The Obama administration has leapt to the defence of Google after the internet search giant threatened to pull the plug on its Chinese operations.
Google has threatened threat to quit China
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, demanded “an explanation” for Beijing of Google’s allegation that its Gmail email system was infiltrated. “The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy,” she said.
Robert Gibbs, Mr Obama’s press secretary, emphasised that the President backed internet freedom and said that Google had co-ordinated with the Obama administration before it had acted.
The alleged cyber attacks have further strained Sino-US relations that are already fraying over issues of trade, currency, climate change and arms sales to Taiwan.
“We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions,” Mrs Clinton said.
Mrs Clinton had also met executives from Google and Microsoft, as well as with Cisco Systems, which provides much of China’s internet infrastructure, to discuss how to stop countries from “stifling” access to information, the state department added.
Next week the US is to launch a new technology policy to help citizens in other countries to gain access to an uncensored internet.
The Chinese authorities said they were seeking clarification over Google’s demand it be allowed to operate its Google.cn search engine free from the increasingly draconian censorship of the Great Firewall of China.
China has spent millions trying to project it’s ‘soft power’, however analysts said its rulers now faced a choice between protecting its power at home and suffering the embarrassment of being rejected by one of the free world’s biggest brands with negative consequences for the investment climate.
“It is setting us up for a clash, and it’s interesting to see who backs down. It’s the US versus China, but the companies will be lobbying,” said Chris McNally, a China analyst at the East-West Centre in Hawaii.
A spokesman for Google said the company was ‘in talks’ with the authorities, while outside Google’s offices in Beijing a handful of citizens braved the cold to lay flowers ‘in mourning’ at the prospect of Google’s departure from China.
Despite hopes that China would start to relax freedom of speech restrictions after the 2008 Olympics, China has in fact tightened of internet controls, blocking popular as social networkings sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
The issue of censorship was raised by the US President Barack Obama on his maiden visit to China last November when he told an online town hall that he was “a big supporter of non-censorship.”
“I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free internet – or unrestricted internet access – is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged,” he said, to the evident irritation of his hosts.
The decision by Google to break ranks from other big corporations doing business in China and openly criticise the country’s autocratic leadership comes after four rocky years during which Google was forced to compromise its core belief in the free-flow of information.
Announcing its sudden change of heart on the company’s blogsite, David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, said: “These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered – combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the Web – have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China.
“We are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all,” he said.
Human rights groups, which have criticised Google’s decision to submit Chinese censorship after setting up in China in 2006, applauded the company’s stand. The New York-based Human Rights Watch described it as “an important step” to protect human rights online.
“Through international pressure, finally a big business in the West has come to realise its own conscience,” said the prominent Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng who lives in exile in the United States after 18 years in prison in China.
“Some Western businesses thought that by making compromises with the Chinese communists’ regime, they could do business as they wished.
However, this is impossible because the Chinese government would not be satisfied.”
Traders Protest FG’s Move To Restore Festac Town
The move by the Federal Government to restore Festac Town in Lagos to its original status has sparked up protest among traders occupying Agboju Amuwo Planks and Building Materials Market.
The traders on Wednesday, protested at the FHA office in Festac Town against the demolition of their market, following the demolition of illegal structures by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) ahead of the restoration.
The Tide recalls that there was a petition to the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, in 2020 about illegal structures that had taken over Festac Town.
Speaking at a stakeholders’ meeting on the restoration of Festac town organised by FHA, last year, its South-West Zonal Manager, Mr Akintola Olagbemiro, said, “This year, we commenced the restoration of Festac town, following the consent judgement from the court against illegal occupants of Festac land.
“Our action is to save the residents from the insecurity that has taken over the entire Festac town as a result of illegal structures everywhere”.
The chairman of allottees of First Gate to Third Gate, Mr Kole Olatunji, in his remarks at the meeting said the land from First Gate to Third Gate was allocated between 1985 and 1999, noting that with the consent judgment, original owners of the land as allocated should take over their plots.
But the chairman of plank market, Muhammed Bello, protested the seven-day notice given to traders to vacate the place without alternative arrangements.
Bello said: “How do they expect us to remove our wares in seven days?
“What we want is that they should allow us to remain there and we will pay whatever amount they ask us to pay”.
Speaking in the same vein, the chairman of Cane Chair and Furniture Association, Emmanuel Okoye said: “We need freedom. Let them tell us where they want us to stay. That place was swampy. We filled the place with several millions of Naira which we got as loans.
“We also rely on loans to do our business. Whatever the government wants us to pay; we are ready to pay to remain there. We have been there for 27 years. What we lost to the demolition is over N300 million”.
Fuel Tanker Explosion Kills Five, Injures Two In Ogun
No fewer than five persons were on Wednesday burnt to death, while two others sustained first degree of injury in a fuel tanker explosion at Ajilete, along Owode-Idiroko road, in Yewa South local government area of Ogun State.
Eyewitness accounts revealed that a truck bearing 33,000 litres of petroleum product was descending the steep portion of the road when its tank suddenly detached from truck’s body and tumbled to the ground with a bang.
The explosion, the witnesses said, killed five persons on the spot, while two other persons were injured.
The Tide learnt that the seven victims were all residents of the area where the accident occurred.
Confirming the incident, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) Commander, Idiroko Unit, Akinwunmi Olaluwoye, said five deaths were recorded in the accident which occurred at about 8.15 am on Wednesday.
According to him, the remains of the dead had been claimed by their families.
He disclosed that a bus and a motorcycle were also caught in a web of the explosion and razed.
He said, “no vehicle rammed into the tanker. The tank dropped off from the back of the tanker and exploded. The number of persons involved are seven; five dead, two injured.
“The driver had taken away the head of the truck as at the time we got there. But we have allowed the police to take charge and handle that aspect”.
Travellers To Access $4,000 As CBN Boosts Forex Supplies
Nigerians travelling abroad can now access a maximum amount of $4,000 foreign exchange from banks following the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) announcement to increase forex supplies.
The CBN had said in a recent statement that it had concluded plans to increase the amount of foreign exchange allocated to banks to meet legitimate needs.
This followed the warning by the CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, to Deposit Money Banks to desist from denying customers the opportunity to purchase foreign exchange.
The purposes to access forex included Personal Travel Allowance, Basic Travel Allowance, tuition fees, and medical payments as well as Small and Medium Enterprises transactions or for the repatriation of Foreign Direct Investment proceeds, the CBN had stated.
Sources from some of the banks said those travelling on business trips could also access a maximum amount of $5,000 for each trip.
At a virtual Bankers’ Committee meeting last week, the bankers discussed how the CBN intended to assist with forex to ensure availability for the upcoming summer period and the return of students to school in September.
The CBN also said the BDCs would continue to have their weekly allocations.
The committee observed that the rates were going up.
It stated, “The CBN has said that all the banks must make availability at all times and anyone who wants to buy BTA, PTA, medical fees, student school fees and all the eligible invisible purchases to ensure that Nigerians are not forced to go and queue in the parallel market.
“So what the Central Bank is doing is to encourage all banks to make sure that there is available forex at all times, and that his information should be communicated on all our platforms.
“We are asking our customers to come to the branches and for BTA, for example, present the required documents, which are basically your international passport, your visa, your valid ticket and fill up the form in the bank.
“And what we have been instructed to do is ensure that we don’t turn anybody back and that we should request from the Central Bank once we exhaust the forex that we have.
“The idea is to have a hitch-free summer period and the resumption for children to go back to school. The idea is to ensure there is less pressure on the forex and then the rates will come down”.
Speaking during the virtual meeting, the Group Managing Director, Access Bank, Herbert Wigwe, said, “I think again as part of the Central Bank’s role in terms of price stability and the need to support small and medium enterprises, there was highlight of the need for banks to go and support SMEs who import small raw materials for them to set up their businesses”.
The Managing Director, Ecobank, Patrick Akinwuntan, said, “All banks are available to ensure forex need is met.”
Managing Director, Sterling Bank, Abubakar Suleiman, said the CBN had provided sufficient foreign exchange to meet the needs of all legitimate Nigerian travellers and therefore, the idea of going to any other market should not arise at all.
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