News & Current Affairs

June 21, 2009

Stonehenge crowds cause gridlock

Filed under: Latest, Reviews, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:17 am

Stonehenge crowds cause gridlock

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

A huge crowd gathered to witness the dawn of the longest day

Thousands of people have flocked to Stonehenge in Wiltshire to celebrate the Summer Solstice, causing roads in the area to become gridlocked.

English Heritage, which manages the ancient monument, said the car parks were full hours before sunrise.

Crowds who made it through the traffic saw Druid ceremonies at the stones as the sun rose on the longest day.

Earlier, Wiltshire Police said they expected numbers for the event to exceed last year’s figure of 30,000.

The event to mark the dawn of the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere has grown in popularity since a four-mile exclusion zone around the site was lifted nine years ago.

Police for the most part are wishing people a happy Solstice and so are the security guards
Druid King Arthur Pendragon

Police drafted in extra officers and warned warmer weather and the fact that the event falls on a weekend would increase numbers further.

They also said there would be a zero tolerance approach to drugs and drunkenness, with an alcohol limit of four cans of beer or a bottle of wine per person imposed by English Heritage.

Druid King Arthur Pendragon told the news shortly before sunrise: “It’s a very nice atmosphere and everything’s fine at the moment.

“There have been more police present this year, more security, but everything’s passed off very jovially and everyone’s in a good mood.

“And the police for the most part are wishing people a happy Solstice and so are the security guards.”

English Heritage issued an advisory note to visitors which warned: “The police will be on site during the access period and will take immediate action against anyone flouting the law.

“Summer Solstice is not a good time to experiment with drugs – the crowd, the noise and the sheer size of the place are likely to make any bad reaction much, much worse.”

Meanwhile, a limit of 200 tents was set at a field near the Avebury Ring after residents complained about the number of visitors to that site in 2008.


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September 12, 2008

No victory in Iraq, says Petraeus

No victory in Iraq, says Petraeus

The outgoing commander of US troops in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, has said that he will never declare victory there.

In a BBC interview, Gen Petraeus said that recent security gains were “not irreversible” and that the US still faced a “long struggle”.

When asked if US troops could withdraw from Iraqi cities by the middle of next year, he said that would be “doable”.

In his next job leading the US Central Command, Gen Petraeus will also oversee operations in Afghanistan.

This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade… it’s not war with a simple slogan
Gen David Petraeus

He said “the trends in Afghanistan have not gone in the right direction… and that has to be addressed”.

Afghanistan remained a “hugely important endeavor”, he said.

Earlier this week, President George W Bush announced a cut of 8,000 US troops in Iraq by February – with some 4,500 being sent to Afghanistan.

‘Hard but hopeful’

Gen Petraeus took up his role in Iraq in February 2007, as President Bush announced his “surge” plan.

He has overseen its implementation, including the deployment of nearly 30,000 additional troops to trouble spots in Iraq.

In an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight programme, Gen Petraeus said that when he took charge in Iraq “the violence was horrific and the fabric of society was being torn apart”.

A handing over ceremony by US troops to the Iraqi military at a base in Baghdad (09/09/08)

Gen Petraeus said the Iraqis were standing up as US forces stood down

Leaving his post, he said there were “many storm clouds on the horizon which could develop into real problems”.Overall he summed up the situation as “still hard but hopeful”, saying that progress in Iraq was “a bit more durable” but that the situation there remained fragile.

He said he did not know that he would ever use the word “victory”: “This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade… it’s not war with a simple slogan.”

He said al-Qaeda’s efforts to portray its jihad in Iraq as going well were “disingenuous”. It was, in fact “going poorly”, he said.

Of his strategy of establishing joint security stations in key locations, Gen Petraeus said that “you can’t secure the people if you don’t live with them”.

He said it was now fair to say that the Iraqis were standing up as US forces stood down. The confidence and capability of Iraqi forces had increased substantially, he said.

Gen Petraeus did not confirm reports in the media that the US was preparing to withdraw all troops from Baghdad by next summer, but he did say that consideration was being given to removing US forces from a number of cities, including the capital.

September 7, 2008

Canadian PM calls snap election

Canadian PM calls snap election

Stephen Harper - file photo

Mr Harper’s minority government has needed opposition support to pass bills

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called an early election for 14 October in a bid to strengthen his minority Conservative government.

He met Governor General Michaelle Jean – the representative of Canada’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II – to request the dissolution of parliament.

The latest polls indicate the Conservatives are ahead of the opposition Liberals.

The PM, elected in 2006, has complained that parliament is deadlocked.

The vote will be Canada’s third national election in four years.

Economic issues

Mr Harper’s government has needed the support of the main opposition parties, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois, to pass legislation and adopt budgets.

The election call had been widely expected, with Mr Harper complaining in recent weeks that parliament was “dysfunctional”.

Between now and October 14, Canadians will choose a government to look out for their interests at a time of global economic trouble
Stephen Harper

Holding the election this year breaks Mr Harper’s own fixed-date election law, something he had said was necessary to prevent prime ministers calling elections when polls indicated they were in a favorable position.

Mr Harper has made it clear he is running on economic issues and criticized the Liberals’ plan to tax greenhouse gas polluters while cutting other taxes.

“Between now and October 14, Canadians will choose a government to look out for their interests at a time of global economic trouble,” Mr Harper said in a statement.

“They will choose between direction or uncertainty; between common sense or risky experiments; between steadiness or recklessness.”

The opposition leaders are expected to make their own addresses later on Sunday.

Favourable polls

Mr Harper led the Conservatives to victory in the 2006 election, ending 12 years of Liberal government.

The party heads into the election with 127 of parliament’s 308 seats. The Liberals have 95, the Bloc Quebecois has 48 and the New Democratic Party (NDP) 30.

There are three Independent MPs, the Green Party has one seat and four are vacant.

Stephane Dion - file photo

Opposition Liberal leader Stephane Dion proposes taxing polluters

An opinion poll held last week suggested support for the Conservatives had grown over the summer.

The Environics survey suggested that 38% of Canadians would vote for the Conservatives; 28% for the Liberals; 19% for the NDP, eight for the Bloc Quebecois and seven for the Greens.

The figures put the Conservatives within striking distance of a majority government, Donna Dasko, senior vice-president of Environics Research Group, told CBC News.

The leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, Gilles Duceppe, said his party was best positioned to stop the Conservatives gaining a majority.

The same Environics poll indicated increased support for the Conservatives in Quebec, where separatist ardour has faded in recent years.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion is staking his command of the party on his “Green Shift” plan, which would tax polluters but reduce other taxes.

If his party does not do well on 14 October, his leadership will likely come under scrutiny at a party convention in December.

Mr Dion has described Mr Harper as Canada’s most right-wing prime minister in history.

Mr Harper supported the Iraq war while in opposition and withdrew Canada from the Kyoto Protocol that aims to cut greenhouse gases. He has also increased Canada’s troop commitment to Afghanistan.

August 16, 2008

Potter film release date delayed

Potter film release date delayed

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson in Harry Potter

Order of the Phoenix was the top-grossing UK film in 2007

The release date for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has been pushed back by eight months, to July 2009.

The sixth installment of the teenage wizard’s adventures was supposed to have its Royal premiere on 17 November.

Alan Horn, president of studio Warner Bros, said the decision was taken to guarantee the studio a major summer blockbuster in 2009.

He also blamed the Hollywood writers’ strike, which hit the film industry hard earlier this year.

Mr Horn said the strike, which ended in February, had “impacted the readiness of scripts for other films.”

Fantasy books

He said: “The picture is completely, absolutely, 100% on schedule, on time. There were no delays.

“I’ve seen the movie. It is fabulous. We would have been perfectly able to have it out in November.”

The move will mean a two-year delay between the film adaptations of books five and six in JK Rowling’s fantasy series.

But it will shorten fans’ wait between Half-Blood Prince and the final two installments of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which are being shot simultaneously next year.

It is thought actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson – who is celebrating getting straight As in her A Levels in English literature, geography and art – will reprise their roles.

The release date for part one is tentatively set for November 2010.

Royal performance

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince had been chosen for this year’s Royal Film Performance, on 17 November.

Last year’s performance was canceled amid controversy about the chosen movie, Brick Lane.

It was the first time the annual gala – held in aid of the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund (CTBF) – had been scrapped since 1958.

CTBF chief executive Peter Hore told the News he was “very disappointed” with the decision to shelve the Potter premiere.

But he was hopeful a Royal premiere would still go ahead this year.

He said: “The Royal Film Performance has been around for a long time and has a tradition of showcasing the best films. We are confident we will be able to do that again this year.”

Mr Hore added that he expected to make an announcement shortly.

August 6, 2008

Arctic Map shows dispute hotspots

Arctic Map shows dispute hotspots

VIEW THE MAP
Durham University)
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British scientists say they have drawn up the first detailed map to show areas in the Arctic that could become embroiled in future border disputes.

A team from Durham University compiled the outline of potential hotspots by basing the design on historical and ongoing arguments over ownership.

Russian scientists caused outrage last year when they planted their national flag on the seabed at the North Pole.

The UK researchers hope the map will inform politicians and policy makers.

“Its primary purpose is to inform discussions and debates because, frankly, there has been a lot of rubbish about who can claim (sovereignty) over what,” explained Martin Pratt, director of the university’s International Boundaries Research Unit (IBRU).

“To be honest, most of the other maps that I have seen in the media have been very simple,” he added.

“We have attempted to show all known claims; agreed boundaries and one thing that has not appeared on any other maps, which is the number of areas that could be claimed by Canada, Denmark and the US.”

Energy security is driving interest, as is the fact that Arctic ice is melting more and more during the summer
Martin Pratt,
Durham University

The team used specialist software to construct the nations’ boundaries, and identify what areas could be the source of future disputes.

“All coastal states have rights over the resources up to 200 nautical miles from their coastline,” Mr Pratt said. “So, we used specialist geographical software to ‘buffer’ the claims out accurately.”

The researchers also took into account the fact that some nations were able to extend their claims to 350 nautical miles as a result of their landmasses extending into the sea.

Back on the agenda

The issue of defining national boundaries in the Arctic was brought into sharp relief last summer when a team of Russian explorers used their submarine to plant their country’s flag on the seabed at the North Pole.

A number of politicians from the nations with borders within the Arctic, including Canada’s foreign minister, saw it as Moscow furthering its claim to territory within the region.

Mr Pratt said a number of factors were driving territorial claims back on to the political agenda.

“Energy security is driving interest, as is the fact that Arctic ice is melting more and more during the summer,” he told BBC News. “This is allowing greater exploration of the Arctic seabed.”

Data released by the US Geological Survey last month showed that the frozen region contained an estimated 90 billion barrels of untapped oil.

Mr Pratt added that the nations surrounding the Arctic also only had a limited amount of time to outline their claims.

“If they don’t define it within the timeframe set out by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, then it becomes part of what is known as ‘The Area’, which is administered by the International Seabed Authority on behalf of humanity as a whole.”

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