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April 30, 2005

Violent rioting, deaths follow disputed election in Togo

Violent rioting, deaths follow disputed election in Togo

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

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Immediately after the provisional election returns in the West African nation of Togo were given last Tuesday, violence and chaos erupted with security forces beating and shooting protesters, who object to the fairness of the Togolese elections and allege widespread fraud. Some of the opposition leaders who were targeted are said to have been unarmed or even found by security forces in their homes, and police have fought in fiery pitched battles against rioters for days, employing tear gas behind burning barricades. At least 40 Togolese citizens have been killed.

The elections were won by Faure Gnassingbé, son of the previous leader Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who held power in Togo for about 38 years before his death on February 5, 2005. The army appointed his son as his successor and the country’s leader, but regional opposition forced him to step down and seek free elections.

The preliminary count indicates that 60% of the vote went to Faure Gnassingbé, a 38-year-old Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Yale University and son of the former President. An additional 38% went to his chief opponent, 74-year-old Emmanual Bob-Akitani, who was endorsed by a six-party coalition and opposition leader Harry Olympio. Further violence is expected as the official vote tally and announcement of results comes within a few days.

“Just after the [preliminary] results were announced the red berets [commandos] went out into the streets and started shooting at the boys,” said Marthe, who fled to a U.N. refugee camp in Benin to escape the fighting. “They only shot at the boys. They ransacked shops and blamed the youths, who were unarmed,” she continued in her Reuters interview. More than 11,500 Togolese have fled from their country and taken up temporary residence in Benin and Ghana since the elections, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The opposition party claims that 100 people have been killed in the ongoing violence that passed through Lome and other villages. Togo’s Human Rights League has verified the deaths of at least 40, and the wounding of many others.

“Violence is not the way to deal with democracy,” said Mohammed Ibn Chambas, executive secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). “We think the way forward is for Togolese to use dialogue, and to sit down and negotiate.” ECOWAS has certified the elections as free from interference, a decision that some countries such as France have accepted, but the United States continues to question the fairness of the outcome.

Germany protested after its cultural center, the Goethe Institute, was burned down in Lomé. The Togolese government has accused Germany of aiding the opposition, and former interior minister Francois Boko (who was fired earlier for trying to postpone the election due to fears of violence) has sought refuge in the German embassy. Togo is a former German colony, but the official language of the country is French, since it was passed to Britain and France in 1918 and only gained its independence in 1960.

Gnassingbé has offered to form a new unity government, incorporating voices from the opposition, but their leaders turned down the offer, claiming that the election was fraudulent and stolen.

“If they refuse tomorrow, I hope that they will decide to join us the next day,” said Gnassingbé to France’s Le Monde in their Friday edition. “Reconciliation is a long process. You can’t jump overnight from a regime that lasted for 38 years to a new one,” he continued.

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Vindicated Thai GM activists face gaol all the same

Vindicated Thai GM activists face gaol all the same

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

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Two activists who helped identify a vagrant Genetically Modified (GM) crop of papaya, which was later confirmed and destroyed by Thai officials, now face prison over their actions, says Greenpeace.

“In July of 2004, [Journalist] Pat and [Ecology PhD] Jay took this story public when they acted as spokespersons for Greenpeace activists who sealed off GE papaya in experimental fields at the Khon Kaen research station — the source of GE papaya contamination in the region,” says a statement from the environmental awareness organisation.

“They were charged with theft, trespassing and destruction of property.”

“Instead of getting to the bottom of who precisely was responsible for the contamination, the very department that was responsible for the contamination decided to take legal action against Pat and Jay.”

Crop discovery and destruction

Papaya fruit

In September the government was reported as having located at least nine GM plants on farms near the research facility, in Khon Kaen and Ubon Ratchathani. Entire farm crops were destroyed to prevent the GM variety from spreading further, including those at research stations.

“Ten years of research aimed at improving disease resistance in papayas was destroyed, along with the experimental crops,” said Wilai Prasartsri to The Nation in Thailand when 1,000 suspected genetically modified papaya trees there were buried under 2 meters of soil. Prasartsri is the research station chief of Muang district, Khon Kaen.

Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Somsak Thepsuthin said at the time only GM crops were to be destroyed, out of 2,600 papaya crops sampled across Northeast Thailand. Papaya on the Khon Kaen farm were destroyed, and a control zone was set up within a 450metre radius of the GM contamination to prevent possible spread.

Director of state-funded non-government organisation, Bio-diversity and Community Rights Action Thailand [1], Withoon Lianchamroon pointed out that rather than carry out extensive testing to isolate GM crops, it would be cheaper to pay compensation to all 2,600 farmers and destroy all the papaya on their farms, because the cost of GMO testing – Bt1,600 (US$40) per sample – was prohibitive.

Two GM papaya strains are being developed in Thailand, according to Greenpeace: Khak Dam and Khak Nuan. The plants being grown in Thailand were genetically altered at Cornell University in the US, but details of the agreement were kept secret by the Thai government and Cornell, Greenpeace said. The group believed though, that a royalty fee was to be charged for commercial use of the plants showing the altered genetic code, which was designed to be resistant to ringspot virus.

Blame

Although the Network of Northeastern Alternative Agriculture has filed complaints of negligence against the Prime Minister and senior agriculture officials, calling on Khon Kaen police to launch a criminal investigation into how the crops had spread, Greenpeace claims that no charges have been laid against anyone except the two activists.

Mr Somsak has launched an internal investigation to determine how the GM papayas from the experimental fields leaked to taint local crops, while director-general of the Department of Agriculture (DOA), Chakan Saengraksawong, eager to begin further field trials, told The Nation, “We never sold the GM papaya seeds. If any official is found to have illegally sold the seeds he will surely face punishment.”

Mr Withoon alleged at the time that a cover-up of the extent of dissemination of the GM variety had occurred. Mr Somsak said that the problem was limited to the Khon Kaen farms, whereas Withoon suspected that many more seedlings had ‘escaped’, with the thousands of Ubon Ratchathani villagers having been given seedlings by state experimental farms.

Environmentalists pointed to the apparent lack of effectiveness of the Khon Kaen farm’s strong fences and round-the-clock security in preventing escape of the GM seedlings.

Status of GM in Thailand

Since 2001, Thailand has banned importation of GM organisms for commercial non-research purposes, until national regulations can be developed.

Exports to Europe were cancelled in the face of the discovery, affecting Thailand’s US$1 million, 3,000 ton papaya export market. The internal market of papaya in Thailand is a hundred times as large.

According to Mr Withoon, most Thai are against GM. Bumrung Kayothabut of the Network of Northeastern Alternative Agriculture, last year said the government was in the grip of multinational companies trying to dominate Thai agriculture through the promotion of GM crops.

Senator Niran Phitakwatchara linked pro-GM moves by the government to the Thailand-United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA); in the midst of the papaya escapade, the Thai government was reviewing its policy on GM crops, and being lobbied by the US biotech monolith, Monsanto — who, with Cornell, holds patents on the world’s only commercial GM papaya, SunUp, farmed in Hawaii.

Prime Minister Thaksin said on delaying of a decision on overturning the ban on GM crops, that the government needed more information. “People, including some scientists, still have no clear understanding of what GM crops really are,” he told The Nation. He added that bio-safety legislation was needed as a first step, before examining whether or not to allow GM crops, and denied that the FTA was influencing Thai policy-making.

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Two university students shot, killed in Cameroon strikes

Two university students shot, killed in Cameroon strikes

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

At least two university students have been shot and killed, and a third may have been mortally wounded after clashing with police at the University of Buea in the west-central African nation of Cameroon. The deaths come after sporadic confrontation between students and police during strikes that began last Wednesday, following by one week mostly peaceful strikes which began April 20 at another Cameroon university, Yaoundé One. A delegation of five students is said to have traveled from Yaoundé One to UB, instigating the strike at the second university.

The strikes at UB turned violent after the University Registrar, Herbert Nganjo Endeley, failed to calm the students. Police tried to disperse the students with tear gas, but were pelted by stones in retaliation. Chaos ensued, with the police also throwing stones, bludgeoning and separating the students, turning water cannons on them, raiding their residence hostels, and performing numerous arrests. The students responded by protesting, erecting barricades and destroying school property and vehicles. Several students and police were hospitalized during days of fighting.

The students were shot on Thursday in different incidents between 14:30 and 15:00 local time in Molyko — both were reported to be killed instantly. One student, Embwam Aloysius, a level 400 student of Environmental Science, received a bullet in the head, while the other student, Gilbert Nforlem, a masters degree Geology student, was shot in the chest. Local news reports indicate a female student may also have been killed, and claim that the students were shot by police. On Friday, speaking on state-run radio, Higher Education Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo called for an end to violence and said that “[President Paul Biya has requested a judicial enquiry to establish the exact cause of the deaths.”

UB, located in the town of Buea, South Province, is Cameroon’s only English-speaking university in a nation where French, English, and African languages are spoken. Yaoundé One is Cameroon’s largest university, located in the capital city of Yaoundé, which is shown in the above map. There are four other state-run universities in Cameroon.

Students at both universities are striking for better educational conditions. The students at UB are demanding an end to the annual school fees of 50,000 CFA Francs (US$99), reduction of school bureaucracy, and other amenities. According to the Post newspaper in Cameroon, “They want all courses offered during the re-sit, good toilets, more lecture halls, microphones in amphi-theatres; that amphi 750 should be changed to 650 because it lacks 100 seats. They also want to be offered good food at the University restaurant among others.”

Some commentators in the Post’s online forum expressed indignation at the deaths of the students and what they perceive as a lack of leadership by school officials, while others expressed sorrow at the loss of student lives and questioned whether the advantages they are bargaining for are really worth the price they have paid.

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Taiwan Kuomintang Party leader Lien Chan meets Hu Jintao in a historical visit to China

Filed under: Archived,China,Hu Jintao,Politics and conflicts,Taiwan — admin @ 5:00 am

Taiwan Kuomintang Party leader Lien Chan meets Hu Jintao in a historical visit to China

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Map showing relative locations and sizes of mainland China and the island of Taiwan (see lower right) Source: CIA World Factbook

Lien Chan, chairman of Chinese Kuomintang (KMT), the leading opposition party in Taiwan, met Hu Jintao, Communist Party of China General Secretary, in the Chinese People’s Hall in Beijing, China on Friday. Lien called his visit a step on the “historical bus” toward a “journey of peace”.

The week-long visit takes place 56 years after the KMT withdrawal from mainland China, and signals the end of hostilities between the KMT (or Nationalist Party) and CPC. From 1926 to 1949, the two parties were involved in a bloody civil war resulting in the Nationalist retreat to Taiwan upon their defeat in 1949.

This is the highest level exchange between the two parties since KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek and CPC leader Mao Zedong met in Chongqing at the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in August 1945. Chiang, then the Chinese head of state, and Mao, then a guerrila leader, tried to negotiate a truce at the meeting. The negotiations fails and all-out war soon ensued.

Lien called on the Taiwanese (ROC) government, led the independence-leaning President Chen Shui-bian, to follow his meeting with more efforts at peacemaking and suppression of the independence movement. “I believe the door has been opened,” said Lien. “How to walk towards a new future, towards a new outlook – I think the ruling party must shoulder this responsibility.”

“This is a historic meeting between the leaders of our two parties,” Hu said after the historic televised handshake with Lien on Friday marking the formal end of hostilities. “As long as both sides place importance on the interests of the Chinese nation, on the common prosperity of the compatriots on both sides of the strait, we will be able to overcome our differences.” Lien’s visit to mainland China was in part prompted by the mainland National People’s Congress’s recent passage of a law against the possible secession by Taiwan, including the possible use of “nonpeaceful means” which could imply military force, a move that has increased tension between their two countries.

Lien’s visit to mainland China was strongly opposed by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang, who expressed both “tears” and “rage” at the stance taken by Lien. Su said, “Lien has fully denied the development and the value of Taiwan’s democracy, but continued praised China… During Lien’s visit to China, we have seen that Lien took part in various banquets, shook hands with Chinese leaders and received gifts. But we didn’t see that Lien has strongly criticized China for passing the anti-secession law. Lien neither voiced opposition against China’s missiles targeting at Taiwan, nor did he oppose against China’s military threat against Taiwan.”

The agreements made by Lien will only take effect if ratified by Taiwan’s government (which is unlikely, since President Chen opposes the accord and favors Taiwanese independence), or if the Nationalists regain control of the government in future elections.

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Romanian government asks kidnappers to release female journalist

Romanian government asks kidnappers to release female journalist

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Romanian government has asked the Islamic terrorists who kidnapped three Romanian journalists in late March to release one of the journalists, Marie-Jeanne Ion, aged 30, who is the only female in the group. The government has confirmed that the three journalists are all still alive, even though the terrorists, who call themselves the Muadh ibn Jabal Brigades, stated that they would kill them by last Wednesday unless Romania withdraws its troops from Iraq.

Romanian Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu said that all efforts were being made to save the journalists. He said, “In principle, authorities are in contact with the kidnappers but I can’t say any more.”

The terrorists have until yet not responded to the government’s request to release Ion. Ion’s father, who is a senator from the Social Democratic Party, urged the Parliament to take a stand on the kidnappers’ demands. He said, “If we don’t take a stand, we will probably have a day of mourning that senators and deputies will remember.”

Romanian lawmakers have expressed solidarity with the families of the hostages, and passed a resolution calling on the government to inform the Parliament about any options being weighed for the hostages’ release. The document also requested that the Supreme Defense Council analyses the situation, as only the Council and the Romanian President, Traian Băsescu, have the right to decide on military withdrawal from Iraq.

Iraqi politicians offer support to Romania

Iraq’s new president, Jalal Talabani, told Romania’s ambassador to Baghdad that he was concerned about the fate of the Romanian journalists and promised that he would do everything in his power to help resolve the problem. Also, the Islamic Party of Iraq, which mainly consists of Sunni Muslims, made an appeal asking that the hostages be released.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly hosted a debate on the overall condition of journalists working in conflict zones such as Iraq. It also passed a resolution for international solidarity concerning the abduction of the three Romanian journalists.

Rallies continue in Bucharest and other cities

Rallies continued to occur in Bucharest in the past few days, with more than 1000 Romanians holding banners and demanding the freedom of the journalists. Some people also called for the withdrawal of Romanian troops from Iraq, yelling, “Troops out!” and waving banners saying, “It is not our war” and “Don’t let them die!”, alongside photos of the three journalists.

Many Romanians also prayed for the release of the journalists, especially since this weekend is Easter for those of Romanian Orthodox religion, which make up 86% of the population. Some of the demonstrators marched to Victoria Palace (Palatul Victoriei), the government headquarters, where they quietly prayed for the journalists. After nightfall, several Romanian Orthodox religious services were held, specifically for the release of the journalists.

However, members of Romania’s Arab and Kurdish immigrant communities also took part in the rallies, calling for the hostages’ freedom. Romania’s Kurdish community is mainly made up of refugees from Iraq and Turkey who have come to the country in the past few years.



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Pay-by-Plastic pumps up gas prices in U.S.

Pay-by-Plastic pumps up gas prices in U.S.

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Gas station gets an extreme make-over at the corners of Oaklawn Blvd. and Jefferson Davis Road.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Hopewell, Virginia — “People are not paying with cash anymore,” Alex Demir stressed when asked about rising gas prices. Increasingly, they opt to pay with plastic. The payment method involves no transaction fee, is safer than cash if lost or stolen, and is more convenient. The plastic Debit and Credit Cards also mean people, if they choose to, can pay at the pump and skip making the trip inside the station. No wonder its use is on the rise.

Demir is the owner-operator of the Shell gas station that changed over on Thursday from what used to be a Texaco. He expects pump prices to hit $2.50 a gallon before levelling and the sticker shock wears off.

Demir estimates he passes along in the form of higher gas prices a nickel per gallon due to the surcharge he incurs from processing electronic purchases. Each time a buyer uses plastic to make a payment, he submits the receipt to a bank to process for having the money credited into his account. The bank keeps 3% of the total amount of his transactions as a processing surcharge, or fee.

When the use of plastic was first gaining acceptance in the gas pumping business, people who used plastic paid a higher price, about 3 cents a gallon, when at the time gas cost about a dollar a gallon. Then advertising campaigns offering “Credit same as Cash” started, and changed the business standard to where now all stations charge the same, regardless of cash or plastic payment.

“The banks are making a lot of money on this,” Demir says. Now that the price of gas has more than doubled, the fees banks collect on processing these plastic transactions has more than doubled too. The entire transaction banks use to process these payments is electronic, involving hardly any labor at all. But the processing fee remains unchanged, which means a fat paycheck for banks.

Now maybe he and other gas stations will go back to offering a discount for cash. Processing plastic transactions is a variable cost to Demir over which he has no control when his pump prices are ‘Credit same as Cash”. The use of plastic directly affects his profit margin by the 3% processing fee.

When asked about high gas prices from suppliers, he dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand. “They control everything,” he said.

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Hitchhiker\’s Guide to the Galaxy movie in theaters

Filed under: Archived,Film,World — admin @ 5:00 am

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie in theaters

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

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Wikipedia has more about this subject:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (movie)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie based upon the popular book by Douglas Adams has been released. The movie was written by Douglas Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick, and stars Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent, Zooey Deschanel as Trillian, Mos Def as Ford Prefect and Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Release dates and ratings

The film is scheduled to for general release by Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group on different dates in different countries.

  • April 28, 2005: Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and United Kingdom (PG)
  • April 29, 2005: Canada and United States (PG for thematic elements, action, and mild language)
  • May 4, 2005: Iceland
  • May 5, 2005: Israel
  • May 6, 2005: Italy
  • June 1, 2005: Egypt and United Arab Emirates
  • June 2, 2005: Czech Republic, Singapore, and Thailand
  • June 3, 2005: Brazil, Latvia, and Switzerland (Italian-speaking)
  • June 9, 2005: Austria, Croatia, Germany, Switzerland (German-speaking)
  • June 10, 2005: Poland
  • June 16, 2005: Hungary
  • June 17, 2005: Turkey
  • June 23, 2005: Argentina and Slovenia
  • July 15, 2005: Estonia, and Taiwan
  • July 22, 2005: Finland
  • July 27, 2005: Sweden
  • August 4, 2005: Netherlands
  • August 12, 2005: Denmark and Norway
  • August 17, 2005: Belgium, France, and Switzerland (French-speaking)
  • August 25, 2005: Portugal
  • August 26, 2005: South Korea

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New drug from lizard\’s saliva

New drug from lizard’s saliva – Wikinews, the free news source

New drug from lizard’s saliva

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

A chemical part of the saliva of a poisonous lizard, the Gila monster, has become an integral partner in the control of Type 2 diabetes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved its use for people who have not achieved adequate control of their diabetes with oral medications.

Byetta, or exenatide, is produced by Amylin Pharmaceuticals. It is injected before eating morning and evening meals as part of a combination treatment with oral drugs. The FDA said it could be approved as a stand-alone treatment if the drug companies can support such use with data.

Eli Lilly & Co. was the development partner in creation of the drug.

“With Byetta’s demonstrated effects on blood sugar and its safety profile, physicians and patients now have a new approach to fight the growing diabetes epidemic,” said Sidney Taurel, CEO of Lilly.

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Privatisation of Romanian power distributor completed

Filed under: Archived,Economy and business,Europe,Romania — admin @ 5:00 am

Privatisation of Romanian power distributor completed

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Two branches of Romanian electricity distributor Electrica SA were privatised on Thursday, after Italian power producer Enel bought 51% of the shares in the Electrica Banat and Electrica Dobrogea branches of the previously fully-state-owned company. The transaction had a value of 112 million euro, which included the acquisition of stocks and the increase in social capital of the two branches.

The privatisation ceremony was attended by Codruţ Sereş, the Romanian Minister of Economy and Commerce, as well as Claudio Scazola, the Italian Minister for Productive Activities, alongside Pierro Gnudi, the President of Enel.

Electrica Banat and Electrica Dobrogea supply the Romanian regions of Banat and Dobrogea, which are situated in southwestern Romania, and southeastern Romania, respectively. The two branches account for 19% of Romania’s total power supply. After the Enel takeover, Electrica SA, which is state-owned, will still own 49% of the stocks in the company.

The Electrica Banat and Dobrogea privatisation is the latest in a series of recent privatisations by the Romanian government. The new Romanian government, sworn in on December 2004 and headed by Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu, is particularly keen on free-market reforms and a faster pace of privatisation.

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Pay-by-Plastic pumps up gas prices/Notes

Filed under: Archived,Economy and business — admin @ 5:00 am

Pay-by-Plastic pumps up gas prices/Notes

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

The first thing to catch my eye when I approached what used to be a Texeco gas station, was a guy up in a man-lift beside the pump price sign. Seeing heavy equipment being used to change what I thought were the gas prices, I thought, “Gawds, these prices are getting out of hand!”

After stopping in later and talking with the owner, I was impressed by how elated he was on the subject of bank processing fees. This was news to me. So I reported it.

The man-lift I saw earlier is absent from the photograph I took. They had used the lift to change the pump price sign from Texaco to Shell.

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