News & Current Affairs

December 27, 2008

Pakistani mourners honour Bhutto

Pakistani mourners honour Bhutto

Pakistan has marked a year since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto with a two-minute silence, while thousands of mourners visited her mausoleum.

President Asif Ali Zardari, her widower, used the occasion to call for peace and democracy in Pakistan and the resolution of problems through talks.

Analysts say the call was also aimed at India, which blames the recent attack on Mumbai on Pakistani militants.

Mrs Bhutto died in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi after an election rally.

Mourning ceremonies focused on the Bhutto family mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, in the southern province of Sindh.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon says he expects an independent inquiry into her death to be set up soon.

Tears and flowers

Local police officials in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh told news agencies that about 150,000 people had travelled to the site.
They came from around the country, by train, plane, car and even on foot, chanting Bhutto slogans, some wailing and beating their chests in an outpouring of emotion reports.

Mourners kissed her grave and laid flowers at the mausoleum, where official ceremonies were delayed because the site was shrouded in winter mist and fog for much of Saturday morning.

These were her devoted supporters, but many other Pakistanis were also feeling the loss of the charismatic politician, famous abroad and at home, our correspondent says.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani paid tribute in a televised address, saying Mrs Bhutto had “worked for poor segments, for poor people and she was the only ray of hope for the people of this country, she was a hope for the region”.

Mr Zardari delivered a televised speech from the family home in Naudero, Sindh.

“Dialogue is our biggest arsenal,” he said.

“The solution to the problem of the region… is politics, is dialogue and is democracy in Pakistan.

“I want to tell the oldest democracy and the largest democracies of this world: listen to us, learn from us. We have lost our people, we do not talk about war, we do not talk about vengeance.”

Thousands of police officers have been deployed in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, amid fears that Mr Zardari could also be targeted during his visit to the mausoleum.

Multiple crises

Eulogies to Bhutto gloss over her mixed record when in power and her controversial decision to make a deal with Pakistan’s military leader, Gen Pervez Musharraf, in order to return from exile, our correspondent adds.
Benazir Bhutto. File photo
Many Pakistanis say they sorely miss Benazir Bhutto

But her assassination by suspected Islamist militants shook the nation to the core and although Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and her husband swept to power in the wake of her death, there is still a feeling she left a vacuum that has not been filled, she says.

Pakistanis are missing her political experience and international stature, as they face crises ranging from a raging Islamist insurgency to dangerous tensions with India, our correspondent notes.

Pakistan has redeployed some troops from the north-west to strengthen its border defences, while India has advised its citizens against travelling to Pakistan.

On Friday, the UN secretary general expressed hopes that a UN investigation into Mrs Bhutto’s assassination could be set up in the near future and said he was committed to helping Pakistan’s search for “truth and justice”.

Earlier this year, British detectives investigating the fatal attack in Rawalpindi said Mrs Bhutto had died from the effect of a bomb blast, not gunfire.

Their account matched that of the Pakistani authorities.

But Bhutto’s party has insisted she was shot by an assassin and accused the government of a cover-up.

Are you in Pakistan? Have you been attending any of the ceremonies today? Send your comment

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November 27, 2008

Troops confront Mumbai attackers

Troops confront Mumbai attackers

Employees and guests of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel are rescued by fire crews

Employees and guests of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel are rescued by fire crews

Indian security forces have been exchanging fire with gunmen holding dozens of hostages in two luxury hotels in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay).

Troops surrounded the premises shortly after armed men carried out a series of co-ordinated attacks across the city, killing 101 people and injuring 287.

The hotels were among several locations in the main tourist and business district targeted late on Wednesday.

Police say four suspected terrorists have been killed and nine arrested.

The situation is still volatile in two of the most high-profile targets of Wednesday’s attacks – the Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi Trident hotels, where armed men are believed to be holding about 40 hostages.

Flames and black smoke billow from the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, Mumbai

There are reports of intermittent exchange of fire between security forces and the armed attackers barricaded inside both hotels.

Correspondents say security personnel have so far not stormed the premises perhaps for fear of endangering the lives of hostages, some of whom could be Westerners.

There are also unconfirmed reports that five gunmen have taken hostages in an office block in the financial district of Mumbai.

The city’s main commuter train station, a hospital, and a restaurant were among at least seven locations caught up in the violence.

In other developments:

• Fire crews evacuate people from the upper floors of the Taj Mahal Palace, where police say a grenade attack caused a blaze

• Israel says it is concerned for the safety of its citizens in Mumbai, as a rabbi and his family are feared captured by gunmen

• The head of Mumbai’s anti-terrorism unit and two other senior officers are among those killed, officials say

• The White House holds a meeting of top intelligence and counter-terrorism officials, and pledges to help the Indian government

• Trading on India’s Bombay Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange markets will remain closed on Thursday, officials say.

Gunmen opened fire at about 2300 local time (1730 GMT) on Wednesday at the sites in southern Mumbai.

“The terrorists have used automatic weapons and in some places grenades have been lobbed,” said AN Roy, police commissioner of Maharashtra state.

Local TV images showed blood-splattered streets, and bodies being taken into ambulances.

One eyewitness told the BBC he had seen a gunman opening fire in the Taj Mahal’s lobby.

“We all moved through the lobby in the opposite direction and another gunman then appeared towards where we were moving and he started firing immediately in our direction.”

One British tourist said she spent six hours barricaded in the Oberoi hotel.

BOMB ATTACKS IN INDIA IN 2008
30 October: Explosions kill at least 64 in north-eastern Assam
30 September: Blasts in western India kill at least seven
27 September: Bomb blasts kills one in Delhi
13 September: Five bomb blasts kill 18 in Delhi
26 July: At least 22 small bombs kill 49 in Ahmedabad
25 July: Seven bombs go off in Bangalore killing two people
13 May: Seven bomb hit markets and crowded streets in Jaipur killing 63

“There were about 20 or 30 people in each room. The doors were locked very quickly, the lights turned off, and everybody just lay very still on the floor,” she said.

Eyewitness reports suggest the attackers singled out British and American passport holders.

If the reports are true, our security correspondent says it implies an Islamist motive – attacks inspired or co-ordinated by al-Qaeda.

A claim of responsibility has been made by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.

Our correspondent says it could be a hoax or assumed name for another group.

There has been a wave of bombings in Indian cities in recent months which has left scores of people dead.

The timing and symbolism of the latest attacks could not have been worse.

By choosing to target the richest district of India’s financial capital in such a brazen and effective manner, he says those behind the attacks have perhaps dealt the severest blow to date to the morale and self esteem of the Indian authorities.

The attacks have come amidst elections in several Indian states and exposes the governing coalition to the charge that it has failed to combat terror, our correspondent says.

Aerial map of Mumbai showing sites of shootings


Are you in the region? Have you witnessed the attacks? Send us your comments

September 23, 2008

Train crushes railway sex couple

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 12:24 pm

Train crushes railway sex couple

map

A couple in South Africa who were having sex on a railway track in Mpumalanga Province have been killed by a goods train, police say.

Spokesman Abie Khoabane said it took place on Friday evening and the victims were yet to be identified.

He told local newspapers that the couple ignored the driver’s shouts as he moved the train into the disused station in Kinross town.

“They continued with their business,” he told the Sowetan paper.

According to South Africa’s Beeld newspaper, the area was deserted with no cars or houses nearby.

The man died at the scene and the woman died later at hospital, the Sowetan reports.

The police have appealed for those with missing relatives to come forward to help with their investigation.

September 13, 2008

Deadly train crash in Los Angeles

Deadly train crash in Los Angeles

At least two people have died and more than 20 are feared hurt in a collision between a passenger train and a freight train in California, officials say.

Several coaches were derailed, and rescuers are scouring the scene in the Chatsworth area, north of Los Angeles.

“I’m sure there are a lot of injuries,” Ron Haralson from the Los Angeles County Fire Department was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

The cause of the accident was not immediately known.

Dozens of firefighters rushed to the scene of the accident, which happened at 1632 local time on Friday (2332 GMT), US officials said.

They battled a fire raging under one of the derailed carriages.

The Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department told AP at least two people had died.

More than 20 people are feared to have been injured, 10 of them seriously, officials say.

Aerial images of the crash scene showed several teams of rescuers using ladders to reach inside the Metrolink passenger train to pull the injured people.

A number of injured people were treated near the scene, while some were airlifted to hospital, and there are fears that the death toll will rise further.

The passenger train was traveling from Los Angeles to Moorpark, north-west of the city, a Metrolink spokeswoman said.

Up to 350 people could have been on the train, she said.

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 5, 2008

Envoys meet for North Korea talks

Envoys meet for North Korea talks

A file photo from February 2008 of a US inspector studying disabled nuclear equipment at Yongbyon plant in North Korea

A sticking point in talks has been how to verify North Korea’s disarmament

Negotiators from the US, South Korea and Japan are to meet in Beijing to discuss the deadlock over North Korea’s nuclear program.

The talks follow initial moves by North Korea to reverse steps to dismantle its nuclear plant at Yongbyon.

North Korea accuses the US of failing to meet its obligations under a six-nation aid-for-disarmament deal.

This week it began moving some disassembled parts out of storage and back to the Yongbyon reactor.

“We need to break the deadlock at an early date,” South Korean negotiator Kim Sook said as he left for Beijing.

“It is an important moment in which North Korea should resume the disablement measures and enter the six-way talks process.”

Stand-off with US

North Korea agreed in February 2007 to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for aid and diplomatic concessions.

Foreign camera crews prepare to film the demolition of the cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear plant in North Korea on 27 June

In June it handed over long-awaited details of its nuclear facilities. In return, it expected the US to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But the US wants North Korea to agree to a process of verifying the information – something the two sides have so far failed to do.

Last week North Korea announced it had halted disabling work at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Officials from countries negotiating with North Korea now say that it is moving some equipment out of storage and back to the plant.

Envoys from the US, Japan and South Korea will hold a hastily-arranged meeting later on Friday. A Chinese negotiator will join the talks on Saturday.

“There is no information on whether North Korean officials will come to Beijing,” the South Korean envoy said.

Probe delay

In a separate development, North Korea has announced that it will delay a fresh probe into the abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies.

In 2002, it admitted that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens. Five have been returned and Pyongyang says the other eight died.

But Japan insists that North Korea abducted more people than it acknowledges, and wants more proof of the eight deaths.

North Korea said it would hold off on the probe until it established the policies of the new Japanese leader.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced his resignation earlier this week and the current favorite to replace him is the ruling party secretary-general, Taro Aso.

A well-known hawk, he has called for a tougher line towards North Korea – something that will worry the communist state.

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