Saturday, January 16, 2010

A story from Haiti - Haiti earthquake survivors get more food and water...

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Precious water, food and early glimmers of hope began reaching parched and hungry earthquake survivors Saturday on the streets of the ruined Haitian capital, but the island's despair threatened to spark a frenzy in places.

"People are so desperate for food that they are going crazy," said accountant Henry Ounche, standing in a crowd of hundreds who fought one another as U.S. military helicopters clattered overhead carrying aid.

Across the hilly, steamy city, people choked on the stench of death, and hope faded by the hour for finding many more victims alive in the rubble, four days after Tuesday's catastrophic earthquake.

Still, here and there, the murmur of buried victims spurred rescue crews on, even as aftershocks threatened to finish off crumbling buildings.

"No one's alive in there," a woman sobbed outside the wrecked Montana Hotel.

But hope wouldn't die. "We can hear a survivor!" search crew chief Alexander Luque of Namibia later reported. His men dug on.

Nobody knew how many were dead. In a fresh estimate, the Pan American Health Organization said 50,000 to 100,000 people perished in the quake. Haiti's prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, told The Associated Press that 100,000 would "seem to be the minimum." Truckloads of corpses were being trundled to mass graves.

A U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman declared the quake the worst disaster the international organization has ever faced, since so much government and U.N. capacity in the country was demolished. In that way, Elisabeth Byrs said in Geneva, it's worse than the cataclysmic Asian tsunami of 2004: "Everything is damaged."

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Acknowledgements: Associated Press

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Paranoic Fiji military regime bans Methodist church conference until 2014...

The self-appointed ruler of Fiji, Commodore Frank Bainimarama and his military-led government banned the country’s powerful Methodist Church on Wednesday from holding their annual conference until 2014, paranoically accusing church ministers of spying on the nation’s military for the government ousted in a 2006 coup.

Wednesday’s move follows a similar ban last May on the 2009 conference and the arrest of eight senior Methodist leaders after the regime accused them of pursuing a political agenda to destabilize the government.

The government also accused the church of being in breach of the regime’s Public Emergency Regulation that bans meetings and protests not approved by authorities.

The military regime, led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, illegally took power in this Pacific island nation in a bloodless coup in December 2006, ousting a democratically elected government. It tightened its grip on power last April, imposing a state of emergency, overturning the constitution, firing the judiciary and placing censors in newsrooms. New Zealand and Australian diplomats and media representatives have also been thrown out of Fiji, sometimes with only a few hours notice.

Scores of opponents have been arrested, questioned and eventually released with warnings to stop their criticism of the regime, which plans to hold democratic elections only in 2014 despite international calls for a swift return to civilian rule. Some local people have been killed or have gone missing. Many locals were ordered into the military barracks in Suva, where they were questioned and beaten by Bainimarama's thugs.

Bainimarama said Wednesday that Methodist Church officials had spied on the military before the 2006 coup. “Police have found that they were being paid as informers by the past government which indicated that politics was alive in the church,” he told reporters. “There will be no Methodist Church conference until 2014.”

There was no immediate response from the Methodist Church of Fiji, whose more than 200,000 members account for a quarter of the volatile South Pacific country’s population, and which strongly opposes Bainimarama’s regime.

The latest action comes just a day after Fiji and New Zealand agreed to begin a thaw of frosty relations by appointing senior diplomats to some of the posts in their capitals left empty by expulsions over the past 18 months.

Also Wednesday, the regime said pension payments to former Fiji civil servants who do not support the government will be stopped from this week.

“We will stop pension payments to all those who speak against the government or all citizens seen to halt government’s work on moving the country forward,” said the permanent secretary for information, Lt. Col. Neumi Leweni.

A decree stopping such pension payments was passed by Cabinet last week “to change the mindset of people who were against the government,” he said.

Bainimarama said he knew of a few people who were working with “some of our development partners, our international friends and some sections of the media to undermine the efforts of government.”

"Those people were spreading wrong information about Fiji and what was happening in Fiji," he said. Bainimarama continues to condemn the New Zealand and Australia governments for their stance against the illegal regime.

Acknowledgements: AP

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chinese Government hackers accessing human rights activists emails could force Google from China...

Google Inc. will stop censoring its search results in China and may pull out of the country after discovering that computers hackers had tricked human rights activists into opening their e-mail accounts to outsiders.

The change-of-heart announced Tuesday heralds a major shift for Google, which has repeatedly said it will obey Chinese laws that require some politically and socially sensitive issues to be blocked from search results that are available in other countries

Google disclosed in a blog post that it had detected a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China." Further investigation revealed that "a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists," Google said in the post written by Chief Legal Officer David Drummond.

Google did not specifically accuse the Chinese government. But the company added that it is "no longer willing to continue censoring our results" on its Chinese search engine, as the government requires. Google says the decision could force it to shut down its Chinese site and its offices in the country.

It's unclear how much of a blow to its business Google would suffer by pulling out of China. The country has the world's largest population of Internet users but research firm Analysys International said last year that handled 62 percent of Web searches in China compared with 29 percent for Google.

Clothilde Le Coz, Washington director for Reporters Without Borders, called Google's willingness to stop censoring results a positive step, but added it doesn't necessarily mean more information will be available to the average Chinese person.

"The Chinese government is one of the most efficient in terms of censoring the Web," she said. The media watchdog group has long criticized Google and other Internet companies for caving to China's censorship regime.

A spokesman for the Chinese consulate in San Francisco had no immediate comment.

Google first agreed to censor search results in China in 2006 when it created a version of its search engine bearing China's Web suffix, ".cn." Previously, Chinese-language results had been available through the company's main site.

To obtain its Chinese license, Google agreed to omit Web content that the country's government found objectionable. At the time Google executives said they struggled with how to reconcile the censorship concessions with the company's motto of "don't be evil." By then Yahoo had come under fire for giving the Chinese government account information of a Chinese journalist who was later convicted for violating state secrecy laws.

Acknowledgemrnts: AP Technology Writers Barbara Ortutay in New York and Jessica Mintz in Seattle.

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