News & Current Affairs

June 24, 2009

Somalia MPs flee assassinations

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:01 pm

Somalia MPs flee assassinations

Hardline Islamic fighters in Mogadishu on 23 June 2009

Hardline Islamists have been battling pro-government forces since 7 May

Scores of Somali politicians have fled the war-torn Horn of Africa nation in the last month amid escalating clashes.

As few as 280 MPs remain, with 250 needed to make a quorum in the 550-seat assembly, based in the capital.

One MP quit on Wednesday warning the chamber was doomed and 20 others have gone to Kenya in the last week after several high-profile assassinations.

Meanwhile, casualties of recent unrest have had to be flown to Kenya because hospitals in Mogadishu cannot cope.

About 56 patients, mainly government forces, wounded in fighting over the last week have been flown to Nairobi for treatment.

Since 7 May, an alliance of militant Islamist hardliners, which controls parts of the capital and much of southern Somalia, has been locked in ferocious battles with pro-government forces in Mogadishu.

New radio station
It also emerged on Wednesday that the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, Amisom, is to set up a radio station in Mogadishu.

map

The station will support embattled President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s fragile transitional government.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists and many reporters faced with death threats have either fled or will not risk working in the country.

Since the latest bout of fighting began last month, 130 lawmakers, including several ministers, have fled to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
About 20 legislators have made their way there in the last week alone, during which time a fellow MP was gunned down, a security minister was killed in a suicide blast, and Mogadishu’s police chief was died in battle.

On Wednesday, Abdullah Haji Ali, an MP for Somaliland, resigned, predicting the parliament was doomed to fail amid the deteriorating security situation and that nine of his colleagues were also ready to go.

Dozens of other Somali MPs are abroad – some in neighbouring Djibouti and others in Europe and the US – with only about 50 on official visits, according to Reuters news agency.

Refugee crisis

The BBC Somali Service says one cannot rule out the possibility of the parliament losing so many MPs it will lack a quorum – threatening the UN-backed government’s ability to function formally.

People rush a wounded civilian to hospital in Mogadishu, on 20 June 2009

Civilians have borne the brunt of the recent violence and many are fleeing

But analysts reckon the president’s position will probably remain safe, as long as the African Union’s 4,300 troops stay in Mogadishu.

At the weekend, Somalia’s interim government urged neighbouring countries to send troops to help.

The Kenyan government says it has not yet decided whether to intervene.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has said if Mogadishu falls to the radical Islamists, the consequences would be very grave.

Kenya has a 1,200-km (745-mile) border with Somalia and every day hundreds of refugees try to cross into Kenya.

BBC world affairs correspondent Adam Mynott says Kenya already has more than 300,000 displaced people in camps close to the border.

Ethiopia, another neighbour, which pulled its troops out of Somalia in January after two years, has said it will not intervene again unless it has a “firm international mandate”.

President Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, took office in January but even his introduction of Sharia law to the strongly Muslim country has not appeased the guerrillas.

Somalia has been without an effective government since 1991.

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September 14, 2008

Scores die in Russian plane crash

Scores die in Russian plane crash

A Russian airliner that crashed near a city in the Urals, killing all 88 people on board, caught fire and exploded in mid-air, reports say.

The Boeing-737-500, belonging to a branch of the national airline Aeroflot, was on a flight from Moscow to Perm, near the Ural mountains.

Twenty-one foreign passengers were on board the Aeroflot Nord flight.

Radio contact with the plane was lost as it was landing. One witness said it looked like a comet as it came down.

“It looked like a… burning comet. It hit the ground opposite the next house, there was a blaze, like fireworks, it lit the whole sky, the blaze,” the witness told Russian TV.

A still from Russian TV shows flames at the crash site early on 14 September

One witness said the blaze lit up the whole sky

The Boeing-737 had 82 passengers on board, including seven children, and six crew, Aeroflot said.

Those killed include Gen Gennady Troshev, a former commander of Russian forces in Chechnya and military adviser to former Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A spokesman for Russian federal prosecutors, Vladimir Markin, said a criminal inquiry had been launched to examine whether safety procedures had been violated.

Earlier, Mr Markin said the most likely cause of the crash was technical failure but Aeroflot says the plane had “a full technical inspection” early this year and was judged to be in a “proper condition”.

Aeroflot conducted its own investigation into the causes of the crash and, without giving details, announced it was stripping Aeroflot Nord of the right to use its name from Monday onwards.

‘Completely destroyed’

Contact with the plane was lost at 0521 Perm time on Sunday (2321 GMT Saturday) as the plane was coming in for landing at a height of 1,100 metres, Aeroflot said.

map

The minister for security in the region said the plane had caught fire in the air at an altitude of 1,000 meters.

It crashed on the outskirts of Perm, just a few hundred meters from residential buildings, but no one was hurt on the ground.

Part of the Trans-Siberian railway was shut down as a result of damage to the main east-west train track and the blaze took two hours to extinguish.

The 21 foreigners killed were listed as nine people from Azerbaijan, five from Ukraine and one person each from France, Switzerland, Latvia, the United States, Germany, Turkey and Italy, Aeroflot said.

Investigators have recovered two black box recorders from the crash site. There was no immediate suggestion of an attack or sabotage.

Aeroflot’s managing director, Valery Okulov, told reporters in Moscow that his company had already conducted its own, private investigation into the crash and decided to sever ties with Aeroflot Nord.

“We have paid too high a price for lending out our flag,” he added.

Scorched earth

Correspondents say the tragedy will be a setback for Russian aviation, which has been trying to shake off a chequered safety record.

A woman in Perm told Vesti-24 TV how she was thrown out of bed by the force of the blast when the plane crashed.

She said: “My daughter ran in from the next room crying: ‘What happened? Has a war begun or what?’

“My neighbors, other witnesses, told me that it was burning in the air.”

Sunday’s accident was the deadliest involving a Russian airliner since 170 people died in August 2006 when a Tupolev-154 bound for St Petersburg crashed in Ukraine.

September 6, 2008

Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:35 am

Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

Bajm

Bajm were popular across Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain fell

Eight of Poland’s top pop and rock acts perform in front of a 10,000-strong crowd at Wembley Arena on Sunday. Billed as the biggest ever Polish music event on foreign soil, what does it mean for Britain’s Polish community?

Crowds of adoring fans will pack Wembley Arena on Sunday to see their favorite superstars perform to a full house.

But it will not be Madonna, Oasis or Jay-Z entertaining more than 10,000 people.

Bajm and Lady Pank may be largely unheard of in the UK but are household names in Poland, where four million viewers are expected to watch the London Live show’s highlights on state channel TVP2.

Tabloid hellraiser

Described as Poland’s answer to Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chili Peppers, their albums have sold three million copies.

Alongside Bracia’s modern grungy-rock and Natalia Kukulska’s soulfull R’n’B, the show even has its own tabloid hellraiser in Doda, who has posed for Playboy and courted controversy by spitting on stage.

Stanislaw Trzcinski, president of promoter STX Records, said: “This is like the O2 Festival, except for Polish music.”

Natalia Kukulka. Photo Wojciech Wojtczak
Performing at Wembley is a great honor
Natalia Kukulska

Guests on stage include Jan Tomaszewski, the goalkeeper whose heroics at the old Wembley Stadium in 1973 helped secure a 1-1 draw to send Poland to its first World Cup at England’s expense.Mr Trzcinski said: “The name Wembley brings back happy memories for Polish people and it remains a special place, so it was the perfect location.”

Kukulska, 32, has performed with tenor Jose Carreras and duetted with British R’n’B star Lemar at the Sopot festival in Poland in 2005.

She said: “Performing at Wembley is a great honor. I hope I will draw energy from the people who have played there in the past.”

After picking up influences of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston during a year in the US, she blended them with her own style to sell 2.5 million records at home.

Free tickets

“I’m very excited because this is the first time a lot of artists from Poland are performing abroad together,” she added.

Costing almost £1m to stage, the event has been advertised on 30 London buses and is being beamed back to Poland in high definition, thanks to a 100-strong production crew. Tickets were free to those who registered.

More than one million people voted in an internet talent competition giving bands the chance to perform on a second stage outside the arena, where they will be joined by top acts from the UK and Ireland’s Polish communities.

The show’s arrival reflects the remarkable influx of Poles into Britain.

After the Second World War, the Polish Resettlement Act allowed around 200,000 people to remain in the UK. They were mainly Polish troops, who had fought alongside the British, and their dependents.

By 2001, the census recorded just 60,680 Polish-born people living in Britain.

But since Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004, those numbers have swollen to the 405,000 estimated by the government last year, although the numbers arriving has dropped in recent months.

Appetite for rock

At least 100,000 settled in London, with many basing themselves around established Polish communities in western districts like Hammersmith.

There, the Posk cultural centre boasts the largest library of Polish books outside Poland, a gallery, restaurant and 350-seat theatre.

Supermarkets across Britain have started stocking Polish goods and delicatessens have sprung up in many towns.

THE PERFORMERS
Doda
Bajm: Six-piece rock outfit, formed in 1978, their 13 albums all went gold or platinum
Wilki: Hard-rock band, named “Wolves”, have performed in New York and London
Doda (pictured): Daughter of an Olympic weightlifter, gave up athletics to be a pop tearaway
Natalia Kukulska: Began singing aged seven and sold 1.5 million records as a child star
Kayah: Was a backing singer before her solo career in soul, jazz and R’n’B took off
Bracia: Their grunge-rock style made this band – “The Brothers” – favourites with younger fans
Monika Brodka: Her soulful voice was inspired by her idols Erikah Badu and Lauren Hill
Lady Pank: These punk survivors formed in 1982, playing 400 gigs to promote their debut album

But Piotr Grzeskiewicz, station director at Hammersmith-based Polskie Radio Londyn, said there had been little to feed young migrants’ appetite for rock and pop.

“Hundreds of thousands of Polish people in Britain have limited access to modern Polish culture and this is their best opportunity in many years to see some really big Polish bands,” he said.

Organizers hope many Britons will be at Wembley.

However, Mr Grzeskiewicz said: “The language barrier is huge. Only a few of these bands have played abroad and usually only for Polish fans.”

Warsaw-based bank PKO BP financed the event to promote its central London branch, which opened last December to cater both for migrants and British businesses investing in Poland.

Branch manager Katarzyna Cal said the move demonstrated the growing confidence in Poland’s economy and the number of investors keen to do business in the country.

Meanwhile, Dr Jan Mokrzycki, chairman of the UK’s Federation of Poles, admits he prefers the classical works of Chopin to today’s rock.

Vibrant

But the 75-year-old said the event would help build understanding between the established and newly-arrived Polish communities.

Initial tensions between the groups are diminishing, said the dental surgeon whose mother – a former Nazi concentration camp detainee – brought him to Britain in 1948 to escape communism.

“A combination of their youth, enthusiasm and education and our knowledge of the laws and customs of Britain is helping integration,” said Dr Mokrzycki.

“Cultural events of the old community have been traditional, forged from our experiences of pre-war Poland, so involve mostly classical or folk music.

“The new culture is vibrant with jazz and pop and it’s important younger people have access to that.”

September 4, 2008

Thai PM plans crisis referendum

Thai PM plans crisis referendum

Anti-government protesters react as they watch a TV report about Mr Samak's address

Protesters listened to Mr Samak’s address, hoping he would resign

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has announced plans to hold a national referendum in an effort to defuse the ongoing political crisis.

An exact date has not been decided, but a referendum can be held 30 days after being approved by the Senate.

In an earlier radio address, Mr Samak said he would not resign or bow to the demands of protesters who have been occupying his offices since last week.

A state of emergency has been in place in Bangkok since Tuesday.

The anti-government protesters – from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) – say Mr Samak is merely a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and is now in exile.

‘Threat of anarchy’

“I am not resigning, I will not dissolve parliament. I have to protect the democracy of this country,” Mr Samak said in his radio address on Thursday morning.

He said he was a defender of democracy against a movement that threatened to bring “anarchy” to Thailand.

“The PAD is an illegal group who have seized the Government House and declared their victory. How can that be correct?” he said.

After his address, Mr Samak summoned his cabinet for an emergency meeting, and they agreed to hold a referendum to try to resolve the crisis.

BANGKOK PROTESTS
26 Aug: Protesters occupy government buildings, demand the government step down
27 Aug: Authorities issue arrest warrants for nine protest leaders
28 Aug: PM Samak promises no use of force against the protesters
29 Aug: Police try to evict protesters but pull back; crowds blockade two regional airports
30 Aug: PM Samak rules out resignation, following a meeting with Thailand’s king
31 Aug: Parliament meets for a special session on the protests
1 Sep: A late-night clash between pro- and anti-government groups leaves one person dead
2 Sep: PM Samak declares a state of emergency
3 Sept: Thai FM Tej Bunnag resigns

A government spokesman said the referendum could take place by early October if the Senate quickly endorsed a bill to organize the vote.

Culture Minister Somsak Kietsuranond said the referendum would ask a range of questions including whether the government should resign, whether it should dissolve parliament and what people think about the ongoing protests.

After hearing Mr Samak’s radio broadcast, one of the PAD’s leaders, Sondhi Limthongkul, told the French news agency AFP: “His speech only increased my confidence that what we are doing is not wrong. We will not go anywhere as long as he stays.”

The PAD has a passionate following in various parts of the country, especially Bangkok, and some powerful backers among the elite.

But it has little support in most of rural Thailand, which voted strongly for Mr Samak, and Mr Thaksin before him. Thai society remains deeply divided over the issue.

As the standoff has developed, some unions have begun supporting the protesters. However, a strike called by an umbrella group of 43 unions on Wednesday appeared to have failed – one piece of good news for the government.

But the prime minister’s attempt to contain the PAD protests with a state of emergency seem to have fallen flat.

The army has refused to exercise the extra powers he gave them, arguing that the conflict is a political one that cannot be solved by military intervention.


Are you in Thailand? Do you believe a referendum will diffuse the political crisis? Send us your comments

August 23, 2008

Montana meth ads winning drug battle

Montana meth ads winning drug battle

They call Montana “Big Sky Country” or “The Last Best Place” – and it is easy to see why with its wide open spaces, majestic mountains and meandering rivers.

But there is a far less wholesome side to this wilderness, a problem more associated with grim urban despair – drugs.

And one drug in particular – Methamphetamine.

Also known as crystal meth, the stimulant is more addictive than heroin or crack cocaine.

It is also relatively easy to get hold of the basic ingredients, including drain cleaner and cold medicines, although more dangerous to mix them.

The day that meth walked into our house was the day our life took a spiral
Gerri Gardiner

That said, Montana’s wide open spaces have provided the perfect cover for makeshift meth labs, which are used to make the deadly cocktail.

Until recently, the north-western state was ranked among the top five in the US with the worst meth problem.

Fifty percent of the children in foster care in Montana were there because of meth, while 50% of the prison population was there because of meth-related crime.

‘Life-destroying’

It was a drug destroying lives, like that of Gerri Gardiner, whose daughter Angela starting using meth in school as many of those who eventually get hooked do.

METHAMPHETAMINE
Methamphetamine crystals (US Drug Enforcement Administration)
Sold as powder, tablets or crystals
Can be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed
Can alter personality, increase blood pressure and damage brain

Addicts talk of the initial highs, the burst of energy, the loss of weight. But for Angela it ended with depression and despair and her eventual suicide.

About a year later, Gerri’s grieving father took his own life too.

“The day that meth walked into our house was the day our life took a spiral,” she says.

We also met Katrina, who started taking meth when she was 11 years old – and carried on until she was 20. She got the habit from her mother.

“I did it all the time… I liked everything about it,” she says. “I didn’t have time for my boyfriend or my daughter.”

Now she says: “I think it’s retarded – I wish I had never done it.”

‘Un-selling meth’

Katrina managed with help to break the hold of the drugs. Many others have failed.

Tom Siebel

Tom Siebal said it was easy to “un-sell” meth as it is “pure evil”

But fortunately for Montana, there was a rich part-time rancher in their midst. The good, among the bad and the ugly.

Tom Siebel made his millions in the computer software industry and he approached the scourge of meth as if it were any other business.

“We took an unusual approach,” he said when we went to meet him at his holiday home.

“We viewed it as a consumer product, researched it as a consumer product and marketed it… or un-marketed it as a consumer product.”

Mr Siebel says the task of “un-selling” meth was particularly easy because it is so nasty – “pure evil” in his words.

He then used his money to set up the Montana Meth Project.

Shock tactics

The project came up with a “shock campaign” – a series of hard hitting adverts and posters that graphically portrayed the costs of taking meth.

If you live in Montana, the chances are that you have almost certainly seen or heard the ads… ending with the slogan: ‘Meth – not even once.’

He brought in Hollywood directors to produce the ads, which were shown on prime-time television.

They illustrate all too well the breakdown in family relationships caused by meth, and the physical decay for those who use it – the dramatic weight loss and the scabs on the skin.

If you live in Montana, the chances are that you have almost certainly seen or heard the ads on television or radio, ending with the slogan: “Meth – not even once.”

Two years on, the posters are still on prime billboard spots around the state.

The campaign has been a remarkable success.

In just two years, meth abuse in Montana has nearly halved.

Teenage meth use is down by 45% and adult use down by 75%. The state that once had the 5th biggest meth problem in the US is now ranked 39th.

More than that, about a dozen other states are now in the process of following Montana’s lead.

Montana still has a problem – but one that it is now rooting out and something that will no longer overshadow its image as “The Last Best Place”.

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