The NewsFuror

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Web sex clip halts Vietnam TV show

Vietnam has been hit by hurricanes, floods and a catastrophic bridge collapse of late, but the nation is abuzz with talk of just one thing - a blurry video of an illicit encounter between two teenagers.

Internet forums are swamped with messages about an online sex video apparently showing 19-year-old Hoang Thuy Linh, the star of the popular TV series Vang Anh's Diaries, and her boyfriend.

"This is the most scandalous and controversial thing that has ever happened in Vietnam's virtual world," says journalist Hung Nguyen.

A couple of days after the so-called Vang Anh scandal broke, Vietnam Television (VTV) dropped the series.

A five-minute clip, filmed by mobile phone, was originally posted on YouTube by an anonymous user.

It has since been removed, but copies of it - including a 20-minute long version - are being circulated on other websites.

Parental approval

Thuy Linh, despite playing a schoolgirl in the series, is actually a first-year college student.

Even in a conservative county like Vietnam, it is not unusual for teenagers to engage in sexual relationships.

This poses a big question about modern life that the mainstream newspapers need to answer
Tran Le Thuy and Huy Duc
Vietnamese journalists

The problem is that Vang Anh's Diaries is hugely popular.

The series, which focuses on the daily life of Vietnamese school students, was in its second season when the scandal broke - and Thuy Linh's character, Vang Anh, had become a kind of idol among youngsters.

Before this, Vietnamese parents had approved of the programme. They considered it educational as the children featured were not only talented and beautiful, but also doing very well at school.

"All my friends and myself watch Vang Anh's Diaries regularly," says 13-year-old Thu Thuy.

"I especially love Vang Anh. She's smart, she's pretty, she's so so cool. I love her style."

Thuy admitted she was shocked to be told by her parents that she is no longer allowed to watch Vang Anh.

"My mum said Vang Anh had been a very bad girl. But she didn't explain why."

Ratings winner

Despite unprecedented attention from the public, state media soon went cold on the story after some critics branded the topic "sensational" and "cheap".

But the frenzy continues on the internet.

Blogs and forums are flooded with millions of messages discussing whether Thuy Linh deserves sympathy or punishment, and whether she needs to apologise publicly to her fans.

"The topic cannot be spared only for tabloids to cover," wrote journalists Tran Le Thuy and Huy Duc in Sai Gon Tiep Thi.

"This poses a big question about modern life that the mainstream newspapers need to answer...

"That is the question about information control in terms of blogging [and] privacy protection. That is also the question about the sexual revolution among the young people in Vietnam nowadays."

While the term "sexual revolution" remains somewhat controversial - it is an editorial minefield for the Vietnamese press - the mention of it can work wonders for TV programmes.

The VTV show in which the closure of Vang Anh's Diaries was announced, with Thuy Linh tearfully apologising to her parents and begging for understanding from her fans, attracted a phenomenal number of viewers.

Lessing says 9/11 'not that bad'

Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing has said that the 11 September attacks were "not that terrible" compared to the IRA's terror campaign.

"Some Americans will think I'm crazy... but it was neither as terrible or as extraordinary as they think," the writer told Spanish newspaper El Pais.

The 88-year-old added that "people forget" the IRA bomb attack on Margaret Thatcher's government in 1984.

Lessing won the Nobel prize, worth £763,000, honouring her 57-year career.

Five people died and 34 were injured when an IRA bomb exploded in a Brighton hotel where leading members of the Conservative party - including Mrs Thatcher - were staying for its annual conference.

'World calamity'

The author conceded that "many people died and two prominent buildings fell" in the attacks on New York's World Trade Center in 2001.

"They're a very naive people, or they pretend to be," she added of Americans.

Lessing, whose novels include The Golden Notebook and Memoirs of a Survivor, also branded President George W Bush "a world calamity".

"Everyone is tired of this man. Either he is stupid or he is very clever, although you have to remember he is a member of a social class which has profited from wars."

The writer also said that she "always hated Tony Blair from the beginning".

Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize for her "fire and visionary power", and is due to collect her award at a ceremony in Stockholm on 10 December.

Californian fires affect TV shows

Filming of TV shows including 24 has reportedly been hit by the wild fires sweeping across southern California.

Scenes featuring 24's lead star Kiefer Sutherland had to be halted at a military base near Irvine, Orange County, because of the smoke.

Other series were also hit, trade publication Hollywood Reporter said.

Fierce winds are fanning at least 16 fires that have razed land from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border, forcing 500,000 people out of their homes.

The blazes have left one person dead and destroyed at least 1,300 homes and businesses, officials say. They have led to the biggest US evacuation since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Producers of 24 had to cancel two days of filming at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro after cast and crew suffered blurry eyes and were having difficulty breathing.

Scenes were shot on the programme's dedicated stages instead.

"By 1 pm we're back here and had shot two other scenes," line producer Michael Klick told the Hollywood Reporter.

"When the dust settles, we probably lost five hours' worth of work, and we have to reschedule the two days we missed."

Strong winds

Other US TV series were also affected by the fires and bad weather. Police drama Cold Case, which airs on CBS, saw its sets in Simi Valley, north of Los Angeles, blown over by the strong winds.

ABC boardroom drama Big Shots had to scrap shooting in Malibu, while crime series NCIS - which uses stages so close to the fires that the smoke was visible from the set - carried on filming, but lost crew members who had to protect their homes.

The fires are putting homes at risk in seven counties where up to 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) have been scorched.

Actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta spoke earlier this week about their fears over the fires.

One of the areas affected is the coastal region around Los Angeles, which is home to many celebrities, including actors Mel Gibson, Barbra Streisand, Richard Gere, Pierce Brosnan, Dick Van Dyke and Ted Danson.

Singers Sting and Olivia Newton-John, director James Cameron and music mogul David Geffen also live locally.

Mona Lisa 'had brows and lashes'

Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa originally had eyebrows and eyelashes, a French inventor has claimed after digitally scanning the painting.

Pascal Cotte said his 240-megapixel scan revealed traces of facial hair obliterated by restoration efforts.

Da Vinci changed his mind about the position of two fingers on her left hand, her face was originally wider and her smile more expressive, he added.

Mr Cotte exhibited his findings at the Metreon complex in San Francisco.

He said he spent 3,000 hours analysing data from scans he made of the painting in the Louvre's laboratory three years ago. Mr Cotte, a French engineer, used infrared and ultraviolet sensors during the process.

His 22-gigabyte digital photo was made using 13 different colour filters rather than the three or four found in standard digital cameras.

To communicate our cultural heritage to our kids, we need to provide the maximum of information
Pascal Cotte

The scan showed that the merchant's wife in the painting holds a blanket that has all but faded from view today, he said.

Mr Cotte also said his analysis revealed what he believed were the painting's original colours - light blues and whites, compared with its current heavy greens, yellows and browns.

"To communicate our cultural heritage to our kids, we need to provide the maximum of information," Mr Cotte said.

"With just one photo you go deeper into the construction of the painting and understand that Leonardo was a genius."

Mr Cotte has made high-resolution scans of more than 500 paintings, including works by Van Gogh, Brueghel, Courbet and other European masters.

Staunton leaves Republic boss job

The Football Association of Ireland has terminated the contract of Republic of Ireland boss Steve Staunton by mutual consent following an emergency meeting.

Staunton, who took over from Brian Kerr in January 2006, had been under pressure because of poor performances in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

The nation's bid to reach the finals ended when his team could only manage a 1-1 draw with Cyprus on 17 October.

Under-21 boss Don Givens will take temporary charge of the senior side.

Their final Euro 2008 qualifier is against Wales in Cardiff on 17 November.

Assistant Kevin MacDonald and goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly have also been axed but Sir Bobby Robson will stay on as International Football Consultant.

Former Leeds and Aston Villa boss David O'Leary is the favourite to take over as Republic boss on a permanent basis, while another former player, Liam Brady, has also expressed an interest in the job.

FAI President David Blood thanked Staunton and his management team for their efforts since taking over almost two years ago.

"They have brought through many young players and leave behind a squad with strong development potential," said Blood in a statement.

But he admitted he was not happy with the lack of success under Staunton's leadership.

The board will select people, with considerable football experience in the professional game, to appoint the new manager
FAI president David Blood

"As a member of the three-man committee that made the recommendation to appoint Stephen and his team, I am disappointed that things have not worked out the way I, Stephen or my colleagues on the board expected," added Blood.

"The board will select people, with considerable football experience in the professional game, to appoint the new manager."

Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney said appointing outside advisers to head-hunt the successor to Staunton was "the way forward".

When it was put to Delaney that it was recognition that the decision on who to appoint should be made by football professionals rather than FAI administrators, he said: "That's a fair point, yes."

Staunton vowed to stay in the job after the Republic were booed off the Croke Park pitch after the game against Cyprus.

However, FAI chief Delaney refused to publicly back him in the wake of another disappointing display and Staunton eventually left his post following a lengthy meeting in Dublin on Tuesday night.

Staunton was something of a shock choice for the post, given his limited managerial and coaching experience.

Surprise at his elevation from Walsall assistant coach to international manager was tempered by the appointment of Robson in the role of consultant and adviser.

It was hoped that Robson's wealth of experience would compliment Staunton's enthusiasm and stature as the Republic's most capped player.

But a 4-0 friendly defeat by Holland last August set the tone for things to come.

A month later, Staunton was ordered from the touchline during the qualifier against Germany, while a humiliating 5-2 away defeat to Cyprus soon followed.

The Republic could only beat minnows San Marino with a last-minute goal in February as their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign completely fell apart.

The Republic are now ranked 32nd in the world, compared to 15th only a few years ago.

Suu Kyi rallies planned worldwide

Demonstrations are planned in 12 cities worldwide against Burma's continuing detention of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Protests will be staged at Chinese embassies, as campaigners say Beijing holds the key to Ms Suu Kyi's release.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been held by the junta, mostly under house arrest, for exactly 12 years.

Australia is the latest country to impose sanctions on Burma's generals, amid global condemnation of their rule.

Australian officials said the financial sanctions would target 418 individuals, including top military figures and cabinet ministers.

Pressure has been growing on the junta since their bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests last month.

The generals have agreed to another visit from the UN's special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who is currently in China lobbying for Beijing's backing for democratic reforms in Burma.

And they are also allowing the UN's human rights investigator, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, to visit the country for the first time in four years. He is due to speak in New York later.

Laureates' appeal

Rallies for the detained pro-democracy leader are due to be held in cities including London, Paris, Brasilia, New York, Bangkok, Sydney and Cape Town.

Open letter signed by Nobel peace laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire
Rallies to be held in London, Paris, Berlin, Dublin, Vienna, Sydney, Washington, Toronto, New York, Brasilia, Bangkok and Cape Town

The coalition of charities and other groups behind Wednesday's demonstrations have called on those taking part to wear Suu Kyi masks and the white cloth of Burmese political prisoners.

Six female Nobel peace laureates have jointly appealed to the UN, urging it to help Ms Suu Kyi regain her freedom.

"The detention of Aung San Suu Kyi is the most visible manifestation of the regime's brutality but it is only the tip of the iceberg," they wrote in an open letter published in UK newspaper The Guardian.

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a convincing victory in a general election in 1990 but the junta refused to hand over power.

Close ally

The protests coincide with the anniversary of the UN charter, and campaigners say they will be stepping up the pressure for UN action.

They blame China for blocking a UN resolution against Burma's generals.

Mr Gambari, who is expected to return to Burma next month, is meeting senior Chinese officials this week.

But he will not see any of the country's top leaders, the BBC's Daniel Griffiths reports from Beijing.

Although China, one of Burma's closest allies, has expressed concern about the situation there, it has always stressed that it will not interfere in its neighbour's internal affairs.

It is a sign that Beijing is unwilling to push Burma too hard, our correspondent says.

Burmese officials say 10 people died during the crackdown on protests in September, but diplomats believe the true figures are much higher. Hundreds of people are thought to be in detention.

US reins in Iraq security firms

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has ordered new measures to improve government oversight of private security contractors used in Iraq.

It follows a review by an independent panel ordered after an incident last month involving the US firm Blackwater, in which some 17 Iraqi civilians died.

The steps include tightening the state department's rules of engagement so they are line with the military's.

Contractors will also have to undergo improved cultural awareness training.

There will also be better co-ordination with the US military and tighter restrictions on the use of force.

Boards will be set up to investigate any future killings involving private contractors in Iraq, and will have to power to refer cases to the US justice department.

Contractors will also have to have Arabic speakers on hand.

'Strained relations'

Ms Rice, who was briefed on the report on Monday "has decided to move ahead with the recommendations that are within her purview to act on immediately", state department official Patrick Kennedy said.

Mr Kennedy, who led the review panel, said its recommendations would clarify the rules of engagement for private contractors.

The panel has emphasised that they should open fire only with "due regard for the safety of innocent bystanders".

However, its recommendations focus on management and policy relating to security contractors rather than any possible wrongdoing by Blackwater or others, Mr Kennedy told reporters.

"Prompt measures should be taken to strengthen the co-ordination, oversight and accountability aspects of the state department's security practices in Iraq in order to reduce the likelihood that future incidents will occur," the report said.

'Strained relations

State department spokesman Sean McCormack said earlier that some of the review panel's recommendations would require co-ordination with the Pentagon.

Ms Rice is expected to meet Defence Secretary Robert Gates later this week to discuss those changes.

Earlier this month, Ms Rice ordered that a member of the state department's own security staff accompany all Blackwater-escorted diplomatic convoys and that video cameras be installed in the firm's security vehicles.

The Blackwater incident in Baghdad strained relations with Iraq and forced the state department to act, the BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington says.

An Iraqi government investigation concluded that Blackwater guards fired on civilians without provocation.

Iraqi leaders have that demanded the US government end its association with Blackwater in Iraq within six months and hand over the contractors involved in the 16 September incident.

Blackwater's chairman, Erik Prince, has insisted he has proof that the firm's guards were fired upon and has defended its record before the US Congress.

US officials have released few details of the incident, as it is subject to an investigation by the FBI.

US wild fires force mass exodus

US wild fires force mass exodus

Thousands of homes are threatened across the region
More than half a million people have been ordered to leave their homes to escape wild fires in California in the biggest US evacuation since Katrina.

Fierce winds are fanning at least 16 fires that have razed land from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border.

The blazes have left one person dead and destroyed at least 1,300 homes and businesses, say officials.

President George W Bush will visit the state on Thursday, after declaring a state of emergency in seven counties.

A White House spokeswoman said Mr Bush, whose administration was accused of a sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast two years ago, wanted to "witness first-hand" the crisis.

Up to 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) of land have been scorched - an area bigger than New York City.

Heat and wind

On Tuesday, 6,000 firefighters were struggling to contain the flames, which are being fuelled by hot 70mph (113km/h) winds.

Officials have warned the heat and wind levels are not likely to abate for 24 hours.

About 513,000 people in San Diego County have received a mandatory evacuation order, officials said.

A man died in the San Diego area at the weekend after ignoring warnings to evacuate, officials say.

It was like Armageddon - it looked like the end of the world
Mitch Mendler
San Diego firefighter
At least 45 people have been injured, including 21 firefighters, according to an Associated Press news agency count.

Thousands of residents sought shelter at fairgrounds, schools and community centres.

The largest gathering - of up to 10,000 evacuees - was at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders told people to "stay at home, stay off the freeways" so fire crews and evacuees could keep moving.

Red Cross workers and 1,500 National Guardsmen have been brought in to help firefighters.

The coastal area is home to many celebrities, including actor Mel Gibson, rock star Sting and singer Barbra Streisand.

After visiting charred homes in Malibu, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said it was a "tragic time" for California.

"I think that the most we need now is the weather to change, because we have those really strong winds that throw the flames and send the flames to other areas and then it starts another fire and another fire," he told reporters.

Landmark lost

The ground is tinder-dry after a record summer heat wave.

In San Diego county, ambulances and school buses were used to move hundreds of people from hospitals, nursing homes and prisons threatened by advancing flames.

San Diego Fire Captain Lisa Blake said local firefighters lacked the resources to save all the homes at risk.

One San Diego firefighter, Mitch Mendler, said: "It was like Armageddon. It looked like the end of the world."

The fire in Malibu is thought to have been caused by a power cable that ignited after being blown over in heavy wind.

Among the buildings destroyed in the town of 13,000 residents were the famous Castle Kashan home and a Presbyterian church.

The emergency evoked memories of the blazes that tore through Southern California four years ago, killing 22 people and destroying more than 3,600 homes.

Situation as of 8.31 pm local time, 22 October 2007:
1. Harris fire: 22,000 acres consumed, 5% contained.
2. Rice fire: 1,500 acres burned in San Diego county, 50 houses destroyed
3. Witch fire: 145,000 acres in San Diego County. Some 500 houses and 100 businesses destroyed. 36,000 residents in Ramona evacuated
4. Buckweed fire: 35,000 acres. Mandatory evacuation order of 15,000 local residents in place.
5. Magic fire: 1,200 acres burned, moving towards Ventura but not currently threatening any structures.
6. Ranch fire: 41,000 acres burned, 10% contained. Local evacuation orders in place.
7. Canyon fire: 3,800 acres consumed. 600 houses threatened, some 1,700 firefighters deployed.
8. Slide fire: 1,500 acres burned, 20 houses destroyed and 400 threatened.
9. Santiago fire: 15,200 acres burned, 30% contained. Some 3,000 houses threatened in local area.

Only fires which have consumed 1,000 acres or more are listed.

Sources: Cal Fire, US National Interagency Fire Center