Wednesday, December 27, 2006

7.1 quake cuts of Asia's internet

A Boxing Day earthquake caused panic in the Philippines after a tsunami warning was issued. The warnings followed a 7.1 magnitude quake which hit off the coast of Taiwan [22.023°N, 120.539°E] [BBC]. It comes exactly two years after a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami which killed over 200,000 and displaced millions. This latest earthquake has had a devastating effect on internet communications for millions in Asia [BBC]. Banks and businesses in Taiwan, South Korea, China and Japan reported telephone and internet problems. Taiwan's largest telephone company, Chunghwa Telecom Co, said damage to the undersea cable had disrupted 98% of Taiwan's communications with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong. Repairs could take three weeks, Vice-General Manager Lin Jen-hung said. Telecommunications companies in Hong Kong, Japan and China also reported problems. China's biggest telecoms provider, China Telecommunications Group, said that communications cables to the US and to Europe had been damaged.
"Internet connections have been seriously affected, and phone links and dedicated business lines have also been affected to some degree," a spokesperson said. Technicians have been scrambled to repair the damage but it will not be soon enough for some. Trading on some financial markets all but halted, but some overcame the reliance of the internet by going back to old fashioned methods. It highlights the reliance that many place both on technology and the internet.

It is not the first time the cables between the US and China have been damaged. In 2001 the cable was damaged and it took weeks to repair [BBC]. At the time millions in China were said to have been cut off from the World Wide Web, and other parts of Asia were reporting reduced speeds and difficult access to international sites. The cable which was affected stretches under the Pacific Ocean from Shanghai, China, to the United States. China Telecom said at the time they were “sparing no effort” to get China reconnected but the cable took weeks to repair. It was not the only connection to the outside world, but was said to carry the most traffic.
As parts of Asia were clearing up following Tuesday’s earthquake, a small town in the north of Britain was coming to terms with an earthquake. The 3.5 magnitude tremor hit near a town called Dumfries [55.10º N / 3.64º W] at 10:40 GMT, a little under two hours before the Taiwan quake [BBC Scotland]. There were no reported injuries or damage. The British Geological Survey reported several witness as saying, “people came out into the street”, “we felt one big bump”, “a tremendous crack and rumble” and “the whole house shook”.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Spy saga - Scaramella faces arms charges

Mario Scaramella, the friend of Alexander Litvinenko who died in November following radiation poisoning, has been arrested in Italy. The charges relate to arms smuggling and there is no suggestion he was involved in Mr Litvinenko’s death, but it adds a further twist to an already complex saga. British detectives who have been in Moscow are said to have completed their investigation in the country but there has been little news coverage of any new developments made in the case [BBC].
The BBC reported on the 16th of December that Litvinenko may have been killed over a dossier of information he held on powerful Kremlin officials. This came shortly after Marina Litvinenko, the former spy’s wife, accused the Kremlin of ordering her husband’s assassination [BBC].
The continuing investigation and search for radioactive traces of Polonium have revealed traces in a number of locations in Germany. These were said to be places where Dmitry Kovtun had visited following his meeting with Litvinenko in London. He himself is being treated at a Moscow hospital for radiation poisoning. Kovtun, a business associate of Andei Lugovoi, another ex-KGB officer, has denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s death. Lugovoi has also denied involvement in Mr Litvinenko’s death, but has not been talked to by UK detectives. Another man who also met with Litvinenko, Vyacheslav Sokolenko, also denies any involvement in the poisoning. Meanwhile, it has emerged that seven bar staff who were working at the Millennium Hotel's Pine Bar on 1 November have tested positive for low levels of polonium-210 [BBC]

Friday, December 22, 2006

Man charged in 'Suffolk Ripper' case

Police remove items from Tom Stephens' house

A man has been charged with the murder of 5 prostitutes in Suffolk, England. It marks the climax of nearly two weeks of saturation news coverage.

Steve Wright, 48, from Ipswich, appeared at an Ipswich court surrounded by a media frenzy. He is charged with the murder of Gemma Adams, 25, Tania Nicol, 19, Anneli Alderton, 24, Paula Clennell, 24, and Annette Nicholls, 29.

All were killed in a 14 day period during early December. The media has been heavily criticized for their sensationalist coverage especially since the arrest of two men, Tom Stephens and Steven Wright earlier this week.

Tabloid newspapers in the UK have been particularly sensational with headlines such as "He begged me for sex... 4 hours later he was arrested" [Mirror 19/12/2006]. The arrest and charging of Steven Wright will now inhibit the details which news media are allowed to broadcast. But the saturation coverage is set to continue for sometime.

Meanwhile police have released Tom Stephens on bail. But he is unlikely to return home where police maintain a presence and where a tent remains in place in front of the property.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Man 'escaped UK wearing a veil'

Mustaf Jamma and how he may have looked in a niqab

In what looks set to increase the ‘veil debate’, a man is reported to have ‘slipped through customs’ whilst dressed in a niqab. Mustaf Jamma, a suspect wanted in connection with the murder of police officer Sharon Beshenivsky, is said to have evaded authorities and returned to his native Somalia last December [BBC]. The Home Office has said the claims, made in several newspapers, were unlikely to be true, and that immigration officers had powers to make checks. The reports claim that Mr Jamma had used his sister’s passport in order to pass through airport security. Immigration Minister Liam Byrne told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that it was “standard practice" for immigration officers to ask woman to lift their veils. But on a recent return from China, tvnewswatch has observed a fully veiled woman enter the UK without such checks. This was at the height of the ‘veil debate’ which had dominated the UK news media in October of this year.

Bush may step up troops in Iraq

President Bush has addressed the American people and asserted his determination to continue his effort in defeating terrorism and to step up efforts in Iraq to advance a ‘unity government’. During his address he said, “We’re going to win” but acknowledged the “situation is tough”. He said, “I want our troops to understand that we support them, and what I want our enemies to understand is we’re not going to cut and run“. One of the options he suggested, in his continued War on Terror, was for more troops to be sent to Iraq. “Victory in Iraq is achievable and is taking longer than I’d have hoped” but retreat from Iraq would not be beneficial to America. “The most painful time in my Presidency is the reading of the losses of American troops in Iraq,” he said, “My heart breaks for them on a regular basis.” The President also urged for increased development of alternative and environmental energy sources. He particularly stressed the importance of electricity developed from nuclear technology. He said that trading technology with countries such as India was important. But when it came to a question on Iran, and its continuing nuclear program, he said, “The Iranians must suspend their enrichment program.” He also singled out Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as being a backward looking President, and added, “My message to the Iranian people is you can do better.” He also attacked other counties in the region. “To Syria the message is the same.” He said that Syria ought to “stop Saddamists sending arms and money to Iraq.” Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has been particularly criticized recently for having denied the Holocaust []. He has been quoted many times as saying Israel should be “wiped off the map”. But Ahmadinejad’s questioning of the truth of the Holocaust has enraged many throughout the world. He said in letter to German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, that the allied powers invented the Holocaust to ‘embarrass’ Germany. In the letter, sent in July 2006, he said, “Is it not a reasonable possibility that some countries that had won the war made up this excuse to constantly embarrass the defeated people ... to bar their progress." It is not the first time he has raised issue of the veracity of the truth behind the Holocaust which killed millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political enemies, communists, artists and others. A year ago he was quoted as saying, "Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces. . . Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true. . . .The Europeans should give some of their provinces in Europe to the Zionists and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe." And in June this year, at a conference in Shanghai, China, he called for an investigation to establish the truth of the Holocaust. "An event that has influenced so many diplomatic and political equations of the world needs to be investigated and researched by impartial and independent groups," he said. But there have been some unlikely attendees to a recent conference in the Iranian capital [BBC]. Neturei Karta (Guardians of the City), a Hasidic sect of a few thousand people which views Zionism [the movement to establish a Jewish national home or state in what was Palestine] as a "poison" threatening "true Jews". Meanwhile, Palestine has seen a resurgence of violence in recent weeks. Fighting in the region has exacerbated between Fatah and Hamas [BBC] and Israel has also continued to launch attacks on Gaza. This has provoked criticism over a number of incidents in which civilians have been killed. Israel has also come into the spotlight over its believed possession of nuclear weapons. In an interview with a German TV station, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, made a slip in which he appeared to confirm Israel’s possession of such weapons [BBC]. During a debate in which he criticized Iran’s perceived development of nuclear weapons, he said, “Can you say that this is the same level, when they [Iran] are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?". Since then, there has been much debate over what might be drawn from his comments [BBC]. Into all this turmoil, Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived at the weekend in attempt to bring all sides together [BBC]. But his talks with Abbas and Olmert, appear to have produced few results. Many UK papers are dismissive of his efforts. The Financial Times described his latest visit to the region as a “last roll of the dice”, whilst the Guardian said, “neither Iraq nor the conflict between Israel and Palestine are close to resolution and Mr Blair may not bring it any closer.” Mr Bush ended his 50 minute news conference with a goodwill wish. “Happy Holidays”, he said. Not so happy if one lives in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, to name just a few unhappy regions of the world.

Friday, December 15, 2006

BAE inquiry is dropped - PM defends decision

The Al Yamamah deal hangs in the balance

The British Prime Minister has been fending off criticism from many fronts this week. Yesterday it emerged he had been questioned by police for nearly two hours in connection with the so called ‘cash for honours’ inquiry. The PM was not under caution during the interview and a solicitor was not present, but the very fact that he was questioned at all, will fuel further criticism of the leader [BBC]. The timing of the interview and the release to the press, has also been the subject of criticism. Some commentators have said the release of the story to the media, coinciding with the release of the Diana inquiry report, was an attempt to bury bad news. It is not the first time the current Labour government has been accused of manipulating or attempting to manipulate the news. In 2001, Jo Moore, the then special adviser to the Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, had put about a memo that read “It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors' expenses?" This on the day of America’s worst terrorist attack, 9/11. She subsequently resigned following an outcry in the media. There exists only speculation surrounding the timing of yesterday’s news, and the Prime Minister’s spokesman has denied any plan to bury the event of Mr Blair’s interview. He emphasized that there was no deliberate plan to "bury bad news" by holding the interview on the same day Lord Stevens released his report into the death of Princess Diana. "Categorically there was no linkage to other events," he said. But it is understood Mr Blair chose the day of the interview.
Today the Prime Minister was under further scrutiny after pulling the plug on an investigation into a Saudi arms deal [BBC]. The inquiry was halted on the grounds of ‘national security’. Mr Blair said today that to pursue the inquiry would create ‘ill feeling’ between a key ally in the War on Terror. Details of the corruption in the £6 billion arms deal may never emerge, but it is one more murky chapter in 20 years of trading with the Saudi kingdom [BBC]. In the decade following 1986, the UK government has sold the Saudis more than £50 billion in Tornados and Hawks. During the first Gulf war Saudi jets flew alongside British Tornados on missions into Iraq, a sign of the special relationship between the two countries. But in 2004 the Guardian newspaper alleged that BAE Systems had won the deal with the aid of a secret slush fund. It claimed that Ministry of Defence police were investigating payments totalling £60m made during the course of the Al Yamamah deal by BAE Systems. By November of the same year BAE Systems confirmed it was being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), but the company strenuously denied any wrongdoing. Within a year a provisional deal had been made to sell the Saudis 72 Eurofighter jets to the tune of £6 billion. But by December this year, talks between BAE and the Saudis were said to have ‘slowed down’ following a proposed deal from French aircraft manufacturer Dassault. In this deal Dassault had offered to sell Rafale jets, but the details of the deal are not yet clear [BBC], but it is believed up to 36 aircraft maybe involved. Following the decision to drop the inquiry into BAE a statement from the company said: "After over two years of what has been a thorough investigation by the SFO, we welcome the statement made yesterday by the attorney general in the House of Lords." It is not yet clear whether the Eurofighter deal is still on the table, but shares in the company rose 6% after the announcement to £4.20.25.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Diana report - crash was a "tragic accident"

The report into the accident which killed Lady Diana was released today. Sky News broadcast the findings LIVE. As they showed Lord Steven’s findings in one screen, a split screen showed a continuing operation in Suffolk where police are examining the bodies of a number of murdered prostitutes. The BBC News 24, which also broadcast the findings LIVE, devoted the entire screen to the Diana report. CNN also gave substantial LIVE coverage. France 24 and Al Jazeera did not cover the report findings LIVE, but France 24 did report on the report’s release on its website.
The report in itself has revealed nothing new. Allegations of a cover up and murder allegations were dismissed by the report. The primary cause of the crash was blamed on excessive speed and a result of the chauffeur Henri Paul not being in proper control of the vehicle. The report established that 1.7 g per litre of alcohol was in Henri Paul’s blood. This was three times the French drink-drive limit, twice the UK drink-drive limit.
The report which took three years to compile, and is over 800 pages in length, established that there was no conspiracy and that the crash was “merely a tragic accident.” The issues as to whether Diana had proposed to marry Dodi Fayed, or was pregnant, were both dismissed. There was evidence of a collision between the Mercedes and a white Fiat Uno but the report did not intimate this as being the cause of the accident. The car has never been found.
Mohammed Al Fayed, Dodi’s father, has said he would not accept the findings of the report. He continues to insist that Diana was killed by agents belonging to the British secret services. The report took up many of the issues surrounding the conspiracy theories. The Stevens’ report established such allegations were unfounded. “There will be a number of people who will not accept what we’re saying” Lord Stevens said, but he urged them to read the report in its entirety.
Speaking on BBC News 24, Martin Gregory who wrote “The Last Days of Diana” said he agreed with the findings. Dickie Arbiter, a former Royal Press Secretary, speaking on Sky News, echoed Steven’s request that those who were sceptical read the report in full. He said that Henri Paul was “well over the drink drive limit” and “should not have been driving that car”.
David Cohen, an author, told Sky News he was not satisfied. He posed the question as to whether Lord Stevens had dealt with a New Zealand expert’s evidence regards the blood testing of Henri Paul’s blood. He said Dr Sprott OBE had taken issue with methods employed in analysing samples of the blood of the chauffer []. Dr Jim Sprott is known for his outspoken views on the cause of cot death []. Cohen, who wrote ‘Diana: Death of a Goddess’, also took issue with the speed of the vehicle as it entered L’Alma tunnel. He pointed out that the French investigation had showed the car as travelling significantly higher than the Stevens’ report had established. This, he said, showed a lack of competence in the investigative procedure. The report will no doubt spawn a proliferation of yet more books about this iconic woman and her tragic demise. There are dozens of books surrounding the tragic events of the 31st August 1997 [The Age] and this new report will only fuel further literary enterprises. Unlike the US authorities who make such reports readily available though booksellers, the UK does not. If it were, it may too enter into the list of bestsellers. In the US both The 9/11 Commission Report and the recently released Iraq Study Group Report entered the best seller list. The 9/11 Commission report sold more than 1 million copies and was nominated for a National Book Award. It was published by W.W. Norton & Co. The Iraq Study Group Report is currently number 2 on the Barnes & Noble and websites [CNN]. The report into the death of Diana, otherwise known as the Operation Paget Report is available for free online via the Metropolitan Police website [PDF file]. Some media organisations did however provide the document via their respective websites, but many omitted a map of the Ritz hotel in Place Vendome, Paris.

Full report in PDF format - source: Sky / source: BBC]

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pinochet death sparks riots in Chile

Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte - 1915~2006

Chile’s former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, died this weekend triggering violence on the streets of Santiago and saturation coverage on many news channels [CNN]. More than 6,000 demonstrators gathered to celebrate the dictators death, breaking open bottles of Champagne. But within hours the gathering broke into violence as riot police moved against the swelling crowds. Pinochet had been in frail health for years and was under house arrest in the capital last Sunday when he suffered a heart attack; his wife, Lucia Hiriart, and a number of his children took him to Santiago Military Hospital. Pinochet underwent angioplasty to boost blood flow to his heart. But soon after, his lungs began to fill with fluid, and he suffered heart failure. Pinochet who rose to power following a U.S.-backed coup, was accused of torturing and killing thousands of people during his 1973-1990 regime.

Discovery launches with little fanfare

Space shuttle Discovery on its Saturday night launch

STS-116 [NASA] finally made its way into space on Saturday night. It is the first night launch since before the Columbia disaster of 2003. This latest mission will include three spacewalks to install the P5 integrated truss structure and rewire the station’s electrical system. One space walk and use of the robotic arm has already taken place in order to check the integrity of the shuttle’s heatshield. Space shuttle Discovery is due to dock with the International Space Station at 17:05 EST, Monday 11/12/2006 [01:05 GMT Tuesday 12/12/2006]. Here they will deliver a new crew member, Sunita Williams, to the ISS. She will replace European Space Agency Astronaut Thomas Reiter. Whilst the shuttle mission is set to last until 18th December, Williams is set to stay for 6 months on the International Space Station [Mission Page]. Expedition 14 has been in progress for a little over 84 days [Expedition 14] and currently consists of Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, Flight Commander Mikhail Tyurin, and Flight Engineer Thomas Reiter. Additionally there is the back up crew consisting of Astronaut Peggy Whitson [backup commander], Astronaut Clay Anderson [backup flight engineer] and Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko [backup Soyuz commander and flight engineer] who wait back on Earth. Continuing coverage of this and other missions can be seen on NASA TV . Most news broadcasters have scant coverage of the continuing missions into space.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Shuttle launch cancelled

Cancelled at the last minute - STS-116

It had been four years since NASA engaged in a night launch, but tonight was not the night for restarting such initiatives. In 2003 Columbia was destroyed after foam falling from the fuel tank damaged the heatshield resulting in the shuttle burning up as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. A night launch had been deemed too risky after setbacks over safety and NASA’s inability to observe debris falling from the fuel tank. But after the go ahead for tonight’s launch it was weather that finally halted the launch of STS-116.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bush & Blair meet in Washington

Prime Minister Blair flew into the US late last night to talk with George Bush about the situation in Iraq. This followed the releasing of a critical report over the situation in the country. Bush has said it was a “tough report” but would look “seriously” at its recommendations. The Iraq Study Group Report [PDF file], which has already hit no. 18 in the best seller list, [MSNBC] described the situation in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating” and said there was “no magic formula”. It also proposed a withdrawal of troops within 18 months and said one key was a solution to the “Middle East process” between Israel and Palestine. Speaking on CNN, Robin Oakley said if he had a dollar for every time Blair had iterated the key to the Iraq issue was the Palestine/Israel situation he’d be buying his wife a new car this Christmas! When the two leaders finally met, both echoed each other with their resolve to see the job done. Bush said, “We will defeat the extremists and radicals”. Tony Blair adding that the issue was a “Struggle for freedom and democracy.” He added that the “Consequenses of failure are severe” and that there were three elements which were important. He said the first element was the support of Maliki governent. Secondly, all that were engaged in this should support the Maliki government. And thirdly it was important to solve the question of peace in the Israel/Palestinian issue. He emphasised the task was “tough and challenging” but the only choice was between secularism or democracy. He said, “the only realistic path is to spread the idea of liberty.”
In questions folowing the briefing bothleaders were tackled over issues raised in the Baker Hamilton report on Iraq. Blair said the report was useful. But he said the situation had become difficult. “Outside extemists were linking up with internal extremists” which made it difficult to instil democracy in the region. He went on to say that “the old Middle East had the origins of all the problems we see, it’s come out of a perverted view of Islam.”
“We have to have to right vision. If the Israel/Palestine issue was not solved then nothing would be solved,” the Prime Minister said. He said there were obstacles but “not beyond the wit of ourselves” to overcome. [CNN]

Litvinenko buried

Alexander Litvinenko has been buried at a private funeral after a service at a mosque in London’s Regent’s Park [BBC]. Mourners included Mr Litvinenko’s father, Walter, and friend and Chechen separatist Akhmed Zakayev.

Spy saga - Litvinenko funeral due today

Blocked - investigation is being hampered by Russian authorities

Alexander Litvinenko’s funeral takes place today a day after the announcement that the killing had officially become a murder inquiry [CNN / BBC]. In Moscow, British detectives continue their investigation into the poisoning but have been told that any prosecutions would have t take place on Russian soil. As the detectives arrived in the capital news footage on CNN obscured the faces of the British investigators. However both Sky and the BBC, as well as many newspapers in the UK, published images without any censorship. It is not clear why CNN made the decision to obscure the faces of the investigators. Several new locations have been found to show traces of radioactivity as the detective work continues. In London traces of radioactivity were found at the Arsenal Emirate’s Stadium. The executive box was sealed off following the revelation that Andrei Lugovoi had visited there. Luguvoi who had met with Litvinenko in London, and having since returned to Russia, was said to be ill and had been hospitalised. Prior to his admission to hospital, Andrei Lugovoi visited the British Embassy in Moscow in order to give a statement. This was an effort to thwart rumours that he may have had a hand in Mr Litvinenko’s death. The British Embassy has also shown signs of radioactivity, the BBC reported Wednesday afternoon. Mario Scaramella was also hospitalised for a time after it was discovered that he too had ‘significant amounts’ of Polonium 210 in his urine. However he was later discharged after showing no signs of illness. CNN secured an exclusive interview with the self styled academic prior to his release from hospital. "I received several e-mails from another source he [Litvinenko] introduced to me some years before, saying that him and me were under the special attention of hostile people, so to take care," Scaramella told the news organisation. He said he tried to warn Litvinenko that they were being targeted by "people linked with some clandestine organizations, not directly under control of Russian establishment but from Russia ... generally retired people from the security service." Meanwhile detectives in Russia have been given permission to question Andrei Lugovoi [BBC]. But it is likely that their role will be limited to observing an interview conducted by Russion authorities. Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard, has said he met with Mr Litvinenko but did not meet no even know Mr Scaramella.

Tornado hits NW London

At least 6 people have been injured as a tornado hit north London in the UK. Sky News and BBC have shown tremendous damage to houses and streets in the Kensal Rise area. Daniel Bidgood, an eyewitness, described the tornado ripping through roofs of the houses and pulling up trees. He told the BBC that "it sounded like an aircraft taking off" and made landfall for around 30 seconds. [BBC / Sky News]. At least 50-60 properties have been affected with many having had their roofs ripped off. Pictures show one house which has lost one side of its structure and covered the adjacent road and cars with debris. Although unusual, there have been tornados in London before. In 1954 a tornado ripped off the roof of Gunnersbury tube station.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

US - China accused of 'aggressive' spying

Robert Gates - ill informed on China's spying

China was in the spotlight during Senate questions to Donald Rumsfeld’s replacement today. Robert Gates, who has served with the CIA, said he had not read reports pertaining to “aggressive espionage” which the Chinese were engaged in. It was said that China was blinding US satellites [Daily Telegraph / Defense News] and hackers have attacked US computer systems. Chinese computer attacks have been prolific since a US spy plane flew into Chinese airspace in early 2001 [BBC]. The hacker attacks are intended as retaliation for the death of a Chinese pilot in the incident involving an American spyplane. Websites such as and Sohu are filled with messages pointing to proposed cracking targets such as the United States' Defense Technical Information Center and the Defense Department's news site, along with encouragement to "Hack it Great Chinese!!!" []. Several attacks against US military computers have been identified as coming from China [].

In mid November the Washington Times reported that a Chinese submarine had tailed a US aircraft carrier [Jerusalem Post]. This has been denied by the Chinese, but Adm. William Fallon, commander of US Pacific Command, told reporters in Malaysia that the USS Kitty Hawk carrier and its supporting ships were conducting exercises in an unidentified location when the encounter occurred. Fallon said the carrier group was not engaged in anti-submarine exercises, but if it had been, "and if this Chinese sub came in the middle of this, then it could have escalated into something that could have been very unforeseen." The continued spying on the US has increased concern in many parts of the US administration. At the end of November it was revealed that B-2 stealth bomber secrets may have found their way into the hands of Chinese authorities. U.S. officials have said that a Hawaii-based spy allegedly obtained critical technology that would allow Beijing to copy and counter one of America’s most advanced weapons systems. Investigation reveals that U.S. Stealth technology may have been leaking since 1999 [The].

In a report in the Washington Times it is alleged that Chinese officials paid former defense contractor Noshir S. Gowadia, an Indian-born citizen, millions of dollars for a prolific dossier of information. It is alleged that Mr Gowadia helped the Chinese modify a cruise missile so that it can intercept U.S. air-to-air missiles. With a recent assassination in London, blamed on the Russian secret service by some, and with revelations over efforts by Chinese spys to procure US military secrets, it may seem to many that a new cold war is beginning. What is had to comprehend is the lack of knowledge Mr Gates had on the subject. In his reply to the Senate panel he said, “I’ve not read the reports, but I would be more than willing to do so, I’ve been aware just from reading in the newspapers. It’s been a number of years since I’ve received any classified intelligence on what the Chinese were up to. But it’s been my impression they’ve had a very aggressive intelligence gathering efforts against the United States. Some of these other things you’ve mentioned, it’s the first time I’ve heard about that, and clearly if confirmed it’s something I would want to get more informed on.”

Monday, December 04, 2006

John Bolton quits UN as Iraq enters 'civil war'

More serious explosions continued to take their toll in Iraq at the weekend. Hundreds have died throughout November, and the last week has been particularly bloody when multiple bomb blasts targeted Shi’ite areas of Baghdad. A comedian who made light of the continuing strife has also been a victim of the rising death toll. Walid Hassan, a Shia Muslim and star of al-Sharqiya TV's sketch show 'Caricature' was shot dead in Baghdad on the 20th November [BBC]. "He was an actor who made fun of the miserable situation in our country," a grieving fan told Associated Press news agency, "But some people don't like that, so he was assassinated to silence him," he added. Maybe Jon Stewart, presenter of the Daily Show, a popular US comedy which often satirizes the ongoing conflict, ought to take heed. His show this week covered the issue of whether or not Iraq is in a state of civil war. One Sky News reporter said recently that “If this isn’t a civil war, I don’t want to be here when it starts”. Jordan’s King Abdullah has urged other nations to act to prevent the whole Middle East breaking apart into “three civil wars” [BBC]. "It is time that we really take a strong step forward as part of the international community and make sure we avert the Middle East from a tremendous crisis that I fear and I see could possibly happen in 2007," he told ABC television. Outgoing UN Secretary General, Kofi Anaan, said Iraq was already on the “brink of civil war” [BBC]. But besides the ever increasing cycle of sectarian violence which took nearly 4,000 lives in October alone [BBC], the US administration denies that the country is in the grip of civil war. To many it may seem an issue of semantics as the White House battles with US networks over the use of the term ‘Civil War’ to describe the ongoing conflict [BBC]. The death toll and continuing violence, however, is very real. On the 23rd November gunmen believed to be Sunni insurgents raided the Iraqi Health Ministry [BBC]. It followed the kidnapping of dozens from the Education Ministry by militants from Moqtada al-Sadr’s Medhi army the week before. There then followed a series of devastating bomb blasts in the mainly Shi’ite area of Baghdad. More than 140 died in what was one of Iraq’s deadliest sectarian attacks [BBC]. Within hours motar blasts were reported in Sunni areas of the capital. The Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, imposed an immediate curfew as the death toll rose to more than 200 [BBC]. But the restrictions had little effect and attacks, kidnappings and killings continued throughout the weekend [BBC]. And in a series of attacks this weekend at least 50 died in a mainly Shi’te area of Baghdad [BBC]. Although Iraqis are experiencing the worst of the violence, coalition forces are also suffering continued losses. Nine US troops lost their lives over the weekend [BBC] bringing the coalition death toll to 3,148 [ / BBC: facts & figures]. This figure is dwarfed by the estimated 46,000 civilians killed since March 2003.

And as prominent Shi’ite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is due to meet with George Bush in Washington, the Bush administration is beginning to disintegrate further with the second resignation in less than a month. Today John Bolton quit as UN Ambassador [BBC]. He along with the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld leaves Bush with fewer close allies in his continuing War on Terror. British PM Tony Blair is also due to meet with the US President to discuss the situation in Iraq as well as the continuing conflict in Afghanistan [BBC].

UK media coverage shifts from spy saga

Much of the media coverage of the continuing spy saga dissipated over the weekend. Other stories that dominated headlines was the new police investigation into the death of Stuart Lubbock who was found dead in Michael Barrymore’s pool. Sunday’s News of the World alleged that the man had died following a violent homosexual assault and that the drowning had been staged. It is also alleged that the original police investigation was ‘bungled’ and that at least one of the witnesses had lied at the inquest into the man’s death. Stuart Lubbock was found ‘drowned’ by police and paramedics after a ‘drink and drugs party’ at Barrymore’s mansion in Essex on the 31st March 2001. The star had fled the house before the arrival of the authorities but has always denied any involvement in Stuart Lubbock’s death.
The headlines on Sunday evening moved to a fire in East Sussex in southern England where a fire killed two firefighters. At around 14:00 GMT a fireworks warehouse went up in flames and within hours Sky News were providing saturation coverage of the incident with Exclusive pictures. A 200 metre exclusion zone was established as huge explosions rocked the area near Ringmer a few miles from Lewes. As well as the death of the two firefighters, at least 12 other people were injured including a police sergeant, nine firefighters and two members of the public. [BBC / Sky News]

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Barrymore pool death - new inquiry launched

Michael Barrymore may face more questions
A new investigation has been launched into the death of Stuart Lubbock who was found dead in Michael Barrymore’s pool in 2001. The entertainer who used to live in Essex may also face further questions from police. No-one has yet faced charges following the mysterious death. Welcoming news of a new inquiry, Mr Lubbock's brother Kevin said: "I am pleased. It's what my father wanted all along." The family's lawyer, Tony Bennett, added that his clients were "delighted by the police's decision". A post-mortem examination at the time revealed that Mr Lubbock had suffered severe internal injuries, suggesting he may have been the victim of a serious sexual assault before his death. Alcohol, ecstasy and cocaine were found in the man's bloodstream. Barrymore accepted an official caution for drugs offences following a lengthy investigation by Essex Police but was never charged with any culpability for the death [

Spy Saga - Litvinenko's wife & friend 'contaminated'

'Contaminated' - Mario Scaramella
Further disturbing details emerged Friday in the spy saga that has dominated headlines for the last two weeks. Mario Scaramella, the contact who had informed Alexander Litvinenko of threats against his life, has tested positive for traces of Polonium 210 [BBC]. Described as ‘significant’ contamination, the Italian was said to be ‘well’ and as yet was not showing signs of illness. The news will increase concerns for others who had met with Mr Litvinenko who died on 23rd of November after ingesting the radioactive substance three weeks previously in what is believed to have been a deliberate assassination. It has also emerged that Alexander Litvinenko’s wife, Marina, has also show traces of Polonium 210 in her body [CBS].

Authorities say that both individuals are likely to survive and that there is little or no risk to the general public. However, the seriousness of the issue has warranted the government’s calling together COBRA. The emergency group has met several times since it became clear Mr Litvinenko had been poisoned with a radioactive substance.

At 13:50 GMT Saturday the BBC broke the news that an Airbus 319 Finnair plane had shown levels of radiation reading higher than permissible levels of background radiation.
The aircraft is said to have flown to Moscow from Berlin via Helsinki earlier in the month. Interfax, the Russian news agency, and the Russian ministry have confirmed the news.
On the subject of Yegor Gaidar’s poisoning few details have yet emerged but it is not believed to be connected to a radioactive substance.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Spy saga deepens - Ex-Russian PM 'poisoned'

The puzzling links of the spy saga increase concerns

Sky News has reported that Yegor Gaidar, former Prime Minister of Russia, has been poisoned [BBC]. It had been earlier reported that he had ran from the table where he had been eating on the 24th November clutching a bleeding nose. Russian doctors say his illness “may have been due to deliberate poisoning”. Alex Rossi, reporting from Moscow for Sky News, said he had been promoting his book in Ireland when he fell ill and that doctors were ‘convinced’ he had been poisoned. The Irish government has ordered the testing of all sites visited by the former PM. At least 95 Russian bankers have been assassinated in the last five years and the criticism for Putin may suggest he has created a situation where there is a lack of security in and outside of Russia. It is understood that Vladimir Putin had contacted Mr Gaidar and offered him a speedy recovery. But Putin’s concerns for Mr Gaidar and repeated denials of Russian involvement in Litvinenko’s death fail to convince many. Mr Alex Goldfarb, a friend of Alexander Litvinenko, remains convinced the Russian government was involved in the poisoning of the former KGB spy and other opponents of Putin’s regime.

In other developments today it has emerged that several planes are being investigated in the search for radioactive substances. A total of 4 British Airways aeroplaplanes were being investigated and at least two are said to show signs of radioactivity [Sky News]. Forensic activities have been completed and they are believed to have been cleared for handing back to BA. Over five thousand passengers have contacted BA and the HPA with their concerns. Some passengers have said they were not satisfied with the response from BA [BBC]. However John Reid, the Home Secretary, has stressed that the amounts of radioactivity involved were so small that they posed little if any risk to the passengers of those aircraft. As well as the aircraft, which have had an apparent connection to Russia in as much as they have made fights to Moscow, there are now a total of 24 other locations being searched in connection with Mr Litvinenko’s poisoning. At least 12 of these have said to have shown traces of radioactivity [BBC]. As the police investigation expands the cost to the British taxpayer is also increasing. According to Sky News over £250,000 has been eaten up in the investigation so far.

The risk to the general public is said to be low, however information resources drawn from the internet and elsewhere point to a slightly different view. It is true that Polonium 210 must be ingested, inhaled or administered by a wound in order to be fatal. But the amounts which pose a risk to health is extremely small. According to a US university website “Polonium-210 is very dangerous to handle in even milligram or microgram amounts, and special equipment and strict control is necessary. Damage arises from the complete absorption of the energy of the alpha particle into tissue.” In terms of the quantity required the site says, “The maximum permissible body burden for ingested polonium is only 0.03 microcuries, which represents a particle weighing only 6.8 x 10-12 g. Weight for weight it is about 2.5 x 1011 times as toxic as hydrocyanic acid. The maximum allowable concentration for soluble polonium compounds in air is about 2 x 10-11 microcuries/cm3. "[]

Polonium 210 has a half life of a little over 138 days. The half-life of a radioactive substance is the length of time it takes for half of a given amount of the substance to disintegrate due to radiation. For example, the half-life of radium-226 is 1590 years, so that if today you had 50 grams of radium-226, 1590 years from now there would only be 25 grams left, because half of the 50 grams would have disintegrated [link]

It has not yet been revealed what quantities of Polonium have been found in any of the 12 locations where radioactivity has been measured. And of the thousands who have contacted the Health Protection Agency only 18 have been referred for ‘special tests’, according to authorities. Meanwhile speculation is rife as to who might be able to acquire Polonium 210. An article in The Times and several other news sources have inferred that anyone might buy the radioactive substance over the internet for as little as $69. One specific site quoted is However, the company specifically states that it will not fulfil international orders. Also, with reference to the sensationalist headlines surrounding the issue of internet sales it says “With the recent news of Polonium-210 being used as a poison, so much incorrect information has been passed around about the material that it's important to get the facts correct. The general public is quite ignorant when it comes to knowledge about radioactive materials and radiation in general.”
The company goes on to say that “the amount of Polonium-210, and all the isotopes we sell is an 'exempt quantity' amount. These quantities of radioactive material are not hazardous - this is why they are permitted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to be sold to the general public without any sort of license.” Although United Nuclear admit the selling of Polonium 210, and other isotopes, the company states they do not actually stock them. All isotopes are “made to order at an NRC licensed reactor in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.” Their website states that “When the isotope is made, it is shipped directly to the customer from the reactor to insure the longest possible half-life.”
“The quantity of Polonium-210, or any of the radioactive isotopes sold by us or any scientific equipment supplier, is so small, it's essentially invisible to the human eye. In the case of needle sources, the radioactive material is electroplated on the inside of the eye of a needle. You would need about 15,000 of our Polonium-210 needle sources at a total cost of about $1 million - to have a toxic amount.” If correct, the amount of Polonium 210 concerned would amount to 4.53 x 10-16 g. This equates to 0.000,000,000,000,000,453 g, substantially less than the fatal dose of 0.000,000,000,006,8 g required.
Many conspiracy theories are beginning to surface as more details emerge. It has been suggested that Litvinenko was a ‘double-agent’. Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor at the Times of London, said the possible links between the Russian mafia, oligarchs and the KGB revealed “a very murky world”. The speculation has been fueled by the Times amongst other publications as to the the unusual events leading to the former spy’s death. A few weeks prior to his death, Mr Litvinenko is said to have passed a dossier, which detailed how the Kremlin took over the Russian energy giant Yukos, to Leonid Nevzlin, the former second-in-command at Yukos. Mr Nevzlin had fled to Tel Aviv because he feared for his life after Russia took over the company and sold it. Quoting unnamed investigators, The Times said Mr Litvinenko had uncovered "startling" evidence of what happened to those who opposed the forced break-up of Yukos. Several people linked to the company are reported to have disappeared, or died in mysterious circumstances, while others, such as its head, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, have been jailed. [The Times article has since been deleted from the online website but the Australian newspaper The Age reproduced part of the article]. Mr Litvinenko appears to have made enemies not just in the Kremlin and the KGB, but also amongst Russia’s so called oligarchs. He may also have conceerned others around the world with Russian interests. The poisoning of a former Russian PM does muddy the water substantially. A ‘murky world’ indeed.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Spy saga - Radiation found in more locations

Four central London locations are now being investigated

In a sinister twist it has been found that traces of radioactivity have been found at the offices of Boris Berezovsky in Down Street, Mayfair. It brings the total number of sites now under investigation to five [BBC]. The Russian billionaire and critic of the Kremlin has so far made no comment. It has been reported that Mr Litvinenko arrived in London to assassinate Mr Berezovsky in 2000 but the former KGB spy decided instead to warn the businessman and abandon his mission. As has been reported here, this has similarities to a case in the 1950s when Nikolai Khokhlov was sent to West Germany to kill Georgi Okolovich, a prominent dissident Russian émigré. After converting to Christianity Khokholov abandoned his mission and warned the Russian dissident. Khokhlov was then targeted by the KGB and poisoned by radioactive Thallium. He survived after intensive treatment. Another location which has been locked down by authorities is the fourth floor of 25 Grosvenor Street, headquarters of security and risk management company Erinys.
A Mirror reporter is said to have had tests along with 3 others connected with the sushi bar and hotel where Alexander Litvinenko had frequented. The Daily Mirror journalist is said to have undergone radiological tests following a visit to Italy where he had met Mario Scaramello in Italy. Mr Scaramella had met with Mr Litvinenko in London on the 1st November to inform him they were both on a ‘hit list’ [Channel 4 News]. In an ‘Exclusive’ story, the Daily Mail stated that Mario Scaramella was a ‘security consultant’ who ‘headed an organisation which tracked down nuclear waste including soviet nuclear missiles left over from the cold war.’ His credentials in this area have been well documented. Earlier this year he aided Italian authorities in capturing a number of people involved in the smuggling of Uranium. The Daily Mail quoted him as saying,"I was also looking into the trafficking of arms from the former Soviet Union and possible links with Italian terrorist groups. During this I was passed a document that said there were former KGB men in San Marino looking at selling nuclear military material.” He told the police that 10kg of uranium was hidden in a suitcase and on its way to Italy on June 2. Four arrests were made and the uranium found. It was enriched uranium 90 per cent capable of making a small atomic bomb. Also an electronic target device was seized. The uranium plot came a year after Professor Scaramella had announced he possessed information about 20 nuclear warheads ‘lost’ by a Soviet submarine in the Bay of Naples. The missiles were part of the arsenal of a K-8 submarine which sunk in April 1970 after a fire with a loss of 52 lives. Of the 24 missiles on board, only 4 were ever recovered [Soviet submarine incident]. It has also been announced that Mr Scaramella is also undergoing tests for radiation poisoning. This brings the total number of people under observation to five. It is believed the nuclear expert is also in protective police custody in London after arriving in the UK early Thursday morning.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Home Office makes statement on Litvinenko case

Closed - The Itsu sushi bar and several other London premises

As the British media interest in the poisoning of ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko continues, questions were raised today in Parliament. John Reid, the Home Secretary, said, “Tests are continuing at a number of locations” and that, “police are attempting to identify a number of people he [Litvinenko] may have met.” The HPA [Health Protection Agency] has requested that anyone who was at the Itsu or the Millennium Hotel on the 1st of November to contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647 [At the time of publication their website was experiencing server problems. A message instead read: We’re sorry, but our server has experienced an unexpected error that prevents it from loading the page you’ve requested. We are aware of the problem, and we’re trying to fix it as soon as we can. Please try again later…]
He went on to say that the NHS Direct had received 500 calls and the Itsu sushi bar, the Millennium Hotel bar and a number of rooms had been closed to the public. He also indicated that a number of other premises had been identified where traces of radioactivity had been found. The Home Secretary said there were a small number of people who had described symptoms which merited further tests adding that the number was less than 5 – the BBC has said that 3 people had been admitted for tests. According the Home Secretary, the Russian Ambassador had been called to the Home Office on the 24th November, but during questions in the open session he refused to be drawn into whether the Russian Federation, nor their secret services, might be involved and emphasised that the Police has said that as yet they were only investigating a ‘suspicious death’. However, David Davis said that if the Russian State Secret Service were not involved “then it raises the issue of availability of Polonium 210 to other criminals.” The Home Secretary did not answer the question directly, but said, “COBRA was convened due to the concerns of public health and security.” COBRA is an acronym for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, a government body which was established to deal with national or regional emergencies.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Litvinenko poisoned with Polonium 210

Two ex-KGB agents poisoned -
but is Russia's secret service to blame?

Police are searching “a number of locations” as they search for traces of radioactive substances following the death of ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko. One area believed to be under scrutiny is a property in Muswell Hill in north London, the home of the former spy. The Home Office have said in a brief statement that a radioactive substance was probably involved in the poisoning of the former Russian spy and the BBC has reported that COBRA met late last night. Professor Alan Perkins, a medical expert, told Sky News he thought the Home Office statement was “puzzling”. He also said he was surprised the hospital was unable to identify the presence of a radioactive substance in Mr Litvinenko.
Mr Vladimir Putin, speaking in Helsinki, said, “I extend my condolences, and as I understand this was not a violent death…and I hope that British authorities would not perpetuate rumours of political involvement”. There have been repeated denials of Russian involvement in Mr Litvinenko’s death and a spokesperson for Mr Putin had had already described the death as “tragic”.
But whilst the Kremlin continue denials of any involvement a family member pointed the finger firmly at the Putin government. Outside the hospital a family member said in a statement, “You have shown yourself to be as ruthless as your critics have claimed.”
Orgev Gordievsky said the use of a radioactive substance had all the hallmarks of a KGB assassination. He told the BBC, “This was an execution by a foreign power.” Mr Livinenko had certainly made enemies within the FSB, formerly the KGB. After his defection from Russia he continued to make allegations about the FSB. As well as accusations of having orchestrated the bombing of apartment bombings in Moscow and Volbodosk, which killed 300 people in 1999, he had claimed that Ayman Al Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s no 2, had been a former KGB agent. He also alleged that he had been sent to London to dispatch a businessman Mr Berezovsky. The Guardian in an article published in January 2004 alleged that Litvinenko had been recruited by the British secret service [ / Chechen Times]. The Russian secret service has been involved in the death of former spies before and it will be difficult for the Russian authorities to shift the focus of blame from themselves. In the 1950s Georgi Okolovich was a prominent dissident Russian emigre. He was an official in the Popular Labor Alliance of Russian Solidarists, an anti-Soviet group based in West Germany. The KGB marked him for death. In 1954, Soviet assassin Nicolai Khokhlov was sent to West Germany to kill him. But the plot hit an unusual snag: before accomplishing his mission, the assassin converted to Christianity and rejected his murderous profession. Upon his arrival in West Germany he defected and warned Okolovich about the plots against him.
By saving Okolovich's life, however, Khokhlov became a marked man himself: in 1957 the KGB poisoned him with radioactive thallium. Hospitalized and given massive blood transfusions and a variety of antitoxins, he survived [CNN].
The apparent similarities will only serve to reinforce the opinions of those who believe the Russian secret service had a hand in the death of Alexander Litvinenko.

At 15:00 the Health Protection Agency held a press briefing at Westminster. Pat Troop described the use of a radioactive substance to poison an individual in the UK as unprecedented. Professor Roger Cox said that at 18:00 yesterday the HPA was informed that a large quantity of alpha radiation had been detected in Mr Litvinenko’s urine. Throughout the press conference there was no explanation as to why this had not been previously detected throughout Mr Litvinenko’s stay in hospital. He said that the substance concerned was Polonium 210.
He said that there would be no risk to those in contact with Mr Litvinenko and there was a continuing assessment being made of what risk there might be to the general public. In summary, the professor said the substance had to have been ingested, inhaled or through a wound. The two experts were unable to provide any specific figures both in regards levels of radiation detected, nor of any amounts of Polonium 210 detected. And in the Latest developments the BBC has learned that the Metropolitan Polic have discovered traces of radioactivity at the Itsu sushi bar where Litvinenko had eaten in early November [BBC].

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Exclusive - Pelosi tackles China on climate change

Pelosi wants to "build partnership" with China to tackle issues of climate change

Less than two weeks after becoming the first woman speaker in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi is already making representations to China over its environmental policy tvnewswatch can exclusively reveal. In her first letter addressed to President Hu Jintao she proposes a ‘New Shanghai Communiqué”. Pelosi has been a strong critic of China’s human rights record and in her first contact with China’s leader she softens he stance. “Those issues still animate my party. But I'm convinced that we have a better chance of making progress on them if we can first build a partnership to address the urgent issues of energy and climate change,” she says in the opening lines of her letter. She goes onto criticize the US president’s efforts in curbing environmental emissions. “President Bush promised the world when he spurned the Kyoto Protocols that he would offer an alternative. He never did.”
Her ‘New Shanghai Communiqué’ would “defuse the most destabilizing issue of our day: the world's unsustainable appetite for energy.” She praises China’s commitment to a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption for every 1percent of G.D.P. growth by 2010 and points out that President Bush has failed to make the same promises. “I am going to propose that the U.S. as a whole match the 4 percent annual improvement in energy efficiency already undertaken by California. That would mean at least a 25 percent improvement by 2012.”
China has recently set targets for generating 10 percent of its energy fromrenewables, wind, hydro, solar power and biofuels, by 2020. And Pelosi sets out her vision for the same in the US - “I want to require our power grid operators to purchase 20 percent of their energy from environmentally sound renewables by 2020.” She suggests that should these targets be achieved it would it create a “sustainable growth path and set an example that would change the world” and “create less dependence on despotic oil states.” She also wants to “lead an effort to help China invest in factories devoted to clean power technologies.”
Whilst she praises some of China’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions, Pelosi also throws some criticism at China’s vision of a green future. “Too many of your local officials think green is a luxury you can't afford. You will never break out of your cycle of environmental degradation until those officials understand that pollution is wasted energy and wasted money,” she says in her 700 word letter.
But her approach to helping China overcome some of its environmental concerns may be seen as somewhat patronizing. In her continuing letter she says, “President Hu, we both know that the millions of cars now choking your streets are only the beginning. Your biggest concern is the 800 million Chinese living in the countryside, who need transportation to better their lives but who can't afford even the cheapest car.” The result, “Every year they buy more than 30 million motorcycles and farm vehicles, which have the advantage of being cheap but which use the most rudimentary, polluting motors — blackening your skies.”
Her proposal is to send US engineers “who know how to clean up small engines” and “together with your manufacturers, who know how to mass produce them cheaply, to forge companies that will not only clean up the air in developing countries but make money for both of us.”
Beijing has watched the US mid-term elections with some interest and Nancy Pelosi’s role as the speaker of the House of Representatives with certainly worry some in the Chinese government. She has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government for many years and has herself been involved in scuffles with police during protests in Tiananmen Square. She has also been quoted as saying the US trade relationship with China was “a disaster”. So what will Beijing make of Pelosi’s change of tack. No doubt, as is often seen in Chinese politics, their approach to Pelosi’s comments with be cautious. Even as House speaker she has no real power and it is still a long way off from a possible Democratic victory at the next national election. The Wall Street Journal in its lead article dated 16th November says China may find congress a chillier place following Pelosi’s win. But the debate is now beginning to warm up along with the global environment.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Lebanese minister assassinated

Pierre Ishmail Gemayel, Lebanon’s Christian Industry Minister, has been assassinated. His convoy was intercepted by gunmen as it made its way through the capital Beirut. Pictures shown on Al-Jazeera and CNN showed the car, in which he was traveling, riddled with bullets. Gemayel had already survived previous attempts on his life. But today the assassin's bullet made its mark. Blame has been attributed to Syria. Reaction from world leaders and politicians has been swift. The British PM Tony Blair said he “condemned this murder utterly” and said everything must be done to protect Fouad Siniora’s government and democracy in Lebanon. The French Foreign Minister said the killing was an attempt to “an attempt to destabilise the country” whilst the US Secretary of State described the killing as a “terrorist act”. Russia, already in the news in connection with an assassination attempt in London, said it condemned the “resumption of political assassinations” in Lebanon. Hezbollah has also condemned the attack, though their view will be looked at somewhat cynically by many.
The killing is a further blow to the Lebanese government which has already seen resignations in recent days. Lebanon has seen assassinations before. Less than two years ago former PM Rafik Al Hariri was killed by a truck bomb. That assassination was attributed to the Syrian regime by the UN. Syria has denied this and has already condemned this latest attack on the Lebanese government. Other reports from Al Arabiya said there had been shots aimed at another minister’s office in the capital, but as yet these reports are unconfirmed. [Other reports: Sky / BBC / CNN / Al-Jazeera] .

Assassination plot - KGB maybe 'prime-suspect'

Litvinenko - hospitalised by a poison favoured by the KGB

In the same week as a new James Bond film hit cinemas, Britain has seen a real spy game acted out on its streets. The victim of an assassination attempt, Alexander Litvinenko [Profile: BBC] found himself hospitalised after being poisoned with what was believed to be Thallium. News of the poisoning only emerged on Sunday 19th November, nearly 20 days after he had dined with his family at the Itsu sushi bar in central London. He had already told the BBC that he had “felt ill” following a meeting at the restaurant. He had arranged to meet someone in connection with his investigation into the death of murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya [BBC]. "He gave me some papers which contained some names on it - perhaps names of those who may have been involved in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, and several hours after the meeting I started to feel sick," he said. Two weeks later he was admitted to a specialist unit at the University College Hospital. His situation had deteriorated rapidly. His hair had fallen out and inflammation in his throat had forced doctors to administer food intravenously. Clinical toxicologist John Henry, who examined Mr Litvinenko on Saturday, told the BBC the former KGB spy’s condition was serious. "I can tell you he's ill. He is quite seriously sick. There's no doubt that he's been poisoned by thallium, and it probably dates back to 1 November, when he first started to get ill," he said on Sunday [BBC]. There was scant coverage on TV news channels on Sunday and newspaper coverage in Monday’s newspapers pushed the story towards the world news sections. By Today [Tuesday] it was the front page lead of most British newspapers with headlines such as “From Russia with Loathe” in the Daily Mirror and “From Russia with Lunch” in The Sun, both references to the James Bond title “From Russia with Love”. Described in the Sun as being like a ‘James Bond style plot’, and by the Independent as ‘a reminder of the Soviet past’, many papers put the blame firmly in the Kremlin’s court. The Kremlin has firmly denied any link to Litvinenko’s assassination attempt. However, the former spy, who arrived in Britain in 2000 has not made many friends with his former employer [BBC]. In 2003 he claimed that Al-Qaeda’s number 2, Ayman Al Zawahiri, was a former KGB agent. In his book, FSB Blows Up Russia, he also alleged the Federal Security Service were involved in apartment bombings in Moscow and Volbodosk which killed 300 people in 1999. The FSB denied any involvement and blame for the explosions has been attributed to Chechen terrorists [BBC]. Sky News said last night that Litvinenko may have made other enemies outside Russia’s establishment. There are many in the Russian mafia that would like to see him dead said one expert. There is also the possibility that exiled oligarchs and others may be involved as they would benefit from the discrediting of the Putin government. Litvinenko may also have been recruited by Britain’s security service MI5 according to an article published in the Guardian in January 2004 [ / Chechen Times].
As police and Britain’s security services investigate the poisoning, doctors today revealed that Mr Litvinenko may have ingested a radioactive substance [BBC]. They have also described his condition as serious and have given him a 50/50 chance of survival. Security services remain tightlipped as to where their investigations are focused. A statement released by Scotland Yard read, "We await the results of the toxicology tests and we are therefore not speculating as to the possible cause of his condition at this stage." Radioactive Thallium has been used in the past to dispatch the KGB’s enemies. In 1957 a former KGB assassin Nicolai Khokholov was the subject of an attempted assassination by the KGB with radioactive Thalium following his defection to the west [CNN]. He survived only after intensive treatment including blood transfusions and a variety of anti-toxins.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Council workers face smoking ban

Workers face the sack if they fail to stub out their habit.

A smoking ban for employees during work time has triggered a row between the pro-smoking and anti-smoking lobby. Council Workers in Lancashire face the queues of the unemployed if they take fag breaks.

Sky News highlighted the 'thin end of the wedge' as employers govern the 'free time' of its employees. In the US pupils have had their visits to the the toilet curtailed [BBC] and one pro-smoking spokesperson asked how much further employers would interfere with the rights of their workforce - “Are we to see a restriction of the kind of food employees should eat?” Forest described the move as a ‘complete overreaction’ [BBC].

Japan - Tsunamis fail to materialize

A series of massive earthquakes fail to produce predicted tsunamis

Besides a series of aftershocks following a massive 8.1 quake off the coast of Japan, a tsunami has failed to materialize. Several warnings were issued after the 8.1 earthquake hit at 11:14 GMT [22:14 local time]. Its depth was measured at 27 km and the USGS has since reported at least 5 aftershocks. Thousands fled parts of north-east Hokkaido, but after more than two hours it was clear that there was little threat to the coastal areas. The BBC / Sky News and CNN all covered the story with some depth whilst the newest broadcaster on the block, Al Jazeera English, only glanced over the story. In December 2004 a massive tsunami, triggered by a 7.8 earthquake near Indonesia, killed more than 250,000 throughout southern Asia and as far as Africa [Wikipedia - Indian Ocean earthquake 2004] .

Al-Jazeera in English launched

Al Jazeera English went live today [Sky EPG 514]. The leading story on other networks was the Japanese earthquake and possible tsunami. As Al Jazeera English launched it led with a story about a Palestinian missile attack which killed an Israeli woman. “A Palestinian missile kills an Israeli woman, Israel vows revenge”. The story swiftly moved on to a report by veteran reporter David Chater - “The agony of Gaza” in a “disintegrating economy”. Their second report was the Japanese earthquake, but was dealt with only in brief. The third headline moved on to Darfur, Sudan, with a report from Andrew Simmons backed up with a live report from Haru Marasa. Then to a commercial break. Much of the break was filled with trailers for Al Jazeera’s own programming. The ‘bias’ becomes clear after twenty minutes viewing. One sting showed a comparison of nuclear weapons held by various countries ending with Iran and the US as a comparison. Another dealt with a comparison of CO2 emissions. Each 30 second sting ending with ‘Al-Jazeera - Setting the News Agenda’ [Fox News / Guardian]

After the break Ferai Zevenzo reported from Zimbabwe, a country which is suffering from massive inflation and unemployment. Pictures showed dozens waiting in line for petrol. Some had waited more than seven days. Describing Zimbabwe as “Inflation country”, Ferai reeled off a string of depressing statistics. Inflation was running at 1200%, 1 US dollar can buy 2000 Zimbabwe dollars. A country where there is 80% unemployment but where “5% are extremely wealthy”. Ending his report Ferai Zevenzo said many ordinary lives had not been improved. Al Jazeera is the first TV network to broadcast Live from Zimbabwe in several years. The next story dealt with the diplomatic issues surrounding Iran and the continuing turmoil in Iraq. Ex-BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar reported from Tehran, Iran's capital, and discussed new US/UK talks which have taken place over the last 24 hours. Other headlines were skirted over including a brief visit by President Bush to Moscow en-route to Indonesia and the possible re-initiation of 6 party talks with North Korea.
The ‘And finally story’ came from Beijing where illegal racers speed around the city ring roads. One racer completed Beijing’s 2nd ring road in little over 13 minutes, averaging 150 km/h. The man behind the wheel speaks of “the thrill of the speed on a racing circuit” but said it was “more exiting on the open road”. More than 100 cars hit China’s roads every day and it is a massive task for the police to control the traffic. They have little time nor resources to chase speeding motorists. What was not mentioned is the resulting accidents left in the wake of such activities. The half hour news broadcast ended with, “And that’s it for now, a weather update next”.

It has taken ten years since their launch in 1996 to get to the point of being a nearly global English speaking broadcaster. Nearly global, since at the last minute Variety reported that a deal between AJI and Comcast, one of America's biggest cable operators, fell through after AJI held out for nationwide coverage when Comcast wanted to make the channel tentatively available in Detroit, which houses a large Arab-American population. Their success in the news environment will depend on their impartiality and quality of coverage. Many might be surprised by some of their programming whilst others will be put off by their apparent bias. Most will only have seen the Arabic version of the channel [Wikipedia - Al Jazeera], which has incidently disappeared from the Sky EPG[ electronic programme guide].

Tsunami alert in Japan after 8.1 quake

An 8.1 earthquake has hit near Japan triggering a tsunami alert in Japan. The initial reports were that the tsunami, if there were one, would hit the coast between 12:10 GMT. As yet there have been no signs of a tsunami but the tide has dropped 20 – 30 cm on some coastal areas. As this story develops 12:54 there were reports of a 0.5 metre high wave hitting the fishing town of Nemuro. The earthquake hit near the Kuril islands [46.683N, 153.223E] north of Japan at around 11:15 GMT [22:14 local time].

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Iraq - 150 kidnapped as UK/US talks start

Another week in Iraq started with yet more bombings and attacks. Today [Tuesday] up to 150 people were kidnapped by insurgents. They were taken from a research institute belonging to the Iraqi Ministry in the Karradah district of Baghdad. Latest reports suggested that 3 people had already been released [CNN/BBC]. It is said to have been the largest mass kidnapping seen in the country. Witnesses said the street filled with pick-up trucks carrying insurgents dressed as police.
There has been a continued rise in attacks from the Iraqi insurgency. Each month brings with it a greater number of attacks with little respite. On Monday this week at least 11 were killed in a suicide attack [BBC] and on Sunday two suicide bombing killed thirty five. Civilians are the main victim in this dirty war, but highly protected troops are still taking losses. On Sunday a boat carrying British personnel was targeted with an IED or ‘improvised explosive device’ the MoD confirmed. Today they were named as Warrant Officer Lee Hopkins, Royal Corps of Signals, and Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott of the Intelligence Corps. Also killed in the attack were Corporal Ben Nowak of 45 Commando Royal Marines and Marine Jason Hylton of 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines [BBC]. The attack brings the coalition dead to 3099, 125 of them British.
The political fallout has not affected Washington’s stance and last night PM Blair of Great Britain blamed both Iran and Syria for helping the insurgency [CNN].
Michael Cox, Royal Institute of Affairs, speaking on CNN said there was a difficulty with engaging Iran and Syria after the disaster in Iraq. On Iraq he said, “The situation there is very bad and getting worse by the day” and it was difficult for America as to “how to withdraw without making it look like defeat”. Whether Tony Blair can motivate US representatives in finding a way forward in the push for peace in the Middle East can only be guessed [BBC]. Speaking via a video link he told the US inquiry into future policy options that resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict is crucial to the future of Iraq. The ISG is expected to report its findings to President Bush within weeks. Posted by Picasa

China pressured to stop piracy

US Commerce Secretary, Carlos Gutierrez has pressured Chinese authorities to clampdown on pirated DVDs in an effort to reduce effects of intellectual property rights infringement. Gutierrez praised the Chinese leadership for tackling the problem adding that it was “a large problem for all parties”. $2.4 billion per year is lost by US companies due to piracy in China, according to a report on CNN today. It is an issue which has been brewing for a long time and prompted some companies to take actions themselves. Warner Brothers are set to release a Mandarin version of the new Superman film on DVD in China ahead of the rest of the world [BBC]. Fox has also made attempts to thwart the pirates by releasing cheaper DVDs [English Peoples Daily]. According to the agreement, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will distribute its products through Zoke's extensive national network, and supply China's growing home entertainment market with recent releases as well as celebrated films from the studio's vast library. But the efforts may well fall flat on Chinese consumers. A Chinese worker often earns less than $200 a month and pirate DVDs offer value for money at less than the equivalent of $2 each. Beijing is said to be clamping down on ‘serious violators’ but according to CNN, this move is only forcing many vendors underground. Liu Binjie, Press and Publication ADM, said that there needed to be more education in schools about intellectual property rights. “We will also educate the general public to help them realize that buying pirated goods is wrong”. Frank Hawke highlighted the danger that pirated goods could pose to the public. “They will move from luxury goods and DVDs and CDs into pharmaceuticals, chemical intermediates, food additives electronics, electric products and these are products where you have serious safety issues.”
The risk to China’s economy is very real. According to Carlos Gutierrez, “China is evolving and moving towards an innovation economy, and I know there is a vision President Hu [Jintao] has laid out for an innovation society, and you can’t be an innovation society if you can’t have an innovation society when you can have of intellectual property rights protected”.
But it will be an uphill struggle to see off the vendors of pirate DVDs. And whilst Beijing is seeing a clampdown, in other provinces DVDs are sold openly in shops and on the streets. Posted by Picasa