Archive for March 4th, 2011

March 4, 2011

China’s fear of Middle East-style unrest

Cached:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12646848

By Damian Grammaticas BBC News, Beijing

China’s government has, in recent days, responded to calls on the internet for Middle East-style popular protests in Chinese cities by rounding up dozens of human rights defenders, lawyers and others.

Damian Grammaticas is pulled into a police van in Wangfujing

Human rights groups say a broad crackdown is under way and at least 100 people have been picked up or warned by the authorities. Some of those taken by the security services have vanished without a trace. Human rights organisations say such detentions are illegal under Chinese law.

The authorities have also moved to limit the relatively free reporting they have allowed in China since the 2008 Olympics. They have banned foreign journalists from filming in several public places in the capital, Beijing, including the city’s most famous shopping street, Wangfujing.

Several reporters, including our BBC team, faced violence from Chinese state security officers when we tried to film on the street last weekend.

A reporter from Bloomberg News was attacked, dragged into a building, punched and kicked in an assault that lasted over 10 minutes. Other reporters have been warned that if they try to film this weekend they may be expelled from the country.

With the country’s annual People’s Congress to begin on Saturday, China’s Communist Party rulers appear to be seriously concerned about he possibility of popular pro-democracy protests.

So right across China the police are on edge. Last Sunday hundreds of uniformed officers flooded the shopping streets and squares in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities where the internet messages had called on people to gather.

There were thousands more plainclothes officers on duty, often poorly disguised as street cleaners, or ordinary shoppers.

In Shanghai police dragged several people away, and in Beijing we were stopped as we tried to see if anyone would heed the call to protest.

As we showed our documents to uniformed police and waited for their clearance to move on we were set upon by plainclothes thugs.

Feng Guang Mei says the charges against her husband Xu Kun are unjust

The police officers even helped them as I was dragged by the hair, shoved against the side of a police van, then slammed to the floor. Deliberately they crushed my leg in the vehicle’s door.

Tensions and conflicts

So why you have to ask is China lashing out? What are its authoritarian leaders so worried about?

The Communist Party-led government faces small protests around the country every week. What happened late last year, in the village of Baihutou in the south of China is a typical case.

A group of villagers had been resisting what they said was a land grab by the local authorities who were trying to force them out of their homes to develop the area.

Local governments rely on the profits from development for income. And it is often claimed such projects are easy sources of corruption too.

In October 2010, the authorities sent a huge squad of armed riot police into Baihutou village.

Wrecking crews with mechanical diggers destroyed five houses belonging to people who were refusing to move out. Still pictures seen by the BBC show riot officers beating people with batons.

This week three of the villagers who had tried to stop the demolitions were put on trial, some charged with obstructing official business.

Feng Guang Mei’s husband, Xu Kun, the democratically elected village chief who led the campaign against the appropriation of their land, was one of those in court.

Outside the courthouse, his wife, in tears, told me: “What’s happened to my husband is really unjust. This kind of act by the government makes it impossible for common people like us to live a good life.

“Right now I really feel it is very difficult to be a good person.”

The authorities claim Xu Kun was profiting illegally by collecting fees from a car park. But the land with the car park had been assigned to the village by the authorities specifically so people could earn an income from it.

The family’s legal advisor Liu Wei says the government is prosecuting Xu Kun out of nothing more than malice.

“First, regarding the claim the car park was run as a business, Xu Kun did not offend any part of our criminal law. Anyone who knows the law can tell you that easily,” she said.

“From the time he was arrested to today the government’s treatment of him has been inhuman. It all shows that this is simply an act of revenge against Xu Kun by the government.”

Civil rights

A police van sits parked on Tiananmen Square during the opening ceremony of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing March 3, 2011. REUTERS/David Gray

There are tensions and conflicts like this every day all over China. Despite the booming economic growth there are millions who feel shut out, angry at official corruption, at inequalities that are rising, at land grabs. That’s why the government is so concerned about the possibilities for unrest.

Feng Hai Bo’s mother was also on trial. He took us to see where his family home used to be. Now it is just a pile of rubble, bulldozed to the ground even before the family could get their possessions out.

“They simply surrounded our house, and pushed it over,” Feng Hai Bo tells me. “My father and I tried to stop them, but we couldn’t, they had too many armed police. They dragged us out and demolished it.”

China’s rulers worry these small disputes could snowball into something bigger. They are particularly worried about the way the internet or images in the media can stir up public opinion.

Feng Hai Bo certainly feels unjustly treated.

“The biggest problem is that our civil rights are not respected. I feel that the way the government treats ordinary people is really unjust. Even our personal freedoms aren’t protected.”

In October 2010, the authorities sent a huge squad of armed riot police into Baihutou village

Just five minutes walk from Feng Hai Bo’s demolished home you find an amazing site, a beautiful white sand beach. There are people playing on jet skis, girls jumping in the surf having their pictures taken. The contrast with the demolished village nearby couldn’t be greater.

Those on the beach are China’s newly wealthy middle classes, decked out in sunglasses and sunhats, strolling on the sand, enjoying a holiday.

You can see why the land next to the beach is suddenly so valuable, and also why tensions in China are growing over the rising inequalities here.

It’s why the government is so worried about the social instability that could result.

At the court house the trial of Xu Kun and the others lasted one day. A member of their legal team said he was prevented from even submitting evidence for the defence.

The verdict will come in a few weeks. Outside a small group of villagers shouted support for the prisoners as they were driven away in police vans. Then the villagers headed off.

There is discontent in China, but no sign broader Middle-East style protests will happen here.

The ruling Communist Party has as firm a grip on power as ever. But with so many small disputes around the country, it seems profoundly worried by the call for popular demonstrations.

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March 4, 2011

Libya voices: ‘We are not afraid to die’

“We don’t have guns; we don’t have anything – we are just innocents

4 March 2011 Last updated at 07:04 ET

The Libyan capital Tripoli is the focus of the world’s attention again after anti-government protesters called on people to return to the streets and demonstrate against the actions of Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

In the country and around the world, people are waiting anxiously to see what the latest developments will be.

BBC website readers Rawad and Ali are giving updates on the situation there and sharing their thoughts on what they think could happen next.

Rawad, Tripoli, 1000GMT

The atmosphere is very quiet – it’s the same as yesterday.

So far, it’s so quiet there are no people really out on the streets. There are just the checkpoints everywhere.

But we are expecting action due to protests later after the prayers.

We are going out inshallah [God willing] – all of us. We are really just going to go the local mosque and up to Green Square.

We tried to go to Green Square last Friday but Gaddafi’s forces stopped us by shooting their guns.

We hope it’s going to be the last day inshallah. I’m not scared – why should I be? If I die, I will go to heaven.

The women may be scared; some people are but personally, I’m not. I will protect myself and God will protect us inshallah.

We don’t have guns; we don’t have anything – we are just innocents.

We hope that the whole of Tripoli will go out today – that’s what we are hoping.

People are scared as they are not armed and they don’t have guns but we must go out – that’s what we discussed last night when we all met yesterday.

We are expecting a lot of people to go out this afternoon.

Ali, Brega, 1000GMT

Brega is quiet today because we have heard the rebels are taking part in lots of talks and want to stay elsewhere to protect their base.

The past few days have been difficult – there have been lots of killings and dead bodies in the hospital.

When we can get on the phones, we sometimes hear from the others that some forces are supposed to be coming and landing in the desert – but how do we know what is true.

We know that Gaddafi’s supporters want to kill everybody.

The rebel troops are full of courage and ready and the regime cannot enter the cities.

They are collecting others to go to Tripoli to help protect our citizens.

March 4, 2011

Vietnam, Laos at odds over planned dam – Laos will be an environmental disaster

Cached:  http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2011/03/03/Vietnam-Laos-at-odds-over-planned-dam/UPI-20881299205247/

Published: March. 3, 2011 at 9:20 PM

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, March 3 (UPI) — A dam planned across the Mekong River, Southeast Asia’s largest, has sparked a simmering debate between two communist-ruled countries, observers say.

Critics in Vietnam say a 1,260-megawatt hydropower project planned by its smaller, poorer, land-locked neighbor Laos will be an environmental disaster, Inter Press Service reported Thursday.

Laos, for its part, is determined to be the powerhouse of the region by selling power to its neighbors and earning enough to help the poor who make up a third of country’s population of 5.8 million.

A Thai developer will build the dam in the north Laos province of Xayaburi, and Thailand is expected to buy 95 percent of its power to fuel its booming economy.

Environmentalists say the Xayaburi dam and 10 more planned dams on the Mekong — nine in Laos — will “reduce fresh water and silt downstream in Vietnam and devastate fishing,” the Tuoi Tre newspaper in Ho Chi Minh City reported.

Vietnamese officials also have weighed in against the $3.5 billion dam.

“If built, Laos’ Xayaburi dam will greatly affect Vietnam’s agriculture production and aquaculture,” Nguyen Thai Lai, deputy minister of natural resources and environment, reportedly said.

The Laotian government is standing by its plan. “We are confident that the Xayaburi Hydroelectric Power Project will not have any significant impact on the Mekong mainstream,” officials from Vientiane said in a note to Mekong River experts from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam — the four countries sharing the waters of the lower Mekong — who will meet in late March to consider approval of the Xayaburi dam plans.

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March 4, 2011

US: Sharp rise in drug trafficking through Laos, while seizures plummet in Myanmar

 

Cached:  http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5iLNzYe4-tWrf6i0Anmv8MrZAG4Zg?docId=6132843

 

By Matthew Pennington (CP)

WASHINGTON — Communist-controlled Laos has suffered an unprecedented spike in violent crime as drug trafficking from neighbouring Myanmar, China and Vietnam has risen dramatically, the U.S. government reported Thursday.

The cultivation of opium, the raw material of heroin, has plummeted in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle over the past decade, but the trade in amphetamine-type drugs and cannabis has grown.

The State Department’s annual assessment of world drug production and suppression efforts during 2010 reported that Myanmar’s military leaders may have reined in interdiction to avoid alienating ethnic armed groups that are heavily involved in the drugs trade, to minimize the chance of armed conflict ahead of November elections, it said.

Myanmar’s seizures of amphetamine-type drugs between January and October 2010 totalled 1.8 million pills, compared with 13.1 million during the corresponding period in 2009.

Neighbouring Thailand, a major market for Myanmar drug producers despite rigorous law enforcement, seized 32.1 million methamphetamines in 2010.

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report said that in late 2009 and 2010, there were a number of significant, multiton drug seizures by Lao law enforcement authorities linked to smuggling from Myanmar, Vietnam and China. In one case, 2.2 tons of methamphetamines originating in Myanmar were seized near the Lao capital Vientiane, apparently en route to Thailand.

Some African drug trafficking gangs also use Laos as a transit route, and U.S. authorities continue to seize opium gum from Laos, where authorities estimate the illicit drug economy accounts for 10 per cent of gross domestic product, or about $750 million.

“There was also a disturbing and hitherto unforeseen level of violent crime related to drug trafficking by domestic and international networks,” the report said. “A series of alarming broad daylight shootouts involving a number of persons, sometimes using sophisticated ‘war weapons,’ caused a sense of shock” in the normally peaceful capital.

The Lao government faces enormous obstacles in policing more than 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometres) of international borders along heavily forested, mountainous jungle and the Mekong River. While it participates in regional anti-narcotics conferences, it rarely shares operational information on drug cases with regional partners, the report said.

On secretive North Korea, the report said “the absence of any seizures linked directly to North Korean state institutions suggest a possible end to state involvement in drug trafficking.”

From the mid-1990s through to 2003, there were many cases of narcotics trafficking to Taiwan and Japan involving North Korean persons and state assets such as seagoing vessels and military patrol boats. But for the past eight years there has been no known large-scale trafficking to either place with North Korean state involvement, the report said.

Still, rising reports of methamphetamine trafficking to China suggest continuing manufacture of the drug in the impoverished state. “This and continued trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes and currency suggests that enforcement against organized crime in (North Korea) is lax,” the report said.

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Drug violence up in Laos, seizures down in Myanmar

 

Cached:  http://www.metronews.ca/halifax/world/article/791944–drug-violence-up-in-laos-seizures-down-in-myanmar

MATTHEW PENNINGTON, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Published: March 03, 2011 6:03 p.m.
Last modified: March 03, 2011 6:07 p.m.
WASHINGTON – Communist-controlled Laos has suffered an unprecedented spike in violent crime as drug trafficking from neighbouring Myanmar, China and Vietnam has risen dramatically, the U.S. government reported Thursday.

The cultivation of opium, the raw material of heroin, has plummeted in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle over the past decade, but the trade in amphetamine-type drugs and cannabis has grown.

The State Department’s annual assessment of world drug production and suppression efforts during 2010 reported that Myanmar’s military leaders may have reined in interdiction to avoid alienating ethnic armed groups that are heavily involved in the drugs trade, to minimize the chance of armed conflict ahead of November elections, it said.

Myanmar’s seizures of amphetamine-type drugs between January and October 2010 totalled 1.8 million pills, compared with 13.1 million during the corresponding period in 2009.

Neighbouring Thailand, a major market for Myanmar drug producers despite rigorous law enforcement, seized 32.1 million methamphetamines in 2010.

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report said that in late 2009 and 2010, there were a number of significant, multiton drug seizures by Lao law enforcement authorities linked to smuggling from Myanmar, Vietnam and China. In one case, 2.2 tons of methamphetamines originating in Myanmar were seized near the Lao capital Vientiane, apparently en route to Thailand.

Some African drug trafficking gangs also use Laos as a transit route, and U.S. authorities continue to seize opium gum from Laos, where authorities estimate the illicit drug economy accounts for 10 per cent of gross domestic product, or about $750 million.

“There was also a disturbing and hitherto unforeseen level of violent crime related to drug trafficking by domestic and international networks,” the report said. “A series of alarming broad daylight shootouts involving a number of persons, sometimes using sophisticated ‘war weapons,’ caused a sense of shock” in the normally peaceful capital.

The Lao government faces enormous obstacles in policing more than 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometres) of international borders along heavily forested, mountainous jungle and the Mekong River. While it participates in regional anti-narcotics conferences, it rarely shares operational information on drug cases with regional partners, the report said.

On secretive North Korea, the report said “the absence of any seizures linked directly to North Korean state institutions suggest a possible end to state involvement in drug trafficking.”

From the mid-1990s through to 2003, there were many cases of narcotics trafficking to Taiwan and Japan involving North Korean persons and state assets such as seagoing vessels and military patrol boats. But for the past eight years there has been no known large-scale trafficking to either place with North Korean state involvement, the report said.

Still, rising reports of methamphetamine trafficking to China suggest continuing manufacture of the drug in the impoverished state. “This and continued trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes and currency suggests that enforcement against organized crime in (North Korea) is lax,” the report said.

March 4, 2011

Rail Plans Safe from Scandal?

2011-03-03

Lao officials say a Chinese rail scandal will not end plans for a high-speed railway.

An ongoing corruption scandal in China is unlikely to derail plans to build a high-speed train route in Laos, despite the need for Chinese funding and expertise to initiate the project, according to a Lao official.

The Lao government expects to begin construction on the 300-mile (481-kilometer) railway, which would connect the country to neighbors Thailand and China, in April, according to state media.

China is footing 70 percent of the U.S. $7 billion price tag, but a recent investigation uncovering rampant corruption in the country’s Ministry of Railways may have put the project on the wrong track.

Beginning with the removal of longtime Railways Minister Liu Zhijun last month for what state media reported as “severe violations of discipline,” a widening scandal has left detractors questioning the scope of Beijing’s plans to build a network of domestic and international high-speed railways.

In recent weeks, allegations have surfaced of bribery, illegal contracts, and sexual liaisons in the ministry’s dealings, and an engineer in charge of nationwide research and development was removed, further embattling an agency already reeling from criticism over high ticket prices and below average service.

But none of these developments seem to concern the Lao government, which in January urged consultants to speed up social and environmental impact studies to get the project underway.

A Luang Namtha provincial official, who asked to remain anonymous, said all Laotians, particularly the residents of his border province, are looking forward to the high-speed train.

“We are happy that our country is catching up with our neighbors, and even happier that it’s going to be a high-speed train,” he said.

Trains will run at a speed of 125 miles-per-hour (200 kilometers-per-hour) from Boten, on the border of China’s Yunnan province, to the Lao capital.

“Everyone is eagerly waiting to ride the train to Vientiane.”

Compensation plans

The official added that plans are already underway to relocate villagers who will be affected by the construction.

Under the agreement signed between China and Laos last year, the Lao government is required to compensate villagers and urban dwellers who will need to be relocated from their land.

The compensation plan represents the Lao government’s 30 percent stake in the project.

But residents have expressed doubts about whether they will receive a fair amount of compensation from authorities.

The state-run Vientiane Times quoted 60-year-old Vientiane resident Kianglay Phengmeuangkhoun as saying that she expected at least 2 million kip (U.S. $250) per square meter for her land, which is conveniently located along a main thoroughfare.

“My house is located in the path of the railway and I am happy to give up my land so the railway can be built,” she said. “But I expect appropriate compensation.”

The train line will act as a link for passengers and freight traveling to and from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province.

China also has an agreement with Thailand to build a high-speed 530-mile (850-kilometer) railway between Nongkhai on the border between Laos and Thailand and Bangkok.

Both routes would make up part of the Trans-Asian Railway Project, a United Nations plan to create an integrated freight railway network across Europe and Asia.

China has been aggressively shopping railway contracts around the world, most recently winning a U.S. $13 billion deal to build lines in Iran and a partnership to construct a high-speed rail in Kazakhstan.

Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Viengsay Luangkhot. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Copyright © 1998-2011 Radio Free Asia. All rights reserved.

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