Monthly Archives: January 2019

Dreamliner makes first commercial flight

Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner made its first commercial flight on Wednesday, giving a handful of deep-pocketed passengers the chance to fly into history on what is touted as an aviation breakthrough.


Carrying 252 people including corporate VIPs, aviation buffs and a large press pack, the All Nippon Airways (ANA) flight flew from Tokyo’s Narita airport to Hong Kong, where it was met by lion dancing and a water-jet salute.

Wearing traditional Japanese jackets, ANA chief Shinichiro Ito and Boeing vice president Scott Fancher broke open barrels of sake and handed the wine to passengers before they all embarked at Narita.

Passenger Chris Sloan, 42, said the trip took on a party atmosphere.

“It was truly very memorable for me. After the day my kid was born and the day I was married, this is the most memorable experience in my life,” said the aviation enthusiast from Miami after he arrived in Hong Kong on the three-and-a-half hour flight.

“I felt like I was part of history.”

The lightweight, fuel-efficient 787 is the first mid-sized plane able to fly long-haul. But critics had said the project might never take off as its development ran years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

Painted in the blue and white ANA livery with red highlights, the first Dreamliner was finally delivered by Boeing on September 28, three years after it was originally promised to the plane’s launch airline.

ANA auctioned six business-class seats for Wednesday’s inaugural commercial flight. One sold for $34,000 — around 13 times the price of a regular business-class ticket between Tokyo and Hong Kong.

The winner of the eBay auction was 48-year-old Miami businessman Gino Bertuccio, according to the Wall Street Journal, which said he had mistyped his maximum bid amount but was still thrilled to be on the flight.

The newspaper said another delighted passenger was Thomas Lee, a 59-year-old Californian executive who flew on the maiden commercial flights of the Boeing 747 in 1970 and the Airbus A380 superjumbo in 2007.

Touting the 787’s green credentials, ANA said proceeds from the online auction would go to international environmental groups.

ANA also sold 100 economy-class seats as part of a tour package including one night at a hotel in Hong Kong for 78,700 yen ($1,000) per adult.

At travel agencies in Japan, a discount ANA return economy ticket on the route in late October costs around 45,000 yen.

Boeing says the twin-aisle 787’s construction, partly from lightweight composite materials, means it consumes 20 percent less fuel than comparable planes, an attractive proposition for airlines facing soaring fuel costs.

The Chicago-based aerospace and defence giant has also been touting the larger windows, bigger luggage storage bins and improved cabin humidity than conventional jets, a factor it says will reduce traveller fatigue.

Hong Kong Airport Authority chief executive Stanley Hui said the Dreamliner marked “a new era of the aviation industry”.

“It’s an honour that ANA has chosen Hong Kong to be the first city to fly this beautifully designed and technically advanced aircraft,” he said.

Production delays and technical mishaps cost Boeing billions of dollars in lost or cancelled orders for the Dreamliner, giving an edge to its fierce European rival Airbus.

ANA is planning to use the 787 on regular flights to Beijing and Frankfurt, as well as Hong Kong.

Boeing is hoping the Dreamliner will be a hit with passengers it says want more non-stop travel, and says it is already the fastest-selling twin-aisle airplane in aviation history, with more than 800 orders since 2004.

With an average list price of $202 million, the plane is the firm’s first new design in more than a decade.

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Syria’s Assad vows to crush ‘terrorism’

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has blamed foreign plotters for the deadly 10-month-old protests against his regime and vowed to crush their “terrorism” with an iron fist.


The Syrian National Council (SNC), the largest opposition umbrella group, branded Assad’s rare speech on Tuesday an “incitement to violence” that pushes the country closer to civil war.

In the speech just hours before the UN Security Council began discussions on Syria, Assad denied security forces had orders to fire on civilian protesters, even as activists reported regime gunmen killed 13 more civilians.

Assad said the unrest, which the United Nations estimated last month has cost more than 5000 lives since March, would only come to an end “when the flow of funds and weapons coming from abroad stops”.

“Regional and international parties who are trying to destabilise Syria can no longer falsify the facts and events,” the embattled leader said in the televised speech that lasted almost two hours.

Assad said restoring security was the “absolute priority” for Syria and pledged his government would tackle terrorism with an “iron fist”, after a Damascus suicide bombing killed 26 people on Friday.

“There can be no let-up for terrorism – it must be hit with an iron fist,” he said. “The battle with terrorism is a battle for everyone, a national battle, not only the government’s battle.”

In Istanbul, the head of the opposition SNC, Burhan Ghalioun, expressed alarm about Assad’s “dangerous speech in which he stated his determination to use violence against our own people”.

“He has cut short any Arab or other initiative to find a solution to the crisis and avoid the worst,” Ghalioun said, adding that the speech showed Assad’s “determination to divide and push the country towards civil war.”

Ghalioun called on the world community to “work to ensure the international protection of Syrian civilians as soon as possible,” while urging the Arab League to turn to the UN Security Council for help.

Basma Qadmani of the SNC told the same news conference that Assad’s speech was an “incitement to violence” that dismissed the international community and marked a turning point in Syria’s relations with the Arab League.

“This is a turning point, a rupture with its Arab environment,” she said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces shot dead at least 13 civilians on Tuesday, including 10 youths at a peaceful demonstration in Deir Ezzor, northeast Syria.

“An Observatory activist in Deir Ezzor said what he witnessed today was a real massacre,” the Britain-based group said in a statement.

“Most of the martyrs were youths who were demonstrating peacefully and in a civilised manner,” it said, adding regime gunfire killed two more civilians in the central protest hub of Homs and an army deserter in Idlib.

Assad hit out at the Arab League, which has had an observer mission in Syria since December 26 charged with overseeing a deal to end the violence, involving the withdrawal of troops from urban areas and the opening of talks with the opposition.

He asked what right governments whose countries belong to the pan-Arab organisation, including the absolute monarchies of the Gulf, had to lecture Syria about democracy or reform.

“The first parliament in Syria was in 1917. Where were they then?” he asked. “Their situation is like a doctor who smokes and recommends to his patient to give up smoking while he, the doctor, has a cigarette in his mouth.”

Critics say the Arab observer mission has been completely outmanoeuvred by the government in Damascus, with the opposition Muslim Brotherhood accusing it of covering up “crimes of the Syrian regime”.

In New York, Assistant Secretary General B Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council that 400 people had been killed since the observers began their work.

After the closed-door meeting, Western envoys stepped up calls for Russia to revive talks on a resolution condemning the violence.

Diplomats said no progress was likely now until after the Arab League reports on its observer mission on January 19.

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War on drugs has failed: commission’s report

The global war on drugs has failed and decriminalizing narcotics such as marijuana could finally help weaken organized gangs, former world leaders said Thursday in a controversial report.


Arguing for a new approach to national and global drug control policies, the Global Commission on Drug Policy called for nations to “break the taboo on debate and reform.”

“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world,” the members of the commission said in the report released in New York.

“Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President (Richard) Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.”

The commission includes former Brazilian president Fernando Cardoso, former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria, Mexico’s former president Ernesto Zedillo as well as ex-UN chief Kofi Annan.

It also includes noted writers such as Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes and Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.

The millions of dollars poured into the fight against drug producers and traffickers over the past decades “have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption,” the report said.

“Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers.”

The group of prominent statesmen, many from countries on the frontline of the seemingly never-ending war on drugs, said purely punitive measures had in fact led to a situation where “the global scale of illegal drug markets — largely controlled by organized crime — has grown dramatically.”

Repression of consumers such as jailing those found in possession of drugs were distracting from other public health measures, such as the battle against AIDS and HIV, it argued.


Saying restrictions on marijuana should be loosened, the report urged governments to “end the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.”

“Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens,” it recommended.

“Decriminalization initiatives do not result in significant increases in drug use,” the report said, citing policies in Australia, Holland and Portugal.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Thursday that he was open to analyzing a “new direction” in the fight against drugs.

“We wish to welcome a new direction and think, that perhaps of all countries, we have the moral authority to take part in such a discussion,” he said.

But Mexico, where more than 37,000 people have died in brutal drug wars since 2006, reacted angrily to the idea of legalizing drugs saying it would “not strengthen our security institutions and law enforcement.”

“To suggest that organized crime in Mexico only amounts to drug trafficking, ignores the fact that organized gangs commit other crimes such as kidnapping, extortion and robbery,” the country’s national security council said in a statement.

But in London, actress Judi Dench, entrepreneur Richard Branson and pop star Sting joined three former police chiefs in urging British leader David Cameron to decriminalize drugs possession.

They signed a petition, drawn up by campaign group Release, calling for those caught possessing illegal substances to be fined rather than jailed and for addicts to be referred for treatment rather than given a criminal record.

“It is clear that the present system of applying the criminal law to the personal use and possession of drugs has failed,” says the petition.

According to UN figures, consumption of opiates rose 35.5 percent between 1998 and 2008, cocaine use went up 27 percent and cannabis was up 8.5 percent.

“Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations,” the report said.

“Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights,” it recommended.

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Busquets to face UEFA racisim probe

UEFA have opened a disciplinary probe over alleged racist abuse by Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets towards a Real Madrid player in the arch-rivals’ ill-tempered Champions League semi-final last month.


“UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against FC Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets, who is alleged to have violated … the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations by directing racist abuse towards a Real Madrid player,” European football’s governing body said in a statement on Thursday.

“The proceedings have been launched on the basis of evidence provided by Real Madrid (video and statement of club and player).”

Busquets could face a five-match suspension under UEFA’s rules if he is found guilty of making a racial insult.

With UEFA’s disciplinary body due to rule on the allegation next Tuesday, that could sideline him from the Champions League final on May 28 against Manchester United at Wembley.

UEFA said the alleged offence happened during the first leg of the semi-final tie at the Bernabeu on April 27. The other player was not named but is widely reported to be Real’s Brazilian left-back, Marcelo.

The UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body will deal with the case on May 15, with the decision being communicated to the club the following day.

Barcelona won the away leg 2-0 before qualifying 3-1 on aggregate.

UEFA handed down a three-match ban on Real coach Jose Mourinho after he made allegations of favouritism towards Barcelona, while Real defender Pepe was sent off in the first leg.

Barcelona reserve goalkeeper Jose Pinto, red-carded in a half-time melee in the first leg, received a three-match ban.

Real Madrid had asked UEFA last week to reconsider their decision not to investigate provocation by Barcelona’s players.

UEFA has vowed to crack down on racism in football.

SBS will screen the UEFA Champions League final on SBS One, on Sunday 29th May, 2011 from 11am.

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Rio dazzles in Carnival finale

With bursts of fireworks, high-decibel music and a kaleidoscope of colors, the city’s top 13 samba schools treated a capacity crowd of 72,500 at the newly renovated “Temple of Samba” to stunning processions of exquisitely decorated floats.


The night parades, which went on into the small hours of the morning, had it all: captivating samba beats, superb percussionists, imaginative choreography, masterful execution and the beguiling sex appeal of gorgeous samba queens wearing colorful feathers and little else.

They marked the high point of the pre-Lent festival, a holiday that provides a rare moment of national communion and over-the-top merry-making in this huge and racially diverse country of 191 million people.

The parades, a major draw for foreign tourists, cemented the Rio Carnival’s reputation as “the greatest show on earth.”

Frank White, a 60-year-old flight engineer from Eagle Heights in Australia’s Queensland, could only find one word to describe the extravaganza: “breathtaking”.

“Marvelous,” said one performer, Brazilian telenovela actor Gilberto Torres, after parading atop a silver float as a Celtic warrior.

“The costume was heavy and hot but the emotion (of being in such a show) was such that I didn’t feel anything.”

Now the hard work begins for cleaning crews who have to clear mountains of trash and for employees who have to dismantle scores of hulking allegorical floats.

Seats at the open-air Sambadrome cost between US$50 and several thousand dollars, depending on whether one sits on packed benches in the open or in air-conditioned VIP boxes stocked with champagne.

Hollywood A-lister Jennifer Lopez was one of several foreign celebrities to lend their star power to the event, appearing late Sunday in skinny red jeans and a sequined top.

There had been fears that unrest in Brazil’s state police force might disrupt the festivities in Salvador, the capital of the northeast state of Bahia, and Rio, but police strikes in those cities were settled just in time.

The only notable incident was a Rio shootout between police and a drug gang early Monday that left one person dead and four wounded in a slum located two miles (3.2 km) from the Sambadrome.

As in previous years, Salvador de Bahia led the way Thursday, with hundreds of thousands of revelers pouring into the streets of Brazil’s third largest city and heart of its rich Afro-Brazilian culture to dance and celebrate.

Rio followed a day later when Milton Junior — better known as King Momo, the Rio Carnival’s chubby symbol of excess — received a giant key to the city and declared the festivities open.

Friday and Saturday, Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic capital, staged spectacular parades at its own sambadrome, notably paying tribute to Afro-Brazilian culture and honoring popular former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is recovering from cancer radiation therapy.

A key feature of the Carnival in Brazil is the numerous street parties held in cities, towns and villages, where beer consumption soars.

In Rio, more than two million revelers in outlandish costumes flooded the city center Saturday to join Cordao da Bola Preta — one of the city’s oldest and most popular street bands — in a mammoth, frenzied samba-driven bash.

On Monday night Sao Clemente, the first of six top samba schools to take center stage at the Sambadrome, drew inspiration from a selection of popular Broadway musicals such as “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Cabaret”.

The school, known for its irreverence, had a float displaying a reclining Statue of Liberty in bikini and sandals holding an ice cream.

Uniao da Ilha do Gobernador, representing Governor’s Island in northern Rio, followed with a tribute to London and Rio, which will host the next two Summer Olympics in 2012 and 2016, respectively.

Some of the loudest applause from the crowd went to performers representing Olympic athletes holding Brazilian and Uniao da Ilha do Gobernador flags and wearing uniforms with the inscription Rio 2016.

Thirteen samba schools are in contention for the title of Carnival champion, to be bestowed on Wednesday based on choreography, music, dancing and creativity.

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Midterm vote key test for Bush

Democrats are on course to recapture control of the US House of Representatives from Republicans for the first time since 1994, opinion polls showed, with their chance of taking over the Senate hingeing on several key races that are too close to call.

A majority for the party in even one chamber of Congress could slam the brakes on President Bush’s second-term legislative agenda, hasten his lame-duck status and give Democrats a chance to investigate his most controversial policy decisions, such as the war in Iraq.

Polls opened at 6am (2200 AEDT) in some areas of the eastern United States and will start to close at 6pm (1000 AEDT), but it could be hours before results are known in many crucial races.

Mr Bush cast his ballot in Crawford, Texas, joking that he had “pretty much” made up his mind.

After a five-day swing through 10 states to fire up supporters in Republican strongholds, Mr Bush urged all Americans to vote no matter which side they backed.

For Jan Mitchell, a 54-year-old nurse voting at Miami’s city hall, Iraq was the major factor.

“We’ve got to get out of there,” she said. “We shouldn’t have been there in the first place, but that is sort of beside the point.”

All 435 House seats, 33 Senate seats and 36 governorships are at stake and Democrats need to pick up 15 House seats and six Senate seats to seize control of both chambers.

About 50 contested House races and 10 Senate races are the chief battlegrounds. Independent analysts predict Democrats could gain 20 to 40 House seats, while polls show races for Republican-held Senate seats in Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Montana and Rhode Island are too close to call.

Democrats probably need to win four of those five Senate races to take control of the chamber.

Two national opinion polls on Monday showed Democrats still held a double-digit advantage when likely voters were asked which party’s candidate they would support. The new polls contradicted two surveys released on Sunday that showed Republicans closing the gap on Democrats.

History was with Democrats — the party holding the White House traditionally loses seats in a president’s sixth year.

The battle for the House will be fought largely in the East and Midwest, where scores of Republican incumbents are fighting for their political lives amid what polls show is a strong desire for change.

At least three Republican incumbents face strong challenges in Indiana and Connecticut, while four Republican-held seats in Pennsylvania and five New York seats could fall to Democrats.

In a campaign dominated by Iraq, Mr Bush defended his handling of the war to the end and questioned what Democrats would do differently.

“We have a plan for victory. We’ve got a strategy to win.

And part of that is to elect Republicans to the Congress and to the Senate,” Mr Bush told a rally in Bentonville, Arkansas on the eve of the election.

President Bush, who has been hampered by low approval ratings, said
Republicans were coming back and would retain control of Congress.

“I knew we were going to finish strong. I knew that we were going to come roaring into Election Day, because we’ve got the right position on taxes and we’ve got the right position on what it takes to protect you from attack,” he said.

Democrats put leaders like former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and Illinois Senator Barack Obama on the campaign trail to drum up votes in the final hours.
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Ortega ahead in Nicaragua poll

The once iconic Sandinista Cold War foe of Washington, now 60, was endorsed by virulently anti-US Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez but fiercely opposed by US officials.

Results based on 62 percent of polling stations showed Ortega getting 38.6 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, easily defeating conservatives Eduardo Montealegre and Jose Rizo, who got 30.9 percent and 22.9 percent respectively.

A projection by Ethics and Transparency, Nicaragua’s top electoral watchdog, also showed Ortega comfortably surpassing the 35 percent needed to win the election outright in the first round, and taking a nine-point lead over Montealegre, a US-educated financier favored by Washington.

As the official tally of the ballots crawled along Monday, Ortega refrained from proclaiming victory. Montealegre said the race wasn’t over until the last ballot was counted, and the US State Department said the vote was too close to call.

During the campaign, Washington had urged Nicaraguans to defeat Ortega, whose Soviet-backed Sandinista government seized private assets, distributed land to poor peasants and battled US-financed Contra rebels throughout the 1980s.

Ortega lost a 1990 election, and failed in two subsequent attempts to recapture power. For Sunday’s election he dramatically toned down his revolutionary rhetoric, picked a former Contra as a running mate, and vowed to strengthen democracy.

He reiterated on Monday that if elected, he would respect private property, and said Nicaragua wants to improve relations with the international community.

“I want to collaborate with those who have more — business leaders, bankers — to eradicate poverty,” he told journalists in Managua after talks with former US President Jimmy Carter, who led an electoral observer mission.

Washington still views him as a dangerous leftist with close ties to Venezuela and communist Cuba.

The US ambassador to Nicaragua, Paul Trivelli, had been vocal in urging Nicaraguans to defeat Ortega, calling him “a tiger who has not changed his stripes” and claiming a Sandinista victory would lead to “the introduction of a Chavez model” in Nicaragua.

Chavez has delivered cheap fuel to the energy-starved Central American country through mayors of the Sandinista party, and said more would be forthcoming under an Ortega government.

At the same time, Venezuela has repeatedly lashed out at the US administration, claiming it was interfering in Nicaragua’s affairs.

International electoral observers were also critical of US comments during the campaign.

Cuba on Sunday hailed Ortega’s apparent victory, which President Carlos Lage said marked “a defeat of the United States, which meddled in Nicaragua’s internal affairs.”

Some US lawmakers had suggested blocking remittances sent by Nicaraguans living in the United States, a critical source of funds in this country of 5.4 million people, almost half of whom live in poverty.

Nicaraguans on Sunday also voted to renew the 91-member unicameral Congress, which currently includes 40 deputies of Rizo’s Liberal Constitutionalist Party, 38 Sandinistas and nine members from Montealegre’s National Liberal Alliance.

An Organization of American States observer mission said the voting was “peaceful, massive and orderly, and was conducted in accordance with the law.” Continue reading

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Ethiopia faces Somali ‘jihad’

More than 6,000 people in Mogadishu cheered and railed against mainly Christian Ethiopia, which has denied numerous reports that it is sending thousands of troops to defend Somalia’s weak government from attacks by the Islamist.

“We are telling you that from today, we are attacking the Ethiopian forces wherever they are inside Somalia and jihad has begun,” Islamist leader Sheik Sharif Sheikh Ahmed told the excited crowd.

“I’m calling on everybody that has a gun in his house to take it up and participate in the fight against the Ethiopian invaders,” he said.

“Every one of us must swear not to abstain from this call to jihad and the first man to swear is me,” said Sheik Ahmed, the chairman of the executive arm of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS).

Sheik Ahmed was once considered a moderate in the movement, which seised Mogadishu from warlords in June after months of fierce fighting and have now expanded their territory to include most of southern and central Somalia.

The response to his call, which came after the Islamists’ supreme leader declared a start to the long-threatened holy war against Ethiopia on Monday, was generally enthusiastic, with many young men vowing to fight to the death.

“We are ready; my family of eight is ready; we are all ready to wage jihad to defeat our beloved religion against the invaders,” said Ulusow Abdalla, one teenage participant at the rally in southern Mogadishu’s Tarbuunka district.

Another teenager, Said Mucaawiya Hashim Abdalla said he would join the ranks of the Islamists whose forces are close to the seat of the transitional government in Baidoa, where defences have been erected.

“If you die, you will be given very important gifts by Allah, and if you return alive, you will live honourably,” he said. “That is why jihad is very important.”

Islamist officials said earlier this week an estimated 3,000 people had enlisted for the holy war since Monday.

“We have opened seven posts here in Mogadishu for volunteers who are ready to go to jihad,” Ahmed Abdulahi, a senior Islamist official, told the crowd.

“I’m telling you that every Somali individual is wanted to come to those centres for recruitment; then we can start defeating our long-standing enemies and the enemies of Allah,” he said. “The enemy of Allah has come nearer and is intending to attack.”

Ethiopia has confirmed it has sent military trainers and advisers to Somalia to help the government but has rejected reports of thousands of uniformed soldiers on Somali territory.

On Tuesday, the Islamists claimed to have captured an Ethiopian officer in clashes that killed at least 51 people north of the southern port of Kismayo, but Addis Ababa has not responded to the allegations.

Ethiopia has vowed to protect itself and the Somali government from the “jihadists,” whom, together with the transitional government, it accuses of links with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.

The Islamists deny this, insisting their sole aim is to restore stability in Somalia.

The rising tensions between the Islamists and the government and worsening security in south and central Somalia have forced tens of thousands to flee into neighbouring Kenya and added to concerns of widespread conflict.

Somalia has been without a functioning central administration since 1991 and the government, formed in neighbouring Kenya in 2004, has been wracked by infighting and its inability to assert control over much of the country. Continue reading

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‘Look after my boy’ Dad’s plea

“My message to Madonna is that she should not be discouraged, be strong. As we agreed and we expect that after three to four years the child shall come back for us to see him,” Yohane Banda told Reuters.

“You (Madonna) should not be shaken or disturbed by this because there are no ill intentions,” he said.

Banda was responding to Madonna’s remarks to US talk show host Oprah, when she expressed concern over the controversy surrounding her planned adoption of Banda’s son

Mr Banda said he knew the boy would be taken away to be raised and educated by the star, but said that he was unclear about the legal agreement he had signed and still regarded himself as the child’s father.

“When we gave the child to Madonna we gave away the child just like the orphanage would have done … to raise the child and educate the child. We never wished that the child should come back. What we are saying is that the child should not come back,” he said.

Banda also said he did not support efforts by Malawian human rights groups, which have gone to court to try to block what they say is an illegal adoption that could amount to child trafficking.

Malawi’s High Court will convene tomorrow to decide whether the rights groups have a case.

“I’m the father of the child in this case. If they wanted to correct anything they should have called me or the family,” Mr Banda said. “It is not for them to fight for me and for the so-called rights of my child.”

Madonna told Oprah that both she and her husband, British film director Guy Ritchie, had met the boy’s father in court and obtained his consent.

The child is now at Madonna’s London home with her other two children, daughter Lourdes and son Rocco. Final approval for the adoption order is expected in 18 months.

Madonna told Oprah that she promised the father she would bring the boy back for visits.

After receiving an education and a better life, she said, he might some day be able to return to his homeland and help people there.

David has spent most of his life in an orphanage with 500 other children because Mr Banda could not properly look after his child.

Madonna said she was told his mother and three siblings had died of AIDS, and added: “From my perspective, there was no one looking after David’s welfare.” Continue reading

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US state backs gay rights

The ruling said preventing such unions was unconstitutional and gives the state legislature six months to decide whether to amend current marriage laws or create a new framework for same-sex unions.

Gay rights activists welcomed the ruling as a victory, but traditionalists said the legislature was being held hostage to radical activists.

“Denying rights and benefits to committed same-sex couples that are statutorily given to their heterosexual counterparts violates the equal protection guarantee” of the constitution, the court said in its ruling.

It said that while it did not find that a fundamental right to same-sex marriage existed in the state, same-sex couples did not enjoy the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts.

All seven judges agreed that the lack of rights enjoyed by same-sex couples was unconstitutional, with four recommending that politicians deal with the issue, and the other three recommending gay marriages be approved directly.

Decision hailed
Jon Davidson, legal director of Lambda Legal, a gay rights law firm that represented the plaintiffs described the outcome as an exciting decision.

“It’s an incredible move forward… We’re hoping the legislature will allow same-sex couples to marry,” he said, adding that polls suggested the state was ready to adopt such changes.

“It definitely is a move forward because at a minimum same sex couples in New Jersey are going to be provided equal rights and benefits, whether they are going to be provided marriage or not is something we’ll see over the next six months.”

“The drama moves to the legislature,” he said, accusing the court of “passing the buck a little” in its decision.

Traditionalists outraged

Matt Daniels, president of the traditionalist Alliance for Marriage condemned the decision.

“This marks the second state — after Vermont — where radical activist groups have convinced state court judges to hold a gun to the head of the legislature,” he said in a statement.

“The legislature will now be compelled to choose between two bullets – all under court order. Either they create so-called ‘gay marriage’ or they create a civil union scheme that is identical,” he said.

“Most Americans believe that gays and lesbians have a right to live as they choose. But they don’t believe they have a right to redefine marriage for our entire society.”

The case was originally brought by seven gay and lesbian couples who applied for marriage licences in 2002 only be turned down.

They held that they should be allowed to marry under their rights granted by the state constitution.

Although the US Congress recently voted down a proposal for a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, 45 of 50 states have laws that limit marriage as only between opposite-sex couples.

Massachusetts is the only US state that currently allows gay marriage while Vermont allows “civil unions” between same-sex couples.

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