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At Cost of Grieving Families, China Manages Public Emotions

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A man holds a portrait of a New Year's Eve stampede victim as he and others mourn over the death of their loved one at the site of the tragic accident in Shanghai, China Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. Some wailed and some staggered with grief as the relatives of the 36 people killed in the stampede visited the disaster site Tuesday for seventh-day commemorations that are a revered ritual in China. (AP Photo)

A man holds a portrait of a New Year’s Eve stampede victim as he and others mourn over the death of their loved one at the site of the tragic accident in Shanghai, China Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. (AP Photo)

DIDI TANG, Associated Press

SHANGHAI (AP) — Some wailed and some staggered with grief as relatives of the 36 people killed in Shanghai’s New Year’s Eve stampede visited the disaster site Tuesday for seventh-day commemorations that are a revered ritual in China.

But each family was allowed to stay only about five minutes in the tightly managed visits, and government workers roughly dragged away one middle-aged woman when she began crying out emotionally.

The government’s strict arrangements reflect efforts to keep tight controls over the disaster’s aftermath and prevent distraught relatives from coalescing into a critical group that would draw sympathy and galvanize public calls for greater accountability.

“Such a major public safety incident can tug the heartstrings of the public, and the acts and words by victims’ relatives can make the public sentiments swing, making it a key task for authorities to control the families, limiting their contacts with each other or with the media,” said Zhao Chu, a Shanghai-based independent commentator.

“Struck by the same tragedy, the relatives can easily resonate with each other, and it’s only natural they want to band together to take collective actions and make collective appeals to the public, and that could mean the authorities losing control over the social sentiments.”

The authorities’ grip over such sentiments comes at the expense of the victims’ families, Zhao said. “The method is brusque toward the families, preventing them from resorting to law and to the media, but — in a positive way — it can indeed alleviate the shock to the public.”

The victims’ relatives laid bouquets of white and yellow chrysanthemums and bowed deeply to the statue of the city’s first Communist mayor that overlooks the 17 concrete steps on Shanghai’s famed riverfront known as the Bund where the stampede took place.

Three dozen people, including a 12-year-old boy, were trampled and asphyxiated amid a crowd of hundreds of thousands of New Year’s revelers.

Accompanied by government workers, the families were kept in vans waiting for their turns to mourn on the seventh day after death, when the deceased person’s soul is believed to return to the earthly world after disappearing. Some relatives brought photos and offered fruits and burned some fake money.

Journalists were corralled several feet away only to observe the occasional wails from the grieving.

“Why are your media shooting there? Dare you publish what you have shot?” a young man called out to the journalists as he was led away from the mourning site. “It’s been a week. The government does not care about us. The government does not talk to us.”

A middle-aged woman in the same group broke down earlier. “I want to die. I want to die,” she cried out. “My child just came to see the great city of Shanghai. My child did not come back.”

A close friend of a victim said Tuesday that the families have been kept apart and in the company of government minders so they could not conduct media interviews. She said many relatives believe their phones are being monitored and that they have come under pressure to cooperate with authorities. She requested anonymity over fears of possible government reprisals. More family members refused to be interviewed when contacted over the phone.

Tan Ching Hin, father of a 21-year-old Malaysian victim, Tan Wei, said he was never told directly not to criticize the authorities, but he understood that to be the expectation.

“We were under constant surveillance so we could not be in touch with the outside, such as journalists,” Tan said. “We were watched every step.”

Nevertheless, he said he did not hold back at a memorial for his daughter before her body was flown back to Malaysia. “I said this was a major incident caused by human error. It could have been prevented. It was caused by negligence on the part of the government,” Tan said.

Chinese parents have questioned whether authorities adequately notified the public of the cancellation of the popular riverfront light show, whether the city government took proper emergency measures when hundreds of thousands of people still swarmed to the Bund, and whether police and medics responded effectively following the disaster.

Tan said he was initially told to sign a death certificate and agree to absolve the government of any wrongdoing in his daughter’s death before her body would be returned to him.

“That was unacceptable,” said the father, who said he managed to retrieve his daughter’s body without agreeing to that condition. “The city government must be held accountable for this. It can never shirk its responsibility.”

Like Chinese parents, Tan recalled his anxiety when there was no word for more than 10 hours about his daughter’s fate the day after the stampede, even though authorities had long confirmed at least 35 deaths.

“The doctors were extremely mean to us, and they did not provide any comforting word at all,” Tan said.

He said he was upset he could not see his daughter’s body at the hospital but at a funeral home.

Other family members also complained that they were kept inside hospitals with no word of the victims’ conditions until late into the following night, when they were taken to the funeral home to identify bodies. By then, the throngs of reporters had already dissipated, and relatives found themselves fuming but with little audience.

The delay, Zhao said, was by design so that authorities could better control the situation.

“Faced with pressures from the public, authorities needed time,” he said. “They needed to edit the story. They had to control the rhythm of the development and shape its direction so they don’t lose control.”

___

News assistant Fu Ting and video journalist Paul Traynor contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Bay Area

Port of Oakland Aims to Help Agriculture Producers Export Products More Quickly

“The Port — along with our federal and state partners — is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement. The yard is just one step the Port is taking to help agriculture exporters who have had fewer containers in Oakland with which to export their products.

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The Port of Oakland and the Oakland skyline in the late 2010s. (Photo courtesy the Port of Oakland/Kelly Patrick Dugan)
The Port of Oakland and the Oakland skyline in the late 2010s. (Photo courtesy the Port of Oakland/Kelly Patrick Dugan)

By Keith Burbank, Bay City News

The flow of agricultural exports may improve at the Port of Oakland after it sets aside quick-access space for containers, assists exporters, and if more cargo carriers restore service to Oakland, port officials said Monday.

Twenty-five acres will be used to operate an off-terminal, paved yard to store containers for rapid pick-up following their removal from chassis.

The yard, which may open in March, will allow trucks to turn around more quickly than is currently possible in the terminal. Agricultural exporters will also get help using the yard from state and federal agencies.

“The Port — along with our federal and state partners — is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement.

The yard is just one step the Port is taking to help agriculture exporters who have had fewer containers in Oakland with which to export their products.

But it’s not entirely clear the yard will make a huge difference unless more ships stop at the Port to pick up the exports.

“We need the shipping companies to immediately restore the export lines from Oakland to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said.

Port officials have restored one key route to Tokyo and China. Also, four carriers have recently made Oakland their first stop en route from Asia. But that may not be enough to relieve the shortage of export containers in Oakland.

An import surge in the U.S. has ships waiting to offload cargo in Southern California. When they do, they offload cargo that would typically come to Oakland and then turn around and immediately go back to Asia.

The containers that could be used for exports never make it to Oakland.

Port cargo volume is typically 50% imports and 50% exports so usually enough containers exist at the Port.

Many agricultural exporters and meat producers prefer to ship their products through Oakland because it’s closer than other ports.

The container shortage has been a problem for a year. The problem recently prompted a meeting between farm producers, transportation executives and Port officials and resulted in the steps the Port is now taking.

A solution is important because the state’s agricultural export industry is worth billions of dollars.

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Bay Area

California Goes on Offensive as Omicron Variant Threat Grows 

“CA’s large-scale testing and early detection systems have found the Omicron COVID-19 variant in California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Dec. 1. “We should assume that it’s in other states as well. There’s no reason to panic — but we should remain vigilant. That means get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors.”

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In California, the Omicron variant was first detected in San Francisco on December 1.
In California, the Omicron variant was first detected in San Francisco on December 1.

By Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

Three days after Thanksgiving, Gov. Gavin Newsom went online to address the new COVID-19 Omicron variant, a version of the virus with at least 50 mutations, according to the World Health Organization.

Twenty-six of those mutations have never been detected before, scientists say.

“California is monitoring the new variant,” Newsom tweeted. “We will continue to be guided by data and science. Right now, the best way we know to protect yourself is to get vaccinated and get your booster. Go today. Don’t wait.”

The variant was first identified by a South African scientist and has since surfaced in several other Southern African and European nations and has now been detected in at least 16 states in the United States, including California.

In California, the Omicron variant was first detected in San Francisco on December 1.

Since then, Alameda County public health officials have confirmed five new cases with mild symptoms. All of them were people who attended a wedding in Wisconsin where they likely contracted the virus.

Newsom responded to the news with a tweet last Wednesday.

“CA’s large-scale testing and early detection systems have found the Omicron COVID-19 variant in California,” Newsom tweeted Dec. 1. “We should assume that it’s in other states as well. There’s no reason to panic — but we should remain vigilant. That means get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors.”

Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist, said the state has taken several steps to protect Californians and contain the variant, including “doubling down on COVID-19 vaccination and booster efforts to ensure that all Californians have access to safe, effective and free vaccines.”

Weber was speaking at a briefing organized for Black media on December 3. She said the California Department of Health is monitoring the presence of the variant throughout California and is partnering with the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support local public health departments and health care providers across the state.

“The state is also preparing to increase COVID-19 testing at airports across California for U.S. citizens and legal residents returning from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi,” she said. “These countries are where higher rates of Omicron have been observed and may shift over time.”

Last week, President Joe Biden also pushed for vaccines and boosters in preparation for this new variant on Twitter.

“As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises. For now, the best way to strengthen your protection if you’re already vaccinated is to get a booster shot, immediately,” Biden tweeted.

In a controversial move, Biden has issued a travel ban from eight African countries where the higher numbers of the variant have been reported.

“The WHO has identified a new COVID variant which is spreading through Southern Africa. As a precautionary measure, until we have more information, I am ordering air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries,” Biden tweeted.

This United States’ response has been met with some criticism from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to immediately and urgently reverse their decisions,” Ramaphosa said, arguing that the variant may have been detected in those countries, but there is no proof that it originated there.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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Commentary

COMMENTARY: Muslims in France Face Worsening Climate of Hate Under Leadership of President Macron

For France, which colonized Algeria for more than a century, the idea that people from the former colonies should live the life they want seems unbearable. Many white French people seem to have a fear that those from the former colonies may want to treat the descendants of the European French in the same way that the colonial masters treated us. Assuming always the worst for its Muslim citizens says a lot about the country and its beliefs.

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A demonstration in France by Muslims protesting their treatment under President Macron in 2020.
A demonstration in France by Muslims protesting their treatment under President Macron in 2020.

By Larbi Ben Krima

Editor’s Note: We are accustomed to hearing travel advisories telling us to avoid countries in the midst of civil war or government repression. Last month a Muslim civil rights organization warned Muslims not to travel to a country that many consider to be the birthplace of liberty. The author of this article, a French citizen, explains how France has become an oppressive place for Muslims.

I was born and raised in France to an Algerian family. I, like millions of other French citizens, heard about colonization and the mistreatment it created. There was some progress made, and now, piece by piece, that is being erased.

One year ago, in October 2020, French President Macron decided to launch his 2022 re-election campaign with a speech targeting Muslim people. He used terrorism as an excuse. Everybody in France knew it was really about politics, although the citizens of the world did not know that.

Macron’s government followed up by dissolving organizations that had criticized his Islamophobic government.

Schools, humanitarian NGO’s, mosques, publishing offices, and civil right movements with Muslim participants have been shut down by a government looking for Far Right votes in the next election.

France is still pretending to fight for rights around the world, but these rights are never really applied to its Muslim citizens, who are always seen as a Fifth Column and who always have to prove that they are French enough.

Every Muslim act is seen as a danger to the country. It seems that Muslim prayers threaten the French republic; Muslim food is seen as a challenge to the religion of other French people; and Muslim clothes are seen as an attempt to change France’s way of life. Most religions have special foods, and prayers and clothing. Having these customs should not be made so difficult for us after all these years. What’s the big deal?

For France, which colonized Algeria for more than a century, the idea that people from the former colonies should live the life they want seems unbearable. Many white French people seem to have a fear that those from the former colonies may want to treat the descendants of the European French in the same way that the colonial masters treated us. Assuming always the worst for its Muslim citizens says a lot about the country and its beliefs.

That may explain why this country, which refuses to take accountability for its colonial past, can’t accept the kids who are born and raised here.

Quoting the world-famous psychiatrist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon, “It should not be said that such and such a country is racist, but there are no lynchings or extermination camps there. The truth is, all of this and something more is on the horizon.”

We can say that racism runs deep in France’s institutions and politics, cheered on by the media, with applause from a substantial group who likes what they are hearing.

This is a country where an openly racist media pundit has growing support in his campaign for president, just as Donald Trump did.

France, which always despised the USA, has now became one of the United States of Islamophobia, along with China and India.

A former great country, known for its ideals, France has used its former glory around the world. Recently, the world has come to know what a very small country France has actually become a country that should stop preaching to others what it obviously refuses to apply to itself.

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