea.”

Map

The helicopter accident happened off the coast of Dubai

The company added: “Immediately following the incident, a fire broke out on the main deck of the drilling rig which was quickly contained and extinguished.”

The company said there were no survivors on board.

There were no additional casualties on either the drilling rig or the platform.

All operations on the Rashid field have been suspended and the platform and drilling rig have been secured, Petrofac said.

The company confirmed that the victims were foreign contractors and said that their relatives were being informed.

September 1, 2008

All Spain crash bodies identified

All Spain crash bodies identified

EFE]

The plane crashed in a field near Madrid’s airport and burst into flames

All 154 bodies from last week’s plane crash in Madrid have been identified, the Spanish interior ministry says.

It says the bodies – some of them badly burned – are now being returned to grieving relatives for burial.

The Spanair flight from Madrid to the Canary Islands crashed after take-off on 20 August. Only 18 of 172 passengers and crew survived the accident.

An investigation is now under way into the crash – the country’s worst air accident in 25 years.

The MD82 plane veered into a dry river bed just after take-off from Madrid’s Barajas airport. It then broke up and burst into flames, setting light to surrounding vegetation.

Experts had to use DNA analysis, fingerprints and dental information to identify some of the badly burned bodies.

Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said last week that was the main reason why the identification process was taking longer than expected.

Investigation

Spanair had considered switching the aircraft at the last minute, a Spanish government minister said earlier this week.

The flight JK 5022 was delayed for about an hour because of a problem with an air temperature gauge.

Sources close to the inquiry, quoted by the newspaper El Pais, have said the plane may have lacked sufficient engine power during take-off.

Video footage showed the plane travelled much further along the runway than normal before getting airborne, the paper reported.

August 21, 2008

Search for clues in Madrid crash

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Search for clues in Madrid crash

EFE]

Examination of the wreckage began the morning after the crash

Accident investigators have begun examining the wreckage of a plane that crashed at Madrid’s Barajas airport, leaving 153 passengers dead.

They will also start to analyze the flight data and voice recorders, which have both been recovered.

Three days of official mourning have been declared in Madrid, as relatives arrive at a makeshift mortuary in the capital to identify bodies.

Nineteen people survived the crash and several are critically hurt.

Of the 19 survivors of Spanair flight JK 5022, four are listed as being in a “very serious” condition, with another six only slightly better, Spain’s El Pais newspaper reported on Thursday. Eight remain under observation with one only slightly injured, the newspaper said.

Relatives wait in Las Palmas airport, on Gran Canaria (20/08/2008)
The worst is the identification of the bodies. It is the end of all hope
Jesus Lopez Santana
Spanish Red Cross

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is expected to visit the injured in Madrid’s hospitals, while King Juan Carlos will visit Barajas airport.

The king is also likely to visit anxious families waiting for the grim confirmation that their loved-ones are among the dead.

Experts at a temporary mortuary near the airport say work to identify the dead is likely to be slow and painstaking, as many of the bodies were badly burned in Wednesday’s inferno.

“The worst is the identification of the bodies,” Red Cross spokesman Jesus Lopes Santana told the El Mundo newspaper.

“It is the end of all hope and when we see the worst scenes, because the majority of the relatives break down when they hear the news.”

The Spanair flight, bound for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, took off on Wednesday lunchtime with 172 people on board, among them 10 crew.

Initial reports suggested that a fire had broken out in one of the MD82 plane’s engines during or shortly after take-off, and the plane ended up in a field.

Spanish Transport Minister Magdalena Alvarez said the plane had earlier begun taxiing to the runway, before turning back because of a technical problem, which had caused an hour’s delay in the take-off.

Spanish media said the pilot had reported a fault with a temperature gauge, but it was thought to have been fixed.

Speaking on Thursday, Ms Alvarez said a thorough investigation would be carried out, with a full examination of the flight recorders and available pictures, but that it was very early to draw conclusions about the crash.

A special independent commission has been established to probe the cause of the crash, Spanish media reported.

Anger

Spanair has released the official passenger manifest, confirming reports that 20 children and two babies were on board the plane.

Among those who survived were three children, aged six, eight and 11, reports said. At least one of the 19 survivors has yet to be identified.

Map

Overnight a long convoy of black hearses rolled out of the airport grounds to carry bodies to the makeshift mortuary, where the victims’ relatives had gathered, some of whom had traveled from the Canary Islands.

The convention center on the outskirts of the capital was also used as a mortuary after the Madrid train bombings four years ago.

Many of the relatives have expressed anger and disgust at Spanair, blaming it for the accident.

He says the injured include a young brother and sister, who immediately asked rescue workers about their parents.

Spanish ministers said foul play had been ruled out and the crash was considered to be an accident.

The 15-year-old plane had passed a safety inspection in January, said Sergio Allard, a spokesman for Spanair, which is owned by Scandinavian firm SAS.

Spanish media said some German, Swedish, Chilean and Colombian nationals had been among the passengers.

‘All destruction’

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero cut short his holiday in the south of the country to visit the scene of the crash.

Hearses carrying the bodies of victims of the crash (20/08/2008)

A convoy of hearses removed bodies from the scene of the crash

Speaking at the airport, he said that “the government is overwhelmed, very affected, as are all Spanish citizens, by this tragedy”.

Television images on Wednesday showed plumes of smoke rising over the field in which the remains of the plane were resting.

Emergency services chief Ervigio Corral said that rescue workers had been faced with “a desolate scene”.

“You couldn’t distinguish that there was an aircraft there apart from the remains of the tail,” he said. “There was nothing of fuselage.”

Another rescue worker, Pablo Albella, told AP news agency: “The fuselage is destroyed. The plane burned. I have seen a kilometer of charred land and few whole pieces of the fuselage. It is all destruction.”

Messages of sympathy have been sent to Spain by leaders around the world.

The presidents of Russia, France and Italy, Germany’s chancellor and Britain’s queen joined with Latin American leaders in sending their condolences.

It was the deadliest air accident in Spain since a Colombian airline’s Boeing 747 crashed in Madrid in 1983 killing 181 people.

People concerned for relatives or friends who might have been on board the plane can call Spanair’s helpline on +34 800 400 200 (calls possible from inside Spain only).

Map and satellite image of Madrid airport, plus MD82 graphic
MD82 AIRCRAFT

Passengers 150-170
Cruise speed 504mph (811km/h)
Length 45.1m (148ft)
Height 9m (29.5ft)
Wing-span 32.8m (107.6ft)
Maximum range 2,052 nautical miles (3,798km)


Are you in Spain? Have you been affected by the crash? Send us your comments

August 20, 2008

Many dead in Madrid plane crash

Many dead in Madrid plane crash

Medical personnel tend to an injured passenger in Madrid's Barajas airport after a Spanair airliner bound for the Canary Islands swerved off the runway.

At least 45 people have been killed after a passenger plane swerved off the runway at Madrid’s Barajas airport, Spanish officials say.

Many others were hurt when the Spanair plane bound for Gran Canaria left the runway with 166 passengers and six crew members on board.

There were reports of a fire in the left engine during take-off. TV footage showed smoke billowing from the craft.

Helicopters and fire trucks were called out to dump water on to the plane.

Dozens of ambulances went to the scene, and TV footage later showed several people being carried away on stretchers.

BBC journalist Stephanie McGovern, who is at the airport, said several planes had been seen taking off since the crash, which happened at about 1430 local time (1230 GMT).

But she added that the airport was now closed and only emergency crews and staff were being allowed into the building.

“Helicopters are continually heading to the scene, dropping lots of water… The smoke has really died down now, things seem to be more under control,” she said.

map

“I’ve seen around 50 ambulances. They’re still coming and going, so there may still be more casualties.”

Spanish journalist Manuel Moleno, who was near the area when the accident happened, told the BBC the plane had “crashed into pieces”.

“We heard a big crash. So we stopped and we saw a lot of smoke,” he said.

There are conflicting accounts about the number of deaths, with some reports suggesting most of the passengers on the plane may be dead.

Mr Moleno said he had seen as many as 20 people walking away from the wreckage.

The plane, which was destined for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, came down during or shortly after take-off from Terminal Four at Barajas.

TV footage showed that the plane had come to rest in fields near the airport.

Spanair issued a statement saying that flight number JK 5022 had been involved in an accident at 1445 local time. The airline’s parent company, Scandinavian firm SAS, later said the accident happened at 1423.

According to Spain’s airport authority, Aena, the plane had been due to take off at 1300 local time.

No details of the nationalities of the passengers on board has yet been released.

But the plane was a codeshare flight with German airline Lufthansa, which said it was investigating whether German passengers were on the flight.

The aircraft was a MD82, a plane commonly used on short trips around Europe, aviation expert Chris Yates told the BBC.

He said Spanair, a subsidiary of Scandinavian carrier SAS, had a very good safety record. Reports say it was the first crash at Barajas airport, some 13km (8 miles) from central Madrid, since 1983.

People concerned for relatives or friends who may have been on board the plane should call Spanair’s helpline on: +34 800 400 200.


Are you in the area? Did you witness what happened? Send us your comments

August 14, 2008

Europeans angry at Ryanair move

Europeans angry at Ryanair move

Ryanair planes

Ryanair says the move will benefit passengers in the long-term

Spain’s transport ministry has opened an investigation into Ryanair’s move to cancel thousands of bookings made via third party internet travel agents.

Ryanair says the sales, which represent about a thousand bookings a day, are illegal.

But the decision, in the height of the summer travel season, has been criticized by consumer groups.

Italy’s transport minister called it “another deplorable and incomprehensible move”.

Altero Matteoli said the decision not to honor Ryanair tickets booked by third party websites “damages its own clients,” in comments published in Italy’s daily newspaper La Repubblica.

The no-frills airline announced the move not to accept tickets bought anywhere other than on its website or via its telephone booking line last week.

‘Breaching copyright’

The news comes as the budget carrier posted a fall of 85% in net profits in the three months to the end of June.

A Ryanair spokesman said all tickets purchased from third parties after 11 August would be invalid and customers would be informed by email and refunded.

“We’re canceling these tickets because they are in breach of our terms and conditions. The third party is breaching our copyright,” Daniel De Carvalho.

The company said that up to 1,000 of the 200,000 bookings made each day on Ryanair flights were carried out via external websites, which it brands “screenscrapers”.

He said that customers were sometimes being charged a 200% surcharge on top of the value of the flight when not purchasing the ticket directly.

According to La Repubblica, a European Commission spokesperson said that if the company was found to be canceling tickets already sold it would intervene.

Reports suggest that tickets bought via sites such as V-tours, of Germany, Spain-based E-Dreams, Ireland’s Bravofly as well as some European versions of holiday booking website Opodo could be affected.

Italian consumer associations Adusbef and Federconsumatori have said the move “is in violation of the consumer code and passengers’ rights”.

E-Dreams has announced that it will take action against the firm for “irresponsibility and negligence”, Agence France Presse reports.

But Ryanair defended its choice.

“It’s a consumer-friendly decision,” Mr De Carvalho said. “We fight for our mission which is to deliver the lowest fares. We believe this measure, in the mid- to long-term, will benefit our passengers.”

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