What do the late Pink Floyd vocalist Syd Barrett, the Canadian actor Erica Durance, and Brazilian model Felipe Berto have in common?

They all suddenly appear to be big supporters of China‘s policies in Tibet.

Not that they had any say in the matter. Chinese propagandists have opened scores of fake accounts on Twitter to promote Beijing’s line on the ethnically-divided Himalayan region, many of which were suspended by Twitter on Tuesday.

The accounts – identified by London-based advocacy group Free Tibet – use names such as Tom Hugo, Ken Peters and Felix James. Some apparently lifted their profile pictures from stock photo websites, other active accounts and the internet at large to include images of Barrett, Berto and Durance (who played Lois Lane in the Superman-inspired American TV series Smallville), as well as myriad western models.

The tweets – written in English and Chinese – attack political leaders’ meetings with the Dalai Lama, advertise rail links between China’s east coast and Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and link to videos of Tibetans dancing in “exotic dress” on state-run television.

Others celebrate claims of progress under Chinese rule (“Tibetans hail bumper harvest of highland barley,” Tom Hugo posted in October 2013, below a picture of a smiling Tibetan woman holding a sickle) while a subset trumpet development projects in the troubled north-western region Xinjiang.

Harder to categorise are posts that are merely strings of gibberish.

While the accounts cannot be conclusively linked to Communist party authorities, the sheer scope of the initiative suggests state backing, said Free Tibet’s press and media manager Alistair Currie. “It’s hard to imagine anyone getting any benefit from this project other than the Chinese government,” he said.

Although Twitter and Facebook are blocked in mainland China – the government banned them when riots spread across Tibet in 2008 – municipal governments have begun to launch Facebook campaigns to draw international tourists, and state-run newspapers maintain robust Twitter feeds.

Free Tibet found that the fake accounts had overlapping qualities. Most of their names were comprised of two western-sounding first names strung together. About 90 of them were also closely intertwined – they followed one another and frequently retweeted each other’s posts, often identical statements and links.

“Then there was a larger circle of accounts with more followers, some of whom looked genuine, many of whom were extremely suspicious,” Currie said. “Based on our original research, we think the scope of this is beyond the capacity of our organisation to investigate.”

On Monday night, before the accounts were suspended, Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, urging the service to bar authoritarian governments from using it to spread propaganda.

Tibetans in Tibet “face even greater restrictions on their online activity than China’s own citizens and can receive sentences of up to life imprisonment for online or email content criticising China’s regime,” she wrote. “China has the power and resources to use Twitter for its own ends and Tibetans do not. In the words of concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel, ‘neutrality helps the oppressor, never the oppressed’.”

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It’s the last day that the Commons is sitting before the summer recess and, as usual, that means that we’re get a host of announcements that ministers need to present to parliaments while they’ve got the chance. As you can see from the order paper (pdf), there are 31 written ministerial statements coming.

We’ve also got an oral statement from Nicky Morgan, the new education secretary, about the Peter Clarke inquiry into the Birmingham “Trojan horse” affair. My colleague Patrick Wintour revealed the contents of the draft report last week. I’ll be covering the statement in detail.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9am: Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, speaks at the Commonwealth Games Business Conference in Glasgow.

10.30am: Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, gives evidence to the Commons culture committee about the 2022 World Cup.

12.30pm: Nicky Morgan gives a statement to the Commons on the “Trojan horse” affair.

1.15pm: Theresa May, the home secretary, gives a statement to the Commons on police leadership and integrity.

2pm: George Osborne, the chancellor, speaks at the Commonwealth Games Business Conference.

2pm: Marina Litvinenko, the widow of murdered spy Alexander Litvinenko, holds a press conference. Theresa May is due to announce a new inquiry into his death.

2.45pm: James Brokenshire, the immigration minister, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee.

There is also a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels this morning, where further sanctions against Russia will be discussed. Mark Tran will be covering this on our MH17 live blog.

And the annual report from David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, is being published today. As Alan Travis reports, Anderson has said he thinks terrorist legislation is too wide-ranging, because it can apply to political journalists and bloggers who publish material that the authorities consider dangerous to public safety.

And David Cameron is hosting a Girl Summit, where new measures to tackle female genital mutiliation are being announced.

As usual, I will also be flagging up any breaking political news, posting summaries with a round-up of all the day’s developments, and highlighting the most interesting political articles on the web.

If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

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More than 3,000 homes are to be built at the eastern edge of Canary Wharf after Tower Hamlets council gave the green light for the project, the first extension to the financial district since the banking crisis struck in 2008.

Canary Wharf Group, which is majority-owned by Songbird Estates, has been granted planning permission to build 30 new buildings, comprising 4.9m sq ft of homes, offices and shops, at Wood Wharf, east of the existing Canary Wharf estate. Its centrepiece is a cylindrical residential skyscraper on the most south westerly corner of the site, designed by Herzog de Meuron, the Swiss architects behind Tate Modern (including its extension which is being built at the moment) and the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium in Beijing. About a quarter of homes will be earmarked for affordable housing, built around 9 acres (3.6 hectares) of parks and public squares, including hundreds of metres of dockside paths.

Developers have been rushing to build more luxury homes in London to exploit booming property prices, with Canary Wharf Group just starting construction of its first residential building in the financial district, the 58-storey Newfoundland tower (nicknamed the Diamond tower) with 566 apartments, which is due to be completed in 2018.

More than 100,000 workers commute to Canary Wharf, which opened in the early 1990s, each work day. Sir George Iacobescu, chief executive of Canary Wharf Group, reckons the eastern extension will almost double the number of people working and living in the area within the next ten years.

Work on the Wood Wharf site is expected to start this autumn with the first buildings occupied at the end of 2018, to coincide with the arrival of Crossrail, which will run east-west across London.

Homes at Wood Wharf will range from park-side townhouses to a selection of towers. The new area will also include offices targeted at the creative media, technology and telecom sector, with a 420-place primary school, an NHS medical centre, a hotel and more than 100 shops, restaurants and cafes.

The project, the biggest in the developer’s pipeline, is expected to create more than 17,000 jobs during its construction, ranging from architects and planners to electricians, with 3,500 earmarked for local residents. Canary Wharf Group paid £90m to buy outright control of the Wood Wharf site two years ago from its joint venture partners Waterways and Ballymore.

Canary Wharf is home to the global headquarters of Barclays and HSBC, and the London headquarters of US investment banks JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley. It will lose the Financial Conduct Authority, which is moving to Stratford by 2018.

Venturing beyond the Docklands, Canary Wharf Group, whose parent Songbird is part-owned by Qatar Holding, the investment arm of the Gulf state, is also revamping London’s South Bank around the Shell Centre tower in partnership with Qatari Diar, the state’s property investment company.

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School coach overturns into a ditch in Norfolk

Posted by MereNews On July - 22 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

A school coach has overturned into a ditch on a rural road in Norfolk.

Emergency services attended the scene of the incident on the A10 at Hilgay.

Norfolk police said the children and teachers on board, who are from Cambridge, suffered only minor injuries.

A spokesman said: “The children and teachers were able to leave the coach immediately.

The driver had to be cut free from the coach and is being treated for back injuries.”

No other vehicles were involved in the incident, which happened shortly before 11am.

The road remained closed in both directions with diversions in place at Steels Drove and Bridge Street, the force added.

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A suspect meat scandal in China engulfed Starbucks and Burger King on Tuesday and spread to Japan where McDonald’s said a Chinese supplier accused of selling expired beef and chicken had provided 20% of the meat in its chicken nuggets.

As Chinese authorities expanded their investigation of the Shanghai-based company Husi Food, which had its main processing plant sealed on Monday, food safety officers said they would inspect its facilities and meat sources in five provinces in central, eastern and southern China.

The scandal surrounding Husi, which is owned by the OSI Group of Aurora, Illinois, has added to a string of safety scares in China over milk, medicines and other goods.

Food safety violations will be “severely punished”, the Chinese food agency said on its website.

Starbucks said on Tuesday it had taken sandwiches made with chicken that originated at Husi off the shelves and Burger King said it had stopped using hamburgers received from a supplier that used products from Husi.

The pizza chain Papa John’s also said it would stop using meat from Husi. In Japan, McDonald’s said it had stopped selling McNuggets at more than 1,300 outlets that used chicken supplied by Husi. It said the company had been supplying chicken to it since 2002.

A Shanghai broadcaster, Dragon TV, reported on Sunday that Husi had repackaged old beef and chicken and put new expiration dates on them. In a statement, Husi said it was “appalled by the report” and would cooperate with the investigation. It promised to share the results with the public.

“Our company management believes this to be an isolated event, but takes full responsibility for the situation and will take appropriate actions swiftly and comprehensively,” Husi said.

Food and drug safety is an unusually sensitive issue in China following scandals over the past decade in which infants, hospital patients and others have been killed or made ill by fake or adulterated milk powder, drugs and other goods.

Foreign fast-food brands are seen as more reliable than Chinese competitors, though local brands have made big improvements in quality.

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Manchester United will invite Rory McIlroy to parade the Claret Jug at Old Trafford after his victory at the Open on Sunday.

The lifelong United supporter will most likely show off the trophy at the club’s opening home game of the season, the visit of Swansea City on 16 August.

After claiming his third major – to follow the US Open and USPGA – at Hoylake, which is on the Wirral on Merseyside, McIlroy joked: “Even being a Manchester United fan I got great support this week and I want to thank everyone for that.”

The quip drew good natured boos from fans at the course. McIlroy can expect a raucous reception at Old Trafford.

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In San Francisco, the centre of the US tech revolution, restaurant workers are lobbying for a minimum wage increase. In response, a conservative lobby group that campaigns on behalf of the restaurant industry threatened to replace the workers with iPads.

Restaurant workers already claim food stamps at twice the rate of the rest of the US population because their wages are so low. Because of this, after they fall prey to the march of the tablets, America’s waiters and waitresses could be the subjects of yet another social experiment: in a recent thought-bubble, Google engineer and activist Justine Tunney suggested last month that food stamps should be replaced with Soylent, a grey nutritional slurry mooted as a total meal replacement, to keep poor Americans “healthy and productive”.

Soylent was rapidly accepted by the Silicon Valley technorati, who backed the project’s Kickstarter to the tune of $1m. They consume it as an exercise in minimalist purity: “what if you never had to worry about food again?” Really, we’re looking at the creation of two worlds – and that’s theirs. In ours, we’ll never have to worry about food again either, because we’ll be gulping down mandatory tasteless nutrition sludge we didn’t want, after being forced out of a job by a tablet computer.

Give poor people @soylent so they can be healthy and productive. If you’re on food stamps, maybe you’re unhealthy and need to eat better.

— Justine Tunney (@JustineTunney) May 13, 2014

This conflict – between consumers of technology and the geeks who pull us forward into uncharted sociocultural territory – is starting to become more pointed. We trained ourselves to value Facebook’s “open society” without privacy; we accepted the furtive mobile phone check as appropriate punctuation for a face-to-face conversation; we even put up with 3D cinema for a time. But this is too much.

Now the blowback has arrived. The first signs of the emerging tech utopia we were always told about don’t look so great if you can’t code. Instead, it’s hard to escape the feeling that we’re set to fall into obnoxious technological traps predicated on the easy abandonment of basic human experiences like eating or working.

The Soylent slurry, which bypasses the tactile experience of eating, isn’t that far away conceptually from Google Glass, which projects data from apps directly onto the retina. And the cherished pantheon of Glass Explorers, the software developers who test drive Glass outside the hermetic confines of Google’s product labs, behave in a similar way to Soylent evangelists.

Soylent, the crowdfunding-backed food substitute. Photograph: Julio Miles/Soylent

There are surveillance cameras everywhere, but the operators are operating them remotely; Google Glass straps the CCTV to the operator’s face. This was made very real during the saga of Sarah Slocum, who was attacked in a San Francisco bar for wearing Glass. “You’re killing the city,” a woman said to Slocum before the attack, rehearsing the theme that tech workers are ruining San Francisco’s culture. “I wanna get this white trash, this trash on tape”, Slocum replied as she had Google’s designer frames ripped off her face in the middle of filming.

People’s distaste for Glass isn’t primarily about privacy, any more than attacks on Google buses in the Bay Area are about road usage. Nor are they a “neo-luddite” fear of disembodied technological encroachment. The backlash against Glass is the implied rejection of the kind of casual sociopathy which leads a person to become a surveillance camera, to put a computer between themselves and their every interaction with other people. The philosophy of Glass is inward looking. It improves the life of the wearer at the expense of those around them.

The shared norms that govern human interaction are fragile enough without that kind of constant interference. We know that, because of the outrage over Facebook’s latest entry into this technological carnival of horrors: the “emotion contagion” experiment, which manipulated the news content certain users saw to toy with their emotions.

In response to the outrage, Duncan Watts, a researcher for Microsoft, wrote that:

Remember: the initial trigger for the outrage over the Facebook study was that it manipulated the emotions of users. But we are being manipulated without our knowledge or consent all the time – by advertisers, marketers, politicians – and we all just accept that as a part of life. The only difference between the Facebook study and everyday life is that the researchers were trying to understand the effect of that manipulation.

In Watts’ strange logic, we are manipulated and studied secretly, and resign ourselves to it. In other words, we already agreed to the experiment writ large merely by using Facebook (or for that matter, by being alive in a space where an advertisement is posted). But we don’t want it to be too obvious, or we get mad.

“Would you prefer a world in which we are having our emotions manipulated, but where the manipulators ignore the consequences of their own actions?” Watts asked. But to whose benefit?

A divide is growing between the people who wholeheartedly embrace a radically new, radically self-centred vision of human life, and the people who do not. The internal lives of the tech elite, centred on the labour-saving innovations of Silicon Valley, are at odds with semi-atavistic conceptions of how people interact. Traditions and shared values are redundant, inefficient, and must be optimised out of existence.

The backlash against this world is democracy manifesting itself; a tacit rejection of the ideological assumptions underpinning the personal tech revolution. People want to define the structure of their own lives, and Silicon Valley’s myriad product lines are an unwelcome intrusion into the way we live and interact with one another – and even the way we eat, sleep and procreate.

A simple fact remains: there is something intrinsically repellant about a world in which our food, jobs and personal relationships are replaced by digital proxies in the name of ultra-efficient disruption. The geeks, with their ready willingness to abandon social norms, are pulling us toward a utopia nobody wants.

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Typhoon Rammasun killed at least 11 people when it hit northern Vietnam as China counted 33 dead from the strongest storm to strike its south in four decades.

Rammasun made landfall in Vietnam over the weekend, triggering heavy floods, destroying homes and crops and blocking roads with landslides, said the Vietnam News, an English-language daily published by the official Vietnam News Agency.

The paper’s website carried photos that showed streets and local markets in the city of Lang Son and elsewhere submerged in water, with residents floating on rubber tires or rafts or huddling under makeshift tents.

Rammasun had earlier battered southern China, killing 33 people and destroying tens of thousands of homes, China’s official Xinhua news agency said.

It was the strongest typhoon to hit China’s southern region in 41 years, damaging roads and ports, cutting electricity and water supplies, and hampering rescue efforts as it swept through dozens of coastal cities. Xinhua reported that 608,000 people had been evacuated due to Rammasun.

Worst hit was the island province of Hainan, where the storm made its first landfall on Friday. By Monday 51,000 houses and 40,600ha (100,300 acres) of crops had been destroyed. The typhoon caused US$1.7bn in damage on the island, Xinhua reported.

The government of Yunnan province in southern China separately reported that 14 people had died in mudslides triggered by the typhoon’s heavy rains, according to Xinhua.

The typhoon wreaked havoc in the northern Philippines last week, leaving 94 people dead.

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Road tripping through North Korea   in pictures

Posted by MereNews On July - 22 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Very few people are able to travel across the secretive state of North Korea. Even the country’s own citizens need a state-issued permit (or enough funds) to be able to travel internally.

So when Eric Talmadge and David Guttenfelder of the Associated Press embarked on a 1,400 mile road trip through rural DPRK to report on the state of the country’s farms (which are under pressure to keep the masses fed), it’s not surprising that they wanted to document it. Taking in the symbolic sites at Mount Paektu and “potato country” in the north, their trip ended up producing some stunning, and rare, images.

Tourists, and tour guides, who were once mostly confined to the capital Pyongyang, are also increasingly able to capture images of life outside the city. As North Korea opens up its fledgling tourism industry, more carefully selected travel destinations are being made available by state-sanctioned tour companies.

Whether you agree or disagree with tourism to North Korea, these pictures also help to shed new light on everyday life in one of the most closed societies in the world. Here’s our pick of the best:

“AP hits the road”, captured by Eric Talmadge

On the road, captured by Eric Talmadge

On the road, part two, captured by Eric Talmadge

“A roadside picnic” captured by David Guttenfelder

A man dives for shellfish in the sea near the city of Wonsan, captured by David Guttenfelder

“My travel companions roast potatoes in the embers of a fire”, David Guttenfelder

A family-run car wash, captured by David Guttenfelder

On the beach in Wonsan, captured by Eric Talmadge

An aquarium in the lobby of a hotel in Hanhung, where Guttenfelder stayed

A spectacular view of Lake Samsu, captured by Eric Talmadge

Taking a break at a harbour in 37 degree centigrade heat, captured by Instagrammer morozzo

A taekwondo demonstration at the “extra curricular centre” in Rason, captured by Troy Collings, co-owner of Young Pioneer Tours

Crowds at the ever popular dolphinarium in Pyongyang, captured by Eric Talmadge

Uri Tours posted this picture this week, reporting that row boats can now be hired on the Taedong River in Pyongyang for the equivalent of €3

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