Anti-nuclear protests signal new activism in Japan


August 26, 2012 

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

This is Japan’s summer of discontent. Tens of thousands of protesters–the largest demonstrations the country has seen in decades–descend on Tokyo every Friday evening to shout anti-nuclear slogans at the prime minister’s office. Many have never protested publicly before.

“I used to complain about this to my family but I realized that doesn’t do any good,” said Takeshi Tamura, a 67-year-old retired office worker. “So I came here to say this to his office. I don’t know if we can make a difference but I had to do something, and at least it’s a start.”

The government’s much-criticized handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis has spawned a new breed of protesters in Japan. Drawn from the ranks of ordinary citizens rather than activists, they are a manifestation of a broader dissatisfaction with government and could create pressure for change in a political system that has long resisted it.

What started as relatively small protests in April has swollen rapidly since the government decided to restart two of Japan’s nuclear reactors in June, despite lingering safety fears after the meltdowns at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

As many as 20,000 people have gathered at the Friday rallies by unofficial police estimates, and organizers say the turnout has topped 100,000. Officials at the prime minister’s office say their crowd estimate is “several tens of thousands.” Either way, the two-hour demonstrations are the largest and most persistent since the 1960s, when violent student-led protests against a security alliance with the United States rocked Japan.

The protesters include office workers, families with children, young couples and retirees.

“No to restart!” they chant in unison without a break. “No nukes!”

Despite the simple message, the anger runs much deeper, analysts say.

“It’s not only about nuclear,” says writer and social critic Karin Amamiya. “It mirrors core problems in Japanese society, and the way politics has ignored public opinion.”

Distrust of politics runs deep in Japan, and many think politicians are corrupt and only care about big business. Some voters were angered when the government rammed through a sales tax hike in July that had divided public opinion and the ruling party. The government has also done little to reduce the U.S. military presence on the southern island of Okinawa despite decades of protests there, under the security alliance that had initially triggered violent student protests.

In a country not known for mass protests, the nuclear crisis has galvanized people to an unusual extent. Unlike other issues, it cuts across ideological lines. For Japanese from all walks of life, it has shattered a sense of safety they felt about their food, the environment and the health of their children.

That helps explain why the long-standing frustration with government exploded in protests after the restart of two reactors in Oi in western Japan. They were the first of Japan’s 50 reactors to resume operation under a new regime of post-tsunami safety checks.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was criticized for making the restart decision behind closed doors and calling the weekly chanting and drum-beating outside his office “a loud noise.” An apparently chastised Noda met with rally leaders, who have proposed talks, allowing them inside his office compound for the first time on Aug. 22. Noda also met with leaders of Japan’s influential business lobbies afterwards.

“It’s not a loud noise that we are making. It’s desperate voices of the people,” said Misao Redwolf, an illustrator who heads the weekly protests, as she demanded Noda immediately stop the two recently resumed reactors and eventually abandon nuclear energy. “We’ll continue our protests as long as you keep ignoring our voices.”

Noda promised to listen to the people’s voices carefully before deciding Japan’s long-term energy policy, but refused to stop the two reactors.

Protest leaders said they don’t expect anything to happen just because they met Noda, but at least hold on to their hope for a change.

“All these years, lawmakers have only cared about vested interests, and that was good enough to run this country,” Kiyomi Tsujimoto, an activist-turned lawmaker, said at a recent meeting with protest organizers. “The government is still seen doing the same politics, and that’s what people are angry about. I think (the demonstrations) are testing our ability to respond to the changes.”

Masanori Oda, cultural anthropologist at Chuo University who heads a drum section of the protest, said many Japanese also contributed to prolong such a system “very convenient” to politicians by not getting angry or standing up against unfavorable policies.

“Now more Japanese are learning to raise their voice. Japanese politicians should develop a deeper sense of crisis about the situation,” Oda said.

Separately, an even larger rally, joined by rock star Ryuichi Sakamoto and Nobel laureate author Kenzaburo Oe, drew 75,000 by police estimates on July 16, a public holiday. Organizers put the crowd at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park at nearly 200,000. Thousands also ringed Japan’s parliament after sunset on July 29 and held lit candles.

Smaller rallies have sprung up in dozens of other cities, with participants gathering outside town halls, utility companies and parks.

“Obviously, people’s political behavior is changing,” says Jiro Yamaguchi, a political science professor at Hokkaido University. “Even though a lot of people join demonstrations, that won’t bring a political change overnight. The movement may hit a plateau, and people may feel helpless along the way. But there could be a change.”

Already, there are signs of change. Many lawmakers have converted to supporting a nuclear-free future amid speculation that a struggling Noda will call an election in the coming months and that nuclear policy will be a key campaign issue.

A new party, established by veteran lawmaker Ichiro Ozawa and about 50 followers who broke away from Noda’s ruling party after opposing the sales tax hike, has promised to abolish atomic energy within 10 years. Some lawmakers have launched study groups on phasing out nuclear power. A group of prefectural, or state-level, legislators has formed an anti-nuclear green party.

The government was also forced to step up transparency about the method and results of town meetings to better reflect public views on energy policy to determine the level of Japan’s nuclear dependency by 2030. The options being considered are zero percent, 15 percent and 20-25 percent. That already delayed the energy report for several weeks, and officials set up a new panel on Aug. 22 to discuss how to factor in public opinion in policies.

“If we carry on, we could get more people to join in the cause around the country,” said Mariko Saito, a 63-year-old homemaker from nearby Kamakura city, who joined the protest outside the prime minister’s office on a recent Friday. “I’ll definitely vote for an anti-nuclear candidate. Their nuclear stance would be the first thing I’ll look at.”

The rallies are peaceful compared to the 1960s, when activists wearing helmets and carrying clubs threw stones and burst into the parliament complex. One died and dozens were injured.

Today’s protesters hold flowers or handmade posters and even chat with police officers.

“It’s almost like a festival,” journalist and TV talk show host Soichiro Tahara wrote in his blog. “The people have finally found a common theme to come together.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Palestine’s first women racing team finds freedom behind the wheel #Goodnews #Genderequality


AFP

Image

Ramallah: With her bright orange pedicure, Michael Kors handbag and skinny jeans, Maysoon Jayyusi hardly looks like a Palestinian speed racer — until she gets behind the wheel.

The minute she starts up her SUV, she’s off — coursing ahead of the rest of the traffic, weaving among bewildered locals in the crowded streets of the West Bank city of Ramallah.

It’s easy to see why the team she heads — the Middle East’s first female speed racing team — has been dubbed the “Speed Sisters”.

The group of six women, Muslims and Christians from their 20s to mid-30s, have battled sceptical parents, the realities of the Israeli occupation and a sometimes disapproving public to become local stars and even the subject of a documentary.

“We feel we are free when we’re doing this,” teammate Mona Ennab, 26, said. “It’s a way to escape everything around us.”

Jayyusi, 36, said her love of speed was born out of frustrating hours stuck in long lines at Israeli checkpoints.

“I feel such depression at the checkpoints, but this speed makes me feel like I’m powerful, it helps me expel my depression,” she told AFP.

“When the soldier finally lets you past, you feel like you want to fly.”

Jayyusi had to take lessons behind her parents’ backs after graduating with a business degree from Bir Zeit University, saving up her salary to pay for them.

“They didn’t think I needed my licence, and it was expensive,” she said.

But it paid off. In 2010, the skills displayed in her daily commute drew notice and she was approached by the head of the Palestinian Motor Sport and Motorcycle Federation, Khaled Qaddoura.

He offered Jayyusi the chance to participate in a training camp for drivers sponsored by the British Council, along with several other women, all with different levels of experience — and the Speed Sisters were born.

Ennab also started driving without her family’s permission before she was old enough to even take lessons. “I used to steal my sister’s car and drive it around without a licence,” she laughed.

Behind the wheel, she shows no fear, throwing her car around an obstacle course of cones in the parking lot of a West Bank slaughterhouse — the best place available for the team to practise — with what might seem reckless abandon.

Ennab grins cheekily as onlookers gasp at the sound of screeching tyres, watching the rear end of the car swing seemingly out-of-control in a semi-circle as she lets it “drift” around the cones.

– ‘I feel total freedom’ –

For the women, getting behind the wheel is also a way to escape social demands.

“In our culture, there is a lot of pressure to listen to your parents, but when I get in the car, I can do what I want with it,” Jayyusi said. “I feel total freedom.”

Both women at first kept their speedracing secret from their families. Jayyusi’s parents found out thanks to a local newspaper report.

“My mum was like ‘Oh my God, you’re going to die!,” she recalled, adding that her mother is still too afraid to watch her drive — though supports her fully.

Ennab’s family has also come round to their daughter’s need for speed, and her mother is now a fixture at all her competitions across the West Bank.

Betty Saadeh, 31, another team member, faced no such challenge.

A glamorous blonde who drives a sleek Peugeot sportscar thanks to a sponsorship deal with a local branch of the French carmaker, she comes from a family of racers and said her only pressure is competition from relatives.

“My dad is a champion racer in Mexico and my brother is too,” she said. “It’s in my blood — there’s definitely a family rivalry.”

Saadeh was born in Mexico then lived in the United States, but moved back to the West Bank with her family at the age of 13.

“I want to be here, it’s my country. Why not show the world that Palestinian women can do anything?”

For Saadeh, racing isn’t political but she says she’s proud to represent the Palestinian Territories.

“When I compete with the Palestinian flag, it shows what we want, that we want a country, that we deserve a country.”

There is no escaping the fact that Israel’s presence in the West Bank affects the team’s ability to practise and drive.

Their one-time practice spot by the Ofer military prison has become unusable because of the debris — stones, rubber bullets and tear gas canisters — left behind from clashes between protesters and Israeli troops.

And long-distance rally driving in a territory carved up into three administrative areas and dotted with military checkpoints is impossible, Jayyusi said

Undaunted, the women have major ambitions, boosted by a recent trip to the famed Silverstone racetrack in Britain.

“I want to compete internationally at Formula One,” Saadeh said. “My dream is to race at Silverstone as a professional.

Mining GIANT #Vedanta paid Rs 28 crore donation to political parties in last 3 years


 

TNN | Aug 26, 2012, 

 
 
 
NEW DELHI: Mining group Vedanta Resources paid $5.69 million (about Rs 28 crore) to political parties in India in last three years.

Without disclosing the beneficiaries, billionaire Anil Agarwal-promoted Vedanta in its annual report for 2011-12 stated that it paid $2.01 million to political parties in 2011-12.

This donation was, however, lower than $3.66 million it had paid in 2009-10, when last general elections were held in the country.

A company spokesperson did not reply to the queries. According to its annual reports, Vedanta has paid $8.29 million to the political parties since 2003-04, when it got listed on London Stock Exchange.

However, it did not make a single donation for three years between 2006-07 to 2008-09.

“During the year, the group made political donations in India of $2.01 million either through a trust or directly in respect of the Indian general election. The board believes that supporting the political process in India will encourage and strengthen the democratic process,” it said in its annual report for 2011-12.

However, the mining conglomerate recently came under fire from a UK-based shareholder advisory group Pirc over its practice of making political donations.

Reportedly, Pirc has advised Vedanta shareholders to withhold votes on its report and accounts at the annual general meeting on August 28 and protest against the practice.

Vedanta, which has emerged as a mining and natural resources giant in last one decade, had reported revenues of over $14 billion during the last fiscal.

Its subsidiaries include Sterlite Industries, Sesa Goa, Cairn India and Hindustan Zinc.

In February, the company had announced restructuring of its group structure. As per this, all the group firms will come under the banner of Sesa Sterlite, except Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) in Zambia and Vedanta will continue to be the parent firm of the two firms (Sesa Sterlite and KCM).

The restructuring is likely to be completed by 2012-end.

Blanket Ban -WordPress domain across India #Tatadocmo #WTFnews


 

25 Aug, 2012, 5:44 pm IST | by tech2 News Staff | Services

Latest reports confirm that Tata Photon has blocked access to the WordPress.com domain across India, following a government order to block web pages containing offensive content. Apparently, the ISP has resorted to a blanket ban, blocking access to the entire site instead of clamping down on specific web pages carrying unacceptable content. WordPress is accessible through other ISPs such as Airtel and Reliance. However, there is no clarity yet about any other ISP blocking out WordPress entirely, and we are in the process of verifying this.

 

We find that the domain can be accessed through means such as free proxy websites when using a Tata Photon connection, which could indicate that the problem does not lie with the WordPress server. Despite the inability to view WordPress websites and blogs, those with registered accounts on WordPress are able to log in to the website. Certain portions of the Dashboard or website backend are known to have been blocked, and what remains accessible is functioning very slowly for Tata Photon users. Users cannot edit or post new content at the moment, but can view sections such as the website’s stats. However, this all-encompassing block seems to be affecting only the WordPress.com platform and not WordPress.org. 

Error message

The error message that most users are coming to

 

 

A blogger by the name ‘Anon and on’ has written, “I can’t access any WordPress.com blog from home. Neither can I open up the window for a new post or access any support forums. I’ve cleared the cache and tried different browsers, but no luck. All I can do is log in. If I try to see any WordPress.com blog or access my Dashboard or hit “New Post”,  the notification I get is that the server couldn’t be contacted and that I should check my connection. Which I would do if it wasn’t for the fact that I can open any and every other website”.

 

We tried to contact Tata Photon to get a clear idea, but it was unavailable for comment. We also contacted Tata Photon users, who run their websites and blogs on the WordPress platform. They said they have been unable to access the service since Monday. Many users tweeted out their puzzlement and frustration after discovering that they were suddenly unable to view their own blogs and sites. 

“Tata simply blocked 25 MILLION wordpress blogs @cis_india highlight this”

 “Not able to open http://Wordpress.com blogs on Tata Photon Plus.”

“all wordpress blogs blocked in Tata photon plus”

It’s some Tata Photon bug. WordPress working fine with Reliance.”

“There is a known issue with Tata Photon and WordPress. Found 5 people who have the same.”

 

In protest, some bloggers from across the country have formed a group called the Indian Bloggers’ Forum. The forum plans to approach the Supreme Court with a PIL seeking immediate unblocking of their blogs and websites.

 

Earlier this week, a list containing 309 URLs sought to be banned by the government in light of the Assam violence and the subsequent exodus in northeast India was leaked online. The URLs comprising Twitter accounts, HTML img tags, blog posts, entire blogs, and a handful of websites, were blocked between August 18 and 21. In an analysis of the leaked information, Pranesh Prakash, Programme Manager at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) wrote, “It is clear that the list was not compiled with sufficient care”. The list included WordPress.com and WordPress.org among other domains. However, only select entries – 3 from WordPress.org and 8 from WordPress.com- were meant to be blocked out. 

 

The clampdown on websites with content deemed to be offensive and disruptive led to the Indian government ordering the blocking of around 310 web pages. The Centre began to come down heavily on the channels it believed were playing a role in triggering fear, and leading to violence and the mass displacement of Indians from the northeast. It has been reported that morphed images and videos were uploaded to these websites with the intention of inciting the Muslim community in the country.

 

If your access to WordPress has been blocked, let us know in your comments. 

No plan to shut down Lanjigarh refinery, says VAL MD #Vedanta


BS Reporter / Kolkata/ Bhubaneswar Aug 25, 2012, 

The Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL) has no plans to shut down its one million tonne alumina refinery at Lanjigarh, which is currently facing acute shortage of raw material to run the plant.

“We have no plans to shut down the refinery. We are running the refinery with depleted stock of bauxite. The stock is likely to run out soon and may impact the operation”, S K Roongta, managing director, VAL told newsmen after emerging out of a meeting with the state chief secretary B K Patnaik.

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He said, there are very few bauxite mines outside Odisha. Though the company is making efforts to source the raw material from various states but there are logistic problems.

“Our Lanjigarh refinery was designed keeping in view the bauxite reserves in Odisha. But we have not been able to source bauxite from the state till date”, he added.

Asked if he apprised the chief secretary of the problem, Roongta said, “The meeting with the chief secretary was just a courtesy call.”

On whether the company had any contingency plan to tide over depleting bauxite stock, “There is nothing we can do if bauxite is not available.”

The refinery is currently running at 40-50 per cent capacity with per day bauxite consumption being 5000 tonnes a day.

“Three months back, we had got 245,000 tonnes of bauxite from Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation (GMDC) which was stocked at Vishakapatnam. The stock is gradually drying up”, the official stated.

After being denied access to bauxite mines at Niyamgiri, the company wholly depended on supplies of bauxite from other states to keep its refinery operations afloat at Lanjigarh.

Before setting up its refinery at Lanjigarh, Vedanta had entered into an agreement with state-run Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) for supply of bauxite.

But attempts to mine bauxite at the ecologically sensitive Niyamgiri hills under OMC’s leasehold were red flagged by the environment ministry that had scrapped the Stage-II forest clearance on August 24, 2010.

Of late, the company was unable to get bauxite from Gujarat as GMDC had not issued any tender recently. Besides, private miners in Gujarat were increasingly banking on exports of bauxite to fetch better returns, the VAL official informed.

Bauxite mines in neighbouring Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh were bogged down by regulatory issues and this has hit supplies, he added. To run the one million tonne per annum (mtpa) refinery plant at full steam, VAL needs 300,000 tonnes of raw material every month.

Owing to its total dependence on externally sourced bauxite, VAL has hitherto piled losses to the tune of Rs 3000 crore.

VAL’s Lanjigarh refinery as well as smelter and captive power plant (CPP) complex at Jharsuguda has seen grounding of investments of Rs 50,000 crore. The company’s smelting facility and CPP engage more than 15,000 people.