|THAI RIVALS MULL
COMPROMISE OFFER TO END CRISIS
red-shirted protesters and the embattled government on
Saturday deliberated over the first steps towards a peaceful
solution to their long-running deadlock.
The world community has urged both sides on Thailand’s
political divide to find a compromise, after two bouts of
clashes this month that have left 26 dead and hundreds
injured including demonstrators and security forces.
As fears grew of a crackdown to close down a vast “Red
Shirts” encampment in the heart of Bangkok, and end weeks of
crippling street rallies, the army chief said Friday that
the use of force was no solution to the crisis.
“The best thing is to create understanding among the
people. The army’s job now is to take care of the people,
and not allow Thais to attack each other,” General Anupong
Paojinda told a meeting of military top brass.
The Reds, who had been seeking snap elections to replace a
government they condemn as illegitimate, shortly after
softened their demands and said they would accept a
dissolution of parliament in 30 days.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who came to power in a
2008 parliamentary vote after a court removed allies of
ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a coup, was
noncommittal on the Reds’ offer.
“I am determined to solve the problem,” he told reporters
late Friday, adding that a political solution could not be
reached amid threats and intimidation.
Abhisit, who has been holed up in a military barracks
since last month because of the protests, added: “I have a
duty to solve the problem. If I can’t I should not be here.”
Red Shirt leaders on Saturday calmed their supporters, some
of whom were angry over the concessions.
“The new proposal does not mean we are retreating, in
political terms we are on the offensive because otherwise
the international community will put pressure on us,” Jaran
“If we shut down the door for negotiation it will be bad for
us,” he said, adding that foreign diplomats who met with the
Reds on Friday had urged them to find a solution to avoid a
Jaran said the military was reluctant to disperse the
rally - a manoeuvre that would likely cause huge casualties
- and that a crackdown would be shelved during the current
Other Reds leaders were irritated over Abhisit’s response to
their proposal, and said they would continue calling in
supporters from their stronghold in the country’s
impoverished and rural north.
“Don’t insult our Red Shirts’ olive branch, we offered a
compromise to avoid further loss of people’s lives,”
Kwanchai Praipana said at the protest camp that has
paralysed Thailand’s main retail district for three weeks.
“We can fight for one more year, don’t underestimate us, we
will have more people willing to come and join us at this
rally site,” he said.
Abhisit condemned fresh violence on Thursday that saw a
series of grenade blasts tear through a pro-government
rally, saying the attacks, which left one dead and scores
injured, “aimed to kill ordinary people”.
Tensions have been high since April 10 clashes, sparked by a
failed attempt to dislodge protesters from their original
rally base in Bangkok’s historic district, which triggered
clashes that killed 25 and injured 800. - (The Sydney
Battle to clear backlog as Europe
Airports across Europe began reopening Wednesday, six
days after ash from an Icelandic volcano forced the shutdown
of airspace and stranded thousands of passengers around the
world. The airspace over most of the United Kingdom,
Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Ireland, Sweden and Germany was
open again, air traffic authorities said.
The airport in Helsinki, Finland, was briefly open on
Wednesday but then closed again, airport officials said.
Second more powerful volcano to erupt
Despite grounding 100,000 flights across Europe,
battering a beleaguered airline industry, stranding hundreds
of thousands of travellers, disrupting schools and
businesses, and giving homes under flight paths their first
peace and quiet in decades, the current volcano eruption may
be only a teaser of chaos to come.
A far bigger Icelandic volcano, Katla, is tipped to erupt in
the coming months, potentially causing much more savage and
sustained disruption to industry and society.
Eyjafjallajokull erupted on April 14, forcing European
governments to impose a no-fly zone. Each time
Eyjafjallajokull has erupted in the past 2,000 years – in
920, in 1612 and between 1821 and 1823 – Katla has exploded
within six months.
“I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if Katla erupted within
the next year, but how much it affects Britain and northern
Europe depends on what happens with the winds at the time,”
the volcanologist Bill McGuire told The Independent.
Colourful but deadly protests in
Thailand has been gripped by dozens of protests in the last
few weeks. It is quite literally a colourful affair. The
anti-government protestors are called “Red Shirts” for the
name implies the colour of the shirts they wear in protest.
In contrast, the pro- government demonstrators who have now
organised their own protest against the Red shirts are
called “Yellow Shirts”. Adding some more colour to the
protest are the “Rainbow Shirts”, a group of demonstrators
who are protesting against both the Red and Yellow.
This week thousands of anti-government protesters once
again brought Thailand’s capital Bangkok to a standstill, as
they sought to unseat Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva who
they say is illegitimate and undemocratic. The Red Shits
support Thaksin Shinawatra, who was prime minister from 2001
to 2006, before he was ousted in a bloodless coup. After his
removal, he continued to play a role in Thai politics - even
from outside of the Southeast Asian nation.
A deadly turn
Anti-government demonstrators offered to call off protests
that have crippled the Thai holding out the prospect of a
peaceful solution to the country’s protracted crisis. Red
Shirt leader Veera Musikapong has stated that, if the
government dissolves parliament in 30 days and calls
elections 60 days after that, the protesters will go home.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of
emergency on April 7, hours after anti-government
demonstrators stormed the country’s parliament. On April 10
the clashes between the Red Shirts and the military took a
deadly turn which led to the deaths of more than two dozen
demonstrators and military forces.
Veera Musikapong demands that the government set up an
independent committee to investigate the killings on April
10 and stop all aggressive actions against the Red Shirts.
The coloured shirts revolution, if it maybe called that,
started with the Yellow Shirts who had been protesting
against Prime Misniter Thaksin Shinawatra ever since a
government that was considered loyal to him came to power in
2006. Those protesters donned yellow shirts (the colour of
the king) and occupied the two main airports in Bangkok,
until finally the pro-Thaksin government was brought down by
a court ruling. In revenge, Thaksin’s supporters copied the
yellow shirt tactics and took to the streets in red shirts.
Thai Yellow-Shirt protesters have given the government a
week to end a political crisis or face mass action. The
Yellow-Shirts, or Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy (PAD), are
a loose grouping of royalists, businessmen and the urban
middle class. They oppose the pro-Thaksin, mainly poor and
rural, red-shirt protesters. The yellow-shirts have been
largely low-profile since the latest red-shirt protests
began but in 2008 they staged a week-long blockade of
airports that stranded hundreds of thousands of tourists.
Looming civil war
Some diplomatic and media and analysts fear that a civil war
may be looming in Thailand, with another group called the
“multi-coloured shirts” also known as the Rainbow Shirts
joining the fray. They are displeased with the disruption
caused by the red shirt protests. They are generally
middle-class city dwellers. They are not pro- or
anti-government, they simply want the government to shut
down the Reds to end the violence and interruptions to daily
life. The Red and multi-coloured shirts have clashed in
Silom Road, Bangkok’s business and financial district.
There have been serious implications due to weeks of
protests in the capital Bangkok. Thailand’s vital tourists
industry seems not to have suffered a devastating effect but
if the protests continue it will no doubt deter the 3
million plus tourists that visit the country. Hotel
occupancy rates in the Thai capital have fallen to 40 to 50
percent. However, business associations said hotel occupancy
rates elsewhere in the country, in Phuket and Pattaya for
instance are at around 90 percent due to tourists diverting
to other locations. Other businesses have taken a direct hit
due to the instability in the country. The closure of four
popular shopping malls in central Bangkok due to the ongoing
political unrest in the city may cost businesses there some
US$30 million in losses a day. The stock market has also
shown strains due to the uncertainty prevailing.
Crisis needs a political solution
Thailand is not a country that is unfamiliar with military
coups. The country has had 18 coups in the past 77 years.
This time around the army may not be hasty to intervene in
the political turmoil, since it prefers to keep the current
prime minister in power. Despite potentially dangerous
splits within the military’s ranks, and a bloody but futile
attempt to put down a stubborn and provocative
anti-government movement, most analysts say a coup is not on
the horizon, at least not yet. They say the army might be
lukewarm about Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who came to
power in December 2008 after the army brokered a deal in
parliament, but as long as he stands firm against the
red-shirted supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra,
a coup will not be necessary. The military itself has been
split by the protesters making it complicated to assume
where their true loyalty lies. Analysts say that large
numbers of soldiers of lower ranks and some senior officers
have long sympathised with the mostly rural and
working-class “Red Shirt” while a greater number of the
military’s top brass are at the other end of the political
spectrum, allied with royalists, business elites and the
urban middle classes who wear yellow at counter-protests and
broadly back the 16-month-old government. Thai media
reported that army and government sources as saying that the
Red Shirts had received arms and support last week from a
rogue military faction that includes retired officers allied
to former premier Shinawatra. Army chief Gen. Anupong
Paojinda, a moderate who retires in September, said on
Monday the crisis needs a political solution and called for
the dissolution of parliament to clear the way for
elections. But royalists in the army are not ruling out a
coup. In the midst of the chaos Thailand’s 82-year-old King
Bhumibol Adulyadej has been in hospital since September,
adding another element of uncertainty. The revered monarch
would have or else been an arbiter in the dispute.
What started as spontaneous anti-government protests have
now turned deadly and even threaten a civil conflict between
many antagonists. The Thai economy will also suffer in the
short to medium-term if the conflict is not resolved soon.
With a military coup not being ruled out uncertainty is sure
to continue plunging this nation further into crisis.
News in brief
At least 61 dead in Iraq bombings
A wave of bombings targeting Shiites, a market in Baghdad
and a neighbourhood in Anbar province killed at least 61
people and wounded more than 100 others Friday, police said.
The strikes conjured memories of the bloodshed that once
engulfed both the capital city and the vast province every
No one has claimed responsibility for the string of attacks,
but authorities believe that such coordinated bombings bear
the hallmarks of al Qaeda in Iraq.
The bombings come days after Iraqi and U.S. officials
announced that they had killed the two most wanted al Qaeda
leaders in the country. Although the deaths hurt the
insurgents, military officials don’t discount insurgents’
continued ability to carry out attacks. (CNN)
Mumbai’s Oberoi hotel reopens after 2008 attack
The Oberoi hotel, one of the best-known landmarks in Mumbai,
is due to reopen - 18 months after being badly damaged when
militants stormed the Indian city.
Nearly 170 people died in the attack, more than 30 of them
Oberoi staff and guests of the luxury hotel.
Every room was destroyed as the gunmen rampaged through the
hotel, firing indiscriminately and setting off explosions.
The hotel has now been refurbished at a cost of $35m (£23m).
In the Oberoi hotel, the finishing touches are now being
put, the BBC’s Ben Richardson in Mumbai says. . - (BBC News)
Vatican rejects US lawsuit against Pope
The Vatican says a lawsuit brought against Pope Benedict and
two Church officials by a US man who says he was abused by a
priest is “without merit”.
Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Lena said the lawsuit, filed in a
Milwaukee court, “rehashes old theories already rejected by
Lawyers for the alleged victim want the Church to release
any files it has on sexual abuse cases involving priests. -
Search for missing calls off in oil rig fire in Gulf
The Coast Guard on Friday called off its search for 11
workers missing since an explosion on an oil rig this week
off the Louisiana coast.
Rear Adm. Mary Landry said crews had spent three days
searching a large area surrounding the rig but could not
find the missing workers.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) called Friday for a congressional
investigation of safety practices at offshore oil rigs,
saying the Tuesday explosion “shows we need to be asking a
lot more tough questions of big oil.” Nelson has led
opposition in the Senate to offshore drilling.
A federal agency that oversees offshore oil drilling has
grown so concerned about the number of related deaths and
injuries that it was moving to impose new safety rules even
before the explosion. A Minerals Management Service review
published last year found 41 deaths and 302 injuries in
1,443 accidents, the majority caused by human error and
operational and maintenance problems. (Washington Post)
Is the Earth striking back?
Alan Weisman is the author of “The World Without Us,” an
international bestseller now in 33 languages. It was named
the Best Nonfiction Book of 2007 by both Time magazine and
Entertainment Weekly, the No.1 Nonfiction Audiobook of 2007
by iTunes, and a finalist for the National Book Critics
Circle Award in nonfiction
One endless June afternoon a decade ago, I drove along
southern Iceland’s Highway One, past the weak spot in the
planetary crust whose rupture recently brought air traffic
in Europe to an ashen standstill.
It was summer solstice, a day when the sun lolled at the
horizon but never set, turning to crimson the basalt cliffs
that face the Atlantic. From countless crags along their
length gushed great arcs of water, pressured from above by a
weight draped over a hundred square kilometres like a huge
slab of white cake frosting: the 200-metre-thick
Between the coastal cliffs and the ice lay a band of
green slopes, five kilometers wide, interspersed with fjords
and valleys that held clusters of farmhouses and barns with
red metal roofs, their shining silos and occasional church
steeples pointed toward the immense glacier hovering
The air, brilliantly clear, resounded with terns,
orange-billed oystercatchers, petrels, whimbrels and musical
wagtails. At 8 in the evening, farmers in overalls were
still out haying, their pale hair aflame in the suspended
daylight. I saw a string of 10 riders on buckskin and dun
mounts, forelegs lifted in the extra-high gait unique to
Icelandic horses, making them appear to be swimming through
the deep green ribbon at the glacier’s edge.
That extended, gilded moment was as perfect a definition
of beauty on Earth as I have known. It remains indelible,
even though over the past week, much of what I saw was swept
away as Eyjafjallajokull’s erupting volcano melted a gaping
hole in its ice cap, flooding what lay below.
A big clue as to why that happened can be found an hour’s
drive to the west, halfway between Eyjafjallajokull and
Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, in a broad valley with a sharp
cleft down its middle. That place, Thingvellir, is so famous
in Icelandic history that practically no signs announce it,
because everyone knows what and where it is.
In A.D. 930, more than a thousand years after the decline
of ancient Greece, Thingvellir was where Western democracy
was reborn. By coincidence - or maybe not -- the spot where
the Norsk settlers who made up the island’s infant society
chose to convene their first parliament is one of the few
places on the Earth’s surface where thegeologic action that
defines our planet’s land and seas is visible.
Here, astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the North American and
Eurasian plates pull away from each other. Perhaps 20
million years ago, this wrenching forced an upwelling of hot
rock to rise through the ocean, and Iceland was formed.
Thingvellir’s rift valley floor is scored with cracks and
fissures; at one point, a lava escarpment that is the
eastern edge of North America towers 30 meters higher than
the western edge of Europe. The continents are currently
recoiling from each other at a clip of two centimetres per
year, a process that daily releases clouds of geothermic
steam and sends geysers skyward - and, sometimes, molten
magma and volcanic ash.
Of course, the farmers who gathered in this shattered young
landscape more than a millennium ago to lay down terms for
civilisation had no inkling that to the west lay an entire
New World, where their democratic example would one day be
magnified until it forged the philosophical basis for the
most powerful country the planet has ever seen.
Both Iceland and the United States exalt democracy as a
social achievement worthy of lasting an eternity. Yet the
latter’s unprecedented strength has derived not just from
enlightened government, but from the release of its own hot
clouds: exhaust from its vast industries, fleets and
As we have learned, these gases form an invisible barrier
that, like a greenhouse’s glass ceiling, keeps reflected
heat of the sun from escaping our atmosphere. The denser
that gaseous barrier grows, the hotter things get and the
faster glaciers melt.
As they flow off the land, we are warned, seas rise. Yet
something else is lately worrying geologists: the likelihood
that the Earth’s crust, relieved of so much formidable
weight of ice borne for many thousands of years, has begun
to stretch and rebound.
As it does, a volcano awakens in Iceland (with another,
larger and adjacent to still-erupting Eyjafjallajokull,
threatening to detonate next). The Earth shudders in Haiti.
Then Chile. Then western China. Mexicali-Calexico. The
Solomon Islands. Spain. New Guinea. And those are just the
big ones, 6+ on the Richter scale, and just in 2010. And
it’s only April.
It’s looking like this may be a long decade. And if we
don’t pull carbon out of the way we energise our lives soon,
a small clump of our not-too-distant surviving descendants
may find themselves, as Gaia scientist James Lovelock has
direly predicted, like the first Icelanders: gathered on
some near-barren hunk of rock near one of the
still-habitable poles, trying yet anew to eke out a plan for
human civilisation. - (CNN)
|Barak urges end to occupation
Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, has said that his
country must recognise that the world will not put up with
decades more of Israeli rule over the Palestinian people.
Speaking to Israel Radio on Israel’s Memorial Day on Monday,
Barak acknowledged that there was no way forward in
negotiations with the Palestinians other than to meet their
aspirations for a state of their own.
“The world is not willing to accept - and we will not change
that in 2010 - the expectation that Israel will rule another
people for decades more,” he said.
“It is something that does not exist anywhere else in the
“There is no other way, whether you like it or not, than to
let the Palestinians rule themselves.”
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been
stalled since Israeli forces launched a 22-day offensive in
the Gaza Strip in December 2008.
Barak heads the Labour Party, the most moderate member of
the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime
minister, and it was not clear if his remarks were his
personal opinion or reflecting a changing attitude within
He said that Netanyahu’s government had “done things that
did not come naturally to it”, such as adopting the vision
of two states for two peoples and curtailing settlement
“But we also should not delude ourselves. The growing
alienation between us and the United States is not good for
the state of Israel,” he said.
Washington and its long-time ally have been at odds in
recent months over Israel’s continuing settlement
construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Barack Obama, the US president, recently issued a
pessimistic assessment of peacemaking prospects, saying that
his country could not force its will on the Israelis and
Palestinians if they were not interested in making
The Israeli defence minister said that the way to narrow
the gap with the US was to embark on a diplomatic initiative
“that does not shy from dealing with all the core issues”
dividing Israelis and Palestinians.
Chief among these are the status of Jerusalem, final borders
and a solution for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Middle
Meanwhile, in an interview Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning
America”, Netanyahu sound to minimise differences with the
US and said he would not accept Palestinian demands that
Israel stop building in predominantly-Arab East Jerusalem.
He said that the US and Israel “have some outstanding
issues. We are trying to resolve them through diplomatic
channels in the best way that we can”.
Later on Monday, Netanyahu told the audience at the national
cemetery that Israel is eager for peace, but is ready to
confront its enemies.
“We extend one hand in peace to all our neighbours who
wish for peace. Our other hand grasps the sword of David in
order to defend our people against those who seek to kill
us,” he said.
Israel’s Memorial Day, which is dedicated to the nearly
23,000 fallen soldiers and civilian victims of attacks, is
observed with a two-minute nationwide siren when people
stand at attention, traffic is halted and everyday
activities come briefly to a standstill.
At sundown on Monday, the sombre Memorial Day will switch to
Israel’s 62nd Independence Day celebrations. - (Al-Jazeera)
|Belgium considers ban on burqa
The latest round in the battle of the burqa kicks off
Thursday in Belgium, which could become the first country in
Europe to ban face coverings worn by observant Muslim women.
Lawmakers are considering a ban in all public places on
niqabs, veils that cover the face, as well as burqas, which
cover the face and everything else from head to toe.
They’re motivated both by security and morality, they say.
“We think all people in public places must show their face,”
says Denis Ducarme. And, he says, “We must defend our values
in the question of the freedom and the dignity of the
His liberal Reformist Movement drafted the legislation, and
claims broad cross-party support.
Ducarme denies that Islam requires women to wear burqas or
“The majority of Muslims in Belgium and Europe don’t accept
the burqa, don’t accept the niqab. It’s only 10 percent who
are radical,” he says, blaming trends from Pakistan and
Afghanistan for encouraging facial covering.
And he rejects the suggestion that the proposed ban
smacks of intolerance, saying it is the burqa - and the
Islamist movement - that are truly intolerant and dangerous.
He estimates that 300 to 400 women in the country wear the
niqab or the burqa.
Belgium is home to about 281,000 Muslims, the Pew Forum on
Religion and Public Life estimates. That would make the
country about 3 percent Muslim.
Abdullah Bastin, a Muslim political leader in Belgium, warns
that the legislation could have an effect exactly opposite
from what it intends. Today only a few women wear the burqa,
he says, but if the law is enacted, thousands will wear it
as an angry reaction.
He dismisses the idea that the law is designed to protect
women’s rights. This isn’t protecting their dignity, it’s
colonialism, he argues.
One town in Belgium banned the burqa six years ago.
Jan Creemers, the mayor of the tiny picture-postcard city of
Maaseik, says it was no problem to enforce the ban: “I had
always the support of the Moroccan community here in
Some fines were handed out, he says. None were paid, but no
one wears a veil in Maaseik today, he says.
Amnesty International warned Wednesday that the bill would
break international law.
“A general ban on the wearing of full face veils would
violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of
those women who choose to express their identity or beliefs
in this way,” said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s
interim secretary general.
“Women must not be compelled to wear a headscarf or veil,
either by the state or by individuals; and it is wrong for
them to be prohibited by law from wearing it,” Cordone said
in a written statement.
Belgium is not the only country considering banning the
burqa. France said Tuesday that it would shortly be putting
a similar draft law before Parliament.
“Face-covering veils must be totally forbidden in the whole
public space because women’s dignity is not divisible,” said
Luc Chatel, a spokesman for the French government. “The
second principle, of course, everything must be done so that
no one feels stigmatised because of one’s faith and
religion. The president of the republic and the prime
minister have asked the members of government to work hard
on this point.”
He said the government will seek to avoid a partisan
approach to the legislation, and will consult with all
political groups “and of course, moral and religious
A panel of French lawmakers recommended a ban in January.
France denied citizenship to a man a week later because he
made his wife wear a veil, and denied a woman citizenship in
2008 because she wore a burqa. The country’s constitution
fiercely guards the secularity of the state. - (CNN)