Also today: Gulf of Mexico oil spill reaching catastrophic proportions; Manhattan attorney general’s office conducts criminal probe into Goldman Sachs; British PM Gordon Brown fights for his political life; Belgian MPs vote to ban full Islamic face veil.
Japan issues arrest warrant against head of anti-whaling group
Japan’s Coast Guard obtained an arrest warrant for the leader of the radical Sea Shepherd environmental group, accusing him of endangering lives during the country’s annual Antarctic whale hunt. The US-based conservationists claim the Japanese whaling fleet is conducting banned commercial whaling under the pretence of scientific research. The warrant was issued on the grounds that Sea Shepherd’s Canadian founder and president, Paul Watson, is suspected of assault and obstruction of business, after confrontations between Sea Shepherd boats and Japanese whalers turned violent, involving several collisions in icy Antarctic waters, including a small boat that sank. The Japanese Coast Guard wants Watson placed on Interpol’s wanted list, with the country already having got Australian police to search some of Sea Shepherd’s boats. It’s pretty hairy out in those waters, and not just for whales, whose meat is a popular dish in Japan, even being made into seafood hamburgers.
Photo: Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, stands on a dock near his vessel the Farley Mowat in Sydney, Nova Scotia, April 14, 2008. REUTERS/Paul Darrow
Gulf of Mexico oil spill reaching catastrophic proportions
A Gulf of Mexico oil spill, from a burned and sunken rig lying in waters 1,500 metres deep, has started to lap the Louisiana shoreline on the Mississippi River delta, with containment crews spreading floating barriers around marshes. The spill now threatens to eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, which spread some 40 million litres of oil over pristine coastline. The leakage is now thought to be five times bigger than first estimated, rising to 5,000 barrels a day. Officials of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the efforts needed to contain the disaster are immense. The slick will likely affect hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast, one of the world’s richest seafood grounds, with the thickest part of the slick lying south and east of the Mississippi delta, about eight kilometres offshore. One fishing guide in the area claims the US Coast Guard, the federal government and oil major BP lied about the spill, saying the rig was leaking 1,000 barrels a day, and that they were slow to deploy floating booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants, and set controlled fires to burn the oil from the water’s surface.
Manhattan attorney general’s office conducts criminal probe into Goldman Sachs
The Manhattan attorney general’s office is conducting a criminal investigation into Goldman Sachs, over the firm’s mortgage securities deals. This comes after a criminal referral by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC earlier filed civil fraud charges against Goldman, alleging the company misled investors by not telling them that subprime mortgage products were chosen with the help of a Goldman hedge fund client that was betting against the investments. Goldman denies the charges. Sixty-two Congressional lawmakers asked the US Justice Department to conduct a criminal probe of Goldman, at the same time that members of the House are seeking to rein in the power of Wall Street. Angry American taxpayers bailed out numerous blue-chip firms in the aftermath of the financial meltdown that plunged the country into its most severe recession since the 1930s Great Depression.
British PM Gordon Brown fights for his political life
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown took part in his most bruising pre-election showdown yet, clashing with rival party leaders in a final television debate that focused on the country’s ailing economy. Apologising for calling a Labour voter a “bigoted woman” after she questioned him on his government’s immigration policies, Brown then said he knows how to run the economy, in good times and bad. The country’s first series of US-style election debates have shaped one of the closest election battles in decades. Rank outsider, Nick Clegg, of the Liberal Democrats is running neck-and-neck with his Tory and Labour rivals, despite Conservative party leader David Cameron being seen by some opinion polls to be the clear winner in this debate. It looks like no party will win a clear parliamentary majority in the May 6 elections, so Clegg will likely be courted as a partner in a possible coalition government. Brown’s Labour party has presided over one of the most unpopular governments in a long time, with Britain running a $236 billion annual budget deficit that has led to the deepest cuts in public services since World War II, and likely tax increases.
Belgian MPs vote to ban full Islamic face veil
Belgium’s lower house of parliament voted 134-2 to ban women from wearing the full Islamic face veil in public, and MPs are seeking a law that will outlaw garments that obscure the identity of the wearer in places such as parks and streets. The proposal now goes to the country’s Senate. If it’s passed, it would be the first such ban in Europe, and comes on the back of Switzerland banning the building of minarets for mosques and proposals to ban face veils in France. It appears that a miniscule number of women wear this kind of veil in Belgium, out of a Muslim population of some 500,000. But some Belgian MPs claim they support such legislation so that police can identify people for security reasons, while others say the full face veil symbolises the oppression of women.