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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

UN Report Announces Acts of Genocide in Democratic Republic of Congo

If you missed my post earlier in the week detailing the absolutely horrendous humanitarian disaster in the Eastern half of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) catch up here, Hell in Congo. Today's post deals with the recent leak of a UN report which states that in the 1990's during the period known as the African World War Congolese and Rwandan rebels committed what could be classified genocide.

In 1994, after the quashing of the Rwandan Genocide of 800,000 Tutsi's remaining forces were then moved West into the Congo then known as Zaire, where they went to hunt down Hutu forces who had fled into the notion after the genocide .Rwandan Tutsi forces then kept the Congolese ADFL rebels in power led by Laurent Kabila. Bothe groups have been accused of shocking human rights abuses in the nations.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Shootings in Slovakia

The Slovakian capital of Bratislava was rocked today when  a gunman killed at least 7 people and injured a further 15. He then as often happens in these situations turned the gun on himself. He has yet to be identified by the police however, police have said he was in his 50's.

The shooting took place in a run-down neighbourhood, the Devinska Nova Ves. He shot dead 6 members of the same family, 4 women and 2 men. The other victim was a women who had heard the commotion and stepped onto her balcony. A young toddler was among the injured and a police officer was shot in the head, but not killed.   One of the injured is critical, 3 more are in a serious condition.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Volcano that Slept for 400 years

A volcano of the Indonesian island of Sumatra erupted today for the first time in 400 years. The eruption of the volcano known as the Sinabung volcano caused the evacuation of more than  19,000 residents as the authorities sounded the siren for a red alert.

The volcano has been showing signs of activity since Friday and it was at just about midnight that people first reported seeing a red glow at the crater and smoke rising high into the sky. They then reported hearing a large noise that sounded like an aircraft overhead. It turned out that this was in fact coming from the volcano.

Weekend Randomness: The Japanese Sumo Association

The Japanese Sumo Association or JSA made the news this week for taking a step out of character and investing in the latest form of technology for its plus-size members, apple's IPad.

The decision was taken after members complained of the difficulty of sending texts and e-mails using the small keys on a standard mobile phone. Owing to the larger size of the IPad the touchscreen has larger keys which are more navigable by their larger digits. The JSA claimed having one of these in every stable would allow them to keep in contact with their members more easily. They had been using faxes and phones to contact their memories in the past.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hell in Congo

There are few places on earth that have more ravaged by war in recent years than the Democratic Republic of Congo. This massive African nation is the continents third largest and the 12 th largest in the world. There is also 71 million people in the nation and the average per capita GDP is the second lowest in the world.

The country was a Belgian colony for a time up until its independence on the 30th of June 1960. While the country suffered deeply at the hands of the oppressive Joesph- Désiré  Mubutu it was not until 1996 that one of the most viscous and horrifying Wars this world has ever seen broke out. Involving 7 foreign armies and with a death toll from the conflict standing at 4.5 million it has often been dubbed the African World War. Indeed no war has taken so many lives since World War 2.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dead Immigrants found in Mexico

Police in Mexico are currently investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 72 presumed immigrants discovered at a ranch in the North East of the country. The nationalities of the deceased have yet to be released. However police are co-operating with diplomats from Hondouras, Brazil, Ecuador and El Salvador in the hope of identifying the nationalities of the deceased.

The Mexican President used the unfortunate event to proclaim his victories in the war on his nations drug cartels. He stated the drug gangs are increasingly resorting to extortion and kidnapping migrants as "a result of the activity of the state against them, which has significantly weakened the operational capacity of criminal groups."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

First-Cousin Marriage and the Case of the British Pakistanis

A fascinating documentary on Britain's Channel 4 last night (available on 4OD for British and Irish residents) shed light on the common practice of first cousin marriage in the British Pakistani population. The reporter Tazeen Ahmed documents her family's story on the Channel 4 website also. Her grand-parents were first cousins. Four of her uncles were deaf and her mother was the only daughter of 6 to survive past being a toddler.

Despite making up just 1.5% of the population a third of all children born with rare genetic conditions are ethnic Pakistanis. A half of all Pakistani's in Britain marry their first cousins. A child born to first cousin parents is ten times more likely to be born with recessive genetic disorders including deafness, blindness and child mortality. Cultures in Bangladesh, West Africa and the Middle East also partake in the practice but generally to a much lesser extent.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hostage Horror in the Philippines

Breaking news out of the Philippines as a hostage situation lasting 12 hours has just come to an end. Taking place in the city of Manila on a bus carrying tourists from Hong Kong on a tour of the Filipino capital it appears the hostage taker was angry after losing his job as a law enforcement officer after being accused of being corrupt. He was acquitted of all charges but not being re-instated.

The gunman was named Rolando Mendoza, 55 and boarded the bus in Intramuros a historic walled city. It had been two years since his dismissal from his post as a senior inspector. He placed a sign on the window stating "Big deal will start after 3pm today." Later as the bus pulled into Jose Rizal Park alongside Manila Park he pulled out an M16 automatic rifle and announced he was taking the passengers hostage.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Me and Studio Ghibli: The Wrap Up

Over the past couple of months I've been delving into the works of my favourite international movie house. And now in the final installment of the series I've decided to take a look at the company as a whole, where it is now and where it is headed in the future. But first, as with every story, we start at the beginning, its history.

Studio Ghibli was set up by Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki, a now prolific producer at the Studio. Miyazaki had worked on a few projects with Isao Takahata, including Panda! Go Panda ! and  Hols:Prince of the Sun. Its was Suzuki San however, who invited Takahata into the Ghibli stable. The name    Ghibli came from Miyazaki's fascination with aviation.  Ghibli  was the name of a particular type of plane used in WW2.  It means hot wind blowing through the Sahara desert. It was the Studio's intention to blow a wind of change into Japanese animation. according to Suzuki San.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Weekend Randomness: The Case of the Exploding Mobile

In what has been a decidedly light week for news besides the constant horrific flooding in Pakistan this story could almost have made it into my regular week day posts however, I think it fits perfectly into my weekend randomnes Saturday slot.

Gopal Gujja, a 23 year old Indian man was the victim of a rather tragic, and unfortunate accident, his Nokia mobile phone exploded fatally killing him. While there were no witnesses to the event it is presumed he was talking on the phone at the time of the incident. He sustained fatal damage to his neck, head and shoulders.

Friday, August 20, 2010

HIV and the People of Swaziland

Over the past couple of months I think I have brought you guys news from some fairly remote parts of the world. However, I think their are few places lesser covered in international news the Africa's sole remaining total monarchy of Swaziland. So before I delve into why Swaziland made the news today (keeping in mind we are painfully in the middle of the silly season) I will give you guys a crash course in all things Swazi.

This nation of just over 1.2 million is bordered on the South, North and West by South Africa and to the East, Mozambique.  It has two capitals Mbabane (administrative ) and Lobamba (legislative and royal). Most Swazis speak siSwazi although English is spoken as a second language by many people in the country. It was colonised by the British and granted independence in 1968. The head of state is currently Mswati III. He elects a number of representative in both chambers of Parliament and the Prime Minister. Over 90% of Swazis are of some Christian denomination.

Set back for anti-Islam Book Burners

You may have heard the pretty alarming story of Pastor Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Church in the American State of Florida. The Church is a fundamentalist Christian organisation with a staunch anti-gay and anti-Islamic philosophy. The Church was founded in 1986 and Jones has been a minister working with the group almost since its inception.

The Church has constantly kept itself in the news through its deeply conservative campaigns and headline grabbing speeches. Last year it began distributing t-shirts with the slogan "Islam is the devil" emblazoned on the back and Biblical scripture on the front. Children of members of the Church were sent to school wearing the t-shirts. One was forced to change his between classes. Another student was sent home along with a further elementary school student.  It also erected billboards with a similar slogans.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Australia and the Commonwealth of Nations

Current Australian PM Julia Gillard has stated that it is her belief that the time for Australia to leave the Commonwealth of Nations. While Ms Gillard has always had these beliefs it is the first time she has chosen to express them on the campaign trail. With a knife edge general election in the nation just days away it raises the contentious issue of Australian republicanism for the first time.

Gillards centre-left Labor Party has advocated a republic for a long time however the opposition National/Liberal Coalition chief Tony Abott is a staunch pro-monarchist who doesn't believe there will be any significant change in the country's political make-up in his life-time. Indeed the Australian people have refused the chance to establish a monarchy in 1999 in a national referendum. The issue remains a divisive one.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Silly Season Around the World

Every Summer on this side of the Atlantic the main houses of Parliament take extended holidays and the press endures what is known as silly season. This period is particularly rough from mid-August to September in Britain where newspaper readership drops off and events like Prime Ministers Question of course cannot take place. To counteract this trend often newspapers print attention grabbing headlines and are forced to dramatize relatively insignificant events on the world stage in order to try to grab readers.

However, the British Isles are not the only nations to suffer from this period of  informative drought, although the times and dates may change the premise is the same.  In Germany he period is known as Sommerloch (Summer hole) and in French it is la morte-saison (the dead season). The Swedish have the nyhetstorka.

Monday, August 16, 2010

China Under Water

Running concurrent to the unprecedented disaster in Pakistan was the extraordinarily devastating mudslides in mainland China. The nation has took part in a day of mourning yesterday, the whole country observing 3 minutes of silence. At 10 AM the Chinese Premier Wen Jibao paid silent tribute to the fallen ahead of a party meeting.

All across the country concerts were cancelled. Also, cinemas and karaoke bars across the nation were ordered closed. Even more interesting is that some Government websites changed their backdrops to black. China doesn't have many national displays of mourning, however, it is clear that when it does it is not a half hearted effort.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Me and Studio Ghibli: Part 8

Welcome to the penultimate edition of my me and Studio Ghibli feature. To day we are going to look at the two latest Ghibli releases on this side of the world in a Miyazaki double bill. However, the first of the two sees Hayao taking a break from the director's chair and letting his son have a go.

2006-Tales From Earthsea
Tales From Earthsea is the directorial debut of Goro Miyazaki, who must surely be commended for following in the footsteps of his father in the face of the obvious scrutiny and inevitable criticism he was going to face

The film is set in the fictional land of Earthsea where two dragons in the sky have appeared and are seen to eat each other an omen of impending disaster. The story follows the journey of the young Prince Arren rescued by Lord Archmage Sparrowhawk as they venture to find the source of the imbalance. They track it down to Cob who's drive to find the secrets of immortality  threatens to destroy the land.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Weekend Randomness: An Interesting Awakening

Anyone looking for an amusing anecdote for the weekend could do a lot worse than talking to Arctic explorer Sebastian Plur Nilssen. The 23 year old was traveling with his companion Ludvig Fjeld as they attempted to become the first duo to ever travel around the Arctic island archipeligo of Svalbard, a region home to 2,700 citizens belonging to the kingdom of Norway.

While this is no mean feet in and of itself it was undoubtedly made just a tad more difficult by the events of one morning just last week where Mr Nilssen woke up to find himself in jaws of the worlds largest land predator, an adult male polar bear. He was subsequently dragged screaming in the jaws of the bear from the tent having tried to grab his shotgun but noticing the bear had managed to bend it in half.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Story of Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani

The Islamic Republic of Iran is not known for its leniency in the face of crime. It imposes a strict form of Shariah law making its legal system somewhat at odds with the generally  held morality across much of Europe and parts of America. But very few cases have caused as much controversy outside the country as the case of Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani.

Ms Ashtiani has been detained since 2006 in East Azerbaijan.In May of that year she was sentenced to 99 lashes for illicit relationships with two men following the death of her husband.. In September of 2006 the case was re-opened during the trial of the  of the man accused of murdering her husband. It was claimed she had committed the more sever crime of adultery with the accused and was sentenced to death by stoning. She denied the allegation.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Disaster Continues in Pakistan

Starting last week the news wires broke the story of the torrential floods in Pakisatan. The TV and internet showed reports of catastrophic waves of water literally submerging vast expanses of land and claiming the lives of hundreds of citizens.

At the same time the news networks over here were running the story of the Pakistani President's trips to Europe including a much publicised meeting with the British Prime Minister David Cameron after his recent visit to India where he claimed Pakistan was a supporting terrorists in its borders, something that drew significant dissent from the Government in Pakistan. One interviewee speaking on Sky News claimed that President Zadari's trip in terms of the scale of the disaster would have been something akin  to George W Bush talking his whole Senate on holiday during the Katrina disaster.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A UN Report is Bad News for Afghanistan

A long awaited report released today by the UN has detailed a sharp increase in the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan in the first six months of this year. The figure marked a 36% increase on the same period last year. About 76 of the casualities were caused by anti-Government forces.

The death toll for the  for the period stood at 1,271 with a further 1,997 injured, mainly in roadside bombings. The toll from NATO lead forces and pro-Government forces dropped 30% to 386 ,while the share for the Taliban rose from 53% to 76% according to the report. A spokesman for the Taliban has denied the claims.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Environmental Disaster Grips Russia

Russia is currently gripped by some of the worst forest fires in the millennium long history of the nation according to top meteorologist Andrei Seltsovsky. It has resulted in a mass exodus from the country's capital as acid smog from fires 100 km away descends on Moscow.

The response from the central Government until recently  has been one of totally ignoring the existence of any problem. The results for the citizens have been devastating. The mortality rates in the city have almost doubled, rocketing from 360-380 a day on average to something in the region of 1,00 people. 1,300 of the 1,500 spaces in city morgues are currently occupied.Also 104,000 passengers, a record for this year flew out of Moscow on Sunday. The figure for the same day last year was 70,000.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Me and Studio Ghibli: Part 7

In the 7th part of our Studio Ghibli film we approach the middle of the 21st century with the directorial debut of Hiroyuki Morita, the Cat Returns and Miyazaki's second to latest Howl's Moving Castle.

2001-The Cat Returns
The Cat Returns is the second theatrical feature by Studio Ghibli not to  be directed by either Takahata or Miyazaki. It has a rather fascinating history based on Whisper of the Heart (detailed in Part 5) which I'll explain later.

The plot deals with the story of Haru, an average high school student in Japan who has the bizarre ability to talk to cats. When she saves the cat prince's son from being run over by a car she is offered his hand in marriage and numerous gifts. When she doesn't refuse outright she is whisked away to the land of cats. As she slowly herself begins turning feline she must plan her escape and return home with the help of the Baron.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Weekend Randomness: Tokyo' Oldest Woman

Yes on first look this might appear to be a repost but this really remarkably is a different story. Indeed, if you missed my post this time last week on Tokyo's oldest man you might want to take a look at it because it is as a direct result of that eerie finding that this latest revelation has come about.

Sparked by said eerie events the relevant authorities in Tokyo have begun investigating the whereabouts of their cities centenarians. They have now bene forced to start the hunt for Fusa Furuya, said to be Tokyo's oldest living female resident at 103 years of age.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Homosexuals Hopeful in the Americas

Homosexuals across the Americas are facing a historic period in the history of their civil rights drive. On Wednesday the news wires were awash with the story of a federal judge's overturning of California's ban on same-sex marriage brought in by the Proposition 8 vote at the same time as the last Presidential Election in November 2008.

A similar ruling was made in Mexico's Supreme court yesterday decreeing that a fledgling law allowing for same sex marriage in  the city was not unconstitutional as had been claimed by the federal prosecuters who stated it violated the parts of the constitution which enshrined protection for the family.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kenya Goes to the Polls

Preliminary results released today in Kenya show that the country seems set to make a historic decision. It is replacing its old British colonial era with a new draft. The constitution currently in use in the country was drawn up in 1963 paving the way for Kenyan independence from the British colonial powers.

Supporters of the new constitution claim that it will dramatically reduce the powers of the President and make him more accountable to the people. This is an important amendment given the violence that erupted following the disputed results of the 2007 election. Then, ethnically fueled violence resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 citizens. The stories of the atrocities make for some harrowing reading.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Great and Ridiculous "Ground Zero " Mosque Debate

A fervent debate has gripped the citizens of New York over a  proposed Islamic Cultural Centre on the site of an old factory a couple of blocks away from the site of Ground Zero. Recently, the opposition of the proposal was dealt a blow when officials in the East Coast city declared that the old coat factory was not worthy of historical landmark status and was free to be demolished.

Some major figures in America have weighed in on both sides. Sarah Palin sided with the opponents dubbing it "An Intolerable Mistake on Hallowed Ground" on social networking site facebook, while the Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg stated that any opposition to the proposal was "un-American". A New York fireman has stated he will launch legal action against the proposal.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sarkozy's War

Recent times have been tough for French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Over the past number of weeks there has been mounting scandal in Paris over alleged illegal campaign funding cash given to Sarkozy in 2007. The cash was said to have come from the billionaire heiress to the L'Oreal fortune Liliane Bettencourt .

The claims came from Ms Bettencourt's former accountant who say that the Sarkozy campaign received €150,000 or $196,000 in 2007. The woman also claimed that she had been put under "severe pressure" to retract the claims and that Sarkozy's current Labour Minister and Treasurer of his Party Eric Woerth was the man who is said to have picked up the illegal donation. Liliane Bettencourt is also in trouble over claims she dodged millions in tax illegally. Woerth's wife was a former financial adviser to Ms Bettencourt.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Peace in Colombia?

The Southern American Andean nation of Colombia is known for a couple of reasons, drug cartels and Shakira. However, the nation has been embroiled in bitter violence between Government forces and Marxist rebels since the 1960s.

The rebels emerged after a thawing of relations between the two largest political parties in the State in the 1960 after decades of violence. They were founded with generally Marxist doctrines and  the largest of the groups is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.