Pirate Attacks in Asian Waters Increase, Fewer Incidents in Africa — Report

Worldwide pirate attacks have slightly declined from January to September this year as incidents off the coast of Somalia declined, but reported cases of attacks in the South China Sea, particularly in Indonesia waters increased, a report by an international maritime watchdog showed on Monday.

Based on a data released by London-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the number of pirate attacks in the South China Sea increased to about 30 cases in the first seven months of this year, more than three times from last year.

IMB’s piracy reporting center in Malaysia cited that increase pirate presence off the coastlines of Indonesia was the main reason for the jump in attacks to merchant vessels.

But unlike Somalis who hold the entire ship and crewmen hostages, armed pirates in Asia only rob merchant vessels.

Also, most of the reported attacks occurred off the coast of Mangkai island in Indonesia – a transit route commonly used by seagoing vessels heading to Singapore Strait and East Asia.

Reduced presence of Indonesian Navy and other naval patrols were also the main reason why pirate attacks in the area increased from seven to 26 during the period.

The Indonesian government immediately reinstalled the patrols, increasing naval visibility upon the request of the IMB.

Worldwide pirate attacks dropped to 289 between January to September this year, compared to 306 cases reported in the same period last year.

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China Mine Explosion Kills 21, Traps 16 Others

At least 21 people were killed and 16 others remained trapped inside a mine in central China following a disastrous gas explosion, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported on Saturday.

According to the reports, more than 70 rescuers are now trying to rescue the remaining 16 miners inside the mine, despite the threat of possible second gas explosion due to dangerous levels of coal dust and gas build up.

China is the most dangerous mining site in the world with thousands of men killed over the last decade.

Rescue spokespersons said that the blast has displaced more than 2, 500 tons of coal dust causing further problems to rescue workers. He added that the location of the miners was still unconfirmed or whether they are still alive.

“We still have to remove all the coal dusts in the air shaft and the gas, which has now reached the 40 percent level,” said the state-run Pingyu Coal & Electric Co. Ltd in a statement.

The company said that engineers were able to restore the ventilation inside the mine but gas levels remained high. It added that the accident occurred while workers were trying to drill holes on the sides of the shafts to release pressure from a reported gas build up.

The explosion occurred amid Chile’s celebration following successful rescue operations to some 33 miners who have been underground for a record 69 days.

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Chavez Pledges 200-Year Oil Supply to Belarus

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez vowed to provide former Soviet Republic of Belarus a steady supply of oil for the next 200 years to boost the capacity of the country’s refineries – the backbone of the Belarusian economy.

During his visit on Saturday, Chavez promised Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whom critics called as the “Europe’s last dictator,” that there would be no shortages in oil supply in the country in the next 200 years.

The Venezuelan dictator, in what appears to be one of his flamboyant gestures, has earlier ordered the shipment of some 80, 000 barrels of heavy crude oil to Belarus to feed the growing demand in its refineries.

Chavez also signed a joint venture agreement with Lukashenko for the development of oil and natural gas projects in Belarus.

The Belarusian dictator, who is facing reelection in December, is now eyeing other markets in the Europe following a rift with Moscow, which has been escalating in the past several years.

Meanwhile, Chavez, who is considered as one of the major threat to globalization and capitalism, is also having talks with his counterparts in Moscow for his plans to develop Venezuela’s first nuclear power plant.

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Opposing Forces in South Sudan Mend Fences for Country’s Independence Vote

After decades of civil war that has taken the lives of more than two million people, the South Sudan leadership and the opposing militia groups are mending fences and healing old wounds in order to ensure a peaceful and smooth transition for its independence – a landmark referendum in the region’s bloody history.

In a three-day All South Sudan Political Party Conference, President Salva Kiir has been in talks with rebel fighters and other dissident groups in Southern Sudan, offering them an amnesty program and asking them “stand together for the region’s independence.”

Kiir has also sought reconciliation with former foreign minister Lam Akol, who is considered as his leading political adversary, in order to ease out tensions prior to the vote for the South’s long awaited independence from North Sudan.

The vote for South Sudan’s independence was the centerpiece during the peace treaty between former rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement which is led by Kiir and the Arab-dominated Khartoum government.

Despite having an autonomous government, which was established as part of the peace agreement, the Southern Sudan leadership was continuously being challenged by militia groups supporting the north.

But with reconciliation between Kiir and Akol, the people of Southern Sudan are hopeful that they can now live independently and end decades of civil war.

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More Than 77, 000 Iraqis Killed in 5 Years – US Military

The United States military come up with its own death toll tally, which it called “the most extensive” figures, on Thursday showing that more than 77, 000 innocent civilians and Iraqi military personnel were killed in the first five years of war – a death toll that falls well below recent figures released by the Iraqi government.

From the early days of Iraq War in 2004 to mid-2008, the death toll among Iraqi civilians and military personnel reached  77, 000, the US military said.

But Iraqi Human Rights Ministry said that the US military figures fell short of the “real score,” saying that death toll had reached at least 85, 694 – the bloodiest sectarian warfare in the country’s history.

Many Iraqi officials believe that the latest data released by the US military was part of the overall propaganda plan to tone down political conflicts and to sway American public’s sentiments over the hotly disputed US-Iraq war.

Meanwhile, the US military stood by its data, refusing to release comments of explanation on how they gathered the “comprehensive” figures.

Based on the documents acquired, at least 76, 939 Iraqi security officials and more than 121, 649 civilians were wound during the said period; while some 3, 952 American and allied forces were killed.

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Chilean Miners Rescued After 69 Days

After being trapped inside a mine for some 69 days, Chilean miners on Wednesday were rescued one by one using a capsule as their families and friends greeted them with cheers and embraces.

Months of preparation finally ended with a loud cheer from the crowd gathered outside the mouth of the mine as Florencio Avalos, the first miner to be rescued, resurfaced after more than three months ordeal.

So far, authorities were able to rescue at least 15 miners using a capsule like device dropped directly to their location half a mile beneath the earth’s surface.

Chilean authorities, who were keeping lowering and pulling of the capsule at a methodical pace, said that the rescue operation is on track and would be completed before the sun rises on Thursday.

They added that the rescue capsule used up and down the 2, 041-foot escape shaft was not rotating as expected, allowing faster trips – each miner was rescued under 39-minute interval.

The rescue of the 33 miners were believed to be a miracle since no one in recorded history ever survived after being trapped underground for a long period of time.

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French Labor Protests Cause Major Transport Headache

Thousands of French commuters will have to suffer another 24 hours packed trains and buses following the announcement by railway workers union that they will extend their open-ended strike to a third day to force President Nicolas Sarkozy to retract plans to extend employees retirement age to 62.

Some 1.2 million people joined the nationwide protest on Tuesday against the French government’s plan extending the retirement age to 62.

But Sarkozy remained firm over his decision, forcing railway workers to also extend their protests to a third day or possibly longer. Students and other workers groups blocked gasoline lines forcing many vehicles out of the streets.

The government said that the protest actions may end on Thursday, citing that only 25 percent of the transport workers were still on protest on Wednesday – compared to more than 45 percent a day earlier.

Many ruling conservatives believe that Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age was only a way for the government to save massive amount of money, which were being used finance the country’s pension system.

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China Cancels Meeting with Norway after Nobel Peace Prize on Chinese Dissident

Political tension between China and Norway heightened after Beijing issued a warning against the Norwegians following the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to an imprisoned Chinese democracy campaigner.

In a statement, Norway announced that China has called off the scheduled meeting with its Ministry of Fisheries days after it has announced that 54-year-old Liu Xiaobo has won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

The imprisoned Chinese democratic figure was allowed to briefly meet with his wife during the bestowing of the awards, which he dedicated to the “lost souls” of the 1989 military crackdown against student demonstrators.

Liu is now in his second year behind bars, serving an 11-year prison terms for crimes of “subversion.”

According to the Norwegian government, Beijing has reacted angrily with the Nobel Peace Prize award against to what it considers as a “criminal.” China has even warned Norway that honoring Liu could put diplomatic relationship of both countries into heavy stress.

Norwegian Fisheries and Coastal Affairs Minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, who arrived in China on Monday to witness the weeklong World Expo in Shanghai, said that the reason behind the cancellation was still uncertain.

The Nobel Committee, who is in charge of nominating and judging for the awards, was an independent organization.

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Saudi King Intervenes Over Issue of “Fatwas”

The Saudi royalty has now moved in to regain control over the issue of religious orders and ruling, also known as “fatwas,” due to conflicting interpretation of the Koran by many Muslim scholars and clerical organizations, which causes more misunderstandings among the people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In mid-August this year, Saudi King Abdullah has issued a royal decree, which states that only the official panel appointed by him may issue the fatwas that would answer the questions on how ordinary and pious Saudis should live their lives.

Following the decree, various websites and satellite stations propagating the conflicting teachings were shut down or have voluntarily stopped from interpreting or issuing fatwas.

King Abdullah even publicly reprimanded a preacher after calling for a boycott of a supermarket chain for hiring female cashiers.

Prior to the royal order, many clerical organizations such as the Council of Senior Religious Scholars were issuing different fatwas that are often viewed by regular Saudis and other Muslim religious leaders as “unnecessary” to a modern Muslim society.

Some examples of which, were fatwas against boy and girls sharing the same swimming pool and bringing flowers to patients, which scholars claimed “causes mischief and evil” or “imitates Allah’s adversaries.”

Many scholars believe that King Abdullah’s orders were needed in order for Saudi Arabia to move forward and embrace modernization, without harming the laws of the Koran.

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Hanoi Celebrates First Millennia

With an aim to move forward from its relatively dark history, the once war-ravaged city of Hanoi, Vietnam celebrated its first millennia founding anniversary on Sunday with more than 30, 000 people joining the biggest marching parade in the country’s history.

Led by brigades of soldiers and colorful dragon dancers, more than 30, 000 Vietnamese showed pride for the 1, 000th founding anniversary of Hanoi, with huge Vietnamese and Communist Party colors draped in the background.

The long marching parade started in the historic Ba Dinh Square, where the Vietnam’s late President Ho Chi Minh announced the declaration of independence from the French some 65 years ago.

The massive granite mausoleum, which was built to commemorate the late Communist president, provided the background for the parade.

In 1010, King Ly Thai To has ordered to move the country’s capital from some 62 miles north to Hanoi, formerly called Thang Long.

In his speech during the celebration march, Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet said that “the city has experienced numerous ups and downs over its 1, 000-year history, maintaining its proud nature and assured its honorable posture, which makes it deserve to be the heart of Vietnam.”

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