Tuesday, July 7, 2009

16,000 mourners pack basketball arena for Michael Jackson tribute

The body of Michael Jackson — at rest in a 14-carat, gold-plated casket lined with blue velvet — was carried into the Staples Centre in Los Angeles for yesterday’s memorial service and star-studded musical extravaganza, which was viewed by at least a billion people around the globe.

For the United States it wasn’t so much a “Diana moment” as a made-for-TV special. Afraid that millions of fans would cause havoc, and barely able to afford the overtime for its police officers and emergency services, the city’s leaders made it virtually impossible for the general public to take part in the service.

As an expression of public grief, it could not have been further removed from the 1997 funeral and cortège of Diana, Princess of Wales, which drew crowds of up to three million people.

When it became clear that only 50,000 people turned up outside the service — a fraction of the million expected — some wondered if the city had gone too far in telling people to stay at home, and that the showing was too small for the biggest day of public mourning in US history since the death of Elvis Presley.

Even the motorcade of more than 30 cars as Jackson’s body was brought from a “private funeral” at Hollywood’s Forest Lawn Cemetery to the Staples Centre was kept secret until the last minute, so that fans could not line the streets in advance to pay their respects. Instead, the convoy of blacked-out Rolls-Royces, Range Rovers and Cadillacs made its way to the memorial service on closed, empty freeways.

The result was an Oscars-style event that — for those fans not lucky enough to be among the 20,000 guests to win tickets in a lottery or be invited by the Jackson family — could be viewed only on television.

The family’s guest list was a Who’s Who of African-American powerbrokers in music, sports, film and politics: Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, Kobe Bryant, the Rev Al Sharpton, Spike Lee and Wesley Snipes. Most of the guests arrived in limousines and then strolled up a black carpet outside the venue, where fans were taking it in turns to sign two giant posters of Jackson. Notable absentees were Mr Jackson’s ex-wives, Debbie Rowe and Lisa Marie Presley.

Only one guest, Jackson’s daughter, Paris Michael Katherine, 11, sobbed uncontrollably, in perhaps the service’s most poignant moment. “I just wanted to say that, ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just wanted to say I love him so much,” she said.

In a rousing speech that brought applause, Mr Sharpton said: “He brought down the colour curtain. It was Michael Jackson who brought blacks and whites and Asians and Latinos together. It was Michael Jackson who created a comfort level so that people who felt they were separate became interconnected with his music.”

He said that the careers of Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods and President Obama would have been impossible without the singer. “Michael did that, he made us love each other. I want his kids to know: there was nothing strange about your Daddy. What was strange was what he had to deal with. He dealt with it anyway. Some people came here to say goodbye to Michael. I came to say thank you.”

Mr Obama, who was in Moscow for the second day of talks with President Medvedev, took time out to pay tribute to Jackson. He said: “I think like Elvis, like Sinatra, like the Beatles, he became a core part of our culture. His extraordinary talent and his music was matched with a big dose of tragedy and difficulty [in] his private life and I don’t think we can ignore that.”

He said that it was important to “affirm what was the best of him and that was captured by his music”.

Juno Pierre-Louis, 42, a car salesman from New York, who received a ticket for the memorial through the lottery, said: “Off the Wall came out when I was growing up near the Bronx, and the gang movement was big then. But as soon as everyone saw Michael’s moves, people stopped killing each other and starting having dancing competitions instead. So Michael Jackson means a lot to me. [African Americans] tend to walk away from anything that’s embraced by the white community — but today I’ve seen more black folk with the MJ colours on than the white folk.”

Of the 1.6 million people who entered the lottery for tickets to the memorial service, only 8,750 were told via e-mail that they had been chosen. Most received two passes for the service in the form of golden wristbands.

Without a golden wristband, it was impossible to get beyond the massive barriers that formed a huge security perimeter around the Staples Centre. In fact, the perimeter covered such a wide area that it was impossible for uninvited well-wishers to even glimpse the venue from afar.

William Bratton, the Los Angeles police chief, said: “If you’re down here, there won’t be much to see. You won’t get within several blocks of the area.”

With the seating capacity of the venue limited to about 16,000, several thousand guests had to watch the service on a giant video screen outside, along with thousands of journalists, photographers and television camera operators. Overhead, about 20 news helicopters and other light aircraft circled. It is thought that the service cost Los Angeles about $4 million (£2.46 million) — money it can ill-afford in the middle of a state-wide budget crisis.

The Staples Centre, home of the LA Lakers basketball team, was where Jackson had been rehearsing two weeks ago for his much-anticipated comeback tour in London. As soon as the set of the memorial service was dismantled yesterday, the venue was taken over by a circus.

Violence in Urumqi not a peaceful protest

BEIJING, July 7 (Xinhua) -- The Sunday violence in Urumqi was "an evil killing, fire setting and looting", said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang on Tuesday.

"Anybody calling the violence a peaceful protest is trying to turn black into white in an attempt to mislead the public," Qin told a regular press conference.

More than 150 people died and a further 1,000-odd were injured in the riot Sunday evening in Urumqi, capital of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Qin said this was an action born out of the fear of Xinjiang's social progress, solidification and prosperity.

"The violence is a preempted, organized violent crime. It is instigated and directed from abroad, and carried out by outlaws in the country," Qin said, noting that the evidence was irrefutable and conclusive.

Xinjiang police said Monday they had evidence that separatist World Uyghur Congress leader Rebiya Kadeer masterminded the riot.

Rebiya Kadeer, a former businesswoman in China, was detained in1999 on charges of harming national security. She was released on bail on March 17, 2005 to seek medical treatment in the United States. "Rebiya Kadeer is also involved in serious economic crime," Qinsaid, noting that the Chinese government, out of humanitarian consideration, allowed her to remain out of custody and obtain medical treatment, and she had promised not to engage in actions endangering the country's security before her departure.

A series of facts in recent years proved that she was totally aliar. She took separatist actions at all times when living abroad, Qin said, urging related countries to see clearly the essence of Eastern Turkestan groups, and not to extend sympathy or support to them in any form.

According to a local official, the Chinese authorities had evidence that Rebiya Kadeer used the Internet and other means of communication to mastermind the riot in Xinjiang.

Internet was cut in parts of Urumqi following the deadly riot to prevent violence from spreading.

Qin said this measure was taken in order to deal with the incident and safeguard local stability.

After the Sunday riot, The Xinjiang judicial departments arrested some suspects in order to safeguard the normal life of the local people.

"What they have done was justified, and any country could take the same measures while facing this violence," Qin said.

He also said the China, by rule of law, would not wrong one innocent person, nor setting free any evil one.

Qin refuted the accusation by some human rights organizations criticizing Chinese government's measures to deal with Xinjiang violence.

"Those organizations view the case with bias, and their conclusion could not objective undoubtedly, and it stands in the opposite direction of ethics, laws and all Chinese people's minds," he said.

Foreign journalists, about 60 in number, were in Xinjiang on a reporting trip arranged by the Information Office of the State Council, the Chinese Cabinet.

"China takes an open and transparent principle on the news report, and offer active help and convenience for the foreign and Chinese journalists to cover news in Xinjiang," Qin said.

A press center had been established in Urumqi, with service offered by officials there, Qin said, hoping that the media would fairly report the truth.

Qin also reminded the reporters to abide by related regulations and laws, and take care of their own security.

Chinese firm gets contract for Peshawar bus terminal

PESHAWAR: The NWFP government has decided to award the contract for the construction of a modern bus terminal in Peshawar to a construction consortium of the Chinese government.

A statement issued on Monday said that the provincial government had also directed the contractor to start work on the project soon after completing paperwork, while the consortium had offered an investment of $300 million (Rs 25 billion) for mega projects in the province, including the Peshawar Bus Terminal.

A memorandum of understanding on this account would be signed by the Chinese and provincial authorities today (Tuesday) in the presence of NWFP Governor Owais Ahmad Ghani wherein the consortium would have the task of design improvement and construction of the bus terminal. The Chinese government would provide 90 percent of the project cost as a soft loan, while the remaining amount would be given by the provincial government as grant. The project would be handed over to the provincial government soon after completion on build-and-transfer basis.

The statement said the decision was made in a high-level meeting at the conference room of the NWFP chief secretary on Monday with NWFP Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour in chair.

Bilour said the bus terminal would be spread on 169 kanals on both sides of the GT Road. He said the consortium would be awarded more mega projects, including the master plan of Peshawar, construction of underpasses, flyovers, provision of filtered potable water to Peshawar from Warsak Dam and establishment of economic/industrial zones on vast lands of 400 and 300 hectors in Mardan and Hattar respectively.

Colleges unable to cope with rush

PESHAWAR: Owing to less number of government colleges coupled with limited number of seats in them across the province, the future of thousands of students intending to take admission to intermediate is at stake.
As a result, more than 1,50,000 boy and girl students including A-grade students are compelled to take admission to private institutes.
It merits a mention here that more than 3,00,000 students appeared in the last Matric examinations held under all the eight boards of the province in which 2,00,000 students were declared successful.
The ratio of students appearing in the Matric exams is increasing rapidly every year as 2,00,000 students out of 3,00,000 had also passed the last year examinations.
The uncertain situation for the students is exacerbating with the passage of time as nearly 122 government colleges of the province have failed to accommodate a large number of students annually forcing the students to make their way to substandard private colleges.
As per statistics, there are 122 colleges in the province out of which 82 are for boys and 40 for girls.
The number of colleges in public sector in various districts of the province is as Peshawar: five colleges for boys while four colleges for girls, Charsadda: two for boys, two for girls, Nowshera: Four for boys, three for girls, Mardan: Nine for boys, five for girls, Swabi: Seven for boys, 4 for girls, Malakand: Five for boys, three for girls, Swat: Five for boys, four for girls, Shangla: Three for boys, Buner: Three for boys, one for girls, Upper Dir: One for boys, one for girls, Lower Dir: Three for boys, one for girls, Chitral: Two for boys, one for girls, Kohat: Three for boys, one for girls, Hangu: Two for boys, two for girls, Karak: Five for boys, one for girls, Bannu: Five for boys, three for girls, Lakki Marwat: Five for boys, one for girls, DI Khan: Six for boys, two for girls, Abbottabad: Four for boys, four for girls, Mansehra: Four for boys, two for girls, Battagram:
One for boys, one for girls, Kohistan: One college for boys while no college for girls.
Consequently, estimated 20,000 to 25,000 students every year are left with no other option but to take admission to the unregistered colleges of the province.

People of lower Swat to start returning after 15th: Minister

PESHAWAR: Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions Najamuddin Khan has said the people of upper Swat are returning home and those belonging to lower parts of the district will start going back to their areas after July 15.

He said residents of Madyan, Behrain and Kalam villages had started going back to their areas and those belonging to Kabal, Matta and Barikot would also start returning after a week.

Speaking at a press conference at the Afghan commissionerate here on Tuesday, the minister said the NWFP government, in coordination with the federal government and the UNHCR, would continue supporting the affected people during reconstruction and repatriation process.

He said more than 50,000 smart cards through which financial aid was provided had been distributed among internally displaced people. He said work had been started on restoring civic services in the conflict zone.

The minister said parliamentarians from Malakand would propose declaration of the division as a calamity-hit area to properly compensate for the destruction and devastation caused by militants.

He maintained that the Afghan commissionerate had contributed to the relief efforts by establishing four camps in Lower Dir for displaced people.

The minister said there was complete coordination between federal and provincial governments and the army about the modalities of the return of the people of Malakand, but the announcement about the repatriation and reconstruction process would be made by the provincial government.

He also said the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation would be implemented in letter and sprit. Asked about the repatriation process of Afghan refugees, the minister said there were about 1.7 million registered and more than one million unregistered Afghans in Pakistan and the government had repatriated 27,000 refugees since April 15 with the support of the UNHCR.

A cabinet committee of the federal government, he said, was considering ways and means for partnership with the UNHCR to repatriate the registered Afghan refugees.

He said the United Nations had also agreed to provide $140 million under the Rehabilitation of Hosting Area Programme to compensate for the negative effect of the refugees on the infrastructure in Pakistan.

Chinese suspicions

For the fatal ethnic riots in its sensitive Xinjiang province, which have claimed at least 140 lives, the Chinese government has blamed the exiled Uighur separatists. A foreign-based World Uighur Congress has specifically been named by the authorities for inciting these riots. Statedly, the outfit is headed by one Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled Uighur businesswoman, settled in the United States . Indeed, over the time the Chinese have persistently accused the Americans of fueling ethnic sentiments and antipathies and inciting separatism in China, particularly in its Tibet and Xinjiang provinces, and of patronising and employing the exiled dissidents to this end. And not so untenably. Even in these riots, most of the dead and injured were the Han Chinese. On this score, the Chinese are even sour with us. They believe the Americans have made our tribal region a base for training, arming and bankrolling the Uighur terrorists and then launching them into Xinjiang for terrorism. And they are unhappy that despite their persistent requests Islamabad is less than intent on shutting down this American wellspring for violence and terrorism in China . Indeed, their communist party had in despair invited the top leader of one of our politico-religious parties and concluded an agreement for his party's cooperation in fighting terrorism. And if reports are to be believed, recently the Pakistani agencies did track down and arrest here several Chinese nationals wanted by Beijing and handed them over to the Chinese authorities. There indeed is a big stinking foul with the American act. As they keep haranguing the world on morality and ethics and continue striking boisterously high postures of self-righteousness, they know of no qualms in flouting what they preach for the attainment of their geopolitical objectives and for furthering their economic interests. As they exhort the world fraternity not to let its soil being used for terrorism abroad, they uninhibitedly use the others' territories to this end quite unconscientiously. It is not just the Chinese, our proven trustworthy all-weather friends who have stood by us through thick and thin unwaveringly, who are upset with us for letting the Americans use our soil for spawning, nurturing and fanning terrorism on the Chinese territory, although they are feeling no lesser queasy about the Obama administration's troops surge in their neighbouring Afghanistan, making up as it does part of a region rich in oil, gas and minerals and housing locations of immense strategic value. The Iranians too are miffed with us for not reining in the Americans from making a launching pad of our Balochistan province for subversion, sabotage and terrorism in Iran's Sistan-Balochistan province by the American proxy Jundullah, a US-funded terrorist outfit of Iranian exiles, dissidents and their local cohorts. But it is not just immigrant diasporas, exiles and dissidents that the Americans make use of to destabilise a country or a nation they want to be under their thumb or to dislodge a government they do not like and intend to replace with their puppets, lackeys and quislings. Unashamedly, their Congress too publicly sanctions and allocates public funds to this end, though ostensibly under the deceptive cover of prompting democracy project in the targeted country but in reality to spread hatred and chaos through inflammatory broadcast by a clandestinely-placed funnily-named Free Radio and by financing the exiles and dissidents to spread violence, chaos and disorder there. In the region, for years on end, Saddam Hussein's Iraq was on that Congress honoured list, until the US-led armies of the free world invaded and occupied the sovereign country of Iraq illegally and unlawfully and he was toppled. For quite long, Syria has had the prized honour of being on that Congress roll. And Iran too is being likewise honoured by this US morality hound, the Congress. So honoured by the US Congress stands many a lucky one in the world community even now. But, candidly put, the Americans have their own agendas and their own axes to grind, and will be least bothered about morality and ethics and all the rest of that bunkum in perpetuating their own interests. But at least, the hierarchy in Islamabad can keep its skirts clean from the mud that the American adventurism splatters all around in its mad quest for accomplishing its objectives. Can't it? Will somebody out there take time out and think who are the perpetrators of murders of Chinese engineers and technicians working on our dams and ports construction projects and at whose behest are they perpetuating these heinous acts on the nationals of our dearest friend?
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Dated: Wednesday , July 08, 2009, Rajab 13, 1430 A.H.