News & Current Affairs

October 2, 2008

Britain’s top policeman resigns

Britain’s top policeman resigns

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has announced his resignation, blaming a lack of support from London mayor Boris Johnson.

Sir Ian said that “without the mayor’s backing I do not think I can continue”.

Mr Johnson, who took over as chairman of the police authority on Wednesday, praised his service but said the Met would benefit from “new leadership”.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said deputy commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson will take over as acting head of the Met.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Sir Ian had made a “huge personal contribution to the safety and security of our country”.

He paid tribute to Sir Ian’s leadership at the time of the July 2005 suicide bomb attacks on London’s transport system.

Ms Smith said: “I pay tribute to Sir Ian for the massive reductions in crime that his leadership of the Met has overseen and his continuing efforts to tackle gun, gang and knife crime.”

“His part in leading neighbourhood policing across London has led to Londoners being safer and more confident.”

Mr Johnson, who has repeatedly avoided publicly backing Sir Ian since being elected mayor in May, had called for the commissioner to be directly accountable to City Hall.

Speaking after Sir Ian’s resignation, the mayor said: “There comes a time in any organisation when it becomes clear it would benefit from new leadership and clarity of purpose. I believe that time is now.”

The former London mayor Ken Livingstone said the circumstances of the resignation appeared to be a political decision.

“Whoever now takes the job as Sir Ian’s successor will know that they may be asked to leave at a change of election.”

‘No secrets’

Sir Ian, who became the UK’s top police officer in February 2005, said he would be stepping down on 1 December.

Defending his record, Sir Ian said: “I am resigning not because of any failures of my service and not because the pressures of the office and the many stories that surround it are too much.

The new mayor made clear, in a very pleasant and determined way, that he wished there to be a change of leadership
Sir Ian Blair

“I am resigning in the best interests of the people of London and of the Metropolitan Police Service.”

He said he had wanted to stay on until his contract ran out in February 2010.

“However, at a meeting yesterday the new mayor made clear, in a very pleasant and determined way, that he wished there to be a change of leadership at the Met.”

Sir Ian’s tenure has been dogged by controversy.

MPA auditors are in the process of examining Scotland Yard contracts given to consultancy firm Impact Plus, run by a friend.

Sir Ian has said he had been “open and straightforward in informing both the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] and the MPA about my relationship with someone who was subsequently awarded a contract with the MPS”.

Sir Ian has also faced criticism over the racism row involving the Met’s most senior Asian officer Tarique Ghaffur.

There have been questions too about his handling of events surrounding the 2005 death of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead at Stockwell Underground station in south London after being mistaken for a suicide bomber.

The Met Police were later convicted of a health and safety offence over the incident.

Erionaldo da Silva, speaking on behalf of the de Menezes family, said Sir Ian should have resigned three years ago and the decision to do so now should not deflect attention from Jean Charles’ ongoing inquest.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said Sir Ian had taken the “right decision” in standing down.

“We have been calling for Sir Ian to step down for almost a year – since the serial and systematic failings at the Metropolitan Police [service] disclosed during the de Menezes trial – whilst cabinet ministers from the PM onwards continued to express total confidence in him.

HAVE YOUR SAY

It’s a very difficult job, and I don’t believe that he did badly, but he needs to go

Nic Brough, London

“It is now clear that they have shown a serious lack of judgment about the leadership of the most important police force in Britain.

“It is vital that a successor is appointed who can restore public confidence.”

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said Sir Ian “had become part of the Met’s problem, not its solution”.

“His resignation is long overdue following a string of embarrassments for his force… the Met now needs a tough professional, not a wannabe politician.”

Sir Edward Henry was the last commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to quit in 1918. His departure came after the hugely damaging police strike of that year, the last time officers were allowed to walk out.

September 17, 2008

Hopes ride high on Zimbabwe deal

Hopes ride high on Zimbabwe deal

Woman carries shopping in Harare

Morgan Tsvangirai may have persuaded Robert Mugabe to sign over some of his executive powers but Zimbabwe’s prime minister-designate now has a very short honeymoon period to prove himself.

The BBC is still operating under restrictions in Zimbabwe, but what reactions we have been able to gather show that large numbers of people believe Mr Tsvangarai can deliver and start the process of re-building a shattered economy.

It stands in stark contrast to the more sceptical assessment of many in the diplomatic community.

We want to see people no longer afraid to walk down the street with an MDC T-shirt – no longer afraid to look a policeman in the eye
James McGee
US ambassador to Zimbabwe

They want this deal to work, but the “vintage Mugabe” who blamed his country’s ills on former colonial powers during his post-deal speech, suggests a man locked in the past and unwilling to face up to the future.

As one diplomat said, the challenge will be to “turn what could be a trap for Morgan into an ambush for Mugabe” – a sentiment revealing deep concerns about just how committed the man who has run Zimbabwe for nearly three decades is to power-sharing.

‘We have to believe’

In a squatter camp on the edge of Harare, a man in his 20s who lost his job as a gardener when the money to pay him ran out, said they had no other choice but to have faith in this new beginning.

Hospital in Harare

Zimbabwe’s hospitals are suffering because of the economic crisis

He is pinning his hopes on the new unity government delivering food, and a stable economic environment which would improve his chances of getting a job and restoring his dignity.

And young professionals, who spoke in secret locations away from the prying eyes of intelligence operatives, said they believed Mr Tsvangirai had the capacity to hold his ground against his former political foe.

Articulate and measured, young men from Zimbabwe’s Christian Student Association said Zimbabweans need the watchful eyes of the international community to monitor events in the coming months.

One implored potential donors to “believe in a deal which we have to believe in” if there is to be any hope of rehabilitating this once prosperous nation.

Culture of intimidation

We’ve only gleaned a partial picture.

With the security situation still precarious, it has been hard to gauge reaction in rural areas where Mr Mugabe has drawn much of his support.

MDC supporters in Harare

MDC supporters believe their leader can deliver a stable economy

But there are without doubt people who are smarting. People who were in the pay of the party, whose lifestyle of political patronage is now under threat.

Intelligence and security chiefs were absent from Monday’s historic signing in ceremony.

Whether their boycott signals plans to undermine the deal is impossible to know at this early stage, but diplomats are monitoring the environment carefully.

Tangible signs that the culture of intimidation is being reversed will be one of the benchmarks they will use to determine if, and when, to deliver billions of dollars of life-saving aid.

As James McGee, the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, put it: “When we talk about respect for human rights we want to see people no longer afraid to walk down the street with an MDC T-shirt – no longer afraid to look a policeman in the eye… those are the little things that show there has been a change in attitude.”

Expectations high

Driving around the streets of Harare gives the impression of a benign capital, a place where the streets are paved and the buildings stand tall. But it is a facade.

Inside the hospitals there are shortages of medicine – many people have died from cholera recently, deprived of drugs.

Zimbabwe's capital Harare

Behind the facade of modern Harare there are acute shortages

And the banks are stuffed with worthless cash. It is not unusual to see plastic bags stuffed with notes that have no value, discarded on the street.

Expectations that this deal will begin to reverse some of this economic chaos are riding high.

Mr Tsvangirai’s first test will be his ability to secure key cabinet posts.

In particular in the finance portfolio, giving the MDC greater leverage over the economy, allowing the government to shape policies that restore property rights and market mechanisms back to Zimbabwe.

The next test will be getting food out to the desperate people who need it and clearing the red tape that prevents humanitarian agencies from distributing aid.

Food has been used by Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party as a political cattle-prod – they’ve ensured it reaches friends, but withheld it from foes.

If the new prime minister can make real headway in distributing food to a country facing the threat of starvation, then he could reap a huge moral dividend which the international community may be willing to reward.

Like the power sharing deal in Kenya, this is a huge political experiment dependent on the personalities of the key players and the political will to change.

There is the potential for the whole thing to combust, a scenario which would see the end of Morgan Tsvangirai’s political career.

But optimists believe that Zimbabwe’s landmark pact, will be the catalyst that breathes new life into a broken country.

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

Egypt voices: Sexual harassment

Egypt voices: Sexual harassment

Seven Egyptian women talk about their experience of sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo. It is an increasingly common problem, with a recent survey suggesting more than four out of five women have been sexually harassed, while nearly two-thirds of men admitted assaulting women.

Noha Wagih

Noha Wagih
TV announcer

“I usually don’t answer back, but this time I did”

Posy Abdou

Posy Abdou
Shop worker

“I get harassed 100 times a day “

Nora Khaled

Nora Khaled
School pupil

“I was so scared and embarrassed, I cried”

Nancy Fakhr

Nancy Fakhr
Engineer

“When colleagues asked what was wrong, I lied”

Zeinab Boulaki

Zeinab Boulaki
Auditor

“My mother says I shouldn’t answer back but I think this is wrong”

Hoda Gallal
Housewife

“People gathered around but were not sympathetic”

NOHA WAGIH

Noha Wagih

Once I was out driving with my brother when he stopped at a supermarket and I waited for him outside. Two guys got out of a car and walked towards me in an intimidating way. They started commenting on the way I look and the way I’m dressed.

I usually don’t answer back, but this time I said: ‘I’m not here to get picked up, you know.’ This was too much for one of them who started shouting that I was crazy. I replied that even if I were a prostitute, I wouldn’t give him a second glance.

This made him mad. He came right up to me, shouting that he was a policeman and he would ‘show me’. In no time three more cars pulled up, and a group of men got out and started yelling at me and my brother.

I wrote down the number of the first car saying I was going to report him. He got so angry I thought he was going to beat me, so I slapped his face and started shouting ‘Rape!’ They all ran away, and I was left alone with my brother shaking with fear.

After this experience I want to make a program for TV about sexual harassment.

POSY ABDOU

Posy Abdou

I get harassed 100 times a day. I tried everything to stop it but it doesn’t stop. I wear loose clothes, I don’t wear make up, I spend more than an hour in front of the mirror everyday thinking of ways to hide my body.

I walk home everyday. It only takes me 15 minutes, I cross the bridge. It is usually very loud and busy, but that does not stop men from approaching girls, any girl, good looking or bad looking, covered or not.

I remember so many scary harassment’s. There was this guy who followed me and suddenly grabbed my bottom in front of everyone. I screamed but he ran away and no one interfered.

Once I was shopping with my father and aunt, and this guy kept staring at me and blowing me kisses. My dad shouted at him and started hitting him. I think men are doing this because they are jobless and have no manners.

NORA KHALED

Nora Khaled

I get harassed everyday, during the five minutes I walk from my house to the main street to take the school bus.Also in the seconds I cross the street when I finish my swimming class at the sports club.

I was waiting for the school bus once when a microbus driver followed me and kept calling me very bad names.

I was so scared and embarrassed, I cried.

NANCY FAKHR

Nancy Fakhr

I don’t walk a lot in the streets, because I have a car. But I get harassed by guys driving close to me, they try to grab my attention, it could lead to accidents.

The worst harassment I remember was last winter. I didn’t have my car and I was sleeping over at my sister’s house. I got up at 0700 to catch the bus and go to work. A guy followed me and kept calling me very bad names. I was horrified and I started walking fast, even running.

When he got very close to me, I was scared he would touch me, so I picked a stone from the floor and threw it at him and ran as fast as I could until I got to the main street and took the bus.

I was shaking and trembling. When I arrived at work, I collapsed and cried for a long time. When my colleagues asked me what is wrong, I lied and said I have family problems.

ZEINAB BOULAKI

Zeinab Boulaki

I get harassed whenever I walk down the street; even during the seconds I cross the street to take my car.Yesterday, when I was parking the car in front of my house, a guy grabbed my bottom, I shouted at him, and insulted him. At least I did something about it.

My mother says I shouldn’t answer back, but I think this is wrong. This way they will think they can harass anyone and get away with it. I know that shouting at someone who harasses me verbally or physically is not enough but at least it makes me feel better than doing nothing.

HODA GALLAL

I get harassed every day, although I am always carrying my baby. I thought being a mother would make me immune to harassment, but it made it even worse.

Once I was waiting for the bus with my child and a car stopped, the guy waved his hand at me with a 20 pound note. It was unbelievable. Another time I was walking home and this guy unzipped his trousers in a car next to me.

I screamed, but he shouted back very aggressively, saying ‘Who do you think you are? Why would I even look at you?’ People in the street gathered around us and to my surprise they were not sympathetic with me. They supported him. They all defended the guy because they do the same thing.

Once I was walking with a friend and this guy suddenly grabbed her from behind. We shouted for help and he ran away. A car stopped, they asked us what had happened, had we been mugged? When we told them that we’d been sexually harassed, they drove away. Isn’t this worse than robbery?

REEM IBRAHIM

I get harassed a lot. I can’t count the number of times, especially on public transport.

There was this guy who kept following me from one bus to another. If I stood up he stood by my side and if I sat down he sat beside me. Finally I shouted at him and insulted him, he left the minibus.

I stopped wearing skirts, and stopped doing my hair at the hairdresser’s, I also stopped wearing make up, even my fiance asks me why aren’t you taking care of your looks as you used to do.

But what can I do, I try to stop it but nothing works. I used to always have a smile on my face while walking down the streets, now I am always frowning, always provoked, always feeling the threat of someone approaching me physically or verbally.

At a bus or a microbus, I always feel there is a hand trying to touch me. It happened so many times, that I keep looking at the seat behind me as if I am crazy.

September 1, 2008

Kremlin critic shot in Ingushetia

Kremlin critic shot in Ingushetia

Magomed Yevloyev (photo from Russian news website lenta.ru)

Yevloyev’s website is said to be one of the most visited for Ingush news

The owner of an internet site critical of the Russian authorities in the volatile region of Ingushetia has been shot dead in police custody.

Magomed Yevloyev, owner of the ingushetiya.ru site, was a vocal critic of the region’s administration.

The Russian prosecutor’s office said an investigation into the death had been launched, Russia media report.

A post on Yevloyev’s site says he was detained by police after landing at the airport of the main town, Nazran.

The website owner was taken to hospital but died from his injuries.

Reports quoting local police said Yevloyev had tried to seize a policeman’s gun when he was being led to a vehicle. A shot was fired and Yevloyev was injured in the head.

Fierce critic

Yevloyev was a thorn in the side of Ingush President Murat Zyazikov, a former KGB general.

Ingushetia map

His website reported on alleged Russian security force brutality in Ingushetia, an impoverished province of some half a million people, mostly Muslims, which is now more turbulent than neighboring Chechnya.

President Zyazikov had been on the same flight as Yevloyev.

Ingushetia borders Chechnya and has suffered from overflowing unrest.

There is a low-level insurgency, with regular small-scale ambushes against police and soldiers.

In June 2008, the Human Rights Watch group accused Russian security forces there of carrying out widespread human rights abuses.

HRW said it had documented dozens of arbitrary detentions, disappearances, acts of torture and extra-judicial executions.

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