News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Sunday ferry makes first sailing

Sunday ferry makes first sailing

Protestors in Stornoway

A small group of protesters gathered ahead of the sailing

The controversial first scheduled Sunday ferry sailing from Stornoway on Lewis to mainland Scotland has gone ahead as planned.

There has been strong opposition on the island, where the Sabbath day has traditionally been strictly observed.

A small group of protesters prayed and sang a psalm as cars boarded the boat, but several hundred people clapped.

Supporters said it would boost the economy of the Hebridean island and offer local people freedom to travel.

A small group of about a dozen protesters gathered in Stornoway ahead of the sailing to Ullapool, which left at 1430 BST.

Equality laws

As cars lined up in the ferry terminal car park, protesters gathered in silence behind a banner.

It read: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”.

They sang Psalm 46 – God is our refuge and our strength – and prayed for the nation to “turn its back from sin and wickedness”.

A number of women wiped away tears as they prayed for a return to the Lord’s commandments.

The crossing was undertaken by the route’s usual ferry, the MV Isle of Lewis, after a fault in the exhaust on Friday was repaired sooner than expected.

A spokesman for ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne said: “We’re pleased to get under way after the difficulties over the last couple of days.

“It’s all gone as planned.”

The MV Isle of Arran was drafted in after the Isle of Lewis broke down.

The former boat ran a number of emergency crossings to clear the backlog of passengers.

CalMac said it could be breaking equality laws if it did not run ferries seven days a week.

It said religion or beliefs were not valid reasons to refuse to run the ferry.

Supporters of the service said it would be good for tourism.

They said it would offer more flexibility to travellers.

As the ferry left Stornoway a crowd of several hundred gathered to applaud, and wave to those on board.

A leaflet handed out by a group of local churches said that the peace and tranquillity of the islands was enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

It said: “By and large we like it like this.

“We are not oppressed by a quiet Sunday.”

It wished tourists who came to Lewis by ferry a “happy and blessed trip to the islands”.

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July 10, 2009

China reimposes curfew in Urumqi

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 2:08 pm

China reimposes curfew in Urumqi

A night-time curfew has been reimposed in the restive western Chinese city of Urumqi, officials have announced.

The curfew had been suspended for the last two days after officials said they had the city under control.

Mosques in the city were ordered to remain closed on Friday – but at least two opened at the request of crowds of Muslim Uighurs that gathered outside.

The city remains tense after Sunday’s outbreak of ethnic violence that killed 156 people and wounded more than 1,000.

Thousands of people – both Han Chinese and Uighurs – are reportedly trying to leave the city.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, who is in Urumqi, said the authorities announced the city would be under curfew on Friday from 1900 local time (1100GMT).

‘Safety is paramount’

News of the curfew came as hundreds of Muslim Uighurs defied an order to stay at home for Friday prayers.

Officials had posted notices outside Urumqi’s mosques instructing people to stay at home to worship on Friday, the holiest day of the week in Islam.

One official told AP the decision was made “for the sake of public safety”.

But worshippers gathered outside a number of mosques in the city demanding to be allowed in.

“We decided to open the mosque because so many people had gathered. We did not want an incident,” a policeman outside the White Mosque in a Uighur neighbourhood told the Associated Press.

One worshipper, speaking after attending prayers, said they had been warned to be careful.

“They told us safety is paramount and we should quickly finish our prayers, go home and have a good rest,” he said.

After the prayers, riot police punched and kicked a small group of Uighurs protesters, who demanded the release of men detained after last Sunday’s violence, our correspondent says.

Mass exodus

Meanwhile, the city’s main bus station is reported to be crowded with people trying to escape the unrest.

Extra bus services have been laid on and touts are charging up to five times the normal face price for tickets, AFP news agency reports.

XINJIANG: ETHNIC UNREST
Main ethnic division: 45% Uighur, 40% Han Chinese
26 June: Mass factory brawl after dispute between Han Chinese and Uighurs in Guangdong, southern China, leaves two Uighurs dead
5 July: Uighur protest in Urumqi over the dispute turns violent, leaving 156 dead – most of them thought to be Han – and more than 1,000 hurt
7 July: Uighur women protest at arrests of menfolk. Han Chinese make armed counter-march
8 July: President Hu Jintao returns from G8 summit to tackle crisis

“It is just too risky to stay here. We are scared of the violence,” a 23-year-old construction worker from central China said.

Many are university students, who have been told to leave the city earlier than they might have planned.

The violence began on Sunday when Uighurs rallied to protest against a deadly brawl between Uighurs and Han Chinese several weeks ago in a toy factory in southern Guangdong province.

Officials say 156 people – mostly Han – died in Sunday’s violence.

Ethnic Han vigilante groups have been threatening to take revenge, leaving many Uighurs afraid to leave their homes.

The atmosphere remains tense, with troops in place across the city and armed police surrounding Uighur neighbourhoods.

More than 1,400 people are thought to have been detained.

Tensions have been growing in Xinjiang for many years, as Han migrants have poured into the region, where the Uighur minority is concentrated.

Many Uighurs feel economic growth has bypassed them and complain of discrimination and diminished opportunities.


Are you leaving Urumqi? What has been your experience of the unrest in the city in recent days? Please send us your comments

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.

September 14, 2008

Bush warns on hurricane recovery

Bush warns on hurricane recovery

US President George W Bush has warned Texas will take a long time to recover from Hurricane Ike, as a huge search and relief operation gathers pace.

Mr Bush will travel to the state on Tuesday to inspect the relief effort.

Rescuers are trying to get to thousands of people who ignored orders to flee the storm, which cut power to millions and mauled America’s oil hub.

“This is a tough storm and it’s one that is going to require time for people to recover,” Mr Bush said.

Ike has been blamed for four deaths so far, two in Texas and two in Louisiana.

What’s really frustrating is that we can’t get to them
Tommie Mafrei
Galveston police chief

Rescuers are using boats, lorries and helicopters to tackle roads waist-deep in water and blocked by felled trees.The storm made landfall in Galveston early on Saturday with 110mph (175km/h) winds.

It cut a 500-mile (800-km) swathe of destruction across a span of the Gulf of Mexico coast before weakening to a tropical depression on Sunday morning over Arkansas.

Ike severely hit oil and gas production in the region and wreaked at least $8bn (£4.5bn) in onshore damage.

Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison warned that oil refineries disabled by the hurricane could remain idled for a further eight or nine days – and that Americans should brace for possible fuel shortages.

Some coastal residents waded through chest-deep water with their belongings and children in their arms to get to safety on Saturday, but thousands of others ignored evacuation orders.

Mr Bush said the federal government would be delivering 1.5m liters of water and 1m meals daily for the displaced.

Distress calls

Police, paramedics, rescue dogs and structural engineers fanned out at daybreak on Sunday across the coastal city of Galveston, which took the brunt of the storm, hampered by floodwater’s and widespread wreckage.

Galveston police officer Tommie Mafrei said: “What’s really frustrating is that we can’t get to [the stranded]… They are naive about it, thinking it’s not going to be that bad.”

State Governor Rick Perry’s office said 940 people had been rescued by nightfall on Saturday, but that thousands had made distress calls the night before.

Hurricane Ike caused widespread destruction in Galveston, Texas

Officials said another 600 people were rescued in neighboring Louisiana, where flooding ruined tens of thousands of homes and left nearly 200,000 householders without electricity.

More than three million people had no power in Texas at the height of the storm, and the authorities said it could be weeks before supplies were fully restored.

Ike sent fuel prices higher at the pumps and, analysts say, has triggered the biggest disruption to US energy supplies in at least three years.

Production was shut down at 14 oil refineries and 28 natural gas processing plants in the storm’s path.

The hurricane also battered Houston, the fourth-largest city in the US and the nation’s oil hub. Police there had used bullhorns to order people back into their homes.

The BBC’s Rajesh Mirchandani weathered the storm in Houston and described how ferocious winds ripped the glass from many of the city’s skyscrapers.

But officials were encouraged by the fact flooding brought by the storm surge turned out to be much less serious than forecast.

Among those killed by Ike were a woman in Pinehurst, Texas, and a teenage boy in Louisiana’s Bayou Dularge, AP news agency reported.

Last week, Ike caused devastation in Cuba and Haiti, where hundreds of people have died in several tropical storms over the last month.


Are you in the areas affected? Are preparing to evacuate or are you staying in your home? Send us your comments and experiences

September 8, 2008

White House race enters high gear

White House race enters high gear

Barack Obama and John McCain, 5 September 2008

Candidates often see a surge in popularity after the party conventions

The US presidential rivals have begun campaigning in earnest, as a new opinion poll put Republican John McCain ahead of Democrat Barack Obama.

Fresh from being nominated at their party conventions, the two men are now gearing up for the 4 November poll.

A USA Today-Gallup poll put Mr McCain ahead for the first time in months.

Candidates often see a bounce in the polls after the conventions but Mr McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as running mate is being seen as key.

Mr McCain has tried to strike a balance between distancing himself from an unpopular presidency and rallying the party’s conservative base.

Mrs Palin wowed the Republican convention crowd with her speech, helping to re-energize his campaign.

Major test

Mr McCain said that “the electricity has been incredible” at rallies ever since he invited the Alaskan governor to join his ticket.

“She has excited people all over the country. I would love to say it was all because of the charisma of John McCain, but it is not,” he told CBS on Sunday.

Sarah Palin and John McCain (6 September)

Mr McCain said that “the electricity has been incredible” at rallies

Mrs Palin will face a major test this week when she gives her first nationally televised interview, following intense media scrutiny over her personal life and credentials for the ticket.

The USA Today-Gallup poll, which was released on Sunday, showed Mr McCain leading Mr Obama by four percentage points, 50 to 46.

A USA Today poll taken before the Republican convention showed Mr McCain trailing Mr Obama by seven points.

The latest poll had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

The results of a Reuters/Zogby poll, also released over the weekend, gave Mr McCain the edge, with 50 percentage points to 46.

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll showed John McCain with a one-point lead.

Mr McCain and Mrs Palin are scheduled to be in Missouri on Monday.

Mr Obama is campaigning in the crucial swing state of Michigan. His vice-president, Joe Biden, was appearing in Wisconsin and Iowa, while Hillary Clinton is on the campaign trail in Florida.

Despite the frenetic pace of the presidential race, the candidates will stop campaigning on Thursday to appear together in New York on the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks.

They said they would put aside politics to honour the memory of the nearly 3,000 people who died.

August 8, 2008

Freeman discharged from hospital

Freeman discharged from hospital

Morgan Freeman (file photo)

Morgan Freeman received an Oscar for Million Dollar Baby in 2005

Hollywood star Morgan Freeman has been discharged from a  hospital where he was recovering after a car crash.

In a short statement issued after his release, Freeman said that he was well.

He suffered a broken arm and had to undergo surgery after his car overturned and landed in a ditch near his home in Mississippi on Sunday.

A female passenger was also injured. On Wednesday Freeman’s lawyer said the 71-year-old actor and his wife of 24 years, were getting divorced.

Bill Luckett said: “And for legal and practical purposes the pair have been separated since December 2007.”

Freeman married costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee in June 1984.

The cause of the accident is unclear. Police said it was possible that the actor had fallen asleep at the wheel.

There is no word on the condition of his passenger, Demaris Meter of Memphis.

Freeman won a best-supporting actor Oscar for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby in 2005.

Last year it was announced the actor would play former South African president Nelson Mandela in forthcoming film The Human Factor.

His first credited film appearance was in the 1971 movie Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!

Prior to that, he had worked as a mechanic in the US Air Force.

August 5, 2008

Morgan Freeman in ‘good spirits’

Morgan Freeman in ‘good spirits’

Courtesy BBC

Morgan Freeman (file photo)

Morgan Freeman received an Oscar for Million Dollar Baby in 2005

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman is in “good spirits” after being injured in a serious car accident near his Mississippi home.

Mr Freeman’s spokeswoman says he has a broken arm, broken elbow and minor shoulder damage.

She said the 71-year-old Dark Knight star is expected to undergo surgery and to make a good recovery.

The accident happened shortly before midnight on Sunday outside Charleston in the Mississippi Delta.

Mr Freeman’s car ran off the side of the road and overturned several times, landing upright in a ditch.

Mr Freeman – who had been driving the car – and a female passenger were airlifted to Memphis’s Regional Medical Center, about 90 miles (145km) north of where the accident occurred in Tallahatchie County.

“He is having a little bit of surgery this afternoon or tomorrow to help correct the damage,” his spokeswoman Donna Lee said. “He says he’ll be OK and is looking forward to a full recovery,” she added.

Earlier a spokesman at the hospital said the actor was in a “serious” condition.

Neither Lee nor the hospital had information about the condition of the woman, Demaris Meter of Memphis.

‘No freebies’

Both passengers had been wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident, said Mississippi Highway Patrol Sergeant Ben Williams.

FREEMAN FACTS
Morgan Freeman and Christian Bale in The Dark Knight
Born 1 June 1937, in Memphis, Tennessee
He spent several years in the US Air Force as a mechanic
Freeman started acting in the 1960s, appearing a couple of off-Broadway shows
His first credited film appearance was in 1971’s Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!
Freeman starred in some of the biggest films of the 1990s, including The Shawshank Redemption, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Se7en, and Deep Impact
He won an Oscar in 2005 for the film Million Dollar Baby
Freeman plays Lucius Fox in this summer’s blockbuster, The Dark Knight (pictured)

“There’s no indication that either alcohol or drugs were involved,” he added. He said it was possible that the actor had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Mr Freeman was conscious and talking at the scene, he said.

There were “no other vehicles or pedestrians involved”, he added.

An investigation into the accident is currently under way.

Bill Rogers, who saw the accident happen and was first on the scene, told BBC 5 Live that driving conditions on Sunday night were difficult.

“We had a rain storm that had just passed and so the highway was wet,” he said. “We were standing in water in the ditch.”

“When he became conscious Mr Freeman began asking the same questions over and over again: ‘Was I speeding, can I lay on the ground? Is everybody okay?'” Mr Rogers added.

Clay McFerrin, editor of local newspaper the Sun-Sentinel, told the Associated Press news agency the actor later began “joking with some of the rescue workers.”

When one person tried to take a photo with a mobile phone, Mr Freeman joked, “no freebies, no freebies,” Mr McFerrin said.

Mechanic

Morgan Freeman is one of Hollywood’s best loved and busiest actors, says the BBC’s Rajesh Mirchandani in Los Angeles.

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