China Debuts War Monument, Sparks Japan Protest
China's dedication of a memorial to Korean independence fighter, Ahn Jung-geun, raised tensions in Northeast Asia this week. While Ahn is a hero in South Korea for his stance against Japanese colonial rule in 1909, in Japan he's considered a terrorist. The controversial memorial has further stirred relations already troubled by ongoing territorial disputes between the three countries. Here's Japan's public broadcaster NHK.

Reporter:
South Korea’s Foreign Minister announced on Sunday completion of hall honoring Ahn in Harbin in Northeastern China. The monument was built at the Harbin train station. That's where Ahn, a Korean nationalist, shot dead Hirobumi Ito. At the time the Korean peninsula was a protectorate of Japan. It was annexed the following year. The Japanese Foreign Ministry has lodged a protest through Chinese and South Korean embassies in Tokyo.

Yoshihide Suga:
We see Ahn Joong-geun as a terrorist who was sentenced to death for assassinating Japan’s first prime minister.

Suga also criticized the coordination between South Korea and China. He said it does not contribute to peace and cooperation in East Asia. In June of last year, South Korean President Park Geun-hye asked Chinese leaders to build the monument while on a visit to Beijing.
 
 

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Bangkok Declares State of Emergency as Protests Heat Up
Kwanchai Praipana, an outspoken leader of the so-called ‘red shirt party’ – those people who support the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra – was wounded after gunmen fired on his house. The attack came on the first day of a state of emergency imposed by Yingluck and is the latest in a string of shootings and bombings in Thailand. The newly declared state of emergency in and around the capital seems to have had no effect so far. Protesters are still occupying major roads, intersections and business districts. Here’s NHK's report.

Reporter:
The day after the government announcement the demonstrators are still in place across the capital while the authorities looked on as before.

Demonstrator:
They have no way out. That’s why they declared a state of emergency. They are trying to cover us up.

Reporter:
Since late last week, there have been bombed attacks targeting demonstrators. One person has been killed and more than 60 injured. Fears are growing over the deteriorating security situation. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has so far given no indication that she intends to remove the protestors’ camps in the wake of the emergency declaration. The ongoing security operation is being laid by the police while the Thai military is remaining neutral and observing developments. Meanwhile on Wednesday the election committee asked the constitutional courts to decide if it has the right to delay the upcoming election.

The current tensions highlight more than 8 years of division in Thai society. Prime minister Yingluck and her brother, the self-exiled ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, still have strong support in rural parts of northern and northeastern Thailand. The anti-Thaksin side relies mostly on the urban middle class for support.

Despite the current state of emergency, the protestors are going nowhere and are sticking to their demand that next month general election be postponed. They also say deep reforms are necessary before any poll can be held. However, if the government decides to use force to crack down on the protest movement, the potential for even greater unrest is clear to see.
 
 

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Thailand's Opposition Rejects Elections, Ramps up Protests
Thailand protestsThailand's political crisis does not seem to be easing. Prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra had offered to meet with her opponents to try to solve the impasse. But they won't talk. They want Yingluck to resign and cancel next month's elections. She's refused and said elections would go ahead February 2nd. Meantime, big street protests continue in Bangkok. Here's Japan's public broadcaster, NHK.

Reporter:
The prime minister offered to meet with the opposition on Wednesday to discuss an Election Commission proposal to delay the general election. However, opposition leaders are boycotting the poll entirely, and declined to join the discussion. Yingluck said the election would be held on February 2nd as scheduled.

Yingluck Shinawatra:
It is our job to hold an election in accordance with the law and the constitution.

Reporter:
The leader of the anti-government demonstrators, Suthep Thaugsuban, expressed his opposition.

Suthep Thaugsuban:
I don't know who was at the meeting today. But the people don't agree with holding an election under the same rules and same laws. Such an election would allow vote-buying and vote-rigging and would be impure and unfair.

Reporter:
The protesters surrounded several government offices in a bid to prevent civil servants from getting to work. The anti-government side, which draws largely on the country's urban middle class for its support, insists the election be postponed until political reforms are made. But Yingluck's Pheu Thai party is reportedly ahead in the race to polling day, with especially strong support in the rural areas. The shutdown campaign had been relatively peaceful since the shutdown campaign began on Monday. However, police say at least three people were injured in a shooting near the rally site on Wednesday morning. No one was hurt by an explosion near the house of former Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, now leader of the largest opposition party. No suspects have been identified.
 
 

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Thailand: Protesters React to Surprise Election Announcement
It's been another wild week in Thailand. For more than a month, protesters have tried to oust Prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Tens of thousands occupied government buildings, trying to shut down the government. In response, she called surprise elections to, in her words "let the people decide the direction of the country and the governing majority." Thais will go to the polls on February 2. Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported on the effect that this announcement had on the demonstations.

Reporter:
The sit-in continued on Thursday around the prime minister's offices. A few of the demonstrators scaled the compound walls but didn't enter any official building. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is asking police and military chiefs for talks to determine their allegiance. Despite a long history of coup attempts the army is currently refusing to take sides.

Protester:
I don't have much hope for the meeting, because I don't think they will accept the invitation. The armed forces chiefs want a new election, but we don't want that.

Reporter:
Yingluck, who received a warm welcome in Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand, offered on Monday to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections. Yingluck's support is strong in the rural north and northeast, making her the most likely winner of the poll due in February next year. When in government, her brother Thaksin brought in policies designed to support farming communities there. However, middle class city dwellers who formed the bulk of the protest movement are calling for the establishment of an unelected council to appoint Thailand's next political leaders. That said, protest leaders have yet to make a formal announcement on whether or not they will back the election.
 
 

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Are South Korea's Singing Bullies Promoting School Violence?
 
 

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Stock Fights: Korean Store Owners Push Back Against Corporations

 
 

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FAQ: Al Jazeera English and the Future of World News on Link TV

 

Is Link TV still offering "Al-Jazeera English"?

No. Beginning Aug. 5, 2013, Link TV will not be offering Al Jazeera English anymore. Link TV was notified by Al Jazeera America that the AJE feed would no longer be available to any clients in the continental US. We were one of the first distributors of Al Jazeera content in North America. We have valued Al Jazeera's partnership over the past three years and wish them success.

 

Why did they discontinue the feed and where can I find "Al-Jazeera English" now?

Upon acquiring Current TV, Al Jazeera has a new distribution strategy in North America which does not include KCETLink or any other American distributor. Al Jazeera America is launching its own American news channel. For more information, please visit www.aljazeera.com.

 

What news program will replace "Al-Jazeera English" on your channel?

We are proud to have a strong international news and public affairs offering, which includes LinkAsia, Deutsche Welle (Germany), France 24 (France), and a variety of programs from leading Asian public broadcaster NHK.  We also offer Latin Pulse radio, as well as our cutting edge Link TV World News mobile app. Funded by the Bertha Foundation, the free app culls content from more than 125 video news outlets, eyewitnesses on the ground, and more than 50,000 global news sources.

 

What is France 24?

France 24 is leading 24/7 global news authority based in France with more than 1,000 correspondents covering news worldwide, including France, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia/Pacific. Offering a diversity of opinion, debate and viewpoints, the channel is available in its different languages on the main satellite positions and commercial feeds (satellite, cable, IPTV and mobile).

 

Why don't you have any news from the Middle East?

We were not able to identify a news program from that region of the world on par with the quality and caliber of coverage we would choose to put on our air. Link TV recognizes the importance of presenting the latest news and information coming from the dynamic Middle East, and assure you that our world news offering delivers the latest news and current affairs from that region presented by multiple leading broadcasters. That said, we will continue to search for a suitable source based in the Middle East.

 
 

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Report from Chennai: Independent Music in India and Indian Ocean

I first became acquainted with Sonya Mazumdar as a voice at one end of a US-India Skype session about Link's licensing of "Laya Project" a dazzling musical journey around the areas devastated by the massive 2004 Tsunami. The newly formed Indian production company and record label EarthSync India had just released the film as its first endeavor. The haunting travelogue garnered honors over the intervening years, and when EarthSync launched its spinoff website IndiEarth Sonya contacted me again to see if I would allow their site to stream some of my relevant videoblogs. But of course I would!

 

Then, many months later (yet still rather suddenly) came an invitation from Sonya to attend the first IndiEarth XChange in Chennai. Rarely one to refuse an invitation to a new place, I found myself taking the long trip to Southeast India, to report on another maiden voyage from the young, pioneering Earthsync/IndiEarth. This time it was a meeting of international and local media, with film screenings and musical performances, along with panel discussions and networking to be held at the Park Chennai Hotel. It was an ambitious project (intended to be a prototype) requiring its own networking and funding, plus massive coordination. The aim was to lay the foundation for a network of dedicated professionals supporting independent music and cinema in India.

 

 

It was a hectic three days, and the large turnout participated in vigorous panels about the obstacles and opportunities for music and film in Southeast Asia and Oceania, as well as the remarkably varied musical fare. What made it exciting for me, was the un-Western media presence. Aside from Indian, there was a significant Australian media contingent. In particular, the magnificently feisty Kate Welsman an Australian Public Radio deejay was quick to point out that there was a noticeable shift in markets of all kinds from West to East, and music was a part of that market. It made sense. At the same time it was also made clear by both the musicians and film-makers, that the audience demographics for Southeast Asia needed to be cultivated, and weaned away from a straight diet of Bollywood, which still holds the business reins in a rigidly controlled grip.

 

For my part, I ran around taking as much video as I could, and focusing of course, on music. But I simply could not catch it all. So what you are seeing in my video is just a wee fraction of the music that was performed in the lobby, bar, main stage and other impromptu venues.

 

In all, I was very excited by the spirit of IndiEarth Exchange. The people who were gathered together were bright, creative, energetic and pro-active. I felt challenged and stimulated, as well as entertained. I believe something will come from this. It may not come immediately, but it will come.

 

For more information about EarthSync India, visit earthsync.com.

 
For the complete performance of song by Parvathy and Lakshman Das Baul, click here.

 

For complete song by Karthick Iyer, click here.

 

For more of Michal's world music videos visit inter-muse.com.

 
 

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Seoul's Youth: Gimme Shelter!

 
 

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A Gas Boom, a Farm Bust in Pennsylvania

When Sheila Russell decided to move back to her ancestral home in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, she wanted to start a new life. A seventh-generation Russell, whose family had settled the land in 1796, the last year of George Washington’s presidency, she left her corporate job at a catalog company to do what she loved best: farming.

There was only one problem: shale gas. As luck would have it, the Russell farm happened to sit on top of the Marcellus shale, a large underground formation rich in natural gas. In 2010, just as Ms. Russell was embarking on her new career in organic farming, Chesapeake Energy drilled two shale-gas wells across the road, less a thousand feet from the farm.

Although not worried at first and even hopeful that future royalties from the gas may help her expand her business, Ms. Russell soon found herself in a nightmare, when she discovered that one of the wells on her property had been leaking methane gas into the ground, due to a faulty casing, for over a year.

Today, Sheila Russell has stopped drinking the water from her private well and even refuses to water her produce with it, preferring instead a nearby spring-fed pond. Water tests have shown elevated levels of methane and metals, still within state norms, but she does not want to take any chances.

"It's a concern for me, it's a concern for my customers," she says. "We all thought [the gas] was a lot of money coming and that it was safe. And it’s neither safe, nor a money-maker. Do I stay on this seventh-generation farm and keep it going? I don’t know."

Sheila Russell's case is hardly an exception. Bradford County, a bucolic region in northern Pennsylvania full of woodlands, rolling hills, and pastures dotted by red barns and hay bales, with a population of just 63,000 people, has been undergoing a massive industrial transformation for the past few years, as both American and international companies have joined the rush for gas.

This is not the first natural-resource boom in Bradford County. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, coal mining and logging were big economic drivers -- until the coal ran out and the hills were hills were stripped bare -- but the shale gas may prove to be the biggest industry yet.

About 2,000 shale-gas wells have been drilled and permitted in the county so far, making it the most heavily drilled region in Pennsylvania and the Marcellus as a whole. And while the economic benefits for companies, larger leaseholders, and some local businesses have been significant, the gas rush threatens to undermine the venerable farming and dairy operations in the area, while creating a host of environmental and social problems.

The changes are hard to ignore. From a sleepy Pennsylvania town on the banks of the Susquehanna River, Towanda, the county's seat, has metamorphosed into a real boomtown, with industry trucks and large pickups jamming the single main street. Crime has gone up by about 40 percent, while rents and food prices have skyrocketed.

Meanwhile, new restaurants and hotels have sprung up along the river valley to service the rig and pipeline workers, many of them coming here from as far as Texas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.

Since 2008, when drilling for shale gas began in the county, revenues from sales tax have jumped up 61 percent, while unemployment has hovered at around six percent, lower than the national average. So far, local landowners have received $160 million in leases, which have boosted spending, as well as the county's tax base.

"The shale gas industry has had a very positive economic impact on the region" says Anthony Ventello, the executive director of Progress Authority, the local chamber of commerce, pointing out that the gas industry continues to bring in new investments. A new 800 MW gas-fired power plant, worth between 600 and 800 million dollars, has been already planned, while other, smaller gas-related projects are soon to follow.

"We're looking to create a value-added economy and not just ship natural gas out of here like a third-world country," he says.

 

Yet, behind the upbeat statistics, a darker side lurks. Blowouts, toxic spills, water contamination, and gas migration have accompanied development.

Chesapeake Energy, the company with the most substantial presence, was fined $900,000 -- the largest environmental fine in the state’s history -- for allowing gas migration to contaminate the water of 16 families in the county in 2010. Later, a blowout of one of the company’s wells caused large amounts of "produced water" -- liquid waste associated with shale gas extraction -- to spill into Towanda creek. In Bradford County, according to the Department of Environmental Protection, overall there have been more than 600 violations so far.

Most often, accidents occur due to faulty casing and cementing, with gas and a variety of dangerous metals migrating into the water table. The industry calculates that six percent of all new wells have some kind of casing or cementing problem, but in reality that percentage could be much higher.

Carol French, a long-time dairy farmer, experienced the adverse consequences of shale-gas drilling first hand, when her well water turned white and murky in 2011. Soon, her whole family started having skin rashes, while her 24-year old daughter fell extremely ill with intestinal, liver and spleen problems (she quickly improved when she moved away from the farm). Meanwhile, the family's cattle began suffering from skin rashes and breeding issues.

"I got to see my farm lose 90 percent of its property value," she says. “I’m losing my milk market and probably I won’t be able to sell my cows. The gas industry had negatively impacted our health, our water, our business, our society."

Mrs. French has made the conscious decision to keep her dairy operation going, despite the fact that there are about 340 shale-gas wells within a ten-mile radius of her farm. Many of her neighbors, on the other hand, have simply opted to take the money from their gas leases and sell their dairy herds. Out of about 12 dairy farmers in the immediate vicinity, only three have kept their farms running, according to Mrs. French's estimates. Even the local milk hauler has gone on to work as a truck driver for the shale-gas industry.

Another serious impact has been the fragmentation of farmland by the wells pads, compressor stations, and the thousands of miles of pipelines already crisscrossing the hills or currently under construction.

Certainly, there are other factors contributing to the decline of dairy farms in Bradford County, beyond the gas industry. Low milk prices and expensive feed have kept the business on the edge of survival for years and many have seen the windfall from gas leases and royalties as the perfect exit.

The choice was clear for Howard Keir, a neighbor of Carol French. After leasing the mineral rights of his property to Chesapeake Energy, he immediately sold off his dairy herd. He believes shale-gas extraction is generally safe and today has three wells on his property, out of which he soon expects to receive royalties.

"With the price of milk going mostly down, farmers were going out of business anyway, so you can’t blame it all on the industry," he says.

Anthony Ventello, of the chamber of commerce, agrees. "Don’t get me wrong, but farming is doomed, no matter what you do. It has to do with milk prices mostly. Yes, things will change, but I don’t see that as a danger."

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some farmers use the proceeds from gas exploration to upgrade their operations, but the general trend has been in the opposite direction.

A 2012 study by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences draws a direct correlation between the decline of cow numbers and dairy production in areas with higher drilling activity. Between 2007 and 2010, in counties with 150 or more gas wells cow numbers have decreased by 18.7 percent on average, compared to only 1.2 percent decrease in counties with no Marcellus wells. In Bradford County the decline has been 18.8 percent for that time period.

Timothy Kelsey, professor of agricultural economics and a co-author of the study, sees a danger for the entire dairy industry in the region if the decline continues.

"If the number of farms and agricultural activity fall too low, these essential supporting businesses [like feed stores, large animal veterinarians, machinery dealers, and agricultural processors] will leave or quit, making it difficult for remaining farmers to access needed inputs and markets and thus remain in business," he writes.

If such domino effect takes place and farming and dairy production in Bradford County collapse along with the entire supply chain, even the large financial inflow from the shale gas industry might not be able to make up for the difference.

A law that came into effect last year in Pennsylvania, Act 13, tries to mitigate some of the negative effects of shale gas drilling by providing an impact fee. In 2012, Bradford County received $8.2 million with another $6.8 million projected for 2013.

"It's a chunk of change that Bradford County never had before," says Mark Smith, one of the county commissioners. "Is it enough? I don't think we know that answer yet."

Without a doubt shale gas has made a serious contribution to the economy of Bradford County and Pennsylvania as a whole, yet risking a sustainable industry like farming for an unsustainable one like fossil-fuel extraction may prove too expensive in the end.

Already a bust is on the horizon: drilling in the county has seen a substantial decline, from 408 shale-gas wells drilled in 2011 to 149 well through November of 2012, due to low gas prices. The construction of thousands of miles of pipeline continues in preparation for the new boom when prices pick up, but it is far from certain whether farming in the area could recover so easily.

"The story is always different at the kitchen table where they come to sign you on than it is out in the field," says Bruce Kennedy, a long-time farmer whose family roots in Pennsylvania go back 200 years. In 2011, three accidents related to shale gas extraction happened on his property, including a large diesel spill.

"My grandfather always taught me to leave a place better than you found it. I don’t mind people going after the gas, but it doesn't entitle them to abuse the place. You have to be a good steward of the land."

 

Reporting for this article was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and Calkins Media. Dimiter Kenarov is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul, Turkey. To learn more about the impacts of fracking, visit Link TV's ISSUE: Fracking page.

 
 

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