Tuesday: June 18, 2013
Malaysia pilot arrives in Taiwan as part of round-the-world adventure
Malaysia pilot arrives in Taiwan as part of round-the-world adventure: Pilot James Anthony Tan, 21, poses for photo with his single piston aircraft at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport yesterday. He arrived as part of a bid to become the youngest man to fly solo around the world, across 21 countries in Asia, the Americas, Europe & Africa in 50 days, with stops in 30 cities. (Read more at The China Post)
Gaza Marathon Canceled After Women Banned
Earlier today, the UN Relief & Works Agency canceled the 3rd annual Gaza marathon after Hamas rulers barred women from participating in the race. “UNRWA regrets to announce that it has canceled the third Gaza marathon which was to be held on 10 April,” the agency said in a statement. “This follows the decision by the authorities in Gaza not to allow women to participate.” The response from Hamas - which has banned women from riding on the backs of motorcycles & men from working in hair salons - was predictable: "We regret this decision to cancel the marathon but we don't want men & women running together," Abdessalam Siyyam, cabinet secretary of the Hamas government said. The race, which included women last year, would’ve raised money for UN summer camps for children in Gaza. (Read more at the Saudi Gazette)
Mohamed Nasheed, Former Maldives President, Arrested In Abuse Of Power Case
Authorities say the former president of the Maldives, the first-democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed was arrested Tuesday in the nation's capital Male on charges of abuse of power during his tenure. He was taken into custody by armed police almost 2 weeks after he left the Indian High Commission in Male where he had sought refuge for almost 11 days after a warrant was issued for his detention. Nasheed is charged with ordering the military to unconstitutionally detain the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed, while he was head of state. Many of the ex-president’s supporters claim the charges against Nasheed are intended to keep him from attempting to reclaim the presidency in elections scheduled for September 7. (Read more at GulfToday)
Criminal court accused takes early lead in Kenya election
Millions of Kenyans have poured into polling stations to cast their ballots in a crucial, anxiously awaited presidential election in which a candidate charged with crimes against humanity appeared a real chance to emerge the winner. Early results show deputy premier Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been accused of financing death squads, has taken the lead. He is reportedly ahead of PM Raila Odinga in the 1st elections since a disputed presidential run-off vote sparked ethnic clashes in December 2007, in which 1000 died. With nearly 1/3 of the votes counted, Mr. Kenyatta has received about 54% & Mr. Odinga about 41%. Six other candidates trailed by a wide margin. (Read more at the SMH)
UN Human Rights Chief calls for North Korea investigation
Navi Pillay says North Korea's network of shadowy political prison camps is believed to contain 200,000 or more people & to have been the scene of rampant violations including rapes, torture, executions & slave labor - and she's calling for an international investigation into what she said may be `crimes against humanity'. She voiced regret there had been no improvement since Kim Jong-un took power a year ago, succeeding his late father, & said it was time for world powers to help bring about change for the "beleaguered, subjugated population" after decades of abuse. "Because of the enduring gravity of the situation, I believe an in-depth inquiry into one of the worst - but least understood & reported - human rights situations in the world is not only fully justified, but long overdue," Pillay said in a rare statement on North Korea.
Pillay herself is a former judge at the International Criminal Court. Living conditions in the camps are reported to be "atrocious" with insufficient food, little or no medical care & inadequate clothing for inmates. Pillay said she regretted that international concerns over North Korea's nuclear program & rocket launches were overshadowing "the deplorable human rights situation in the DPRK which, in one way or another, affects almost the entire population and has no parallel anywhere else in the world." (Read more at Haaretz)
Cyclone Dumile Strikes La Réunion
This photo shows Le Port, in the western part of the Indian Ocean French Overseas territory island of La Réunion, after Cyclone Dumile hit yesterday. Winds of up to 180kph & torrential rain caused extensive damage, knocking out power to 100,000 homes. La Reunion does hold the world record for the heaviest daily rainfall from 1966 when 1825mm of rain was recorded in just 24 hours; though Dumile was far more modest in terms of rainfall totals. The storm also struck Mauritius & Madagascar.
Planet At Night
Using new satellite capabilities, scientists from NASA & NOAA have released new imagery of Earth at night; providing an improved “Black Marble” counterpart to the iconic “Blue Marble” photo of the planet during the day. We first saw Earth from a 12/7/72 picture taken by Apollo 17 astronauts; NASA released improved `Blue Marble' photos earlier this year.
Climate Cliff, Spells `SOS'
After 36 hours of non-stop negotiation & 2 weeks of meetings in Doha, Qatar almost 200 nations agreed to a pact called the `Doha Climate Gateway' Saturday - intended to combat climate change & extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol until 2020; the only binding world treaty on curbing greenhouse gas emissions signed in 1997 & whose 1st leg expires December 31. Russia objected to the agreement & said it retains the right to appeal. Greenpeace's Kumi Naidoo calls it a betrayal, "setting us up to lose this decade". UN chief Ban Ki-moon said that what's needed most is "to accelerate action on the ground by limiting the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius." @HUMCLIMATE
Cyclone Evan Slams Fiji, Leaves Thousands Homeless in Samoa
As Cyclone Evan batters Fiji thousands of people took refuge in evacuation centers & airlines suspended flights in & out of the country on Monday. The military government warned that Evan could be the most destructive cyclone since 1993 to hit the island, one of the Pacific's biggest tourist centers. Winds of up to 200km/h battered homes, some, "flying through the air". Meanwhile, New Zealand rescuers are searching for 10 fishermen missing off Samoa since the cyclone hit the island nation & damage there is thought to be "worse than from a 2009 earthquake & tsunami" that killed 135 people.
An Heir for North Korea?
As North Korea marked the 1st anniversary of the death of its former leader, Kim Jong-il, the nation’s current leader Kim Jong-un & his wife may be expecting. Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, was seen on state TV wearing a billowing traditional Korean dress, walking slowly next to her husband at the Kumsusan mausoleum, where they bowed before statues of Kim’s father & grandfather. State media has not confirmed Ri to be pregnant, but there was speculation in October that she could be after she failed to appear in public for about 50 days. If Ri is pregnant & it's a boy, he will likely be groomed to become the country’s next leader, as his family’s dynasty has ruled since the end of WW2. (Read more at the National Post)
Malaysia lands one of biggest-ever Ivory stash
Customs officials at Port Klang, Malaysia have seized an enormous illegal haul of 1,500 elephant tusks thought to have originated in Togo, through Spain, ultimately headed for China. Togo is known to be a major source of ivory exiting Africa says the Elephant Trade Information System, managed by the wildlife monitoring organization TRAFFIC. This is the 4th seizure of African elephant ivory at Port Klang & the 6th in the country since July 2011. 2011 was described by trade experts as the worst year for elephants in decades. (PHOTO: Inspectors at Port Klang with Ivory plats/TRAFFIC)
Devastation in the Philippines
Kathmandu International Film Festival to Open
(Video: Future Guardians, a film about Educating Nepal)
The 10th Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (KIMFF) is taking place in Nepal from December 7 to 11. Altogether 62 documentaries, fiction, short films, animation films from 28 countries will be screened during the festival to be held at the City Hall. Chairperson of KIMFF Basant Thapa says an additional attraction for this year is the screening of the 10 best films from the "Educating Nepal" short film competition held earlier this year. Also part of the festival is interaction on films, photography, a book fair & a documentary workshop. The Festival will opens with the Nepal premiere of “Who Will Be A Gurkha”, a documentary by Kesang Tseten, (Read more at Republica)
Longest Serving Monarch in World Celebrates Birthday
A jubilant, crowd packed the Royal Plaza in Thailand today as more than 200,000 well-wishers in yellow listened to His Majesty the King's 85th birthday speech from the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall balcony. King Bhumibol Adulyadej known as Rama IX is the longest serving monarch in the world, having reigned since June 9, 1946; & he is the world's longest-serving current head of state & the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. His Majesty's grand audience was broadcast live & watched by millions of people across the country. It's been 6 years since His Majesty last gave a grand audience at Dusit Palace in Bangkok. (Read more at the Bangkok Post)
Political Crisis in Paradise: Sao Tome and Principe
(Video: Mario Lopes/YOUTUBE)
Sao Tomé & Principe in the Gulf of Guinea, off the west equatorial coast of Central Africa, is living a constitutional crisis. Scenes of fist fighting in the National Assembly, & a mass protest calling for early elections has plunged this nation into rare chaos. Opposition MPs which constitute a majority, have brought down the government by censuring it in a parliamentary session on 11/29. On the one hand the parties in opposition - Movement to Liberate São Tomé & Príncipe (MLSTP), the Democratic Convergence Party (PCD), & the Democratic Movement Force of Change (MDFM) do not want early elections & the party in power - led by PM Patrice Trovoada (of Democratic Independent Action, or ADI) - wants them. Among the list of accusations presented were alleged “acts of corruption, taking on negotiations overseas with ‘private companies sidelining the respective ministers with oversight, without the awareness of other sovereign bodies, & even less so with public knowledge'”, as newspaper Jornal Vitrina reported. (Read more at Global Voices)
Voyager 1 Reaches Interstellar Shore
35 years & 2 months ago on September 5, 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 spacecraft to study the outer edges of our Solar System. As the spacecraft, also travelling alongside its twin probe Voyager 2 - gets ever closer to becoming mankind's 1st interstellar emissary, mission scientists have announced the probe has now entered a new & mysterious region of the heliosphere nicknamed the `magnetic highway.' (The heliosphere is the sphere of influence of our sun; basically a bubble in interstellar space inflated by the sun where all planets, spacecraft & satellites are contained within.) After completing its primary mission of planetary exploration many years ago, the Voyager's have been travelling through the outermost reaches of the solar system, rapidly approaching the edge - called the heliopause.
Although data collected by the aging Voyager 1 have been showing strong signs of flying beyond the heliopause, mission scientists are saying `not so fast'. It seems that the solar wind carrying the craft is channeling solar particles forcing pressure back at Voyager. Scientists have said, "we didn't know this was there." But, says Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist, "We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it's likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn't what we expected, but we've come to expect the unexpected from Voyager." (Read more at Discovery)
Oldest Microbrewery Found in Cyprus
University of Manchester archaeologists, digging in Western Cyprus since 2007 have unearthed a site thought to be the world's oldest brewery from the Bronze Age, approx 3,500 years ago. Excavated were a mud-plaster domed structure, used as a kiln to dry malt & make variously flavored beers brewed & fermented with yeasts, produced from grapes or figs. The resulting brew had an alcohol content of about 5%; & the beer may even have been sold in the 50m long courtyard found, which was the bar area.
Djibouti In Need
HORN OF AFRICA: Djibouti's Ali Addeh refugee camp is home to an estimated 25,000 refugees & by 2013 will total 30,000 according to UNICEF. The situation remains precarious - lack of drinking water, recurring droughts, malnutrition & food shortages are the norm here for asylum seekers from Somalia, Ethiopia, & Eritrea heading to Yemen & the Gulf States. Even more broadly approximately 120,000 people living in Northwest, Central & Southeast Djibouti are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, due to 5 years of drought & rainfall deficit.
Second Bangladesh Garment Factory Fire In 24 Hours
(Video: Times of India)
Fire-fighters Monday doused a fresh factory fire near the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, a day after 1 of the deadliest blazes destroyed the Tazrin Fashion plant building in the Savar neighborhood, killing 124 people & raising questions about safety standards in the world’s 2nd largest garment-exporting nation. More than 500 manufacturers in the Ashulia area make apparel for top global retailers such as Wal-Mart, H&M, Tesco to JC Penney, Kohl’s, Marks & Spencer, & Carrefour. Officials & witnesses said the latest fire did not claim any life as most workers jumped out, breaking safety grills in the 10-story building housing 3 garment units. The fresh blaze came as the nation conducted a mass burial for victims burnt in Saturday night’s fire & police said they opened a “murder case”, attributing the incident to “criminal negligence”. Thousands of workers staged a protest Monday, demanding better labor protections. (Read more at Times of India)
New Zealand's Tongariro Volcano Erupts
New Zealand's Tongariro Volcano erupted November 21, with no warning; lasting 5 minutes at 1:25p local time. 5 reported eruptions occurred here between 1855 & 1897; it's been dormant, since. Scientists warn there could be more activity "for the next week or 2, at least"; & last week warned of possible eruption at neighboring volcano, Mt. Ruapehu. The `Volcanic Alert Level' changed from 1 to 2; & the Aviation Colour Code from Yellow to Red due to the spread of an ash cloud, extending 15,000 feet.
Palestine Sets November 29th for UN Bid
(UPDATE, 11/26/12) - The spokesman for the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the UN said President Mahmoud Abbas will address the 193-member world body before the resolution is put to a vote. Approval would give the Palestinians the same status at the UN as the Holy See. There are no vetoes in the General Assembly & the resolution, which needs a majority vote for approval, is virtually certain to be adopted.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has confirmed that the Palestinian Authority will present its bid for non-member observer status at the United Nations on November 29, telling reporters on Monday following talks with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi in Cairo. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which represents a majority of Palestinians, currently enjoys a "permanent observer" status at the UN. Abbas submitted Palestine's official application for recognition as an independent state at the UN in September 2011. That bid was blocked by a US veto in the Security Council; but the current bid, would require an approval by a simple majority of the 193-nation UN General Assembly & will not face a veto threat at the Security Council. (Read more at RIA Novosti)
Pacific Coconuts Under Threat
The international collection of the South Pacific's coconut palm species, held at a field gene bank in Papua New Guinea (PNG), is under threat from a disease outbreak located close to the center housing the samples. The warning came at a meeting on the Pacific coconut research & development strategy in Samoa last week, convened by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research & the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. The deadly disease, Bogia Coconut Syndrome is named after the town of Bogia on mainland PNG, & appears to be caused by bacteria similar to one that causes Lethal Yellowing disease that attacks palm species. Ironically, PNG was selected as the site for the gene bank in the 1990s because the country was relatively free of coconut pests & diseases. The gene bank holds 3,200 coconut palms, representing 57 different varieties of Cocos nucifera, & is 1 of 5 coconut collections around the world. (Read more at Nature)
18 Nations Elected to UN Human Rights Council
On Monday, members of the UN General Assembly voted on elections to the UN Human Rights Council. The General Assembly created the body in March 2006, made up of 47 UN member states - elected by the 193-member General Assembly to replace its widely discredited predecessor, the Human Rights Commission. All nations elected today will serve a 3-year term beginning January 1st. The US won a 2nd consecutive term, after choosing not to take part in the past; while Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Japan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Pakistan, the UAE, Estonia, Montenegro, Germany, Ireland, Argentina, Brazil & Venezuela all take seats representing their region. Of the 18 countries elected Monday, human rights advocates say only about a third are qualified & have adequate human rights records of their own. (Read more at the UN News Centre)
Another United State?
On Tuesday, the US-territory of Puerto Rico voted by 61% approval to become the US' 51st state. The Congress would have to approve the bid. Complicating matters, the pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuno lost his bid for re-election in a close race against Alejandro Garcia Padilla who supports the island's current status as Puerto Ricans being US citizens, using the same money & passports; with limited representation in government, who can't vote in US presidential elections. Hawaii was the last state entered into the union on August 21, 1959. (HN)
Tibetans Immolate to Free Region From China
(Video NTD TV)
5 Tibetans set themselves on fire in China in an unprecedented string of protests ahead of the country's once-in-a-decade leadership change. All 5 self-immolations took place on Wednesday, the eve of a pivotal week-long Communist Party congress which will end with the transitioning of power to Chinese VP Xi Jinping, who will govern for the coming decade. Individual self-immolations to protest Chinese rule in Tibet have occurred regularly since March 2011, but this is the first time such a large number of burnings have happened on the same day. (Read more at News.COM.AU)
Guatemala Earthquake Kills 50 People
Devastation in the mountainous state of San Marcos in Guatemala - as shown on a local TV station. Scores of people trapped under rubble after an earthquake - which measured 7.4 on the Richter scale - struck 15 miles south of its Pacific coast. It has so far claimed the lives of at least 50 people across the country, destroying homes, cars & businesses. The tremor hit around 10:30AM local time, & damage was reported in all but one of its 22 states. Shaking was even felt as far away as Mexico City - 600 miles to the NW of the country. Eyewitnesses spoke of people running all over the place & screaming. Through the night & into the morning brave rescuers continued to search for survivors, but 5 aftershocks meant their efforts were being hampered. Many areas remain blocked by landslides, with no phone, electricity or water. (Read more at The Guatemala Times)
Ghana Building Collapse Blamed on Faulty Construction
Faulty construction & a bad concrete mix are being blamed for the collapse of the multi-storey Melcom shopping centre collapse in Ghana's capital, Accra, killing at least 9 people, said a spokeswoman for Ghana's National Disaster Management Organization, Kate Adobaya. "The building did not have the necessary permit & had not had a safety inspection. The foundation was not good enough." President John Dramani Mahama said those responsible for the "negligence will pay a price". Rescue efforts are continuing, with 69 survivors pulled from under the rubble since Wednesday, police said. It is not known many people are still trapped. An Israeli rescue team has arrived, using sniffer dogs at the site. (Read more at The Ghana News Agency)
Mali: Finally on the World agenda?On Thursday, UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said the international community was united in its goal to help Mali end a crisis which has seen radical Islamists take over the country's north, where it has implemented Sharia law. Just back from emergency talks in the capital city Bamako, where along with the UN, the African Union & the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, the veteran Swedish diplomat said the strategy will be to "establish constitutional order & achieve national unity to return respect of the country's territorial integrity".
(Video: Algeria TV)
His remarks came amid news that the African Union, which suspended Mali after a March coup, had agreed to reinstate the country's membership in a move to curb the extremist threat which followed the uprising, giving free rein to a rebellion by Islamic extremists & Tuareg separatists who took over an area in the North the size of France. Now, reports of jihadist fighters from Sudan & Western Sahara arriving to reinforce the Islamist rebels has added urgency to the international debate.
Earlier this month, the UN Security Council passed a resolution pressing African nations to speed up preparations for an international military intervention to include a 3,300-strong West African force to be supported by Western powers; the resolution gives a 45-day deadline for ECOWAS to submit a detailed plan. According to some sources, Algeria & Burkina Faso are to mediate between the different armed groups during the intervening period. (Read more at Africa24)
Panama sells land to companies; locals protest
Hundreds of demonstrators in Panama burned tires & clashed with police hours after the National Assembly approved legislation allowing the sale of land in the duty-free zone of Colon, at the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal where more than 2,000 companies operate in the lucrative free trade port area. Work in the expansion of the canal, going on for years, should be completed in time for its 100th anniversary in 2014.
Protesters fear the new legislation will cost jobs & cut incomes. President Ricardo Martinelli appealed for calm & said the sale of state-owned land will benefit the region. According to the law, 35% of the proceedings generated by the sale of land will go to a trust for "social investments" in the area. The other 65% will go the central government in the Central American nation. (Read more at the BBC)
Cuba to allow citizens to freely travel abroad
Beginning January 14, 2013, Cubans will be able to leave the island with only a valid passport & visa from the country of destination, without first obtaining exit permits, the Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday. The long-awaited immigration reform eliminates the presentation of a letter of invitation from the host country & the processing of the “carte blanche” needed by Cubans for decades to leave the country. The reform also extends permission to stay abroad from 11 to 24 months as current laws prohibit Cubans uninterrupted stays abroad under penalty of losing their property on the island & the possibility of being able to return. In mid-2011, President Raul Castro’s government announced immigration reform as part of a series of profound economic adjustments to “update” the Cuban model with market elements. It remains unclear whether the measure will allow temporary travel abroad for political dissidents such as bloggers like Yoani Sanchez, who has been denied exit visas on 20 occasions. (Read more at Havana Times)
One of biggest art heists in history takes place in Netherlands
On Monday night thieves pulled off 1 of the biggest art heists in history taking 7 masterpieces, including priceless works by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Gauguin, from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum in the Netherlands, police said. The paintings are Pablo Picasso’s “Tete d’Arlequin”, Henri Matisse’s “La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune”, Claude Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge, London” & “Charing Cross Bridge, London”, Paul Gauguin’s “Femme Devant une Fenetre Ouverte, dite La Fiancee”, Meyer de Haan’s “Autoportrait” & Lucian Freud’s “Woman with Eyes Closed”. The gang managed to raid the high-security museum & slip back into the night with such skill they didn't even set off the 'state-of-the-art' alarm system, snatching the paintings straight from the walls of the museum which was showcasing a private collection of over 150 works & had only been open for a few days. Roland Ekkers, a spokesman for Rotterdam police, said they received a call alerting them to the theft at around 3 a.m. local time Tuesday. (Read more at Daily Mail)
Taliban shoots teenage peace campaigner in targeted assassination
The Tehrik-i-Taliban of Pakistan claimed responsibility for an attack Tuesday on a 14 year-old teenage peace campaigner, Malala Yousufzai as she was returning from her school in Mingora town of Swat valley. They shot her in the head & said they did so for her pro-peace, anti-Taliban, ‘secular’ agenda. The assassination attempt took place on a school bus & 2 other girls were also wounded; all were taken to a local hospital & then to the NW city of Peshawar for further treatment, but doctors said they were out of danger.
Malala won international recognition for highlighting Taliban atrocities in Swat with a blog for the BBC Urdu service 3 years ago, when the Taliban led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah burned girls’ schools & terrorized the valley - a place known traditionally as popular with holidaymakers for its stunning mountains, balmy summer weather & winter skiing. Malala was awarded the country's first National Peace Award & in 2011 was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by advocacy group Kids Rights Foundation. (Read More at Gulfnews)
Maldives first democratically elected President on trial
Hundreds of protesters gathered near the President’s Office in the Maldives capitol of Male on Monday night before former President Mohamed Nasheed attended a preliminary hearing Tuesday afternoon. The country’s 1st democratically elected president was taken into police custody after the Hulhumale Magistrate Court issued a warrant for his arrest over the weekend. The notice came exactly 7 months after Nasheed’s ousting & followed his defiance of a court-ordered travel ban outside the capital Male, & 2 court summons.
At this afternoon's court proceeding, the state read the charges, & Nasheed stated that the trial reflected the “grave” situation that the democracy of the Maldives is in, saying, “Honorable judges, this charge against me is a deliberate attempt by the prosecutor general to bar the presidential candidate of the largest opposition political party of this country from contesting the next presidential elections”. The next announced hearing will be held November 4, 2012. (Read More at Minivan News)
Amid continuing concern for journalists' safety, guerrillas claim bombing of radio station
Reporters Without Borders joins the Paraguayan Journalists’ Union (SPP) in demanding justice & protection for the journalists who were the target of a bomb attack by 2 gunmen last week in the northern department of Concepción. Claiming to be members of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), the 2 gunmen left 3 bombs inside Guyra Campana, a privately-owned radio in the town of Horqueta on the evening of October 4. 2 of them exploded, causing serious damage & forcing the station off the air. Police defused the 3rd after it failed to go off.
Political tension since last June’s parliamentary coup against President Fernando Lugo combined with the continuing violent crime are taking their toll on journalists. The level of fear is especially high among the many community radio stations in rural areas. (Read More at Reporters Without Borders)
Saudi Arabia Refuses Entry to Nigeria Women For Hajj
Saudi Arabia has begun to expel 1,100 Nigerian women pilgrims for violating the kingdom's rule which prohibits Muslim women from entering the country without a male guardian. The government-run el-Eqtisad website quotes an unnamed Saudi official Friday as saying the women were detained after landing at the international airport in Jiddah. On Thursday, 171 were sent back. The report says some of the women have been detained since Monday. In Saudi Arabia, women must be accompanied by or have permission from a "mahram" - a male guardian - in order to travel. But in the past, authorities allowed women to perform the annual hajj pilgrimage in groups with male tour operators. There was no explanation for why the authorities were now enforcing the rule. (Via ABCNEWS)
Russia's Continued Disdain for NGO's Targets USAID
Russia said on Wednesday it has given USAID until October 1 to stop work in the country, claiming it was meddling in domestic politics. The decision may also seriously harm the operations of a string of NGOs that are heavily dependent on its funding, including vote monitor Golos that pointed out irregularities in recent elections. The unexpected move appears part of an increasing crackdown in Russia on civil society after President Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin for a 3rd term in May amid an outburst of street protests. "The decision was taken mainly because the work of the agency's officials far from always responded to the stated goals of development & humanitarian cooperation," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. (Read more at AFP)
Somalia Elects First President in 21 Years
(Video: Standard Group Kenya)
Somalia’s lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Monday for political newcomer Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to be the country’s next president, with the streets of the capital erupting into celebratory gunfire. An academic, & activist, Mohamud was immediately sworn in following the vote. The country’s lawmakers were voting in the first poll of its kind since the organized government fell into chaos & clan conflict in 1991. Mohamud, seen as a moderate, defeated incumbent President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed in a 3rd round run-off after 2 of 4 candidates who made it to the 2nd round of voting opted out. Speaker of parliament Mohamed Sheikh Osman said the new president won in a landslide; declaring, "Sharif Sheikh Ahmed got 79 votes. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud got 190 votes." (Read more at The State)
Red Cross Chief Pleads for Greater Syrian Civilian Protections
Red Cross chief Peter Maurer was in Syria on a mercy mission seeking greater protection for civilians on Tuesday, as a spate of bombings & clashes brought fresh bloodshed to the capital Damascus, & the second city Aleppo. After speaking with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he met with Abdul Rahman al-Attar, the president of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. (Via AFP)
Communicating Across the Oceans
Greg’s Cable Map is an attempt to consolidate all the available information about the world’s undersea communications infrastructure & provide a map along with raw data. See “The Economic Impacts of Broadband” for more information on how the internet & broadband internet access has an impact on a country’s GDP. (Read more at the World Bank)
Asia Typhoon Season Causing Food Price Spikes
An intense & active typhoon season continues in parts of Asia. This weekend at least 27 people were killed during `Kai-Tak'; which swept across northern provinces of Vietnam. On Sunday, parts of Hanoi remained flooded & flash floods still posed a risk. Meanwhile, repeated storms this season have hit more than 10 cities in China, where on Friday, the same storm also left 2 dead & 2 others missing as it passed across southern parts of the country, destroying some 4,200 homes in Guangdong province. In Singapore, the storms have caused a food price pinch where certain types of vegetables imported from China, including carrots, radishes, cabbage & onions have seen a 5% increase. Wholesalers said they have been importing vegetables from various sources in a bid to minimize price fluctuations - and at least 2 more storms are on the way. Typhoon "Igme" has gained strength as it moves in waters off the northern Philippines on Monday night, likely to move toward Taiwan by Tuesday; additionally, Tembin, the 14th storm of the Pacific typhoon season, was just named & is packing winds of 119 kph, with gusts of up to 155 kph, also expected to reach Taiwan later this week. (Read more at Channel Asia)
The 16th Non-Aligned Movement Summit Opens in Tehran
Taking place in Tehran, Iran from August 26 to 31, representatives from over 150 countries are attending this gathering. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a group of 120 members & 17 observer countries who don't consider themselves to be formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. This year, the UN Secretary General, 27 presidents, 2 kings and emirs, 7 prime ministers, 9 vice presidents, 2 parliament spokesmen & 5 special envoys travelled to Tehran where Iran is taking over from Egypt as Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement for the period 2012 to 2015. On Tuesday, foreign ministers of the NAM issued a draft statement on Syria, saying that the crisis must be resolved without foreign intervention & welcomed Lakhdar Brahimi as the representative of the UN Secretary General for Syria, replacing Kofi Annan.
In New Year's Speech North Korea Leader Says Wants to `Remove Confrontation'
(Video: New Year's Eve, 2012/Telegraph)
In a domestically televised New Year’s Day speech, North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un said he wants to “remove confrontation” on the divided Korea peninsula. The lengthy address, which laid out the country's goals for the year, marked Kim’s 1st formal remarks since the election 2 weeks ago of Park Geun-hye as South Korea’s next president, who takes office next month. Kim asked for a detente - but with prerequisites that the conservative Park is likely to be reluctant to accept. Those agreements call for, among other things, economic ties, high-level government dialogue & the creation of a special “cooperation” zone in the Yellow Sea, where the North & South spar over a maritime border.
Park, has said she will resume humanitarian exchanges & small economic projects with the North - but has pledged to hold off on major economic cooperation unless the North disassembles its nuclear weapons program. Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, who ruled for 17 years, only addressed North Korean citizens once verbally, preferring the New Year’s message to be delivered in a lengthy editorial carried by the state-run newspapers. The previous live address for January 1 was last given by North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, in 1994, months before his death. (Read more at the ChosunIlbo)
Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream. Or is it just too fanciful? By Francesco Sisci
Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan
The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates. By Aidan Foster-Carter
Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit. By Zofeen Ebrahim
Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries. By Robert M. Cutler
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