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Date: Tuesday, 25 May 2010 19:51

Heavily armed police and soldiers have been clashing with die-hard defenders of the drug boss Christopher "Dudus" Coke in Kingston, Jamaica, for three consecutive days.

Cook is wanted for extradition to the United States, where he faces a possible sentence of life in prison for drug trafficking and other charges.

Andre Wright, an editor for the Jamaica’s Gleaner newspaper, spoke with msnbc.com by telephone from Kingston about what sparked the current clashes, who Coke is and how the media there is reporting on the crisis.

What is the background of the gang boss Christopher "Dudus" Coke? Who is he?
Cook is alleged to be the major drug lord here. He is linked to the "Shower Posse," which is responsible for mayhem in Jamaica, as well as in areas of the United States, particularly the East Coast.

His group allegedly peddled drugs and executed mayhem throughout much of the United States. They have been linked to be more than 1,400 murders throughout the 80s and 90s. Coke is also said to be in charge of Tivoli Gardens, a neighborhood of Kingston, which is the crime den security forces have invaded over the last three days. 

Image: Police patrol the streets outside the neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens in Kingston
Andrew P. Smith / Reuters
Police patrol the streets outside the neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens in Kingston on Tuesday.

From there he is alleged to have tentacles throughout various areas of the country. He has other enclaves that are loyal to him because he has been a benefactor to communities, he has had political links and he has allegedly been able to extort money from businessmen.

He is said to be the number one criminal in Jamaica. And of course, the U.S. grand jury indictment indicates that.

(For more background from the Gleaner on Coke, see their article: "DUDUS: The Man Who Holds A Nation Hostage…")

What is the political connection between Coke and the political leaders in Jamaica?
"Garrison communities" in Jamaica are areas where gangs are able to enforce political commitment in terms of votes for politicians. In these areas, local gunmen and other gangsters are able to ensure that people vote a particular way.  

So political parties have various garrison communities where they are able to enforce support by paramilitary muscle. Those who may support another party have to fall in line – or else. 

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Monday, 24 May 2010 18:49

LONDON – At the risk of being locked up and ceremonially beheaded in the Tower of London, here’s a confession.

I’ve never much loved our royals.

Not the queen, of course.  It’s the rest of them I worry about.

Put it down to my upbringing, my politics, my lack of gratitude, what you will.

VIDEO: Duchess caught in cash-for-access sting

It has always seemed to me there are too many royals and hangers-on enjoying a lifestyle of great wealth and privilege – without doing very much to earn it.

Shouldn’t they at least be fine upstanding pillars of society?

I know that our queen does a good job, and that she’s been doing it selflessly for almost 60 years. Her sense of duty is second to none. Hats off to her majesty. (I still have her coronation souvenir cup.)

But some of the others?

While Queen Elizabeth commands an awful lot of things – the British Army and the Church of England to name just two – she doesn’t get to pick her relatives. And what a dysfunctional lot some of them have turned out to be. 

Take Sarah Ferguson, aka "Fergie," also formerly known as Her Royal Highness The Princess Andrew Albert Christian Edward, Duchess of York, Countess of Inverness, Baroness Killyleagh.

The former grandly-titled wife of the queen’s second son, Andrew, has been caught on tape by an undercover newspaper reporter trying to sell access to her ex.

As stings go, this one is toe-suckingly excruciating. Fergie is seen as seedy, greedy and utterly naïve.

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Sunday, 23 May 2010 13:39

By Tom Aspell, NBC News

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Three high profile attacks against NATO targets in Afghanistan in the past week have led to speculation that the Taliban has launched its threatened spring offensive here.

In a telephone call to the NBC News bureau following an overnight rocket attack on Kandahar Air Field 300 miles south of Kabul, Taliban spokesman Qari Yosouf Ahmadi outlined his group's objective in attacking well-defended bases.

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Friday, 21 May 2010 20:10
Sukumbhan Paribatra, the governor of Bangkok, discusses the recent violence that has shaken his city with NBC News' Ian Williams.  He says that psychological recovery from the recent violence may take longer than the rehabilitation of the city will. VIDEO: Bangkok's governor: Violence 'a blow to Thai society' ...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Friday, 21 May 2010 01:44

HAVANNA – The Catholic Church in Cuba is positioning itself as the official mediator with the Castro government on the issue of political prisoners.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega told a press conference this afternoon that he met Wednesday with Raul Castro for more than four hours.

He described the talks as a "magnificent beginning."

He said they spoke about the opposition group Damas de Blanco/Women in White and about political prisoners on the island....(read more)

Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Thursday, 20 May 2010 21:14

CAIRO – "Muslims Outraged at Facebook Profanity" read the front page headline of the Saudi English daily, The Arab News, on Thursday.

But what was most remarkable about reaction to the "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!" on the popular social networking site was the absence of outrage in the Arab world.

The Arab News article examined reaction to the stunt, which invites visitors to draw depictions of the Muslim prophet, Muhammad, and led many participants to post sometimes derogatory cartoons.

Flashback to 2005 when the first series of cartoons lampooning the Muslim prophet were published in a Danish newspaper: massive and deadly protests erupted throughout the Islamic world. Militants launched assassination attempts against cartoonists.

VIDEO: The organizer of the 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!' campaign talks to MSNBC about what he is trying to achieve

Even on radical Islamist websites which regularly post al-Qaeda propaganda, anti-cartoon angst was in short supply.

One rare posting began, "Remember this day well, it is the worst day of your life. Let it remind you that you are a coward." The writer, Ahmed Rafed, then detailed how Muslim weakness had created an environment where others dared to desecrate the Muslim prophet. He promised to retaliate by boycotting Facebook.

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Thursday, 20 May 2010 18:34

By NBC News’ Warangkana Chomchuen  

BANGKOK – Although the leaders of anti-government Red Shirt protesters surrendered to the police Wednesday and most of the demonstrators packed up and went home, the divisions in Thai society are far from over.

Buildings still smoldered and smoke hung over Bangkok’s skyline Thursday from the dozens of buildings set ablaze a day earlier. Sporadic gunfire could still be heard in the heart of the city and a nighttime curfew was extended in Bangkok and 23 other provinces for three more days. The curfew was the first for Bangkok since pro-democracy protests in May 1992. 

Meanwhile, groups of soldiers dismantled the protesters encampment in the center of the city Thursday, taking down tents, the protesters’ main stage, stacks of speakers and projectors.

Bangkok cleanup
Barbara Walton /EPA
A firefighter cleaning up Thailand's largest shopping complex, Central World, the second largest in Asia, which was set on fire by Red Shirt anti government protesters in Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday.

Some locals and tourists snapped pictures of part of Central World, a shopping center that had collapsed after being set on fire. One passerby called it "Thailand's Ground Zero." In the background a military vehicle drove slowly by playing a song written to honor the Thai king.

But there are widespread fears that the army’s crackdown on the antigovernment Red Shirt movement might further inflame divisions that have polarized the country for years.

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Monday, 17 May 2010 20:18
Afghan children from poor families learn performance and circus skills at a school in Kabul that aims to put laughter, learning, safety and creativity back into their lives. NBC's Tom Aspell reports from Kabul. VIDEO: An education in fun for Afghan children...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Monday, 17 May 2010 19:04

By Arata Yamamoto, NBC News Producer

TOKYO – Interplanetary travel using a solar-powered space yacht?

That is exactly what Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, will be testing this week when it launches its H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Island.

One of the payloads it will be sending towards Venus’ orbit is a spacecraft dubbed IKAROS, for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun, which will unfurl in space a 46 by 46 foot sail equipped with razor-thin solar cells.

Utilizing the force generated by photons, or sunlight particles bouncing off of its sail, IKAROS will propel through space, navigating its course solely by adjusting the angle of its massive canvas relative to the sun.

Or to put it more simply, if yacht sailing takes advantage of the wind to navigate its direction, in much the same way, IKAROS will be remotely controlled from Earth to align its sail to take advantage of the sun’s power. 

VIDEO: Japan to launch solar space yacht

Dr. Yuichi Tsuda, a scientist with JAXA, explained why they developed the project. "The United States has already launched several space explorers to Jupiter [and] Saturn, but all of these spacecrafts utilize radio-thermal generators. That’s atomic power to generate electricity. So what we want to realize is an alternative way to reach the outer planets. That's why we are pursuing this technology, just using the energy of the sun."
...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Monday, 17 May 2010 14:48
By Adrienne Mong, NBC News Correspondent SHANGHAI, China – The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) offers up a rare glimpse of itself at the Shanghai World Expo with its pavilion, parked right next door to the Iranian Pavilion. Inside, visitors crowd one another to pose in front of a 15-foot tall model of the Pyongyang monument, Juche Tower. Juche is the ideological principle developed by DPRK founding father, Kim Il-Sung. There's also a miniature bridge over a reproduction of Taedong...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Friday, 14 May 2010 18:13

By Kiko Itasaka, NBC News Producer

KABUL, Afghanistan – After a hard day at work, my neighbor usually changes out of her uniform, applies her lipstick, a dab of mascara, and a dusting of eye shadow.

Then she puts on her powder blue burqa and commutes home.

When asked why she bothers primping when she is about to completely cover up, she giggled. "I wear the makeup for myself. It makes me feel good."

Fatima (who asked that her real name not be used due to security concerns) said she wears the burqa outside because it makes her feel more secure. "No one will notice me if I’m covered up."

Afghan burqa
Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images
Two Afghan burqa-clad women walk along a street in Kabul on May 6, 2010.

She is very distressed by recent European legislative moves to ban the burqa – a catchall term used to describe the Islamic headdress that wholly or mainly conceals the face.

The idea of banning the burqa because of concerns about gender equality, as well as security, has become a hot-button issue in many Western European countries

Just this week, France’s parliament unanimously adopted a formal resolution to ban the burqa, calling it "an affront to French values." The measure is expected to become law in July. Meanwhile, Belgium’s lower-house legislators voted to outlaw the burqa last month and similar bans have been proposed in Switzerland, Italy and the United Kingdom.  

Fatima is befuddled by the ban. "But why?" she asked. "It is a part of our culture, part of our tradition."

She is one of many Afghans who think that Muslims in Europe should be allowed to observe their traditions and customs, and choose what they want to wear.

Of course, the idea of choosing whether or not to wear the veil was an option Afghan women were denied during the reign of the Taliban. Afghan women were forced to wear burqas because, as a Taliban spokesman said, "The face of a woman is a source of corruption."

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Friday, 14 May 2010 12:11

By Adrienne Mong, NBC News Correspondent

DEGE VILLAGE, Yunnan Province, China – It was the clamshells that were the most startling.

Larger than my hand, they lay whole on the parched earth, presenting an incongruous image of a drought that people in this part of southwestern China say has been the worst in a century. 

The clamshells were all that were left behind in the Dege Haizi Reservoir, the main source of water for the residents of Luliang County in Yunnan Province.

Adrienne Mong/ NBC News
Clamshells are all that have been left behind in the Dege Haizi Reservoir

"This is a very serious drought," said Ling Shiwei, a 75-year-old subsistence farmer with a toothy grin despite the grim circumstances. "From July to now, we’ve had nothing but dry weather."

A little rain fell in Luliang at the very beginning of April and just in the past week, but nowhere near enough to make a difference. 

While parts of southwest China are entering the flood season, Luliang County in Yunnan Province, is still suffering from what some people describe as the worst drought in a century.  

Following the seasonal droughts of recent years, this year’s dry spell is wreaking havoc on crops in Yunnan. The dried-out reservoir helped to feed what was once the largest irrigation plain in the region, enabling Luliang’s rich farmland to produce massive amounts of rice and tobacco. 

The region’s staple crops may be the only victims for now, but farmers are beginning to worry that if it continues any longer, they’ll be next.

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Wednesday, 12 May 2010 18:42

LONDON – Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding to welcome the groom and groom.

Here they come: Mr. David Cameron – on the right – and Mr. Nick Clegg (standing quite a long way to his left).

I know I speak for all of you when I say what a gorgeous couple they make. 

Yes, I know it’s a little sudden – but accidents do happen. Until yesterday none of us thought they even liked each other.

Image: David Cameron & Nick Clegg
Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Prime Minister David Cameron, right, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, left, share a joke as they hold their first joint press conference in the Downing Street garden on Wednesday. 

So please put your hands together for David and Nick, prime minister and deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom. If not quite till death do they part, at least (or so they've vowed) for the next five years.

Who'd have thought it? The Conservative Party leader in a political marriage to the Liberal Democrats’ chief.  Whatever will the neighbors say?

Love, of course, changes everything. Especially the love of country or – if you insist on being cynical – the love of high office.

After five days of indecision Britain now has not one political party in power, but two.

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Wednesday, 12 May 2010 16:16

BEIJING – An attacker with a kitchen cleaver burst into a kindergarten class in northwest China on Wednesday morning and hacked to death seven children and two adults, the latest in a string of violent attacks against school children.

Eleven other children were injured in the attack and are receiving treatment in a local hospital.

The attacker, 48-year-old Wu Huanming, killed himself after his bloody rampage, leaving the motive a mystery.

VIDEO: China kindergarten attack leaves nine dead

People are shocked and outraged by the incident, the fifth attack on school students since the end of March,  and fear more assaults will continue to spread across the country.

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Tuesday, 11 May 2010 17:10

DHARABI, Pakistan – One evening in February, something strange occurred in this rural village in central Pakistan.

It was dusk on Feb. 27, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, the 12th Rabi ul Awwal, 1431 in the Islamic calendar.

Rabia Attari, the wife of, Muhammed Tanveer, the village tailor, saw a strange light coming from the ground in front of their house.

"It had been raining quite hard and the ground was wet," Attari, 24, said. "Right before my eyes, I saw a patch of earth dry up and become pure white. As I moved closer to look, I could smell the sweet scent of roses." Attari pointed out that she had no garden and there were no flowers nearby.  

"Suddenly, a blinding light appeared above the spot," she said. "I saw an impression of what looked like a foot or a shoe, it was surrounded by this light. My husband was at prayer, I called him to come quickly."

VIDEO: Miracle in Pakistan?

Atari’s husband, Tanveer, 30, is soft-spoken and has the dignified stance of a wizened philosopher, like someone who has suddenly had a great responsibility thrust upon him. 

"When I came home from the mosque, it was quite dark but this image was shining," Tanveer said.  I called the Imam (the leader of the mosque) and all my friends to come and see and we started to recite the holy verses."

He said his mother told him that this image resembled the pictures that exist in Turkey and Egypt of the Holy Prophet’s sandal.

Spontaneous pilgrimage site
True or not, it is just the sort of grand tale that can capture the emotions of thousands and create a wellspring of excitement and hope, beyond the reach of reason.
...(read more)

Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Monday, 10 May 2010 19:12

MAINZ, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her governing center-right Christian Democrats suffered a landslide defeat Sunday in local elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. 

The result is a stinging set-back for the German leader and will make it more difficult for her to govern. With a likely loss of the government coalition's majority in the upper house of parliament, important legislation initiatives on Merkel's political agenda could face strong resistance from opposition parties.


“There is no talking around it, we suffered a bitter defeat,” Merkel acknowledged Monday.


But even though the election campaign in this western German region was dominated by topics close to home, like education, unemployment and community budgets, many analysts and even officials from Merkel's own party were quick to identify the root cause of the disaster: the Greek Euro-Crisis.


Michael Gottschalk / AFP - Getty Images
German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the press to comment on elections in the western federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Monday.


Merkel under pressure
In an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF, Hermann Groehe, general secretary of Merkel’s CDU party attributed the defeat, among other things to “concerns over the stability of the euro and the situation in Greece.”

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Saturday, 08 May 2010 18:55

A British couple and their two daughters whose yacht hit an iceberg of the size that sunk the Titanic have been safely rescued.

"All four are safe and well now and on their way to the Falklands. They are OK, but I would imagine they are a bit shaken," one coast guard official said Saturday.

...(read more)
Author: "James Eng"
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Date: Friday, 07 May 2010 17:04

By Adrienne Mong, NBC News correspondent

SHANGHAI, China – I was keen to get a passport.

All around me, folks were waving their travel documents, rushing from country to country, and elbowing one another to get them stamped.

"They’re fun," said a man who had traveled all the way from Hainan Island, China’s southernmost province. In his hand were a dozen passports with stamps from seven or eight countries. "The one from Saudi Arabia is the best."

NBC News/Adrienne Mong
Visitors hanging out beside the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo 2010.

I wouldn’t know. The line to enter Saudi Arabia’s pavilion was seven or eight people deep and wrapped around the block. We had too much ground to cover to spend what appeared to be at least an hour’s wait.

But here at the Shanghai World Expo 2010, it’s all about the passport.

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Friday, 07 May 2010 13:11

LONDON – As the daylight broke over the U.K. this morning, a cloud of uncertainty hung over Downing Street.

The people had spoken in the country’s general election but – to quote a Labour minister – "we don’t know quite what they have said."

For the first time since 1974 there’s no outright winner.  The Conservatives may claim to have won, but Labor isn’t accepting it has lost.

Image: A selection of British newspapers with headlines relating to the general election is displayed in London
SLIDESHOW: Britain goes to the polls
And the third party Liberal Democrats – who thought they had gotten a new political bandwagon rolling – were left looking at its flat tires after all the air had come out.

The political battle resumed at 10 p.m. sharp last night as politicians from the rival parties slugged it out all over the media over who had won the right to form the next government.

It was summed up neatly in an early exchange on the BBC, when one prominent Conservative politician told her Labor counterpart:  "You’re losing your legitimacy to govern."

And he replied: "But you don’t seem to be acquiring it."

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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Date: Friday, 07 May 2010 11:58

MANILA, Philippines – Will a computer memory card bring chaos or calm to the Philippines?

With more than 50 million Filipino voters expected to go to the polls for the 2010 general election, there are fears that a new high-tech ballot scanner that reads and transmits votes in real time – designed to cure the ballot tampering and cheating that have notoriously characterized Philippines elections in the past – is technologically unstable and lacking safeguards that may lead to the very election failure it was designed to prevent.  

With some 85,000 candidates running from numerous political parties for 17,000 positions – from town council member to president – and a ballot sheet that runs more than two feet long, the election presents a chaotic spectacle on a good day.

Critics of the automated machines, including several of the presidential candidates, are demanding a parallel manual count, which authorities have dismissed as unnecessary and too late to implement.

Pat Roque / AP
A young girl extends her hand to ask for promotional items distributed to the crowd during a campaign sortie of former President Joseph Estrada on May 6 in suburban Quezon City north of Manila, Philippines.  

Earlier this week, the Commission on Elections discovered a problem with the memory cards of the optical counting machines, forcing them to recall the cards in about 76,000 machines after tests found they failed to read ballots and print accurate results.

Election officials and the manufacturer of the new machines assured Filipino voters they were correcting the defective memory cards and that the election would go on as scheduled on Monday.

But with just days before the archipelago goes to the polls, the last-minute glitch only fueled previous suspicions about possible vote-rigging and fears that a political crisis could be on the horizon.

...(read more)
Author: "Petra Cahill"
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