Zooming In

July 8, 2005

Justice for Pinochet, Rogue Builder, Kidnappers

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: Bangladesh's Sesame Street, a pimp state, fights in Ukraine's parliament, and more.

David Goldenberg

Some of the most insightful writing from outside the U.S. comes from local media. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders.


South Africa: Nelson Mandela has been a freedom fighter, a prisoner, and a president. So perhaps it's not so odd that he's become a comic-book character as well. On July 14, shortly after Mandela's 87th birthday, seven comic strips about South Africa's hero will be released to schools and newspapers (Mail and Guardian). "We are harnessing comics to get across the message and the values of Mr Mandela," John Samuel, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, told Agence France-Presse, adding that the comics would not demean the revered statesman. "It would take a lot more than comics to demean his stature," said Samuel. "That's the least of our problems."

Uganda: The Monitor reports on the effect that the recent bombings in London will have on the G8 summit meeting and its focus on debt relief for African countries. "It is a huge distraction to the summit," says Action Aid Director for Asia John Samuel. "To that extent, it is an affront on Africans, but also the citizens of the world who have spent the last six months [preparing to be heard at this summit]. All this has been disrupted by one single act of terrorism. It is not only challenging the G8, but all issues of poverty." "Today, it is dead—because of what has happened," adds Mulima Kufekisa, the coordinator of Justice and Peace for Zambia. In a statement to the press, Tony Blair was not deterred. "We will not allow violence to change our societies or our values nor will we allow it to stop the work of this summit."


Chile: The appeals court in Santiago voted 11-10 to strip former dictator Augusto Pinochet (Wikipedia) of his immunity from prosecution in the deaths of over 100 political opponents who were killed 30 years ago. This is the fifth time Pinochet has lost his immunity, though he is 89 and in poor health, and therefore unlikely to ever spend time in court. The Santiago Times goes into detail about the different crimes Pinochet is charged with, ranging from mass murder of dissidents to tax evasion, and explains how the press played a huge role in covering up the crimes.

Trinidad & Tobago: Senator Dana Seetahal is presenting a bill that recommends that the government be allowed to prosecute alleged kidnappers and other dangerous criminals without testimony from their victims, as long there is enough physical evidence to support their claims (Newsday). This idea is not without precedent, as both Jamaica, and, in a more limited fashion, the United Kingdom, allow victims to identify criminals without facing them directly. The bill is receiving bipartisan support, but some senators are wary that the main reason this legislation is being pushed through is to speed up trials in the notoriously overburdened Summary Courts, where some magistrates get over 1,500 cases per day. Senator Robin Montano said that the new bill is "like putting a plaster over a cancer."


Bangladesh: Sisimpur, launched in mid-April on BTV, is a Bangladeshi version of Sesame Street, run with funding from USAID (The Independent). Starring the vegetarian and generally happy-go-lucky tiger Halum, and his jackal buddy Shiku, the series has become one of the most popular programs on television. This is USAID's third Sesame Street-type venture, after a foray into South Africa and the creation of Alam Simsim (Sesame World) in Egypt (USAID). In the most recent episode of Sisimpur, the Bengali letter "Kha" and the number "2" roam around, explaining the concept of near and far. Big Bird and Cookie Monster make cameos. And, according to the Daily Star, "children learn about democracy."

China: There are over 1,000 companies that make and export plastic bags in China, and nearly all of them are in trouble now that the European Commission is launching an anti-dumping investigation against them, accusing them of undercutting the EU market (China Daily). Plastic-bag makers are the latest companies to face undercutting charges after members of the World Trade Organization launched 31 investigations last year into Chinese makers of shoes, furniture, and textiles. If the EU does decide that the Chinese companies are guilty of material injury to the domestic market, many plastic-bag makers will stop exporting their wares instead of paying the new import duties of up to 77%.

India: Ashifkhan Jahurkhan was running late—to his own wedding—because of the torrential flooding around Bombay that has claimed over 100 lives and left thousands homeless. So the chief priest decided to consecrate the marriage over cellphone. According to Reuters, witnesses to the marriage held their phones up in speaker mode so that all who could not attend could hear the bride and groom exchange their vows. The groom, who had not seen his wife as of press time, told the newspaper, "We made the best use of technology. It was impossible for me and my family to reach Bombay as roads are flooded with water."

Vietnam: Tran Van Hay hasn't cut his hair in 42 years, claiming that any attempts to shape his coiffure made him sick. Now 73, Tran has a 21-foot-long do, which weighs almost 20 pounds and which he wears on his head like an oversized turban (Vietnam Pictorial). Tran's distinctive look has made him a guru of sorts, and he is well-known in the Chau Thanh District for his meditation, gentle nature, and healing powers.


Bulgaria: The International Olympic Committee is expelling its lone Bulgarian member, Ivan Slavkov, after he was filmed by undercover journalists in the BBC documentary Buying the Games as he negotiated with a sports agent over how to secure votes for the location of the 2012 Olympics. Slavkov was ousted in an 84-12 vote, but he told the Sofia News Agency that the 12 votes "translates into a good assessment of his work." Later, though, Slavkov claimed he was not treated fairly by the other members of the IOC. "It was like in Iraq: first they strike, then they try to see what happened," he said.

Czech Republic: In an effort to crack down on the estimated 25,000 prostitutes in the country, Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan will introduce a bill to regulate the practice, making it illegal in public places but letting municipalities allow prostitution in certain areas. Prostitutes will have to be registered and undergo physical exams, as well as be "18 or older with no past sentencing due to corrupt morals or violent crimes" (Prague Monitor). Opposition KDU-CSL deputy head Jan Kasal is unimpressed, telling the paper, "If the state has a friendly stance towards prostitution, it becomes a pimp."

Sweden: The government has decided to grant permanent residency to a young boy from Uzbekistan and his family, setting what could be an important precedent as to how the country deals with asylum seekers (The Local). At issue is the boy's mental health—he is considered to be apathetic, meaning that he refuses to interact with others. The Swedish government has decided that these children can't afford to be sent back to countries in turmoil, like Uzbekistan, though it insists this will be decided on a case-by-case basis. Still, "this represents a broadening of our guidelines," says Immigration minister Barbro Holmberg. One commenter to the article writes, "Hillarious! Show me a teenager that isn't apathetic!" Another responds, "Not at all hilarious, but perhaps a translation issue. These 'apathetic' (apatisk, in Swedish) children have, in some cases, regressed into a psychological state of total paralysis."

Ukraine: For two days last week, fighting erupted in parliament as communists and pro-government legislators came to blows over Ukraine's future in the World Trade Organization (Kyiv Post). At issue is a 14-bill package that new President Viktor Yushchenko hopes will gain WTO membership for the country. An editorial in the paper describes some of the action, which included a lot of shoving and a broken microphone. Ultimately, says the editorial, the package will pass, but the united front of the Orange Revolution may be permanently damaged.

Middle East

Jordan: In the Asia Times, Dahr Jamail writes about his attempts to find out more about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist with the $25 million price on his head. Admittedly skeptical at the outset of the idea that Zarqawi is really the ringleader behind all acts of anti-U.S. terror in Iraq, Jamail travels to Jordan to find the man's relatives and friends, and to see whether there is any truth to his ever-growing legend. Jamail decides that Zarqawi is indeed real, and may even be alive and in Iraq, but decides that he can not be the man the U.S. military portrays him to be. He concludes, "Thus, even if Zarqawi is involved in carrying out attacks inside Iraq and is killed at some future moment, the effect this would have on the Iraqi resistance would surely be negligible. It would be but another American 'turning point' where nothing much turned."

Israel: Throughout the Arabian peninsula and southeast Asia, over 100 million people smoke out of hookahs, or large water pipes, every day. Al-Jazeera is reporting on a study by Israeli doctors in Pediatrics that shows that hookahs, also known as narghiles, often produce more carbon monoxide than cigarettes and, because the products put into them are often not regulated, also tend to contain more heavy metals. The study does note, though, that communal hookah smoking is one way in which the Arab and Jewish cultures have integrated.

Turkey: After the earthquake that killed over 17,000 people in August 1999, contractor Veli Göçer was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the construction of over 3,000 homes on the shore of the Sea of Marmara, 500 of which collapsed. During the initial trial, Göçer was found guilty of negligence in the death of 117 people for using inappropriate building materials, such as mixing sand and pebbles with concrete. Due to procedural and technical errors in the trial, an appeals court recently overturned the ruling, stating that Göçer's case should be reviewed and he should be retried under the new penal code that was enacted in June (Turkish Daily News). The new penal code (see this earlier Zooming In) was drafted to show the EU that Turkey is making democratic reforms.

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Article by David Goldenberg

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