Daily Archives: March 17, 2008

Poll: More see government as secretive

Associated Press | Mar 15, 2008

Nearly nine in 10 Americans say it’s important to know presidential and congressional candidates’ positions on open government, but three out of four view the federal government as secretive, according to a survey released Sunday.

Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University conducted the survey in conjunction with Sunshine Week, a nationwide effort by media organizations to draw attention to the public’s right to know.

The survey found a significant increase in the percentage of Americans who believe the federal government is very or somewhat secretive, from 62 percent of those surveyed in 2006 to 74 percent in 2008. That’s a sobering jump, said David Westphal, Washington editor for McClatchy Newspapers and co-chairman of the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom of Information Committee.

“On the other hand, it’s gratifying to see that almost 90 percent believe a candidate’s position on open government is an important issue when they make their Election Day choices,” he said.

The survey of 1,012 adults was commissioned by ASNE as part of a yearlong campaign to have candidates for all levels of office discuss their positions on government access issues.

Half of the poll respondents said government at the state level is secretive, while 44 percent viewed it as open. Those who see local government as secretive increased from 34 percent in 2007 to 40 percent in the 2008 survey.

A majority of people also want access to information such as who lawmakers meet with each day (82 percent), police reports about specific crimes in local neighborhoods (71 percent), and permits for concealed handguns (66 percent). About half said they do not object to officials asking people seeking records to identify themselves or explain why they’d like to see the record.

Although only about a quarter of adults believe the federal government has opened their mail or monitored their telephone conversations without a federal warrant, three-quarters believe it has happened to people in the United States and two-thirds say it is very or somewhat likely to have happened to members of the news media.

The survey was conducted by telephone from Feb. 10-28. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Knights of Malta secretly elect Englishman as new grand master

festing

Frà Matthew Festing, 58, an Englishman, becomes the 79th Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta.

Until his final breath, Matthew Festing will carry the title “His Most Eminent Highness”.

Catholic News Service | Mar 11, 2008

Leading Knights said the order is often depicted as secret society of the wealthy elite.

By John Thavis

ROME (CNS) — In a secret and swift election, the Knights of Malta elected an Englishman as their 79th grand master.

Matthew Festing, who had been the Knights’ grand prior of England, was chosen March 11 to replace Andrew W.N. Bertie, who died in February.

Festing, 59, will head the world’s oldest chivalric order, founded in the 11th century. He is only the second Englishman to hold the post of grand master; Bertie was the first.

Known officially as the Sovereign Military Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, the organization was established to care for pilgrims during the Crusades. It lives on today as a lay Catholic religious order and a worldwide humanitarian network.

The order is also a sovereign state, holding observer status at the United Nations and maintaining diplomatic relations with 100 countries.

Festing, an expert in art and history, joined the Knights in 1977 and in 1991 became a “professed” knight, taking religious vows. He is a descendent of Blessed Adrian Fortescue, a Knight of Malta who was martyred in the 16th century.

As head of the English priory, Festing organized humanitarian assistance missions to Lebanon and Kosovo and led a delegation on the order’s annual pilgrimage with the sick to Lourdes.

In a statement issued after his election, the new grand master said he wanted to continue the work of his predecessor, who was credited with expanding the order’s humanitarian services and its diplomatic connections.

Pope Benedict XVI was informed of Festing’s election before it was announced to the world.

The election of a grand master is a major event in Rome. Fifty electors, representing the 12,500 male and female members of the order, filed into the Knights’ villa on Rome’s Aventine Hill, wearing their distinctive red robes decorated with the Maltese cross.

The election, which began with a Mass, had similarities to a papal conclave. The grand master had to be chosen from among the order’s approximately 50 professed Knights.

The voting was done by a secret ballot, after nonvoters were asked to leave. No politicking was allowed, and the new grand master had to receive a “majority plus one” of the total votes — at least 27 out of 50.

At a press conference a few days before the election, leading Knights said the order is often wrongly depicted as an elite, wealthy secret society.

“In many ways, we are misunderstood,” said Winfried Henckel von Donnersmark, a member of the order’s sovereign council. In part, that’s because of the unusual nature of the organization, he said.

The Knights are a religious order, yet the vast majority of members are lay, he pointed out. It is a Catholic organization, but its humanitarian operations are open to people of all faiths. And while it does have some property and patrimony, it has to continually raise funds to support its annual $1 billion in charity works around the world, he said.

Membership in the order is by invitation. Knights and Dames are practicing Catholics and devote part of their time to doing works of mercy.

The professed members are all male, but women form an increasingly important part of the order, officials said.

According to Albrecht von Boeselager, one of the order’s chief officials, the Knights have about 80,000 local volunteers working in 120 countries throughout the world. The organization is welcomed by so many governments — even by the military regime in Myanmar, for example — because it adheres to strict neutrality on political issues, he said.

“We don’t consider ourselves a human rights organization. If making accusations on human rights issues would prevent us from assisting the needy, we would prefer to be silent,” von Boeselager said.

In the Middle East and Asia, however, the Knights’ neutrality has recently been called into question by extremist propaganda, he said.

“We have been accused of being part of a ‘new crusade,’ and even of having mercenaries fighting in Iraq. That is totally untrue, and it endangers our personnel in Muslim countries,” he said.

Noreen Falcone, president of the Knights’ U.S. federal association, said the order’s organizational structure gives it the ability to move quickly into disaster areas. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, for example, the order went to work immediately.

“We’re still there, building homes and helping to give people back their self-respect,” she said.

. . .

Related

British art historian elected grand master of Knights of Malta

AP | Mar 12, 2008

ROME (AP) – The Knights of Malta said Tuesday they have elected a British art historian as the new grand master of the lay Roman Catholic order.

Fra Matthew Festing replaces the late Fra Andrew Bertie as head of the 900-year-old charitable order.

The Knights of Malta chose the 59-year-old Festing as their 79th grand master during

a meeting Tuesday in Rome. Festing was sworn in shortly after the election, the order said.

Festing joined the Order of Malta in 1977. He has led humanitarian missions in Lebanon and Kosovo as the Grand Prior of England, a senior position he held for the past 15 years, the statement said.

Officially known as the Sovereign Military Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, the order was founded with a pilgrims’ hospice in 11th century Jerusalem and has the status of an independent state.

The order has 12,500 members and operates in 120 countries, providing medical and social services, particularly in war zones and impoverished areas. It maintains diplomatic relations with 100 nations.

. . .

Frà Matthew Festing Elected Grand Master

Frà Matthew Festing, 58, an Englishman, becomes the 79th Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, elected this morning by the Council Complete of State (the Order’s electoral body). In accepting the role, the new Grand Master swore his Oath before the Cardinal Patronus of the Order, Cardinal Pio Laghi, and the electoral body. He succeeds Frà Andrew Bertie, 78th Grand Master (1988-2008), who died on 7 February.

The new Grand Master affirms his resolve to continue the great work carried out by his predecessor. Frà Matthew comes with a wide range of experience in Order affairs. He has been the Grand Prior of England since the Priory’s re-establishment in 1993, restored after an abeyance of 450 years. In this capacity, he has led missions of humanitarian aid to Kosovo, Serbia and Croatia after the recent disturbances in those countries, and with a large delegation from Britain he attends the Order’s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes with handicapped pilgrims.

Educated at Ampleforth and St. John’s College Cambridge, where he read history, Frà Matthew, an art expert, has for most of his professional life worked at an international art auction house. As a child he lived in Egypt and Singapore, where his father, Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, had earlier postings. His mother was a member of the recusant Riddells of Swinburne Castle who suffered for their faith in penal times. He is also descended from Sir Adrian Fortescue, a knight of Malta, who was martyred in 1539.

Frà Matthew served in the Grenadier Guards and holds the rank of colonel in the Territorial Army. He was appointed OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) by the Queen and has served as her Deputy Lieutenant in the county of Northumberland for a number of years.

In 1977 Frà Matthew became a member of the Order of Malta, taking solemn religious vows in 1991.

http://www.orderofmalta.org.uk/news.htm

. . .

Sotheby’s Auctioneer Elected Grand Master of the Knights of Malta

Until his final breath, Matthew Festing will carry the title “His Most Eminent Highness.”

ARTINFO | Mar 13, 2008

ROME—Sotheby’s auctioneer Matthew Festing has been elected as the 79th Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, a Roman Catholic chivalric order established in the 11th century during the Crusades, the Times (London) reports. The secret-ballot election took place March 11 at a papal-style conclave in the order’s headquarters on the Aventine Hill in Rome.

The Knights, who are also known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, carry out charitable and medical operations in 120 countries. The organization has recently been attempting to dispel rumors that it is rich and secretive (see the Da Vinci Code), and the election of Festing, who is seen as a reformer, is a sign that they plan to be more open and to better publicize their charitable acts.

Festing, a descendant of Sir Adrian Fortescue, a Knight of Malta martyred in 1539, was admitted to the order in 1977. In 1988 he became a Knight of Justice, in 1991 he took perpetual vows, and he has recently served as Grand Prior of the British Association, Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of Malta (BASMOM). Festing’s father was also a member of the order, and his brother Andrew Festing is president of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and a favorite of the British royal family.

Grand Masters, like Popes, are elected for life. Until his final breath, Matthew Festing will carry the title “His Most Eminent Highness.”

China seals off Tibetan capital from outside world

Financial Times | Mar 16, 2008

By Richard McGregor and Jamil Anderlini in Beijing, and Tom Mitchell in Hong Kong

Chinese authorities have sealed Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, cutting off the city from visitors with a large military and armed police presence ahead of a “surrender deadline” of Monday at midnight.

The government has also tightened control over information coming out of the Himalayan region, blocking many Internet sites, including Youtube, which could be used to upload video content of the protests over the last week.

The protests began on March 10, when Buddhist monks staged protests against Chinese rule over Tibet, which China administers as an “autonomous region”. Last week marked the 49th anniversary of the flight by the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, to exile in Dharamsala, India.

Chinese media have reported 10 “innocent civilian” deaths and injuries among police and troops sent in to restore order. Exiled Tibetan officials in Dharamsala have said that at least 80 people were killed, according to Reuters.

Beijing faces difficult decisions in coming days over the level of violence it authorises to suppress demonstrations and regain control of Lhasa, and some monasteries elsewhere in Tibet and China where there is unrest.

The resolution of the issue is taking place against the backdrop of the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics, and the huge international attention that event is generating.

Wen Jiabao, China’s Premier, will hold his annual press conference on Tuesday, at the close of the National People’s Congress, which is telecast live.

Residents of Lhasa contacted on Sunday said sporadic gunshots could be heard through the day as Chinese police attempted to keep people off streets and rooftops.

The spectre of inter-ethnic violence also loomed, after Hui Muslim Chinese reportedly attacked Tibetan homes to avenge pro-independence protests that escalated on Friday, when demonstrators ransacked businesses owned by Han Chinese, China’s dominant ethnic group, Huis and other settlers.

Chinese state media dropped a country-wide reporting ban on the unrest at the weekend, as it became untenable after widespread leaks of eyewitness accounts, pictures and video footage of the growing violence in Lhasa.

Official media footage showed Tibetans overturning police cars, looting businesses and assaulting ethnic Chinese on the streets of the regional capital.

However, state media showed no images of the suppression of the protests, and stuck to the official line that the unrest had been orchestrated by a “separatist Dalai Lama clique”.

Even more ominously for Beijing, protests have flared further afield in cities in neighbouring Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, where there are large monasteries and sizeable Tibetan populations. Reuters reported that a police station in Aba county, Sichuan, was burned down, quoting a police officer at the scene.

This year’s violence in Tibet marks the most serious clashes since the late eighties, when independence protests were forcibly quelled. China’s current president, Hu Jintao, was then party secretary of the country’s most restive region.

More testing for drugs in drinking water sought

AP | Mar 16, 2008

By MARTHA MENDOZA

Test it, study it, figure out how to clean it — but still drink it. That’s the range of reactions raining down from community leaders, utilities, environmental groups and policy makers in reaction to an Associated Press investigation that documented the presence of pharmaceuticals in major portions of the nation’s drinking water supplies.

“There is no wisdom in avoidance. There is wisdom in addressing this problem. I’m not suggesting that people be hysterical and overreact. There’s a responsible way to deal with this — and collectively we can do it,” said Washington-based environmental lawyer George Mannina.

A five-month-long inquiry by the AP National Investigative Team found that many communities do not test for the presence of drugs in drinking water, and those that do often fail to tell customers that they have found trace amounts of medications, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones. The stories also detailed the growing concerns among scientists that such pollution is adversely affecting wildlife and may be threatening human health.

As a result, Senate hearings have been scheduled, and there have been calls for federal solutions. But officials in many cities say they aren’t going to wait for guidance from Washington to begin testing.

Pharmaceutical industry officials said they would launch a new initiative Monday with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service focused on telling Americans how to safely dispose of unused medicines.

The subject of pharmaceuticals in drinking water also will be discussed this week when 7,000 scientists and regulators from 45 countries gather in Seattle for the annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology. “The public has a right to know the answers to these questions,” said Dr. George Corcoran, the organization’s president.

“The AP story has really put the spotlight on it, and it is going to lead to a pickup in the pace,” he said. “People are going to start putting money into studying this now, instead of a few years from now, and we’ll get the answers sooner than we would have otherwise.”

Environmental leaders said some answers are easy.

“It’s basic. We need to test, tell and protect health,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Washington-based Environmental Working Group.

Wiles said the Environmental Protection Agency needs to widely expand the list of contaminants that utilities are required to test for. That list currently contains no pharmaceuticals. He also said government agencies and water providers that don’t disclose test results “are taking away people’s right to know, hiding the fact that there are contaminants in the water. We don’t think they have that right. It’s hubris, it’s arrogance and it’s self-serving,” said Wiles.

As part of its effort, the AP surveyed 62 metropolitan areas and 52 smaller cities, reporting on positive test results in 24 major cities, serving 41 million Americans. Since release of the AP investigation, other communities and researchers have been disclosing previously unreleased local results, positive or negative.

In Yuma, Ariz., for example, city spokesman Dave Nash said four pharmaceuticals — an antibiotic, an anti-convulsant, an anti-bacterial and caffeine — have been detected in that city’s drinking water. In Denver, where the AP had reported undisclosed antibiotics had been detected, a Colorado State University professor involved in water screening there e-mailed the names of 12 specific drugs that had been detected.

Officials at many utilities said that without federal regulations, they didn’t see a need to screen their water for trace amounts of pharmaceuticals. But others have now decided to test, including Scottsdale and Phoenix in Arizona, Palm Beach County in Florida, Chicago and Springfield, Ill., Bozeman, Mont., Fargo, N.D.; Danville, Va.; and a group of four sewer partners in the Olympia, Wash., region.

“We read the AP story and made a determination that we should test our water and be transparent, just let the people know what we find. I’m confident we have safe and clean drinking water,” said Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon.

Officials in Freeport, Ill., one of the smaller cities surveyed, said they plan to work with the state EPA to test the area’s drinking water for pharmaceuticals. Mayor George Gaulrapp said he is looking to the state agency for standards, regulations and testing procedures for that city’s water, which comes from a deep well.

In some places, residents learned that the rivers and lakes that feed their drinking water treatment plants have already been tested, or that tests are under way.

In Marin County, California, officials said repeated tests in their watershed for pharmaceuticals have come back clean. In Massachusetts, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced a program to screen rivers, streams and reservoirs for pharmaceuticals.

Dozens of newspaper editorials called for testing in communities where water is not being screened and the release of any test results.

“The first, and least expensive, step is to let the sunshine in: Water utilities that currently test for pharmaceuticals should make that information freely available to their customers, along with more information on the potential impacts of drugs in the water supply,” read an editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has filed an open records request for a copy of a study conducted on the city’s water after the mayor refused to give the AP and the newspaper the name of a pharmaceutical detected in the drinking water. City officials say publishing that information could jeopardize public safety, citing post-Sept. 11 security concerns. A Texas attorney general’s opinion is being sought on possible release of the information.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel urged readers to take responsibility as well.

“It’s a problem in which the average person has both a stake and a role in the solution,” read a Journal Sentinel editorial. “He or she can do something as simple as not flushing unused medications down the toilet or into the drain.”

And the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette observed that “given the national scope of the problem, a strong leadership role for the federal government suggests itself in areas such as testing and upgrading water treatment plants. So it is discouraging to note that the Bush administration in its 2009 budget proposal cut $10 million from the water monitoring and research program.”

While the local responses are encouraging, Lisa Rainwater, policy director of Riverkeeper, a New York-based environmental group, said the EPA should step aside and let the National Academy of Sciences or the General Accounting Office study the impacts on humans and wildlife.

“Frankly, the EPA has failed the American public for doing far too little for far too long,” she said.

At least one local water official is putting part of his faith in another quarter. Wayne Livingston of the Oxford Water Works in Alabama said he has confidence in the existing treatment system. But he said his agency probably will test for pharmaceuticals now, although he doubts anything will turn up because the water is pumped from underground.

“The good Lord filters it,” he said. “But this is something we should keep an eye on.”

5 years after Iraq’s ‘liberation,’ there are worms in the water

McClatchy Newspapers | Mar 16, 2008

By Hannah Allam

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s most prominent clerics have ruled that using a water pump on one’s own pipes is akin to stealing resources from a neighbor, so what does a person do when it takes half an hour to fill a cooking pot with water from the tap?

To them, the real crime is that five years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq , they still swelter in the summer and freeze in the winter because of a lack of electricity. Government rations are inevitably late, incomplete or expired. Garbage piles up for days, sometimes weeks, emanating toxic fumes.

The list goes on: black-market fuel, phone bills for land lines that haven’t worked in years, education and health-care systems degraded by the flight of thousands of Iraq’s best teachers and doctors.

When the Iraqi government announced that 2008 would be “the year of services,” workaday Iraqis had their doubts.

“Under Saddam’s regime, we had limited salaries but we had security and decent services. Now, we have decent incomes but we lose it all to water, propane, groceries, fuel. We save nothing,” said Balqis Kareem , 46, a Sunni Muslim housewife who lives in the predominantly Shiite Muslim district of Karrada. “This government gives with the right hand and takes away with the left.”

At Kareem’s modest, single-story home, a wall in the living room sprouts a tangle of electrical wires, a reflection of the three power sources she juggles throughout the day: the government’s supply, her own small generator and the neighborhood’s larger generator. Even so, for five years she hasn’t been able to keep milk or meat in the refrigerator for more than a few hours because it spoils so quickly in the daily blackouts.

A kitchen cupboard holds a barely touched box of rationed tea, which Kareem described as “so bitter no amount of sugar can sweeten it.” She said that she’d once used a magnet to clean metallic flakes from a bag of government-supplied rice. She barred her four children from drinking tap water after she found worms floating in a glass she’d poured.

The family’s home phone rarely works, though earlier this month a worker from the phone company showed up demanding payment for calls that they both knew she hadn’t made. Like so many employees of government utilities, he wanted a bribe.

“I just got to the point and told him, ‘Don’t waste my time. How much do you want?’ ” Kareem said. “He told me, I paid him and then went on with my day. I’m practical.”

As another scorching summer approaches, everyone has to improvise to find electricity. Those who can’t afford generators have to grease the meter men to look the other way as they splice wires and steal more than their permitted amount of power. At most, they’ll be able to run a TV set, a couple of fluorescent bulbs and maybe the water pump. Of course, that’s only when the electricity is on— never more than five hours a day and typically closer to two.

A popular joke here goes that a distraught boy approached his mother and sobbed that his father had touched a live wire and was electrocuted, to which the mother replied, “Thank God! There’s electricity!”

When a reporter asked the official spokesman Ali Dabbagh how the Iraqi government could restore faith in its leaders’ promises of services, he hung up the phone, offended at the question.

“Anyone who says that solving the services issue will take two or three years is exaggerating. Iraqi cities need years of work and billions of dollars,” said Sadiq al Rikabi , a political adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki . “The destruction that we inherited, which was increased by terrorism, makes the suffering of Iraqis very difficult. Ending this needs time and effort, but the prime minister is determined to start the work and, God willing, Iraqis will feel the improvement in the coming few months.”

Adil Hameed , a senior adviser to the minister of electricity, defended his embattled employer, listing a number of setbacks to power production that range from the devastating looting of a main control center in the early days of the U.S.-led invasion to the shortages in Baghdad caused by populous southern provinces using far more than their allotted share of electricity.

This year’s electrical infrastructure-improvement budget of $1.4 billion is half of what it would take to make a dent in the problem, Hameed said. Yet there have been modest gains: a month-old operations room that reports directly to the prime minister, the deployment of U.S. forces to protect electricity facilities and a stepped-up search for international companies to build power plants.

“We’re now producing at about 50 percent, but the people get only about 25 percent of their needs because we use nearly half the production to supply Iraqi infrastructure such as hospitals and government departments,” Hameed said, adding that he expected outages to increase as usual during the summer.

Increasingly, Iraqis are relying on militias and other armed groups to fill the services void. Stories abound of neighborhood militiamen commandeering power plants and forcing terrified engineers to flip the switches even during government blackouts, turning militants into heroes and further undermining the unpopular Maliki administration.

In some poor areas of Baghdad , militias or Iranian-backed charities have become the main source of propane tanks, food staples, garbage collection and other services that the government should provide.

“They always talk, but nothing is tangible so far,” Karam Hussein , 60, a Shiite retiree, said of the government. He lives in Baghdad’s Shaab neighborhood, which is mostly under the control of the Mahdi Army militia. “On the contrary, when they talk, things always get worse. It’s better if they just stop talking.”

In the hardscrabble, mostly Shiite neighborhood of Shohada, 67-year-old Hani Abdel Hussein is desperately trying to sell the family home in hopes of moving to an area with better services. Damage from a stray mortar shell that plunged through the roof isn’t the only deterrent for buyers, however.

Trash collection is so sporadic that residents tie up their garbage in plastic bags and fling them onto a reeking pile at the end of the street. Electricity is mainly from a private generator, and water shortages have forced Abdel Hussein to shower at a public bathhouse in another neighborhood.

His land line has been dead for the past three years, though he recently received a bill for about $70 .

“If the phone actually worked, I’d be happy to pay today,” the soft-spoken father of three said. “I don’t believe it’s that hard for the government to bring back services. But they had 50 sessions of parliament just to remove the stars from the flag. I guess they’re too busy.”

Dalai Lama condemns ‘rule of terror’ in Tibet as protests spread

tibetans stones

Tibetans throw stones at army vehicles as a car burns on a street in Lhasa. China said 10 people had been burnt to death during unrest in Lhasa, as the military locked down the Tibetan capital amid fierce international scrutiny ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

AFP | Mar 16, 2008

by Karl Malakunas

BEIJING (AFP) – The Dalai Lama condemned a “rule of terror” in his native Tibet on Sunday as Chinese forces blanketed the region’s capital in security and pro-independence protests spread elsewhere in China.

A fresh protest in southwest China’s Sichuan province reportedly left at least seven people dead in a dangerous escalation of the uprising by Tibetans against China’s rule of the vast Himalayan region.

The violence, previously confined mainly to the Tibetan capital Lhasa, has left at least 80 people dead, according to Tibet’s government-in-exile, although the official death toll in China’s state-run media remained at 10.

The unrest is a huge crisis for China as it tries to present a peaceful image ahead of the Beijing Olympics, but it nevertheless vowed on Sunday to wage a “people’s war” against the influence of the exiled Dalai Lama.

Speaking from his base in Dharamsala, India, the revered Buddhist spiritual leader launched a scathing criticism of China’s 57-year rule of Tibet and called for an international probe into the unrest.

“Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some cultural genocide is taking place,” the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner told reporters.

“They simply rely on using force in order to simulate peace, a peace brought by force using a rule of terror.

“Please investigate, if possible… some international organisation can try firstly to inquire about the situation in Tibet.”

Tibetan officials rejected the Dalai Lama’s comments, Chinese state media reported late Sunday.

“‘The rule of terror in Tibet’, as Dalai claimed, was downright nonsense,” said an official identified only as Legqoi, deputy director of the Standing Committee of the Tibetan Regional People’s Congress, according to the Xinhua news agency.

In the protest in Sichuan, which borders Tibet, at least seven people were killed when police shot at hundreds of rioting Tibetans in the town of Ngawa, a resident and two activist groups with contacts there told AFP.

This followed two consecutive days of protest at the Labrang monastery in northwest China’s Gansu province, which like Sichuan has a large ethnic Tibetan population.

Meanwhile, foreigners in Lhasa reported a massive security presence still in place, as Hong Kong television footage showed heavily armed security forces patrolling the city.

Despite official Chinese claims of calm in Lhasa, foreigners who flew out of the city reported hearing repeated gunfire on Saturday.

“I heard muffled gunshot fire. There was no question about it,” one tourist, Gerald Flint, a former US marine who runs a medical non-government organisation, told reporters at Chengdu airport in Sichuan.

Flint said security forces poured into Lhasa on Saturday but that there was still “chaos” on the streets.

The worst reported violence occurred on Friday, when Tibetans rampaged through the regional capital, destroying Chinese businesses and torching police cars.

Despite being under intense international pressure to show restraint, China’s communist government indicated it was in no mood to compromise.

“We must wage a people’s war to beat splittism and expose and condemn the malicious acts of these hostile forces and expose the hideous face of the Dalai Lama group to the light of day,” the Tibetan Daily said.

Eyewitness reports have said protesters on Friday chanted support for independence and the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland in 1959 following a failed uprising and is still revered by the Tibetan Buddhist faithful.

China has set a deadline of Monday at midnight for those involved in the demonstrations to surrender.

With Lhasa sealed off to foreign journalists, independent information was scarce, making it impossible to determine exactly how many people were killed.

China has been regularly blacking out the domestic feed of CNN whenever it runs a story about the Tibet unrest.

On Sunday, access to YouTube in China was also denied after footage of the protests in Tibet appeared on the video posting site.

Tibetan rights groups said the protests — which marked the anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising — were an outpouring of frustration at decades of brutal Chinese rule.

China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 to “liberate” the region and officially annexed it a year later.

The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his peaceful resistance to Chinese rule and insists he does not want independence for Tibet, rather greater cultural autonomy and an end to repression.

The events in Tibet have led to protests in other parts of the world, with Tibetan communities in Australia, Japan and India staging protests.

In a newspaper interview, International Olympic Committee vice-president Thomas Bach said a number of top athletes were considering boycotting the games in China over the bloody crackdown on protesters in Tibet.

“Several sports stars are feeling ill at ease when they think about the Olympic Games. Some are even considering cancelling,” Bach, a German, told Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

The Dalai Lama said the Games should go on, but also said China needed to be “reminded to be a good host.”

Iraq war implementer Tony Blair calls for UN ‘climate revolution’

Blair climate

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks at the opening of the 4th Ministerial Meeting of the Gleneagles Dialogue on Climate Change, Clean Energy and Sustainable Development in Chiba, near Tokyo, Saturday, March 15, 2008. Blair said the world needs an economic ‘revolution’ to save it from global warming in the climate change conference.

BBC | Mar 15, 2008

Mr Blair believes the UN is the key to reaching a climate agreement

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for a “global environment revolution” to tackle climate change.

Mr Blair is on a visit to Japan to discuss global greenhouse gas targets.

In a speech to a meeting of G8 ministers building on the 2005 Gleneagles summit, he stressed the need for a “global deal”.

He suggested it should be led by the UN and that failure to act on climate change “would be deeply and unforgivably irresponsible”.

During his visit, organised by Climate Group, Mr Blair is due to meet climate change experts from China, Japan, Europe and the US.

He is attempting to guide attempts to secure a deal involving China and the US to slash emissions by 50% by 2050, on the first part of a trip that will also take him to China and India.

He said: “Unfortunately the source of the emissions is irrelevant. It is the fact and amount of them that matters.

“The UN machinery is valiantly striving to put this deal together. The UN and the UN alone is the right forum to reach the global agreement.

“What I found, whilst still in office as prime minister, was that countries had their own environmental policy. They talked to other nations of course, but there was no centre where it was brought together.”

Varied roles

He also said that he could “see no way of tackling climate change without a renaissance of nuclear power”.

Mr Blair, who stood down as prime minister last year, is also a peace envoy to the Middle East Climate Group for the “quartet” of the EU, Russia, the US and UN.

He also works as an advisor to investment bank JP Morgan and insurer Zurich.

Last week it was announced he would run a seminar on faith and globalisation at Yale University in the US.

In February Mr Blair said he would work to attract investment to Rwanda, as the central African country rebuilds its economy following the genocide of the mid-1990s.