News & Current Affairs

April 10, 2010

Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash

Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash

President Lech Kaczynski and scores of other senior Polish figures have been killed in a plane crash in Russia.

Polish and Russian officials said no-one survived after the plane apparently hit trees as it approached Smolensk airport in thick fog.

Russian media reports said the pilots ignored advice from air traffic control to divert to another airport.

Poland’s army chief, central bank governor, MPs and leading historians were among more than 80 passengers.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the crash was the most tragic event of the country’s post-World War II history.

The Polish delegation was flying in from Warsaw to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre of thousands of Poles by Soviet forces during WWII.

Lech Kaczynski, file image

Obituary: Lech Kaczynski

The BBC’s Adam Easton, in Warsaw, says the crash is a catastrophe for the Polish people.

He says Prime Minister Tusk was reportedly in tears when he was told.

After an emergency meeting of ministers, Mr Tusk, who runs the day-to-day business of government, said a week of national mourning had been declared with two minutes of silence on Sunday at midday.

Mr Tusk added: “The Polish state must function and will function”.

Flowers and candles laid outside presidential palace in Warsaw -  10 April 2010

Thousands have gathered outside the presidential palace in Warsaw

A government spokesman said that according to the constitution there would be an early presidential election, and the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, would be acting president.

In Warsaw, people gathered outside the presidential palace to lay flowers and light candles.

“I’m all broken up… it cannot be expressed in words,” Ewa Robaczewska told Reuters news agency.

Pilot error?

The Russian emergencies ministry told Itar-Tass news agency the plane crashed at 1056 Moscow time (0656 GMT) as it was coming in to land.

Smolensk regional governor Sergei Antufiev told Russian TV that no-one had survived.

Thousands of people have gathered outside the presidential palace to pay their respects.

There has been a spontaneous outpouring of grief, no matter what people thought of Lech Kaczynski. He was a divisive figure in Polish society, especially among younger Poles.

People are just stunned, visibly moved and in tears, whether they agreed with the president’s political views or not.

The largest church bell in Poland, at Krakow Cathedral, has been rung.

It never tolls generally, only for very, very solemn occasions. The last time it did so was for the death of the Polish pope, John Paul II, five years ago.

“According to preliminary reports, it got caught up in the tops of trees, fell to the ground and broke up into pieces,” he said. “There are no survivors in that crash.”

Polish TV worker Slawomir Wisniewski said he had seen the crash from his hotel near the airport.

“I saw through the fog, the aeroplane flying very low with the left wing pointing to the ground,” he said.

“I heard something being broken and then that thudding sound. Two flashes of fire next to each other.”

Russian media carried claims that the plane’s crew were at fault for the crash.

“Flight controllers… suggested that the plane be forwarded to Minsk but as far as we know the crew took an independent decision to land the plane in Smolensk,” Smolensk regional government spokesman Andrei Yevseyenkov told Russian TV.

Russian officials said 97 people were killed in the crash, including eight crew.

Polish officials said that 89 people had been scheduled to fly in the delegation to the Katyn commemoration, but one person missed the flight.

Mr Putin visited the crash site, after saying he would personally oversee the investigation into the crash.

“Everything must be done to establish the reasons for this tragedy in the shortest possible time,” he said.

He was to meet his Polish counterpart, Mr Tusk, in Smolensk.

Russian officials said all the bodies had been recovered from the scene and were being taken to Moscow for identification.

Russia’s Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu said both of the plane’s flight information recorders had been found and were being examined.

Controversial figure

The president was flying in a Tupolev 154, a Soviet-designed plane that was more than 20 years old.

SENIOR FIGURES KILLED
National leader:
President Lech Kaczynski and wife Maria
Other politicians:
Wladyslaw Stasiak chief of the president’s chancellery; Aleksander Szczyglo chief of the National Security Office; Slawomir Skrzypek National Bank of Poland chairman;
Jerzy Szmajdzinski deputy speaker of the lower house; Andrzej Kremer Foreign Ministry’s undersecretary of state; Stanislaw Komorowski deputy minister of national defence; Przemyslaw Gosiewski Law and Justice party deputy chair;
Military chief:
Franciszek Gagor chief of the General Staff
Cultural figures:
Andrzej Przewoznik head of Poland’s Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites; Tomasz Merta chief historical conservator

Source: TVP1, Warsaw

Our correspondent says there had been calls for Polish leaders to upgrade their planes.

Mr Kaczynski himself had suffered scares while using the plane in late 2008, when problems with the aircraft’s steering mechanism delayed his departure from Mongolia.

“Any flight brings with it a certain risk, but a very serious risk attaches to the responsibilities of a president, because it is necessary to fly constantly,” he was quoted as saying at the time.

But the head of Russia’s Aviakor aviation maintenance company told Russian TV the plane was airworthy, after his plant fully overhauled it in December.

As well as the president and his wife, Maria, a number of senior officials were on the passenger list.

They included the army chief of staff Gen Franciszek Gagor, central bank governor Slawomir Skrzypek and deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer.

World leaders including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered their condolences to Poland.

Mr Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, a former prime minister and now head of the main opposition party, was said to be “devastated”, an aide told AFP news agency.

Lech Kaczynski, who had fewer powers than the prime minister but had a significant say in foreign policy, was a controversial figure in Polish politics.

He had advocated a right-wing Catholic agenda, opposed rapid free-market reforms and favoured retaining social welfare programmes.

Map of crashed flight
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January 31, 2009

Merkel proposes UN economic body

Merkel proposes UN economic body

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (in red) arriving to speak in Davos, 30 January

Mrs Merkel leads one of the world’s most important economies

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed the creation of a United Nations Economic Council modelled on the UN Security Council.

In a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, she called for the adoption of a post-crisis global economic charter.

The charter would be based on sustainable economics and the Economic Council would oversee markets.

It is an idea that Mrs Merkel has advocated previously.

“All of these issues… need to be enshrined in a charter for the global economic order,” she said.

“This may even lead to a UN Economic Council, just as the Security Council was created after World War II.”

The idea of creating a UN Economic Council was proposed by Mrs Merkel when she met French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris earlier this month.

September 17, 2008

Karadzic faces fresh indictment

Karadzic faces fresh indictment

 Radovan Karadzic at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague on 17 September

Mr Karadzic has said the court is biased against him

UN war crimes prosecutors at The Hague are due to file a revised indictment against Bosnian Serb ex-leader Radovan Karadzic by Monday.

The announcement was made during a hearing which ended without setting a date for Mr Karadzic’s trial. A new hearing could be held within a month.

Mr Karadzic faces 11 counts relating to the Bosnian civil war in the 1990s.

A not-guilty plea to all charges was entered on his behalf after he refused to enter any plea himself.

Mr Karadzic was arrested in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, in July after 13 years on the run and living under a false name.

The charges against Mr Karadzic include what is regarded as Europe’s worst massacre since World War II – the killing of up to 8,000 men and youths in the enclave of Srebrenica.

Addressing the tribunal, prosecutor Alan Tieger said the revised indictment would be filed by Monday, without giving details.

‘Intimidation’

At the hearing on Thursday, Judge Iain Bonomy said a new pre-trial “status conference” – or hearing to set a trial date – would be held within a month.

THE EXISTING INDICTMENT
Eleven counts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities
Charged over shelling Sarajevo during the city’s siege, in which some 12,000 civilians died
Allegedly organized the massacre of up to 8,000 Bosniak men and youths in Srebrenica
Targeted Bosniak and Croat political leaders, intellectuals and professionals
Unlawfully deported and transferred civilians because of national or religious identity
Destroyed homes, businesses and sacred sites

Mr Karadzic confirmed that he planned to conduct his own defense, which he said he was doing on behalf of Serbs who had suffered in the former Yugoslavia, and for the leaders of small states who could also find themselves in court in future.

He also said again that he doubted he could get a fair trial, and complained of intimidation by court officials.

He asked for permission to put together a legal team to help him, saying at least one of them should be present in court at all times.

“I’m not prepared to be passive and to have other people decide on matters that concern me,” he said.

‘Nato court’

Mr Karadzic also repeated his argument that the trial was illegal because, he said, the terms of a deal made with former US peace envoy Richard Holbrooke had offered him immunity from prosecution.

A Muslim woman grieves beside the coffins of disinterred Srebrenica victims, July 2008

The remains of those killed at Srebrenica continue to be found

The claims have been ridiculed by Mr Holbrooke.

At the 29 August hearing, Judge Bonomy entered the plea of not guilty in accordance with tribunal rules.

The current indictment includes genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The alleged crimes include Mr Karadzic’s involvement in an attempt to destroy in whole or in part the Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) and Bosnian Croat ethnic groups.

That included the killings at Srebrenica and the shelling of Sarajevo, killing and terrorizing the city’s civilians.

The indictment says Mr Karadzic knew about the crimes that were being committed by Bosnian Serb forces, but failed to take action to prevent them.

September 14, 2008

How to be a good president

How to be a good president

Barack Obama says the most important quality is vision for the future. No, says John McCain, the key requirement is experience – or at least that’s what he said until he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Ronald Reagan

A former film star, Ronald Reagan was an excellent communicator

Both want the most powerful job in the world – but neither they, nor anyone else, can agree on what, precisely, are the qualities needed to serve as president of the United States.

Indeed, there is not even a job description – only an oath of office demanding the president defend the US constitution.

What’s more, the job keeps changing, evolving constantly in the 230 years since the founding of the republic.

Still, an understanding has gradually emerged of the key qualities required of a president.

The trouble is, they are so many and various, it’s almost impossible to imagine any normal human being matching up.

Preacher and protector

Ever since Theodore Roosevelt described the presidency as a “bully pulpit,” Americans have expected first-class rhetorical skills from their leaders.

Barack Obama and Bill Clinton

Mr Obama’s camp hopes to capitalise on Bill Clinton’s lasting popularity

A president must be able to inspire, to preach, to stir the American people to greater things.

In the modern era, Roosevelt, John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan all had a great talent for communication; so too did Bill Clinton, though in a different style.

The presidents who have struggled – both George Bushes and Jimmy Carter come to mind – were those who lacked oratorical gifts.

But the job requires more than that. Americans look to their president as a protector, someone who will keep the country strong and ward off its enemies.

Roosevelt was a great war leader. As the former Allied commander during World War II, Dwight Eisenhower made Americans feel similarly secure.

Rightly or wrongly, Americans still revere Reagan for winning the Cold War.

Minimum mendacity

Foreign policy acumen is a related and essential element in the presidential kit of parts.

Richard Nixon meets John McCain in 1973

Nixon and John McCain could both claim foreign policy expertise

It’s why Mr McCain makes so much of his own experience in international affairs – and why the Obama camp equally emphasizes Sarah Palin’s lack of a foreign policy record.

The first George Bush’s reputation rests on his skillful handling of the post-Cold War world, while his son will have to persuade future historians that he did not make terrible blunders abroad.

Yet skill on the world stage is not enough to guarantee the respect of posterity.

Richard Nixon regarded himself as a geo-strategic sage, thanks to his opening to China, but he is still known by a single word: Watergate.

Domestic scandal trumps international accomplishments. Put that down as another lesson for those keen to learn how to be a good president: you need to be, if not saint-like in your honesty, at least not so mendacious that you get tangled up in your own deceptions.

It helps if you’re someone who can get things done. Lyndon Johnson will forever be saddled with the disaster of the Vietnam war, but he retains respect for passing a canon of social legislation – from civil rights to his war on poverty – that genuinely improved millions of lives.

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter was seen as a decent but aloof president

That was largely down to his mastery of the often arcane ways of the senate, which he had once dominated as majority leader.

That hard-headed, practical ability to get results is often underestimated.

In the words of British journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Johnson “pushed through so much legislation which has changed the way we think about equality, equal rights and human dignity, and I think that is a huge accolade”.

Star quality

It’s good if you’re a palpably decent man, as Jimmy Carter was – but less good if that makes you seem lofty, prissy or aloof, as Carter often seemed.

It’s good if you can keep the country at peace and the economy in rosy health – as Bill Clinton did – but less good if you let that get overshadowed by personal indiscipline, as he did.

Finally, in the modern era, the president needs a compelling personal story, great charisma and as much screen presence as a movie star.

As I discovered making “President Hollywood”, the demands of Washington DC and Tinsel Town are remarkably similar.

Which man matches up to this impossible checklist, Barack Obama or John McCain? Well, the American people will decide that on 4 November.

But they had better get used to one thing right away: the president with every one of these essential qualities simply does not exist.

August 31, 2008

MI5’s D-Day pigeon plot revealed

MI5’s D-Day pigeon plot revealed

D-Day landings

Britain wanted to fuel false rumors of an invasion

British spy chiefs drew up secret plans to use pigeons to spread false rumors about the impending D-Day landings.

The plot in 1943 to drop the birds into German-occupied France is revealed in newly declassified MI5 files released by the National Archives.

Germany had been intercepting pigeons carrying Allied notes, the files say, so MI5 moved to drop false information.

It planned to put extra pigeons over the west coast of France to give the impression the invasion would be there.

The revelations come in newly-released files on World War II called “Channels for deception”.

‘Quite delighted’

One letter to a Capt Guy Liddell said: “On average about 10% only of the birds dropped on the Continent return to their lofts in this country – it must be assumed that a great number fall into German hands.

“During the past few weeks I also understand there has been a great concentration on the Brest and Brittany areas.

“It might therefore be possible to deduce that we have considerable interest in this region.”

It must have seemed like a really good idea at the time but possibly not the next day
Professor Christopher Andrew
MI5’s official historian

The deception operations surrounding the Normandy landings are considered by some historians to be the most important of World War II.

Codenamed Operation Fortitude, they were overseen by the London Controlling Section (LCS), a special unit formed in 1942 within the Joint Planning Staff at the War Cabinet offices.

LCS controlling officer Col John Bevan was said to be “quite delighted” with the pigeon plot, according to the files.

The first mention in the documents of using pigeons to thwart the enemy comes from MI5’s Lt Col Tommy Robertson.

He said: “The pigeon is sent in a cardboard container – which can quickly be buried or burnt – with a little bag of corn and a questionnaire.

“These birds are dropped over a chosen area in the hope at least some of them will fall into the hands of… supporters of the Allied cause.

“It occurs to me that this is a possible means of putting deception over to the enemy by the careful framing of the questionnaires as presumably the Germans must, if they capture some of these birds, take notice of the type of question asked.”

MI5 letter

Letters can be viewed at the National Archives in Kew, west London

The documents make it clear arrangements were made to go ahead with the plan, but it is unclear if it was carried out.

The official historian of MI5, Cambridge Professor Christopher Andrew, told : “Because pigeons are used to pass on messages, it’s understandable someone thought of this.

“It must have seemed like a really good idea at the time but possibly not the next day.”

The use of pigeons in intelligence has its origins in World War I when the British dropped pigeons inside baskets attached to parachutes and balloons to gather intelligence.

The D-Day invasion of German-occupied France took place on June 6, 1944 and marked the start of a major Allied counter offensive in Europe.

Members of the public can view the 152 newly-released files at the National Archives in Kew, west London.

August 5, 2008

Bin Laden driver trial jury out

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:08 am

A US military jury has retired to consider its verdict after the two-week trial of Osama Bin Laden’s former driver at Guantanamo Bay.

Yemeni Salim Hamdan faces life in prison if convicted of conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

In closing arguments, the prosecution said he played a “vital role” in the conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks.

But defence lawyers said he was a low-level employee, who was “not even an al-Qaeda member”.

Mr Hamdan, who was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, has pleaded not guilty and his defence team say he worked for wages, not to wage war on America.

Mr Hamdan has acknowledged working for Bin Laden in Afghanistan from 1997 to 2001 for $200 (£99) a month, but denies being part of al-Qaeda or taking part in any attacks.

He is the first prisoner to be tried by the US for war crimes since World War II.

The jury ended its initial deliberations after 45 minutes on Monday, and will resume on Tuesday morning.

‘Guilt by association’

In its closing argument, the prosecution described Mr Hamdan as a loyal supporter of Osama Bin Laden, who protected the al-Qaeda leader knowing his goals included killing Americans.

“Al-Qaeda aimed to literally take down the West, to kill thousands, and they have; to create economic havoc, and they have.

“They needed enthusiastic, uncontrollably enthusiastic warriors, like that accused, right there, Salim Hamdan,” said justice department prosecutor John Murphy.

Lawyers for Mr Hamdan said not one witness had testified that Mr Hamdan played any part in terrorist attacks. They questioned the fairness of the trial, which began on 21 July.

“This is a classic case of guilt by association,” said Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer, a military defence lawyer appointed by the Pentagon.

“Mr Hamdan is not an al-Qaeda warrior, he is not al-Qaeda’s last line of defence – he’s not even an al-Qaeda member,” said Mr Mizer.

Black hole

About 270 suspects remain in detention in Guantanamo Bay.

Among the dozens of other inmates due to be tried there in the coming months are men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Human rights campaigners have accused the court of operating in a legal black hole.

They and the other accused will be watching the out come of the Hamdan trial closely, correspondents say.

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