Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Cattle Rustling, Pythons and Boogie Angola Style …. the best reads of May

Climate health costs: bug-borne ills, killer heat
Tree-munching beetles, malaria-carrying mosquitoes and deer ticks that spread Lyme disease are three living signs that climate change is likely to exact a heavy toll on human health. These pests and others are expanding their ranges in a warming world, which means people who never had to worry about them will have to start.  

Spain rearranges furniture as economy sinks

Moving a 17-metre high monument to Christopher Columbus 100 metres down the road is how the Spanish government is interpreting the advice of John Maynard Keynes. The economist once argued it would be preferable to pay workers to dig holes and fill them in again, rather than allowing them to stand idle and deprive the economy of the multiplier effect of their wages.  

Picking up the pieces from Afghanistan’s war

U.S. gunners scanned a lush Afghan valley from their helicopter, as a  white van containing a badly burned baby inched toward another Black Hawk waiting at the army outpost. Eight soldiers had flown into the heart of hostile eastern Afghanistan, in a convoy of one air ambulance and one “chase” helicopter for protection, to collect 18-month-old Amanullah who knocked a pot of scalding water over his legs, penis and scrotum.  

In Brazil, extreme weather stokes climate worries

No one could say they hadn’t seen it coming. The sand dunes had been advancing for decades before they swallowed the houses of families in Ilha Grande, an island in Brazil’s Parnaiba river delta. Standing on a dune that covers his old home, one man describes the landscape of his childhood — cashew trees as far as he could see. Not a dune in sight.

Novelist Vargas Llosa stirs up left and right in Latin America


The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who in his youth was a champion of the Latin American left and later evolved into an outspoken conservative, has been caught up in a struggle between two presidents camped out on opposite ends of the political spectrum — Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Peru’s Alan Garcia.

The two presidents frequently trade barbs as Chavez positions himself as the leader of the left in Latin America who favors nationalizing companies, while Garcia presents himself as the polar opposite who has won the support of conservatives by vigorously defending free enterprise, signing free trade deals, and strengthening ties to the United States.

A return of “ignore Germany” under Obama?


It’s not quite as bad as it was back in 2003 when Gerhard Schroeder publicly chastised George W. Bush for invading Iraq and Condi Rice introduced a new policy in the White House called ”ignore Germany” (France was to be punished and Russia forgiven for their opposition to the war).

But relations between Berlin and Washington are probably as poor as they’ve been since Angela Merkel replaced Schroeder in 2005 and set Germany on a course of reconciliation with the United States.

Flowers, twitter, brass band shake up German election


Traditionally, the election of the German president is a dignified and strictly choreographed event.  More than 1,200 parliamentarians and state representatives come together in Berlin’s Reichstag building, they cast a secret vote underneath the assembly’s giant symbolic eagle, the parliament’s president announces the result, and everybody sings the national anthem. But Saturday’s re-election of conservative Horst Koehler has sparked a lively debate about whether several parliamentarians, the early appearance of an orchestra and a series of flower bouquets gave the results away too early. 

“People. You can watch the soccer in peace. The election round has worked,” conservative MP Julia Kloeckner wrote on Twitter, 10 minutes before parliamentary president Norbert Lammert announced that Koehler had scored a one vote victory and defeated the Social Democrat (SPD) candidate Gesine Schwan. Kloeckner’s SPD colleague Ulrich Kelber even announced the results on Twitter three minutes earlier — including the exact vote count. Germany’s president has largely representational functions, but Saturday’s election was seen as a test of party discipline for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives four months ahead of a federal election. Merkel’s allies only held a one seat majority in the special election assembly, and Koehler’s failure to secure a majority in the first round would have triggered a second vote.

Changing the pandemic rules


The World Health Organisation literally changed the rules of the game while playing it last week, when it said it was rethinking the criteria it would use to declare a global flu pandemic is underway.

Britain and other countries affected by the newly-discovered H1N1 virus were pushing WHO Director-General Margaret Chan to pause before raising the six-point pandemic scale to its highest notch, as her United Nations agency’s rulebook says she should do once it is spreading in more than one region of the world.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India, Pakistan and the rise of China

India has been fretting for months that it could be pushed into the background by the United States' economic dependence on China and by the renewed focus on Pakistan by President Barack Obama's administration.  That anxiety appears to have increased lately -- perhaps because the end of the country's lengthy election campaign has opened up space to think more about the external environment -- and is focusing on China.

In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Indian Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major said China posed a greater threat than Pakistan.  “China is a totally different ballgame compared to Pakistan,” he was quoted as saying. “We know very little about the actual capabilities of China, their combat edge or how professional their military is … they are certainly a greater threat.”

Merkel flirts with FDP as German election heats up


German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her would-be allies, the opposition Free Democrats, did not waste any time putting their spin on the re-election of President Horst Koehler on Saturday – a razor-thin victory for the conservatives over the rival candidate put up by their coalition partners, the Social Democrats, in a vote four months before the parliamentary election.

Mere minutes after Koehler squeaked out a one-vote victory in the 1,224-seat Federal Assembly to win a second term as Germany’s ceremonial head of state, a beaming Merkel popped up on national television alongside FDP chairman Guido Westerwelle for a joint impromptu news conference rich with symbolism; it was the first time they appeared together in such a formal setting since the 2005 campaign.

U.N.’s Ban in Sri Lanka: Victory dance or somber visit?


Small children dressed in dark blue pants and light blue shirts clutched U.N. and Sri Lankan flags as they sang a song in honor of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s arrival at the Manik Farm refugee camp. This is the temporary home to some 220,000 people who fled the final battle between Tamil Tiger rebels and government forces. The camp, Sri Lanka’s biggest, was plastered with posters of a smiling Ban and Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa that said, “Welcome Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to our motherland.”U.N. officials traveling with Ban had voiced concern that his visit could be exploited for propaganda purposes in a kind of victory dance for the Sri Lankan government. The secretary-general was the first major international figure to visit the island nation since the government won a 25-year-old war against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) earlier this month. The officials said Ban would stay on message, demanding full and immediate access to some 290,000 refugees in camps in northern Sri Lanka and urging President Rajapaksa to reach out to the country’s Tamil minority to prevent a renewal of violence.During his visit to Manik Farm, Ban went to a small field hospital, where he saw severely emaciated elderly people attached to saline drips and children with shrapnel wounds. The picture could have been uglier. U.N. officials said the most severely injured – amputees, victims of mine explosions or heavy artillery blasts – were at other hospitals the delegation was not shown.A group of refugees at the Manik Farm camp, the country’s biggest displaced persons camp with over 210,000 residents, said they were outside the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka but were rounded up by the government in April and brought to the camp. Asked in New York about the refugees’ unverified comments, U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes said he had no details about any such round-ups. However, he said it was possible that some people outside what was once called the “no-fire” zone were moved by the government into the camps. He noted that all of northeastern Sri Lanka was a war zone in a sense since it had previously been controlled by the Tamil Tigers.Ban and his delegation also flew over the former conflict zone in a tiny strip of coast in northeastern Sri Lanka where U.N. officials have accused the LTTE of using hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians as human shields as they struggled to fight off government forces. During the low-altitude helicopter flight, U.N. officials and reporters saw thousands of empty tents, piles of bicycles and other personal items abandoned in a hurry when the masses of starving civilians were fled for their lives. The burnt-out buses and cars, uprooted and smashed trees and craters filled with water appeared to provide evidence that heavy weapons were despite denials from the government and Tamil Tigers.At the end of the trip, Ban met for an hour with the president to press his demands. Afterwards Ban and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogllagama spoke to reporters. Ban was asked if he saw evidence of “massive bombing” during the flight over the former battle zone. His answer was that “the fighting must have been severe.” Bogllagama was more direct when asked if he was confident Sri Lanka had committed no war crimes as human rights groups have said. His answer: “Absolutely.”Was Ban’s trip a success? One senior U.N. official told Reuters that Bogllagama repeatedly said “yes, yes, yes” in response to Ban’s demand for immediate and unimpeded access to the camps, though it was not clear when the access would come. A ban on the use of motor vehicles by U.N. or other aid agency personnel, however, remained in place for several more days as the government tried to prevent the escape of any Tigers hiding in the camps. (A few days after Ban left Sri Lanka, the government agreed to allow aid agencies to use cars and trucks at Manik Farm, though without flags and not in convoys.) Aid officials continue to complain that restrictions are crippling aid distribution in the camps.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, from Swat to Baluchistan via Waziristan

The Pakistan Army is engaged in what appears to be a very nasty little war in the Swat valley against heavily armed Taliban militants.  With journalists having left Swat, there have been no independent reports of what is going on there, though the scale of the operation can be partly measured by the huge numbers of refugees - nearly 1.7 million - who fled to escape the military offensive.

Dawn newspaper carried an interview with a wounded soldier saying the Taliban had buried mines and planted IEDs every 50 metres.  ‘They positioned snipers in holes made out of the walls of houses. They used civilians as human shields. They used to attack from houses and roofs," it quoted him as saying. ‘They are well equipped, they have mortars. They have rockets, sniper rifles and every type of sophisticated weapons."

Poets mirror feelings of Afghans caught in conflict


    (Hanan Habibzai is an Afghan writer who has reported from  his country for Reuters and the BBC, and has recently moved to  London. Any opinions expressed in this blog are his own.)


    Intellectuals and poets have a commanding presence in Afghan  society. It is the poets who often mirror the feelings of  ordinary people, revealing much about the mindset of Afghans in  the face of occupation and civil war.