Sunday, March 14, 2010

Strong earthquake rattles buildings around Japan

TOKYO – A strong magnitude 6.6 earthquake hit off the eastern coast of Japan on Sunday, rattling buildings across a broad swath of the country, including the crowded capital. There were no reports of casualties, with only light damage to structures near the epicenter, according to local officials. The quake hit at 5:08 p.m. and was felt most strongly in central Fukushima prefecture about 130 miles (210 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. "It was fairly strong, but didn't knock over anything in the office," said Ken Yoshida, a town official in Naraha, one of the hardest-hit areas. He said an earthen wall in town was partially toppled. The earthquake was centered about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the eastern coast at a depth of about 25 miles (40 kilometers), the meteorological agency said. The government said there was no danger of a tsunami, although slight changes to ocean levels were a possibility in some areas. It was strong enough to gently sway large buildings in Tokyo and was felt across a broad stretch of Japan's main Honshu and northern Hokkaido islands. Japan's early warning system predicted the earthquake just before it hit, with public broadcaster NHK interrupting a sumo match to warn residents to take cover. The country is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries. In 1995, a magnitude-7.2 quake in the western port city of Kobe killed 6,400 people.

Dozens killed in Chile earthquake

27/02/2010 - 11:51:01
Dozens of people were killed in a massive earthquake which hit Chile today.

The quake, measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale, shook the South American country’s capital Santiago for a minute and a half.

Reports suggested at least 64 people had died but the death toll is expected to rise.

Buildings collapsed amid the tremors and phone lines and electricity were down, while a tsunami wave was recorded 124 miles away from the offshore epicentre.

Warnings of further tidal waves were issued in 53 other countries including Australia, although experts said it could take hours for the water displacement to move across the Pacific.

Chile’s president Michelle Bachelet declared a “state of catastrophe” and said: “We have had a huge earthquake, with some aftershocks.

“Despite this, the system is functioning. People should remain calm. We’re doing everything we can with all the forces we have. Any information we will share immediately.”

Chile is at high risk of earthquakes because it lies on the boundary between the Pacific plate and the South American plate.

The latest quake happened after the Pacific plate pushed down on to the South American plate.

According to seismologists, there is usually around one quake of a magnitude of eight a year while one reaching 8.8 would only be expected every few years.

Dr Brian Baptie of the British Geological Survey said: “In global terms this is a very rare quake.

“Chile has experienced some very big quakes in the past.

“It was about 124 miles north east of the largest earthquake ever recorded - 9.5 – in 1960, which resulted in a destructive tsunami that killed many thousands of people around the Pacific.”

He said a 1.3m tsunami wave was observed at Valparaiso, 124 miles north of the epicentre, about 20 minutes after the earthquake.

“Tsunami waves in the deep ocean travel about the same speed as a jet plane and would take about 15 hours to reach Hawaii and about 20 hours to reach the other side of the Pacific,” he added.

Chile faces the prospect of more aftershocks, according to Dr Baptie.

“There have been many aftershocks from this event so far of magnitude 6 and higher,” he said. “The bigger the quake the bigger the aftershocks.

“They will decrease with time after the main shock but they could carry on for some time.”

The devastating tsunami which hit Asia in 2004 measured 9.3 on the Richter scale, making it the second largest ever after the 1960 Chile quake.

About 65,000 British tourists visit Chile each year, according to the country's tourist authority.

Dr David Rothery, department of earth and environmental sciences at the Open University, said: “This morning’s magnitude 8.8 earthquake close to the Chilean coast has caused a tsunami that is now radiating away from the epicentre and travelling at several hundred km per hour across the Pacific ocean.

“A magnitude 8 quake is a rare event.

“On average there is only about one of these per year, globally.

“This one was caused by the floor of the Pacific ocean being pushed below South America.

“Because the epicentre was under the sea, the sudden jerking of the sea-floor displaced water and triggered a tsunami.”

Venezuela's Chavez calls for internet controls

Posted 2010/03/13 at 10:34 pm EST
CARACAS, Mar. 13, 2010 (Reuters) — Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who is criticized by media freedom groups, called on Saturday for regulation of the Internet and singled out a website that he said falsely reported the murder of one of his ministers.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez attends a news conference at Miraflores Palace in Caracas in this February 25, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

"The Internet cannot be something open where anything is said and done. Every country has to apply its own rules and norms," Chavez said. He cited German Chancellor Angel Merkel as having expressed a similar sentiment recently.
Chavez is angry with Venezuelan political opinion and gossip website Noticierodigital, which he said had falsely written that Diosdado Cabello, a senior minister and close aide, had been assassinated. The president said the story remained on the site for two days.
"We have to act. We are going to ask the attorney general for help, because this is a crime. I have information that this page periodically publishes stories calling for a coup d'etat. That cannot be permitted."
Social networking web sites like Twitter and Facebook are very popular among Venezuela's opposition movements to organize protests against the government. Chavez has complained that people use such sites to spread unfounded rumors.
Many opponents fear Chavez plans to emulate the government oversight of the Web used by allies Cuba, China and Iran, but the socialist leader has not given any sign that he is planning such a move.
In 2007 Chavez refused to renew the license for television station RCTV, which is now battling to survive as a cable-only operator.
The government has also put pressure on opposition TV network Globovision to soften its editorial line and last year closed dozens of radio stations for administrative breaches.
(Reporting by Eyanir Chinea; writing by Frank Jack Daniel)

China delivers Venezuela jets for anti-drugs fight

Posted 2010/03/13 at 2:14 pm EST
CARACAS, Mar. 13, 2010 (Reuters) — Venezuela on Saturday tested six training and light attack jets bought from China for defense and anti-drugs flights in a deal that dodges an embargo banning sales of U.S. weapons parts to oil exporter Venezuela.

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President Hugo Chavez ordered a total of 18 K-8 jets built by China after a plan to buy similar jets from Brazil's Embraer fell through, apparently because they include U.S. electrical systems.
"Thank you, China. The empire wanted to leave us unarmed. Socialist China, revolutionary China appeared and here are our K-8 planes," he said during a televised display of the jets' capabilities.
Officials at the ceremony said the versatile jets will be used to train pilots and intercept drug traffickers who use Venezuela as a stop off point to take Colombian cocaine to the United States, Europe and Africa.
Washington accuses the socialist Chavez, a close ally of Cuba and Iran, of starting an arms race in South America, where several nations have beefed-up their military in the last few years.
Tensions with neighbor Colombia over U.S. access to military bases there and accusations that Chavez supports FARC guerrillas have raised concerns of a violent incident between the two countries.
Colombia is the region's biggest military spender as a proportion of GDP because of its civil war with the leftist rebels.
OPEC member Venezuela has also bought a network of 10 radars from China and has spent about $4 billion on Russian weapons including fighter jets to replace F-16 planes that are rusting away because of the U.S. embargo, which started in 2006.
Chavez says he is simply modernizing Venezuela's armed forces.
"With God's help, Venezuela is going to be a socialist power," Chavez said, adding that remaining K-8s were due this year. "We need to be well equipped and trained ... to protect our skies, our soil, our territory, which has one of the world's biggest riches of water, oil, energy and gas."
He said Venezuela had taken delivery of a navy patrol boat from Spain a few days ago and said the first of a batch of 92 Russian T-72 tanks ordered last year would arrive "soon."
Unofficial reports say the Russian deal is worth up to $4 billion and may include S-300V air defense systems, Smerch multiple-launch rockets and howitzers.
(Reporting by Eyanir Chinea; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Jackie Frank)

Afghan gov wants more troops after Kandahar attack

An Afghan police man stands guard outside the damaged wall of the police headquarters in Kandahar south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, March 14, 2010, AP – An Afghan police man stands guard outside the damaged wall of the police headquarters in Kandahar south …
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The governor of Kandahar province demanded more security around Afghanistan's largest southern city Sunday after a series of explosions killed dozens of people in the Taliban heartland — the target of the war's next major offensive by Afghan and international forces. The blasts, which occurred one after another for 25 minutes across Kandahar city Saturday night, indicate that the insurgents remain a potent force in the area where NATO plans an assault later this year, the follow-up to an operation that has driven militants from a key stronghold in neighboring Helmand province. Residents say Taliban militants can operate in Kandahar with little restraint. "They can do what they intend and want, and the government can't control the situation," said Javed Ahmad, 40, of Kandahar. "We don't feel secure in the presence of all the forces in Afghanistan, and it's terrible for us to live in this kind of situation. We don't feel safe even at home, and we can't walk around." At least 35 people were killed in Saturday night's attacks, according to the Ministry of Interior. Gov. Tooryalai Wesa said the blasts included two car bombs, six suicide attackers on motorbikes and bicycles, and homemade bombs. The attackers targeted the city's prison, police headquarters, a wedding hall next door and other areas on roads leading to the prison. Wesa told reporters that he had asked the central government in Kabul for more Afghan troops to protect the city in the run-up to the expected offensive in Kandahar province, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban. He also said he wants to coordinate with NATO forces to improve security. President Hamid Karzai condemned the attacks, and Ministry of Interior spokesman Zemeri Bashary told reporters Sunday that the government was considering Wesa's request for additional forces. The main target of the attacks was the prison, where investigators have found eight suicide vests, three rockets and AK-47 ammunition, police said. Bashary told reporters the attackers were trying to free prisoners and block security forces from responding, "but they failed in their mission." "They were trying to open the jail, that is why they attacked cleverly in different parts of the city," said Kandahar provincial police chief Gen. Sardar Mohammad Zazi. The assault mirrored a 2008 suicide bombing at the Kandahar prison gates that freed hundreds of prisoners, many of them suspected insurgents. No inmates escaped this time from the lockup, which Canadian troops reinforced with cement block after the 2008 attack. Among the dead were 13 policemen and 22 civilians, including six women and three children, the interior ministry said. Most of the casualties occurred at the police headquarters and at the wedding celebration in a hall next door. Another 57 people were wounded, including 17 policemen, and 42 homes were damaged, the ministry said. "Last night was like doomsday for all of Kandahar's people," said Mohammad Anwar, a 30-year-old shopkeeper, whose relative lost a son in the attacks. He said residents blamed the United States and international forces for not battling the militants strongly enough. "It is difficult for us to bear this kind of situation anymore," Anwar said. "We don't know the aim of these people," he said, referring to the insurgents. "Are they trying to kill civilians or eliminate the system? The government is too weak to control these kind of attacks." Haji-Muhammad Aslam, 46, who also runs a store in the city, said residents of Kandahar feel helpless. "What we can do?" he asked. "Almost nothing, except accept deaths and injuries. We are created to be killed by anyone, whether by militants, Americans or Afghan forces. President Karzai's half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a member of the Kandahar provincial council, told The Associated Press that two of the explosions occurred near his home. But he said he was not being targeted personally. The offensive that U.S., NATO and Afghan forces are planning in Kandahar later this year is a follow-up to the ongoing military operation in Helmand province's Marjah district. The operation is the first test of top Afghanistan commander U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal's strategy to rout insurgents from areas, set up new governance and rush in development aid in hopes of winning the loyalty of the residents. Kandahar city, population 800,000, was the seat of government for the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan, imposing its vision of Islamic theocracy for five years before being toppled by U.S.-backed forces in 2001. Armed Taliban bands still control villages around the city, and Taliban agents move through the city at night, delivering letters warning people against cooperating with the U.S.-backed government. International forces find homemade bombs almost daily as they patrol the city streets. Another roadside bomb Sunday morning targeted a car carrying Pakistani construction workers south of the city in the district of Dand, according to the governor. Four of the Pakistani workers and their Afghan driver were wounded. Training a workable Kandahar police force has become a priority for international forces trying to build trust in the Afghan government, which they hope will eventually be able to take over security. The 2,800 Canadian troops who oversee operations in Kandahar city and the surrounding province are due to leave Afghanistan next year. The U.S. sent nearly 300 more military police to Kandahar in August to help build up the 2,000-strong local police force — a six-fold increase over the small Canadian and U.S. force that had been there training Afghan police, traditionally one of the country's least-trusted institutions. Afghan National Police forces were the first to respond to Saturday's explosions and some Canadian troops later deployed to support them, Canadian military spokeswoman Capt. Cynthia LaRue said. "The most important part here is to remember that ANP did a very good job and responded quickly," LaRue said Sunday. ___ Associated Press writers Kathy Gannon in Islamabad, Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Heidi Vogt in Helmand province contributed to this report.

The Sanctions "Scapegoat"

Saturday, March 13, 2010
Sanctions foes argue that U.S. policy -- or anything short of unconditionally normalizing relations -- gives the Castro regime an effective scapegoat for its failures.
However, that theory overlooks two important facts:

First and foremost, the Cuban people don't believe it.

Overwhelmingly, Cubans have tuned out the absurdities of the Castro regime. Furthermore, they understand that it is Cuba's totalitarian regime -- not "U.S. sanctions" -- that denies their most fundamental human rights, harasses, beats and imprisons them.

Secondly, sanctions or no sanctions, the Castro regime will always try to vilify the U.S. (while brutally repressing the Cuban people). So why multiply its political and economic monopoly?

In an interview with Germany's Deutsche Welle, Chinese dissident (and renowned artist) Ai Weiwei and former Romanian activist (and 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature) Herta Mueller discuss how vilifying the U.S. is simply the modus operandi of tyrannical regimes, whether in Iran, Cuba, China or Romania (during Ceausescu's reign).

Here's an excerpt:

Secret police an integral part of authoritarian regimes

Another picture that Ai Weiwei showed, describing it as his best photographic work so far, was of him in a lift with two police officers that were tailing him, none too subtly. He took the photo with his mobile phone and immediately posted it on the Internet.

As one of the most famous of China's dissidents, Ai Weiwei enjoys a certain degree of protection but it takes courage to confront ones "minders" in such a way.

Herta Mueller can very much empathize with Ai Weiwei's experiences of being spied upon or accused of spying for the West. In her novels and essays, she criticizes the Securitate, Romania's secret police, and depicts the atmosphere of fear, humiliation, and distrust that prevailed in communist Romania.

"This immediate accusation of spying is so typical. I think it exists in every dictatorship. If we look at Cuba or Iran, they always say people are working under the influence of external powers. I heard it all the time. At a factory that I worked in, people would say 'so-and-so is a CIA agent.' They didn't even know what CIA stood for!" she said.

The greatest accusation was that a person was too individualistic, lacked collective spirit and did not display a socialist attitude.

Both Ai Weiwei and Herta Mueller fell prey to this accusation but it did not stop them from taking refuge in art and literature to nurture their individuality.

Herta Mueller saw Romania's brutal regime fall. Ai Weiwei hopes he too will see China's one-party system fall.

Solidarność With Farinas

According to the AFP:

Farinas to Walesa: Lay a wreath for me when Cuba is free
GDANSK, Poland - Cuban dissident hunger striker Guillermo Farinas has asked Polish anti-communist icon Lech Walesa to lay a wreath on his grave when Cuba is free, the former Polish president told AFP.

The two spoke by telephone on Thursday, several hours before Farinas was hospitalized in critical condition after losing consciousness in his third week of fasting to win the release of 26 political prisoners who are in need of medical treatment.

"I was concerned, I tried to convince him to break off the hunger strike. I told him that in order to build a free Cuba they will need people like him alive," said Walesa, who led the Solidarity trade union that defied and ultimately defeated communist rule in Poland.

But Walesa said the 48-year-old cyberjournalist was adamant in continuing his hunger strike.

"He replied: 'if I die, I ask you to lay a wreath on my grave when Cuba is free'."

Farinas, who had steadfastly refused medical treatment, lost consciousness several hours later and was hospitalized in his home town of Santa Clara, around 175 miles east of Havana.

He has vowed to press ahead "to the end" with his protest fast, which he began February 24, the day after political prisoner Orlando Zapata died on the 85th day of his own hunger strike.

Odds and ends

  • The European Parliament voted 509-30 to adopt a resolution that “condemns the avoidable and cruel death of the dissident political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a hunger strike of 85 days.” Cuba’s National Assembly shot back with a statement (English text here) asserting, among many other arguments, that Zapata had “refused to eat despite all warnings and the intervention of Cuban medical specialists.” El Pais has a story on the making of the European resolution.
  • EFE: Cuban human rights monitor Elizardo Sanchez says that contrary to government assertions, his organization’s research shows that there are “hundreds of political and common prisoners” whose state of health justifies release from prison as stipulated in Cuban law.
  • Sugar production is down (AP) and nickel production up (Reuters).
  • Europeans have their own debates about policy toward Cuba, but what passes for the “hard-line” sector there is quite different than ours, and has never shown interest in cutting off trade, travel, or investment. The latest reminder is this interview with Jorge Moragas of Spain’s opposition Partido Popular, which regularly gives the Spanish government grief over its Cuba policies. Moragas praises Spain’s investors in Cuba and says: “This presence of foreign companies, and especially Spanish investment, can play an interesting role when the country starts a framework of a constitutional process and transition to democracy.”

The Cuban Black Guillermo Farinas...

March 13, 2010

The big lies against Cuba

by Ashaki Binta for the Cuban Working Group of the Black Left Unity Network

Unlike medical teams from other countries working in Haiti since the earthquake, Cuban doctors – already 500 strong in Haiti when the quake hit – are winning high praise from the people for doing everything possible to avoid amputations. Gangrene had already set in to the arm of this woman who was injured in a building collapse and had been unable to find medical help. These doctors, working in a makeshift outdoor clinic, found a way to save her arm. – Photo: BBC
Despite President Obama’s declaration of his administration’s desire to “seek a new beginning with Cuba” and to “learn from history, not be trapped by it” in April of last year, Cuba has remained under attack by the U.S. In January, new U.S. air security policies included Cuba on a list of countries whose air passengers would get extra security screening as they enter U.S. territory. And Cuba remains on the State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” notwithstanding the lack of any evidence of Cuban involvement in acts of terrorism. Cuba has vigorously protested all of these unconscionable attacks.
In fact, Cuba’s policies of internationalism have arguably been the most politically advanced in the world – from the direct military intervention to help in the defeat of Apartheid in southern Africa in 1988 (Cuito Cuanavale, Angola) to direct medical aid and solidarity with Haiti (before the earthquake). Since the earthquake, Western media has been suspiciously silent on the exceptional role Cuba has played in support of Haiti with more than 900 health care providers on the ground, the largest and most organized contingent on the island.
Yet, one of the most disturbing new attacks against Cuba occurred late last year when a host of prominent African Americans signed on to a so-called “Declaration of African American Support for the Civil Rights Struggle in Cuba.”
This misguided declaration accuses the Cuban state of racism. It cites the imprisonment of a Dr. Darsi Ferrer, an active critic of the Cuban government, as an example of racism in Cuba. Dr. Ferrer was reportedly accused of attempting to establish a private medical clinic outside of Cuba’s world-renowned medical system, by receiving illegally obtained construction materials. Whatever the case, Dr. Ferrer’s situation should immediately bring to mind the 50 year history of attempts by the U.S. to subvert the Cuban Revolution through internal dissent and direct attack harkening back to the Bay of Pigs invasion and so on.
Certainly the struggle against racism anywhere in the world is of paramount importance to all of humanity. But can this attack against Cuba under the guise of fighting racism really be justified? We think not.
Many African Americans may not know about some of the unique features of Cuban history even though African Americans and Cubans have a deeply rooted history of solidarity with each other.
For example, during Cuba’s first War for Independence from Spain in 1868, plantation and slave owner Carlos Manual de Cespedes freed and armed the slaves on his plantation and called on them to join the struggle for Cuba’s independence. Afro-Cuban Gen. Antoneo Maceo emerged as one of Cuba’s most renowned revolutionary leaders of all time. As a result of this struggle, slavery was abolished in Cuba by 1886.
What a contrast to U.S. history, where the maintenance of slavery was a pre-condition of unity between the colonies in the American fight for independence from Britain. Although more than 5,000 Blacks fought in the American Revolution, legalized slavery continued for nearly another 100 years.
And the U.S. has historically played a role in maintaining racism in Cuba. The U.S. intervention and occupation of Cuba starting in 1898 during Cuba’s second War for Independence (1895), where more than half the fighters were Black, re-established institutional racism in Cuba. Under the intermittent U.S. occupations there, Afro-Cubans and women, as well as the poor, were barred from voting, holding elective office, owning businesses, land etc. Sound familiar?
Most Cuban historians and scholars agree that the Cuban Socialist Revolution in 1959 abolished legalized institutional racism in Cuba. Cuba’s revolutionary constitution outlawed racial discrimination while open and public debate and education since the revolution have tackled Cuba’s history as an Afro-Cuban nation. However, the legacy of 500 years of slavery, racism and all forms of discrimination is difficult to completely eradicate in just 50 years, especially while also under the U.S. led attacks and blockade against Cuba.
Even so, the conditions of all Cubans have improved under the covenant of the socialist revolution in Cuba, which has provided free education, free health care, land for poor farmers, reduced cost rent and utilities, the elimination of unemployment and so on.
Racism, institutionalized or otherwise, has not been abolished any place in the world. Yet Cuba, in our view, remains a hopeful beacon in the Western Hemisphere that humane societies can be constructed that provide the basis for the elimination of all forms of discrimination, exploitation and oppression.
You may contact the working group at Documents from the Cuba Working Group may be viewed at