The Great Global Pillow Fight – a News Roundup

July 13, 2010

One of the most annoying things about the media as it stands is the fact that it concentrates on a stunningly narrow collection of themes about which to inform and mislead us. Reading the papers or watching TV, huge areas of the globe, and human experience, are shuttered off, and we are directed dillegently to witness goings on in the Middle East, America, sometimes European nations, and of course, on the football field.

But I like to check out the wider world, as I hope everyone stumbling upon this blog does. And in that spirit, another round-up….

In Chennai, a prominent Tamil human rights campaigner has been arrested following protests which he helped to organize against the beating to death by Sri Lankan naval personnel of a Tamil fisherman on 9 July. Film director Seeman, was arrested for “instigating violence” outside the Chennai Press Club, where he was to brief reporters on violence against Tamils in Sri Lanka, and the need for a UN enquiry into last year’s (temporary) end to the conflict. Apparently, members of the media were subjected to violence during the arrest. Seeman looks like another victim of India’s National Security Act, which gives police wide authority to arrest “agitators” should they challenge state policy.

Also in Chennai, workers at Nokia’s plant in the city have gone on indefinite strike, apparently in opposition to a wages agreement that is about to be signed. Suggesting deep divisions within the plant’s activists, NDTV reports that “The employees are demanding changes to the wage revision proposal and are also unhappy with the members of the union who drafted the agreement.”

There is also tension in Goa, this time between student leaders and the police, who stand accused of collusion with drug dealers along with local politicians. The accusations emerged earlier this year when Swedish model Lucky Farmhouse filmed her boyfriend, an Israeli named Yaniv Benaim, “boasting of his links to police and politicians” sparking talk of an “Israeli drug mafia” in the tourist territory. Police investigators are complaining that superiors have delayed, or prohibited a mission to Sweden to question Farmhouse about the case, which saw seven policemen arrested and then bailed, courts citing a lack of evidence against them. Calls for such a mission surfaced last month, but nothing has been done to further the case.

They have, however, apparently been working to quash it. Angered at official intransigence, the local branch of the National Students Union of India has been calling for the case to be referred to national agencies. But local student leader Sunil Kawathankar has now been summoned by Goan police to answer questions relating to his activism.

In Southern China, heavy rain has led to landslides causing chaos and loss of life. As the BBC reports, at least 17 people have died, any many more are missing in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. This adds to the 43 known to have died in rains along the Yangtze in early July (AFP reports that 107 have died), while bulldozers are frantically trying to prevent the Wenquan reservoir bursting its banks, causing further havoc.

In better news for the people of Yunnan, however, researchers claim to have located the source of the hitherto mysterious Yunnan Sudden Death Syndrome, which has killed 400 people in the last 3o years. According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the deaths are related to consumption of a tiny mushroom, the Little White, which contains a toxin which, in certain quantities, can cause cardiac arrest. The problem is, it seems hard to imagine villagers eating enough of the mushrooms (given the wide variety of fungi available in Yunnan) to reach that dosage – so researchers are hypothesising that heavy metal contamination (barium is the prime suspect) may have exacerbated the toxin’s potency.

In East Africa, Xinhua finds that more and more people are choosing to consume locally grown indigenous vegetables, which are losing their association with the “village” and backwardness as the middle classes are turning from expensive “exotics” like Cabbage to local produce such as cassava leaves, pumpkin leaves, okra, bean leaves, corchorus leaves, desert date and moringa. Although probably a result of food prices remaining high after their 2008 spike, this seems to be a welcome development, with food scientists in the region eulogising the health benefits of such foods and their effects on the local economy.

Across Africa as a whole, a new study from the London Zoological Societyand the United Nations Environment Programme reports that numbers of large mammals in game reserves across the continent have plummeted in recent years. Researchers found that between 1970 and 2005 populations of animals like buffalos and lions fell by 59 percent – and that’s in so-called “protected areas.”

Egypt has begun to mull over development plans for the Sinai region, which has seen bloody clashes between security forces and the bedouin people who populate the mainly desert peninuslar. One fairly extravagant proposal is for a $1 billion tunnel under the Suez Canal with “3 passageways, one for rail and two for cars” as Reuters reports. Unsurprisingly, with money like that available, the country’s investment minister believes that “There is good cooperation with international investment funds to finance the project.”

Meanwhile, Egypt is also setting up an oil services company to provide jobs for Bedouin (and further the exploitation of Sinai’s hydrocarbon resources) and the government has also released several Bedouin detainees. This comes after resistance erupted in June to oil and gas projects in the Sinai, which rarely see any gains for the local people, leading Egyptian leaders into a state of panic. As Interior Minister Habib el-Adly told the press, “The ambitious plan for the development of Sinai requires the element of safety to give investors the incentive to invest” – and resistance is threatening this confidence.

One further matter that Cairo will be well aware of is the destination of the Sinai’s gas. With an election looming in Egypt, the government does not want the Egyptian people to be reminded that a huge proportion of the gas extracted from Bedouin lands heads straight to Israel. The Bedouin themselves may or may not be motivated by Israeli outrages (they actually attacked a humanitarian convoy bound for Gaza recently) but they certainly recognise the power of oil and gas – and see it as a means of redressing their genuine grievances (such as arbitrary detention, poverty and beatings).

Citizens of Kiev will know where they stand next week when they are all handed a small, matchbox-sized book called the ‘Kievans Code’. According to the Code, it is every Kievan’s duty to plant a chestnut tree, know the city’s anthem and history while they “should not swear, discard rubbish or drink beer in public places.” This is all very public spirited, but in the world of business, the city is broke and the country’s government is riding to the rescue – of its bondholders. And the city’s zoo is in the midst of fear and loathing after the death of 13 animals since January. There are allegatations of poisoning and “the work of provocateurs who want to damage the zoo’s image” and an investigation has been called for.

Across the border in Belarus, patriots are vowing to press ahead with plans for a grand commemoration on the 600th anniversary of the Battle of  Grunwald. After being denied permission, those keen on remembering the Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s heroic victory over the pesky Teutons will gather for a wholly-illegal mass pillow fight. Last year, a similar fight went ahead despite being officially banned. A legitimate fight was organized later in the year, but this one has also been barred.

Ans there you go. A collection of stories from outside the media bubble, and better than the conventional broadcasts, I hope you’ll agree.


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