Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chavez is smarter than FARC, at least on Facebook


One of the most celebrated political uses of social networking in the last few years has been its embrace by the anti-FARC demonstrators in Colombia in February 2008. According to numerous reports in the media, millions of people poured into the streets of Bogota and other Colombian cities to protest against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the four-decade-old guerrilla group. Thousands joined similar marches held abroad; all in all, 165 cities had some kind of an anti-FARC activity going on.

What was really peculiar about the protests was that they were triggered by a grassroots Facebook campaign conducted by young Colombian professionals. DigiActive even published a research paper analyzing the value of Facebook and other social software for the purposes of organizing anti-FARC protests. The turnout was, indeed, very impressive: according to various estimates, from 500,000 to 2,000,000 people showed up.

It was a very successful experiment. So now, members of the anti-FARC network would like to use their honed Facebook-organizing skills to spur a global campaign against Hugo Chávez. The march -- widely publicized both on Facebook and Twitter -- is to take place on Sept 4th. According to Juan David Lacouture, one of the organizers, they expect 50 or 60 million people to join. A Facebook group called "No Mas Chávez!!!" ("No More Chávez!!!") serves as a major hub of the campaign; it has more than 156,000 members.

But Chávez is no FARC and it's no longer 2008. Anyone who wants to fight governments on Facebook or Twitter these days has to be prepared for them to fight back using the very same tools -- and often, more effectively than their detractors. Ditto Chávez: he's striking back with his own Facebook campaign built around anti-Americanism and aiming to capitalize on the growing Latin American discontent over the American bases that would soon be coming to Colombia.

Chávez's campaign -- which he says would be based around the "Yankee Go Home" themes -- was inspired by his numerous supporters begging him to allow them to protest too. Eva Golinger, a pro-government lawyer, is already urging Chávez's supporters to rally behind his own Facebook campaign called "ON THE PATH TO PEACE ... LATIN AMERICA TERRITORY FREE OF US MILITARY BASES, A ZONE OF PEACE".

Golinger's campaign calls upon Chávez sympathizers to meet in front of Venezuelan embassies and consulates worldwide on the very day of the "No More Chávez" protests. It doesn't yet look very impressive -- it only lists 14 members at the moment -- but it also didn't have 18 months to prepare like the anti-Chávez protests that are continuing largely on the anti-FARC momentum.

The recent developments in Venezuela fully dispel the myth that social media are somehow uniquely positioned to benefit those fighting against authoritarian governments. What many social media cheerleaders do not understand is that many of the world's authoritarian governments enjoy at least a modicum of popular support among their populations. Some are widely popular (like Belarus), others less so (like Egypt). However, even 10 percent popular support combined with unrivaled access to campaigning/organizing resources could easily crush a much more popular opposition movement, particularly if the latter's work is thwarted with arrests, intimidation of activists, and disinformation and propaganda...

Kyrgyzstan Marks Independence Anniversary


BISHKEK – Kyrgyzstan has been marking the 18th anniversary of its independence, while also receiving criticism for its failure to adhere to democratic standards, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service reported.

At a ceremony in Bishkek’s Kyrgyz Philharmonic Society, President Kurmanbek Bakiev told the assembled crowd that the country had “big tasks” ahead of it.

“The most important of those tasks are to further develop our national heritage, preserve the diverse cultures, ensure private property rights, establish the rule of law, and to build a state governed by the rule of law,” he said.

Bakiev, inaugurated earlier this month to a second term, also said the nation had put its trust in him for another presidential term, and that this gave him additional energy for the work ahead.

Last month’s election, which gave Bakiev a landslide victory, was criticized by international monitors who registered violations including ballot stuffing and multiple voting.

In an interview with RFE/RL, a prominent lawmaker at the time of Kyrgyzstan’s independence criticized what he said were the latest setbacks to the country’s democracy.

Kazat Akmatov, who is also a well-known author, said Kyrgyzstan had now lost its claim to be an “island of democracy” in the region.

"Our country distanced itself from its title as an island of democracy. We have lost this title. We don't suit to the title now. Our election system has been severely corrupted,” Akmatov said.

Kyrgyzstan was the first former-Soviet Central Asian countries to declare its independence on August 31, 1991, shortly after the failure of a coup attempt by hard-liners in Moscow.

The Migrant Experience: Aboard The 'Eastern Express'


By Mumin Shakirov
ABOARD THE 'EASTERN EXPRESS' -- With its clay houses, makeshift kiosks, and roads dotted with potholes, Katagan is a typical Tajik village.

A large group of local residents has gathered in the Rakhimovs' shady yard teeming with plants, flowers, and fruit trees.

They are bidding farewell to Umed Rakhimov, who is heading Russia to work on a construction site.

It's not the first time the 28-year-old is leaving Katagan. Like an estimated 1 million Tajiks, he has been forced by rampant poverty and unemployment to seek better fortunes in Russia.


Features
The Migrant Experience: Aboard The 'Eastern Express'

September 02, 2009
By Mumin Shakirov
ABOARD THE 'EASTERN EXPRESS' -- With its clay houses, makeshift kiosks, and roads dotted with potholes, Katagan is a typical Tajik village.

A large group of local residents has gathered in the Rakhimovs' shady yard teeming with plants, flowers, and fruit trees.

They are bidding farewell to Umed Rakhimov, who is heading Russia to work on a construction site.

It's not the first time the 28-year-old is leaving Katagan. Like an estimated 1 million Tajiks, he has been forced by rampant poverty and unemployment to seek better fortunes in Russia.

It is with a heavy heart that Umed leaves his family behind, especially his wife and 1-year-old daughter.

His mother, Firuza, is in a somber mood as well.


Features
The Migrant Experience: Aboard The 'Eastern Express'

September 02, 2009
By Mumin Shakirov
ABOARD THE 'EASTERN EXPRESS' -- With its clay houses, makeshift kiosks, and roads dotted with potholes, Katagan is a typical Tajik village.

A large group of local residents has gathered in the Rakhimovs' shady yard teeming with plants, flowers, and fruit trees.

They are bidding farewell to Umed Rakhimov, who is heading Russia to work on a construction site.

It's not the first time the 28-year-old is leaving Katagan. Like an estimated 1 million Tajiks, he has been forced by rampant poverty and unemployment to seek better fortunes in Russia.



It is with a heavy heart that Umed leaves his family behind, especially his wife and 1-year-old daughter.

His mother, Firuza, is in a somber mood as well.



"I will be sad. We've just married him off," she says. "I don't know what awaits him there, and his wife is also worried whether he'll find a job. That's the way things are here, we live and worry."

At around midnight, Umed and hundreds of other Tajik migrant workers flock at the train station in the nearby capital of Dushanbe to board the Moscow-bound train, also known as the "Eastern Express."

The Shakedown

Those traveling all the way to the Russian capital face a four-day journey that will take them more than 4,000 kilometers across Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and southern Russia.

Within two hours, the train has reached the border with Uzbekistan, which lies just 70 kilometers from Dushanbe.

Suddenly, the train swarms with Uzbek border guards, police, and customs officials.

Tajikistan lies on the main drug-trafficking route between Afghanistan and Russia, and for border officials, every passenger on the Dushanbe-Moscow train is a potential smuggler.

All too often, however, their search for "drugs and weapons" is simply an excuse to harass passengers and extort money from them.

Larisa Sharipova, one of the train's carriage supervisors, says passengers can be expelled for the slightest trifle.

"Let's say the ticket vendor, for example, misspelled the traveler's surname by writing 'a' instead of 'o' -- that's enough to pull the passenger off the train," Sharipova says. "Sometimes the plastic film that covers the passport's page has peeled off a little at the corner -- that's another reason to get a passenger off the train. It's such a pity for those poor people who buy such expensive tickets and are forced to get off in Uzbekistan because of some obscure mistake."

The train's inspection lasts two hours, during which passengers are not permitted to leave their seats. The strict visa regime between Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan also means Tajik citizens cannot even set foot on a platform while the train crosses Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Confined to their carriages for almost two days, passengers rely on traveling vendors for fresh beverages, food, and cigarettes. There are so many vendors on this section of the journey, with their bulky bags, that passengers must literally elbow their way down the carriages' narrow corridors.

Battling Boredom

It's now midday. The train has left the southern Uzbek border town of Termez and is approaching Turkmenistan.

Still unable to alight, passengers admire the sandy landscape through the window, peppered with small villages and camels. The train rides slowly along the Afghan border, marked by an endless barbed wire that cuts through the dunes.

Rules for train passengers in Turkmenistan are even stricter than in Uzbekistan.

The new carriage supervisor, Khusnya, instructs passengers on how to behave while on Turkmen territory.

"Don't go to other carriages. Don't smoke," she enjoins. "For eight hours, you are not even allowed to go to the restaurant carriage."

The route to Moscow is not a straight one. After traveling some 200 kilometers across Turkmenistan, the train meanders back into Uzbekistan, where travelers must once again endure lengthy passport controls and searches for "drugs and weapons."

To kill time during the long journey, many passengers stage improvised concerts.

Muhammed Ali is always ready to show off his musical talents.

The 57-year-old former judo trainer is traveling all the way to Moscow, where he started working 15 years ago at the huge Cherkizovsky food market, which was shut down last month amid allegations of health and safety violations.

A born optimist, Muhammed has long come to terms with being separated from his family for months, sleeping on cardboard boxes at Moscow markets, and working seven days a week. Even constant harassment by Russian police has not succeeded in dampening his spirits.

Unique Challenges

Only one thing enrages Muhammed -- racist attacks against migrant workers like him, which have soared in recent years.

"My father was wounded seven times during World War II battles near Moscow. Why can't I, the son of a frontline soldier, walk freely in this city?" Muhammed asks. "Who allowed these extremist bastards to impose their rules in Moscow? Is there any justice? I can't walk freely in Moscow, and they can!"

The train enters Kazakhstan at night.

The bulk of traveling vendors are gone, and the stifling heat has eased a little.

No transit visa is required to cross Kazakhstan. At the first Kazakh stop, in the town of Atyrai, passengers are finally allowed to take a walk on the platform and do a bit of shopping.

Vendors mass around the train, peddling pickled cucumbers, boiled eggs, beer, toilet paper, and local SIM-cards for mobile phones.

This is Gulya Vakhitova's tenth trip on the "Eastern Express." The 35-year-old widow speaks enthusiastically about her job as a chef in a restaurant in a small town outside Moscow.

Unlike most Central Asian migrant workers, she earns enough to support her family at home in Tajikistan -- including her four children -- while living comfortably in Russia, where she rents her own flat.

In her case, Russia's mounting xenophobia has not been an obstacle to building a successful career.

"It all depends on you, on the way you behave," Gulya says. "In all the years I've worked at the restaurant, I've never heard an offensive word, although my colleagues admitted they initially had prejudices about my nation. They said their opinion changed when they got to know me. This happened more than once."

Final Stretch

From Kazakhstan, the train finally enters Russia, where border officials scour passports and luggage for another two hours.

Groups of passengers get off soon after the border to reach big southern Russian cities like Astrakhan and Sochi.

Umed, too, was planning to work on one of the huge construction sites in Sochi, which is preparing to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. But his Tajik friends there called to tell him that his job had fallen through.

He quickly decides to try his luck in Moscow. He has been working in Russia since he was 12, and he is confident that he will find a job despite the economic crisis, which has dealt a severe blow to Russia's economy.

Umed has already overcome his sadness at leaving Tajikistan. He says he's grateful to Russia for enabling him to provide for his loved ones.

"Russia is everything to me! Russia gave me a wife," Umed says. "If I had stayed and worked in Tajikistan, I would never have found a wife, built a house, and bought a car."

He says that "now I have two dreams: to give my younger sister a nice wedding and to send my mother on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. After that, Russia is over for me."

The "Eastern Express" finally reaches Moscow in the early hours of the fifth day. The 300 or so passengers noisily pour off the train onto the empty platform, bringing the sleepy station to life.

They make their way to the metro in small groups before going their own way -- the boisterous Muhammed Ali, the virtuoso cook Gulya, the hopelessly optimistic Umed.

Some of them will board the train back to Tajikistan in three or four months. Others who find a stable job may stay longer.

Many of them have tied a "tumar," a Central Asian lucky amulet, around their wrists to see them through the hardships of life as a migrant worker in Russia.

Depression looms as global crisis


The World Health Organization predicts that within 20 years more people will be affected by depression than any other health problem.

According to the WHO, depression will be the biggest health burden on society both economically and sociologically.

Yet, it says most developing countries spend less than 2% of their national budgets on mental healthcare.

The warning comes as the first Global Mental Health Summit starts in Athens, Greece.


In 2030 this will be the single biggest cause for burden out of all health conditions
Dr Shekhar Saxena, WHO

WHO figures reveal that currently, over 450 million people are directly affected by mental disorders or disabilities, most of whom live in developing countries.

The five-day summit in Athens will provide the opportunity to address what the organisers are calling a crisis in global mental healthcare.

"WHO figures clearly show that the burden because of depression is likely to increase - so much so that in 2030 this will be the single biggest cause for burden out of all health conditions," Dr Shekhar Saxena of the Department of Mental Health at the WHO, told the BBC World Service.

The scientific concept of "burden" is the measure of years lost of life, due to early death or severe disability brought on by a certain illness, in this case depression.

Silent epidemic

Dr Saxena says depression is much more common than some other diseases that are more widely feared such as HIV-Aids or cancer.

"One could call it a silent epidemic because depression is more often being recognised, but it has been there throughout and is likely to increase in terms of proportion when other diseases are actually going down."

The increasing burden will be a particular problem for developing countries because they have fewer resources to allocate to mental health.

THE SILENT EPIDEMIC
Depressed man
About half of mental disorders begin before the age of 14
Around 20% of the world's children and adolescents are estimated to have mental disorders or problems
Most low- and middle-income countries have only one child psychiatrist for every 1 to 4 million people
About 800,000 people commit suicide every year, 86% of them in low- and middle-income countries
More than half of the people who kill themselves are aged between 15 and 44
The highest suicide rates are found among men in eastern European countries
Source: WHO

"We have figures to show that poorer countries have actually more depression compared to richer countries and even poor people in rich countries have a high incidence of depression compared to the richer people in the same countries," says Dr Saxena.

Yet high-income countries allocate 200 times more resources to mental health than low-income ones.

It accounts not only for a significant proportion of government spending in developed countries, it also makes a impact on their GDP as well.

Professor Martin Prince, professor of epidemiological psychiatry at King's College, London has tried to calculate in financial terms how much of a burden a depressed person can become.

"Part of this is through lost productivity because people with serious depression are much less likely to be employed and to stay employed. Then there's the cost to society of providing, for example, incapacity and unemployment benefits, particularly in rich developed countries," he says.

"These costs combined amount in the UK, it's estimated, to about £12bn ($19bn) per year or around 1% of the gross national product, so these are absolutely enormous sums."

With the expectation that the burden from mental illness is going up and will continue to increase in coming years, Dr Saxena says societal attitudes towards mental illness need to change.

"Depression is as much of a disease as any other physical disease that people suffer from and they have a right to get correct advice and treatment with in the same health care settings which look after other health conditions."

'They have given me my life back'


When Gareth Roberts has a sugary drink and a couple of chocolate bars his blood sugar levels soar.

But within hours they are back to normal.

For Gareth, aged 32 from Blackpool, this is a huge change.

At the age of just 10 weeks he was diagnosed with neonatal diabetes and until recently he had to carefully watch what he ate and needed to inject himself with insulin four times a day.

Wonder drug

Then doctors diagnosed him with a gene mutation, and he was weaned off insulin and on to tablets that are specially suited for his type of diabetes.

He is delighted with the results.


They said it was a complete shot in the dark and might not affect me, but that if it did it would transform my life
Gareth Roberts

"After the test result came back positive I was able to come off insulin and go on to tablets," he said.

"Even after eating all the wrong kind of food my blood sugar levels went back to normal without needing any insulin.

"I can eat anything now, but my doctor did warn me to take care and to remember I still had diabetes."

Gareth said diabetes had dominated his life.

"Because I was diagnosed so young I didn't know anything different," he said.

"But it was terrible on insulin - swinging between too low and too high blood sugars.

"I tried to keep a balance, but my blood sugars were always up and down."

Then, two years ago doctors tried him on the tablets.

Mutated gene

About one in 100,000 babies are born with neonatal diabetes each year. The condition is diagnosed in the first six months of life.

A woman injecting. Pic: Chassenet/SPL
The pills mean no more injections for Gareth

The standard treatment - regular injections of insulin - helps to control their blood sugar levels to a degree, but cannot prevent fluctuations.

The breakthrough came from a team of scientists at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter.

Using DNA testing, they showed that about half of the children with this condition had a mutation in a key gene which prevented them from releasing insulin in response to a rise in blood sugar levels.

They also found a potential answer: a group of drugs called sulphonylureas, which are already used to treat people with type 2, or adult onset, diabetes.

Sulphonylureas help people with neonatal diabetes to release insulin from their own pancreas.

Meeting families

Two researchers - Professor Andrew Hattersley, from Peninsula and Professor Frances Ashcroft, of the University of Oxford - who played a leading role in the discovery recently held a meeting of parents, patients, doctors and scientists.

Professor Ashcroft said it had been exciting for the scientists to see the effect the drug had on patients.

"It was a wonderful day. As a scientist working on a human disease, you hope that your work will help patients one day," she said.

"But you never expect that it will have an impact in your own lifetime, and you certainly never expect to meet people whose lives have been helped by it.

"To have some one say 'You have transformed my life' is extraordinary".

Professor Hattersley said the new treatment really had transformed patients' lives.

"As soon as the problem was discovered, patients can be given the drugs," he said.


Neonatal diabetes
Neonatal diabetes is diagnosed in the first six months of life
It affects one in 100,000 babies
Although neonatal diabetes produces no insulin it is different from the more common type 1

"This has had a fantastic effect because their blood sugar levels are very much more stable.

"Gareth was struggling with diabetes and trying to balance things with insulin - his life has now changed dramatically.

"The key message we have been getting out to doctors and patients is that anyone diagnosed with diabetes under six months should have genetic testing.

"This treatment does not work in patients who do not have the genetic change."

'My life back'

Gareth said the Exeter and Oxford teams have given him back his life.

He initially got a letter from his local hospital in Blackpool, inviting him to give a blood sample.

"They said it was a complete shot in the dark and might not affect me, but that if it did it would transform my life.

"And it has. Within six weeks of taking these tablets I had stopped taking insulin.

"Now I have no insulin at all, which is such a relief.

"At the time I was having four injections a day and you have to keep on taking the blood sugars, but since I have been on the tablets it has been great.

"I take one in the morning and one at night but I am not tied to when I take them. Every time I take a blood test now it is normal."

Gel hope for brain injury repair


Research on rats suggests the gel, made from synthetic and natural sources, may spur growth of stem cells in the brain.

The gel has been developed by Dr Ning Zhang at Clemson University, South Carolina, who presented her work to a conference on military health research.

She predicted the gel may be ready for human testing in about three years.


Our strategy can potentially be applied to head injuries caused by car accidents, falls and gunshot wounds
Dr Ning Zhang
Clemson University

Following a brain injury the tissues tend to swell up and this causes the loss of even more cells, compounding the damage caused by the original wound.

The standard treatments attempt to minimise this secondary damage at the site of the injury, for instance by lowering the temperature or relieving the build up of pressure.

However, their impact is often limited.

Scientists believe that transplanting donor brain cells into the wound to repair tissue damage is potentially a more productive approach.

Donor cells

But while this method has had some success in treating some central nervous system diseases, it has produced very limited results when used to treat brain injuries.

The donor cells do not tend to thrive at the site of injury, or to stimulate repair.

This could be due to inflammation and scarring at the injury site, and the lack of supportive tissue and blood supply to provide the necessary nutrients.

Researchers say the advantage of the new gel, which is injected into the injury in liquid form, is that it can be loaded with different chemicals to stimulate various biological processes.

First, Dr Zhang used it to help re-establish a full blood supply at the site of a brain injury in rats, potentially providing a much more friendly environment for donor cells to thrive.

Then, in follow-up work, she loaded it with immature human stem cells and the chemicals they need to develop into fully fledged adult brain cells.

After eight weeks of treatment with this mixture rats with severe brain injuries showed signs of making a significant recovery.

Dr Zhang, whose work is funded by the US Department of Defense, said: "We have seen an increase in brain injuries due to combat, but our strategy can also potentially be applied to head injuries caused by car accidents, falls and gunshot wounds."

She said the gel could potentially be loaded with different factors to make it useful for patients at varying stages following injury.

Professor James Fawcett, of the Cambridge University Centre for Brain Repair, said a brain-compatible gel that could inhibit scar formation and prevent the release of toxic molecules following brain injury would be a significant advance.

Headway, the brain injury association, said the research looked very interesting and could potentially be a "significant step foward".

But in a statement, the charity said: "It is important to remember, however, that no human trials have taken place at this stage and a great deal more research is required before this method of regenerating brain tissue following traumatic injury can be heralded.

"We are some years away from the possible therapeutic use of this gel and it is important the expectations of people with brain injury are managed to avoid promises of miracle cures."

How Gypsy gangs use child thieves


Across Europe thousands of Roma (Gypsy) children are being forced onto the streets to beg and steal, and law enforcement agencies are seemingly powerless to prevent it.

Cash machines in Madrid are a particular target for street crime. The cardholder is distracted at the crucial moment by one person, allowing a child to dive in, grab the money and run off.

Thirteen-year-old Daniela says she can make 300 euros (£260) from a single successful robbery without any risk of being punished.

child stealing from cash point
Spanish police cannot prosecute children under 14

"It's only the police that catch us. They take the money we have on us. They take us to the day centre, and the centre lets us go.

"I give [the money] to my mother so we can go to Romania to build a house. But I hide some of it for myself. I give her 150 euros, and I keep 150."

Madrid police say that 95% of children under 14 that they pick up stealing on the streets are Roma from Romania.

Because the age of criminal responsibility in Spain is 14, there is little they can do.

More than 1,000 Romanian Roma live in just one of the many camps that lie on the outskirts of Madrid.

The conditions are appalling - rats roam freely amid the rubbish, and there is no sanitation.

Every day children from the camp head out into the city to steal and beg, and many are beaten by their minders if they do not return with money.

Organised crime

Nowhere in Europe has there been more controversy over crime in the Roma community than in Italy, where the government recently declared a state of emergency following various high profile crimes blamed on the Roma.


In a month period, each kid earned about 12,000 euros
Francesco Messina, Milan police

In Milan in 2007, just after Romania entered the European Union, police noticed a surge in theft and pick-pocketing carried out by Roma children.

They launched a major investigation involving phone-tapping and surveillance, which revealed that a criminal gang was using the children to generate huge profits.

"In a month period, each kid earned about 12,000 euros (£10,500). Then, 12,000 euros times by 50 kids, and if we do the maths, we reached an astronomical amount of money," says Francesco Messina, who led the police operation.

Members of the gang were jailed for up to 14 years in prison for enslaving and exploiting the children, many of whom were discovered locked in a shed when police raided the camp.

The rescued children were taken into care, but the BBC's This World programme discovered two of the boys had gone back to the streets of Milan, and were stealing again. Even this huge police operation had not saved them from a life of crime.

Discrimination

The roots of the problem lie in Romania, where Roma have faced discrimination and hostility for generations.

The pop star Madonna commented on the problem during a concert in Bucharest last week, and was jeered by the audience.

Poverty among the Roma is widespread. In 2007, Unicef reported that up to 70% of households had no running water.


Breliante, a powerful underworld figure in Romania
The thieving is no longer a national problem - it's happening on an international scale
Breliante, underworld boss in Craiova, Romania

Many Roma end up leaving the country in search of a better life in the West. Some resort to begging and stealing.

In Milan, Italy, this resulted in a strong backlash. Some Roma camps have been bulldozed and calls are heard for all Roma immigrants to be deported.

"The right wing says that Romany Gypsies are just people that exploit their children and women for stealing for begging and maybe there is a bit of a truth in this," says Donatella DeVito, who works for a charity that tries to help integrate the Roma into Italian society.

"But the real problem is that some of the Roma actually beg and steal because that's the only chance that they have for surviving."

Fabulous villas

While some crime is driven by poverty, a worrying amount is the result of child exploitation, organised by professional criminals.

Breliante is a powerful underworld figure in the Romanian city of Craiova, where many of the Roma criminals in Milan originated.

He told the BBC many of the fabulous villas in the city were built on the proceeds of crime committed all over the world.

Gang bosses traffic people, including children, abroad to beg and steal and get fat on the profits.

But even he believes the sheer scale of the crime has gone too far and will have serious repercussions.

"The thieving is no longer a national problem. It's happening on an international scale. Our children need to study, because if they carry on like this, if the new generations which grow up now continue in the same way, no-one will have us.

"Our country won't understand us any longer, the Western countries will chase us away."

Liviu Tipurita, who has made films about Roma and child trafficking for many years, has similar fears.

"My fear is that without immediate help the Gypsy child thieves I've encountered in my journey will grow up into hardened criminals," he said. "And the cycle of abuse and exploitation will spiral out of control."

Explosive drama of bomb squad experts


The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, is about a month in the life of three US bomb squad technicians working in Iraq.

Based on the real life observations of writer Mark Boal, these soldiers speak of explosions as putting you in "the hurt locker".

There have been a slew of comments from Hollywood about both the war in Iraq and the war on terror.

By and large though, films like In The Valley of Elah, Rendition, Redacted and Lions for Lambs have failed to translate to box office success.

By contrast, The Hurt Locker has already grossed more then $10m (£6m) in US cinemas since its release last month - and that is despite having no big stars among the cast, with the exception of cameos from Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce.

"I think there is a lack of politics, a lack of speeches in the movie," says Bigelow, when asked about why it has proved a hit with audiences.

Guy Pearce in The Hurt Locker
Guy Pearce (right) makes a cameo appearance

"But the main reason is that it's an action film. And also, speaking as a member of the general public, I had no idea what things like EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) stood for.

"Mark's reporting and screenplay opens a window for us onto that world."

Boal spent several weeks in 2004 embedded with a US army bomb squad, operating in one of the most dangerous areas of Baghdad.

He compares their skill to that of a surgeon - although it's their own life at risk rather than the patient's.

The Hurt Locker is the creative result of his time there - a fictional snapshot in the lives of three soldiers in Iraq.

The leader, Sergeant William James (played by Jeremy Renner) seems to have a reckless disregard for his own safety which appals his team members, Sanborn and Eldridge (Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty), who are counting the days until they can go home.

Sophisticated audiences

Every day brings a new bomb to dispose of - and a new threat to their lives and the lives of the civilians around them.

Despite the fact it's set in Iraq, the movie could resonate with UK audiences seeing a mounting death toll of their troops in Afghanistan - many of them killed by roadside bombs.

Or could they find it currently hits too close to home?

Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow wants people to see her film as entertainment, not politics

"I think British audiences are very sophisticated," says Boal.

"They can view it as a movie rather than a news report. The US viewers understood it was entertainment with substance, but it's certainly not a documentary.

"I'm hopeful it will connect with people. It's an eye-opening experience to watch," adds Bigelow. "That's what makes the piece so poignant and timely."

Shot on location in Jordan, the director - best known for the surfer thriller Pointbreak - combined her action-film skills with an experiential style to place the audience on the ground with the bomb squad.

The precision and skill required to diffuse an explosive device meant that even on set, the suspense could become unbearable.

Courage and heroism

"There was one scene where Jeremy (Renner) is lying on his stomach, about to pull out a daisy chain of bombs," she recalls.

"Even though I was looking at it on the monitor my heart was thumping. I felt so anxious for him, and yet he's in the street, 20 yards away from me, surrounded by a movie crew.

"The professionalism, courage and heroism of these real life people is indelible - and for me, it's inherently dramatic."

Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
Jeremy Renner plays the fearless Sergeant William James

At its debut in 2008 at the Venice Film Festival, The Hurt Locker won four awards and was praised for "avoiding dry ideology" by the committee.

Bigelow and Boal hope audiences will put aside their political theories about the rights and wrongs of the conflict and watch it as a piece of entertainment.

"At the end of the day, what they do is a job," Boal says. "It's a profession that we've tried to bring across, even if it is one of the most dangerous professions you could ever undertake.

"Obviously, it brings with it a host of emotional and psychological issues but it is still a volunteer army. And by and large, these people are doing an incredible job."

The Hurt Locker is released in the UK on 28 August. There's more from Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal on E24 on the BBC News Channel, Saturday 28 August at 10:45 BST.

Africa's forgotten wartime heroes


British documentary makers Robin Forestier-Walker and Oliver Owen have been tracing Nigerians who fought against the Japanese in Burma during World War II.

On VJ Day, the anniversary of victory over Japan, they tell the veterans' story.
Private Banana
Private African Banana also served as a peacekeeper in Congo and Chad

Mohammed was just 16 when he was pressed into British military service in northern Nigeria against his will.

Now, almost 70 years on, the old war veteran claims he hid his true identity from the recruiting officer.

It was as Private African Banana that he went on to travel 6,300 miles (10,100km) to the jungles of Burma in the Royal West African Frontier Force.

And he has been known as African Banana ever since.

The contribution of West Africans was played down in official versions of the Allied war in Asia, and until now, few have had an opportunity to tell their tale.

In fact, only two in 10 of the soldiers who fought in Burma were white.

The role of Indians and Gurkhas is known. But when Allied commander General William Slim thanked his 14th army at the end of the campaign, he did not even mention the Africans.

Jungle warfare

Nigerians made up more than half of the total force of 90,000 West African soldiers deployed to South East Asia after 1943 as part of the British Army's 81st and 82nd (West Africa) Divisions.

Although the Burma campaign ended 64 years ago, many remain bitter that their contribution was never adequately recognised.

Initially I saw the white man as someone better than me. But after the war, I considered him an equal
Former infantryman Dauda Kafanchan

They were central to the push to clear Japanese forces out of the jungle and mountain ranges of Burma, from where they threatened British India.

This was achieved through a gruelling campaign of jungle marches, battles and ambushes, in which supplies were delivered entirely by air.

Usman Katsina remembers it well.

"Everything that was meant to be used - your food, your clothes, everything - was given to you and you were required to carry it, on your head and back. Some even died from exhaustion, from travelling long distances, with a heavy load," he says.

Some of those who earned the coveted Burma Star had already fought against Mussolini's forces in East Africa.

West Africans also joined special Chindit units under the command of General Orde Wingate.

The Chindits fought deep inside Japanese-held territory to disrupt lines of communication.

Their enemy was an extremely dangerous opponent. Japanese soldiers were trained well in the art of jungle warfare, where the first rule was concealment.

It was a skill the Nigerian troops had to learn too.

"The Japanese in the jungle were just like snakes - they hid before you could see them, it was very hard," recalls 97-year-old Hassan Sokoto.

'Lack of recognition'

Umaru Yola fought in the 4th Battalion, Nigeria Regiment. He described how he was hit in the head with a piece of shrapnel that left him with a hole in his skull.

"I didn't die, so God must have decided to give me a long life," he says.
Nigerian WWII veterans
Many of the veterans feel they were failed by the British after the war

African recruits served as drivers, artillerymen, engineers, medics and clerks, as well as infantrymen and carriers.

Officer positions were reserved for white expatriates from Britain and other parts of the empire, with only one notable exception: Lieutenant Seth Anthony from the Gold Coast was the British Army's first African officer.

Despite the hierarchy, the war in Burma played some part in breaking down the race barriers of the era.

"Initially I saw the white man as someone better than me. But after the war, I considered him an equal," recalls former infantryman Dauda Kafanchan.

In post-war Nigeria, the colonial government gave some veterans land to begin new lives as farmers. The project was also a scheme to reduce their potential impact as a new political force.

"We wanted work. But what could we do? We were under colonial rule and we couldn't change anything," said veteran Dangombe, who found himself without prospects at the war's end.

Nigerian soldiers who chose to continue their military careers went on to form the core of independent Nigeria's national army, which retains the 81st and 82nd Divisions to this day.

Private Banana later served as a peacekeeper in the Congo and Chad. And he returned to the frontline alongside many of his former comrades in Nigeria's bloody 1967-1970 civil war.

But many of his former comrades feel the British abandoned their responsibilities to their former servicemen.

Although they were paid off for their service, some claim they were promised allowances which were never paid, despite their repeated efforts over the years.

And it is not only the money - some veterans are still bitter over what they see as a lack of recognition.

"We were supposed to get Long Service and British Empire Medals" says Dangombe.

"But up until now - nothing."

Reporters describe N Korea ordeal


Two US journalists jailed for illegally entering North Korea have described their ordeal for the first time.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee admitted entering North Korea for a short time, but said they were on the Chinese side of the border when they were arrested.

After their arrest the pair spent more than four months in detention before being freed at the intervention of former US President Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile a high-level North Korean official is visiting Beijing for talks.

The trip, to mark 60 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations, raises hopes that stalled six-party discussions on Pyongyang's nuclear programme might soon be back on the agenda.

North Korea abandoned the talks in April, following its nuclear and missile tests which prompted tough UN sanctions, but has since made a number of conciliatory moves that appear to indicate a softening of its position.

'Dragged forcibly'

The lengthy account published by Ms Ling and Ms Lee provides the most thorough account to date of the circumstances surrounding their detention.


We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined [North Korean] soldiers
Laura Ling and Euna Lee, US journalists

In a statement posted on the website of their employers, Current TV, the two women said North Korean troops had abducted them shortly after they had briefly crossed the border into North Korea on 17 March.

"We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us," said the women, who had been working on a story about human trafficking in the region.

"We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers.

"They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained."

The women said although there were no signs marking China's frontier with North Korea, they were aware that they were heading towards the border crossing as they moved on foot across the frozen Tumen River.

"Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China. Midway across the ice, we heard yelling.

"To this day, we still don't know if we were lured into a trap," they added.

After their capture, Ms Lee and Ms Ling were sentenced to 12 years hard labour for trespassing and "hostile acts" against North Korea, but they were pardoned last month after Mr Clinton visited Pyongyang on their behalf.

They said parts of their captivity were "painful", but their experiences "pale when compared to the hardship facing so many people living in North Korea or as illegal immigrants in China".

Hotline restored

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, and was scheduled to meet Chinese foreign ministry officials later in the day.

South Korean lorries at the border heading to Kaesong - 18 August 2009
North-South Korea border traffic resumed as normal on Tuesday

"The two sides will exchange views on bilateral relations as well as other major issues of common interest," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.

She gave no further details, but analysts suggest that the resumption of nuclear discussions could be one of the items on the agenda during the talks.

There have been numerous signs of a thaw in Pyongyang's relations with the international community in recent weeks.

A hotline between North and South Korea - closed down since May - has just been restored, and normal border traffic between the two Koreas resumed on Tuesday.

Japan looks to robots to fill jobs


One of the biggest questions hanging over the newly elected Japanese government is what it intends to do about its rapidly diminishing workforce.

Japan's population is both ageing and shrinking at a dangerous rate. It will have halved by the end of the century, according to one estimate.

So who is going to do the work as the country gets steadily older?

The first thing the government plans to do is increase the child allowance to 270 yen ($270, £166) per child per month - the hope is that will encourage couples to have more babies.

But if that does not work, there are two other options - build more robots to do the work there are not enough people to do, or allow in millions more workers from overseas.

I met a couple of robots in Arai Sadahiro's robot shop in Tokyo.

They talked and sang to him just as they would to a lonely elderly person in need of company.

Mr Sadahiro insists that, although of course it would be better if a real friend or relative were available, the robots are not a bad second best.

Jagmohan Chandrani
Indians have IT skills needed by Japan, says Mr Chandrani

For social and medical care, robots are already in use. There are robots that can lift patients out of bed, carry them if necessary, even act as receptionists in a hospital or doctor's surgery.

But would it not be even better to import more workers from abroad?

After all, Japan has the lowest rate of foreign workers among the world's major developed economies - making up less than 2% of the workforce, compared with close to 15% in the US, or 10% in Britain.

Centenarians

The biggest number of migrants come from Korea and China, many on government-sponsored three-year training programmes meant to equip them with new skills to take back home.

But some migrant workers say the training schemes can sometimes be little more than a way of exploiting low-paid migrants.

One Chinese worker, who chose to remain anonymous, said he felt "tricked" when he found he was expected to pick strawberries all day with no training on offer.

Other foreign workers have a much better experience - such as Indian businessman Jagmohan Chandrani, who has lived in Japan for more than 30 years.

He runs a tea-importing business and a restaurant, and says the big advantage that Indians have here is that many possess valuable Information Technology skills that Japan needs.

So what will it be? More robots, or more foreign workers? My guess is that it will be both.

Something certainly needs to be done. The United Nations estimates that by the middle of the century there will be more than a million Japanese who are over 100 years old.

And someone will have to look after them.

Galaxy's 'cannibalism' revealed


The vast Andromeda galaxy appears to have expanded by digesting stars from other galaxies, research has shown.

When an international team of scientists mapped Andromeda, they discovered stars that they said were "remnants of dwarf galaxies".

The astronomers report their findings in the journal Nature.

This consumption of stars has been suggested previously, but the team's ultra-deep survey has provided detailed images to show that it took place.

This shows the "hierarchical model" of galaxy formation in action.

The model predicts that large galaxies should be surrounded by relics of smaller galaxies they have consumed.


Ironically, galaxy formation and galaxy destruction seem to go hand in hand
Dr Scott Chapman
University of Cambridge

The scientists charted the outskirts of Andromeda in detail for the first time.

They discovered stars that could not have formed within the galaxy itself.

Pauline Barmby, an astronomer from the University of Western Ontario who was involved in the study, told BBC News the pattern of the stars' orbits revealed their origin.

"Andromeda is so close that we can map out all the stars," she said.

"And when you see a sort of lump of stars that far out, and with the same orbit, you know they can't have been there forever."

Andromeda, which is approximately 2.5 million light years away from Earth is still expanding, say the scientists.

The researchers also saw a "stream of stars" of a nearby galaxy called Triangulum "stretching" towards Andromeda.

Dr Scott Chapman, reader in astrophysics at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, was also involved in the research.

He said: "Ultimately, these two galaxies may end up merging completely.

"Ironically, galaxy formation and galaxy destruction seem to go hand in hand."

Nickolay Gnedin, an astrophysicist from the University of Chicago, who was not involved in this study, described the work as showing "galactic archaeology in action".

We're all mutants, say scientists


Each of us has at least 100 new mutations in our DNA, according to research published in the journal Current Biology.

Scientists have been trying to get an accurate estimate of the mutation rate for over 70 years.

However, only now has it been possible to get a reliable estimate, thanks to "next generation" technology for genetic sequencing.

The findings may lead to new treatments and insights into our evolution.

In 1935, one of the founders of modern genetics, JBS Haldane, studied a group of men with the blood disease haemophilia. He speculated that there would be about 150 new mutations in each of us.

Others have since looked at DNA in chimpanzees to try to produce general estimates for humans.

However, next generation sequencing technology has enabled the scientists to produce a far more direct and reliable estimate.

They looked at thousands of genes in the Y chromosomes of two Chinese men. They knew the men were distantly related, having shared a common ancestor who was born in 1805.

By looking at the number of differences between the two men, and the size of the human genome, they were able to come up with an estimate of between 100 and 200 new mutations per person.

Impressively, it seems that Haldane was right all along.

Unimaginable

One of the scientists, Dr Yali Xue from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire, said: "The amount of data we generated would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

"And finding this tiny number of mutations was more difficult than finding an ant's egg in an emperor's rice store."

New mutations can occasionally lead to severe diseases like cancer. It is hoped that the findings may lead to new ways to reduce mutations and provide insights into human evolution.

Joseph Nadeau, from the Case Western Reserve University in the US, who was not involved in this study said: "New mutations are the source of inherited variation, some of which can lead to disease and dysfunction, and some of which determine the nature and pace of evolutionary change.

"These are exciting times," he added.

"We are finally obtaining good reliable estimates of genetic features that are urgently needed to understand who we are genetically."

Libya leader's lesson in longevity


It is a rule of thumb in any Middle Eastern country that the more pictures of the leader you see, the less political freedom there is.

In Tripoli, Colonel Gaddafi is everywhere. He stares down from every traffic roundabout and every official building.

Ever flamboyant, sometimes he is in colourful African robes, sometimes in Bedouin head-dress (and usually with his own idiosyncratic interpretation of these styles).

Col Gaddafi in Green Square, Tripoli
Col Gaddafi has no official government role - in practice, he holds sway

Occasionally he sports the large mirrored sun-glasses favoured by comic-strip dictators and 1970s porn stars.

Here and there, you catch a glimpse of a much younger Muammar Gaddafi, a reminder that he came to power 40 years ago in a military coup aged just 27, when his rank was a mere captain.

He promoted himself to colonel. Others might have given themselves the rank of field marshal, or at least general.

But Col Gaddafi said Libya was a true people's democracy. Even today, he has no official government position but is referred to as "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution".

Rare dissent

Libya is, though, not a democracy as that term is understood in Europe or America.

One measure of that is how difficult it was to find anyone inside the country prepared to make even the slightest criticism of the regime.


It is disaster for Libya to have this regime for 40 years, the UK, France, Italy, I don't know why they support this dictatorship
Jamal al-Haggi
Libyan dissident

Profile: Muammar Gaddafi
In pictures: Celebrating Gaddafi
Much to celebrate?

With the help of the international monitoring group Human Rights Watch, one dissident was prepared to say what many Libyans may be thinking but are too fearful to express.

Thanks to Western pressure, Jamal al-Haggi was freed earlier this year after serving two years of a 12-year sentence. He was only too well aware that meeting foreign journalists was extremely risky.

A small, neat man and an accountant by profession, Mr Haggi said he had been unable to work since leaving prison.

He said he was prepared to go to jail again, but did not want to get anyone else into trouble.

So we conducted the interview in the back of a car driving around Tripoli, rather than go to his home or someone's office.

Embarrassing questions

"Yes it is dangerous, I am not safe," he said, acknowledging that "insulting public officials" or "opposing the ideology of the revolution" are criminal offences that could result in a 25-year jail sentence.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez,
Western leaders stayed away, but Hugo Chavez was happy to be seen

But he went on: "I am not afraid. There is nothing else to lose."

A brave statement, but one in defiance of the facts in a country where the death penalty remains on the books for joining or forming any independent political party opposed to the Libyan revolution.

"People didn't vote for it [the Gadaffi regime], it came by force," he said.

"So this is not a celebration for everyone; just for a few people who are doing well out of the system."

He added: "It is disaster for Libya to have this regime for 40 years. There is no freedom here; there is no democracy. The UK, France, Italy, I don't know why they support this dictatorship - but we will never forget."

Western leaders did not attend Col Gaddafi's big party in Tripoli.

British ministerial attendance would only have raised embarrassing Lockerbie questions, of course.

The West may be desperate to win lucrative trade deals from the Libyan leader, but governments are still wary of his regime.

While Libya's relations with the West have been transformed, internal reform is slow and small.

That may not change as long as Col Gadaffi remains - and four decades on, his grip on power seems as sure and as strong as ever.

Human cost of mining in DR Congo


It was midnight when Elise and her husband were woken by armed men.

Soldiers of Congo's National Army burst into their shack, sent the husband into another room, and then raped the mother-of-five at gunpoint.

"They put their guns on my chest and said: 'Don't talk, don't cry, don't complain'… then they started to rape me," she said.

The perpetrators were not the feared militia of the FDLR, who are currently the focus of a major military operation in South Kivu.

They were from the FARDC - the National Army that now controls this area in eastern DRC.

It is an area carpeted with minerals such as coltan and cassiterite, which are used in the production of consumer durables and gadgets sold in the rich world.

But people are now beginning to ask: What is the human cost of a mobile phone?

Scarred for life

In Shabunda territory, where Elise was attacked, there have been 112 rapes reported since April, when the military operation started.
Miners
Miners, such as those above, are now exposed to predatory gunmen

These official figures are almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg, because most sexual crimes go unreported here.

Since 2006 there have been 2,883 recorded rapes in the Shabunda territory.

Many of the women have not only been sexually violated but physically scarred for life.

And Shabunda is just one territory out of eight in the province of South Kivu - a tiny pin-prick in this vast country.

"Sexual attacks peak when there's fighting," said Shabunda-based human rights activist Papy Bwalinga Kashama.

"The reason the military and militia are fighting is to control the mines," he said.

Civilians get caught in the middle. Control the men with guns who guard and earn tax from the mines, he argued, and you reduce the terrible violations endured by women.

It may sound simplistic, but he has a point.

Predatory militias

In the mining area of Nyabembe, rusting pieces of mining machinery poke out from a thick layer of grass.
Miner
Many jobs in South Kivu depend on the mining industry

They reflect a time in the mid-1970s, when commercial mining was carried out in this area - a two-and-a-half hour motorbike ride from the town of Lulingu.

Five years of civil war, followed by protracted skirmishes with the militia, saw those operations move out and freelance miners move in.

These men are now exposed to predatory militias and also the military who demand a cut from what they dig.

When they are not exacting local taxes, the gunmen move into the village and terrify the local population - stealing, killing and raping.

"They take what they want, even our women and there is nothing we can do about it," sighed Simon, a young teacher who has swapped his school books for a shovel, because it is the only way to make a living.

Blood on their hands?

Global electronics and metals giants now face uncomfortable questions: Are they inadvertently fuelling the conflict in eastern Congo? Are they buttressing a market by sourcing supplies from militarised zones (a practice that is not illegal but ethically questionable)?

"There is nowhere and no one we won't buy from," said Masumbuko Moari, who represents middlemen who supply to the big exporters.

He laughed when I suggested they might have blood on their hands as a result of buying from the men with guns.

"That's a political issue," he said, and our conversation ended.

With mining being the only game in town, radical change is bound to be resisted.

And that is the argument that international purchasers of minerals use, to justify their trade: so many jobs depend on it.

'Abnormal situation'

During a recent visit to South Kivu, Congo's Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito admitted to the BBC that there was a genuine problem about militarised mining.

Commercialising the mining sector is not a magic bullet, but it might be a start if the big operators are closely watched

"We want people and companies to be able to work in good conditions," he said. "Once the environment improves, the army won't be in a position to exploit the mines.

"It's an abnormal situation at the moment because the government doesn't have full control."

The Congolese government faces international pressure to address military exploitation of Congo's mines.

It claims to control 80% of the mines but if you are prepared to ride by motorbike for a few hours, or trek through the forests on foot, it is not hard to find mines in the hands of men with guns.

Under the wire

During US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent visit to the country, grand statements were made to get the military out of the mines, but change requires clear political will.
Congolese gold miners, file pic
DR Congo's rich gold reserves have attracted foreign armies in the past

"We have to destroy the commercial circus of the mines, by reasserting the control of the state," said Mabolia Yenga, a mines trouble-shooter who advises Congo's ministry of mines.

Commercialising the mining sector is not a magic bullet, but it might be a start if the big operators are closely watched.

Mr Yenga believes that for minerals like coltan and cassiterite, a process of certification to ensure the mining does not fund violence - such as with the Kimberley process for diamonds - is long overdue.

But such a process would require input from Congo's neighbours, which act as transit points for illicit exports.

Neighbours such as Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda have long been accused of benefiting from Congo's mines, operating "under the wire" and gaining from the country's instability.

The Congolese government wants to invite mining companies back in and use the tax revenues from mining to rebuild this shattered country.

It is a hard message to sell to a population which has seen virtually no infrastructural growth from it's mineral riches - simply war.

But it may be a small step to making mining more transparent in Congo. It may also help to ensure that some of the 1.8bn mobile phones in the world are a little "cleaner".

Did Pinochet kill or cure Chile?


BBC News business reporter Robert Plummer was the BBC's correspondent in Chile 10 years ago. In this analysis, he looks at Augusto Pinochet's legacy and its impact on the Chilean economy.

Pinochet supporter outside Santiago's Military Hospital on 10th November 2006
Many Chileans felt sadness at the death of their former military ruler

It was a member of Chile's board of film censors who first brought home to me how long a shadow General Pinochet had cast over his country.

The year was 1996 and I was interviewing him about the board's unexpected decision to reverse its ban on Martin Scorsese's controversial film, The Last Temptation of Christ.

The movie still failed to reach Chile's cinemas, because the following year, a right-wing pressure group successfully petitioned the High Court to prohibit its screening.

The whole episode speaks volumes about Chile's continuing social conservatism, which sets it at odds temperamentally with many of its South American neighbours.

But it was what my interviewee said once the microphone was switched off that has remained with me to this day.

He said that the 1973 coup by Gen Pinochet, who was still commander-in-chief of the Chilean army at the time of our conversation, had been necessary as "a massive antibiotic" for Chile.

Economic change

Like the faces of Pinochet supporters on Chilean television weeping for the death of their former military ruler, it's a reminder that many people in Chile see the ex-general as the man who saved their country from a great sickness.

Of course, relatives of the more than 3,000 people who were killed or "disappeared" during his 17-year rule will angrily attest that from their point of view, the cure was far worse than the disease.

Gen Pinochet seen on 25 November at celebrations for his 91st birthday
Gen Pinochet celebrated his 91st birthday last month

Although Gen Pinochet leaves Chilean society politically polarised, his economic legacy is arguably a more fortunate one.

Unlike many other military regimes in Latin America, the general's rule was marked by wide-ranging economic liberalisation, including a wave of privatisations.

This "free-market fascism", as some called it, undoubtedly brought social costs in its wake, including a big rise in unemployment and an erosion of workers' purchasing power.

But it also curbed Chile's rampant inflation, slashing rates from 1,000% a year to about 10%.

Chilean 'tiger'

The reforms were continued and deepened by the centre-left Concertacion, the coalition that has governed Chile since it returned to democracy in 1990.

Apart from a dip in 1998 and 1999, when the so-called "Asian contagion" sparked a worldwide financial crisis, Chile has enjoyed healthy growth rates in recent years, ranging from 5% to 7%.

A Chilean street
Chile's pension revolution was a quieter affair

Last year, according to the International Monetary Fund, it had the second-highest GDP per head in Latin America ($7,124) and is likely to have overtaken Mexico once this year's figures are finalised.

Chile has also had some success in reducing rates of poverty.

In 1987, 46% of the population were defined as having incomes below the poverty line, but by 2003, that had shrunk to about 19%.

The country's performance has led observers to see it as South America's tiger economy, outperforming sluggish Brazil and crisis-prone Argentina.

Even so, supporters and opponents of Pinochet argue fiercely over how much credit he should receive for the country's subsequent economic boom.

Copper subsidy

Whatever your views on that, there are two notable features of Chile's economic landscape that clearly have their roots in the years of military rule.

One is the country's widely-admired private sector pension system, which was introduced in 1981.

Under this system, all workers pay 10% of their salary into one of a number of privately-managed funds, known as AFPs.

Former camp for workers at Chile's El Teniente mine, the world's biggest subterranean copper mine
Copper is Chile's main export

The other is more controversial and has long been opposed by Concertacion leaders. Under a 1987 law, the Chilean armed forces are entitled to 10% of the earnings of the state-owned copper company, Codelco.

This money is divided equally between the army, navy and air force and is used to buy weapons. It is not subject to any government scrutiny.

As world copper prices have soared, Codelco - the world's biggest copper miner - has seen the value of its exports rise from $40.6bn last year to a projected $58.1bn for 2006.

As a result, the armed forces' share of the proceeds could top $1bn for the first time this year, increasing the government's determination to end the subsidy and fund the military on a more transparent basis.

Chile 'Dirty War' suspects held


Chilean police have arrested some 25 former officials for allegedly helping to purge critics of former ruler General Augusto Pinochet.

A judge on Tuesday issued 129 warrants against former members of Chile's secret police agency, Dina.

They are accused of taking part in the killings and disappearances of dozens of leftists and opposition activists.

Since Gen Pinochet left power in 1990, there have been frequents arrests of his agents - often dividing opinion.

Tuesday's warrants, issued by Judge Victor Montiglio, named dozens of former military and security officials who had never faced charges before.

Disappeared

Anti-Pinochet activists have broadly supported the move to punish those responsible for torture and murder.

The suspects all worked for the secret police agency, Dina

But many Chileans have questioned the wisdom of continuing to chase down suspects, saying many of those now being arrested were little more than foot-soldiers.

Thousands of activists were killed or disappeared during the 1973-1990 rule of Gen Pinochet.

The arrest warrants cited various Dina operations to track down Pinochet's opponents, such as Operation Condor - a long-running campaign launched in the mid-1970s to hunt down and kill left-wingers.

Condor was a continent-wide operation, also backed by the rulers of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Another incident cited in the court papers was Operation Colombo, referring to the 1975 killing of 119 Chilean activists.

The judge also cited the case of 10 communists who disappeared in 1976.

BP in 'giant' new oil discovery


Oil giant BP says it has made a "giant" new oil discovery in its fields in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP is currently the largest producer of oil and gas in that area, with net production equivalent to more than 400,000 barrels of oil a day.

The company said it had drilled the well, dubbed Tiber, to a total depth of about 35,055ft (10,685m), making it one of the deepest wells drilled to date.

BP shares rose 4.3% to £5.41, making it the biggest gainer in the FTSE 100.

Potentially huge

Tiber represents BP's second material discovery in the Lower Tertiary area of the Gulf of Mexico, after Kaskida.

BP said the discovery, amounting to more than three billion barrels, would "support the continuing growth of our deepwater Gulf of Mexico business into the second half of the next decade".

The oil firm will now undertake surveys to determine the oil field's size and commercial potential.

The industry-wide definition for a "giant" discovery is at least 250 million barrels of oil "in place", or in other words, the likely total amount, BP spokeswoman Sheila Williams said.

But usually, only as much as 30% is extracted from the ground in practice, she said.

BP first started drilling in the Tiber well in March.

The oil firm controls 62% of the Tiber, along with 20% held by the Brazilian state-controlled company Petrobras and US firm ConocoPhillips with 18%.

It has nine projects in various stages of development in the Gulf of Mexico.

China invests in Canada oil sands


PetroChina has agreed to buy a 60% stake in two planned Canadian oil sands projects for $1.7bn (£1bn).

The firm, which is Asia's largest oil company, is buying the holdings in the MacKay River and Dover fields from Canadian firm Athabasca Oil Sands.

The two fields hold about five billion barrels of oil, and Canada's government is expected to back the deal.

Canada's Alberta oil sands hold the world's second-largest crude reserves, but the cost of extraction is high.

This is because the process of separating the oil from the sand is both energy and labour intensive, and as such it has only been cost effective when global oil prices have been high.

Analysts say world oil prices need to be above $80 a barrel for the Canadian oil sands to be viable.

Oil is currently trading at about $70 a barrel after hitting highs of $147 last summer, and a low of near $30 at the start of this year.

"The Canadian government is looking for investment and injections of capital," said William Lacey, an analyst at FirstEnergy Capital.

"I don't see why this wouldn't be viewed as a positive."

Canada's oil sands are estimated to hold a total 173 billion barrels of oil, the world's second-largest reserves behind Saudi Arabia.

Graffiti comes of age in New York


Comfortably seated in a $30,000 Louis XV-style armchair, in a luxurious room reminiscent of an 18th Century French salon, Sharp stares coolly at his latest piece of art, hung on the opposite wall.

The canvas depicts a porn star's bottom encircled by flashy pink, blue and purple sprays of paint recreating the letters of the alphabet.

"I am rethinking the traditional alphabet," he explains.

Nearly 30 years after spraying his first graffiti in the subway, Sharp now sees his work on display in major galleries.

In June, an exhibition in New York called "Whole in the Wall" displayed his work, and that of dozens of other big names of the street art scene, including Lee Quinones, Blade, Banksy and Blek Le Rat.

Despite graffiti's bad reputation, the exhibition's blending of street art and French extravagant furniture showed how graffiti has spread across the world since the 1980s.

"The idea was to show that graffiti is universal and that it has become a cultural and intellectual form of art which gathers all populations and all generations," explains Chantal Helenbeck, who organised the "Whole in the Wall" show with her twin sister Brigitte.

"But graffiti is also a typically American art that started in New York, and we wanted to re-explore this movement in its historical and geographical context."

"We're not at odds with society" - Lee Quinones on how graffiti has evolved

This effort to see graffiti in a new light in New York comes after years of intense police pressure and residents' complaints.

In the 1980s, graffiti artists took advantage of New York's financial misery and strained police force to paint what seemed like every corner and wall.

But once Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani launched his intense law-enforcement strategy against petty crimes in the 1990s, the city's expanded police force made street art a primary target and began sending a new message.

Graffiti, which NYPD Commissioner Raymond W Kelly defines as "intentionally damaging private or public property by painting, etching, or permanently marking it in some manner" started to be considered a "quality of life crime."

In New York, spraying graffiti on public or private property now carries up to a seven year jail term.

'Not cool'

"Quality of life has become such a hot issue that we made a tremendous effort to...ease the reporting process," says NYPD Lieutenant Frank Rivera, in charge of the anti-graffiti programme in Manhattan's 34th police precinct.

"Before, people thought that their complaints would fall on deaf ears but that's not the case anymore."

"Even if [graffiti] is a great piece of art, it is illegal," says Commissioner Nazli Parvizi, head of the Community Affairs Unit, a New York agency that serves as a link between the mayor and local communities.

A man reading on a New York subway train decorated with graffiti (Picture: Martha Cooper, Subway Art, Chronicle Books 2009).
The modern graffiti movement began in New York city

She also points out that graffiti, of any type, is generally a sign that a place "is screaming for public action".

"Some people believe it's cool, but I believe that if you're doing graffiti on somebody else's property, without their consent, I think you're violating their property. So I don't think that's cool," says Clinton Langston, who helps scores of New York City neighbourhoods by removing graffiti and refreshing their walls.

For Leopold Vasquez, a community organiser in Washington Heights, a Latino neighbourhood in the north of Manhattan, graffiti is not the main issue, however - it is only a symptom.

"Graffiti doesn't happen because people wake up with spray cans in their hands," he says.

"It's kind of a tell-tale sign of the times. Graffiti is an indicator of where people are economically. We should not tolerate anyone going after private property, and it is our responsibility to bring resources so that our teenagers use their energy in the right place."

More mature

The massive police offensive starting in the 1990s enhanced to a great extent New York graffiti's subversive image, and hence its popularity among a number of anti-establishment contemporary artists.

It also forced New York artists to reconsider subway cars as their primary outlet and pushed some of them towards the world of fancy urban galleries.

The continuing criminalisation of graffiti provoked deep changes in the art form. Unable to perform the most dangerous (and what they consider the noblest) type of graffiti art - covering subway cars with gigantic tags - artists had to find new ways to express themselves.

"You can't stay 15 forever. You can't do heroin forever," says Sharp. "Change is inevitable."

For Lee Quinones, a well-known graffiti artist who now sells his paintings for hundreds of thousands of dollars, the change does not alter the soul of his art.

"Graffiti is a state of mind, it's not a thing, it's not a form," he insists.

The movement, he says, has become more mature over the years and more powerful: "We worked hard back then, now we work smart."

The success of artists like the UK's Banksy, whose paintings took over Bristol Museum this summer, indicates graffiti's durability as an art form, but it may also signal the decline of New York as the cutting-edge of the movement.

Sharp himself seems to accept this evolution: "People who contributed the most to the stylistic changes, and evolution of our culture, are not Americans. They are Europeans. The home of this culture is in New York city but this is by no way something indigenous to NYC.

"This is a global movement and it has been since (sic) more than 25 years."

Why Bolivian baroque rocks


With the Bible in one hand and a flute in the other, Jesuit missionaries played a unique role in bringing not only Roman Catholicism to South America but also baroque music.

And in the nearly 250 years since the Jesuits were expelled from the region, it seems the tradition of baroque is still thriving.

The musical legacy is tangible in the small town of San Ignacio de Moxos, located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest where the heat is sweltering, the roads muddy and the mosquitoes are huge.

The only way to arrive is by a road that would have been familiar to the Jesuits, who began establishing their missions across parts of what is now modern-day Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia in the 17th Century.

Today, among the shoeless children sucking on tangerines, there are indigenous youngsters carrying violins, cellos and flutes.

This place was one of the very last Jesuit missions in South America, and home to thousands of local people. As well as religion, the Jesuits also taught European music and how to make instruments, such as the cello, harp and violin.

After the Spanish expelled the Jesuits in 1767, the indigenous population preserved the music and re-wrote the scores with lyrics in their own language.

Yet it was not until a few years ago that much of this music came to wider notice, when a cache of 10,000 baroque music scores were found in a number of mission churches. They have now been restored and archived by the local music school.

"Religion and music helped each other survive to the present day. The instruments, the dances survived thanks to the path opened up by the Jesuits; it is deeply embedded among the local indigenous people," explains Raquel Maldonado, director of the San Ignacio School of Music.


Edgar Vela
Basically, European baroque was taken by indigenous people, who then made it their own, this is what now identifies us
Edgar Vela
Music teacher

"Some of the Jesuits came with a deep knowledge of musical arts and others with a more popular knowledge. All of that musical influence started to flow... mixing with local languages, dances and music," Ms Maldonado adds.

"Musical scores were copied numerous times," she says.

Inspired by a Basque nun, the local indigenous population has now created a school. As well as schoolrooms, there is a concert hall built with murals depicting monks playing instruments and local people copying them.

The school is thriving, with some 200 students.

"We teach and play the music that is still alive here, 'missional baroque' as we call it," says Edgar Vela, a very talented violinist and one of the school's teachers.

"Basically, European Baroque was taken by indigenous people, who then made it their own, and it is what now identifies us."

There is a natural, joyful allure to this native Bolivian baroque and the school's San Ignacio ensemble has become famous, travelling all over Latin America and Europe.

As Celsa Callau, a soprano and soloist at the ensemble explains, it was important for the music to "go native".

"If this music managed to survive it is because we are isolated, in the middle of the jungle," she says.

"Moxos has always been off the beaten track, so we were free of slavery, of the white people. That is why this music has been preserved and why it is still alive - and we will keep it alive."

Cultural empowerment

The pride in their music is evident and spans the whole ensemble, whose members are all indigenous.

Local indigenous people outside a church in San Ignacio de Moxos
Local people's identity is bound up with the music

"What we play is music that has been kept in the dark for a long time... we are bringing that back to life, we are bringing the language of our ancestors back to this world," explains Jesus Nuni, a young cellist, while rehearsing a piece by the 17th Century Italian composer, Arcangelo Corelli.

In Bolivia, one of Latin America's poorest countries, the indigenous people were for centuries an under-class banished to the margins of society.

In recent years, however, they appear increasingly to be finding a voice, political as well as cultural.

"This [musical] project is not about trying to colonise the indigenous people... that is a thing of the past. Also, it is not about baroque... it is about giving importance to the local music, so the local people can identify with this music," says Raquel Maldonado.

Jackson death certificate amended


Michael Jackson's death certificate has been amended to reflect his cause of death as homicide.

The document has been changed to specify that his death was caused by "injection by another".

Investigators had concluded that a powerful concoction of prescription drugs killed the pop star.

The coroner's further homicide verdict increases the chances of criminal charges being brought against Jackson's doctors.

'Hoax videos'

Jackson died at his Los Angeles home in June, aged 50.

Police have interviewed his personal physician Dr Conrad Murray but he has not been named as a suspect. He has strenuously denied any wrongdoing.

Jackson is expected to be buried in a private sunset ceremony in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in California.

Only close family and friends of Jackson will be in attendance for the event.

Meanwhile, a hoax video apparently showing the singer emerging from a coroner's van has emerged.

German broadcaster RTL posted the footage on YouTube and received 880,000 hits in one day.

Heike Schultz, spokeswoman for the network, said it had been an experiment.

"We wanted to show how easily users can be manipulated on the internet with hoax videos," she said.

"Therefore, we created this video of Michael Jackson being alive, even though everybody knows by now that he is dead - and the response was breathtaking."

Madoff fraud probes 'a failure'


The US financial watchdog mishandled a string of probes into the business of convicted fraudster Bernard Madoff, an investigation has found.

It said the Securities and Exchange Commission bungled five investigations despite many complaints over 16 years about the $65bn (£40bn) fraud.

However, the SEC inspector general's report found no evidence of improper ties between the agency and Madoff.

Madoff, 71, was jailed for 150 years at the end of June.

He admitted defrauding thousands of investors through a Ponzi scheme which he said had been running since the early 1990s.

'Regret'

SEC enforcement staff had "almost immediately caught [Madoff] in lies and misrepresentations, but failed to follow up on inconsistencies", the report said.

They had also rejected offers from whistleblowers to provide additional evidence, it added.


What is a Ponzi scheme?

A fraudulent investment scheme paying investors from money paid in by other investors rather than real profits. Named after Charles Ponzi who notoriously used the technique in the United States in the 1920s differs from pyramid selling in that individuals all tend to invest with the same person


SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro said that the report, by David Kotz, "makes clear that the agency missed numerous opportunities to discover the fraud".

"It is a failure that we continue to regret, and one that has led us to reform in many ways how we regulate markets and protect investors."

A congressional hearing in February severely criticised five high-ranking SEC officials for their failure to stop Madoff earlier - three of them have now left the agency.

Madoff's firm was investigated because it made exceptional returns, but no irregularities were officially reported.

It was the global recession which in effect prompted Madoff's demise, as investors, hit by the downturn, tried to withdraw about $7bn from his funds and he could not find the money to cover it.

The list of Madoff's victims includes film director Steven Spielberg's charitable foundation, Wunderkinder - but school teachers, farmers, mechanics and many others have also lost money.