News & Current Affairs

September 22, 2008

Pakistan to target rebel hotspots

Pakistan to target rebel hotspots

Pakistan’s government has pledged to take targeted action against militants, a day after a suicide bomb killed 53 people in the capital, Islamabad.

Interior Ministry adviser Rehman Malik said raids would be carried out in some “hotspots” near the Afghan border.

Earlier, the authorities revealed that a truck laden with 600kg of high-grade explosives had rammed the Marriott Hotel security gate before blowing up.

Rescuers have been combing the wreckage for survivors and bodies.

The blast left 266 people with injuries.

Although most of those killed were Pakistani, the Czech ambassador and two US defense department workers were among the dead.

The attackers had disguised the truck well as it was covered with a tarpaulin and loaded with bricks and gravel
Rehman Malik

A Vietnamese citizen was also killed in the blast, in which at least a dozen foreign nationals were wounded.

The Danish Foreign Ministry said one of its diplomats was missing.

No group has taken responsibility for the attack, but Mr Malik suggested responsibility lay with al-Qaeda and Taleban militants based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) on the Afghan border.

“In previous attacks, all roads led to Fata,” he said.

The attack might have been retaliation for army bombardments of suspected Taleban targets with jet fighters.

Room-by-room search

The heavily-guarded hotel was attacked at about 2000 (1500 GMT) on Saturday.

CCTV footage of the moments before the blast show a six-wheeler lorry ramming the security barrier at the hotel gate.

Rescuers in Islamabad, 21/09

Rescue teams combed the scene for bodies and survivors

Shots are fired and the vehicle starts to burn. Security guards initially scatter, but return to try to douse the flames.

The footage breaks of at the moment of the blast because the camera was destroyed. It created a crater about 8m (27ft) deep, and triggered a fire which engulfed the 290-room, five-storey building for hours.

Officials said the lorry contained explosives as well as grenades and mortars. Aluminium powder was used to accelerate the explosion and added to the ferocity of the blaze.

“I do not believe this is a breakdown in security. The attackers had disguised the truck well as it was covered with a tarpaulin and loaded with bricks and gravel,” Mr Malik said.

Witnesses described a scene of horror as blood-covered victims were pulled from the wreckage and guests and staff ran for cover from shattered glass and flames.

The fire has now burned out and rescue workers have been searching the building room-by-room, pulling bodies out of the blackened debris.

‘Confronting the threat’

Immediately after the bombing, newly-elected President Asif Ali Zardari vowed to root out the “cancer” of terrorism in Pakistan.

Map

He has now flown to New York to attend the UN General Assembly session, where he will meet US President George W Bush on the sidelines.

The meeting comes amid tension between the two countries over US attacks on militants in tribal areas of Pakistan, close to the Afghan border.

In the wake of the attack, President Bush pledged assistance to Pakistan in “confronting this threat and bringing the perpetrators to justice”.

The Marriott is the most prestigious hotel in the capital, and is located near government buildings and diplomatic missions. It is popular with foreigners and the Pakistani elite.

The hotel has previously been the target of militants. Last year a suicide bomber killed himself and one other in an attack at the hotel.

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September 19, 2008

Japan minister quits in rice row

Japan minister quits in rice row

Seiichi Ota. File photo.

Mr Ota only took over his portfolio in August this year

Japan’s farm minister, Seiichi Ota, has tendered his resignation because of a food scandal involving tainted rice.

Mr Ota’s ministry has admitted it was told in January 2007 that a food company was distributing rice tainted with pesticide.

Mr Ota had earlier said he saw no need to make “too much of a fuss over it”.

It has since emerged that the rice, destined for industrial uses, was resold as a food product and served to the elderly.

The rice has been found to be tainted with pesticides and mould, and was known to be unfit for human consumption.

No-one has been reported as ill as a result of eating the rice; a government official said this was because the density of contaminants was low.

“I met Prime Minister [Yasuo] Fukuda and told him my decision to resign, considering the seriousness of the tainted rice problem for the society,” Mr Ota said.

Japanese broadcaster NHK said his resignation had been accepted.

Japan faces general elections soon, possibly as early as next month.

Contamination spreads

As information trickled out, it became clear that the bad rice was sold to more than 300 firms, including brewers, food ingredient wholesalers and sweet makers.

A government report released this week showed that the rice was imported from China, Vietnam and elsewhere, and intended for use in the making of glue and other industrial products.

Instead, the Osaka-based Mikasa Foods company sold the rice on to firms which used it for making foods that have been distributed to hospitals and care homes.

Young people have also been affected as the bad rice was used in making some snacks sold in convenience stores, and in school lunches.

Japanese media reported that police said on Wednesday that the president of one of the small companies that had bought the rice from Mikasa Foods, had committed suicide by hanging himself.

When Mr Ota’s ministry first heard of the tainted rice entering the food chain, he said it was unable to uncover any wrongdoing.

Mr Ota only took over the portfolio in August this year.

The minister has come under fire after admitting his ministry “overlooked” the illegal distribution of rice unfit for human consumption.

Our correspondent says Mr Ota is known for his slips of the tongue, such as his expressed confidence that no-one would die from eating tainted rice and that no fuss was necessary.

The senior bureaucrat at the agriculture ministry had already resigned.

September 5, 2008

McCain vows to fight to change US

McCain vows to fight to change US

John McCain has accepted the Republican Party’s candidacy for the White House in a speech to cheering supporters at the party’s national convention.

He vowed to bring change to government, restore the people’s trust in the party and to fight for a better nation.

Praising his running mate Sarah Palin, he said she was the right person to help him bring change to Washington.

The Arizona senator said he respected Democratic rival Barack Obama and would seek a bipartisan approach to politics.

Presenting himself once again as a maverick, he pledged to fight corruption, whether Democratic or Republican, and make sure that he worked for the good of the American people.

“Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big spending, do nothing, me first, country second Washington crowd: change is coming,” Mr McCain told the crowds in St Paul, Minnesota.

Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed
John McCain

In a criticism of his own party, he said he would “fight to restore the pride and principles” of the party, damaged after some Republicans gave in to “the temptations of corruption”.

“We’re going to recover the people’s trust by standing up again for the values Americans admire,” he said. “The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics.”

Mr McCain then turned to attacking the Democrats over taxes and spending, saying they would seek to raise taxes whereas he would keep them low and cut them where possible.

Going into some policy specifics, he pledged create new jobs, improve education and to reduce a “dangerous dependence on foreign oil” by producing more energy at home, including by drilling new offshore oil wells.

Mr McCain promised to take a bipartisan approach to resolving the nation’s problems, saying: “Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed.

McCAIN’S MOST-USED WORDS
Tag cloud - words used by John McCain

“That’s how I will govern as president. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again.

“I have that record and the scars to prove it. Barack Obama does not.”

After speaking of the five years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and how that experience had inspired his love of his country, he called on his fellow Americans to fight with him to make it a better one.

“Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We’re Americans and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.”

The almost hour-long speech, which ended in the traditional shower of confetti and red, white and blue balloons, brought to a close the party’s four-day event.

‘Tested and true’

Mr McCain’s speech was measured and entirely lacking in the sarcasm and vitriol which have been levelled at Mr Obama over the past couple of nights.

He said he hated war and would use all America’s tools – diplomatic, military and economic – to build what he called a stable and enduring peace, as well as shaking up Washington and including Democrats and independents in a McCain administration.

Cindy McCain with sons Jimmy, left, and Jack, 4 Sept

Mrs McCain praised her husband as a great father and devoted American

It was all a rather different tone to the Republican politics of the past eight years, and to many of the other speakers at this Republican convention, our correspondent says.

There was very little of President George W Bush in this speech, our correspondent adds, as Mr McCain tries to show that he is his own man and can signify a break with the Bush years.

Mr McCain’s wife, Cindy, in her speech praised her husband’s family values, strength of character, war service and leadership.

“If Americans want straight talk and the plain truth, they should take a good close look at John McCain… a man tested and true, who’s never wavered in his devotion to our country,” she said, after arriving on stage flanked by their seven children.

Her speech followed the convention’s formal nomination of Mrs Palin – the Republican Party’s first female vice-presidential candidate.

Mrs Palin becomes only the second woman, the first being Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, to run for the US vice-presidency.

‘Integrity and courage’

Speaking ahead of Mr McCain’s address, senior Republicans praised his courage and leadership.

Justin Webb
I have to say, from my vantage point next to the DC delegation, my overall impression was that the audience in the hall were disappointed
BBC North America editor Justin Webb

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, at one point hotly tipped to be Mr McCain’s running mate choice, described the Arizona senator’s life as “a testimony to service, duty, courage and common sense”.

“In this time, we don’t need a president who can just read a poll or momentarily thrill a crowd. We don’t need rhetoric or empty promises,” he said.

“We need a president who has the integrity and courage to make the tough choices so America will be stronger and safer.”

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham hailed Mr McCain’s determination to back the Bush administration’s “surge” strategy in Iraq despite the political risks.

HAVE YOUR SAY

McCain is an experienced person and his speech impressed me

Hariprasad Bhusal, India

He introduced a video presenting Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as a “maverick” moose-hunter from Alaska who was joining “the original maverick” Mr McCain to bring change to Washington politics.

In a well-received speech on Wednesday, Mrs Palin praised Mr McCain and attacked Mr Obama as having talked of change, but done nothing of substance.

President George W Bush has also strongly endorsed John McCain as the best man to succeed him in the White House.

September 3, 2008

Profile: John McCain

Profile: John McCain

McCain is a divisive figure within his own Republican
party [GALLO/GETTY]

A decorated Vietnam war hero who spent more than five years as a war prisoner, McCain’s successful bid for the Republican nomination had marked his second attempt to run for the White House.

But his success is a remarkable turnaround for the Arizona senator, who until recently was not viewed as a serious contender.

A self-proclaimed straight talker whose bluntness and at times unconventional style have both frustrated and appealed to would be voters, McCain is a divisive figure within his own party, to the extent that some have claimed they will not vote for him.

And some have pointed to both this rocky relationship and his age – at 71 he will be America’s oldest ever president –  as major obstacles on the road to the Oval Office.

Vietnam ordeal

McCain [here with Richard Nixon] spent years
in Vietnam POW camps
[Getty Images]

McCain comes from a family with a long military history – both his father and grandfather served as US navy admirals.

McCain himself joined the navy in 1958, beginning a 22-year long naval career marked most notably by his decision to volunteer for service in the Vietnam war.

It was a momentous decision. In October 1967 during a bombing mission, McCain’s plane was shot down by a missile.

He ejected but was injured in the process, breaking both his arms and his leg.

Captured by north Vietnamese soldiers, he was taken prisoner and held at several prisons for five and a half years, often enduring torture by his captors. He still bears physical scars from his ordeal.

Most notably, though he was offered an early release by the North Vietnamese, McCain declined because he did not want to be seen as receiving preferential treatment.

On his return, McCain decided to enter politics, becoming first a naval liaison for the US senate, then a congressman for Arizona before entering the senate in 1987.

Hawkish policies

“Tehran must understand that it cannot win a showdown with the world”

John McCain

On foreign policy, many prospective voters were unnerved by a comment McCain made while campaigning in which he said he believed US forces should stay in Iraq for 100 years if necessary.

“I oppose a pre-emptive withdrawal strategy that has no Plan B for the aftermath of its inevitable failure and the greater problems that would ensue,” he wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine.

However, McCain has criticised US military strategy in Iraq, saying that by failing to adopt a counterinsurgency strategy the US and the Iraqi people had paid a “dear price”.He is also a firm opponent of the use of torture. However, he recently voted against a senate bill which would have banned the controversial interrogation method of waterboarding widely viewed as torture.

McCain also advocates building up Israel militarily and isolating Hamas, while using every resource available “to aid moderate Muslims … who are resisting the well-financed campaign of extremism that is tearing Muslim societies apart”, he added.

On Iran, McCain is hawkish, describing the nation as the world’s “chief state sponsor of terrorism” and advocating all options, including possible military action, against the Islamic Republic should it continue with its nuclear program.

“Tehran must understand that it cannot win a showdown with the world,” he wrote.

However, an embarrassing gaffe during a visit to Jordan in March, in which he wrongly accused Iran, a predominantly Shia nation, of aiding Sunni al-Qaeda fighters, led to questions about whether his foreign affairs experience was as solid as he claimed.

Polarising figure

McCain was left embittered after his 2000
nomination battle with Bush[EPA]

McCain remains a polarising figure within the Republican party.

On domestic issues McCain is known for being willing to “cross the floor” and work with Democrats, particularly on the matters of campaign finance and on immigration – co-sponsoring a bi-partisan bill which would have offered an amnesty to illegal immigrants.

This has caused suspicion amongst some of the more traditionalist members of the Republican party, who consider him too moderate on social issues such as immigration.

McCain’s response has been to aggressively tout his conservative credentials while out on the road campaigning for the nomination, attempting to strike a delicate balance by reaching out to centrists who may be wooed to vote for him while at the same time striving not to upset evangelicals or more right-wing members of the Republican party.

Past controversies

Two decades ago, McCain and four other senators were accused of trying to influence banking regulators on behalf of Charles Keating, a savings financier later convicted of securities fraud.

The Senate Ethics Committee decided that McCain had used “poor judgment” but that his actions ‘were not improper” and did not deserve punishment.

In 2000 McCain ran against George Bush, losing after a controversial nomination race in which scurrilous accusations against him implied erroneously he had fathered an illegitimate African-American child.

The experience, he later acknowledged, left him angry – although his relationship with Bush has since thawed.

Nonetheless, sensitised by the slurs against him in the 2000 nomination campaign, McCain set up a “South Carolina truth squad’ to rebut allegations that he had “sold out” prisoners of war.

In February, he also denied a New York Times report that suggested he had a romantic relationship with a Washington lobbyist.

However, with the potential slings and arrows of a major presidential campaign, McCain may face more of the same in the future.

August 19, 2008

Gary Glitter leaves Vietnam jail

Gary Glitter leaves Vietnam jail

Gary Glitter March 2006

Gary Glitter has reportedly said he wants to return to the UK

Disgraced ex-pop star Gary Glitter has been released from a prison in Vietnam, the authorities there say.

He had served most of a three-year sentence for abusing girls.

Glitter, 64, real name Paul Francis Gadd, is due to be deported after being jailed in March 2006 for molesting two girls aged 11 and 12.

Le Thanh Kinh, his lawyer, had said the authorities intended to deport him to the UK, but that he could use his British passport to travel anywhere.

He said that Glitter was released at about 1130 local time (0530 BST).

Tran Huu Thong, director of the Z30D Thu Duc prison in southern Binh Thuan province, told the AFP news agency: “He left our prison early this morning and he is now already far from here.”

And he told AP that guards were in the process of transporting Glitter to the Ho Chi Minh City airport, about three to four hours away from the prison in Binh Thuan province.

The former star had been expected to be driven under police escort to Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City.

He was thought to have a ticket to London – but there are no direct flights to the UK, which allows him the option of buying another ticket when he changes planes.

His lawyer said: “He has served his sentence and the authorities in Vietnam will deport him. He does not have any sentence to serve in London. If he wants to stop wherever he wants to he can do that.

If he wants to stop wherever he wants to he can do that
Le Thanh Kinh
Lawyer

“If he wants to he can change flights.”

He added: “The only problem is the countries he wants to go to, because he has to get a visa.”

However, the lawyer said his client told him he wanted to return to the UK, had a ticket to London and was eagerly anticipating his release.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it was “a matter for Mr Gadd and the Vietnamese authorities” where Glitter went after he was deported.

If he does fly back to the UK, the disgraced star will be met at the airport by police and required to sign the register of sex offenders.

He will then be subject to monitoring and will have to tell the police where he plans to live and if he plans to go abroad.

And he could also face an order prohibiting him from going near children or using the internet.

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