News from Great Britain, Libya and China

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on August 28, 2012

GREAT BRITAIN Westminster to close for repairs

The Palace of Westminster is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

LONDON – Britain’s iconic Houses of Parliament in London could close for up to five years while essential repairs are carried out, Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper said.

The [paper reported that] several options were on the table while the plumbing and electrical system are refurbished and the building is [cleaned] of asbestos. The options including leaving the Palace of Westminster for good.

“Officials are undertaking an initial study into options for the long-term upkeep of the palace,” a spokesman for parliament’s lower House of Commons said.

“It is anticipated that the results of the initial study will be considered by the House of Commons commission and the House of Lords committee by the end of the year.”

The Sunday Times said the Commons and the upper House of Lords could be evacuated for the first time since World War II, when the palace was repeatedly hit in Nazi air raids.

Options include leaving the palace, selling it and constructing a new building; constructing a temporary replica chamber on the palace grounds; or spreading the repair work out across decades of parliamentary breaks.

The interiors of the riverside Perpendicular Gothic palace, completed in 1870, have not been refurbished since the 1940s.

Parliament and the Treasury would have to approve the plans, the report said.

LIBYA – Interior minister quits after surge in violence

Fawzi Abdelali (AFP image)

TRIPOLI – Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelali resigned on Sunday after coming under fire for the performance of security forces during a surge of violence that has rocked Libya, an official from his office said.

Libyan security services have been criticized following car bombings that killed two people on the day Muslims celebrated the feast of Eid al-Fitr a week ago in Tripoli and for attacks on several Sufi [Muslim sect] shrines in the past few days.

The criticism has been led by the newly elected General National Congress, which on Sunday accused the interior ministry’s High Security Committee of being lax or even implicated in the destruction of the Sufi shrines.

Hard-line Sunni Islamists are implacably opposed to the veneration of tombs of revered Muslim figures, saying that such devotion should be reserved for Allah alone.

The Sufi sect, which practices a mystical form of Islam and has played a historic role in the affairs of Libya, has increasingly found itself in conflict with Qatari- and Saudi-trained Salafist [Muslim] preachers who consider it heretical [opposite of the true religion].

CHINA – China may be the next to land on the moon

Chinese astronauts Liu Wang (centre), Jing Haipeng (left) and Liu Yang in the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft

As the United States has scaled back its manned space program to cut costs — a move strongly criticized by Neil Armstrong, who died on Saturday — Asian nations have aggressively expanded into space exploration.

China, Japan and India all have their own space programs. India, which envisages its first manned mission in 2016, recently unveiled ambitious plans to launch a space probe that would orbit Mars.  Japan participates in the International Space Station program and launched its first lunar probe in 2007. It is planning a follow-up that it hopes will find “organic substances or minerals containing water” on an asteroid.

But experts say that China, which as recently as the 1980s was focused solely on developing satellites, is the closest to landing an astronaut on the moon.

Beijing launched its manned space program in 1999 and has developed rapidly since, sending its first astronaut into space in 2003 and completing a space walk in 2008. This year, it conducted its first manned space docking — the latest step towards setting up a space station…

…China said it was working towards landing a man on the moon — a feat so far only achieved by the United States, most recently in 1972 — although it did not give a time frame.  It will attempt to land an exploratory craft on the moon for the first time in the second half of 2013 and transmit back a survey of the lunar surface. …

China’s space program remains far behind that of the United States — as evidenced by the fact that the recent manual space docking trumpeted by Beijing was mastered by the United States in the 1960s. …

Beijing has spent about 39 billion yuan ($6.1 billion) on its manned space program since it began 20 years ago, state media have said.  It sees the program as a symbol of its rising global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

Experts, however, say national pride is just one of the motivating factors in China’s ambitious space program.  “Trips to the moon have always involved prestige, but there is also science,” said Morris Jones, an Australian space expert. “A new trend could involve mining the moon for nuclear fuel. China has made no secret of their interest in this possibility.”

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at WashingtonTimes.com on Aug. 26th and YahooNews.com on Aug. 28th.)

Questions

1. For each of the 3 countries, give the following information:
a) location/the countries that share its borders
b) the religious breakdown of the population
c) the type of government
d) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]e) the population

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for a list of continents.]

2. For GREAT BRITAIN:
a)  list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b)  Why might Great Britain’s Parliament need to close its buildings for 5 years?
c)  How would you view it if the U.S. Congress had to vacate the Capitol for 5 years for this reason?

3. For LIBYA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b)  Why did Sunni Muslims take these actions against Sufi Muslims in Libya?
c)  97% of Libyans are Muslim.  There are several different sects (denominations) of Islam, just as there are different denominations of Christianity.  Are you surprised that Muslims from differing sects would kill each other over differences in how they view certain aspects of their religion?  Explain your answer.  

4. For CHINA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) How does the Chinese government view their space program?
c)  Why should it matter to Americans if China someday surpasses our space capabilities?

NOTE: “Answers by Email” will resume September 4th. Sign-up below.


Free Answers — Sign-up here to receive a weekly email with answers.

Background

GREAT BRITAIN: 

The Palace of Westminster is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, the Palace lies on the bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, in central London. Its name derives from the neighboring Westminster Abbey.

“Westminster” has become a metonym for the UK Parliament, and the Westminster system of government has taken its name after it. The Elizabeth Tower, in particular, which is often referred to by the name of its main bell, “Big Ben”, is an iconic landmark of London and the United Kingdom in general, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and an emblem of parliamentary democracy. (from wikipedia)

LIBYA:

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya from 1969 to 2011 after seizing power in a bloodless military coup from King Idris in 1969. He styled himself as “Leader of the Revolution” and replaced the Libyan Constitution of 1951 with laws based on the political ideology he had formulated, which he called the Third International Theory and published in The Green Book.  Rising oil prices and extraction in Libya led to increasing revenues. By exporting as much oil per capita as Saudi Arabia and through various welfare programs, Libya achieved the highest living standards in Africa; Libya remained debt-free.

Critics long described Gaddafi as having been Libya’s autocrator demagogue… In the 1980s, he acquired chemical weapons, leading countries around the world to impose sanctions. Six days after the capture of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 2003 by the U.S., Gaddafi renounced Tripoli’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and welcomed international inspections to verify that he would follow through on the commitment.

In February 2011, following revolutions in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, protests against Gaddafi’s rule began. These escalated into an uprising that spread across the country, with the forces opposing Gaddafi establishing a government, based in Benghazi, named the National Transitional Council (NTC). This act led to a civil war, which precipitated military intervention by a NATO-led coalition to enforce a UN Security Council Resolution 1973 calling for a no-fly zone and protection of civilians in Libya. The assets of Gaddafi and his family were frozen, and both Interpol and the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants in June 2011 for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi, concerning crimes against humanity. Gaddafi and his forces lost the Battle of Tripoli in August and on September 16, 2011 the NTC took Libya’s seat at the UN, replacing Gaddafi. He retained control over parts of Libya, most notably the city of Sirte, to which it was presumed that he had fled. Although Gaddafi’s forces initially held out in the battle for Sirte against NATO’s bombing attacks and the NTC’s advances, Gaddafi was captured alive in Sirte by members of the Libyan National Liberation Army (NLA) after his convoy was attacked by NATO warplanes as Sirte fell on October 20, 2011. Gaddafi was then killed by NLA fighters. His 41-year leadership prior to the civil war made him the fourth-longest-serving non-royal leader since 1900, as well as the longest-serving Arab leader.

ISLAM:

  • There are approximately 1 – 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide (the population of the world is approximately 6 billion)…. Relatively high birth rates in Muslim countries continue to make Islam a fast-growing religion.
  • The largest and best known branches [denominations] of Islam are Sunni and Shi’ite.
  • Smaller groups within Islam include Sufis. There are adherents within all branches of Islam who consider some of or all of the other branches heterodox [dissenting; holding or expressing unaccepted beliefs or opinions] or not actually part of their religion.
  • Wahhabism and Salafism are movements within Sunni Islam.  Sufism is a movement within Sunni (and Shia?) Islam.  Wahhabism, Salafism and Sufism have different beliefs for how Islam should be practiced.

Resources

GREAT BRITAIN:

Visit the Palace of Westminster official website at: parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building