Starting today, and continuing as often as I have the opportunity, a series of
daylogs about news from around the world. I'll be including some comment - I'd like
to pre-empt any criticism that I'm representing my opinions as facts. I'll do my
best to make it clear when I'm reporting what's happened, and when I'm sounding off.
All newspapers have opinion columns, after all.
Here is the news:
This morning, the BBC news reported that pressure was growing on Iraq to
re-admit United Nations Weapons Inspectors. According to its foreign minister
Prince Saud al-Faisal, the government of Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow
United States forces to use its military bases in the event of an invasion. In the
1991 Gulf War, Saudi Arabia was a major staging area for allied offensives into
south-western Iraq. Combined with the recent extensive bombing of an Iraqi military
site in the west of the country, the Saudi government's support represents a
significant strategic advantage for the USA, should an invasion be staged. However,
this statement appears only to apply to an attack on Iraq sanctioned by the UN,
and the Saudi government's opposition to the Bush administration's policy of
'regime change' remains unaffected. The International Herald
Tribune reports today that the Iraqi people appear to believe their
government should admit the weapons inspectors and avert a war. This reflects the
view of the Arab League as well, whose foreign ministers this weekend called for President Saddam to re-admit the inspectors.
The war against terror may at last have produced concrete results, with the
arrest last week of one Ramzi Binalshibh, who is said to have been a member of the al-Qaida cell in Hamburg, which also produced 'chief hijacker' Mohammed Atta. Binalshibh was arrested, and is being interrogated, in Karachi, Pakistan, where officials say they have also captured another senior al-Qaida member. The second man has not been identified, but is rumoured (in today's Guardian) to be Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is wanted in connection with a plot in 1995 to bomb US-owned jet aircraft over the Pacific, and who is thought to have been one of the planners of the September 11 atrocities. Both men featured in the video screened last week by al-Jazeera television, in which they were interviewed and spoke of their plans for the attacks on America. A third suspected terrorist, Omar al-Faruq, held in Afghanistan following his arrest three months ago in Indonesia, is reported by Time magazine to have confessed to being al-Qaida's top man in south-east Asia.
Swedish prime minister Göran Persson is claiming victory for his socialist party and their allies in the country's general election. Exit polls show Mr Persson's party with an unexpectedly strong lead after what has been a very closely-fought campaign.
Germany's elections, on the other hand, are becoming more and more
controversial. With just a week to go until polling day, the Sunday newpaper
Bild am Sonntag published an interview with the chief returning
officer, Johann Hahlen, who said he had encountered a number of websites which
offered cash to cynical young voters in exchange for their votes. Vote trading is
illegal under German law, with a maximum jail sentence of five years.
Nevertheless, sites like the Kiel-based cashvote.com are offering €10 per
vote. A recent survey suggests that one in seven Germans would happily sell their
votes for less than €500. Ebay has recently withdrawn a number of lots which
turned out to consist of German votes.
In UK news, the Environment Agency today announced that in order to meet
European Union waste disposal regulations in 2004, some 200 landfill sites
across the country are to be reclassified, restricting them to hazardous waste only.
This will mean that all the rubbish dumped at the selected locations will be
material such as asbestos, and assorted biohazards and other nasties. As I
already live close to one of the non-military sites cleared for all forms of waste
up to low-grade nuclear material, I'm only glad that the issue of waste disposal is
becoming more current.
Rant: British Home Secretary David Blunkett has been criticised for apparently
encouraging British Asian families to speak English at home. The suggestion, made in
an essay published by the Foreign Policy Centre thinktank, was perhaps more
insensitive in its own use of the English language than in its essential message.
Blunkett encourages the move to counteract the 'schizophrenia which bedevils
generational relationships'. Apart from being very hard to pronounce, does this
expression show that Mr Blunkett (1) still can't distinguish schizophrenia from
multiple personality disorder and (2) thinks it appropriate to use mental illness
as a metaphor when discussing the family lives of Britain's ethnic minorities?
Statistics show that some thirty percent of British Asian households do not employ
English. It might be more encouraging if Mr Blunkett's colleagues at the Department
for Education and Skills encouraged British families (of any ethnicity) to use more
than one language at home, as a learning tool. The British are said to be second in
Europe only to the Italians for not learning the languages of other nations.
The BBC is reconsidering its decision to publish the autobiography of
entertainer Michael Barrymore. Barrymore is currently in the spotlight over the
case of one Stuart Lubbock, who was found dead in the swimming pool of Barrymore's
house. Evidence suggests that Mr Lubbock had consumed large quantities of alcohol,
as well as cocaine, and that he had been the victim of a vicious sexual assault. Mr Lubbock's family accuse
Barrymore, and by implication the BBC, of cynically cashing in on the media furore
surrounding the inquiry into his death to publicise the 'warts and all'
biography. Update: It is reported this evening that Barrymore may face charges of perjury for having said at the inquest that he couldn't swim, when he can. It seems strange that when a man has been sexually assaulted and apparently killed, a charge for rape or murder is not being considered against anyone, despite the abundance of suspects and potential witnesses, but there is enough time and money to produce such a trivial perjury case.
Channel 5, the British terrestrial TV station which has been regarded since its
creation five years ago as a tabloid channel, obsessed with celebrities, sex and
'true crime' features, is re-launched and re-branded today. The channel has
already been moving upmarket with a successful series of more intellectual
programmes on history and art. Today sees the disappearance of the '5' logo or 'bug'
from the channel's programmes, which is likely to be a very popular move. New
idents have been comissioned using the word 'five' (all in modish lower case).
Another part of the channel's push upmarket is a series of partnerships with museums
such as the British Museum to publicise their collections.
Professor John Picton, of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
at the University of London has disclosed that a bronze head, thought to be a
replica of one from Benin, presented to the Queen in 1973, is in fact a
400-year-old original. General Yakuba Gowon, President of Nigeria, took the
bronze from the national museum in Lagos to present to the UK as a gift in
gratitude for help during the Biafran civil war. He had comissioned a replica,
but was unsatisfied with the result and obtained the original at the last minute.
Dr Ekpo Eyo, curator of the national museum, was able to conceal a few of the most
valuable items from the general, but was unable to prevent what he saw as the
improper use of national treasures. The revelation came after Martin Bailey, a
journalist for the Art Newspaper, saw the item on display in
Buckingham Palace's exhibition of gifts to the Queen, and checked with SOAS to
find out if it was genuine. Professor Picton was deputy director of antiquities in
Lagos at the time of the head's removal, and was able to tell all. The news will be
embarassing to the Nigerian government, which is campaigning for the return of
similar bronzes looted by British troops in 1897 and presently held in the
British Museum. The BM had already had its share of humiliation in the debate when
it was revealed that, contrary to its 'no disposal' policy, it had sold bronzes from
the collection in the 1970s.