Daily Archives: November 9, 2008

Thailand’s best-known social critic arrested for royal insult

AFP | Nov 7, 2008

sulak-sivaraksaBANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand’s best-known social critic Sulak Sivaraksa was arrested in Bangkok for insulting the kingdom’s monarchy, police said Friday.

British-educated Sulak, 76, was arrested in connection with a speech he delivered at the northeastern Khon Kaen university in December last year.

The criminal charge of lese-majeste carries a maximum 15 years imprisonment.

“He was arrested at his residence early Thursday evening in accordance with a court-approved arrest warrant issued on September 22. He was brought to Khon Kaen immediately,” said a Bangkok police spokesman, who refused to be named.

It is not the first time Sulak has been arrested on the charge. In 1984 international protests led to his release after he was taken into custody by authorities.

But he was charged in September 1991 after a lecture he gave at Bangkok’s Thammasat University — causing him to flee abroad until he could have the charges overturned in 1995.

In an interview with local media last month Sulak said he had been arrested a third time on the same charge but gave no details.

Sulak is well-known abroad as a prominent Buddhist working for human rights, and is a vocal critic of deposed Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

His arrest comes as street protests by opponents of the former prime minister and current government enter their seventh month, and the week before the funeral of the king’s sister, who died in January.

Thailand’s laws make it illegal to insult the king, who turns 81 on December 5 and who many Thais believe is semi-divine.

In September a Thai court ordered hundreds of websites to be shut down for carrying content disrespectful to the royal family.

That followed the arrest of an Australian author in August for criticising the king’s son.

The video-sharing service YouTube was also banned for five months last year over videos mocking King Bhumibol Adulyadej until it was agreed filters would be put in place to censor the content.

Global Obama unifies the world


Obama’s royal bloodlines go back at least as far as William I, known as the Lion or Garbh, “the Rough”, who reigned as King of Scots from 1165 to 1214.

Reuters | Nov 6, 2008

By Joseph Murimi and Reuters

Brazilians of mixed descent say he looks like them and called him Mulato.

Japanese have a city called Obama and for that they rallied behind him although his win may not benefit them directly.

Americans own him because his mother, Ann Dunhum, was a white American from Kansas.

His maternal lineage has been traced to Great Britain, specifically Scotland, making Europeans also stake a claim on US President-elect Barack Obama.


The Merovingian Ancestry of the 2008 Presidential Candidates

A genealogist disclosed, last year, that Obama was a descendant of the monarch who ruled Scotland from 1165 to 1214.

Muslims claim he is one of them, but Obama maintains he is a Christian.

A leading television channel in the Middle East kept announcing that Obama’s grandmother and most of his family members in Kenya were Muslims.

His late maternal grandmother and half sister live in Hawaii.

Biggest claim

However, it is Kenyans who have laid the biggest and most elaborate claim to the first black US President.

His father Barack Obama Snr was born in Kogelo, Siaya District, Nyanza Province.

His late father’s community say Obama is a Luo by blood and therefore, their son.

For that they broke into wild celebrations when he was declared President-elect of the most powerful nation.


President Kibaki declared yesterday a public holiday to allow Kenyans celebrate the historic achievements of their “son”.

He addressed the nation live on national television exalting the virtues of Obama and not forgetting to say he had “Kenyan roots’’.

Early this year, Prime Minister Raila Odinga claimed Obama ‘was’ his cousin, according to Luo traditions.

From Africa, Asia, America to Europe to the Muslims and Christians, everybody claims a piece of Obama.

The US President-elect connects with the whole world and can be referred to as the global President.

Like Americans are wont to say, everybody wanted a piece of the Obama pie.

Led in polls

Every opinion poll from the leading pollsters Gallup to Cable News Network, indicated Obama was leading his Republican rival John McCain.

And when the final results began trickling in showing Obama in the lead, the world broke into celebrations.

With a global appeal, cutting across religious and racial biases, Obama was tipped for a landslide win.

Meanwhile, Japan’s opposition hopes it can emulate US President-elect Barack Obama’s victory with his promise of change.

Many Japanese voters, however, doubt their politicians have what it takes. Polls show many are weary of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, in power for the past 53 years.

Huge task

But the opposition Democrats, who share a name with Obama’s party, face an uphill battle to prove they can do a better job.

“Japan doesn’t have young and charismatic politicians like Obama who are calling for reform,” said 38-year-old Keishi Matsuoka.

Flagging support for Prime Minister Taro Aso and the LDP have not translated into a boost for the Democrats.

“If we had an election, I think most Japanese would be in a quandary,” Matsuoka said.


A Very Sirius Election


Edward Cardinal Egan is flanked by presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama at the Alfred Smith dinner, Waldorf Astoria Oct. 16, 2008. AP Photo by Andrew Theodorakis

Where you sit says a lot about where you stand at annual Al Smith dinner

Appropriately, Republican John McCain was seated to Edward Cardinal Egan’s right at Thursday night’s annual Al Smith Dinner – Democrat Barack Obama to his left.

Donning white tie and tails, they put aside political rancor to roast and toast each other with equal relish.

John McCain (L) and Barack Obama shake hands at Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, 16 Oct 2008

Obama, McCain speak at dinner hosted by New York’s Cardinal Egan

Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama were the featured guests at the Al Smith dinner in New York, the most highly publicized Catholic event of this year’s campaign season. Each of the candidates delivered a light-hearted speech at the annual dinner, and their banter drew international headlines. The event, hosted by Cardinal Edward Egan– who sat at the flanked by the presidential candidates– raised a record $5 million for Catholic Charities.

The Al Smith dinner celebrates the memory of former New York Governor Al Smith, the first Catholic to gain a major-party presidential nomination. Smith lost to Herbert Hoover in 1928. In 2004 the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, was not invited to attend, presumably because of his support for legal abortion. Obama, who is not Catholic, holds the same pro-abortion position.


Cardinal Egan looks admiringly upon Barack Obama

McCain, Obama Compete for Laughs at Traditional Political ‘Roast’

U.S. presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama took a lighthearted break from campaigning Thursday at a charity dinner in New York City. The Republican and Democratic party candidates poked fun at each other and at themselves before an audience including many of the nation’s leading political figures.


Cardinal Egan looks askance at John McCain as he reaches for Barack Obama’s hand

The Al Smith dinner honors a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for president 80 years ago and raises money for Catholic charities. The traditional gathering attracts politicians from all parties, and only humorous speeches are allowed.

“Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called him ‘that one.’ [laughter] My friends, he doesn’t mind at all,” McCain said. “In fact, he even has a pet name for me: George Bush.”

McCain said Obama “is an impressive fellow in many ways.”

“Political opponents can have a little trouble in seeing the best in each other, but I’ve had a few glimpses of this man at his best, and I admire his great skill, energy and determination,” McCain said.

Chinese activists tell of routine state detentions, torture, slavery, forced abortions and executions


Mobile execution vans used widely throughout the Communist state make executions more efficient and discreet.

China has made no clear and discernible improvement in prohibiting the use of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment including beatings, forced labour, detention in psychiatric hospitals and forced abortions.

Telegraph | Nov 8, 2008

By Richard Spencer in Beijing

china_death_penaltyChinese Human Rights Defenders, a coalition of lawyers, academics and activists from round the country, has grown in the shadows of state suppression in the last two years.

Its survival is a token of the courage of its members, who have been harassed, imprisoned and beaten as they taken up difficult cases and attempt to promote legal reform.

“Twenty years after China ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1988, all are routinely practiced by government personnel,” said the submission. It was just one of a number being put before a two-day hearing by the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva.


Torture panel presses China on detentions, deaths

It remains unclear whether the group’s survival so far is in spite of government attempts to target individual members, or because Beijing is bowing to international pressure to allow more space for home-grown activism.

china-execution1Members are also careful to work within the letter of the Chinese law and constitution when promoting their causes.

A number of activists were arrested and jailed in advance of the Olympic Games, including some with links to the group such as Hu Jia, who was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought last month.

But some concessions made during the Games, such as the lifting of internet blocks on the websites of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in Beijing, have remained in place.

The submission by the Chinese Human Rights Defenders contradicts in numerous places the Chinese government’s own report to the UN committee. This denies allegations that there is widespread use of torture and illegal detention, saying occasional cases of ill-treatment are the work of individual “bad apples” who are rooted out and punished.

“The extremely few cases of torture found in detention facilities are personal law-breaking acts towards detainees by a few keepers who failed to perform their duties properly,” the government’s version said.

The human rights group said: “Except for some progress in the promulgation of legislation and administrative documents, China has made no clear and discernible improvement in prohibiting the use of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

It went on to give detailed case studies of abuses including beatings, forced labour, detention in psychiatric hospitals and forced abortions.

Among the causes taken up by lawyers and others who are associated with the group are those of petitioners complaining to the government about forced eviction from their homes and land to make way for development.

chinawomanexecution778Many of these have been detained in so-called “black jails” – hostels used as illegal detention centres in Beijing for those who stage anti-government protests, while officials and police from their homes provinces arrive to return them home.

The government also denied the existence of such jails in their submission to the UN committee, despite widespread documentation of their use.

The UN committee is also considering evidence of the treatment of those detained during and after the protests and violence that broke out across Tibet in March this year.

Tibet support groups have supplied evidence of shootings of protesters and deaths in custody of Tibetans. The Chinese government response makes no reference to such claims, and refers only to deaths during the violence of March 14, when 18 people were killed by Tibetan rioters in the capital, Lhasa.

The incidents were not “parades and demonstrations”, it said.

FBI agent who inspired Martin Scorsese movie convicted of murder

New England Mob

Former FBI agent John Connolly listens to the testimony of his former boss, FBI supervisor John Morris in Miami, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008.

A former FBI agent who shielded one of America’s most notorious gangsters and inspired a Hollywood movie has been convicted of second-degree murder.

Telegraph | Nov 8, 2008

By Tom Leonard in New York

John Callahan, a casino executive with links to organised crime, was shot dead in 1982 after John Connolly warned Boston mobsters he might implicate them in other killings.

Connolly, who now faces life in prison, was the handler of two New England mobsters, James “Whitey” Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, who were FBI informants for three decades.

The scandal, in which Connolly protected them from prosecution for alleged murder and numerous other crimes in return for $235,000 (£150,000) in bribes, was considered one of the worst failures in the FBI’s history.

It spawned several books and inspired the main characters in the Oscar-winning Martin Scorsese film The Departed, in which Matt Damon played a corrupt Connolly-like police officer and Jack Nicholson was a Boston mobster chief modelled on Bulger, currently the FBI’s second most wanted man.

The film also echoed the Connolly affair in the character of an undercover policeman, played by Leonardo diCaprio, who joined Bulger’s gang.

However, in real life, the officer became a criminal and was jailed for 10 years.

Jurors deliberated for less than three days before delivering their verdict on Connolly following a two-month trial. He was acquitted of first degree murder and conspiracy, and will be sentenced in December.

Connolly, now 68, was already in jail after being convicted of racketeering charges.

The court heard how the bullet-ridden body of Mr Callahan, an accountant, was found in the boot of his Cadillac at Miami airport.

Defence lawyers had argued that the mobsters had already decided to kill Callahan and that Connolly was “caught in the middle” and simply did his job as an FBI handler.

“Him and other agents like him were the tip of the spear in the fight against the mafia,” said Manuel Casabielle, defending.

But various convicted mobsters including Flemmi and John Martorano, a hitman who killed Callahan, testified that Connolly went much further than his FBI role required.

They said he repeatedly tipped them off about possible “rats” in their own ranks that needed elimination. Prosecutors said at least two other men who were FBI informants died violently because of Connolly’s leaks.

The court heard that Callahan died after Connolly learnt his FBI colleagues were to question him. Connolly feared Callahan might reveal how he had persuaded the mobsters to kill a business rival, who they shot dead with a bullet between the eyes at a golf club.

“This wasn’t a mistake,” said Michael Von Zamft, prosecuting. Connolly “knew what he was doing each and every time he gave out information and somebody died,” he said.

A Connolly tip-off also helped Bulger escape arrest in 1995. A suspect in 19 murders, he is still on the run and the FBI recently increased its reward for him to $2 million.

He was last seen in Piccadilly Circus, London, in September 2002.

Tanzania’s macabre trade: albinos killed for body parts

Tanzanian albinos are living in terror following 30 murders in the east African nation by people apparently seeking their body parts for witchcraft, a campaigner said.

Telegraph | Nov 8, 2008

albinoTanzanian albinos are living in terror following 30 murders in the east African nation by people apparently seeking their body parts for witchcraft, a campaigner said.

The government says most of the killings happened in the last 10 months. The latest three occurred just after a rally held in Dar es Salaam last month to denounce the practice.

“Our biggest fear right now is the fear of living. If you leave work at night as an albino, you are unsure of reaching home safely. When you sleep, you are unsure of waking up in one piece,” Zihada Msembo, secretary general of the Tanzania Albino Society said.

“We marched, the president (Jakaya Kikwete) received us and we said ‘now we can have some peace’ and slept soundly that night. Next morning, we hear yet another albino was killed that very night.”

The government says most of the murders occurred in western Tanzania. Police have arrested 53 suspects.

The killers sell body parts such as arms, legs, hair, skin and genitals, according to police and albino groups.

Those involved in witchcraft, especially in mining and fishing industries, believe these will enrich them, President Kikwete said last month, calling it a “stupid belief.”

Local media have reported several incidents of victims left to bleed to death.

“They are cutting us up like chickens,” Msembo said.

Albinos lack pigment in their eyes, skin or hair, making their life difficult in Tanzania where there is plenty of sunshine and they are more susceptible to skin cancer and sun burns.

Tanzania has more than 200,000 albinos in its 40 million population.

Traditionally, midwives were known to kill albino babies, declare them stillborn and bury them secretly.

An increased number of deliveries in health centres has helped reduce the murders of albino babies, the government says.

Many other African societies shun albinos and treat them as if they bring misfortune or accuse them of being involved in witchcraft.

The latest killings have brought Tanzania – reputed for its relative stability in the region – unwanted international attention. It was the subject of a September resolution in the European Union parliament condemning the murders.

The macabre trade in Albino body parts has also spread to nation’s bordering Tanzania. Three albino murders have occurred in neighbouring Burundi this year. Officials say the assailants were killing at the behest of people in Tanzania.

Officials in eastern Burundi said that 24 albinos have fled their villages and gone into towns for fear of slaughter.

Nicodeme Gahimbare, a public prosecutor, said the government had arrested two suspects over the murders.

“The two who were arrested confessed to the crime and said they got 1 million Burundian francs ($840) from a Tanzanian seeking albino body parts”.

Financial summit ‘will reshape world’


“We have been meeting at a decisive moment for the world economy and the decisions we will make in the coming months will reshape our world for a decade or more.”

UK Press | Nov 8, 2008

Decisions taken on the global economy in the next few months will reshape the world for a decade or more, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

He was speaking as EU leaders set out their stall for sweeping financial reforms ahead of an international conference in the US next week.

A summit in Brussels said such reforms had to be endorsed at the crucial gathering in Washington on November 15 of the so-called G20 group of leading industrialised and emerging economies.

Only four of the EU nations – the UK, France, Italy, and Germany – are in the G20, but Friday’s summit was designed to ensure that anything the four sign up to in Washington is already backed by the other 23 EU leaders.

A statement said EU unity had helped with financial crisis responses so far and now it was time to reform the entire global financial system.

Before heading back to London Mr Brown told a press conference: “We have been meeting at a decisive moment for the world economy and the decisions we will make in the coming months will reshape our world for a decade or more.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called the summit, said nothing short of a new era of economic governance was needed – and he rejected German concerns that he was pushing for a European economic policy. “If by ‘economic governance’ you are saying that I am calling for a federal Europe, that is not what I’m saying,” Mr Sarkozy told journalists.

Meanwhile, Mr Brown is concerned that too much new power for the International Monetary Fund could undermine the sovereignty of national financial authorities.

The other niggle was over whether other EU countries should join the Washington talks, with Spain pressing hard to be included. That prompted the Czech republic to suggest its own place at the table – triggering Poland to demand to go too. But the disputes were pushed into the background in the interests of a united front.

The declaration stated: “The international summit on 15 November must pave the way for reform of the international financial system: Europe must play a major part in it.”