News & Current Affairs

September 7, 2008

Protests greet Turkish president’s ‘football diplomacy’

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Protests greet Turkish president’s ‘football diplomacy’

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Thousands of Armenians lined the streets of the capital Yerevan Saturday, protesting the Turkish president who drove past in the first ever visit by a Turkish leader. Many held placards demanding justice for massacres that took place nearly 100 years ago.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul boards a plane at Ankara before departing on an historic visit to Armenia.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul boards a plane at Ankara before departing on an historic visit to Armenia.

Abdullah Gul arrived in Armenia to watch a Turkey vs. Armenia football World Cup qualifier game with President Serge Sarkisian that many hope will help the two countries overcome decades of antagonism rooted in Ottoman-era massacres of Armenians.

Gul is the first Turkish leader to set foot in Armenia since the ex-Soviet nation declared independence in 1991. The two neighbors have no diplomatic ties and their border has been closed since 1993.

Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Ties have also suffered from Turkey’s opposition to Armenia‘s occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, a close Turkish ally.

As Gul left the airport, the presidential motorcade drove along streets lined with thousands of people holding up placards, mostly in English and Armenian, that read: “We want justice,” “Turk admit your guilt,” and “1915 never again.”

Others held up names of places in Turkey from which their ancestors were forced to leave as the Ottoman Empire uprooted Armenian communities between 1915 and 1922.

Little progress is expected on the genocide issue or on Nagorno-Karabakh when Gul meets Sarkisian for talks just before the game — which Turkey is favored to win.

Still, the visit is a sign of a diplomatic thaw.

“I hope that (the visit) will help lift the obstacles that stand in the way of rapprochement between the two peoples and contribute to regional friendship and peace,” Gul said before his departure.

Gul’s decision to accept Armenia’s invitation to the match is linked to Turkey’s desire to carve out a regional peacemaker role amid tensions sparked by Russia’s invasion of neighboring Georgia.

Turkey, a NATO member, has cause for alarm about how Russia’s recognition of the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia might inspire its own separatist Kurds, or provoke Armenia to boost support for separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the wake of the Georgia conflict, Turkey proposed a regional grouping for stability in the Caucasus that would include Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

“About a month ago, we all saw how conflicts that have remained unresolved threatened regional stability and peace in the Caucasus,” Gul said in reference to the Georgia crisis.

Armenia is the last of Turkey‘s neighbors with whom Ankara has failed to mend ties since the end of the Cold War. Turkey has gradually improved relations with old foes such as Greece, Bulgaria and Syria.

Improved ties with Armenia are likely to help lift strains on Turkey’s relations with other countries that have or plan to formally recognize the massacres as genocide.

In October, a measure that would have declared the Armenian deaths as genocide in the U.S. Congress was stopped after President George W. Bush’s administration warned relations with strategic ally Turkey would be damaged.

On the plane, Gul paid tribute to the Armenian president.

“President Sarkisian was brave in taking the opportunity of inviting me to this game,” he said.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 during a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a Muslim ally of Ankara, in order to pressure Yerevan into ending the conflict. he move has hurt the economy of tiny, landlocked Armenia.

Armenia’s bitter ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey have resulted in the tiny country being excluded from strategic energy pipelines that connect Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia.

Armenians, supported by numerous scholars, claim an organized genocide was carried out in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire and are pushing for the killings to be recognized as among history’s worst atrocities.

Turkey contends the 1.5 million death toll is wildly inflated. It also says the Armenians were killed or displaced in civil unrest during the chaos that surrounded the empire’s collapse.

Turkey has called for the establishment of a committee of scholars to study the WWI events in a bid to improve ties, but Armenia has declined to consider this until relations are forged.

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September 6, 2008

Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

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Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

Bajm

Bajm were popular across Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain fell

Eight of Poland’s top pop and rock acts perform in front of a 10,000-strong crowd at Wembley Arena on Sunday. Billed as the biggest ever Polish music event on foreign soil, what does it mean for Britain’s Polish community?

Crowds of adoring fans will pack Wembley Arena on Sunday to see their favorite superstars perform to a full house.

But it will not be Madonna, Oasis or Jay-Z entertaining more than 10,000 people.

Bajm and Lady Pank may be largely unheard of in the UK but are household names in Poland, where four million viewers are expected to watch the London Live show’s highlights on state channel TVP2.

Tabloid hellraiser

Described as Poland’s answer to Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chili Peppers, their albums have sold three million copies.

Alongside Bracia’s modern grungy-rock and Natalia Kukulska’s soulfull R’n’B, the show even has its own tabloid hellraiser in Doda, who has posed for Playboy and courted controversy by spitting on stage.

Stanislaw Trzcinski, president of promoter STX Records, said: “This is like the O2 Festival, except for Polish music.”

Natalia Kukulka. Photo Wojciech Wojtczak
Performing at Wembley is a great honor
Natalia Kukulska

Guests on stage include Jan Tomaszewski, the goalkeeper whose heroics at the old Wembley Stadium in 1973 helped secure a 1-1 draw to send Poland to its first World Cup at England’s expense.Mr Trzcinski said: “The name Wembley brings back happy memories for Polish people and it remains a special place, so it was the perfect location.”

Kukulska, 32, has performed with tenor Jose Carreras and duetted with British R’n’B star Lemar at the Sopot festival in Poland in 2005.

She said: “Performing at Wembley is a great honor. I hope I will draw energy from the people who have played there in the past.”

After picking up influences of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston during a year in the US, she blended them with her own style to sell 2.5 million records at home.

Free tickets

“I’m very excited because this is the first time a lot of artists from Poland are performing abroad together,” she added.

Costing almost £1m to stage, the event has been advertised on 30 London buses and is being beamed back to Poland in high definition, thanks to a 100-strong production crew. Tickets were free to those who registered.

More than one million people voted in an internet talent competition giving bands the chance to perform on a second stage outside the arena, where they will be joined by top acts from the UK and Ireland’s Polish communities.

The show’s arrival reflects the remarkable influx of Poles into Britain.

After the Second World War, the Polish Resettlement Act allowed around 200,000 people to remain in the UK. They were mainly Polish troops, who had fought alongside the British, and their dependents.

By 2001, the census recorded just 60,680 Polish-born people living in Britain.

But since Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004, those numbers have swollen to the 405,000 estimated by the government last year, although the numbers arriving has dropped in recent months.

Appetite for rock

At least 100,000 settled in London, with many basing themselves around established Polish communities in western districts like Hammersmith.

There, the Posk cultural centre boasts the largest library of Polish books outside Poland, a gallery, restaurant and 350-seat theatre.

Supermarkets across Britain have started stocking Polish goods and delicatessens have sprung up in many towns.

THE PERFORMERS
Doda
Bajm: Six-piece rock outfit, formed in 1978, their 13 albums all went gold or platinum
Wilki: Hard-rock band, named “Wolves”, have performed in New York and London
Doda (pictured): Daughter of an Olympic weightlifter, gave up athletics to be a pop tearaway
Natalia Kukulska: Began singing aged seven and sold 1.5 million records as a child star
Kayah: Was a backing singer before her solo career in soul, jazz and R’n’B took off
Bracia: Their grunge-rock style made this band – “The Brothers” – favourites with younger fans
Monika Brodka: Her soulful voice was inspired by her idols Erikah Badu and Lauren Hill
Lady Pank: These punk survivors formed in 1982, playing 400 gigs to promote their debut album

But Piotr Grzeskiewicz, station director at Hammersmith-based Polskie Radio Londyn, said there had been little to feed young migrants’ appetite for rock and pop.

“Hundreds of thousands of Polish people in Britain have limited access to modern Polish culture and this is their best opportunity in many years to see some really big Polish bands,” he said.

Organizers hope many Britons will be at Wembley.

However, Mr Grzeskiewicz said: “The language barrier is huge. Only a few of these bands have played abroad and usually only for Polish fans.”

Warsaw-based bank PKO BP financed the event to promote its central London branch, which opened last December to cater both for migrants and British businesses investing in Poland.

Branch manager Katarzyna Cal said the move demonstrated the growing confidence in Poland’s economy and the number of investors keen to do business in the country.

Meanwhile, Dr Jan Mokrzycki, chairman of the UK’s Federation of Poles, admits he prefers the classical works of Chopin to today’s rock.

Vibrant

But the 75-year-old said the event would help build understanding between the established and newly-arrived Polish communities.

Initial tensions between the groups are diminishing, said the dental surgeon whose mother – a former Nazi concentration camp detainee – brought him to Britain in 1948 to escape communism.

“A combination of their youth, enthusiasm and education and our knowledge of the laws and customs of Britain is helping integration,” said Dr Mokrzycki.

“Cultural events of the old community have been traditional, forged from our experiences of pre-war Poland, so involve mostly classical or folk music.

“The new culture is vibrant with jazz and pop and it’s important younger people have access to that.”

August 21, 2008

Capello defends England tactics

Capello defends England tactics

Fabio Capello

Capello said he played Gerrard in a supporting role behind the striker

Coach Fabio Capello gave England’s performance in the 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic a mixed review and defended his use of Steven Gerrard.

The Italian was criticized for playing the midfielder on the left wing.

Capello explained he was using Gerrard in a 4-3-2-1 system, with the Liverpool captain and Wayne Rooney supporting Jermain Defoe as a main striker.

“The position he had to play was in the line of the full-backs and midfield,” he said. “He never played on the left.”

Capello sought to get the best out of Liverpool’s influential captain and Chelsea’s Frank Lampard in the same line-up, a conundrum that has dogged his predecessors in the England job.

On this occasion he opted to partner Lampard with Gareth Barry in the middle with David Beckham to the right of the trio.

Capello added: “We played 4-3-2-1. We played Defoe, Gerrard and Rooney and three midfielders behind them. He [Gerrard] went to the left and to the middle.”

Gerrard was replaced by Joe Cole after an hour and the Chelsea midfielder admitted he was played out of position.

“I’m a winger, but the manager wanted me to play off the front man,” said the 26-year-old. “New manager, new ideas. We’ve got to try things.”

Only a last-minute goal from Cole saved England from defeat at Wembley, but Capello drew some positives from the salvaged draw, saying the performance was another step forward for his side ahead of World Cup qualifying campaign which begins in Andorra on 6 September.

He was also concerned by the ease in which England were exposed by a fast counter-attacking Czech side and admitted it is something they will need to work on.

“I think in the first half we played well, we had a lot of chances.

“After the second goal from the Czechs, the direction was not so strong.”

The problem is not with the style we played, but the difficulty we have when the other team play the counter-attack
England manager Fabio Capello

“The problem is not with the style we played, but the difficulty we have when the other team play the counter-attack,” added the 62-year-old.

“It is always dangerous and we have to study this problem.

“At this moment the players are not 100% physically, and important players like Rooney and Gerrard have played just one game.

“I think this result is important. We played against a very strong team and we’ll have more confidence for the next game.”

England’s uncomfortable night was compounded by the announcement that the Football Association’s chief executive Brian Barwick would leave his post by the end of the year.

Barwick was instrumental in the appointment of Capello, but differences with chairman Lord Triesman have led to their relationship becoming unworkable.

When asked about his departure the Italian said: “I am a friend of Brian, but it’s not my job [to comment] – it’s a board decision.”

Meanwhile, captain John Terry conceded that there had been “some plusses, but also some negatives” from their final warm-up game before the World Cup qualification campaign begins.

“Maybe we should have won the game with the players we had out,” the re-appointed skipper said

Of the crowd booing the players off, he said: “The crowd were frustrated as they’d paid a lot of money for their tickets, and we’ve got to put on a better show than that.

“It’s going to be a slow process, but hopefully we can get off to a good start against Andorra and go from there.

“We’ve got players playing in the biggest competition in the world [the Champions League], but sometimes we don’t click on the international stage.

“But I don’t think we should be worried. We have to stand up and be counted, raise our game, match teams with the commitment they show and hopefully our quality can overcome them.”

August 13, 2008

ICC aims to avert Trophy boycott

ICC aims to avert Trophy boycott

ICC says safety will not be compromised at the Champions Trophy

ICC says safety will not be compromised at the Champions Trophy

Cricket’s governing body the ICC is hoping to head off a possible boycott of next month’s Champions Trophy over security worries.

Delegations are visiting England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in an attempt to persuade them to take part in the tournament in Pakistan.

They have expressed serious safety concerns about the event.

Rawalpindi has already been removed as one of the venues after its security arrangements could not be verified.

Matches will now take place only in Lahore and Karachi.

ICC president David Morgan said: “Our desire is to ensure that every stakeholder is content with arrangements and is comfortable with the ICC Champions Trophy taking place in Pakistan.”

The ICC is to receive feedback from the visits by 20 August.

“We are committed to a safe and secure event in Pakistan,” Morgan added.

“We believe these visits and the feedback we get from them will play a major role in us achieving those ends.”

The competition, the so-called mini World Cup, is set to be held between 11 and 28 September.

But Australia and New Zealand players have been advised by their players’ associations not to travel to Pakistan and the South African players’ body has criticized the ICC decision not to move the tournament out of Pakistan.

August 5, 2008

Van Nistelrooy quits Dutch set-up

Real Madrid’s Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy has announced his retirement from international football.

“After studying the schedule of Madrid and the Dutch team I realised playing for both would mean too tough a load for me,” said the 32-year-old.

Van Nistelrooy won the first of his 64 caps in 1998 and is the team’s third highest all-time scorer with 33 goals.

He missed Euro 2000 through injury but played and scored at Euro 2004 and 2008 and also the 2006 World Cup.

His decision came as a surprise to new national team coach Bert van Marwijk, who succeeded Marco van Basten as national team coach on 1 July.

“I had a comprehensive conversation with Ruud and I can do nothing else but respect his decision,” said van Marwijk.

“I regret it that I can’t use his quality and experience when I compose my squad but I wish him all the best at Real Madrid.”

Van Nistelrooy made his name at PSV Eindhoven, where he suffered a serious knee injury, before moving to Manchester United for a then- British record fee of £19m in 2001.

He had five successful years at Old Trafford before moving to Madrid in July 2006 for £10.2m.

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