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Mr. Babacan, a former foreign minister and Turkey’s point-man for economic policy, said neither the US nor the eurozone countries have yet to deal with the underlying causes of the global economic slowdown: a weak financial sector, weak corporate balance sheets, risky public financial positions.
Speaking at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Babacan warned that this year will be a year of reckoning for the European Union, and he pointed to the recent collapse of the Dutch government over the budget austerity measures as a harbinger for Europe’s coming fiscal battles.
“2012 will be test year for European countries,” he said. “2013 will be test year for American economy. After the elections [the new administration] will find very difficult decisions on the table right away. There has to be serious fiscal adjustment and a medium term plan to deal with the deficit. So far, there is no credible plan to deal with deficit.”
Babacan said developed countries need to undertake serious structural changes including reforming social security and labor markets: “It is absolutely necessary for serious reforms, especially in many European countries, absolutely necessary and urgent.”
Babacan is a founding member of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party and considered a leading member of the “Neo-Ottomanism” movement, moving Turkey’s foreign policy away from a predominantly Western focus to integration and activism in its immediate neighborhood – the territories of the former Ottoman Empire.
Babacan contrasted the Western economic turmoil, with Turkey’s booming economy which he said grew at 9.2 percent growth rate in 2010, and 8.5 percent in 2011.
“We entered this crisis with a strong banking system and strong public financial structure. During the crisis when many countries were asking for fiscal stimulus programs.… We followed a very different route. We did just the opposite. We announced fiscal consolidation program. And we overperformed,” he said.
He said Turkey’s economy was far more open than many European countries, which had made Turkish companies more dynamic and more competitive in global markets. And he argued that Turkish growth was more sustainable because he said it didn’t come on the back of government spending, but rather private sector growth.
In the coming years, he said, “We will have lower growth – though better than everywhere else in Europe – but slower than before. Growth is high, but it’s also sustainable growth.”
“Tight fiscal policies will continue, in good days or in bad days,” he said, “but we don’t believe in economic growth through public spending.”
Islam, democracy, and capitalism
Turkey has shown how Islam and democracy and capitalism can cooexist peacefully, Babacan said.
“When people observe a functioning example, people are more encouraged to ask for more in their own countries,” he said. “We have been talking with leaders: Change is coming, you can no longer have a closed regime with an open society – satellites, social media, the Internet – you have this kind, this kind of society moving forward and you are running this closed regime, this is not sustainable, this cannot continue.”
“We have advised these leaders to lead this change, or you will be pushed by change anyway,” he said.
Babacan addressed several of the long-running disputes in the region, such as the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, the status of the split island of Cyprus, and the violence in neighboring Syria. He said Turkey was strongly supportive of the six-point peace plan pushed by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, but he said Turkey was strongly against any sort of military intervention or sending weapons to the embattled Syrian opposition forces.
He also said the Syrian opposition is coalescing into a viable alternative to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We need to see visible, verifiable, and indisputable change in the country,” he said. “The primary responsibility to end the violence will rest with the Syrian regime.”
Two weeks ago I was in an office in Karachi, Pakistan, with a room full of journalists, including Murtaza Razvi, an editor at Dawn newspaper, discussing challenges facing the country’s vibrant media, including risks to covering Pakistan. Yesterday I was e-mailed that he had been murdered.
Before I left for Pakistan a few weeks ago on a journalist exchange program sponsored by the East-West Center, I asked colleagues who reported in the country, both Pakistani and American, about their greatest challenge.
Americans complained of the government's game of “smoke and mirrors,” a disinformation campaign that puts most other government propaganda efforts to shame. The challenge for Pakistani journalists, on the other hand, was decidedly more severe. “We have a completely free media in Pakistan, but no protection,” said one journalist based in Islamabad.
How severe? The country leads the world in journalist murders, the latest just yesterday.
Seven of the other eight Pakistani journalists at a meeting with my group proceeded to share stories of threats. It was common, they said, to receive a threat by a phone call from the Taliban for not getting enough quotes from them, from political parties for including the Taliban in a story or not being represented the way they saw fit, and even from Pakistan’s version of the CIA, the ISI.
But this wasn’t something that had them lining up to find a new job. It was just how things work. Most of the time the person on the other end of the line is bluffing, they said. They had gotten used to the fact that Pakistan was the deadliest country for journalists in 2010 and 2011, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. And killings there have been met with near-perfect impunity throughout the years. For some perspective, consider that there have been 19 unsolved murders of journalists since 2002. (see CPJ’s video)
When you put it that way, having to peer through smoke and mirrors to get to the heart of a story doesn't look so bad.
I visited the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting while I was in Pakistan. The ministry has jurisdiction over the rules and regulations relating to information, broadcasting, and the press. Like many Pakistanis we spoke to on this trip, the minister talked at length about how wonderful it was to have an active, independent, vibrant media that had absolutely no restrictions and how that was contributing to democracy in Pakistan.
However, when we raised the question of safety and reported threats against journalist, Minister of Information Firdous Ashiq Awan (since replaced), without asking for details or pausing to smooth this over, said: “Those are complete fabrications. It never happened. It’s not happening.”
We brought up the famous case of Syad Saleem Shazad, a prominent journalist who went missing after exposing Al Qaeda infiltration of the military. He had been “warned” several times by the ISI for covering sensitive topics, according to his family. He was later found dead. The ISI, was implicated, though it denied involvement.
The minister dismissed the scenario of Shazad's murder as unproven. She did clarify that, "we condemn that sort of action." But she stuck with her statement that there were no threats or real dangers for journalists who were not "over smart." A former local journalist who now works in the ministry agreed with her.
At this point, Issam Ahmed, the Monitor’s Islamabad correspondent, who had been invited to the round table by the minister, shared a story about a time he had been reporting on a sensitive topic in northern Pakistan, when he was summoned into a car by agents to go meet with the ISI bureau chief. The car sped off at breakneck speed to the headquarters, where the chief warned him to “not report critically.” So, Issam, said, it wasn't a death threat, but intimidation happens.
The conversation at the ministry quickly shifted – but it highlighted in that moment, both the smoke and mirrors that western journalists had discussed, as well as the physical risks for local journalists.
My trip was meant to promote understanding of Pakistan – and it did. There are real reasons for optimism about Pakistan’s future, especially when it comes to civil society. I shared some of those reasons for optimism with my newsroom yesterday, and at the end of my presentation was asked if I would go back if I had the chance. I answered that I would go in a heartbeat. I felt completely safe through my entire trip and another part of what makes me optimistic has to do with the number of incredibly smart, inventive 20- and 30-somethings I came across while I was there. Many of them could live anywhere, but choose to live in Pakistan and dedicate their lives to shaping that country.
Moments after my talk to the newsroom I was back at my desk where I received a message from an editor at Dawn, the leading English daily newspaper in Pakistan.
“Murtaza Razvi a member of Dawn editorial team whom u met at the meeting here has been murdered,” she wrote me.
A well-known columnist, Mr. Razvi came across as a sharp, thoughtful man when we met two weeks ago at Dawn's offices. Married and in his 40s with three daughters, he was known by his colleagues to live a liberal lifestyle.
He was found in an apartment in Karachi, evidently tortured and strangled. The reasons for his death aren't clear at this point. He came from a Shiite family but was not religious. Friends and acquaintances point out that his liberal views and lifestyle may have ruffled feathers. And his last article was about how India-Pakistan peace would be good for neutralizing hawks inside and outside the military. You could call that a rather sensitive topic.
Before I left for Pakistan a few weeks ago I had an inclination of the government's game of “smoke and mirrors,” and the physical dangers that reporters faced there. While I was there, I was given this very safe look at Pakistan, its high security, great food, and conversation with very smart entrepreneurs and journalists fighting to raise important issues. One week after my return a journalist whom I met and talked with is now dead. And I wonder: What is media freedom without protection?
Pakistani reporters will continue to report despite dangers. They'll watch how they mention the Taliban, the political parties, and ISI. Sometimes they'll be bullied into softening the edges of their reports. But mostly they'll press on. The hope is that their work, in life and in death, bring home the scale of complexity and challenges that Pakistan has yet to overcome.
Pete Hamill sums it up in his book “News is a Verb."
“They knew that only part of the truth could be discovered in the safe offices in Washington, D.C.; they had to witness the dark truths by getting down in the mud with the grunts. They died because they believed in the fundamental social need for what they did with a pen, a notebook, a typewriter, or a camera. They didn’t die to increase profits for the stockholders. They didn’t die to obtain an invitation to some White House dinner for a social-climbing publisher. They died for us. … They died to bring us the truth.”
He was writing for the Vietnam-era journalist, but it certainly applies to the passion and commitment of journalists in Pakistan who live, and die, for their efforts to uncover truth today.
Asia editor Jenna Fisher and five other US journalists recently traveled to Pakistan as part of an exchange program coordinated by the East-West Center, which concurrently sent nine Pakistani journalists to the United States. For more information, visit: www.eastwestcenter.org.
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Among the early headlines from the fourth day of the trial of Anders Behring Breivik for the murder of 77 people last July was that, for the first time, Mr. Breivik did not perform his now-familiar clenched-fist salute upon arrival at the court. Several families of Breivik's victims said they found the salute offensive, and his lawyers apparently were able to convince him to stop and avoid undermining his case.
But the drop of the salute is not only significant for its effect on his defense's strategy. It also marks a significant departure from Breivik's playbook: his 1,500-page manifesto. Breivik wrote extensively not only about his own beliefs about the alleged activities of "the Marxist tyrants of Europe" and the mission of the Knights Templar, or "Templars," the group to which he claims to belong. He also wrote a comprehensive set of instructions and guidelines for what a Templar should do if tried in a European court. He appears to be following it to the extent he is able.
Breivik wrote a short section on his salute, which he claims to be "the military salutation" of the Templars. He writes that the salute, which he recommends being performed in a white glove, symbolizes strength, purity, and resistance against "the Marxist tyrants of Europe." Interestingly, he claims the salute has nothing to do with either racist "white power" salutes or with the similar, open-palmed Nazi salute.
While Breivik's manifesto does not mention the salute specifically in reference to a trial, its use at trial fits closely into what Breivik argues is the best way to use trials: as propaganda. Breivik writes that after being captured, "the subsequent court proceedings may present several propaganda opportunities." He adds that "This trial is (from our point of view), not against you but rather a trial against the regime."
One of the key openings for propaganda that Breivik saw is the opportunity to present an opening and closing statement. Breivik includes a four-page sample opening statement, which he seemed to use as a source for his own.
His sample draws parallels between the quest of the "Templars" and that of Native American leaders like Sitting Bull – parallels he made on the first day of testimony in his own trial. As the Monitor reported, “Were they terrorists for fighting for their indigenous culture … or were they heroes?” Breivik asked the court. “My acts are based on goodness, not evil,” he added. “If anyone is vicious it is the Socialists.”
In the manifesto, Breivik also outlines a dress code for Templars, which he says should be adhered to in court. "Our dress uniform ... will be used for the sole purpose of representing the authority of our military order and tribunal during trial," he writes. The uniform is to include a US Marine Corp dress jacket in dark blue or black, dress pants in the same color, and an extensive set of medals and decorations including epaulettes and Templar badges. Judging from the photos of his appearances in court, Breivik seems to have been following his own dress code as best he can, though he has appeared sans pseudo-military decorations.
In his game plan for Templar trial appearances, Breivik shows every expectation of losing. The heading for his sample closing statement reads: "Closing statement – last day of trial, after judgment (guilty)." But he also expresses hope that the trial may lead to the introduction of stiffer criminal sentences, and perhaps even introduction of the death penalty, which is currently illegal in Norway.
The trial itself may not end up as anything else than a formality where the goal can be to change the law, forcing the parliament of that country to introduce the death penalty, or harshen the penal laws in other ways. Indirectly forcing the parliament of your country to change the laws will be an indirect victory to our movement because it will provide significant media coverage of our cause and thus will contribute to future recruitment efforts.
Breivik echoed this thinking during his second day of testimony, the Monitor reported.
“No, I don’t want [capital punishment], but I would have respected that,” he said, adding that if Norway doubled the current maximum sentence it would “serve his cause” and “prove Norway had thrown their principles out the window."
One of the highlights of today's testimony in the trial of Anders Behring Breivik, who is accused of the murder of 77 people during a bombing and shooting rampage in Norway, was the prosecutor's efforts to challenge Mr. Breivik's purported membership in the "Knights Templar."
Breivik claims to have helped "refound" the ancient military order as a force to fight immigration and multiculturalism in Europe. But why turn to a long-gone Christian order to symbolize his agenda today?
The Knights Templar, or "Templars," were a Christian order founded in the 10th century. Named for the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Templars initially protected pilgrims traveling through the Holy Lands, but eventually evolved into a powerful military force that waged war against the Muslims during the Crusades.
The Templars became so powerful, however, that European leaders grew to distrust the order. Early in the 1300s, King Philip IV of France launched a crackdown on the Templars that, with the help of Pope Clement V, eventually spread Europe-wide, destroying the order. Many members were tortured and tried for heresy by the Catholic Church.
But despite, or perhaps because of, their ancient history and sudden demise, the Templars still hold a solid grip on modern imaginations and pop culture. They are frequently depicted as the mysterious controllers of the world in books like Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum" and movies like "National Treasure." "The Da Vinci Code" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" set the Templars up as secret keepers of the Holy Grail. They even appear as the enemies in video games like "Assassin's Creed."
Certainly, the organization that Breivik claims to be a member of is equally mysterious. Breivik describes the organization as "a leaderless network, made to be self-driven cells.” He said that “For militants, [Knights Templar] is meant to be a version of Al Qaeda." He has yet to name another member of the group, claiming that to do so would risk their being caught, though he has indicated that his "English mentor" can be found in London and that a Serb "war hero" living in Liberia is among the group's ranks.
Whether or not the Templars in which Breivik claims membership are real, the name is likely meant to evoke both the mysterious nature of the original Templars and their open war against Muslim forces during the Crusades. The historical Templars' modern reputation and supposed influence makes a strong symbolic counterpoint to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.
IN PICTURES: Norway vs. Breivik
Monitor guest blogger James Bosworth suggested that the use of the name may also be meant to legitimize the group as a moral one.
Last July, Mr. Bosworth noted that Breivik was not the first violent criminal to invoke the Templars: A Mexican criminal gang has also adopted the name and some of the associated symbolism. But Bosworth concludes that "The Mexican Knights Templar code of conduct appears to be a false appeal to Mexico's citizens," something that could also be argued of Breivik's use of the Templar mythology. "The Knights Templar label is a failed attempt to grant historical legitimacy to a violent act that truly has no justification," Bosworth wrote.
It's a new role for Russia, which endured months of accusations that it was blocking a solution for strife-torn Syria after it vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions in the past several months calling for the removal of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
But last month, Moscow threw its weight behind Mr. Annan's plan to end the year-long uprising, which has killed more than 9,000 people by UN estimates. It called for a withdrawal of all government forces from Syrian towns and cities, followed by a shaky cease-fire that went into effect last Thursday and appears to be just barely holding despite multiple violations alleged on both sides.
Speaking in televised remarks today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov implied that the shoe is on the other foot now, with Moscow strongly backing the UN peace plan for Syria and willing to hold both Mr. Assad and his opponents to task but, he alleged, the effort is being undermined by unnamed Western and Arab countries.
"There are those who want Kofi Annan's plan to fail," Mr. Lavrov insisted. "Today, those who from the beginning foretold the failure of Annan's plan are doing a lot to see to it that this prophecy comes true… They are doing this by delivering arms to the Syrian opposition and stimulating the activity of rebels who continue to attack both government facilities and civilian facilities on a daily basis."
The cease-fire remains "quite fragile" because of the reluctance of those outside forces to fully back the Annan plan, Lavrov suggested, although he added that Assad bears a share of blame for the continuing uncertainty. "Of course, government forces are also taking measures to react to such provocations, and as a result it is not all going very smoothly yet," he said.
Analysts say that Lavrov is making the most of Moscow's recent shift away from months of single-minded support for the Assad regime and its apparently sincere embrace of the Annan plan.
"This is an unaccustomed place for Lavrov to find himself, unambiguously on the side of peace and reason in Syria," says Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute for Stategic Assessments in Moscow.
"But, in fact, he's got a point. The Annan plan needs to be supported, if only because it is the only plan out there. If other forces aren't getting on board, and are indeed covertly fanning the flames of civil war as Lavrov alleges, then they and their backers will be to blame if the whole thing collapses. After months of being accused of obstructionism, this looks much better for Russia," Mr. Konovalov adds.
Lavrov received a cautious vote of support from visiting members of the Syrian opposition today, who praised Russia for distancing itself from the Assad regime but urged it to do more to promote genuine democratic reforms in Syria.
"The representatives of the Russian government aren't inclined to support the idea of preservation of the dictatorial regime," Haytham Manna, spokesman for the Arab Commission for Human Rights, told a Moscow press conference today. "They are talking about the need for continuing democratic changes, and that's very important for us… Russia has all the necessary levers to apply pressure on Assad's government and help Annan's mission."
Abdul-Aziz al-Kheir, head of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, which opposes armed insurrection, agreed that Moscow's stance on Syria has been changing rapidly over recent weeks.
"[The Annan plan] is the last chance to end the fratricidal massacre and create preconditions for the transfer to a democratic form of government," he told the press conference.
Some Russian experts say that changing conditions in Syria, where Assad's military forces have gained the upper hand in recent weeks, are the main reason that Moscow's diplomatic hand appears to be strengthening.
"Until last week the West's preference was for a victory of the rebels at any price, but now there's a lot less enthusiasm for that," says Dmitry Babich, an expert with the official RIA-Novosti agency in Moscow. "This happened mainly because the rebels failed to seize any big cities and because of Assad's military success. So if the tables have turned, it hasn't been done by Russia.
"Actually, Russia's position hasn't changed much," Mr. Babich adds. "Moscow was never a passionate fan of Assad, and wasn't ready to do anything to save him, but it was alarmed at the idea of any more precedents that would license massive outside interference into the affairs of a sovereign country."
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For decades the family name of “Brambilla” has been by far the most common in Milan – to the point that throughout Italy, where family names were originally strongly associated with geography, people still jokingly refer to Milan folks as “Mister Brambillas” or “Sciur Brambilla” (“sciur” being the world for “Sir” in Milanese dialect).
So when the local council published a list of the most common names in the city last week, many were surprised to find out that Milan has many more residents known as “Mister Hu” than “Mister Brambilla.”
Among the ten most common family names in Milan, three were of Chinese origin, pointing out how ethnically diverse this city in northern Italy has become. On the list, “Rossi," a name common in Italy but not closely associated with the North, comes first, while Hu, of Chinese origin, is a close second. They are followed by five other typically Italian (but not typical specifically of Milan) names. In eighth is another Chinese name, Chen, while uber-Milanese “Brambilla” comes only ninth, followed by yet another Chinese name, Zhou.
In the last three decades, a growing numbers of migrants, both from the rest of Italy and from abroad, have settled in Milan, mostly drawn by job prospects in the most business-oriented region of the country. Today one in every five Milan residents is either a foreign national or a descendant of migrant workers.
The Chinese community is one of the oldest in the city, dating back to the first wave of the immigration in the early 1900s. While some other nationalities, particularly from Eastern Europe and North Africa, are more numerous, Chinese names are predominant because there is less variety among last names.
“To us this whole comes as no surprise,” Luigi Sun, a representative of Milan's Chinese community of Milan, told the daily newspaper Republica. “We have known for a long time Hu is one of the most common names in the city. We have more serous stuff to think about.”
The most common names in Milan:
- Rossi (Italy's most common name)
- Hu (Chinese)
- Colombo (most common in northern Italy, but not necessarily associated with Milan; the famous explorer Cristoforo Colombo, known in English as Christopher Columbus, was from Genoa)
- Ferrari (associated both with central and northern Italy)
- Bianchi (another very common name throughout the country)
- Russo (a variant of Rossi)
- Villa (a typical Milan name)
- Chen (Chinese)
- Brambilla (once thought to be Milan's most common name)
- Zhou (Chinese)
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Venetians have been coping with tidal flooding, or “acqua alta,” for centuries. A recent study suggests the problem may be worsening faster than previously believed.
But a multibillion-dollar system to be implemented starting next year could help prevent major flooding, according to two engineers who presented the project yesterday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass.
According to scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, the University of Miami, and Tele-Rilevamento Europa, an Italian company specializing in ground deformation measurement, the lagoon city is sinking, and won’t stop any time soon.
The team, who published their findings in the March issue of Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, combined GPS and space-borne radar information on the lagoon over the past 10 years and came to the conclusion that the city is sinking about two millimeters (0.08 inches) per year. This contradicts previous studies, according to which Venice’s land subsidence, the scientific term that refers to its slow sinking into the waters, had stopped after the city discontinued groundwater pumping in the 1990s, as reported by the Italian newspaper Il Gazzettino.
“It’s a small effect, but it’s important,” lead author Yehuda Bock said in a press release.
In 20 years, the study says, 80 millimeters (3.2 inches) of the lagoon will be taken over by the sea. But that is not the only thing Venetians should be worried about: The city is also tilting eastward, a problem the authors of the research say wasn’t detected in other studies.
So, is Venice doomed? Perhaps not. First of all, some question the study’s methodological approach. Pierpaolo Campostrini, director of Corila, a Venice-based research center that studies the lagoon, told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that subsidence may not be constant. “It could accelerate or slow down,” he said.
Then there is Mose, a complex 5 billion euro ($6.5 billion) flood-prevention system part of which will be operational in 2013 – 10 years after the project, one of Italy's largest public works, first began. Mose engineers Maria Teresa Brotto and Giovanni Cecconi were at MIT yesterday to present the project, which MIT faculty helped to develop. Mose’s four barriers, placed in the water at the lagoon’s inlets, are designed to rise with the water level, thus protecting the lagoon from flooding.
The goal, Mr. Cecconi said, is “to keep the water level under 100 centimeters [3.28 feet]” in the city. Critics of the project, however, are concerned about its environmental impact and its maintenance costs, which Ms. Brotto said will amount to 15 to 20 million euros per year.
Yosmel De Armas is a Cuban soccer player who has defected in order to seek asylum in the United States. While in Nashville, Tennessee last month for an Olympic qualifying soccer tournament, the Cuban midfielder was absent from his national team's final game against Canada, although he played on Saturday’s 4-0 loss to El Salvador.
When asked why the player skipped the game, the Cuban national coach said De Armas was sick and remained at the team's hotel. However, when the team left Nashville, the promising soccer player did not accompany his teammates on their return trip to the island nation.
Although US officials refused to comment about the player’s whereabouts, it was reported that De Armas was last seen in Miami.
The Miami-based lawyer, who described his client as "nervous," said De Armas is "alone here" and that he was on his way to Miami at the time of the game, contrary to the coach's allegations.
A rising number of Cuban athlete defections are explained by several factors: the continuous financial hardship the populace faces in Cuba, the plethora of defection precedents that make the process look easy, and the luring prospects of a better life, all coalesce to urge young athletes to follow this path.
"This is another case of a Cuban sportsman trying to get a decent life, to try to take control of his own career," Omar Lopez told Reuters. Lopez is general director of the Cuban American National Foundation, a Miami-based organization of Cuban exiles who seek political change on the island.
Four years ago, seven members of the Cuban under-23 national soccer team also sought political asylum after competing against its US counterpart in Tampa, Florida.
"Of course, my heart will be in Cuba with my family, but I want to have the freedom to better my life, to play professional soccer, to be the best I can be, and for that we had to make this sacrifice," Yenier Bermudez told the Miami Herald, according to ESPN.
Since the 2002 CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football) tournament in Los Angeles, a total of 15 Cuban soccer players abandoned their teams and requested political asylum in the United States.
But in China, Google vies with the local, government-approved search engine Baidu – which means 100 degrees – and lags South Korea’s local brand Naver. It competes head on against fellow American company Yahoo for searches in Taiwan, splitting traffic roughly 50-50. Yahoo has also held a historic grip on Japan.
So this week, the 14-year-old Google announced that by the end of next year, it would open a data center in Taiwan to improve search speeds and reliability around the region.
SEE ALSO: 20 essential Android tips and tricks
Google has already started building data centers in Hong Kong and Singapore. But the larger one in Taiwan comes with government incentives and will boast a specific geographic advantage. That is, Taiwan gets Net traffic easily from the United States, home to Google and the source of numerous Internet search results, as it sits at the ends of undersea cables that extend directly here from North America before branching off to other parts of Asia.
Google will spend a combined $700 million on the three centers, which generally house computers and storage systems that help speed connections and keep them secure.
“More new Internet users are coming online everyday here in Asia than anywhere else in the world,” Google’s Asia Pacific President Daniel Alegre said at a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday at the coastal facility in Taiwan. “That is why we are building data centers in Asia – to ensure that our users here have the fastest, most reliable access possible to all of our services, so they can continue putting them to work.”
Google’s Taiwan data center will speed up searches particularly in China, which is just 160 kilometers (100 miles) away but has sought to censor Web searches. Baidu now controls about 75 percent of the searches in China.
“That’s a key, to serve China,” says Marvin Ma, software and services analyst with the market research firm IDC in Taipei. “China will notice a clear improvement. And this way Google can avoid the censorship problem.”
In 2010, Google shut down its locally based Chinese search engine after a dispute with the communist government over censorship and cyber-attacks, a row that prompted harsh words from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Google won’t give market shares for Asia or estimate the overall number of users in the region. In South Korea, Naver still handles about two-thirds of the Internet searches, analysts estimate. But two years ago, Google and Yahoo signed a search-engine technology deal that has muffled the rivalry in Japan.
Google is also catching up in Taiwan as the ever popular Yahoo retrenches, with reports of layoffs in the pipeline, says Jamie Lin, founding partner with Taipei-based tech investor appWorks Ventures. “If they don’t make any mistakes, Google is going to be the dominant player in a couple of years,” he says.
The banning of a Thai cinema adaptation of William Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' is causing a stir in Thailand. The censors ruled that the movie “has content that causes divisiveness among the people of the nation."
In a country where the royal family is protected from criticism by possibly the world's strictest lese-majeste laws (designed to prevent public criticism or ridicule of royals), any drama featuring regicide might be deemed taboo. But Shakespeare Must Die seems also to have touched a raw nerve with its depiction of Shakespeare's ambitious but guilt-ridden usurper blended in with scenes of protest and violence redolent of Thailand's recent past.
The country has been beset by on again, off again street protests since 2005. To some, the Macbeth character in the movie is reminiscent of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose apparent vaulting ambition prompted royalist suspicions that he had a real-life anti-monarchy agenda.
Thailand's Culture Ministry told director Samanrat Kanjanavanit that she could only proceed with a bowdlerized version of the government-funded movie, but the filmmakers held their ground.
A red-clad Grim Reaper in the movie was deemed too evocative of the red-shirt demonstrators who took to Bangkok's streets in 2010, in protests that turned violent with more than 90 killed. Another scene inspired by a gruesome massacre of student demonstrators in 1976 was also deemed unacceptable.
Director Samanrat, better known as Ing K., says the censorship makes little sense. "Why do they (the censors) find a 400-year-dead poet so threatening?,” she told the Monitor. The original Macbeth was penned during a fractious period in English history, probably shortly after the 1605 "Gunpowder Plot," when Catholics aggrieved at religious discrimination sought to assassinate England's King James I, a Scot.
Now, four centuries later, Thailand's volatile politics could hold the key to the censors' anxiety over a now-archetypal tale about how power corrupts man. Mr. Thaksin was ousted from office in a 2006 coup backed by royalist street protestors and faces jail on corruption charges. But his sister Yingluck is the country's prime minister, after her Peua Thai party routed the royalist-leaning Democrats in a 2011 election.
Thailand's 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world's longest-sitting monarch and remains popular, drawing vast crowds onto Bangkok's streets last December for his birthday celebrations. But the combination of color-coded antagonism ("red-shirts" for pro-Thaksin demonstrators, "yellow-shirts" for royalists) and the King's age makes for nervy bureaucrats, and the censors' actions on the movie come after several recent high-profile jailings for lese-majeste.
While Ms. Yingluck's government has sparked renewed royalist ire by hinting that Thaksin could return to Thailand without having to do jail time, her administration simultaneously pledged not to amend Thailand's lese-majeste laws and to tighten censorship of websites containing allegedly offensive content.
Now it seems even The Bard of Avon is caught up in Thailand's censorship dragnet. Southeast Asia-based documentary filmmaker Bradley Cox saw his Who Killed Chea Vichea? – about a Cambodian trade unionist who was murdered in 2004 – banned in Cambodia. Discussing Shakespeare Must Die, Mr. Cox told the Monitor that “it makes one think that the censors must not think that highly of the Thai people, if they feel that they cannot handle the imagery and messages contained in this movie.”
For Ing K., the censors' reaction to the movie says a lot about Thailand, where the government and the opposition are at odds over a reconciliation proposal that, to some, could mean impunity for those involved in recent political violence. “We don't want to look at ourselves," she lamented, “we want to forget about painful events in our history."
The trailer for "Shakespeare Must Die:"