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Thailand Junta Retains Sweeping Power Under Interim Constitution

22 July 2014 - Bloomberg

Thailand’s junta announced an interim constitution that gives the military oversight of a hand-picked legislative assembly as well as amnesty for staging their May 22 coup.


The military will choose a 220-member legislature, which will pick a prime minister and 35-strong cabinet, according to a statement in the Royal Gazette. General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, leader of the National Council for Peace and Order, received the endorsed charter from King Bhumibol Adulyadej yesterday.

The constitution reflects the demands of a protest group led by former opposition lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban that staged a six-month street campaign to oust the administration of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Suthep urged the army to seize power and appoint a reform council to wipe out the influence of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, whose parties have won the last five elections.

The constitution “will help solve the crisis and return the situation to normal, restore security, unity and solve economic problems,” according to the statement. The reform council will draft “political rules to prevent and suppress corruption and investigate abuses of power by the state before handing the mission to new representatives and the government.”

The constitution, which replaces the one annulled by Prayuth after the coup, is Thailand’s 18th since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932. The charter also calls for the formation of a 250-member reform committee that will need to approve a permanent constitution to be written by a 36-strong drafting committee before elections can be held.

Members of existing political parties will be ineligible to join the legislature or the reform council, according to the charter, which gives the NCPO power to appoint members to both groups.

“The NCPO will continue under this constitution,” according to the statement. “The NCPO can call a joint meeting with the cabinet to discuss any affairs and problems involving national security.”

Bhumibol, 86, granted an audience yesterday to Prayuth at the Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin, 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Bangkok, and presented the army chief with the endorsed interim charter, according to a palace statement broadcast on local television. The NCPO will give more detail about its powers under the constitution at 10 a.m. local time today.

Thailand’s military has carried out a dozen coups since the end of direct rule by kings in 1932, with three governments overthrown since 2006 by the army or judicial action. The latest putsch came eight years after army ousted Thaksin, dissolved his party and banned about 200 political allies from holding office for five years. Thaksin later fled abroad to escape a 2008 jail sentence from charges brought by a military-appointed panel.

“The point of the constitution is to add palace legitimacy to the coup through the king-endorsed enshrinement of new laws,” said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai. “Almost every Thai constitution has included an amnesty for the military. In fact, amnesty for militaries has been a major rationale for most Thai constitutions. This allows and encourages coup after coup after coup.”

Prayuth has said he had no choice other than to seize power after meetings called by the army among key figures from both sides of the political divide failed to find a solution to six months of sometimes violent unrest.

Since taking power on May 22, the NCPO has silenced critics by outlawing protests and threatening the media with sanctions for content critical of the coup. Hundreds of activists, academics, opposition politicians and journalists were summoned and detained by the military in the weeks following the putsch.

Prayuth has restarted payments to rice farmers and vowed to accelerate state spending after gross domestic product fell 0.6 percent year-on-year in the first quarter as political turmoil restricted the ability of the previous government to borrow. The junta capped fuel prices and approved handouts to the tourism industry, efforts that it said would “return happiness to the Thai people.”

The baht climbed to a eight-month high yesterday and sovereign bonds rose as global funds bought Thai assets on optimism spending will revive growth. The currency strengthened to as much as 31.779 per dollar, the strongest since Nov. 22. The benchmark SET Index (SET) of stocks has gained 8.9 percent since the coup.

Prayuth said June 27 that a Cabinet and National Legislative Assembly would be in place in September and a National Reform Council would begin work a month later to discuss changes to the nation’s electoral rules. A permanent constitution will be drafted by July 2015 and an election could be held three months after its promulgation, he said.


DXB resumes full operations

22 July 2014

Dubai International Airport said that it resumed full operations on July 21, Monday after an 80-day upgrade programme.

Flights that were temporarily diverted to Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central will now return to Dubai International, airport authorities confirmed in a statement.

Airlines that have moved flights back to Dubai International include flydubai, Malaysian Airlines, Royal Brunei and PAL Express as well as selected flights from Qatar Airways and Gulf Air.

Four airlines will continue to offer flights from DWC including Wizz Air, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways and Jazeera Airways.

The number of flights to the airport surged 31 per cent following the opening of both the runways, Dubai Airports said.

Lasting more than two months, the project involved the resurfacing of the entire 4,000-metre long northern runway as well as the upgrading of runway lighting and construction of additional taxiways and rapid exits on the southern runway.

The upgrade of the runways will allow the airport to accommodate more aircraft while improving operational flexibility during the peak traffic period, the statement said.

“I am pleased that our planning and preparations over the past year not only ensured that the impact on passengers during the 80-day period was minimal but that we were able to resume full operations and accommodate increased traffic at the end of the programme without a hitch,” said Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports.

Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, had to reduce 26 per cent of flights during the upgrade with Emirates taking the brunt. The airline had to slash flights to 41 destinations, incurring a loss of Dhs1 billion in revenues.

Passenger traffic in Dubai International dropped 2.5 per cent in May when the refurbishment work began.

The refurbishment was part of the airport’s $7.8 billion 10-year master plan, which aims at expanding its capacity to accommodate more than 103 million passengers by 2020.


Emirates calls for airlines summit on 'outrageous' MH17 attack

21 July 2014 Reuters

The head of one of the world's largest airlines has called for an international meeting of carriers to agree a response to the downing of a Malaysian airliner, including a potential rethink of the threats posed by regional conflicts.

Tim Clark, president of Dubai's Emirates, the world's largest international airline by number of passengers, also said domestic regulators worldwide may decide to be more involved in giving their carriers guidance on where it is safe to fly.

"The international airline community needs to respond as an entity, saying this is absolutely not acceptable and outrageous, and that it won't tolerate being targeted in internecine regional conflicts that have nothing to do with airlines," Clark told Reuters in a telephone interview.

He said the International Air Transport Association could call an international conference to see what changes need to made in the way the industry tackles regional instability.

The head of the Geneva-based group, which represents about 200 global airlines, said last week they depended on governments and air traffic agencies to advise which airspace is available.

But Clark - who described himself as "incandescent with rage" when he heard of the attack on the airliner and its almost 300 passengers - said IATA and a United Nations body, the International Civil Aviation Organization, could take action.

"If you go East to West or vice-versa between Europe and Asia, you are likely to run into areas of conflict," Clark said.

"We have traditionally been able to manage this. Tripoli and Kabul were attacked, Karachi was attacked and we have protocols and contingencies and procedures to deal with this," he said.

"That was up until three days ago. Now I think there will have to be new protocols and it will be up to ICAO and IATA and the aviation community to sort out what the protocols have to be."

He dismissed suggestions that airliners should be equipped with anti-missile devices, an idea previously aired when an Airbus A300 cargo plane was struck by a shoulder-launched missile after taking off from Baghdad in 2003.

"Some people say planes should be armed with counter devices. That will go absolutely nowhere. If we can't operate aircraft in a free and unencumbered manner without the threat of being taken down, then we shouldn't be operating at all."

A spokesman for IATA was not immediately available for comment but industry sources said it was consulting airlines.

Founded in Havana in 1945, IATA began as a quasi-official body and helped to shape the modern aviation industry.

It has evolved into an industry lobbying group while maintaining a role in setting standards - including the urgent search for better tracking systems after the disappearance of another Malaysia Airlines jet, MH370, in March this year.

The U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization oversees aviation as one of the many diplomatic organizations born out of World War II, but has few direct policing powers and does not have the right to open or close national airspace.

"They can't (close airspace), but they can issue advisories and they may be a little more active," Clark said.

Additionally, he said, national regulators "may start getting involved a little more than they have. They have perhaps left airlines to their own devices".

He said he was not aware of any warnings from outside the industry about the escalating threat in Ukraine, which would change the way airlines think about ground-based conflicts and the risk of flying over some of the world's flashpoints.

"Yes, the airline industry was aware there was shooting at a low level and assumed these were low-grade surface-to-air weapons," he said.

"This was wrong as we now know. Nobody in their wildest dreams thought anybody could have done (such a) calculating act of mass murder."

Clark, who is viewed as one of the airline industry's most influential leaders, said the Ukraine disaster should not be allowed to eclipse or diminish efforts to find MH370, an identical Boeing 777 which disappeared with 239 people on board.

The disasters, and with them more than 500 deaths, have plunged the industry into intense introspection that is expected to lead to changes in the way passenger aircraft and the threats surrounding them are monitored and assessed.

Deprivation in Gaza Strip

20 July 2014 - Boston Globe - Sara Roy

In almost three decades of research and writing on Gaza, I have often asked myself, “Is there a language to really express the torment of Gaza and the way in which the world’s unflinching indifference and heartlessness contribute to it?

Gaza’s present anguish did not emerge in a vacuum nor in response to a single terrible event as the Israeli government would have us believe. Instead, it emanates from a context of ongoing occupation and repression that has transformed Gaza — the center of Palestinian nationalism and resistance to Israeli occupation — into one of the most impoverished, imprisoned areas of the world.

Gaza’s deterioration, however, was not accidental or inadvertent. To the contrary, the devastation of Gaza’s economy (and environment) was deliberate and planned by Israel, imposed through separation and isolation and through a destructive economic blockade, which entered its eighth year last month. The blockade — which has been supported by the United States, the European Union, and Egypt in particular — virtually bans access to markets outside Gaza and confines the overwhelming majority of people to the Strip. This has ended all normal trade upon which Gaza’s tiny economy depends and has disabled the private sector and its capacity to generate jobs, preventing any viable recovery of Gaza’s productive sectors.

Unemployment in Gaza stands at 40.8 percent, a dramatic increase from 18.7 percent in 2000; however, for those people between 15 and 29 years of age, the unemployment rate is almost 60 percent. Because of this, poverty has increased with almost 80 percent of Gazans made dependent on humanitarian aid to survive although they are able and desperate to work.

Another way to understand the impact of the Israeli blockade is this: In 2000, UNRWA (the UN agency responsible for Palestine refugees) was feeding 80,000 people in the Gaza Strip; today it feeds over 830,000 people. Yet, UNRWA’s food aid to almost half the population is now under threat as some international donors such as Canada have inexplicably defunded UNRWA or fund at levels that do not meet Gaza’s burgeoning need. Without an increase in financial support to cover a $22 million shortfall, UNRWA may have to eliminate its food distributions by the end of 2014. If this happens there should be no doubt that Palestinians in Gaza will face starvation for the first time in their history, and the violence that will ensue from their deepened agony and abandonment will be calamitous.

The profound deprivation that has long defined life in Gaza is intensifying. Israel is deliberately targeting and bombing civilian infrastructure with the aim of ensuring Gaza’s continued decay. Even before Israel’s ground invasion, water and sewage treatment facilities in 18 different locations sustained damage, and presently, 900,000 people — half of Gaza’s total population — have no access to water. Fifty percent of sewage pumping and wastewater treatment systems are no longer operational, largely affecting Northern Gaza, Gaza city and Rafah. Damaged pipelines have resulted in the mixing of sewage and water, raising the risk of water borne diseases, a serious public health hazard. Several power lines have also been disabled by bombardments, leaving 80 percent of the population with only four hours of electricity a day, and critically disrupting the delivery of basic services, especially in hospitals.

Israeli warplanes have destroyed or severely damaged between 1,660 and1,890 homes and have inflicted significant damage to at least 1,420 more, displacing around 50,000 people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; 48,000 of the displaced are sheltering in 43 UNRWA facilities. Israeli airstrikes have also attacked a range of institutions including: UNRWA installations, hospitals, health clinics, nursing care centers, rehabilitation centers for the disabled, schools, sports clubs, banks, mosques and office buildings.

Hamas’s targeting of Israeli civilians is also criminal and has achieved little for Palestinians. Instead of stopping Israel, Hamas rocket fire provides a continued rationalization for Israeli aggression on a nearly defenseless population.

Yet the terrible violence now engulfing Gaza, which has left more than 270 (predominantly civilian) dead and over 2,300 injured, feels somehow different say some of my Palestinian friends. There is an unfathomable quality to the violence from which Gaza’s people, especially children, can find no refuge. Raji Sourani, a prominent human rights lawyer in Gaza, recently wrote me, and his message demands to be shared: “Gaza is a totally unsafe place. Day and night the same: shock and terror . . . Airplanes do not leave Gaza’s skies and they are throwing death to children and women. I visited the intensive care unit at Shifa Hospital and you cannot imagine the scene; most of them will die soon. Even medicines do not exist — almost 40 percent shortages. The hospital is full of women and children; many lost [body] parts and limbs. The ceasefire will not last without ending the siege [and] opening the crossings . . . People here have nothing to lose except misery and humiliation . . . We want to live a normal life, with dignity. I believe this will go on for some time, I am sure we will pay heavily for it, but freedom has a price.”

Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University.

On the MH17 crash site

19 July 2014

Max Seddon is a foreign affairs reporter without portfolio @BuzzFeed. formerly of @AP moscow.

His comments from the MH17 crash site tell a desperate story. His article for Buzzfeed is here: "Chaos At Malaysia Airlines Crash Site Leaves Victims By The Roadside"

OSCE constantly remind reporters that they are monitors, not establishing guilt/cause over #MH17. Makes lack of real investigation so stark.

OSCE: "Some of the equipment seems to have been moved" from #MH17 site. No clue which rebels control the site. No idea where black boxes are.

The #MH17 passenger manifest. 298 dead. malaysiaairlines.com/content/dam/ma…

Some rebels seem as shocked as everyone else. "How could they let a plane fly over here?" said a man with a huge sniper rifle at checkpoint.

At one point several cameramen were filming behind a large piece of fuselage. Easily could have stepped on a body mangled in it. No cordon.

The most troubling thing about the #MH17 site is what isn't there: many personal effects and parts of the plane. One can only speculate.

A gunman named after one of the Seven Dwarves from Snow White blocking OSCE convoy. #MH17 investigation in a nutshell

At this stage, any talk of a credible #MH17 investigation is ridiculous. It'll be a small miracle if relatives get the bodies semi-intact.

Nobody doing much with the bodies. Ambulances carrying rebels to and from #MH17 site. Aid workers seemed to have been drinking overnight.

Counted 82 bodies at #MH17 site. Some in body bags by the side of the road. Others decomposing in the heat. Parts being shoveled into sacks.

No sign of black boxes. No sign of missile debris. No sign of aviation or military experts. No idea where the bodies are going. #MH17

I've counted at least 58 bodies lying around #MH17, plus dozens mangled together and charred. Nobody will say where they're going.

These guys are "experts" from local police. Not seen any hint of actual aviation experts here. #MH17 pic.twitter.com/cwRvV1N9IH

Basically, the OSCE are only allowed 30m further than they were yesterday. Grumpy won't let them onto the field where debris and bodies are.

Emergency services say they have removed 65 bodies from this part of the site. I count at least 21 others lying around, many in the open.

OSCE team arrives at #MH17 site. Rebels say they won't let them through and block off site. OSCE makes to leave, then rebels change minds.

One of the rebels casually threatens to kneecap reporters every five minutes. Another is wearing a beekeeping suit and reeks of alcohol.

Ukraine security council: Emergencies ministry has explored 18 of 25 square km at #MH17 crash site; 186 bodies found - @Reuters

Rebels have a thing for Disney nicknames. The end of the #MH17 crash site where we are is run by Grumpy. Baloo was on a military tribunal.

Rebels denying access to #MH17 crash site until "investigative brigade" finishes work. Won't say where the bodies are being taken.

DNR guys from "prosecutor's office" at #MH17 site have no idea about buffer zone, or who the prosecutor is. Rebels taking bodies to morgue.

Kiev, DNR have agreed on a 20km buffer zone around the #MH17 crash site so Ukraine can recover the festering bodies. slon.ru/fast/world/kie…

The longer #MH17 crash site remains a mess, OSCE say, the tougher the investigation will get. Shelling heard nearby, perimeter not secure.

OSCE have no idea who is controlling #MH17 crash site. Appears to be several small rebel groups with no leader. Fate of black boxes unknown.
via Twitter Web Client

OSCE on #MH17 crash site: bodies lying everywhere decomposed, some burnt, others mangled together. Nobody removing them for cold storage.
via Twitter Web Client

Dutch response becomes stronger

19 July 2014

The Dutch foreign minister said that the Netherlands was "angry, furious" by reports that bodies were being dragged around the crash site.

At a meeting with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, Frans Timmermans said: "We are already shocked by the news we got today of bodies being dragged around, of the site not being treated properly ... People are angry, furious."

He told the Ukrainian leader that the Netherlands wanted to know who was responsible for shooting down the plane on Thursday. "Once we have the proof, we will not stop before the people are brought to justice. Not just the people who pulled the trigger but also those who made it possible. I think the international community needs to step up its efforts in this respect."

About two thirds of the passengers killed were Dutch

Mr Putin and his murderous puppets

19 July 2014 The Melbourne Age (in a strong editorial)

Sometimes it is difficult to imagine why an insurgency on the other side of the world, waged by militants with intensely parochial ambitions, would have any bearing on our lives here in Australia. The brutal jousting that gains them, from one day to another, a few more kilometres of territory seems so far from our peaceable lives that to draw a connection seems futile. But the savage act that blasted a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet from the skies above eastern Ukraine has drawn us all a little closer to the hostilities in that region.

All 298 people aboard the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur died when it was shot down by what is believed to have been a Russian-made and Russian-supplied ground-to-air missile. Twenty-eight Australians were on board. Among the passengers were 108 medical researchers, healthcare workers and AIDs activists, who were en route to Melbourne for the 20th International AIDS Conference this weekend. Among them was the renowned HIV/AIDS researcher and former International AIDS Society president Joep Lange. In this random and reckless act of violence, the world has lost some wonderful and inspiring people.

In the days and weeks ahead, there will be much blame-laying. Some of that must go to Malaysia Airlines for flying a civilian aircraft over a war zone. In the past week alone, the Ukrainian government lost three aircraft, which it says were shot down either by Russian military aircraft or by ground-to-air missiles fired by Russian-supplied insurgents. The warnings could not have gone unnoticed. Malaysia Airlines is not the only airline to fly over Ukraine, but considering this has come four months after the unexplained loss of flight MH370, this disaster is cause for an independent and internationally scrutinised examination of everything that Malaysia Airlines is doing in terms of passenger safety and flight policy.

Yet, absolute blame for this latest tragedy should rest where it rightly belongs: on those who fired the missile and those who supplied it. What links those notions is Russia. It is early days, but this appears to have been a diabolical act of state-sponsored terrorism. The shooting down of a civilian aircraft may not have been intended, but reckless carnage of this order must be categorically condemned.

We do not detect such condemnation from Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who suggested this incident would not have happened if Ukraine was not addled by war. Well, yes, Mr Putin. Ukraine's eastern regions are infested with quasi-military units of insurgents, who take their cues from Russia and their weaponry from Russia. Their dangerous brand of hubris is fuelled by assurances that they remain in lock-step with Mr Putin's policies. As we said in April, Mr Putin is the puppeteer in all this, orchestrating the action from afar.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Australia will push the United Nations to establish an independent investigation into the causes of the crash. And in unusually strong language, he appeared to chastise Russia for its regional aggression: ''The bullying of small countries by big ones, the trampling of justice and decency in the pursuit of national aggrandisement, and reckless indifference to human life should have no place in our world.''

Whatever an investigation may find, The Age believes the international community cannot afford to be ambiguous in its response. The insurgents who have wreaked havoc inside Ukraine appear to have caused a catastrophic loss of life. They must be brought to justice. At the same time, Russia's territorial ambition must be curbed. Mr Putin may not have his fingerprints on the missiles, but he nevertheless remains culpable.

BBC's Fergal Keane at the MH17 crash site

19 July 2014

Fergal Keane@fergalkeane47 9 mins
#MH17 all bodies uncovered here. Unspeakable.

Fergal Keane@fergalkeane47 11 mins
#MH17 A cornfield, low clouds, birdsong, thunder in distance, a woman's body, a child's body.

Fergal Keane@fergalkeane47 16 mins
#MH17 the bodies splayed in the awful unnatural postures of violent death.

Fergal Keane@fergalkeane47 18 mins
#MH17 At crash site. Body parts strewn in field. Obscenity of war at its most graphic

Fergal Keane@fergalkeane47 1 hr
#MH17 So far separatist c/points less hassle than before.

Fergal Keane@fergalkeane47 1 hr
#MH17 Pravyi Sektor insignia on shoulder patches. Unfriendly and v thorough search.

Fergal Keane@fergalkeane47 1 hr
#MH17 last night passed thru c/point of Pravyi Sektor far right Ukranian nationalists an hr of west of Donetsk

Fergal Keane@fergalkeane47 1 hr
#MH17 On way to site.Back to the sullen c/points of E Ukraine

And in the Guardian this morning:

MH17 plane crash site: sunhats, sweets … and stakes marking body parts

19 July 2014

For miles around, you can see them, strips of white cotton attached to wooden stakes in the fields of eastern Ukraine. Each stake marks a victim from flight MH17, or at least a body part. There are a lot of stakes.

But then there is a lot of debris, a vast wash of metal, charred remnants, and the surreal paraphernalia of international long-haul travel, smeared over a ruined 15-square mile area. Handbags. Footwear. Passports amid the sunflowers.

You can tell some of the passengers had been on holiday. Scattered across the crash site was the unmistakable jetsam of vacation: sunhats and suntan lotion, summer clothing, duty free shopping, the occasional poolside novel. You could also tell that children were here from the unopened packets of Haribo sweets, the fistful of playing cards, a first-year drawing scrawled in a notebook, a small black-and-white stuffed monkey abandoned in the grass.

Some of the bodies are perfectly intact, some ruined beyond recognition, some partly disrobed by the G-force of falling to earth. One woman lies partly burned, a hand raised above her head, stripped of all but her undergarments.

It was not just the human passengers that died. An unlikely menagerie of dead pets lay strewn across the scene in the grass, bright blue and yellow macaws, a cockatoo, a random giant St Bernard dog curled peacefully where he fell.

The sticky Ukrainian summer will not be kind to the bodies. Warm sunshine gave way to rain and humidity on Friday. By late afternoon, the sharp tang of kerosene had been overpowered by something altogether more macabre: the cloying smell of death.

They're getting used to death here. This is a de facto war zone. Explosions rang out every few minutes as a reminder. And when the separatist rebels first saw the debris falling on Thursday afternoon, their initial thought was that they might be under attack from paratroopers.

"Initially I thought it was a paratrooper descending from the plane but then realized that there were people falling from the sky in the passenger seats," said one of the rebels Vladimir, 45, holding a Kalashnikov in his hands.

Rescue workers were overwhelmed by the scene. Volunteer miners combed the long grass for bodies; some of the first emergency workers on the scene bizarrely happened to be a unit trained in scuba diving search and rescue.

"This isn't our area of expertise," said Boris, 41, an experienced diver who drove his unit to the scene in a Soviet-era Gaz military vehicle. "We have no idea where anything is, we have a huge task ahead of us. We've not experienced anything like this, nothing on this scale."

The shooting down of Malaysian MH17

18 July 2014

Yesterday afternoon over war torn Eastern Ukraine Malaysian flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a ground-to-air missile.

The flight was on a regular air route at 33,000 feet. The airliner was a Boeing 777. There were 283 passengers and 15 crew onboard. The flight would have been about 2 hours into its 12 hour flight; passengers would probably still be finishing lunch; watching movies and feeling safe and excited as many headed for holidays and others for a conference in Australia.

A group of international HIV/Aids experts flying to Melbourne were among those killed. Over half of the passengers were Dutch citizens.

There are no survivors with wreckage strewn over a large 4x6 mile site.

The USA has pointedly criticised Russian arming of rebels in Ukraine as the world demanded answers. Though the White House stopped short of directly blaming Russia for the plane’s destruction but linked its remarks on the disaster to the Kremlin’s support for separatists in Ukraine, urging Vladimir Putin’s government to stop inflaming the situation in the country and take "concrete steps" towards de-escalation.

Leaders from around the world reacted with shock and anger to the shooting down of the jet. The US said it had intelligence showing a surface-to-air missile was used

Hillary Clinton interviewed on US television said that "there should be outrage in european capitals."

Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said that if MH17 had been shot down it amounted to an "unspeakable crime" and a full international investigation must be allowed to take place.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said Ukraine bore responsibility for the crash, but he did not accuse Ukraine of shooting the plane down. "This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in south-east Ukraine," he said, according to a Kremlin statement issued early on Friday. "And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy."

Which is of course nonsense as this whole crisis started with the annexation by Russia of the Crimean region of the Ukraine and further aggression in the Eastern Ukraine.

Air safety experts have criticised Malaysia Airlines for flying over Ukraine airspace but the company maintains that the flight path was deemed safe to travel by civil aviation authorities. The plane was traveling 1,000ft above the no-fly zone. Other airlines have said they either began avoiding the airspace above the troubled region several months ago, or have now joined Malaysia Airlines in diverting all aircraft away from it.

Singapore Air, Eva Air and Air India all had airplanes over Eastern Ukraine at the time of the crash.

Many airlines avoided Ukraine immediately after the crash, as the flight data map shows below, and Ukraine on Friday closed airspace over the east of the country.

If there is proof of Russian involvement then the world is moving into dangerous territory. Extended sanctions would be needed. Russia would have to be removed from future international gatherings such as the G20. But public anger would and should demand more. Removal of international events, such as the 2018 World Cup, from Russia should be demanded. World leaders need to lead and to be strong.

Anyone that have instructions to shoot the plane down and who fired the missile will need to be brought to justice.

There are some graphic details of the crash site in this article: Fallen Bodies, Jet Parts and a Child’s Pink Book

United Arab Emirates detains two Qatari citizens on spying charges

10 July 2014 The Financial Times

The United Arab Emirates has detained two Qatari citizens amid accusations of spying, in a move that threatens to sour already tense relations between the two western allies.

Al-Khaleej newspaper, based in the emirate of Sharjah, reported that two Qataris had been arrested on charges of spying in the UAE, after another report in Qatar’s Al Arab newspaper that three Qataris had been detained in Abu Dhabi.

A UAE official declined to comment on the reports, but described them as credible. The two reports are believed to concern the same individuals, with one of the three Qataris being later released, according to activists.

The detentions underscore the increasingly fractious relationship between Abu Dhabi and Doha, in part explained by their sharply contrasting attitudes to the rise of Islamist movements in the region.

While Qatar has given financial and political support to the Muslim Brotherhood, the UAE is deeply hostile to the pan-Arab movement.

In the wake of the Arab spring, security-conscious UAE cracked down on domestic dissent, arresting scores of people for membership of a society allegedly linked to the Brotherhood – which culminated in the sentencing of 69 Emiratis to jail terms of up to 15 years.

A Qatari citizen was also detained last year at Dubai airport and later sentenced by an Emirati court to seven years in prison on charges of supporting Al-Islah, a group the UAE says is a branch of the Brotherhood.

Qatar insists its support for the Brotherhood is a rational backing of a popular movement. Analysts say Doha’s leaders, while paradoxically threatened by the movement’s doctrine, have decided to seek influence within the Brotherhood, which as the vanguard of political Islam is likely to be a powerful force in regional politics for decades.

The UAE, which has emerged as the leading Arab voice against Islamist extremism, by contrast sees the Brotherhood as not only a radicalising force within Islam, but an existential threat to the monarchical systems of the conservative Gulf states.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have sought to pressure Qatar to drop support for the Brotherhood, removing their ambassadors from Doha in March. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have also backed Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted the Brotherhood’s Mohamed al-Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

In April the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council member states agreed to end their rifts by pledging to stop interference in each others’ affairs. Emirati officials interpreted the so-called “Riyadh declaration” as a promise by Qatar to constrain the Brotherhood’s activities in Doha and muzzle the Al-Jazeera TV channel, which is accused by many of harbouring Brotherhood sympathies.

The UAE official quoted in the Al-Khaleej report said Qatar’s foreign policy was threatening Doha with further “isolation.”

Doha has insisted it does not dictate Al-Jazeera’s coverage. While the Qatari foreign ministry insisted it would protect its citizens, it said it would not comment on the detentions until they were resolved.

Spy cases between Gulf states are rare. In 2011, Oman said it had broken up a ring of officials spying on behalf of the UAE security services. The incident sparked a bilateral diplomatic furore, which was resolved via Kuwaiti mediation.

A mall too far?

6 July 2014

In the latest bigger and best news from Dubai the city has announced its intent to build the world’s largest mall; and to build it under a retractable giant glass dome.

It is part of a strategy to boost Dubai’s burgeoning tourism economy by providing more options for visitors amid searing summer temperatures. Not a bad strategy - but another mall?

Dubai Holding, the conglomerate that owns Jumeirah Group, intends to develop a 8 million square foot Mall of the World along Sheikh Zayed Road on a site across the highway from the Mall of the Emirates, already one of the biggest shopping destinations in the region.

It would connect to 100 hotels in what is described as the world’s first “temperature-controlled city” – covered by a dome that would open during the winter months. Plans also include a 3 million sq ft wellness district to cater to medical tourists, 7 kilometres of shop-lined streets and a cultural district inspired by the Ramblas in Barcelona and London’s Oxford Street.

The entire project, sprawled across 48 million sq ft, also claims what would be the world’s biggest indoor theme park.

“We announced recently that we plan to transform Dubai into a cultural, tourist and economic hub for the 2 billion people living in the region around us; and we are determined to achieve our vision,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Tourism is a key driver of the Dubai economy, and the emirate's leaders want Dubai to be a year round destination.

But the project has no financing details and no start and finish dates.

Dubai’s economic rebound has revived interest in the sort of larger-than-life megaprojects that featured widely before the dramatic collapse of property prices in late 2008.

The Mall of the World is the latest in a slew of retail and leisure-based developments to be announced over the last year that aim to capitalise on improving investor sentiment towards the emirate, helped by the rapid appreciation of property prices.

But some analysts have warned that the property revival could unravel unless more measures are put in place.

“We expect policymakers to monitor closely the developments in the real estate sector to guard against unsustainably rapid price rises and risks of a sharp correction,” said Bank of America Merrill Lynch in a report released on Thursday. “The central bank suggestion that foreign, cash-based, non-GCC investors are a driving force behind renewed strength of the residential market suggests a speculative element and vulnerability to the global liquidity cycle.”

95 years on from Alcock and Brown

4 July 2014

95 years ago Captain John Alcock (pilot) and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown (navigator), in a modified Vimy IV, made the first non-stop aerial crossing of the Atlantic.

Alcock and Brown’s aircraft was built mainly of wood with a fabric covering, by the Vickers factory in Weybridge, Surrey, England. The price of the aircraft was £3,000. The twin-engined Vickers Vimy plane, named after a famous WWI battle, had two 360 horse power Rolls-Royce Eagles VIII engines. Additional tanks increased its fuel capacity to 865 gallons and gave the aircraft a range of 2,440 miles. The nose cockpit was faired over, and the pilot and navigator sat side-by-side in the main cockpit.

They took off from Lester's Field, near St. Johns, Newfoundland on June 14,1919, and landed June 15,1919, just outside Clifden in Ireland. The time for the crossing was sixteen hours, twenty-seven minutes.

That simple sentence belies an amazing story of courage and airmanship that ended rather ignominiously in an Irish bog and is commemorated by a simple egg like stone near the landing site.

The news of the adventure spead like wildfire and the two men were received as heroes in London. For their accomplishment, they were presented with Lord Northcliffe's Daily Mail prize of £10,000 by Winston Churchill, who was then Britain's Secretary of State. A few days later, both men were knighted at Buckingham Palace by King George V, for recognition of their pioneering achievement.

The first transatlantic cargo was a bundle of 197 letters that Dr. Robinson, Postmaster in Newfoundland, had entrusted to the fliers.

After three weeks of exhaustive preparation, Alcock and Brown departed on 14 June 1919 from Lester's Field in St John's, Newfoundland. The sky was overcast. It was 1:40 p.m. as the Vimy, with the throttle wide open, and both engines at full power, taxied over the bumpy ground at Lester's Field. Alcock headed his aircraft into the west wind. "Depressingly slowly the Vimy taxied toward a dark pine forest at the end of the airfield," Brown reported. "The echo of the roaring motors must have struck quite hard against the hills around St. John's. Almost at the last second Alcock gained height. We were only inches above the top of the trees." Alcock's recollections were rather more brief: "At 1:45 p.m. we were airborne," he said.

1,890 nautical miles of open sea and sixteen hours of flying time lay ahead of the Englishmen.

Alcock turned the aircraft eastwards, in the direction of Ireland. The biplane gained height, and the coast of Newfoundland was left behind. The altimeter soon read 1,300 ft.

For four hours, the Vimy flew peacefully in the open sky, and the difficult takeoff was forgotten. Alcock and Brown's ambition was to fly the Atlantic non-stop. Although they would not be the first to make the crossing, they aimed at being the first to do so, without intermediate stops.

They battled on through fog banks; noise from a split exhaust pipe and an engine shooting naked flames into the slip-stream; without heating in their leather flying suits; an open cockpit exposed to rain, hail and biting cold; flying from fog into clouds that threw the plane like a leaf.

In the clouds the altimeter reading fell from 4,000ft to a mere 65ft. above the waves as Alcock managed miraculously to regain control of the Vimy. Alcock had opened the throttle to the full. He swung the plane through 180 degrees onto its old course, pulled back the joy stick and climbed slowly to a height of 7,200 ft.

The long-distance flight routine continued. Checks were made regularly on the revolution rate of both engines, on the cooling system temperature, on the oil pressure, and on the fuel consumption as they switched from an empty tank to the next full one. This gave Brown a task for which he was thankful: it made him warm. Before the tanks which directly fed the engines were empty, they had to be refilled by vigorous pumping from the main tank in the fuselage.

Midnight came and went. It was now June 15, but there was no relief for the fliers. At 12:05 a.m. Brown wrote to Alcock: "Must see stars now." Their altitude was 6,500 ft. and they were surrounded by clouds and darkness. The only illumination was the green glow of the control panel lighting and the bursts of flame from the starboard engine. Alcock pulled the joy stick back lightly and opened the throttle. The clouds went on without end.

At 12:15 a.m., Alcock dug his fingers into Brown's shoulder, and pointed above his head. There was the moon, Vega, and the Pole Star, Polaris! At 12:25 a.m., their position was 50 deg 7' latitude north, 31 deg longitude west. They were already nearly half way across, but were still flying a little too far to the south. Brown made further calculations. They had already flown 850 nautical miles, which meant that about 1,000 more still lay ahead. Their average speed had been 106 knots.

At one stage Alcock reported that  "In any case the altimeter wasn't working at that low height and I think that we were not more than 16 to 20 ft. above the water." Snow covered the wings, fuselage, the struts, even the engines. Ice formed on the engine parts, and Alcock needed all his strength to move the rudder. Something drastic had to be done.

Brown grabbed a knife and swung his legs out onto the nose. The limping lieutenant gradually removed the ice from the inlet connections and cautiously cleaned the inspection window of the fuel intake. The slip-stream tugged at him, and frost nibbled at the flesh on his hands. Brown cleared the air filters of snow--then he had to go back again, back and over the nose to the other wing and the other engine.

Meanwhile, Alcock had more than enough to do to keep the plane as steady as he could--flying at 8,000 ft. over the Atlantic in a snowstorm! One false move and Brown would have been plunged to his death, and his own number would undoubtedly have been up soon afterwards.

With astonishing bravery, Brown repeated his acrobatics, not once, but four times. Not a single step or a single movement of the hand was free from risk.

At 6:20 a.m. as day broke, the lateral controls were not operating. They too had iced up. An hour later the Vimy was flying approximately 3,800 ft. higher (at 11,800 ft.) when the sun appeared. For the last time the navigator stripped the gloves from his aching fingers and took up the sextant. His calculations showed that they were still on course. But it was obvious that the plane had to be lowered into warmer air if the elevator and other controls were to be prevented from freezing. Alcock moved the joy stick forward; the plane descended and was engulfed in cloud. Again the fliers had no visibility.

Both men were soon sitting in a puddle; in the cockpit, too, the snow was melting. At 1,000 ft. above the ominously rough ocean, Alcock reopened the throttles, and the engines responded; both ran smoothly. Twenty minutes later, the men were triumphant: they had sighted land. Brown searched on his map. It was not Galway, for which they had been heading, yet Brown knew that the land must be Ireland. Then he saw the top of Connemara, identified the town of Clifden, and scribbled his observations into the log book which he held up for Alcock to read.

Harry Sullivan twitched his ears. The seven-year-old leapt from his bed and ran out onto the streets. ‘I was just in time to see this greyish-coloured machine swooping over the main street’, he recalls. ‘Its huge wings nearly touched the top of the church. I watched as it roared away towards the bog, its wings swaying up and down’.

Alcock had hoped to fly all the way to Brooklands but with the mist-shrouded mountains of Connemara rising before him, he wisely decided to land.

After flying toward the small town at a low height, Alcock circled over the streets and looked for an outlying meadow on which to land. He made a slow curve, found nothing suitable, then headed towards the Marconi radio-station just south of Clifden. Beyond the transmitter's tower he noticed an invitingly green meadow. The men in the transmitter building waved and gesticulated in vain. Below the deceptive green covering lay the extremely dangerous swamp, Derrygimla Moor. Alcock thought that the people in the tower were waving a welcome, and he brought the Vimy down--into the swamp. The plane ploughed a short, deep four-track furrow and buried its nose far into the mud. After 1,890 miles and 15 hours 57 minutes of flying time the heroes had landed in a bog. They had to remain seated, held fast by their safety belts.

The men who had watched the Vimy land rushed toward the plane, jumping from one grass tuft to another through the swamp. A man by the name of Taylor was the first to reach the fliers and he asked breathlessly:

"Anybody hurt?"

"No."

"Where are you from?"

"America."

After the trans-Atlantic flight, Teddy Brown (by now Sir Arthur Whitten-Brown) got married and headed for the U.S. on his honeymoon in October 1919. Brown died in 1948.

Alcock died in a plane crash in late 1919 delivering a new Vickers plane to Paris.

Their flight is legendary. One of the most significant and dramatic flights in aviation history. Nobody repeated the feat for eight years. America and Britain were now less than a day apart.

The 100th anniversary in five years deserves to be a special celebration.

The Atlantic Challenge

First Non-stop Trans Atlantic Crossing

Seventeen years on.....

1 July 2014

On this day seventeen years ago Britain returned Hong Kong to China.

It was raining, heavily. The parties of the previous night gave way to more sombre parades and speeches.

But the tanks did not roll in and people got on with their lives.

Chris Patten gave way to the awful, Beijing-puppet, Tung Chee-Wah. And one country-two systems began its fifty year social experiment.

Seventeen years on it is working and it is not working.

Today is the annual 1 July demonstration pro-democracy demonstration. And this year 500,000 people were likely to take part – a protest possibly even larger than the 2003 demonstration, when a record-breaking turnout caused Beijing to repeal a controversial proposal for "anti-subversion" legislation. Police have said that they will dispatch 4,000 officers to oversee the march

The demonstration's catchy (!!) slogan is "Defending Hong Kong Authority: No fear of Beijing's threat of comprehensive control," according to its main organiser, the Civil Human Rights Front. Marchers will depart from Victoria park in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay area at about 3pm and end several hours later at Chater Road.

The marchers' demands centre on achieving "true universal suffrage" for the region by 2017. On Sunday night, the pro-democracy movement Occupy Central with Love and Peace wrapped up an unofficial referendum in which nearly 800,000 people voted – more than 10% of Hong Kong's population. The vast majority requested that Hong Kong's 7.2 million residents be allowed to choose their own leader. China's state-run media has shown no indication that Beijing will consider such demands.

Meanwhile Hong Kong officials held a morning flag-raising ceremony to celebrate the 17th anniversary of the region's return to mainland control on 1 July 1997 after 156 years of British colonial rule. At a reception afterwards, the region's pro-Beijing chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, warned protesters against doing anything to damage the territory's "prosperity and stability". The same message that the accounting firms have embarrassingly issued.

Many Hong Kong residents fear that Beijing – which governs the region under the principle of "one country, two systems" – has been encroaching on their civil liberties, free press and independent judiciary.

On 10 June, the Communist party's state council issued an unprecedented white paper saying that Hong Kong only has "the power to run local affairs as authorised by the central leadership", a move that infuriated residents.