Daily Archives: November 4, 2008

Taiwanese protesters say police state measures recall martial law era

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Police officers look on as a woman paints words on her friend during a demonstration in Taipei against visiting Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin yesterday. Both women were later arrested, with the woman on the right alleging the police broke her finger when they tried to take away a Tibetan flag she was carrying. PHOTO: J MICHAEL COLE, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times | Nov 4, 2008

By Rich Chang, Mo Yan-chih, Meggie Lu and J. Michael Cole

A heavy police presence and strong protests against Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) clouded the top Chinese negotiator’s first visit to Taiwan yesterday.

Police stationed themselves along the route between the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and the Grand Hotel in Taipei, setting up a number of checkpoints. Vehicles heading to the airport were stopped by police who checked driver and passenger IDs and asked why they were heading to the airport. Several vehicles decorated with Republic of China (ROC) flags, anti-Chen or anti-China banners were not allowed to enter the airport.

The measures disrupted traffic in Taoyuan City, Dayuan Township (大園) and Bade Township (八德) during rush hour yesterday morning.

Aviation Police Office Chief Diao Chien-sheng (刁建生) told reporters that because of security concerns, people who could not prove they were taking flights or failed to prove they were picking up somebody from the airport were not allowed to enter.

Holding colorful flags, some 70 Tibetans boarded a coach in Taipei with plans to “welcome” Chen at the airport, but were stopped by police who detained those not carrying IDs.

TAIWAN CHINA ENVOY VISIT

A man displays a yellow ribbon reading “Taiwan Is My Country” in Taipei yesterday to protest the visit by China’s top cross-strait negotiator, Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin. PHOTO: DAVID CHANG, EPA

When former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taoyuan County councilor Wu Pao-yu (吳寶玉) entered the arrival hall at 8:50am waving an ROC flag, police officers immediately asked Wu to put the flag in her bag.

“The national flag is our county’s flag. Please tell me why I can’t carry a national flag in my country. Give me a reason,” Wu said.
Police officers later removed her from the arrival hall.

Around 11am, former independent Taoyuan County councilor Huang Te-long (黃德隆), who was sitting in a chair in the arrival hall, was asked by police officers why he was there.

Huang said he was picking somebody up, but because he failed to come up with a flight number, police asked him to leave. He then shouted “Taiwan must become an independent country! Taiwan is not part of China!” before he was carried out of the arrival hall.

Some 2,000 police officers were dispatched to escort Chen and members of his delegation from the airport to the Grand Hotel.

Several people waving national flags on a bridge above the freeway in Linkou (林口), Taipei County, when Chen’s motorcade passed the area were robbed of their flags by police officers.

“I don’t know if it’s good luck or bad, but I happened to have two clients this morning — one who went to the airport, and one to the Grand Hotel,” said Sun Chun-chien (孫俊建), a taxi driver in Taipei. “The government has stooped extremely low. It was as if the martial law had been reimposed. When we were on [Freeway No. 2], my passenger was asked to produce his passport and booking receipt to prove that he was traveling today, and when I drove my other passenger to the hotel, he was asked to show the police his room key card.”

Barbed wire was installed around the hotel to ward off trespassers, Sun said.

“Many grandpas and grandmas go exercise on the hill where the Grand Hotel is, who’s this Chen Yunlin?” Sun asked. “Even the US president doesn’t get such treatment.”

He said that although taxicabs bearing the Taiwanese flag on their taxi lights on the roof usually line up in front of the Jiantan MRT station — in close proximity to the Grand Hotel — yesterday police asked them to leave.

With the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and the Grand Hotel as a backdrop, a few dozen demonstrators gathered at about 11am under the watchful eyes of the hundreds of police officers who had lined up on both sides of the road.

Nearby, approximately 100 pro-unification demonstrators carrying red banners and the Chinese flag also gathered, engaging in a shouting match with a lone woman on her motorcycle who heckled them from the other side of the street, making the “thumbs down” sign. A handful of yellow ribbons bearing the words “Taiwan is my country” were tied to the motorcycle handles.

One young woman carrying a UN flag was initially stopped by a police officer who asked her to remove a red banner she wore across her shoulder that read “Anti-China; we will definitely win; Taiwan will become an independent country.” The woman refused, however, and the police officer let her continue on her way.

Four DPP Taipei City councilors and some 50 supporters tried to set free colorful balloons printed with the words “tainted products” — representing melamine-contaminated food products from China — and broke into physical clashes with the police.

“What is happening here? Are we under curfew right now? You can’t just steal my stuff,” DPP Taipei City Councilor Chuang Ruei-hsiung (莊瑞雄) shouted at police who seized boxes of balloons and pumps.

Chuang and the other three councilors — Huang Hsiang-chun (黃向群), Wang Hsiao-wei (王孝維) and Liu Yao-ren (劉耀仁) — later tried to enter the hotel from a small path, but were blocked by dozens of police officers.

During the ensuing scuffle, Wang ended up on the ground and accused the police of pushing him over, pledging to file a lawsuit against them.

Chuang said they had informed the Taipei City Government about their plan to “inspect” the traffic situation today and accused the police of violating local councilors’ rights to inspect problems in the city.

Before Chen’s arrival at the hotel, four DPP Taichung City councilors led another demonstration and unfurled two banners reading “Taiwan is Taiwan” and “Get out, Bandit Chen Yunlin” from the hotel’s sixth floor.

Within a few minutes, police confiscated the banners, sparking another round of clashes as the councilors protested against police using forced entry to get into the room.

The four councilors were later led by hotel staffers to the basement as Chen Yunlin arrived at the lobby. Among various protests against Chen Yunlin, a small group of Chinese spouses waved red ribbons in front of Taipei Fine Arts Museum to welcome the Chinese official’s visit.

“Taiwan is our home, but China is where we are from. We want to see the two sides reconcile as soon as possible,” a woman said.

Around 2:30pm, a human rights activist was arrested and injured by the police, who allegedly dislocated her right middle finger and detained her for almost two hours without access to medical attention.

The woman, who identified herself as the blogger “Lina,” was walking in front of the Taiwan Cement Corp (TCC) building near the Grand Hotel carrying a Tibetan flag. “Lina” and two other young women – holding ROC, UN and Tibetan flags — were allegedly pushed by police who were securing the area.

“I was holding the Tibetan flag up on my back with the fabric wrapped around my middle fingers on both hands,” said Lina, who was decorated in body paint reading “liberty,” “peace” and “freedom.”

Saying she had not violated the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) because she was merely passing by, Lina added that she was originally walking on the road with a friend when they saw the third woman, who was also wearing flags, so they decided to walk together.

“A group of police began to gather and push us … More and more police came and my flag was ripped from my hands and my finger was pulled,” she said. “Like protesters in the US, we had body painting and elaborate masks on … We want to voice our concern for Taiwan’s already diminishing freedom of speech, as well as China’s neglect of human rights — our pursuit is for peace.”

After they were arrested, Lina used her cellphone to get on real-time online journal Plurk.com to ask for help, spurring fellow bloggers to summon a lawyer who came to her rescue.

“This is the first time that a protester has been injured by the police for activities like this. It is not illegal in Taiwan for one to wave flags … The police completely refused to offer any explanation as to what crime my client had committed,” said Vincent Lin (林育辰), Lina’s lawyer.

“[What’s more], the police kept following them and saying that they were there to ‘protect’ the women … Soon we will have no right to privacy,” a blogger named “Hands” said on Plurk.com.

DPP caucus deputy whip Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) said yesterday that it was unreasonable for the government to spend NT$ 700 million (US$21.2 million) on security measures for Chen. It had turned Taiwan into a police state and returned it to the period of martial law, he said.

KMT caucus deputy secretary-general Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) said the government had no choice but to tighten security measures to protect Chen because of the DPP’s planned protest.

KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), head of the legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee, also defended the government’s measures.

“If Chen were attacked or assaulted in Taipei, Taiwan would make international headlines as a violent country. To prevent Taiwan from losing face, we had no choice but to raise security levels for him,” Lin said.

Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said yesterday that the government was duty bound to respect and protect legal assemblies, but that such activities must be conducted in a peaceful and legal manner.

Blackwater Downsizes Batmobile Shop

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PHOTO: Raytheon/Blackwater]

Wired | Nov 3, 2008

By Nathan Hodge

Major bummer for Blackwater Worldwide: After failing to make the cut in the Pentagon’s Humvee replacement contest, the company is laying off employees at its truck manufacturing facility in Camden County, North Carolina.

The Daily Advance reports that dozens may be let go:

[D]uring a public appearance in Kitty Hawk in June 2007, Blackwater Worldwide President Gary Jackson said the company had assembled 52 workers, many of them former employees of Ford and Volvo, to produce its Grizzly armored personnel carrier at a brand-new 70,000 square-foot production facility in Camden.

In addition, under the terms of an agreement the company had with the N.C. Department of Commerce for obtaining a $120,000 grant, Blackwater had to create and maintain up to 60 jobs at the Grizzly plant. At the time, company officials said the average worker’s weekly salary would be in excess of $719.

Blackwater has been branching out of the guns-for-hire business and getting into the more straitlaced world of manufacturing. The company pinned hopes on scoring a contract for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, a highly survivable new truck that is being developed for the Army and the Marine Corps. Blackwater paired with Raytheon to develop a prototype, the Grizzly Mark VI (pictured), which would have been built at the North Carolina facility. Interestingly, the Grizzly was supposed to draw on NASCAR and monster truck design as well as input from security operators.

Blackwater is still in the manufacturing biz, developing airships for homeland security and building Grizzly armored personnel carriers for its own security teams. It has been touting its humanitarian credentials as well. But despite the talk of a kinder, gentler Blackwater, company President and CEO Erik Prince can’t resist an opportunity to battle pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Knights of Malta Grandmasters’ armour on show in Paris

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Grandmaster Jean Parisot de Valette’s ceremonial sword and dagger which were looted by Napoleon Bonaparte are being showcased in Paris with items from the Palace Armoury in Valletta.

Times of Malta | Nov 4, 2008

By Lisa Gwen Baldacchino

La Valette’s notorious sword and dagger, plundered by Napoleon Bonaparte as war spoils, forms part of a major armoury exhibition under way in Paris along with two-thirds of the artefacts that form part of Malta’s national collection.

The exhibition is being held at the Musée de l’Armée, also known as the Hôtel des Invalides, Napoleon’s burial place and one of the top armour museums in the world. The museum is a top attraction in Paris, drawing as many as one million visitors per year.

A refectory at the Invalides was fully restored and inaugurated specifically for the event, which will run until January. Some 60 individual pieces of armour have been flown abroad together with 18 paintings, said Michael Stroud, curator of the Palace Armoury, Heritage Malta (HM).

Indeed, those visiting the Armoury in Valletta over the coming months will find a very scanty main showcase, as some of the most important items on permanent display have been included in the Paris exhibition.

Among the more prestigious items are components of the La Valette armour; the full armour believed to have belonged to Jean Jacques de Verdelin as well as that thought to have belonged to Grand Master Martino Garzes; the parade armour of Alof de Wignacourt and the portrait of the same Grandmaster by Leonello Spada, which has been placed on the easel upon which Jean Diminque Ingre’s painting of an enthroned Napoleon is customarily placed.

Other paintings on show are the Beheading of St John by Mattias Stomer and another of St John the Baptist wearing the Order’s habit by Mattia Preti.

Preparations for the exhibition had been underway for a whole year, said Pierre Bonello, HM senior executive for exhibitions and design.

The items were flown to Frankfurt and then escorted overland by incognito security officers to Paris. On arrival in France, it took a whole week to be set up.

Mr Stroud, Mr Bonello and metal conservator Robert Cassar were present throughout the process to ensure it went smoothly.

The costs were largely borne by the French government and by the Musée de l’Armée while the Malta Tourism Authority and Go sponsored the exhibition catalogue.

HM took the exhibition as an opportunity to restore and conserve some of the items prior to putting them on show.

The exhibition was inaugurated by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and by the French Minister of Defence, Hervé Morin, on October 20 and will be open for public viewing until next January.

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Jean Parisot de la Valette

Jean Parisot de Valette (born in 1494; died in Malta, 21 August 1568) was born into a noble family in Quercy. He was a Knight of St. John, joining the order in the Langue de Provence, and fought with distinction against the Turks at Rhodes. As Grand Master, Valette became the Order’s hero and most illustrious leader, commanding the resistance against the Ottomans at the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, widely regarded as one the greatest sieges of all time. He became Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller on 21 August 1557.

The Valette family had been an important one in France for many generations, various members having accompanied the Kings of France in the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Crusades. Jean Parisot’s grandfather, Bernard de Valette, was a Knight and King’s Orderly, and his father Guillot was a Chevalier de France. Jean Parisot was a distant cousin (through their mutual ancestor Almaric de Valette) of Jean Louis de Nogaret de La Valette, first Duke of Epernon.

Little is known about Valette’s early life, although he was present during the Great Siege of Rhodes in 1523, and accompanied Grand Master Philippe Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, after the Order’s expulsion from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

Rise Within the Order

In 1538, while on Malta, Valette was sentenced to four months in a guva (a hole in the ground) on Gozo for nearly beating a layman to death, and he was subsequently exiled to Tripoli for two years to serve as military governor. Upon his return he was punished again for bringing a nigro slave not liable for servitude. In 1541 he was captured and made a galley slave for a year by Barbary pirates under the command of Turgut Reis. In 1554 Valette was elected Captain General of the Order’s galleys. This was a great honour to the Langue of Provence, as throughout most of the Order’s history, the position of Grand Admiral was usually held by a Knight Grand Cross of the Italian Langue. In that capacity he won a name that stood conspicuous in that age of great sea captains, and was held in the same regard as the Chevalier Mathurin Romegas – one of the greatest Christian maritime commanders of the age. In fact both sides had extremely talented sailors. If Valette, Romegas and Juan de Austria could be considered the best commanders that the Christian forces could bring to the sea, the forces of Islam were able to call on the equally outstanding maritime and leadership skills of admirals such as Barbarossa and Dragut. In 1557, upon the death of Grand Master Claude de la Sengle, the Knights, mindful of the attack that was sure to come, elected Valette to be Grand Master.

Siege of Malta

He fought and successfully repulsed the Turks at the Great Siege of Malta (1565), in which the vastly outnumbered Christians held out for over 3 months against an Ottoman force containing no less than 30,000 soldiers, including the notorious Janissaries, as well as the Sultan’s prized fleet of some 40 warships. The desperate battle, which saw the reduction of Fort St. Elmo, was one of immense brutality, and is regarded as one the most famous and desperate sieges of all time. As a result of the Order’s victory he gained much prestige in Europe, but he declined the offer of a cardinal’s hat in order to maintain independence from the papacy. This has been portrayed to his sense of modesty and his humility as a warrior monk. However, it has often been overlooked that as a Grand Master of the Order, he automatically had the same precedence as the most junior Cardinal within the Church and enjoyed a Cardinal’s distinction without being involved in the internal politics of the Holy See. Even from its beginnings, the Grand Master of the Order owed allegiance only to the Pope, and to this day is recognised as the head of an Order which has diplomatic recognition with the United Nations and 100 other countries.

EU finance ministers debate New Financial Order

The G-20 Washington summit will debate an update of financial rules created in 1944 at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, that helped nations cope with economic problems following World War II. That conference led to the creation of the IMF and World Bank.

AP | Nov 3, 2008

By ROBERT WIELAARD

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — EU finance ministers on Monday opened two days of talks aimed at crafting proposals for a new global financial order as the gloom in world markets hung over the euro-zone economy’s outlook.

As the ministers arrived, forecasts published by the European Commission painted a bleak portrait of the region’s future. They predicted the economy of the 15 countries using the euro was probably already in recession and would expand by just 0.1 percent in 2009.

The euro-zone’s largest members — Germany, France and Italy — will come to a standstill or shrink, it said, warning of a deeper credit crunch that would brake the economy, strain government finances and put a near-freeze on household spending.

With that dire situation to grapple with, ministers were eager to find an agreement on what should be done to reverse — or at least contain — the turmoil that has driven growth down sharply in Europe.

EU officials said European governments were beginning to rally around a consensus to boost the role and powers of the International Monetary Fund to support faltering economies — an issue that will top the agenda of a Nov. 15-16 summit in Washington of G-20 countries, which includes the G-7 industrialized democracies as well as developing powers such as Brazil, India, Russia and China.

The IMF has already dipped into its $250 billion reserves to provide emergency loans to Iceland, Hungary and Ukraine totaling $30 billion. Pakistan has said it may call on the international body for another $5 billion.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was in the Middle East on the weekend to push Arab nations into providing hundreds of billions of extra dollars to the IMF, saying the current fund was not enough.

European governments have taken the lead in stabilizing the financial system by injecting scores of billions of dollars into failing banks and mortgage lenders. They called on the financial sector to do its share and end behavior that encouraged reckless risk-taking.

“Incentives in financial institutions and markets are directed too much to short-term private gains,” Wouter Bos, the Dutch finance minister wrote in the Financial Times Deutschland Monday.

Bankers must “take responsibility in changing risk and reward systems,” and if they refuse governments should force them, he added.

“To effectively prevent excessive risk taking, we can, for instance, strengthen the countervailing powers in financial institutions by giving the risk manager a seat in the executive board, with the power of veto. We can (make) salary structures subject to scrutiny by the financial stability supervisor.”

The finance ministers will debate ways to make global financial markets more transparent and accountable ahead of a meeting of the 27 EU leaders on Friday.

The G-20 Washington summit will debate an update of financial rules created in 1944 at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, that helped nations cope with economic problems following World War II. That conference led to the creation of the IMF and World Bank.

The financial crisis and the economic downturn that has followed it have led governments to inject huge sums of money to prop up faltering financial institutions.

The European Commission has proposed to provide 40 billion euros ($50 billion) in soft loans to help Europe’s ailing car makers create greener vehicles. France wants EU governments to create state-run investment funds to defend companies against unwanted foreign takeovers or help them financially through a rough spot.

Neither proposal is likely to be supported. Germany and several other countries, diplomats said, see both as politically undoable.

France, officials said, will again push for reduced value added (sales) taxes, especially restaurant bills, to stimulate economic growth. Germany, Denmark and Baltic EU states oppose this for fear of losing revenue that, in turn, means less public spending.

The no-growth outlook has revived a debate over easing the rules underpinning the stability of the euro and the independence of the European Central Bank.

Two euro-zone nations — France and Ireland — will have a budget deficit in 2009 exceeding 3 percent of gross national product. The ceiling is a key benchmark intended to keep their shared currency stable.

Libya and Belarus eye New World Order

“We have before us the opportunity to forge for ourselves and for future generations a new world order — a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations. When we are successful — and we will be — we have a real chance at this new world order, an order in which a credible United Nations can use its peacekeeping role to fulfill the promise and vision of the U.N.’s founders.”

– George H.W. Bush, January 16, 1991

Hot News Turkey | Nov 3, 2008

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi on Monday called on Belarus to join “progressive forces” to create a multipolar world governed by the rule of law.

Kadhafi made the call during talks in Minsk with the authoritarian Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, part of his first tour of the former Soviet Union since the Cold War.

“Balance in the world has been destroyed and the world has become unipolar,” Kadhafi said during talks with Lukashenko. “The law of force has begun to work in place of the force of law.”

“Progressive forces must unite together to correct the mistakes, including those made by the United Nations,” Kadhafi said in comments broadcast on Belarussian television.

A former pariah state, Libya has moved into the international fold in recent years by renouncing weapons of mass destruction and taking responsibility for the 1988 airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people.

Lukashenko, whose regime has been described by Washington as Europe’s last dictatorship, maintained ties with the North African country when it was still regarded as an international outcast.

Bloomberg’s Term-Limits Coup: Heroes, Villains, and Wimps

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Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, chuckles as he listens to citizens address a bill extending term limits on elected officials at City Hall in New York, November 3, 2008.

Bloomberg promised council members that “people do forget about these things.”

Village Voice | Oct 28, 2008

By Tom Robbins

So much for New York City sophisticates. Last week’s rush by 29 self-inflated council members to gut term-limits laws—approved by voters in two separate referendums—was the kind of thing that’s supposed to happen only in countries south of the border, or those with “-stan” at the end of their names.

Council opposition leader Bill de Blasio hit that note squarely outside City Hall after the vote. “This is 2008 in the biggest, most sophisticated city in the United States of America, and what happened here was more reminiscent of a banana republic,” he lamented.

Right before the roll call on a vote he knew he was about to lose, de Blasio rose in the council chambers and tried one last weapon: shame. “George Orwell in particular would love the arguments being made today by the Speaker, the Mayor, and others, that by taking away the voters’ right to decide this issue, we are giving them more of a choice.” He added a warning: “The people of this city will long remember what we’ve done here today, and the people will rightfully be unforgiving. We are stealing like a thief in the night their right to decide the shape of democracy.”

Mark that claim as the first throwdown of the 2009 elections. As he furiously lobbied for his term-extension bill, Mike Bloomberg famously promised council members that “people do forget about these things.” He’d better hope so.

De Blasio predicted that Bloomberg and Council Speaker Chris Quinn’s scheming and dealing to force-feed the bill to wavering council members last week will eventually be discovered and exposed. I’m not so sure.

For instance, who was that mystery man sitting in the Subway sandwich shop across from City Hall on the first day of the hearings? The guy with the cash-filled envelope doling out dollars to those who showed up early to grab front-row seats and wave pro-Bloomberg signs? One likely suspect, a well-practiced Brooklyn campaign worker, denied it. “It’s nothing to do with me, man,” he insisted. The search continues.

So does the hunt for the telephone bank that routed pro-Bloomberg calls directly into the offices of council foes of the mayor’s bill. Who paid for that? Not us, said an administration official who suggested a friendly labor group was behind it.

The mayor’s was a no-fingerprints operation. He closed out his 2005 campaign committee last year, never even bothering to report a poll his aides admitted he did last spring—months before the financial crisis hit—to check the public pulse for extending term limits (there was none; a pulse, that is).

And what was it that made council first-termer Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn burst into tears just before switching sides in the great debate? One minute Mealy was calling Bloomberg “a dictator,” and the next she was meekly voting his way. After composing herself, Mealy explained to former allies that she was just looking for a few extras from the powers-that-be. “She said she was tired of not getting X, Y, and Z for her district,” said one member.

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