Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Balti fried and Chinese taken away

The UK government's new Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill will have a devastating affect on the country's many curry houses and Chinese takeaways.

The Bill, to be debated soon by the House of Lords, will impose a two-year jail term and fine on employers hiring illegal foreigners.

This would mean that many Asian takeaway, who now rely on these unskilled, illegal workers, would have to either pay more to hire legal employees, or just close shop.

The Times say ultimately this Bill will benefit unskill workers from Eastern Europe, who have found jobs plentiful in kebab houses.

This is from The Times:

Chinese and Indian restaurant and takeaway owners are campaigning to persuade
the Government to continue letting thousands of Asian people into the country to
help to make the curries. But ministers have refused, telling caterers to speak
English in their kitchens so that vacancies can be filled by workers from
Eastern Europe.

Kebab houses are meanwhile benefiting from a boom in
staff, with many asylum-seekers and new European Union members coming from
traditional meat-skewering nations.

Some comments from those involved:

Thomas Chan, who chairs the Chinese Takeaway Association

He estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 workers a year were needed.

“The head chef will find it difficult to communicate with these Eastern
Europeans. If there is no mutually understood language, how are they going to
give instructions? It’s not just a pinch of salt here and there. It’s the

Ashraf Uddin, the secretary-general of the Bangladesh Caterers’ Association

He said that at least 20,000 workers a year were needed to work in Britain’s 10,000 Indian restaurants. He said that the Government had told them to take Eastern Europeans.

“Unless they know our culture, our language, our way of working, it’s a complete

Taflan Dikec, president of the National Association of Kebab Shops

He said that there were already 40,000 kebab takeaways, with numbers growing fast. Refugees had provided a source of labour but Eastern Europeans were able to make more than kebabs.

“They are capable, if the Chinese and Indians gave them an opportunity. They
have this myth that Chinese food can only be cooked by a Chinese person or
Indian by an Indian.”

There is also a story in the Guardian

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Iran's nuke showdown

On Sunday, the Observer reported that Iran was ready to use its missiles to strike Israel or Western forces stationed in the Gulf if attacked.

This is scary, especially at a time when the situation in the middle east is volatile with the victory of Hamas in Palestine.

What are the chances of Iran and Hamas working together to strike a blow at their common enemy Israel?

The Sunday report quoted an Iranian official as saying:

"The world knows Iran has a ballistic missile power with a range of 2,000km (1,300 miles). We have no intention to invade any country [but] we will take effective defence measures if attacked."

The US is a fervent advocate of military action against Iran over its nuclear programme. However UK and the rest if Europe feel the matter can be solved without a military attack. They propose a UN sanction against the Islamic Republic.

However things seem to be looking good as today reports stated that Iran was taking part in informal talks over its controversial nuclear programme with EU negotiators in London, ahead of Thursday's emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

However some analysts fear that Iran might not be serious in these talks based on the fact that it has not send its top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.

Experts believe this looks like a tactic to weaken the resolve of the EU ahead of Thursday's meeting, when Iran could be referred to the UN Security Council to face sanctions.

I wonder if the parties will agree with the Russian plan to conduct the nuclear enrichment in Russia on behalf of Iran.

Russia's proposal might be defeated if the western powers believe the Iranian nuclear programme is for military use and not for energy purposes as claimed by Iran.

But with Russia and China backing Iran, there is no way the Security Council is going to get an unanimous vote for stiff actions.

Thus, the solution could lie on Russia's proposals, or end with Iran's threat.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

The Munich controversy...

In 1972, a little known Palestinian group calling themselves Black September sneaks into the Olympic village and holds hostage 11 Israeli athletes. They kill two and then tried to escape with the rest via the German government given aircraft.

However at the airport, a botched rescue attempt resulted in the nine dying, along with a German policeman and five of the eight kidnappers.

Israel moved immediately to exact revenge. It set up Operation Wrath of God and hunted down Palestine leaders it thought were behind the kidnapping in Munich.

The workings of one such assasination group is the crux of the latest movie by Steven Spielberg called Munich.

But the movie has been subject to much controversy in Israel and Germany.

In Israel, its secret service Mossad is not happy by the way they were portrayed in the movie. They also say the movie was factually flawed.

One of the central themes of Spielberg's Munich is the personal toll the mission takes on the team, wracked by guilt over what they were doing.

However Mossad agents, interviewed in a Channel 4 documentary on Thursday night showed little sign of agonising.

Officers K and G, though their faces are hidden in the shadows, come across as tougher and more hard-bitten than Spielberg's agents.

Officer G, asked if he ever had doubts, says:

"No hesitations. No. No. No. We believe you can say whatever you like in
discussions, but when ordered, you must follow it."

Their other argument is that the assassination campaign did not fall apart because the agents lost their nerve, as the film suggests, but because an operation went disastrously wrong at Lillehammer in Norway, when the Israelis mis-identified their target - the Black September chief Ali Hassan Salameh - and killed an innocent Moroccan waiter instead. Spielberg does not even mention Lillehammer.

Others blasted Munich saying the film equates the Israeli assassins with the Palestinian militants and tries to excuse the actions of the terrorists.

Spielberg's staff emphasise that Munich is a work of art not a documentary, but his film opens by saying it was "inspired by real events".

And the director himself says:

"These critics are acting as if we were all missing a moral compass. Of course,
it is a horrible, abominable crime when people are taken hostage and killed like
in Munich. But it does not excuse the act when you ask what the motives of the
perpetrators were and show that they were also individuals with families and a
history.... "

In Germany, the movie brings another form of flashback - it revived unwanted memories of the shockingly inept handling of events by the Germans, especially in the year when they host the World Cup.

background on Munich murder:

Black September, a Palestinian group, broke into the Olympic village in Munich in September 1972 dressed in tracksuits and armed with Kalashnikovs and took 11 Israeli athletes hostage.

Twenty-four hours later, in a botched German police rescue, all hostages, five kidnappers and a German police officer were killed. Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, launched missions, dubbed Operation Wrath of God, to track down and kill those alleged to be responsible.

The first hit was in Rome, the second in December when Mahmoud Hamshiri was killed, followed by assassinations in Cyprus, Paris, Beirut, Athens, Rome, Paris again, and Lillehammer, Norway.

Lillehammer went badly wrong: a Moroccan waiter was mistaken for Ali Hassan Salameh, alleged planner of Munich. Salameh was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 1979.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

China's threat to environment

I read this interesting article yesterday in the Guardian. It is about how the ever expanding population of China was becoming dangerous to our environment, especially to the earth’s resources.

Some of the facts and figures from the article are as follows:

  • China has now overtaken America as the world's leading resource consumer
  • In the basic commodities - grain and meat in the food sector, oil and coal in the energy sector, and steel in the industrial sector - China now consumes more of each of these than the US except for oil
  • It consumes nearly twice as much meat - 67m tonnes compared with 39m tonnes in the US; and more than twice as much steel - 258m tonnes to 104m
  • If China's economy expands at 8% a year in the decades ahead, its income per person will reach the current US level in 2031. If at that point China's resource consumption per person were the same as that in the US today, its 1.45 billion people would consume the equivalent of two-thirds of the current world grain harvest
  • China's paper consumption would be double the world's current production. Say goodbye to the world's forests
  • If China were to have three cars for every four people - as in the US - it would have 1.1bn cars. Worldwide today there are 800m cars. To provide the roads and parking spaces to accommodate such a vast fleet, China would have to pave an area comparable to the land it now plants in rice - 29m hectares (72m acres)
  • And it would use 99m barrels of oil a day; the world currently produces only 84m barrels daily, and may never produce much more.
The author, Lester R Brown - president of the Earth Policy Institute - is suggesting that the western economic model - the fossil fuel-based, car-centred, throwaway economy - is not going to work for China. And he is saying it’s time to build a new economy

What is a news economy then?

According to Lester:

Glimpses of the new economy can already be seen in the wind farms of
western Europe, the solar rooftops of Japan, the fast-growing hybrid car fleet
of the US, the reforested mountains of South Korea, and the bicycle-friendly
streets of Amsterdam.

Virtually everything we need to do to build an economy that will sustain
economic progress is already being done in one or more countries.

In this economic restructuring, the biggest challenges will come in the
energy economy as the world strives simultaneously to reduce carbon emissions
and dependence on oil.

Among the new sources of energy - wind, solar cells, solar thermal,
geothermal, small-scale hydro and biomass - wind is developing fastest, hinting
at what the new energy economy will look like.

Read the full article - A new world order – here.

Let’ hope all these will work and cut down our dependence solely on oil for the sake of Mother Earth and our future generation.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Google in China - money over democracy

Fastest growing search engine Google says it will censor its search services in China in order to gain greater access to China's fast-growing market.

It is offering a new site - Google.cn - which it will censor itself to satisfy Beijing's hardline rulers.

Google argued it would be more damaging to pull out of China altogether.

Reporters Without Borders immediately accused Google of hypocrisy for agreeing to deprive Chinese people of the right to information, while espousing what the company says is its "informal" motto of "Don't Be Evil". Read RSF's press statement here.

Law professor John Palfrey at Harvard University's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society says:

"No doubt about it. This is first about money, and second about
democracy. The founders of Google and their officers and directors have no
doubt made a very careful decision that said, 'We need to avail ourselves of
this market, it's the world's greatest emerging market, and we're going to be in
there with our own offering.'"

The new search engine will block out words and phrases the Chinese government deems sensitive. These have usually had to do with such matters as democracy, Taiwan independence, autonomy for Tibet, and the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.

Until now, Google has only censored its news site in China - a practice it began months ago. The new Chinese version of its search engine will go further than that, by not offering the e-mail or blogging services that the company offers in other markets.

Google is not the first US Internet company to cooperate with Chinese censors for the sake of doing business in the country. Yahoo last year provided Chinese authorities with information that led to the arrest of a Chinese journalist, Shi Tao. He was jailed for 10 years.

There are many other countries which have very low tolerance on Internet being used as a tool of democracy. I just hope this Chinese venture will not open the doors for Google and other popular Internet portals to censor the net elsewhere.

For a look into state-backed restrictions on the Internet, see RSF's latest report here.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

London rocks with spy accusation

I thought the cold war was over. Apparently no one told the Brits about it. Or is it all something which we the ordinary Joes never knew. Was the cold war trully over?

Moscow's accusation of espionage by British diplomats takes us back all the way to late 70s and early 80s. Only this time, the technic in use is remarkably high-tech - a wireless transmitter in a rock! But its function is the same. It acs just like the 'dead letter drop' techniques implemented in the past.

The Russian secret agency FSB on Monday confirmed claims made in a state television programme that it had uncovered a James Bond-style spying operation involving four British diplomats using the transmitter hidden in a fake rock on a Moscow street to gather information.

It said the spies had also financed NGOs, including the Moscow Helsinki Group, one of the most prominent human rights campaigners in Russia.

Sergei Ignatchenko, a spokesman for the FSB says:

"The most important thing is that we caught them (the spies) red-handed while
they were in contact with their agents and established that they were financing
some non-governmental organisations".

The UK Foreign Office's reaction:

Reject "any allegations of improper conduct in our dealing with Russian
NGOs". It said it had openly given financial support to projects implemented by
Russian NGOs in the field of human rights and civil society.

The UK spends about £500,000 on supporting NGO programmes in Russia. "It's
all totally above board. That's what is so surprising about this," said a UK

Tony Blair has refused to comment while President Putin hasnt said anything, yet.

The allegations are interesting indeed. Just as Russia has assumed the G8 presidency (from the UK), it appears ready to go for a full diplomatic row with them.

What could have prompted them to publicly oust this espionage? I am sure they were aware of such activities for a long time. Why didn't they use their diplomatic channels to sound off the Brits?

I think, Russians are trying to make a point here. They are telling not just the Brits but also the entire western world to keep away from trying to democratise them through their NGOs.

In fact Russia has just passed a law to restrict the activities of its NGOs. The government believes the NGOs are also acting as fronts for foreign intelligence.

The other factor is that Russia is also displeased with the amount of money and support the western world, especially the US, have been dumping into flagging democratic countries that neighbours Russia.

Russia wants to regain its hold on these satellite states which it use to rule with iron fist under the USSR regime.

I think, having made a point here, Russia will not try hard to deport the four British diplomats. But UK will do well in getting them back home.

In the meantime, dont be surprised if Russia reveals more espionage allegations against other nations and the UK revealing and deporting Russion diplomats from London for being involved in activities against the national interest.

Read more:

The cold war is over, but rock in a park suggests the spying game still thrives (via the guardian)
British agents caught red-handed by Russia (via the daily telegraph)

note: the second photo, a reuters pix, shows a man, allegedly a British embassy staff member, kicks the ‘rock’. Later, another man is seen carrying it away.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

It has been a bad weekend for...

It has been a bad weekend for:

  • British diplomats in Russia:

They have been accused of spying in Moscow. Russian TV showed that British agents hid sophisticated spying equipment inside a fake rock and secretly passed money to non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The Foreign Office declined to say this morning whether any official complaint had been received from the authorities in Moscow.

But a spokesman said Britain was "concerned and suprised" by the TV allegations and denied any improper links with Russian NGOs.

Read the full story here and here.

  • Sven Goran Eriksson:

More details of a sting came out on Sunday. This time the News of the World reported the England coach dishing out his opinions on three premier league managers - claiming them to be receiving bungs in players transfers.

He has been hauled up before the FA to explain his statements to the tabloid. My feeling is that he won't last until after the world cup. The FA will cut him loose.

Read more here and here and here.

  • Lib-Dem leader and MP Mark Oaten:

This man has to forgo his chances in LIb-Dem leadership race after revelations of his rent-boy shame. In fact he can forget about his immediate political future after News of the World published an exclusive of his habits of having threesomes with rent boys. He has also quit as the party's home affairs spokesperson.

Read more here and here.

  • Whaley the whale:

On Friday night, all British television reports were about a shle which has swum upstream of the River Thames. The whale provided a spectacle for thousands of people. And then experts moved in to save the whale. The plan was to lift the whale and send it back to the Artic ocean. And the result? Whaley died.

Theories for Whaley's sad demise ranged from stress caused by the noise of nearby boats to explosions on Ministry of Defence gunnery ranges damaging the mammal's sonar system. Experts are not giving up yet. They are conducting a post-mortem to find out why the female whale died.

Read more here and here.

  • And personally for me as a Liverpool fan:

When the team fell to a last minute goal at old-foe Manchester United. How sad. Liverpool has been improving well and I hope this defeat will merely be a small hindrance to their progress. Come on boys, lets put together another wonderful run of wins.

Read more here and here.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Osama's truce and threat

After almost a year of silence, Osama bin Laden is back with his audio-message.

Though analysts are saying that it was a genuine recording - made some time in December - and that his voice sounded weak, the veracity of the message are clear enough for it contained both a threat and truce.

The threat:

Osama boasted of the suicide bombings in Madrid and London and said America would not be spared.

"The delay in similar operations happening in America has not been because
of failure to break through your security measures.

The operations are under preparation and you will see them in your homes
the minute they are through [with preparations], with God willing."

The truce:

Osama was ready to offer the US a "truce" in response to opinion polls showing that Americans were weary of the war in Iraq.

"The war is still raging. The operations in Afghanistan are increasing all the time on our side. The Pentagon says the number if your dead and injured is rising, and there are your huge financial loses.

We don't mind offering you a long-term truce on fair conditions that we adhere to. We are a nation that God has forbidden to lie and cheat. So both sides can enjoy security and stability under this truce so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been destroyed in this war.

There is no shame in this solution, which prevents the wasting of billions of dollars that have gone to those with influence and merchants of war in America who have supported Bush's election campaign with billions of dollars — which lets us understand the insistence by Bush and his gang to carry on with war."

Full text of his speech

But the truce offer was immediately rejected by the US and security officials have no plans to raise the nation's security threat level because of the new tape.

And immediately another question is raised with this sudden emergence of Osama's tape - the fate of his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri (photo).

Usually its the Egyptian who issues threats through such video recordings. However last week the US claimed it had targetted and bombed a small village in Pakistan after receiving info that Ayman al-Zawahiri was hiding there.

Did they get him then? Pakistani officials said it was his son-in-law and two al-Qaida figures who had died.

So, we await for more then from Osama - both on his threat and truce. And also for more info on his deputy.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Protest group failed by daddy militants

Its the end for the Fathers 4 Justice protest group. The movement set up three years ago to highlight the legal problems faced by fathers in gaining access to their children has finally been closed by its founder

The movement's objectives have been hijacked by extremist elements in the group which wanted more aggressive ways of highlighting their concerns. This culminated in the plans to kidnap Tony Blair's five-year-old son Leo just before Christmas.

Unfortunately for these radicals, the police had been listening to their plans and managed to ward of any such attempts.

The Sun today has more details of the plan:

Special Branch officers called at the lunatics’ homes the day after they
(four men) were seen discussing the snatch while dressed in Santa Claus

They were told to abandon the plan — or risk death by a police marksman’s

The plotters — two of whom have criminal records for violence — hatched
their scheme to abduct Tony Blair’s five-year-old son on December 9.

They went to a seedy London pub after a Fathers 4 Justice demo in which
bell-ringing marchers dressed as Santas.

But unknown to them, police alarmed at growing calls for “direct
action” were investigating extreme elements of the group.

And last words of the F4J founder Matt O’Connor:

"These idiots have undermined the good work men and women have done under
our name to generate and stimulate debate on the way fathers are unfairly judged
in this country."

"There may be a repeat of these sorts of antics and it would do serious
damage to the debate and what we have achieved," he said.

"My view is that fathers are not ready for the changes we want to see
in this country. They are part of the problem, not the solution, and they are
perverting the cause.

And his conclusion?

Mothers were simply more mature than fathers.

Well said. Finally an end to a movement whose aim to highlight the plights of its members have been overshadowed by the members themselves. How sad.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A poor stunt by Fathers 4 Justice

Their plan was simple. Kidnap the prime minister's five-year-old son Leo Blair as a "symbolic gesture" to highlight the cause of fathers denied access to their children. The ordeal was only to last for a short period of time.

However the police got a wind of this and started moving.

The result: Fathers 4 Justice group suspended its activities and confirmed that police had quizzed some of its former members before Christmas.

The Sun tabloid has this exclusive today, quoting unnamed sources as saying the Special Branch officers uncovered the plot in its early stages just before Christmas and foiled it.

BBC spoke to the police and has this to say:

The plan only got as far as what police called the "chattering stage". There has
been no kidnap attempt and no arrests.
Father 4 Justice have always maintained that the British courts unfairly restrict fathers' access to children in custody disputes.

Their previous attempts to gain publicity include:
  • A campaigner dressed as Batman climbed Queen Elizabeth's London residence in 2004, and
  • Another pelted Blair with purple flour bombs while he addressed parliament.

How sad for this group. Is this the way for them to highlight their issues?

If this is their mentality, then the courts have been right in denying them child access.

The group's leader Matt O'Connor said last night that he was suspending the operations of the group pending enquiries into the kidnap allegations.

He also adds that his group is increasingly having it's name 'hijacked' by a growing number of militant extremists and that it would seriously consider the long term viability of the campaign.

If thats the case, it is just right that F4J clean its own backyards first.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What a sad Goran?

Now we know why Sven Goran Eriksson will never drop David Beckham. He says it himself. They are very good friends. In fact Beckham is just one phone call away and will join any club the Swede suggests.

But I don't think he can share the same sort of friendship with Michael Owen. Not after revealing private conversations with the Newcastle striker about his move to the side from Real Madrid.

Neither do I think Rooney nor Rio Ferdinand will be pleased to meet Goran again in the near future. Not after blaming Rooney's temperament on his upbringing and labelling Rio lazy.

And neither will Aston Villa manager David O'Leary want to remain buddies with Goran. Why should he? After all Goran is trying to replace him as the manager at Villa Park.

And finally I think the FA will be thinking hard on how to drop the Swede as soon as the World Cup is over - whether they win it or not.

Goran made a tremendous error by talking to fake Sheikh - a media stint pulled by News of the World.

And now everyone is wary of the cool Swede.

He himself is said to be shocked by the set up.

But this is not the first time Goran has done this sort of thing. He has a long list.

It will be good for him and England if he tells them his immediate plans so that they too can make necessary arrangements.

And what's to stop him from more errors of judgments until the World Cup in summer?

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Iran raises the ante

Following talks of a UN sanction on Iran, the Islamic republic has fired its own salvo - oil prices will rise if sanctions are imposed.

Iran is the fourth largest oil producer in the world. It has said that its nuclear program is for energy production only, but many observers are not so sure given Iran has one of the world's biggest reserves of oil. They say Iran wants too build nuclear weapons.

That would bring about dangerous situation in the ever volatile middle east. Israel will never allow that to happen in order to protect itself.

Iran too has not been kind to its Jewish neighbours. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year called for the Jewish state to be wiped out of the face of the earth.

And yesterday, Iran said it would host a special scientific conference to examine evidence supporting the World War II Holocaust which President Ahmadinejad has described as a "myth".

The days ahead are surely going to be busy at the UN as the western powers are trying to garner sufficient support for sanctions against Tehran, with Russia pledging support to the US.

President Bush meanwhile has said Iran with nuclear power will pose "a grave threat to the security of the world". These are his same words he used before launching the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

And two Amercian senators - the powerful Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Evan Bayh - have started the ball rolling by saying that a military option was NOT out of the question.

We await more developments. Maybe things will get much worse in the next week or so.

In the meantime, below are some pearls from the Iranian president, courtesy of BBC.

"A nation which has culture, logic and civilisation does not need nuclear weapons. The countries which seek nuclear weapons are those which want to solve all problems by the use of force. Our nation does not need such weapons."

"We are asked why we have started [nuclear] research. We answer that there is no limitation to research. There are no limits imposed on research in NPT [Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty] or in the Additional Protocol. Nor have we made such a commitment. Research is necessary for the life and dynamism of a nation."

"The UN Security Council has been set up for the world security. Is the UN Security
Council a mere tool in their [Western powers] hands to use at their will - threatening to send our case to the UN if we refuse to comply with their demands? Our understanding is that the UN Security Council belongs to all nations and is not a tool for a few countries. Why do they use it for their own purpose?"

"As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map."

"They have created a myth today that they call the massacre of Jews and they consider it a principle above God, religions and the prophets."

"The Iranian nation is a learned nation. It is a civilised nation. It is a history-making nation... You know and we know: you need us far more than we need you."

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Hajj stampede in Mina; 345 killed

"I heard screaming, and I looked around and saw people jumping over each other. Police came and cordoned off the area. They starting pulling out bodies. The bodies were piled up. I couldn't count them, they were too many," Suad Abu Hamada, an Egyptian pilgrim, told The Associated Press.

"I saw people moving and suddenly I heard crying, shouting, wailing," said Abdullah Pulig, an Indian street cleaner who had travelled to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage. "I looked around and people were piling on each other. They started pulling dead people from the crowd."

"It was like the road of death there," a pilgrim.

How sad this tragedy. CNN reported that at least 345 people was killed in a stampede during a symbolic stoning ritual at the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

According to the country's Health Minister Hamad al-Maneh, who told Saudi TV, 289 others were injured in the stampede near Mecca and taken to the hospital.

The cause of the stampede?
Some pilgrims tripped over dropped luggage, causing the pileup.

This is the second tragedy in this years hajj season. At least 76 people - mostly pilgrims - were killed last week when a hotel collapsed near the Grand Mosque in central Mecca. It is still unclear what caused the small building to crumble onto the streets packed with pilgrims.

But stampedes are a regular feature in this holy city. What do you expect when about 3 million pilgrims gather in a small place to fulfill their utmost duty as a Muslim in a 6-day pilgrimage.

History of stampedes:

1990 - the worst in recent years when 1,426 pilgrims were trampled to death.
2001 - 35 killed.
2003 - 36 killed.
2004 - 251 killed.

The Saudi government has taken steps to put an end to this but without success.

But all these failed simply because the pilgrims ignore all the rules. In their haste to complete their holy duty, somehow they have discarded their safety.

So how do we overcome this then? Extra precautionary methods? Change the annual quota system of pilgrims? Put an age-limit for pilgrims?

Whatever it is, something must be done, not just by the Saudi government, but by all Muslim nations to address this problem.

Pilgrims who come to fulfill their holy duty must be allowed to do so without the fear of being crushed to death by others who are there for the same reason.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Tsunami spending under utilised

The UK aid agencies are accused of not fully using charity money collected for the 2004 tsunami.

The Disasters and Emergencies Committee says that UK charities only spend about a third of the money collected.

And it accused them of competing for media coverage, which it said had led to "an opportunistic approach".

As an example, the DEC says Indonesia sustained 60% of the damage in the disaster but was set to get only 31% of the £350m donated.

And many victims are still living in tents one year on from the disaster because charities have little expertise in disaster housing.

The DEC commissioned a team of independent evaluators to assess how the aid agencies, which come under the DEC's umbrella, had responded to the disaster.

In response to the charges, DEC's chief executive Brendan Gormley said: "The conclusion of the evaluation is that the overall work of the DEC agencies has been impressive, and that there are some areas to work on.

"The British public should be clear about two things. Firstly, that the money they generously gave has been used to save the lives of many thousands and improve the lives of millions, and secondly that the DEC agencies will not shy away from acting on the lessons of this report," he adds.

So far the DEC has spent £128 million: £40 million in Indonesia, which suffered up to 80 per cent of the casualties; £40 million in Sri Lanka; £31 million in India and £17 million across Thailand, Somalia, the Maldives and Myanmar.

Indonesia is expected to receive more this year. The DEC is planning to spend £190 million in 2006 on more than 20,000 houses as well as thousands of high-quality temporary shelters.

Read the full report here and the DEC's statement here.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Is Iran inviting war to its door?

Iran reopened it Natanz nuclear enrichment facility on Tuesday claiming its for research only.

But the international nuclear watchdog says there are also plans in Tehran for a small-scale enrichment of uranium.

Why should this trigger outcry from the US, Europe and Japan? Its because the uranium enrichment process will allow Iran to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

Iran's immediate concern now would be calls for it to appear before the UN Security Council where it could face possible sanctions. And what could follow is a threat of a use of force.

And we know at least one president of the western world who is eager to do just that.

The UK government says Iran's move was a "serious situation" and vowed it would be "top of the agenda" at an EU foreign ministers' meeting this week.

However its Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he was "confident" the crisis would be resolved by peaceful means rather than military action.

And the White House said Iran must step back quickly or the issue would be referred to the UN Security Council with the possibility of sanctions or other kinds of punishment by the international community.

And one would wonder what White House means by "other kinds of punishment".

We shall await further development on this one.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The increasing dangers of bird flu

A global bird flu threat looks looming now. At the moment, there are active cases in China (the flu originated in Hong Kong) and another man had died in Indonesia on Jan 1.

In Vietnam, the situation is also hot. A Swedish study says that here the number of bird flu cases in human may have been hugely under reported.

And there are more concerns in Europe after 14 people in Turkey have been confirmed to have contracted the deadly disease.

The H5N1 strain of the virus has emerged in four regions in Turkey now and this has raised fears that it is sweeping west towards Europe proper.

The disease was identified in Turkey last week and three children have now died.

So what has the EU done to deter this virus from spreading throughout the continent?

For starters, the EU has banned imports of live birds and poultry products, including feather from Turkey. In additional, imports of untreated bird feathers from eastern neighbours of Turkey - Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Syria, Iran and Iraq - are also banned.

In the UK, health authorities are saying the country was moving into a new phase of pandemic planning. The government was also continuing to stockpile Tamiflu, the antoviral drug used as a first-line defence against the virus. The bad news is that the stockpile is only enough to treat 25% of the population by August.

Poultry farmers with more than 50 birds have until Feb 28 to register their flocks. It is quite worrying in the UK as last October a parrot in quarantine here died after contracting bird flu.

The spread of this disease has economic impact on the affected countries. Millions of poultry will have to be culled. Separate hospitals will have to be allocated. And money given to farmers as subsidies.

Malaysia, right in the middle of the bird flu centre now in Southeast Asia, plans to increase dedicated hospitals from the present 21. At least 15 more will be added now.

But is that enough? How stringent are the people in stopping smuggling of poultry of affected areas?

Malaysia had this problem a couple of years ago when it banned poultry from bird flu-infected Thailand but people still found ways to smuggle the birds and the virus in.

It became so bad that at one stage the entire northern Malaysian state of Kelantan which borders Thailand was put under emergency and all types of birds culled.

Maybe its time the antiviral drug makers remove their monopoly over the drug and allow other producers to make generic drugs.

I am sure the maker will have to yield to joint pressure put in by ALL governments.

And at the same time, poultry farmers should be careful with hygine and well being of their flocks.

A Q&A on bird flu


Monday, January 09, 2006

Kennedy out, Liverpool win and house burgled

What a weekend!

First the Charles Kennedy saga. On Thursday he admits he had a drinking problem. Friday he says he will not quit as it would be "a dereliction of duty" and on Saturday he is out.

There goes his political life at the top. There was no way he could have continued when most of his frontbenchers were sharpening their knives for him. Thus, after months of whispering campaigns, Charles Kennedy is out.

At least now he can try to quit drinking without the pressure from his political peers. And for his party, its leadership contest now.

Then comes the Liverpool win over Luton. What a comeback after being 3-1 down to win 5-3. And what superb goals by Alonso.

Maybe the early start of the season is showing but with the way the team is playing now, its only probable that they go on to do well in the league, Champions League and the FA Cup.

And finally, personally for me the week started with burglars breaking into my house. They got away with the wife's handbag (and some personal belongings and cash), a cake and a bottle of coke.

Now, our kitchen window is bolted shut, an extra padlock on the dining door and a request to the university to change our kitchen door (from a glass one to a wooden one).

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Friday, January 06, 2006

The use of suicide photos

London's Evening Standard and the Times and the Sun yesterday carried photos of a woman leaping to her death by jumping from a fourth floor of a hotel in London.

The photo showed the woman, a successful 52-year-old lawyer, halfway through the fourth floor and the ground.

Now it has emerged that many readers found the photo to be untasteful and lacking in journalism ethics.

So at least five readers, including a friend of the deceased and the Samaritans charity have lodged complaints to the Press Complaints Commission.

The PCC is to investigate whether the newspapers concerned breached its code by publishing the photographs of the woman committing suicide.

So what have the newspapers breached here? PCC's code of practice clause relating to "intrusion into grief and shock" had been breached.

The clause states: "In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively."

And of course we all know what the editors will say in defence - that the publication was a matter of public interest in educating their readers the perils of taking one's life.

I await the PCC's decision in the matter eagerly.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Blame the kettle for climate changes

Nope, its not the gas drinking SUVs. And its not even the air-conditions or the cheap flights.

Scientists are now saying that a new destructive agent of climate change is something much closer to us - the electric kettle.

Media reports say that the new designs of these kettles are made to hold more water and boil faster. While for most of us, that sounds like good news, it is actually harmful to our environment.

What happens is this. These kettles use more electricity and produce more greenhouse pollution than the older versions.

Scientists say features such as hot plates that keep boiled water warm, electronic whistles and even the traditional wide-bottomed shape all waste energy.

So to do our bit to keep the environment clean, do we have to throw out the kettles and start igniting our owens a few times a day for the hot cuppa?

Or are we to give up the good old tea all together?

This is ridiculous. I just hope no one gets serious about this kettle business. I dont want some eager minister to dictate my drinking habits. The right place to look will be the industries which are still not going green, and maybe limit the production of cars, especially the high powered ones.

Dont touch my kettle mate.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Arsenal 0 - 0 Man Utd; Chelsea smirk, Liverpool smile

This is surely good news for Liverpool. However for these two clubs, the draw was definitely a bad story.

They have both agreed that Chelsea is now too far ahead for them to catch up. The Guardian's headline says it all for them.

For Manchester, Chelsea is 13 points clear and worse still for Arsenal - its a massive 24 points.

However for Liverpool, this draw must surely mean they are now given a chance to close the gap with Manchester (4 points less, but with 2 games in hand).

What the team from Anfield need to do now is to continue winning (10 wins and 1 draw in the last 11), over take Manchester and then try to catch up Chelsea. Who knows what might happen.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Hello 2006

Well its here now - 2006. And what a start for people in Britain.

Firstly we ended the year in a bitter winter, then came in the new year and along with it some rather bad news.

For starters, the Independent today reported that after a binge spending spree over the festive period, the Britons are in debt to the tune of 1.13 trillion pounds.

The daily says that:
  • 66,000 people predicted to go bust this year;
  • Average household debt is £7,650 (exc. mortgage);
  • Two-thirds of EU credit card debt is British;
  • One in five students owes at least £15,000;
  • 40% of women keep debt secret from partners;
  • Half of all heavy debtors suffer from depression.

And if this is not enough, there is more bad news for Britons - rail fares have increased, making many to dub its as the richman's railway.

The government says the rise was necessary as the companies have put in much money to upgrade their trains, tracks and services.

Passenger groups are understandingly not happy at all.

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