China’s Plan to Track People

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US financed China Public Security Technology will install about 20,000 police surveillance cameras along streets in southern China.  The cameras will be guided by sophisticated computer software to automatically recognize the faces of police suspects and detect unusual activity.

Beginning this month, China residency cards fitted with powerful computer chips will be issued to most citizens.  The chips will include the citizen’s name, address, work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status, and landlord’s phone number.  Personal reproductive history will supposedly be included for enforcing China’s controversial “one child” policy.  Plans may be made to include credit histories, subway travel payments, and small purchases charged to the card.

Although China’s plans may be the world’s largest effort to meld computer technology with police work to track a population’s activities and to fight crime.  The plan is to better control an increasingly mobile population and to fight crime.  Experts say the technology may violate civil rights though, saying this may help the Communist Party retain power by maintaining tight controls on the population.

Shenzhen, a computer manufacturing center next to Hong Kong, is the first Chinese city to introduce the new residency cards.  Those who do not have the cards will not be able to live in China and cannot get government benefits.  Some civil rights activists  say the cameras are a violation of the right of privacy contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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South Korean hostage UPDATE

The Taliban has killed one of the 23 South Korean hostages.  Pastor Bae Hyung Kyu’s bullet-riddled body was found last week and was returned to his family in South Korea.  His family will not hold a funeral or memorial service until the other kidnapped men and women with him are released.

In a turn of events, however, there is speculation that the Taliban has killed a second South Korean hostage on Monday.  This comes only hours after the Afghan government said it negotiated a stay of execution for the group of hostages.  According to the governor of Ghazni province, the Taliban agreed to extend the deadline for the other 22 surviving hostages until noon tomorrow.  Afghan officials say they have not recovered a body and could not confirm the claim.  The hostages have been held since July 17.

A video possibly showing seven of the female hostages was broadcast last night on al-Jazeera television.  The women in the undated, silent video were wearing head scarves and appeared to be unharmed.

The Taliban has set many deadlines for the release of 23 imprisoned insurgents in exchange for the lives of the 23 South Korean hostages.  Reports say, however, that it is unlikely that the Afghan government will release any prisoners in exchange for the hostages, despite Taliban threats.

In March, Afghan President Hamid Karzai approved a deal that freed five captive Taliban insurgents for the release of Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo.  Karzai was later criticized by the United States and Britain, and called the trade a one-time deal.

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Myanmar human rights defender sentenced

Myanmar human rights defender sentenced

A Myanmar human rights defender was sentenced to eight years in prison for inciting unrest.  He was beaten by a pro-government mob.

Myint Naing was sentenced in the Henzeda Township Court, 60 miles northwest of Yangon, Myanmar (Burnma). 

Five people others were sentenced to four years imprisonment each.  Myint Naing and a fellow member of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Network, Maung Maung Lay, were attacked and seriously wounded April 18 at Oakpon village in Henzeda.  They were headed to another village to continue to conduct human rights training.

Fify to 100 men with clubs and other homemade weapons attacked them.  The attack was carried out by the Union Solidarity and Development Association, a government-backed group accused of assaulting and intimidating the military government’s opponents.

The USDA was linked to attacks against opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy supporters in the Yangon in 1997, as well as a deadly attack on the party leader and her supporters in northern Myanmar on May 30, 2003.

The junta created the USDA in 1993 as a social welfare organization. It claims more than 20 million members, more than one-third of the country’s population. Public servants and local officials come under heavy pressure to join.

The military has ruled since 1962, with the latest junta emerging after a 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy protests. The military has been widely accused of atrocities against ethnic minorities and of suppressing the democracy movement.

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South Korean hostage deadline extended

Twenty-three South Koreans, including 18 women, were kidnapped on Thursday, July 19, while riding a bus through the Ghazni province in Afghanistan.  Korean negotiators accompanied by Afghan elders and clerics met face-to-face with the kidnappers of the hostages on Tuesday in Afghanistan, as a threatened Taliban deadline to execute them passed by once again.  The rebels have pushed back their ultimatum on the Koreans’ fate at least three times.

Ghazni villagers demonstrated, demanding the hostages be released.  The province’s police chief, Mohammad Zaman, said the Taliban should release the hostages as they are guests in the country and they want them to be safe.

Originally, the rebels have threatened to kill the South Koreans unless 23 Taliban prisoners held by Afghan authorities are released and Seoul withdraws its 200 soldiers from Afghanistan.  Now, it is reported that the militants are demanding monetary payment for the South Korean hostages’ release. 

The 200 South Korean troops serving in the US-led coalition in Afghanistan are scheduled to leave by the end of 2007.  The hostages  were said to be involved in medical and volunteer aid. 

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Indonesian provincial legislature considers HIV-microchip implants

The Papua legislature is now debating whether to approve a bill allowing microchips to be implanted in people infected with HIV. The proposal is a way of preventing the spread of HIV in Indonesia.  However, health workers there strongly oppose the bill.

About 2.4% of Papuans are known to be HIV-carriers. Infection rates are estimated at 15 times the national average.

A member of the parliament’s health committee made the proposal. He said that microchips could track people who continued to infect others. The bill also proposes mandatory testing of every Papua resident. Also considered was tattooing HIV-positive people.

The Papua AIDS Commission has rejected the bill. It said the proposals were illogical and a violation of human rights.

To become law, the bill would need to be approved by government, health and legal experts and pass a public consultation.

The province has just over 3,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, and there have been 356 deaths reported. Papua has a population of about 2.5 million.

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India Elects First Female President

India elected its first female president, Pratibha Patil, on Saturday.  Ms. Patil, 72, was widely expected to win and had won almost two-thirds of the votes cast by federal and state legislators.  She had the support of the governing Congress Party and its political allies.  The election of a woman to the historically ceremonial post continues an Indian tradition of using the presidency to give a high-profile voice to disadvantaged groups.  Past presidents include Muslims and a Sikh, minorities among India’s dominant Hindus.

Women still face widespread discrimination in the workplace and at home.  Although one of India’s most powerful leaders  was the female prime minister, Indira Gandhi, many Indian families regard daughters as a liability because of a tradition requiring a bride’s family to pay a large dowry of cash and gifts.  Consequently, their education and overall health is often neglected, and thus women are still underrepresented in politics.

Ms. Patil’s election will make India the largest country to boast a female head of state.  She defeated the current Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, and will replace A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.  Ms. Patil’s campaign was not easy, however, with opposition politicians and the media scrutinizing her, her past, and her family.  Opponents said she lacked the national stature for the post and complained that her only qualification was her loyalty to the powerful Gandhi family. 

Ms. Patil received 2489 out of the 2706 votes cast on Thursday.  She will be sworn in as India’s 13th president on Wednesday, and will serve for a five-year term.

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Attackers kill Siberian environmental protester

Attackers raided a camp of environmental protesters, killing one person and injuring seven people.

More than 20 demonstrators had been camped out by a reservoir near Angarsk, about 2,600 miles east of Moscow, to protest nuclear waste processing at a state-owned Electrolysis Chemical Plant. Local police detained two suspects and identified 13 others.

Angarsk is about 60 miles from the southern end of Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake. Russia is setting up a uranium enrichment center at the plant to enrich uranium from Kazakhstan, a major uranium ore producer.

President Vladimir Putin proposed setting up the site as a way to provide uranium fuel to nations intent on building nuclear power plants, while making sure they don’t develop weapons programs.

The enriched uranium supply would be made available only to countries which have made nonproliferation commitments. These would include a pledge of no use for nuclear explosive purposes and acceptance of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

The demonstrators say Russia plans to become a center for processing and storing spent fuel from abroad, and that this plant could be part of the lucrative business.

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Malaysia arrests blogger

The Malaysian government detained Nathaniel Tan under the Official Secrets Act for posting information on the Internet ( the government considered sensitive.

His arrest was part of a government campaign to combat alleged to inaccurate information being spreading by bloggers.

Police arrested Tan and seized his computers. Tan also manages the website of the opposition National People’s Party. Police questioned Tan for four days of police.

Tan potentially faces a large fine and a mandatory one-year jail sentence if charged and found guilty under the OSA. The OSA has “vaguely worded definitions” of what constitutes an official secret.

Tan is well known in blogging community. He is noted for his criticism of government leaders. He had previously criticized minister Baharum and asked readers to “vote this guy out.” Baharum was investigated and cleared last week after allegations that he had received $1.6 million in bribes to release three convicted criminals.

Analysts see the government’s campaign as an attempt to instill fear and suppress attacks on national leaders, especially on Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi before of a general election expected later this year.

The ruling National Front coalition does not want to see a swing in voter support for the opposition party, which is promising more transparent government, affirmative action to help all Malaysians, and to end racially-discriminatory policies.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance and Reporters without Borders both urged the government to respect human rights and restrain the police. “By arresting [Tan], the authorities are trying to intimidate Malaysian Internet users and get them to censor themselves,” SEAPA said in a statement. “Until now, they had limited themselves to threats and abusive prosecutions. Now they have gone further and adopted a more radical form of repression.”

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Japanese war orphans end suit

Approximately 2200 Japanese orphans who were abandoned in China following Japan’s defeat in World War II have agreed to accept a proposal from the government.  In the agreement, the government would provide more aid to the war orphans after dropping their compensation lawsuits.  The proposal comes in response to suits filed by the 2200 orphans.

The lawsuit accused the Japanese government of failing to adequately support them when they returned to Japan.  Many of the orphans are now sick and elderly, while struggling to survive because they cannot speak fluent Japanese.

Under the proposal on new livelihood support measures, the war orphans will receive a monthly pension payment of $535, an increase from the $178 they now receive.  Additionally, they will receive a special subsidy in place of welfare benefits, and the government will help cover their housing, medical, and nursing care.  In the proposal, the orphans will abandon their lawsuits against the government.

Thousands of Japanese children were abandoned in China by their parents as former Soviet troops closed in at the end of the war in 1945.  Many were adopted by the Chinese and were too young to remember their Japanese names or their biological parents. 

In 1972, approximately 6300 people, including 2500 war orphans, returned to Japan after Tokyo normalized ties with Beijing.

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Shutdown of nuclear facilities in North Korea

Photo of a tanker leaving South Korea on Thursday, carrying 6200 tons of oil to the North.

After four and a half years of operation, North Korea is expected to begin shutting down its main nuclear facilities this week.  The United Nations have verified that North Korea has shut down its nuclear reactor already.  The director general of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei said the shutdown of five facilities in Yongbyon, North Korea should not be difficult, and should be completed within approximately a month.

This shutdown would halt North Korea’s only declared program for producing fuel that can be used in nuclear weapons.  Experts say these five facilities can yield more than thirteen pounds of plutonium a year, enough for one atomic bomb.

North Korea agreed to shutdown its Yongbyon facilities in an agreement with the United States, South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan.  The agreement called for shipping 50,000 tons of fuel oil to North Korea.  The North now says it is ready to permanently disable the reactor if the US lifts economic sanctions and strikes the North from a list of terrorism sponsors.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said progress on disarmament would depend on the measures the US and Japan would take to rescind their hostile policies toward North Korea.

After the freeze of the facilities, however, many questions remain.  These include whether North Korea will provide the agency with a complete inventory of its nuclear materials, how much plutonium it has produced thus far, and whether it may return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.  The North withdrew from the Treaty in 2003 after Washington accused it of running a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of a disarmament deal and stopped oil deliveries.

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Born and raised in a North Korean gulag

On Nov. 29, 1996, in a North Korean prison camp, Shin Dong Hyok (14) and his father were made to sit in the front row of a crowd assembled to watch executions. They had already spent seven months in a torture compound, and Shin assumed they were also going to be executed. Instead, the guards executed his mother and brother. Shin was born in a prison camp and escaped in 2005.

Shin is the first North Korean who is known to have escaped from a prison camp. He was confined to a “total-control zone.”

According to the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul: “Prisoners sent to a total-control zone can never come out. They are put to work in mines or logging camps until they die. Thus the authorities don’t even bother to give them ideological education. They only teach them skills necessary for mining and farming.”

There are at least four other prison camps in North Korea. These others are far less known because so few have emerged to describe them.

According to Shin, the prison authorities matched his father with his mother and made them spend five days together before separating them. This is known as “award marriage,” a privilege given only to outstanding inmates. An exemplary worker might be allowed to visit the woman chosen as his wife a few times a year.

Young children lived with their mothers, who worked from 5 a.m. to midnight. Once they turned 11, guards moved the children to communal barracks but were allowed to visit their mothers if they excelled at their work.

Inmates were fed the same meal three times a day: a bowl of steamed corn and a salty vegetable broth.

Shin’s life changed in 1996, when his mother and brother were accused of trying to escape. Guards interrogated him in an underground cell. They stripped and hung him by his arms and legs from the ceiling, and held him over hot charcoal.

During the interrogations he learned that his father’s family belonged to a “hostile class” because his uncles had collaborated with the South Korean Army during the Korean War.

On Jan. 2, 2005, when Shin and his co-worker were collecting firewood near the camp’s electrified fence and could not see any guards, they ran.

In July 2005, Shin reached China. In February 2006, a South Korean helped him seek asylum at the South Korean Consulate in Shanghai. He arrived in Seoul last August.

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Former head of China SFDA executed

China on Tuesday executed the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), Zheng Xiaoyu. The Supreme People’s Court approved the death sentence of Mr. Zheng, 62, for accepting 6.5 million yuan (approximately $850,000) in bribes to allow substandard medicine slip past regulations. He was accused of taking bribes from eight pharmaceutical companies.

Mr. Zheng’s execution follows a string of food and drug safety lapses on products made in China. This is, however, the first time China has imposed a death sentence on an official of his rank since 2000. The People’s Daily, the voice of the ruling Communist Party, said the harsh punishment was intended to deter other corrupt officials and President Hu Jintao’s attempt to promote a tough, clean government image.

Under Mr. Zheng’s tenure at the SFDA from 1997 to 2005 dozens died in China from fake or bad drugs. One antibiotic caused the deaths of at least ten people. In another case, a gallbladder medicine containing the wrong ingredients is believed to have led to the deaths of at least five people. An SFDA spokesperson, Yan Jiangying says the agency is working hard to tighten its safety procedures.

Skeptics, however, say this harsh sentence may deter corrupt officials momentarily, but Mr. Zheng’s execution cannot stop corruption because it is so widespread and the risk to officials are so low.

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Indonesia sues Suharto, former dictator

Indonesia sued Suharto, the former dictator, for $1.54 billion. Suharto fell from power nine years ago.

The Indonesian government has claimed that Suharto and his foundation stole $441 million from state institutions between 1978 and 1998. The government also seeks $1.1 billion in damages. Suharto has avoided criminal corruption charges by claiming bad health.  He is 86.

Transparency International has estimated that Suharto and his family amassed up to $35 billion between his ascent to power in 1966 and the end of his rule in 1998. Suharto pressed state banks, other government institutions, and Indonesian businesses to give part of profits to his foundations. Suharto claimed that he collected the money to give scholarships to poor children. Instead, prosecutors accuse him of diverting the money to his other family foundations and companies.

Mr Suharto’s youngest son, Tommy, and half-brother Probosutedjo are the only family members convicted of corruption.

Tommy (Hutomo Mandala Putra) served five years for ordering the murder of a Supreme Court judge who convicted him of corruption in a land scam. The government seeks to seize $48 million of his frozen assets.

Probosutedjo is serving four years in prison for stealing $11 million from a government reforestation fund.

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Malaysian politician’s use of a doctored photograph “distasteful”

An opposition politician and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) information chief Tian Chua has refused to apologize for posting a satirical photomontage featuring Malaysia’s deputy prime minister Najib Razak.  The photo links the nation’s prime minister to a murdered Mongolian woman, Altantuya Shaaribuu.  Two of Deputy Prime Minister Razak’s police bodyguards are currently on trial, accused of killing the young woman.  Miss Shaariibuu’s body was found in a jungle clearing outside Kuala Lumpur last November.

Opposition politicians are using the Deputy Prime Minister’s link to the two bodyguards to hint at a possible political scandal, but others say Mr. Chua’s tactics are disgraceful and an example of dirty tactics.

A witness has said Mr. Tian Chua saw a photo of Miss Shaariibuu with the deputy prime minister.  This photo, however, has never been made public.  Instead, Mr. Chua created his own and put it on his website. 

What was supposedly comedy has sparked controversy.  Politicians want Mr. Chua to apologize for using the photo.  Others have demanded that action be taken against Mr. Chua.  One minister said if this were the case, others might also be tempted to insult the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr. Chua has refused to apologize or retract the photo from his website.

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Over six million Afghans face food insecurity

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 6.5 million people face food insecurity in Afghanistan.

In 2006, some areas of Afghanistan faced a food crisis when demand for food surpassed supply, FAO reported.

Floods and torrential rainfall have caused extensive damage to agriculture and livestock.

Acute malnutrition (severe weight loss) affects about 5 to 10 percent of children under five, according to the Afghan government and the UN. Acute malnutrition affects mostly children under two, and is often caused by diarrhea and other hygienic problems.

Afghanistan feeds a majority of its population through an underdeveloped agriculture system. Afghanistan is about 90 percent self-sufficient in cereal production, but it has a long way to go to properly feed its growing population, aid officials say.

Afghanistan needs to preserve its natural resources improve water and irrigation management, diversify agricultural production, expand its fruit and vegetable production, improve livestock production and help households diversify their sources of income, the FAO said.

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