Saturday, March 19, 2011

Libya and Bahrain: Different Responses of the International Community

The UN Security Council have decided to implement severe measures on Gaddafi's Libya, including a No-Fly Zone (NFZ) which amounts to military intervention on air. As a direct result, the foreign minister of Libya announced an immediate ceasefire although fighting is still reportedly going on.

The move by the UN comes after a period of inaction by the international community. Gaddafi's forces were closing on Benghazi, the rebel stronghold. The ceasefire, if implemented, will be advantageous for the rebel forces.

Several countries of the NATO including France, UK and USA expressed their willingness to contribute to the enforcement of the NFZ over Libya, which is no simple task.

On the contrary, another country which is waging a war against their own people, Bahrain, has attracted only limited condemnation from the international community. Saudi troops and UAE police has invaded the small island to protect the ruling al-Khalifa clan. After another severe military crackdown, the statue at the pearl roundabout has been demolished by the government forces.

In a strong rebuff to the foreign troops who have entered Bahrain in the guise of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Sheikh Issa Qassim, Bahrain's most influential Shia cleric, said during Friday sermon that Gulf troops would have been better off helping Palestinians in Gaza than entering Bahrain.

In another move, the Bahrain government and their allies in the region and in the West are trying to paint a sectarian picture to the whole uprising, stating its a Shia affair against a Sunni regime. While many leaders of opposition are Shia, there are many Sunni opposition figures also in the battle for democracy. Also, its not a surprise even if the majority of the opposition is Shia as more than 60% of Bahrainis are Shia Muslims. However, the uprising is not a sectarian issue and many are not actually trying to oust the king. They were initially asking for a Constitutional Monarchy and only after the crackdown in February did the calls for a republic became strong. But still it is a minority who voice their support for a republic.

With all this happening, the so called international community is turning a blind eye towards Bahrain while preparing to patrol the large air space over Libya.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Stand by Japan!!!

The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, who is incidentally a Japanese himself, has stated that the international community stands by Japan in her troubles. He also stated that the situation is very serious at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Also he has urged the leaders of Japan to disclose more information on the crisis.

The danger level of the accident has been raised to 5 from 4, in a scale of 0 to 7. The nuclear accident has made traveling on the highway from Tokyo to the North East Japan unsafe. This has contributed to the slow rate of relief work in the NE Japan where the people are waging an immense struggle to survive. Their homes have been destroyed. Food and other commodities are scarce. Near freezing temperatures are making it even harder to live.

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa signed the condolence book at the Japanese Embassy at Colombo and met with the Japanese Ambassador for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has promised to help the Japanese people in their distress.

Elections for Local Governmental Bodies in Sri Lanka

Elections for 234 local governmental bodies was held yesterday, March 17, 2011. It was, once more, a landslide victory for the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) which won in 205 LG bodies. The election was held throughout the island except in Municipal Councils and in LG bodies where there are pending court cases regarding the nominations.

The election saw two important developments with respect to the main opposition parties, the United National Party (UNP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna-People's Liberation Front-(JVP). The former, which has been not internally 'united' has seen a small swing of votes towards it compared to the last general election. The latter, which was at its peak of popularity at last LG elections a few years ago, has suffered a total reversal of fortune. Whatever they may say, the fact that they have been rebuffed severely is an undeniable fact. They lost at Thissamaharama Pradeshiya Sabha, the sole LG body under their control for nearly a decade.

As usual, the UPFA rode home largely due to the rural support base. If the elections were held in the larger cities simultaneously, the UNP share of votes would have increased.

Also, the election was a significant development in the return of local civil administration in the Northern Province. Elections were held in the majority of LG bodies in Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya districts.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nuclear Phase Out?

Germany has been a hotspot of nuclear debate for years. In year 2002, the SPD under Chancellor Schroeder and his coalition partner the Green Party passed a law putting a stop to further constructions of nuclear plants and phasing out the existing plants by 2022. When the SPD was the coalition partner in the Grand-Alliance of CDU-CSU-SPD under Angela Merkel, the SPD made sure that the law was in force. Many energy companies were vocal in their opposition to the law.

With the election victory of Merkel over the SDP and the formation of the new CDU-CSU-FDP government, a policy change with respect to the law took place. Merkel decided to extend the timetable to phase out the reactors by 12 years. Large scale protests were planned against this decision. And then..... disaster struck at Sendai and Fukushima.

With Europe once more debating safety worries, Merkel is under pressure to amend her policy on nuclear power. She has declared that all nuclear facilities in Germany will be re-evaluated. Even strong centre-right supporters of her, who usually are "pro-nuclear" are distancing themselves from nuclear stuff. They seem to be too hot to handle these days.

Well, Angela Merkel should know the best. She has a PhD. in quantum chemistry and she was a former Minister of environment and Reactor Safety under Helmut Kohl.

Nuclear Fallout from Japan Feared!

After several explosions at the Fukushima I nuclear plant, Asian countries are being alerted as Japanese officials say that "the nuclear fuel rods appear to be melting." The situation has intensified the debate on nuclear power in many countries while the Japanese and the nearby people are preparing themselves for the worst case scenario.

The best case study available as to what the implications of a fallout is the Chernobyl incident. When the core of the nuclear plant at Chernobyl melted as a result of human and instrumental errors, the fallout affected many states. Much affected was the Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus in the Soviet Union.

While Uranium and especially Plutonium are dangerous nuclear fuel, more dangerous are the fission products of the fuel. Radioactive isotopes of iodine and strontium are dangerous because they can accumulate in food chains. Gaseous isotopes and very small particles can be dispersed by air. In Chernobyl, radioactive isotopes of noble gases were released to the atmosphere immediately.

Exposure to dangerous levels of radiation will give rise to Acute Radiation Sickness. In an accident in a nuclear plant, this is mainly possible in the people in the vicinity of the accident. Residual radioactivity arises through the accumulation of radiation in groundwater, fish etc. Its impact may be seen after several months or years. It depends on the half lives of the isotopes.

It is feared that Japan will be the victim of yet another disaster after the devastating Tsunami.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ponting Walks after Review in a Match Against Kenya.

Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, walked off without waiting for the umpire's decision when it was obvious that he was out leg before wicket. In today's cricket, it is a rare case of sportsmanship. Also, it once more strengthened the pro-review camp in international cricket. Whatever it is, the ultimate goal of umpires should be to give the correct decision in the middle.

A leg before wicket appeal against Ponting was raised by the Kenyans off the bowling of Collins Obuya in the 26th over of the Aussie innings. Umpire Kettleborough turned it down and the Kenyans wanted to review the decision. The TV replays showed that Ponting was, in fact out, and he walked off.

Given that the pending decision was obviously going to be against him, there could have not been any alternative for the Australian captain. However, it showed a rare quality, especially in the Australians, who were famous for trying to intimidate opposition teams a 10-15 years ago.

The Australia vs Kenya match in World Cup 2011 is still in progress at Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore.

India Legalizes Passive Euthanasia.

In a ground-breaking decision, the Supreme Court of India has outlined guidelines for passive euthanasia, thereby legalizing it under certain circumstances. Withholding of lifesaving treatment, such as antibiotics or a heart-lung machine, is to be allowed in exceptional cases, but only after a review by medical experts and approval of the high court.

The guidelines were declared on March 7, 2011, as part of a court decision rejecting a plea for its use on a 60 year old former nurse of King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital in Mumbai, Aruna Shanbaug. She had been in a vegitative state after being assaulted and strangled by a sweeper at the KEM Hospital, where she was working, in 1973.

With this decision, India joins a handful of sovereign states and regional jurisdictions to have allowed some form of passive euthanasia. The US state of Oregon allowed people who had been diagnosed with terminal illness and had six months to live, to take a lethal dose of prescribed medication and die voluntarily, by the Death with Dignity Act (1994). This act was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 2006. Following this judgment, the state of Washington passed a similar act in 2008 and a court in Montana upheld the right of assisted suicide. The following year, the decision of the lower court was upheld by the Montana Supreme Court.

In 2002, Netherlands became the first country to allow some form of active euthanasia. Belgium also allowed euthanasia, but only for adults. Switzerland, Albania and Germany are other states in Europe which recognize the right of some form of euthanasia.

In Colombia, a Constitutional Court ruling in 1997 recognized the right to euthanasia but it was not followed up by any legislative action. In India also, the Supreme Court has stated that legislative action must be taken before the implementation of the ruling. This may take longer than expected in a religious society. According to the BBC, the law minister of India, Veerappa Moily, has said that a political debate was required.

"There is no question of concurring or not with the judgment.

"The Supreme Court is right that without a law you cannot resort to this kind of a decision with a judicial order.

"The right to life is a right vested with a person. Therefore, there is a need for a serious debate into the matter. It has to be examined, it has to be debated," he has told the media.

Therefore, unlike some other groundbreaking decisions in the past, like the decriminalizing of attempted suicide, it may not be easy to enforce the passive euthanasia ruling of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, politicians are aware of the respect the court has in the country and would find hard to ignore its ruling.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

After the Tsunami: A Nuclear Meltdown in Japan???

In the aftermath of the Sendai earthquake and Tsunami, fears of a nuclear meltdown has been raised at Fukushima I nuclear power plant in Japan. The fear has been raised after the diesel generators to supply back-up power to three units of the plant has been damaged by the Tsunami.

A nuclear meltdown is a term used to describe an accident causing severe damage to the core of a nuclear power plant resulting from overheating. When the core is not properly cooled, the nuclear fuel assemblies can heat and 'melt'. This causes severe repercussions as radioactive material will be liberated to the environment in dangerous quantities. Also, the nuclear plant will not be reusable unless it is repaired, and it is also a difficult, costly process.

Nuclear meltdown has occurred several times in history, most notable incidents being the 'Three Mile Island' incident and the more notorious Chernobyl disaster. In Chernobyl, the damage would have become much more severe if all radioactive material was liberated.

Four reactors automatically shut down following the earthquake in Japan. After the damage of the generator at Fukushima I, warnings were issued to the residents of the area to evacuate. The 10km limit evacuation radius was later extended to 20 km from the plant which is 240 km North of Tokyo.

At 07:30 GMT, (4.30 p.m. local time) an explosion occurred in the plant. Although an alleged leak in radioactive material was reported but disputed by the government. The Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano declared that "The nuclear reaction facility is surrounded by a steel storage machine, which is then surrounded by a concrete building. This concrete building collapsed. We learnt that the storage machine inside did not explode" according to Reuters.

However, people are evacuating, fearing the worst. Only time will tell if more damage would occur.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami

Just a few hours ago, at 2.46 p.m. local time (March 11) an 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck Japan, the epicenter being just 130 km from Sendai, eastern Japan. Even Tokyo itself was affected. This is the biggest quake to strike Japan in 140 years. Even the 1923 Tokyo earthquake was comparatively smaller in magnitude (7.9 on Richter scale).

Tsunami warnings were sent out for around 20 countries in the Pacific.

Tsunami waves have just struck Japan. According to The Mainichi Daily News website, at Sendai airport a 10 meter Tsunami has been observed. According to the BBC several deaths have been reported. The Tsunami warnings have been extended to the whole of US West Coast.

This earthquake follows another earthquake of lesser magnitude in Yunnan, China on March 10, 2011, which claimed 25 lives.

Read on:

After the Tsunami: A Nuclear Meltdown in Japan???

Chernobyl and Fukushima: Hiding the Truth

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Pan-Arabian Republic?

With recent development in Arab nations, once more the idea of a united arab nation has surfaced. This was unsuccessfully attempted by the main exponent of the Pan-Arabism, Nasser, once before. His definition of arabs as, those who speak Arabian, enables a whole patchwork of the people to be incorporated in such a state. However, Nasser's UAR of Egypt-Syria collapsed after a few years.

Pan-Arabism is supported by the fact that Arabian borders are mainly creations of the Europeans. Just like in Africa, the map of Arab nations in the Atlas book is something like a school child's painting, drawn with a ruler and a pencil and then coloured with different coloured pencils. In earlier times borders did not matter at all, except for the rulers of these lands. Even they found it unable to define a border, and even now there are some borders not clearly defined.

When old rulers were in control, it was a pipe dream to imagine a united Arabia. But, something strange is now happening. It is in a way the overthrow of the old by the young, utilizing the majority power they have. In Arabia, young people constitute more than 50% of the population. With new thinking in terms of cyber space and democracy, one wonders if the young people would aspire for a broader union.

There are numerous challenges to the establishment of a Pan-Arabian state. The presence of Israel, whether we like it or not, is a grave hindrance. Also, outside powers will be quite apprehensive of the growing state of Arabia. Furthermore, in all places, young people are not in total control. The role played by different tribes is, like in Africa, quite significant. For many Arabs, God is utmost important. Then comes family and tribe. A united Arabia is a distant abstract entity for those people. They may not even be aware that such a state has been envisaged.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ireland Stuns England in World Cup

A record hundred by Kevin O'Brien took Ireland to victory after a record run chase a few hours back. The English and also the world was stunned! Chasing 328 to win, they managed to reach it with three wickets and five balls remaining. When O'Brien and Cusack were piling up runs, the Englishmen had no answer. They put on 162 for the 6th wicket. O'Brien scored 100 from 50 balls and went on to score 113.

This was the slap in the face of the ICC I was waiting for. Now, if the ICC plans to reduce the number of teams in 2015 to 10, they may do so. No problem. But given the pathetic performance of England against the associates, in 2015, England should not be in the first 10 teams. If the number of teams is to be 10, England should stay home.

Long live associate cricket!!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Unfortunate Military Air Crash in Sri Lanka

The crash of two Israeli built Kfirs after colliding mid-air has overshadowed the 60th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Air Force. The unfortunate crash which occurred in the morning of March 1, 2011, (Sri Lanka time) claimed the life of a pilot, Flight Lieutenant Monath Perera. The other pilot, Squadron Leader Vajira Jayakodi managed to eject himself safely. This happened during rehearsals for the anniversary scheduled for tomorrow. (March 2, 2011).

The Kfirs (meaning Lion cub in Hebrew), are single seat fighter jets which are in service of the SLAF from 1996. None was lost in combat during Sri Lanka's successful war on terror.

Flight Lieutenant Monath Perera served with distinction in the Air Force from 2004.

President Mahinda Rajapakse also visited the crash site today.

Our deepest condolences for the pilot who met his death unfortunately.