UN calls for credible, peaceful Thai polls

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called Thursday for the upcoming crucial election in Thailand to be conducted peacefully and in a “fair, credible and transparent” way.

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UN Secretary General Ban urged all parties to refrain from violence before, during and after the July 3 poll and “to accept and respect the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box,” his spokesman said in a statement.

FEARS THE VOTE COULD BRING UNREST

Amid fears that the vote could bring unrest, more than 430 candidates have sought protection, according to police, and more than 170,000 police officers are due to be deployed to protect polling stations on voting day.

The ruling Democrat party, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, is locked in a tough battle with the main opposition party Puea Thai, led by the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006.

The country has since suffered from deep political divisions and a series of street protests by rival groups.

Ban “expects the elections will be conducted peacefully and in a fair, credible and transparent manner so as to contribute to reconciliation and the consolidation of democratic norms in the country,” his spokesman said.

THAKSIN REMAINS DIVISIVE FIGURE

The fugitive ex-premier Thaksin remains a hugely divisive figure in Thailand, hated by the Bangkok-based elites, who fear he could try to return a free man if his sister Yingluck Shinawatra wins, as the polls predict.

He lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai, having fled in 2008 before a Thai court sentenced him in absentia to two years in prison for corruption, and he is also wanted on criminal charges including terrorism.

That accusation links to protests by his working-class “Red Shirt” supporters, whose mass opposition protests in Bangkok last year turned deadly, ending after two months with an army crackdown and more than 90 people dead.

Many observers fear a resurgence of street demonstrations by rival groups over the coming months, and US policymakers are worried the vote may set off new instability that diminishes the role of Washington’s oldest Asian ally.

Many are also looking at the moves of the powerful Thai army, no stranger to intervention in politics after 18 actual or attempted coups since 1932.

Military chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha has pledged to be neutral in the election but he has also called on the electorate to cast votes for “good people” — an outburst taken as an attack on Yingluck.

Earlier this week, four soldiers were arrested in a crucial northeastern political battleground for allegedly intimidating opposition activists ahead of the vote, police said.

Another factor is the country’s long tradition of electoral irregularities, such as vote-buying.

The Thai election commission said Thursday that 27 representatives from nine of the 12 countries invited would be observing the vote, including Australia, India and Malaysia, as well as an international monitoring group.

SBS Dateline with Mark Davis comes live from Bangkok this Sunday July 3 at 8.30pm on SBS ONE.

MP names Giggs in injunction row

A British lawmaker defied a court ruling Monday by naming Ryan Giggs as the footballer who used an injunction to keep details of an alleged affair secret, escalating a row over privacy laws and the Internet.

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Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming named the Manchester United player using his centuries-old right to freedom of speech in the House of Commons, despite an injunction which gave the married sportsman anonymity in the British media.

Hemming acted after a Scottish newspaper on Sunday published Giggs’s photograph, arguing that it could no longer support a gagging order while the footballer had been named by thousands of people on microblogging site Twitter.

“With about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs on Twitter it’s obviously impractical to imprison them all,” Hemming told lawmakers.

Prime Minister David Cameron had also admitted on Monday that the situation was “unsustainable” and vowed to look into it.

Hemming was rebuked by the Speaker, but not before journalists had taken note — the media are entitled to report parliamentary proceedings without fear of being sued, and Hemming’s words were swiftly used nationwide to name Giggs.

Earlier Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers, which owns The Sun and The Times, had made a fresh attempt to get the gag order lifted at the High Court, arguing that with all the debate on Twitter it was “futile” to maintain the anonymity order.

But judge David Eady rejected their attempt, saying: “The court’s duty remains to try and protect the claimant, and particularly his family, from intrusion and harassment so long as it can.”

News Group had used as part of their argument the indication by Cameron that he knew the identity of the footballer.

Giggs is expected to be in Manchester United’s squad for their Champions League final against Barcelona on Saturday where he could add to his record as the most decorated player in the history of the English game.

The prime minister had also admitted that something had to be done to address this “rather unsustainable” situation.

“It’s not fair on the newspapers if all the social media can report this and the newspapers can’t, so the law and the practice has got to catch up with how people consume media today,” Cameron said in an interview with ITV.

He added: “But there’s a difficulty here because the law is the law and the judges must interpret what the law is.”

In a bid to stem the online debate, Giggs’ lawyers announced Friday they were taking legal action to force Twitter to reveal the identity of users who broke the gagging order. But it only provoked more indignant Tweets.

Then, Scotland’s Sunday Herald became the first British newspaper or broadcaster to name the player who allegedly had an affair with reality television star Imogen Thomas.

The newspaper argued that it was not bound by the High Court, whose jurisdiction only extends to England and Wales.

In response to the row, Attorney General Dominic Grieve announced to lawmakers Monday that he was setting up a parliamentary committee to look into whether the current arrangements on privacy injunctions could be improved.

Conservative lawmaker John Whittingdale warned during the debate: “The actions by thousands of people of posting details on this on Twitter are in danger of making the law look an ass.”

Hemming’s intervention has set up a confrontation with Britain’s top two judges, who specificially warned lawmakers on Friday to think twice before undermining court orders in parliament.

They spoke out after a member of the House of Lords on Thursday had revealed that Fred Goodwin, the former boss of the bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland, had won an injunction banning publication of details of an alleged affair.

The High Court subsequently quashed the anonymity order that had been protecting him.

Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge questioned “whether it’s a good idea for our lawmakers to be flouting a court order just because they disagree with a court order or they disagree with the privacy law created by parliament.”

Man with world’s largest feet

The first thing that people notice about Brahim Takioullah is not his feet — which he hopes will make him famous — but his enormous height.

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He stands more than eight foot (246 cm) tall.

As he strolls through downtown Paris people gasp, stare, take his picture and ask: “Are you the tallest man in the world?” He’s not, not quite, but he does have the biggest pair of feet on the planet — and that’s official.

Judges from Guinness World Records came to France to measure him and confirmed his suspicion that he had record-breaking feet — his left measuring one foot three inches (38.1 cm) in length and his right, one foot 2.76 inches.

Takioullah cannot stand up straight in the small flat he shares with his mother in the Paris suburbs, has difficulty getting into a taxi or the Metro, and can never move around without attracting attention.

But he is surprisingly good humoured about his situation, smiling and posing for cellphone snaps and politely answering questions about his condition, a rare medical problem that he hopes to cure through surgery.

Takioullah is from Morocco, and grew up in a small village — grew up fast. In one year in his teens he put on more than three feet (one metre) in a spurt.

Now 29, no-one thought to investigate his unusual size until he was 18.

“The school doctor noticed that I was this enormous size and asked me to get some blood tests. I did that, and I was diagnosed with a very rare condition called acromegaly,” he told AFP.

Acromegaly is a pituitary gland disorder that causes the body to produce excessive growth hormone. The brain tumour can lead to other problems aside from great size, and Takioullah was advised to seek surgery.

But first he decided to finish his university studies in geography. When he began treatment, he was already huge and closing in on the world’s tallest man, eight-foot three-inch (2.51 metre) Sultan Kosen of Turkey.

Five years ago, a French doctor brought him to Paris for treatment, and he is not expected to reach Sultan’s height record.

Takioullah contacted Guinness himself to challenge for the record, and says he is proud to have it recognised, though daily life is not without its problems.

He hopes one day to have a specially built car he could drive himself, but for now even getting a pair of shoes stretches his budget — he takes a European size 58, which no shop has ever stocked.

“I always need them made-to-measure and they’re very expensive. I once asked a cobbler to make me some shoes and he said it would cost 3,500 euros (5,270 dollars),” he sighed.

This week he met an orthopedic podiatrist to be fitted with a specially made pair designed to support his huge weight.

“The thing is, when you have a very very large foot, even the machine to make the components isn’t necessarily big enough. So we really had to work right on the edge of the machinery.” said Jerome Liegeon.

French doctors are working to reduce Takioullah’s brain tumour, and he hopes his newfound fame will help him find the specialist treatment he needs.

“The record now will be known around the world, and experts anywhere around the planet may be able to help,” said Craig Glenday of Guinness World Records, publisher of the famous guide to the world’s extremes.

NATO denies leaving migrants to die

NATO denied Monday a report that one of its aircraft carriers left 61 migrants to die in the Mediterranean sea after they fled the conflict in Libya.

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The left-leaning Guardian newspaper in Britain reported that a boat carrying 72 migrants had left Tripoli on its way to Italy on March 25 but was left drifting for 16 days after a number of European and NATO military units apparently ignored pleas for help.

During the ordeal, the boat made contact with a military helicopter from an unknown nation and later, around March 29 or 30, was carried close to an aircraft carrier, the daily said, citing survivors.

A rescue never materialised, however, and the out-of-fuel ship eventually washed up on western Libyan beach on April 10, the Guardian said. Only 11 people survived while the rest had died of thirst and starvation at sea.

The Guardian said the aircraft was likely France’s Charles de Gaulle.

NATO said only one aircraft carrier was under NATO command at the time, Italy’s Garibaldi, which was operating 100 nautical miles out to sea.

“Any claims that a NATO aircraft carrier spotted and then ignored the vessel in distress are wrong,” said NATO deputy spokeswoman Carmen Romero.

Alliance vessels are “fully aware” of the responsibilities under maritime laws and helped to rescue some 500 people near Tripoli who were later transferred to Italy in late March, she said.

“The NATO units involved saw and heard no trace of any other vessels in the area where safety of life at sea was threatened,” Romero said.

The Guardian said the boat was carrying 47 Ethiopians, seven Nigerians, seven Eritreans, six Ghanaians and five Sudanese migrants.

Thousands of people fleeing upheavals in Tunisia and Libya have undertaken the perilous voyage to Italy’s island of Lampedusa in the past several weeks.

NATO warships began to enforce an arms embargo off Libya’s coast on March 23 to prevent Moamer Gaddafi’s regime from shipping in weapons and mercenaries.

Alliance combat jets taking off from aircraft carriers and land bases are also conducting air strikes against regime forces threatening cities and civilians.

At-a-glance: The E.coli outbreak

What is the E.

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coli bacterium, what diseases does it cause and what do we know about its origins and how to control it?

What is the E. coli bacterium?

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacterium that is commonly found in the gut of humans and warm-blooded animals. Most strains of E. coli are harmless.

Some strains however, such as enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), can cause severe foodborne disease.

It is transmitted to humans primarily through consumption of contaminated foods, such as raw or undercooked ground meat products and raw milk.

EHEC produces toxins, known as verotoxins or Shiga-like toxins because of their similarity to the toxins produced by Shigella dysenteriae.

Why is this strain so much worse than others?

This “super-toxic” strain of the bacteria has never before seen in people. Hilde Kruse, of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said it had “various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing”.

Consequently, it is affecting all ages groups, not just particular groups such as children and the elderly, which is more commonly the case with E.coli.

DNA testing of bacteria in stool samples from affected patients is being done to ascertain the exact strain and its properties.

However, despite initial suspicion around certain vegetable food products (usually sources of E. coli infection are meat products) the source of the new strain and how it has been passed to so many people is still not clear.

The diseases caused by EHEC

Symptoms of the diseases caused by EHEC include abdominal cramps and diarrhoea that may in some cases progress to bloody diarrhoea (haemorrhagic colitis). Fever and vomiting may also occur.

The incubation period can range from three to eight days, with a median of three to four days.

Most patients recover within 10 days, but in a small proportion of patients (particularly young children and the elderly), the infection may lead to a life-threatening disease, such as haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS).

HUS is characterized by acute renal failure, haemolytic anaemia and thrombocytopenia. It is estimated that up to 10 per cent of patients with EHEC infection may develop HUS, with a case-fatality rate ranging from 3 per cent to 5 per cent.

Where has this strain come from?

Germany, specifically the north, is the geographical source. The source appears to be contaminated salad vegetables.

Initially scientists thought cucumbers were the source of infection, however, this has not been confirmed. Other foods are now being investigated.

How could salad vegetables become infected with a gut bacteria?

Fertiliser could be the prime source of infection, while irrigation water from streams contaminated with faeces from infected animals could also be to blame.

Cattle, for instance, can carry E.coli in their guts without becoming ill.

How to prevent the risk of E. coli outbreaks

* Always keep good hygiene, particularly after using the toilet and before preparing food, to prevent the faecal-oral cycle of transmission.

* Wash fruit and vegetables to remove excess dirt and therefore reduce bacterial load, although this will probably not remove all bacteria hidden within the surface.

* Peeling and cooking fruit and vegetables is more effective at reducing bacterial load.

* Location and removal of the source of the infection during an outbreak.