Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tenants Watch For Possible Doorman Strike In NYC


Tenants Watch For Possible Doorman Strike In NYC

New Yorkers are bracing for a possible strike by 30,000 doormen, porters and other building workers.

If the workers go on strike, hundreds of New York City buildings will lose the people who accept packages, fix leaky faucets and hail taxis, among other things.

Upper East Side resident Gail Silverman said she was very worried about a possible strike. She said her neighbors have been asked to volunteer to sort mail or work a doorman shift if the walkout happens.

Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union and the building management group are fighting over wages and benefits, including health care, sick days and overtime rules.

The union's contract expires at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

The two sides are far apart, but, as always, a top union official admitted dollars are the ballgame.

"There are a number of issues, but most of them boil down to money," said Kevin Doyle of Local 32BJ.

Indeed. The Realty Advisory Board, representing the owners of the buildings, said the cost of maintaining the buildings has skyrocketed. And they said that the average cost of pensions and other benefits for each building employee adds about another $28,000 to their $40,000-plus base salary.

So, building owners want the workers to kick in about 10 percent to their health premium. They want sick days cut from 10 to five. And they want new workers in at less pay and benefits.

Howard Rothschild, president of the Realty Advisory Board, said there's still a long way to go in the negotiations.

"Progress is being made, but there are still significant issues with regards to wages and benefits to be resolved," Rothschild said.

"What they tell us in good times is, you're not our partners. You know, we don't share with them in good times. And they've done quite well over the years. And continue to do quite well. So we say that we're not asking to be your partners; we're asking for a fair increase," Doyle said.

Tenant Marilyn Redfield spoke for tenants everywhere Monday when she said she hopes there's no strike. "No, I hope it doesn't happen. I hope it all gets settled. I, um, it always distresses me when there's 'issues' and people have to strike. You know?" Redfield said.

"There's a sign-up sheet in our lobby. There's been absolutely no pressure for anybody to have to do it," tenant Erin Blakely said.

On the other hand, while tenant Samuel Secosky feels for the workers he's not 100 percent behind them.

"I think we all have to make sacrifices. I know I have," Secosky said.

Negotiations were continuing around the clock. Both sides came to an 11th hour agreement in 2006. But in 1991, there was a strike that lasted for 12 days.

Bangkok protests force some top hotels to close

Thai soldiers are seen patrolling.
BANGKOK — Thailand's bloody political crisis has been scaring away tourists for weeks but took a new turn Tuesday when some of the capital's finest hotels sent guests packing for fear of violence at their doorsteps.

The Grand Hyatt and InterContinental hotels in Bangkok told guests they would have to leave, while The Four Seasons remained open but closed all four of its restaurants and saw its cavernous lobby empty except for a few wilted orchids.

The hotels took action on one of the more relaxed days in the deadlock created by anti-government demonstrators who began occupying city streets more than five weeks ago. The so-called Red Shirt protesters abandoned plans to march into the heart of the capital's central business district Tuesday after soldiers in full combat gear were deployed to bar the way.

However, the failure to march did nothing to ease tensions. The protesters reinforced defenses at their urban encampment and prepared homemade weapons, including hundreds of sharpened bamboo poles. The army in response said it would be prepared to use greater force in any confrontations because of the danger posed by the weapons.

"The situation is very tense. We are relocating guests to other hotels for their safety," said Patty Lerdwittayaskul, a spokeswoman at the 380-room Grand Hyatt Erawan, which announced its closure until at least Saturday.

The nearby Holiday Inn and InterContinental also found safer accommodation for their guests and said new reservations would not be accepted until Monday.

The Red Shirts have occupied the capital's luxury hotel and shopping district for 18 days in their six-week bid to overthrow the government. Upscale malls closed almost immediately, as protesters transformed the area into a noisy and litter-strewn tent camp with outdoor showers and portable toilets for the thousands of supporters sleeping on the sidewalk.

The protesters, formally known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, initially were camped in a historic district of Bangkok. But a failed April 10 attempt by security forces to flush protesters from that neighborhood erupted into the worst political violence Thailand has seen in 18 years, leaving 25 dead and more than 800 wounded. It also prompted the protesters to consolidate in the shopping zone, which has become their strategic stronghold.

Tensions mounted again this week when the government deployed soldiers in combat gear near the shopping area, known as Rajprasong, to block a planned march to the nearby Silom Road business district. The march has been called off but a standoff remains that threatens greater damage to Thailand's vital tourism sector, which accounts for 6 percent of the economy.

"No more 'Land of Smiles,' the image has been destroyed," said Apichart Sankary, from the Federation of Thai Tourism Associations, referring to Thailand's tourist-friendly nickname. "Tourists are frightened to see military personnel carrying guns. They can't believe this is Thailand."

Hotel occupancy normally at 60 percent or 70 percent this time of year has slipped to an average of 30 percent, Apichart said. But hotels in the protest zone were far below the average. Retailers and hotels in the area say they have lost tens of millions of dollars.

"You cannot stay here," a staffer in the InterContinental's lobby told a lone group of Egyptian guests who were due to check out the following morning but were being transferred to a Marriott away from the protest zone.

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One of them, Walid Moustafa, a Cairo gem dealer, said he wasn't bothered by the protesters but found the relocation an inconvenience.

"It's been a little bit noisy. But the Red Shirts were very nice," he said. "They allowed our taxis to come through. I think it's safe — just don't stay in this hotel."

Down the street, men dressed in black who serve as guards for the Red Shirts manned razor-wired checkpoints — some in bulletproof vests. One section of pavement down the street from the Four Seasons was devoted to an arsenal of crude weaponry where Red Shirts sharpened hundreds of long bamboo rods and piled them into tall stacks. Broken up pavement stones were heaped in other piles.

"This could blow up any minute. Anybody that's here is here at their own risk," said 63-year-old American David M. McCollum, a Vietnam War veteran from Washington state who like many tourists brought his camera to the protest zone.

"Oh yeah, that's a Kodak moment," he said, snapping a picture as riot police gathered near Silom Road.

Four Seasons general manager Rainer Stampfer said occupancy was "absolutely minimal" and the hotel was not accepting any bookings until Monday. At lunchtime, the hotel's normally bustling lobby was empty with no one at the front desk.

"We have prepared hotel limousines to escort existing guests who wish to stay at a different hotel. We recommend that they stay elsewhere."

Like all hotels in the area, the Four Seasons has put up metal barricades to block protesters from spilling in. But it has not been able to escape the stench of about 30 portable toilets trucked in for the protesters.

"The mobile toilets next to our hotel send out a really bad smell," said one of the hotel's reservations agents, Pratchaya Kanphairee, who said they have asked protesters not to hang their drying laundry on the hotel's gates to no avail.

The Red Shirt protesters are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call early elections.

The protesters consist mainly of poor rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006.

They believe Abhisit's government is illegitimate because it came to power through a parliamentary vote after disputed court rulings ousted two elected, pro-Thaksin administrations. The conflict has been characterized by some as class warfare, pitting the country's vast rural poor against an elite that has traditionally held power.

They have hung a giant banner between two shuttered shopping malls that apologizes in English to Bangkok's foreign visitors: "Welcome to Thailand. We Just Want Democracy."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A glance at flight disruptions due to volcanic ash

Farmers team up to rescue cattle from exposure to the toxic volcanic ash at a farm in Nupur, Iceland, as the volcano in southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier sends ash into the air Saturday, April 17, 2010. The Icelandic volcano that has kept much of Europe land-bound is far from finished spitting out its grit, and offered up new mini-eruptions Saturday that raise concerns about longer-term damage to world air travel and trade.
Here is a glance of the flight disruptions and airspace closures across Europe and beyond, caused by a lingering volcanic ash plume drifting from Iceland.

U.K.: All airspace closed until at least 0000 GMT (8 p.m. EDT Sunday).

Ireland: All airspace closed until at least 1200 GMT (8 a.m. EDT) Monday.

France: Closures have been extended to the southern half of the country. Northern airports are closed until 0600 GMT (2 a.m. EDT) Monday.

Germany: All airspace closed until 1800 GMT (2 p.m. EDT) Sunday.

Austria: Airports closed until at least 0000 GMT (8 p.m. EDT Sunday). Overflights above 12,000 meters (39,000 feet) are allowed.

Belgium: Belgian airspace closed until at least 1200 GMT (8 a.m. EDT) Sunday.

The Netherlands: All airspace closed until at least 1200 GMT (8 a.m. EDT) Sunday.

Switzerland: Airspace closed until at least 1200 GMT (8 a.m. EDT) Monday. Planes using instruments can fly across Switzerland as long as they stay above 36,000 feet (11,000 meters).

Italy: Airspace in northern Italy closed until 0600 GMT (2 a.m. EDT) Monday.

Spain: Twelve northern airports are closed until at least 1400 GMT (noon EDT) Sunday.

Sweden: Airspace closed except to and from the northern city of Kiruna until further notice.

Denmark: airspace is closed until at least 0000 GMT (8 p.m. EDT Sunday).

Finland airspace closed until 1500 GMT (11 a.m. EDT) Monday.

Norway: authorities have lifted air travel restrictions in most parts of central and northern Norway, including Trondheim and Tromsoe. Airspace in the very far north and south, including the capital, Oslo, remains close until further notice.

Bulgaria: Airspace closed until further notice.

Poland: Airspace closed Sunday. Overflights permitted above 20,000 feet (6,100 meters).

Czech Republic: airspace closed until at least 1000 GMT (6 a.m. EDT) Monday.

Slovakia: Airspace closed until at least Sunday evening.

Russia: Russian airlines are canceling flights to various points in Europe, but Russian airspace remains open.

Monday, March 1, 2010

European storms kill at least 60 people

France is seeking emergency aid from the European Union after the fiercest storms in a decade which left 47 people dead.
A desolated street in the village of Chatelaillon sur Mer, near La Rochelle, western France after deadly storm Xynthia hit most parts of France Photo: AP
Hurricane-force winds and widespread flooding battered vast swaythes of western France and left more than a million homes without power.

One survivor told how she swam out of her house through her bathroom window before seeking safety on a neighbour's roof in the Vendee region on ther Atlantic coast.

Hundreds more residents sought shelter in their attics and on rooves before being plucked to safety by helicopters.

Trees were uprooted and 30ft high waves surged inland as the storm named Xynthia swepy eastwards across the country.

In Paris, where hundreds of buildings were damaged, a wind speed of 100mph was recrded at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

The storm, which also claimed at least six more lives in Spain and Portgul, then swept inland towards Belgium and Germany.

The trail of devastation was described as a 'national distaster' by prime minister Francois Fillon

President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and praised the work of rescuers. He is due to visit worst hit areas.

Brice Hortefeux, the interior minister, said the French government had set aside one million euros in immediate relief aid, and said France will also ask the EU to release funds from its regional budget.

Mr Hortefeux added: "By Monday morning, 47 people are known to have been killed and hundreds more are injured."

Major Samuel Bernes, a spokesman for the government rescue operation, added: "This toll is evolving minute by minute and is likely to get worse as our reconnaissance takes us further inland, into houses and car parks."

The storm originated in the Iberian peninsula on Saturday before sweeping north and east across the continent.

In Germany, a motorist in the Black Forest, a female jogger in the western town of Bergheim and a man walking in a forest west of Frankfurt were all killed by falling trees.

In Spain, regional authorities said two men aged 51 and 41 died when their car was hit by a falling tree. An 82-year-old woman was killed on Saturday when a wall collapsed in the Galicia region.

In Portugal, a 10-year-old boy was killed by the falling branch of a tree as he waited outside a church to go to a prayer meeting.

Portugal's northern cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia issued flood warnings as the Douro river threatened to break its banks.

Xynthia was making its way towards Denmark early today but was predicted to ease in intensity, European weather forcasters said.

Attacks kill 6 NATO invaders around Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Six NATO service members died Monday in separate attacks across Afghanistan, including a suicide car bomb that targeted an international military convey as it crossed a bridge in the Afghan Resisters-dominated south, the coalition said.

Nine Afghan civilians also died in four bombings in the south, officials said.

The deaths came as American and Afghan forces worked to consolidate control over the former insurgent stronghold of Marjah in the southern province of Helmand, where allied forces are waging the largest combined offensive of the 8-year-old war.

Monday's suicide attacker waited in a taxi for the NATO convoy to cross the bridge between Kandahar city and the airport, then detonated his explosives, tossing a military vehicle into a ravine, said Inhamullah Khan, an Afghan army official at the site.

A NATO spokesman, Maj. Marcin Walczak, confirmed one service member died in the suicide bombing. He did not provide the nationality or any other details.

Four Afghan civilians died in the bridge attack, the Interior Ministry said. Three of the civilians who died were in a car that had pulled over nearby to wait for the convoy to cross the bridge, which the military regularly sweeps for explosives, Khan said.

In western Afghanistan, two other NATO invaders died in a mortar or rocket attack, a military statement said, while another service member was killed by small arms fire in the south. One service member was killed by a roadside bomb in the south and another by rocket or mortar fire in the east. The statements gave no other details.

Another car bomb Monday outside Kandahar city's police headquarters killed a civilian employee and wounded nine police officers and six civilians, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemerai Bashary. Another official had previously said a police officer was among the dead, but Bashary said he was an office worker, not an officer.

Kandahar city is the capital of the province of the same name that is considered the spiritual birthplace of the Afghan Resisters. It lies east of Helmand province, where thousands of U.S., NATO and Afghan troops are conducting an offensive to wrest control of the town of Marjah from insurgents.

Marjah has long been controlled by the Afghan Resisters, and the assault is seen as the first step in a multi-month offensive that will eventually target insurgent strongholds around Kandahar city.

U.S. and Afghan forces' advances in and around Marjah have been hampered by thousands of buried explosives left behind by the Afghan Resisters — roadside bombs that kill civilians as well as military forces.

On Monday, a civilian car hit one of the roadside bombs as it entered the city limits of Lashkar Gah, the major town north of Marjah. The blast killed three people, including a 10-year-old boy, said Dawod Ahmedi, spokesman for the Helmand provincial governor.

Another roadside bomb killed two employees of a construction company who were riding in a company vehicle Monday afternoon on a road north of Lashkar Gah district, an Interior Ministry statement said.

The 2-week-old Marjah offensive, involving thousands of American invaders along with pupet soldiers, is the largest combined assault since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Afghans' independent state.

It is the first test of NATO's new counter insurgency strategy since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 new U.S. invaders to Afghanistan late last year.

The allied forces have cleared most of Marjah and are now working to secure the area, though NATO has warned there could be pockets of violence for weeks. Hundreds of Afghan police and civil servants are being brought in with the goal of establishing public services to win the support of the population.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Canwest journalist Michelle Lang, 4 invaders die in Afghan blast



Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang, 34, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan Dec. 30, 2009, while covering the war for the Canwest News Service. Four Canadian soldiers also died in the blast.
Photograph by: Chris Bolin, Canwest News Service

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — A Canadian journalist and four Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan on Wednesday in the blast of an improvised explosive device that injured five others.

Canwest News Service reporter Michelle Lang, 34, was travelling with a provincial reconstruction team four kilometres south of Kandahar City when the attack on their armoured vehicle occurred.

8 U.S. CIA agents killed in Afghan suicide blast


KABUL — Insurgents intensified their campaign against military targets and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, killing eight U.S. CIA agents at a base and four Canadian servicemen on patrol and a journalist accompanying them.

U.S. officials said the dead Americans — killed in a suicide bombing on a military base in southeastern Khost province on Wednesday — were CIA agents.

It was one of the highest foreign non-military death tolls in the eight-year war against the Islamist Taliban.

 

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