News & Current Affairs

July 12, 2009

US president sets Afghan target

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:07 am

US president sets Afghan target

A US Marine helicopter delivers supplies in Helmand province, 11 July

Thousands of new US troops are boosting the effort in Afghanistan

The increasingly deadly conflict in Afghanistan is a “serious fight” but one essential for the future stability of the country, the US president says.

Insisting that US and allied troops have pushed back the Taliban, Barack Obama said the immediate target was to steer Afghanistan through elections.

The country is due to hold a presidential vote in August.

Mr Obama spoke to Sky News as concern grew in the UK at the rising British death toll in Afghanistan.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown was also forced on Saturday to justify British involvement in Afghanistan.

Mr Brown said the UK’s military deployment there was aimed at preventing terrorism in the UK.

Fifteen British troops have died in the past 10 days, pushing the country’s number of deaths in Afghanistan past the number killed in action in Iraq.

‘Extraordinary role’

Speaking during a day-long visit to Africa, Mr Obama also told Sky News that the battle in Afghanistan was a vital element in the battle against terrorism.

He said the continued involvement of British troops in the conflict was necessary, right and was a vital contribution to UK national security.

US President Barack Obama in Ghana, 11 July

Barack Obama has boosted troop levels and is hoping for tangible results

“This is not an American mission,” Mr Obama said.

“The mission in Afghanistan is one that the Europeans have as much if not more of a stake in than we do.

“The likelihood of a terrorist attack in London is at least as high, if not higher, than it is in the United States.”

He praised the efforts of all troops currently fighting the Taleban in gruelling summer heat, singling out British forces for praise when asked if their role was still important.

“Great Britain has played an extraordinary role in this coalition, understanding that we can not allow either Afghanistan or Pakistan to be a safe haven for al-Qaeda, those who with impunity blow up train stations in London or buildings in New York.

“We knew that this summer was going to be tough fighting. They [the Taliban] have, I think, been pushed back but we still have a long way to go. We’ve got to get through elections.”

‘Core mission’

Since taking office in Washington in January of this year, Mr Obama has announced a troop “surge” in Afghanistan.

British soldiers carry the coffin of a comrade, 10 July

British troops have endured a deadly week in Afghanistan

The US has said it is sending up to 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan this year to take on a resurgent Taleban. They will join 33,000 US and 32,000 other Nato troops already in the country.

He also replaced the incumbent US commander in the country, ousting Gen David McKiernan less than a year into his command.

The new US chief in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, has a stellar reputation from his days commanding special forces operations in Iraq.

He has been tasked with the mission of outsmarting the Taliban, who continue to win support among ordinary Afghans often caught in the crossfire of the bitter fighting.

High numbers of Afghan civilian casualties have become an issue of major concern to the US. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has regularly called on the international forces to reduce the numbers of Afghans killed in its operations.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Obama said although forces were currently engaged in heavy fighting, new strategies for building bridges with Afghan society would be considered once the country had held its presidential election.

A young girl in Afghanistan, 10 July

Afghan civilians often bear the brunt of the conflict with the Taliban

Afghanistan needed its own army, its own police and the ability to control its own security, Mr Obama said – a strategy currently being implemented in Iraq, where security is being handed over to Iraqi forces.

“All of us are going to have to do an evaluation after the Afghan election to see what more we can do,” the president said.

“It may not be on the military side, it might be on the development side providing Afghan farmers alternatives to poppy crops, making sure that we are effectively training a judiciary system and a rule of law in Afghanistan that people trust.”

“We’ve got a core mission that we have to accomplish.”

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July 11, 2009

British plane in US smoke scare

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:34 pm

British plane in US smoke scare

BA288 on tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, 10 July 2009

Passengers used slides to leave the aircraft

More than 300 passengers and crew aboard a British Airways jet at a US airport were evacuated down emergency slides after smoke filled the cabin.

The Boeing 747 had pulled away from the departure gate at Phoenix, Arizona, en route to London Heathrow when passengers began complaining of smoke.

There were shouts of “fire” and some people panicked but none were seriously injured, eyewitnesses told the BBC.

Fire crews found light smoke but no fire and suspect an electrical problem.

I never realised how fast you can go down those emergency slides – a lot of people, including myself, have little friction burns on their elbows
Charles Woolf
passenger speaking to the news

The incident occurred at about 2000 local time (0300 GMT) on Friday, said a Phoenix fire official, Capt Shelly Jamison.

About 15 people received minor scrapes and bruises, and one person was taken to hospital with shoulder pain.

Confirming the safe exit of all 298 passengers and 18 crew aboard Flight BA288, British Airways said the aircraft had been evacuated “following the usual procedures”.

‘Professionalism’

Charles Woolf, 16, was sitting at the rear of the plane, waiting to return home to Fareham in the UK after a holiday.

Everything appeared normal as the plane taxied out, he told News, but after it had been waiting about 10 minutes for take-off, “a strange but harsh smell filled the cabin – it made my nose tingle and burned the back of my throat”.

“Some people started to cough, and a few started to worry and panic,” he said.

“After about five minutes, more people started to cough, someone towards the front of the aircraft shouted ‘fire’, the doors of the aircraft opened and the slides were deployed.

“People were pushing a bit to try and get to the exit, but I’d say within 20 seconds of the doors opening I was out of the plane.

“I never realised how fast you can go down those emergency slides – a lot of people, including myself, have little friction burns on their elbows.”

The 16-year-old praised the cabin crew’s professionalism.

July 7, 2009

Fans and family remember Jackson

Fans and family remember Jackson

Michael Jackson’s family and fans have said farewell to the pop superstar at an emotional memorial service.

Jackson’s daughter Paris, 11, fought back tears to describe him as as “the best father you can ever imagine”.

The singer’s coffin was placed in front of the stage during the event at the Staples Center in Los Angeles after an earlier private funeral.

Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder and Mariah Carey paid tribute before the family joined a sombre finale on stage.

Stevie Wonder said: “This is a moment I wished I didn’t live to see come. Michael I love you.”

The crowd cheered as the golden flower-draped coffin entered the arena to the strains of a choir singing “Hallelujah, hallelujah, we’re going to see the King” from the song Soon And Very Soon.

Michael Jackson's family

Michael Jackson’s brothers wore his trademark single gloves

Mariah Carey opened the show, performing I’ll Be There, ending with the words: “We miss you.”

Jackson’s brother Jermaine took to the stage to perform the song Smile. It was said to be the King of Pop’s favourite song, featuring the lyric: “Smile though your hearts are aching.”

Others paying tribute included Lionel Richie, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah and Brooke Shields.

Some sang, while others spoke about their memories of the King of Pop and his influence on music and society. Many embraced family members as they left the stage.

The BBC’s Matthew Price, who was in the arena, said: “It’s had to clearly see the family but the glimpses I’m getting show a family both in mourning, and in celebration of his life.

“There are moments of the intensely personal in this very public event.”

Civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton gave a fiery speech, telling Jackson’s children: “There weren’t nothing strange about your daddy.”

“It was strange what your daddy had to deal with but he dealt with it.”

Michael was a personal love of mine, a treasured part of my world, part of the fabric of my life in a way that I can’t seem to find words to express
Diana Ross

Motown boss Berry Gordy, who signed the Jackson Five, ended his tribute with the words: “Michael, thank you for the joy, thank you for the love. you will live in my heart forever.”

Actress Brooke Shields, who first met Jackson when she was 13, broke down in tears as she took to the stage.

Describing Jackson as “pure”, she said: “He was often referred to as the King but the Michael that I knew was always the little prince. Michael saw everything with his heart.”

The 17,500 people in the arena cheered as clips of Jackson’s life and music were played on big screens.

Messages were read from absent guests including former South African President Nelson Mandela, poet Maya Angelou and singer Diana Ross.

Stevie Wonder performing
The stage was adorned with flowers and a tribute to Jackson

The message from Ross was read by Smokey Robinson. “I’m trying to find closure,” it said.

“I want you to know that even though I am not there at the Staples Center I am there in my heart.

“Michael was a personal love of mine, a treasured part of my world, part of the fabric of my life in a way that I can’t seem to find words to express.

“Michael wanted me to be there for his children and I will be there if they ever need me. I hope today brings closure for all those who loved him.”

Other people taking part include Usher and Britain’s Got Talent finalist Shaheen Jafargholi, who has played the young Michael Jackson in the musical Thriller – Live.

The stage is adorned with the star’s image, alongside a mural carrying the words: “In Loving Memory. Michael Jackson King of Pop – 1958-2009.”

Millions of fans around the world are watching on TV.

Roads were closed off and concrete barriers erected outside the Staples Center, where Jackson had been rehearsing a comeback show before his sudden death aged 50 on 25 June.

More than 1.6 million fans applied to attend the memorial event, with 8,750 people chosen at random to receive a pair of tickets.

One person not attending is Jackson’s former wife and the mother of two of his children, Debbie Rowe.

“The onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction to an event that should focus exclusively on Michael’s legacy,” her lawyer Marta Almli said in a statement.

About 50 cinemas across the US are showing the memorial live. It is also being relayed to big screens across the UK, Australia and Hong Kong.

Family members earlier attended a short funeral service at the Forest Lawn cemetery.

July 6, 2009

Iran frees eighth embassy worker

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:09 pm

Iran frees eighth embassy worker

The eighth of nine British embassy employees detained by Iranian authorities has been released, the UK foreign office says.

The last remaining detainee, an Iranian, is the embassy’s chief political analyst. He has been charged with acting against national security.

UK PM Gordon Brown described the continued detention as “unacceptable and unjustified”.

Meanwhile Iran’s supreme leader warned the West not to “meddle”.

“Some leaders of Western countries at the level of president, prime minister and foreign minister openly intervened in Iran’s internal affairs that had nothing to do with them,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying on Iranian state television.

“Then, they said they don’t intervene in Iran’s internal affairs.”

‘Honourable and patriotic’

Speaking at a news conference following a Franco-British summit in the French town of Evian, Mr Brown warned of concerted action against Iran.

“The Iranian regime must be clear that if this action continues and we are forced to act, we will act together with our European partners”, he said.

It is very important that my cold anger… doesn’t turn into a rhetorical volley at the Iranian regime
Foreign Secretary David Miliband

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said earlier that every effort would be made to secure the remaining detainee’s release.

He said he had learned the “good news” of the eighth release during his daily telephone conversation with Britain’s ambassador to Iran.

“[The ambassador] was told by the deputy foreign minister that the eighth person would indeed be released today, that the papers had been signed, that there would not be a court process or charges,” Mr Miliband said.

“That leaves one more in custody and all of our efforts are now directed towards getting that person out.”

On Saturday, the man’s lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, said he had been unable to meet him in Evin prison in Tehran where he is being held, or see the text of the indictment.

Mr Miliband said the man was “an honourable, patriotic Iranian, who has been working in a completely open and transparent way for the UK”.

“The allegations of improper conduct have absolutely no basis,” he said.

Nuclear question

Protests gripped Tehran and other Iranian cities after June’s presidential election, amid claims the vote had been rigged in favour of the incumbent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Tehran has repeatedly accused foreign powers, especially Britain and the US, of stoking unrest after the election – something they deny.

The embassy workers, who are all Iranian, were arrested last weekend amid accusations they had been involved in the demonstrations.

On Friday, Ahmad Jannati, leader of the Iran’s supreme legislative body the Guardian Council, said: “The British Embassy had a presence and some people were arrested.

Protests outside British embassy in Tehran

Protests have taken place outside the British embassy in Tehran

“Well, inevitably they will be put on trial. They have made confessions too.”

Mr Miliband said he was angry, but would try not to inflame the already sensitive situation further.

“It is very important that my anger, my cold anger, about the way our staff have been treated… doesn’t turn into a rhetorical volley at the Iranian regime, because that doesn’t do anything either for our people or for reform in Iran,” he said.

“What’s important is that I turn my anger into determination to see that justice is done by our people.”

July 5, 2009

MI6 chief’s Facebook details cut

Filed under: Business News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 7:44 am

MI6 chief’s Facebook details cut

Sir John Sawers

Sir John Sawers is currently the UK’s ambassador to the United Nations

Details about the personal life of the next head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, have been removed from Facebook.

The Mail on Sunday says his wife, Lady Shelley Sawers, put details about their children and the location of their flat on the social networking site.

The details, which also included holiday photographs, were removed after the paper contacted the Foreign Office.

MP Patrick Mercer, counter-terrorism sub-committee chairman, said he was disappointed by the couple’s actions.

‘Distressing and worrying’

He said: “Sir John and his family have been at the heart of the intelligence community for several decades now.

“It’s distressing and worrying therefore that these sorts of details should be appearing in the public domain. I would have hoped these sort of mistakes would not have been made by people like that.”

And the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman, Edward Davey, tells the paper he wants Gordon Brown to launch an inquiry into whether the disclosures have compromised Sir John’s ability to take up his MI6 post.

Sir John is currently the UK’s ambassador to the United Nations and will take up his new post in November.

The Mail on Sunday says the information included the couple’s friendships with senior diplomats and well-known actors including Moir Leslie from BBC Radio 4’s The Archers.

Lady Sawers revealed the location of the London flat used by the couple and the whereabouts of their three grown-up children and of Sir John’s parents, the paper added.

Diplomatic postings

Sir John is due to replace Sir John Scarlett as head of the overseas Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

He has been the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN since 2007.

Before that he was political director at the Foreign Office, an envoy in Baghdad and a foreign affairs adviser to former prime minister Tony Blair.

In that post from 1999 to 2001 he was involved in the Kosovo conflict and Northern Ireland peace process.

Elsewhere overseas he worked in the British embassy in Washington, as an ambassador to Cairo and in South Africa from 1988 and 1991 when apartheid was ending.

July 4, 2009

Self-help ‘makes you feel worse’

Filed under: Health and Fitness, Latest — Tags: , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:31 pm

Self-help ‘makes you feel worse’

Psychologist and patient

Self-help mantras are a common therapeutic technique

Bridget Jones is not alone in turning to self-help mantras to boost her spirits, but a study warns they may have the opposite effect.

Canadian researchers found those with low self-esteem actually felt worse after repeating positive statements about themselves.

They said phrases such as “I am a lovable person” only helped people with high self-esteem.

The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

A UK psychologist said people based their feelings about themselves on real evidence from their lives.

The suggestion people should “help themselves” to feel better was first mooted by Victorian Samuel Smiles 150 years ago.

Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most
Joanne Wood
University of Waterloo

His book, called simply “Self Help”, sold a quarter of a million copies and included guidance such as: “Heaven helps those who help themselves”.

Self-help is now a multi-billion pound global industry.

‘Contradictory thoughts’

The researchers, from the University of Waterloo and the University of New Brunswick, asked people with high and low self-esteem to say “I am a lovable person.”

They then measured the participants’ moods and their feelings about themselves.

In the low self-esteem group, those who repeated the mantra felt worse afterwards compared with others who did not.

However people with high self-esteem felt better after repeating the positive self-statement – but only slightly.

The psychologists then asked the study participants to list negative and positive thoughts about themselves.

They found that, paradoxically, those with low self-esteem were in a better mood when they were allowed to have negative thoughts than when they were asked to focus exclusively on affirmative thoughts.

Writing in the journal, the researchers suggest that, like overly positive praise, unreasonably positive self-statements, such as “I accept myself completely,” can provoke contradictory thoughts in individuals with low self-esteem.

Such negative thoughts can overwhelm the positive thoughts.

If people are instructed to focus exclusively on positive thoughts, negative thoughts might be especially discouraging.

Real life

The researchers, led by psychologist Joanne Wood, said: “Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.”

However, they say positive thinking can help when it is part of a broader programme of therapy.

Simon Delsthorpe, a psychologist with Bradford District Care Trust and spokesman for the British Psychological Society, said self-esteem was based on a range of real life factors, and that counselling to build confidence – rather than telling yourself things are better than they are – was the solution.

“These are things like, do you have close family relationships, a wide network of friends, employment and appearance.

“If you’re not close to your parents, don’t have many friends, are unemployed and are unhappy with your appearance, it might be hard to have high self-esteem.

“But if your experience is the reverse of that it would be much easier to say ‘I’m OK’ and believe that.”

UK investigates Iran charge claim

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:14 pm

UK investigates Iran charge claim

Iranian hardline students burn US and British flags during a protest outside the British embassy in Tehran on 23 June 2009

Anti-British protests have been held outside the UK embassy in Tehran

The chief political analyst at the British Embassy in Iran has been charged with “acting against national security”, reports suggest.

The UK Foreign Office is investigating claims by his lawyer that he has been charged and will stand trial shortly.

A senior cleric has said some of the nine embassy staff arrested last month will be tried for inciting protests over Iran’s disputed election.

Britain denies fomenting discontent to undermine Iran’s Islamic regime.

Iranian news agencies have said all but one of the embassy staff have been released, although the UK government claims two remain in custody.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband says he is “deeply concerned” about the situation and has asked for talks with his Iranian counterpart.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman could not confirm reports that the adviser had been charged.

‘Confessions’

“We are still investigating. The situation remains extremely unclear and fluid,” she added.

News agencies have reported the lawyer as saying he has not yet been able to meet with his client or see the text of the indictment.

Protests gripped Tehran and other Iranian cities after June’s presidential election, amid claims the vote had been rigged in favour of the incumbent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On Friday, Ahmad Jannati, leader of the Iran’s supreme legislative body the Guardian Council, said: “The British Embassy had a presence and some people were arrested.

“Well inevitably they will be put on trial. They have made confessions too.”

However, he did not say how many employees would be tried or on what charges.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported this week that one of the detainees had played a “remarkable role during the recent unrest in managing it behind the scenes”.

Nine embassy staff were held last weekend. Britain says all but two have now been freed.

Mr Miliband said Britain was urgently seeking clarification from Iran about any possible trial or charges, which have reportedly been brought against one employee at Evin prison in Tehran.

Deterioration

“We are confident that our staff have not engaged in any improper or illegal behaviour,” he added.

The Foreign Office later confirmed that Iranian envoy Rasoul Movahedian had been summoned and the same message reiterated.

IRAN UNREST
12 June presidential election saw incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with 63% of vote
Main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi called for result to be annulled for electoral fraud
Street protests saw at least 17 people killed and foreign media restricted

European Union governments have summoned Iranian ambassadors to protest against the detentions.

An EU official told us that, in addition, visas for Iranians holding Iranian diplomatic passports would be suspended.

The official said other measures, including the withdrawal of EU ambassadors from Iran, would be considered if the two staff members were not released.

Our diplomatic correspondent  says Ayatollah Jannati’s speech marks a significant deterioration in the already bad relationship between London and Tehran.

Tehran has repeatedly accused foreign powers – especially Britain and the US – of stoking unrest after the election.

In the fallout from the crisis, Tehran expelled two British diplomats and the UK responded with a similar measure.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last month described Britain, as the “most evil” of its enemies.

The issue of how to deal with Iran is set to dominate the summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations in Italy next week.

Some EU countries have urged caution, arguing that Europe should engage with Iran, not isolate it.

But if the embassy staff are put on trial, the EU may have few other options than to tighten the diplomatic screw, correspondents say.

July 2, 2009

US opens ‘major Afghan offensive’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:36 am

US opens ‘major Afghan offensive’

The US army says it has launched a major offensive against the Taliban in south Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

The US military says about 4,000 Marines as well as 650 Afghan troops are involved, supported by Nato planes.

Brigadier General Larry Nicholson said the operation was different from previous ones because of the “massive size of the force” and its speed.

The offensive is the Marines’ first major operation since their recent deployment to Afghanistan.

It is also the first such operation under President Barack Obama’s presidency.

The operation – codenamed Khanjar or Strike of the Sword – began when units moved into the Helmand river valley in the early hours of Thursday.

Afghan map

Helicopters and heavy transport vehicles carried out the advance, with Nato planes providing air cover.

UK-led forces in Helmand launched their own operation to combat the Taliban insurgency last week, in what the Ministry of Defence described as one of the largest air operations in modern times.

Thousands of British forces under Nato command have been fighting the Taliban in Helmand since 2006, but there has been criticism that they have been overstretched and under-resourced.

Security aim

Southern Afghanistan is considered a Taliban stronghold.

The security forces will build bases to provide security for the local people so that they can carry out every activity with this favourable background, and take their lives forward in peace
Gulab Mangal
Helmand Governor

“Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” said Brig Gen Nicholson in a statement.

At a briefing at the US military’s Camp Leatherneck last week, he told personnel and embedded reporters: “One of the most critical things is to tell people why we’re there, and we are going to have a limited opportunity to gain their trust.”

The operation would have an initial highly aggressive stage lasting 36 hours, AFP news agency reported.

It aims to improve security ahead of presidential elections on 20 August, allowing voter registration where before there was none, Gen Nicholson said.

US soldiers in Afghanistan, 27 June, 2009

US troops are working to flush out Taliban from Helmand province

A US military spokesman, Captain William Pelletier, told the news there had been “no enemy contact” in the first hours of the operation, but one marine was slightly injured when an improvised explosive device detonated in the village of Nawa.

Nawa and nearby Garmsir – south of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah – are key targets in the operation, as the area is considered a refuge for militants and no US or Nato troops have previously operated there in large numbers.

Capt Pelletier said the US military was prepared for casualties, but stressed that “it is absolutely essential that no civilians be harmed”.

Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal predicted the operation would be “very effective”.

“The security forces will build bases to provide security for the local people so that they can carry out every activity with this favourable background, and take their lives forward in peace.”

Troop numbers

I am convinced that the addition of those [US] troops is going to improve the security situation
General Jim Dutton
Commander of UK forces

As of June 2009, Nato’s International Security Assistance Force had 61,130 personnel from 42 countries including the US, Canada, European countries, Australia, Jordan and New Zealand.

The US is the largest contributor, providing 28,850 soldiers.

It also has troops under Operation Enduring Freedom – mostly in the east of Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan – that are not under Isaf’s command.

In December 2008 they numbered 17,100.

President Obama has pledged to send an additional 21,000 extra soldiers to Afghanistan, many of them redeployed from operations in Iraq, to help with training Afghan security forces and to tackle the insurgency.

Last week the commander of UK troops in Afghanistan, General Jim Dutton, denied that the battle against the Taliban was “a losing campaign”.

Gen Dutton welcomed the planned increase in US troop numbers.

“I am convinced that the addition of those [US] troops is going to improve the security situation,” he said.

Student maintenance cash frozen

Filed under: Business News, Latest, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:30 am

Student maintenance cash frozen

Graduation ceremony

The system of student finance is different around the UK

Student maintenance grants and loans in England will be frozen for the academic year 2010-2011, the government has announced.

However, loans to cover tuition fees will be raised in line with the increase in the fees themselves.

Tuition fees will increase by 2.04% from September 2010, higher education minister David Lammy said.

He insisted that “difficult decisions” had to be made in the current economic climate.

The full maintenance grant, payable to students whose family income does not exceed £25,000, will remain at £2,906.

Maintenance loans and thresholds will also remain at 2009/10 levels.

Grants available for trainee teachers will also be reduced to be brought into line with amounts available to other students, Mr Lammy said in a written ministerial statement.

He said: “In these difficult economic times, we are continuing to take difficult decisions in the interests of students, universities and taxpayers alike.

“We have therefore decided to maintain the current package of maintenance support for full-time students, reflecting the current low inflationary environment.”

Recession

The Russell Group of 20 leading universities said it was “vital” that income from tuition fees kept pace with inflation.

“The introduction of fees has managed to halt a long-term decline in funding per student but funding for higher education in Britain is still significantly lower than in most other OECD countries,” said its director general, Wendy Piatt.

“The system of student support in England remains one of the most generous – and expensive – in the world.”

But the National Union of Students President, Wes Streeting, said: “Students are already racking up thousands of pounds of debt, and in a recession every penny counts.

“It appears that the inflation rate is being applied where it suits universities, but not where it will improve student support.

“In the context of the current recession, these real terms cuts in student support will be felt in students’ pockets.”

And the General Secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, said ministers had “failed” to ensure higher education was not a victim of the recession.

Loans

Students in England can apply for a means-tested grant to cover living costs – the value of this depends on their family income.

They can make up any shortfall by applying for a maintenance loan.

In addition, a tuition fee loan to cover fees is paid by the government on behalf of every student directly to the institution they attend.

These are repayable after graduation once annual income reaches £15,000.

Students in Northern Ireland are charged the same fees as in England.

The situation in Scotland and Wales differs – both countries charge higher fees to students from elsewhere in the UK coming to study there.

In Scotland, home students do not pay any fees.

June 26, 2009

Singer Michael Jackson dies at 50

Singer Michael Jackson dies at 50

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson had been due to play 50 concert dates in the UK this summer

Pop star Michael Jackson has died in Los Angeles, aged 50.

Paramedics were called to the singer’s Beverly Hills home at about midday on Thursday after he stopped breathing.

He was pronounced dead two hours later at the UCLA medical centre. Jackson’s brother, Jermaine, said he was believed to have suffered a cardiac arrest.

Jackson, who had a history of health problems, had been due to stage a series of comeback concerts in the UK, beginning on 13 July.

Speaking on behalf of the Jackson family, Jermaine said doctors had tried to resuscitate the star for more than an hour without success.

He added: “The family request that the media please respect our privacy during this tough time.”

“And Allah be with you Michael, always. I love you.”

TV footage showed the star’s body flown from UCLA to the LA County Coroner’s office where a post-mortem is expected to take place on Friday.

Concerns were raised last month when four of Jackson’s planned comeback concerts were postponed, but organisers insisted the dates had been moved due to the complexity of staging the show.

AT THE SCENE
Rajesh Mirchandani
Rajesh Mirchandani
BBC News

Michael Jackson was brought here to the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles around 12 hours ago. Earlier there were several hundred people here, before it got dark – there was a sense of grief, of disbelief.

But in the last few hours, these people have been singing his songs, dancing, there was a guy on a keyboard earlier, playing his songs for people to dance along to.

This has turned into an impromptu celebration of Michael Jackson’s music. He’s the king of pop as far as they’re concerned. They’re still shocked by his sudden death but they’re here because they want to show their support.

A spokeswoman for The Outside Organisation, which was organising the publicity for the shows, said she had no comment at this time.

Broadcaster Paul Gambaccini said: “I always doubted that he would have been able to go through that schedule, those concerts. It seemed to be too much of a demand on the unhealthy body of a 50 year old.

“I’m wondering that, as we find out details of his death, if perhaps the stress of preparing for those dates was a factor in his collapse.

“It was wishful thinking that, at this stage of his life, he could be Michael Jackson again.”

Tributes have poured in from the entertainment industry. Sir Paul McCartney described Jackson’s death as ” sad and shocking”.

The pair worked together on two hit tracks, Say Say, Say and The Girl Is Mine from Jackson’s Thriller album.

He said ” I feel privileged to have hung out and worked with Michael. He was a massively talented boy-man with a gentle soul.

“His music will be remembered forever and my memories of our time together will be happy ones.

“I send my deepest sympathy to his mother and the whole family, and to his countless fans all around the world.”

Speaking outside New York’s historic Apollo theatre, civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton paid tribute to his friend.

“I knew him 35 years. When he had problems he would call me,” he said.

HAVE YOUR SAY

Can’t believe it. I’m gutted. RIP Michael, thanks for everything you gave us.

Tommy, Cardiff

“I feel like he was not treated fairly. I hope history will be more kind to him than some of the contemporary media.”

Melanie Bromley, west coast bureau chief of Us Weekly magazine, told the News the scene in Los Angeles was one of “pandemonium”.

“At the moment there is a period of disbelief. He was buying a home in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles and the scene outside the house is one of fans, reporters and TV cameras – it’s absolute craziness.

“I feel this is the biggest celebrity story in a long time and has the potential to be the Princess Diana of popular culture.”

Musical icon

Tributes from the world of music and film have already flooded in from celebrities including Madonna, Arnold Schwarzenegger and ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley.

Large numbers of fans have also gathered outside Jackson’s home and at the UCLA medical centre with lit candles to mourn the star while playing his greatest hits.

Facebook groups have also been set up for fans to share their memories.

The singer’s albums are occupying the top 15 slots of online music retailer Amazon.com’s current best-seller chart, led by his 1982 smash hit Thriller.

Paramedics were called to the singer’s house in Bel Air at 1221 (1921GMT) following an emergency phone call.

They performed CPR on Jackson and rushed him to the UCLA medical centre.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department said the robbery and homicide team was investigating Jackson’s death because of its “high profile”, but there was no suggestion of foul play.

Jackson began his career as a child in family group The Jackson 5.

MICHAEL JACKSON 1958-2009
Full name: Michael Joseph Jackson
Born: August 29, 1958, Gary, Indiana, US
Also known as: The King of Pop, Wacko Jacko
Biggest hits: I Want You Back, Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, Billie Jean, Bad, Black or White, Earth Song

He then went on to achieve global fame as a solo artist with smash hits such as Billie Jean and Bad.

Thriller, released in 1982, is the biggest-selling album of all time, shifting 65m copies, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

He scored seven UK number ones as a solo artist and won a total of 13 Grammy awards.

“For Michael to be taken away from us so suddenly at such a young age, I just don’t have the words,” said Quincy Jones, who produced Thriller, Bad and Off The Wall.

“He was the consummate entertainer and his contributions and legacy will be felt upon the world forever. I’ve lost my little brother today, and part of my soul has gone with him.”

The singer had been dogged by controversy and money trouble in recent years, becoming a virtual recluse.

He was arrested in 2003 on charges of molesting a 14-year-old boy, but was found not guilty following a five-month trial.

The star had three children, Michael Joseph Jackson Jr, Paris Michael Katherine Jackson and Prince Michael Jackson II.

He is survived by his mother, Katherine, father, Joseph and eight siblings – including Janet, Randy, Jermaine and La Toya Jackson.

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