Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Olympic protest zones

Beijing will set up specially designated zones for protesters during next month's Olympics, a security official said Wednesday, in a sign China's authoritarian government may allow some demonstrations during the games.The overall effect is that while Beijing looks cheerful, with colorful Olympic banners and new signs, the city feels tense.Visa rules have been tightened to keep out foreign activists.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hamilton wins German GP

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton won the German GrandPrix on Sunday to forge four points clear clear of Ferrari's Felipe Maasa at the top of the F1. Brazilian rookie Nelson Piquet finished an astonishing second place for Renault ahead of Maasa. Hamilton lead from the pole position and the victory was 2nd in a row and 8th of his career.The defending champion Kimmi Raikkonen finished 6th in this race.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Obama’s Visit Renews Focus on Afghanistan

Senator Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday, on a high-profile foreign trip in a country that is increasingly the focus of his clash with Senator John McCain over whether the war in Iraq has been a distraction in hunting down terrorists.Even as Mr. Obama met privately with American troops, military leaders and Afghan officials in the eastern part of the country, Mr. McCain was questioning his judgment on foreign policy. In a radio address on Saturday, he said Mr. Obama had been wrong about the increase in troops in Iraq, a strategy Mr. McCain said should be the basis for addressing deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan as well.

As the American presidential campaign unfolded across borders and time zones, Mr. Obama received support from an unexpected corner: Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, told a German magazine that he endorsed the Obama plan to withdraw most American troops in a gradual timeline of 16 months.While the Iraq war has been one of the dominant issues in the presidential campaign, Afghanistan has moved to the forefront of the foreign policy plans of both candidates. President Bush’s agreement to a “general time horizon” for withdrawing American troops in Iraq has opened the door to new consideration of strengthening the American and NATO presence in Afghanistan, which Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain agree on in principle.

For months, Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has criticized his rival for failing to visit Afghanistan and taking only one trip to Iraq. Even on Saturday, in a radio address, Mr. McCain renewed his criticism and sought to minimize Mr. Obama’s trip. “In a time of war,” Mr. McCain said, “the commander in chief’s job doesn’t get a learning curve.”

Mr. McCain, whose campaign spokeswoman suggested that Mr. Obama was embarking on a “campaign rally overseas,” said his rival was not going to Afghanistan and Iraq with an open mind. “Apparently,” Mr. McCain said in his radio address, “he’s confident enough that he won’t find any facts that might change his opinion or alter his strategy. Remarkable.”

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Changing Face of Beijing, a Look at the New China

                       If Westerners feel dazed and confused upon exiting the plane at the new international airport terminal here, it’s understandable. It’s not just the grandeur of the space. It’s the inescapable feeling that you’re passing through a portal to another world, one whose fierce embrace of change has left Western nations in the dust.Designed by Norman Foster, Beijing’s glittering air terminal is joined by a remarkable list of other new monuments here: Paul Andreu’s egg-shaped National Theater; Herzog & de Meuron’s National Stadium, known as the bird’s nest; PTW’s National Aquatics Center, with its pillowy translucent exterior; and Rem Koolhaas’s headquarters for the CCTV television authority, whose slanting, interconnected forms are among the most imaginative architectural feats in recent memory.

                  Mr. Foster’s airport terminal, the world’s largest, is the purest expression of China’s embrace of the Modernist creed. Its swooping form, which suggests two boomerangs placed side by side, has been compared to a dragon. Yet its real precedent is Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, a monument to air travel conceived by Albert Speer in the 1930s as a gateway to a new Europe. Both are part of a vision of a mobile society, one that extends back through Grand Central Terminal to the great train halls of Paris.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Turkey suspects al-Qaida in attack on US consulate

Suspected al-Qaida militants armed with pistols and shotguns attacked a police guard post outside the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday, sparking a gunbattle that left three attackers and three officers dead.

Turkish and U.S. officials publicly labeled the shooting a terrorist attack and a police official in Istanbul told The Associated Press that authorities suspected al-Qaida was behind it. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief journalists on the investigation.

The U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Turkey's foreign ministry said security around all American diplomatic missions in Turkey had been increased.

Yavuz Erkut Yuksel, a bystander, told CNN-Turk television the attackers emerged from a vehicle and surprised the guard.

"One of them approached a policeman while hiding his gun and shot him in the head," Yuksel said.

Footage from a security camera at the site showed four armed and bearded men emerging from a car and killing a traffic policeman, then running toward a guard post some 50 yards away as other policemen fired back, the Dogan news agency reported.

The shootout caused panic and scattered people who were waiting in a line for visas. U.S. security personnel went inside the compound because they are not authorized to engage in armed action on Turkish soil, Dogan said.

A fourth policeman and the driver of a towing vehicle were wounded in the attack, Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler said.

U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson said the consul general in Istanbul, Sharon Wiener, told him that that consulate staff were "safe and accounted for."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that she did not know who was responsible and for the attack and she would soon talk with Turkey's foreign minister.

"Obviously first of all the United States deeply regrets the loss of life and condolences go out to the families of those who were killed," Rice saida as she traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia. "I know that some policemen were among those who died and we very much appreciate what was clearly a very rapid and proper response from the government to try to deal with the security situation in front of our consulate."

At least two of the attackers were Turkish nationals, Guler said. Police said they were pursuing at least one attacker who escaped in a car after the attack outside the high-walled consulate compound in the residential Istinye district around 11 a.m.

NTV television, citing police sources, said officials feared the car might be loaded with explosives. Police would not confirm that report.

Interior Minister Besir Atalay said at the scene that there had been no claim of responsibility and police would not reveal the identities of the attackers and their possible affiliations for the sake of the investigation.

Television footage showed four people lying on the ground at the foot of the consulate's wall before officials removed the bodies.

"The Turkish police responded quickly and effectively. We are deeply grateful for the work that they do to protect our official U.S. government establishments here," Wilson said. "It is, of course, inappropriate now to speculate on who may have done this or why. It is an obvious act of terrorism. Our countries will stand together and confront this, as we have in the past."

The secure U.S. consulate building was built after homegrown Islamic militants linked to al-Qaida carried out suicide bombings in 2003 that targeted two synagogues, the British Consulate and a British bank in Istanbul. Those attacks killed 58 people.

"There is no doubt that this is a terrorist attack," said Guler, who described the three slain policemen as "martyred."

Sunday, July 6, 2008

California wildfires strain state's resources

A wildfire threatening thousands of homes in Southern California spread slowly through scenic canyonlands Saturday, straining resources as crews struggled to contain hundreds of other blazes around the state.The firefighters are stretched thin, they are exhausted," and some have gone days without sleep, said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who visited a command post in Santa Barbara County.

A slew of wildfires, most ignited by lightning two weeks ago, has burned more than 800 square miles of land throughout California. The blazes have destroyed at least 69 homes and other buildings and contributed to the death of a firefighter who suffered a heart attack while digging fire lines.

About 1,400 fires have been contained, but more than 330 still burned out of control Saturday.

Schwarzenegger said the state's top priority was in the coastal region of Santa Barbara County, where nearly 2,700 homes were threatened by a four-day-old fire in the Los Padres National Forest that has consumed about 13 square miles.

Cooler, moist air Saturday kept the fire sluggish and helped firefighters trying to surround it, said Pat Wheatley, county spokeswoman. Evening fell without the return of the late afternoon "sundowner" winds that had sent flames racing up to homes on Friday evening, she said.

"We've been pleased by some cooperative weather," Wheatley said. "The 'sundowners' that we were afraid could happen did not happen much tonight so that gave us an opportunity to fight the fire without fighting the winds."

The fire was 24 percent contained, she said.

More than 2,600 homes were under mandatory evacuation Saturday, and residents in another 1,400 were warned to be ready to flee if the flames gathered speed.

Wheatley said the mandatory evacuation orders were partially lifted later Saturday, allowing many residents to return home, but she did not know how many homes were affected.

The fire, which was burning in 15-foot-high, half-century-old chaparral, still had the potential to roll through a hilly area of ranches, housing tracts and orchards between the town of Goleta and Santa Barbara, keeping firefighters on their toes.

"They're feeling very good about this, but they are not taking this fire lightly at all," Wheatley said.

Temperatures were expected to dip to around 60 degrees in the area overnight, but were forecast to reach the mid-70s on Sunday.

Nearly 1,200 firefighters struggled to surround the blaze while a DC-10 air tanker and other aircraft dumped water and fire retardant along ridges and in steep canyons.

Investigators think the fire, which began Tuesday, was human-caused. The U.S. Forest Service on Saturday asked for public help in determining who set it and whether it was sparked accidentally or on purpose.

Meanwhile, cooler weather helped crews attacking a two-week-old blaze that has destroyed 22 homes in Big Sur, at the northern end of the Los Padres forest, but the fire continued to grow slowly on all flanks Saturday night.

The fire, which had blackened more than 110 square miles, was only 5 percent contained with full containment not expected until the end of the month, but morning fog that moved in from the sea helped prevent it from advancing on Big Sur's famed restaurants and hotels.

"We're gaining ground, but we're nowhere near being done," said Gregg DeNitto, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. "There's still a lot of potential out there. The fire has been less active the last couple of days. We've had favorable weather; they are taking every opportunity to get some line on it."

But the weather was expected to become hotter and drier over the next couple of days, he said, with winds and temperatures rising and humidity dropping.

"The fire still has the potential for movement and the potential to get out of our containment lines," he said.

A homeowner near Big Sur was arrested Friday after officials said he refused orders to stop setting his own backfires.

The governor noted that he recently ordered 400 National Guard troops to be trained in wildfire fighting so they could help fight the state's blazes. He also urged lawmakers to adopt his budget plan for a $70 million emergency surcharge on home and business insurance policies to buy more firefighting equipment.

California now has a year-round fire season and needs the money from the fee, which should cost the average homeowner about $1 a month, Schwarzenegger said.

Meanwhile, residents of Crown King, Ariz., who had left their homes for nearly a week because of a wildfire were allowed to return Saturday night. A thunderstorm that drenched the area Friday evening helped fire crews working to get a line around the blaze, which consumed more than 15 square miles of forest.