Friday, 20 June 2008

Tuesday, 17th June 2008

In modern China, farmers cash in on their land
HAINING, China: Tales of protests by angry peasants whose land has been seized for a pittance by unscrupulous officials are commonplace in China.
But even as concern grows about the disappearance of arable land to feed 1.3 billion people, less noticed is the eagerness of other farmers, often in richer parts of China, to cash in their land and say goodbye to back-breaking toil in the fields.
Here in Haining, a rural town about 100 kilometers, or 60 miles, west of Shanghai in the Yangtze River Delta, more and more warehouses and workshops share the land with mulberry trees and rice paddies.
"Just look at these fields. Can you see anybody under 30 laboring on the land?" said Zhou Weigang, a 53-year-old farmer, as he pointed to a flat expanse dotted by houses. "Planting the fields just has no future."
Unlike farmers in other parts of China who regard their land as a safe harbor in case of hardship, Zhou and his neighbors are happy to sell.
His family recently received 23,000 yuan, or about $3,300, when the local community sold a parcel of land on which a chemical plant will be built.
"Land has to be turned into homes and factories," Zhou said. "It's called development."
Mounting devastation as rains swamp southern China
SHANGHAI: Torrential rains that have caused some of the worst flooding in 50 years and killed scores of people continued to batter a huge swath of southern China on Tuesday near one of the biggest manufacturing zones in the country.
The government said the storms and floods had killed at least 63 people over the past week, left 13 missing and affected more than 17 million people in nine southern provinces. The high waters have also inundated about 5.4 million acres of cropland, set off landslides, damaged roads and bridges and forced more than 1.5 million people to flee their homes in southern and central provinces.
Some factories in coastal Guangdong Province — one of the biggest export centers in the country, producing everything from toys and textiles to electronics — have been forced to suspend or curtail operations, according to the state-run news media.
Waters rise anew in Iowa city that spurned higher ground
CHELSEA, Iowa: This is not the first time this tiny city in a valley of rolling hills 70 miles northeast of Des Moines has been mostly under water, as it is now, a soaking casualty of the swollen Iowa River, the Otter Creek and this endlessly wet spring.
In 1993, when floodwaters inundated Chelsea, population 297, and thousands of other communities across the Midwest, killing 50 people and damaging 50,000 homes in nine states, the people here, unlike those in most places, decided to think long and hard about moving the whole community to higher ground.
"I'm not sure how much wisdom there is in staying, because these are floods that are supposed to come every 500 years and they're coming every 15 years," said Joe Behounek, whose house sat in one foot of water in the 1993 flood, six inches less than this time. "I considered moving last time, and now I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"We were both hurt," Behounek said about himself and his wife. "We were divided about what to do. But I didn't want to reinvest in a house at my age. I'm 56, and I had a livestock operation near town. My plans now are to study the damage and evaluate."
After the 1993 flood, the Federal Emergency Management Agency spent more than $150 million in the nine affected states, buying and tearing down nearly 12,000 houses, moving more than 300 to safer places and elevating 31.
In Chelsea, the owners of more than 40 houses left. A majority stayed put after considering the options. Some said they could not bear another flood, but many more said they would not sacrifice the rich history of their community for the certainty of staying dry in a new, generic place.
Thousands homeless as floods ravage India
GUWAHATI, India: Monsoon rains swept across India's remote northeast, forcing hundreds of thousands of villagers from their flooded homes and killing at least 30 people, officials said on Tuesday.
The monsoon arrived at least two weeks early in northern India, bringing respite to its baking plains, but in the northeastern state of Assam it swamped about 500 villages in waist-deep water, leaving about 300,000 people homeless.
Assam accounts for about 55 percent of India's tea production. Officials said the rains had not affected tea trade.
The region reported the first fatalities from the monsoon with a series of landslides, floods and building collapses killing at least 30 people since the weekend, officials in Assam and neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh state said.

World refugee population jumps to 11.4 million
GENEVA: The number of refugees fleeing to other countries to escape conflict and persecution rose in 2007 for the second year as factors from climate change to overly scarce resources threatened to increase the flow, the United Nations refugee agency warned Tuesday.
A total of 11.4 million refugees were under the care of the agency, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2007, including about 400,000 experiencing conflict in their home countries, the agency said. The total for 2006 was 9.9 million.

Car bomb at Baghdad market kills 51
BAGHDAD: A powerful car bomb exploded in a crowded market area of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 51 people and wounding 75, in the deadliest attack in the Iraqi capital in months.
Police said the bomb was placed in a pickup truck parked next to minibus taxis near the main market in the predominantly Shi'ite neighbourhood of al-Hurriya in northwestern Baghdad. The explosion left a heap of smoking, mangled wreckage.
At that time of day, the market is packed with shoppers buying food before returning home. Police said 51 people were killed and 75 wounded, including women and children.
Inspector sees probe of Reuters death flawed
In a report released on Monday, the inspector general found that U.S. soldiers who fired on the car, which was driven by Khaled, reasonably responded to what they thought was a threat.
The inspector general criticised the Army investigator for losing a critical piece of evidence -- video Kadhem shot from inside the car that captured events leading up to and including the shooting.
That Army investigator's actions rightfully led Reuters to believe the investigation was not thorough or independent, the inspector general's report said.
"We found that although the (investigating officer) who conducted the Army investigation did not pursue some logical investigative actions, he properly concluded that during an ongoing enemy attack the soldiers thought a video camera and external microphone held out of an indigenous, unmarked vehicle was a rocket propelled grenade," the inspector general said.
The inspector general faulted Reuters and its safety practices. The car carrying Khaled and Kadhem was not marked "press", for example, and Kadhem wrongly stuck his camera out of the car window, according to the military.
Kadhem insists he never put the camera out of the window but filmed through the car's windscreen.
The military confiscated his camera after the shooting. Footage shown to Reuters staff before the tape disappeared showed no frames shot from outside the car.
Reuters characterised the lost video as a "key piece of evidence" and one that corroborated its version of events.
Reuters Chief Counsel Thomas Kim called the video "the only piece of objective evidence" available in the incident.
Hajar Smouni, North Africa and Middle East desk officer for Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, said the group had not seen the report but called for an investigation to pinpoint how the video was lost.
"There has to be an internal investigation to find out exactly what happened to this tape and answer the main question today -- could the evidence on the tape modify the conclusions of the report?" she said.
Ex-U.S. Army official says he was ousted for blocking contractor payments
WASHINGTON: The U.S. Army official who managed the Pentagon's largest contract in Iraq says he was ousted from his job when he refused to approve more than $1 billion in questionable payments to KBR, the company in Houston that has provided food, housing and other services to U.S. troops.
The official, Charles Smith, was the senior civilian overseeing the multibillion-dollar contract with KBR during the first two years of the war. Speaking out for the first time, Smith said that he was forced from his position in 2004 after informing KBR officials that the army would impose escalating financial penalties if they failed to improve their chaotic Iraqi operations.
Army auditors had determined that KBR lacked credible data or records for more than $1 billion in spending, so Smith refused to sign off on the payments to the company.
"They had a gigantic amount of costs they couldn't justify," he said. "Ultimately, the money that was going to KBR was money being taken away from the troops, and I wasn't going to do that."
But he was suddenly replaced, he said, and his successors - after taking the unusual step of hiring an outside contractor to consider KBR's claims - approved most of the payments he had tried to block.

Amazon plays rough in disputes with publishers
PARIS: Amazon, the online retailing giant with a fast-rising share of the consumer book market, has adopted the literary equivalent of a nuclear option for rebellious publishers who balk at its demands.In the latest in a series of disputes over the division of revenue from online sales, Amazon has disabled the "buy now with 1 click" icon on its British Web site for hundreds of books published by Hachette Livre UK, from back-list Stephen King novels to, naturally, "The Hachette Guide to French Wine."The button allows registered users to purchase titles instantly, with free shipping. Customers can still buy the affected books, but they have to navigate to an open marketplace that links them to third-party sellers of new or used books. And they have to pay for shipping.

Amazon is saying little about its tactics. But bloggers have been organizing letter-writing campaigns and petition drives accusing Amazon, which bills itself as "Earth's most customer-centric company," of transforming itself into the bully of the publishing industry.Damien Peachey, an Amazon spokesman in Britain, declined to comment on the dispute with Hachette Livre, a subsidiary of the French media company Lagardère. It is the second-biggest English-language trade publisher in the world, after the Random House division of Bertelsmann."We wouldn't discuss publicly our relationship with publishers," Peachey said.

The first to spar with Amazon this year in Britain was Bloomsbury, publisher of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Before they reached a compromise on undisclosed terms, hundreds of Bloomsbury's older, back-list titles lost buy buttons on the Amazon site in Britain.Then the struggle with Hachette broke into public view this month when the publisher's chief executive, Tim Hely Hutchinson, sent a defiant letter to many of his authors explaining the "oddities" of vanishing buy buttons. The online retailer, he said, was demanding a bigger slice of the "cake." Publishers traditionally sell books to retailers at a discount off the recommended retail price, but Amazon was demanding more than its existing 50 percent."Amazon seems each year to go from one publisher to another making increasing demands in order to achieve richer terms at our expense and sometimes at yours," Hely Hutchinson said in the letter. "If this continued, it would not be long before Amazon got virtually all of the revenue that is presently shared between author, publisher, retailer, printer and other parties."Hely Hutchinson declined, through a spokeswoman, to comment further, and Amazon has not specified how much more it is demanding.Claire Alexander, a literary agent in London and former president of the British Association of Authors' Agents, said authors were reluctant to speak out about the issue because of the "power of Amazon."


No comments: