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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December 1, 2008

Empty aircraft fly from Bangkok

Empty aircraft fly from Bangkok

Stranded passengers at Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok

Thousands of passengers have been stranded by the protests

About 40 empty planes have flown out of Bangkok’s international airport after authorities reached a deal with protesters camped there for seven days.

Thousands of travellers have been stranded since anti-government groups took over two airports last week.

The deal allows a total 88 planes to be flown out to other Thai airports, where it is hoped they can evacuate some of the blockaded tourists.

The crisis has economically damaged the country since it intensified last week.

Thailand’s deputy premier for economic affairs is reported to be meeting senior figures in commerce, industry and tourism today to discuss the damage being done.

As the backlog of stranded foreigners grows with each day, foreign embassies are beside themselves with frustration.

Foreign airlines

A spokeswoman for Airports of Thailand said: “Thirty-seven aircraft have left Suvarnabhumi (international airport) since the first aircraft of Siam GA (a regional airline) took off on Sunday evening.

“International airlines will have to contact us to take those stranded aircraft out of Suvarnabhumi.”

Twelve planes belonging to foreign airlines are stranded at Suvarnabhumi, as well as 29 from Thai Airways, 16 of Thai Airasia, 15 from Bangkok Airways, and 22 aircraft from other airlines.

With thousands of British citizens among the estimated 100,000 travellers, a spokesman for the UK’s Foreign Office said: “Bangkok’s two main airports remain closed but airlines have been able to arrange flights and transfers to and from alternative airports.

An anti-government protester outside Bangkok airport

“Some British nationals have been able to fly out but not in the necessary numbers.

“We have continued our consultations with airlines and Thai authorities…and action is being stepped up to enable people to travel in greater numbers, for example via Chiang Mai.”

Chiang Mai, in the north, is 700km (435 milies) by road from Bangkok, while the other option – Phuket, a resort in the south – is 850km (530 miles).

France has said it will send a “special plane” to fly its citizens out of Thailand on Monday, with “those in the most pressing situations…given priority,” AFP news agency reported.

Air France-KLM has already said it would fly travellers out of Phuket.

A few airlines have been using an airport at the U-Tapao naval base, about 140km (90 miles) south-east of Bangkok.

On Sunday more than 450 Muslim pilgrims stranded at the international airport were taken by bus to the base where they were to board a plane for the annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

Spain and Australia have been arranging special flights to evacuate their citizens.

Thailand’s tourist industry is losing an estimated $85m (£55.4m) per day, and the government warns that the number of foreign tourists arriving next year may halve, threatening one million jobs.

The protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) are a loose alliance of royalists, businessmen and the urban middle class.

They opposition want the government to resign, accusing it of being corrupt, hostile to the monarchy and in league with exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.


Are you stranded in Thailand or do you have family affected by the protests? What are your or their experiences? Send us your comments

August 23, 2008

Gypsies are ‘Europe’s most hated’

Gypsies are ‘Europe’s most hated’

An effigy of a Gypsy caravan on fire during bonfire night

An effigy of a gypsy caravan is burnt, leading to racial hatred allegations

Gypsies are the most hated minority in Europe despite centuries of persecution and the Holocaust, it has been claimed.

Up to half-a-million were killed by the Nazis – but their plight is often forgotten and they remain “demonised”.

The comments were made by Dr James Smith of the National Holocaust Centre, where a conference on the treatment of gypsies and travellers is being held.

It is hoped the event will help promote greater understanding of both the gypsy and traveller communities in the UK.

‘Hysteria’

Dr Smith said: “If we don’t learn from the past, we run the risk of repeating its mistakes in the future.

“Sixty years ago, after centuries of persecution, Europe’s gypsies faced extermination under the Nazis, simply because of who they were.

When hysteria is whipped up against a minority by politicians and the media, people get hurt and they are getting hurt, right now
Dr James Smith

“Up to half a million were killed. Yet even after the Holocaust, gypsies remain perhaps the most hated minority in Europe.

“When hysteria is whipped up against a minority by politicians and the media, people get hurt and they are getting hurt, right now.”

‘Overcome problems’

Delegates are being asked: “Are these Britain’s most demonised people?”

Organisers say issues covered include the Holocaust and recent media coverage of controversial traveller camps.

Among participants are National Travellers’ Action Group chairman Cliff Codona, recently seen on a television documentary about travellers with Robert Kilroy-Silk.

He said: “It’s important for people in the traveller community and the wider community to work together a lot more.

“The only way it’s going to happen is through conferences of this kind taking place, and through good media coverage of what we’re doing to overcome the problems.”

‘Memory alive’

He added: “The experience of our community during the Holocaust is often just completely overlooked, and it shouldn’t be forgotten.

“The more that can be done by places like the Holocaust Centre to keep the memory alive and to provide education about this, especially in schools, the better the prospects for equality.”

As well as negative media reports and being ostracised, the issue of attitudes to gypsies was raised during a controversial bonfire night celebration in 2003.

A caravan bearing effigies of a gypsy family and the number plate P1 KEY was burnt in Firle, East Sussex.

This lead to 12 members of a bonfire society being arrested and accused of inciting racial hatred.

However, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) ruled they would not be prosecuted because of insufficient evidence.

The bonfire society insisted there was no racist intent behind its actions.

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