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Gonzalez fails drug test in Japan, banned a year
The Associated Press May 26, 2008


TOKYO: Former major leaguer Luis Gonzalez was suspended for one year by Japanese baseball for failing a drug test.

Gonzalez, an infielder with the Yomiuri Giants who once played with the Colorado Rockies, tested positive for amphetamines. Amphetamines are banned by Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball.

"This is a big setback," Japanese baseball commissioner Yasuchika Negoro said Monday. "What we need to do is to handle the matter properly in order to prevent something like this happening again."

Gonzalez is the second player in Japanese baseball history to be suspended for failing a drug test. Pitcher Rick Guttormson of the Softbank Hawks was suspended for 20 days in 2007 for testing positive for a hair-growing substance.

Gonzalez was tested April 30 and denied use of any illegal drugs when he was interviewed by a club representative May 19. Yomiuri plans to release the 28-year-old player shortly.

Gonzalez played for the Rockies from 2004-06. He played in 32 games for the Giants this season and with two homers and 17 RBIs.


Former Brewer Geremi Gonzalez dies
Associated Press — 5/26/2008


CARACAS, Venezuela -- Former major league pitcher Geremi Gonzalez, who played for five major league teams including the Milwaukee Brewers, was killed by a lightning strike in his native Venezuela on Sunday. He was 33.

Emergency management official Herman Bracho said Monday that Gonzalez was struck by lightning at a beach.

Gonzalez pitched in the big leagues from 1997 to 2006. The right-hander appeared in 131 games with 83 starts, compiling a 30-35 record.

Gonzalez also played for the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Chicago Cubs. He made a combined 24 appearances for the Mets and Brewers in his final major league season in 2006.

"He was so much fun to be around. He was always happy, always smiling," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "He was a guy that could scare real easy and then horse laugh. He was just one of those guys that when he saw you, he always had a smile on his face."

The Toronto Blue Jays released him during spring training last year. Gonzalez then moved to Japan and pitched in five games for the Yomiuri Giants.

"The Chicago Cubs are very saddened today to learn of Geremi Gonzalez's sudden passing," general manager Jim Hendry said in a statement.


Ten foreign players come on board before June 30 deadline
Japantimes July 1, 2007


The deadline for Japanese pro baseball teams to sign new foreign players came and went on June 30, and nine of the 12 clubs wound up acquiring a total of 10 fresh faces from abroad after the regular season began in late March and before the final cutoff date.

So, let's take a look at the 10 newbies (four of whom have played here before), see who they are and throw in a little trivia.

The Yomiuri Giants inked right-handed pitcher Geremi Gonzalez in May, and he won his debut game, defeating the Orix Buffaloes in a rainy interleague contest at Kobe on June 14.

Although the name displayed above his back No. 94 is G. Gonzalez, the Venezuelan native is introduced as "G.G.," and that is the way his designation appears on the scoreboard. Not to be confused with outfielder G.G. Sato of the Seibu Lions.

Also in Tokyo, the Yakult Swallows have brought back righty reliever Brian Sikorski, who ties the record for most Japanese teams played for by a foreigner at three.

Sikorski previously was with the Chiba Lotte Marines (2001-03) and the Giants (2004-05).

Brian returns after a year in the U.S. in Triple-A and the majors with San Diego and Cleveland, and his trademarks are running to the mound and leaping over the foul line on his way to the hill and back to the bench, and his exaggerated arm crank while warming up. He's wearing No. 34 with the Swallows.

First baseman Mitch Jones holds the new bat in the lineup of the 2007 interleague season champion Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

He is a former New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand who arrived in Japan last week and was expected to debut for the Hammies this weekend against the Buffaloes in Kansai. Jones is wearing No. 15.

The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles hired two new guys: right-handed pitchers Domingo Guzman and Adam Bass.

Dominican Domingo is another retread, having played here before with the Yokohama BayStars (2002-03) and Chunichi Dragons (2004-06), so he joins Sikorski and several others in tying that three-team gaikokujin mark.

The full name of Bass, late of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, is Adam Randle Bass, and it brings up memories of Randy Bass, the ex-Hanshin Tigers slugger and 1985 Central League batting Triple Crown winner and MVP. Adam's uniform number on the Eagles is 50; Domingo is wearing 99.

Another comeback player is outfielder Alex Ochoa. He's being brought in by the Hiroshima Carp to help manager Marty Brown's club in its quest for a postseason playoff slot.

"He's going to be our center fielder," said Brown who expects consistency which has been lacking at that position.

Alex played for the Dragons from 2004 to 2006 and helped Chunichi win two Central League pennants. Look for Ochoa in the red pinstriped shirt with No. 43 on it, the same numeral worn by Brown during his playing days in Hiroshima from 1992 to 1994.

Pitcher Jason Standridge is the new kid on the block with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, and he wasted no time winning his first game, in relief, over Chunichi at Nagoya Dome on June 23.

Standridge has played in the big leagues with Tampa Bay, Texas and Cincinnati, and was most recently with Kansas City. He is No. 20 on the Hawks.

One more returnee is infielder Jose Ortiz, coming back with the Marines and playing for his second American manager in Japan.

When Ortiz was with the Orix BlueWave in 2003, Leon Lee was the field boss. Now Jose will be following the directions of Bobby Valentine, and he will be wearing No. 4 for Lotte.

The Yokohama BayStars, currently in third place and attempting to shore up a playoff qualification, have signed lefty pitcher Matt White.

Curiously, the 'Stars had a pitcher in 2003 named Matt Whiteside. The incoming Matt has been assigned uniform No. 64, and he will be the fourth guy named White to play in Japan after Roy (Yomiuri Giants, 1980-82), Jerry (1984 Seibu Lions and 1985 Yokohama Taiyo Whales) and Derrick (Hanshin Tigers, 2002).

Finally, the Dragons have activated right-handed pitcher Rafael Cruz, a Dominican who is said to throw a 155-kph fastball and had been on the team's roster of developmental players on which he was listed as wearing No. 220. Now he's got jersey No. 94.

It remains to be seen which guys can make the adjustment — or re-adjustment — to Japan and, for the first-timers, if they will be able to perform without having had the benefit of experiencing Japan's boot camp-like spring training.

Welcome — or welcome back — to all, and good luck.

Such a Deal Dept.: Larry Rocca of the Chiba Lotte Marines has informed me there will be two special Tuesday dates this month at Chiba Marine Stadium: July 3, when the Marines host the Orix Buffaloes, and July 31, when the visitors will be the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

On each of those days, all seating at Marine Stadium, except for the Field Wing Seats, will be general admission, and the price for tickets is only 1,500 yen.

You can enter any gate at the ballpark and sit anywhere you like — even behind the plate — in any unoccupied seat.

Game time for each of these is 6:15 p.m., and be sure to get there early, not only to get a good seat, but also to check out the Marines Museum adjacent to the stadium.


South America nations found union
BBC News 23 May 2008


The leaders of 12 South American nations have formed a regional body aimed at boosting economic and political integration in the region.

At a summit in Brazil, they signed a treaty which created the Union of South American Nations (Unasur).

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the move showed that South America was becoming a "global player".

But tensions between several members will make it difficult for the group to achieve its goals, observers say.

Mr Lula said at the summit in Brasilia that the differences between some Unasur governments were a sign of vitality in the region.

"The instability some want to see in our continent is a sign of life, especially political life," Mr Lula said.

"There's no democracy without people [protesting] in the streets," he added.

The treaty envisages that Unasur will have a revolving presidency and bi-annual meetings of foreign ministers.

Prior to the Brasilia summit, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez described the "empire" of the United States as Unasur's "number one enemy".

Mr Chavez is embroiled in a bitter diplomatic row with his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe - a staunch US ally - over Colombian claims that Venezuela has been helping to finance the activities of the Colombian Farc rebels.

The Unasur members are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.


Venezuela and China boost ties with refinery deal
BIZCHINA 2008-05-11


Venezuela and China have agreed to build a refinery in China to process Venezuelan oil, advancing President Hugo Chavez's push to boost ties between the OPEC nation and one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

In a ceremony late on Friday, Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and the largest Chinese oil and gas company PetroChina agreed to build a 400,000 barrel per day refinery in South China's Guangdong Province.

The joint-venture refinery, Venezuela's first such investment in China, will advance Chavez's goal of shipping to China 1 million barrels per day of oil by around 2011, or 13 percent of current Chinese oil demand.

Venezuela ships nearly 300,000 barrels per day of oil and fuel to China, of which around 80,000 barrels are crude oil.

PetroChina and PDVSA will supply the Guangdong refinery with oil produced from the Junin 4 block of the vast Orinoco heavy crude belt, which holds some of the largest oil reserves outside the Middle East.

China this year lent $4 billion to Venezuela, which the South American country will repay in fuel, to create an investment fund for development projects such as improvement of rural roads and expansion of fishing.

The two countries also agreed on Friday to advance agricultural cooperation.


Gas field order 'unacceptable': China
Japantimes Feb. 23, 2005


BEIJING (Kyodo) Japan's demand that Beijing halt its gas exploration projects in the East China Sea and provide information about them is "unacceptable," a Chinese government official said Tuesday.

The requests concern issues that "completely fall under the framework of China's rights, and are unacceptable," Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said.

Kong added that China has consistently called for solving the issue through dialogue.

The spokesman was responding to a Japanese government survey that found that underground structures in two natural gas fields being explored by China in the East China Sea might be linked to those in Japan's exclusive economic zone, thus possibly infringing on Japan's rights to the areas' natural resources.


Fukuda slates scores of Africa minisummits at TICAD
Japantimes May 28, 2008


YOKOHAMA — Leaders from all but one African nation have arrived in Yokohama to attend the three-day Tokyo International Conference on African Development, which kicks off Wednesday to explore ways to promote economic growth and fight poverty.

All 53 African countries except Somalia have sent delegations to Yokohama, including top leaders from 40 countries — either a king, president, vice president or prime minister.

At the outset of TICAD IV, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda will announce new initiatives to help African development, including a pledge to double Japan's official development assistance to ¥200 billion and help double private-sector investment to ¥340 billion over the next five years.

Fukuda plans to meet with all of the top leaders of the 40 countries, with each chat lasting up to 20 minutes, including time for translation.

"Prime Minister Fukuda will energetically have separate summits through Friday morning — an amazing schedule," Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Tuesday.

In the last TICAD meeting in 2003, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met 19 top African leaders in a single day. He still remembers the "very tough experience," a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

But Fukuda should consider the tight schedule worth it. Tokyo is boosting assistance to Africa, trying to revive Japan's diplomatic clout as a major aid donor.

Recent price surges in oil, metals and food products on global markets have also drawn the strategic attention of many aid donors to the resource-rich African nations.

This time, TICAD participants will discuss three main themes — boosting economic growth, ensuring human security and addressing environmental issues, particularly climate change — in a variety of meetings and symposiums.

This TICAD also comes at a time when many African nations are posting rapid economic growth, thanks in part to the recent price spikes in resources, including oil and metals.

Poverty, however, is still a major problem despite significant improvement in resource-rich states. People living on less than $1 a day accounted for 41 percent of sub-Sahara Africa's population in 2004, the Foreign Ministry said.

"Africa has achieved rapid development and is undergoing great changes," Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told a reception Tuesday night.

Friday's TICAD session is expected to adopt three main documents — the Yokohama Declaration, action plans and followup agenda mechanisms.

On Tuesday afternoon, a ministerial-level meeting of 52 countries attended by 260 people was held to examine the wording of prepared drafts for the three documents.

Participants approved the content of the drafts, but many argued that the wording on concerns over recent global food price hikes should be strengthened, according to a Foreign Ministry official who briefed reporters.

A preparatory meeting for TICAD IV was held in Gabon in March. At that time, the food price crisis, which has affected the poor in developing countries, was not such a strong concern of TICAD members, according to the official.


NGOs Marginalised at Japan-Africa Meet
IPS May 29, 2008


YOKOHAMA, Japan, May 29 (IPS) - If the fourth round of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) concluding Friday is seriously flawed, it is because non-governmental organisations have at best been allowed to influence the policy dialogue between Japan and the African governments only from the margins.

For the first time in TICAD's 15-year history, a 'civil society forum' was held during the three-day conference. But the group of 55 African, Japanese and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) expressed disappointment at the "exclusion" of large segments of the civil society from the conference.

They were allowed to attend as "observers", but did not have the right to address key TICAD sessions to discuss specific development and environmental issues.

According to Asahi Shimbun newspaper, the Foreign Ministry initially told the NGOs that it would allow only three representatives from groups based both in Japan and Africa to attend the general meetings as observers on Thursday and Friday.

The NGOs had demanded that at least nine from among 85 members be allowed to enter. The ministry later promised that six could be permitted to enter, citing space limits.

The NGOs say their limited participation reflects "Tokyo's entrenched view of NGOs as inexpensive subcontracting workers."

"This casts huge doubts on the legitimacy and accountability of the conference," Gustave Assah of the Civic Commission for Africa, a member of the TICAD NGO Network told IPS.

But the NGOs' criticism goes beyond their exclusion from the conference, and spans issues critical to African development.

The Japanese government has announced several measures to promote rapid growth in Africa, including 4 billion dollars in loans for transport infrastructure, trade insurance, and 2.5 billion dollars worth of financing support for Japanese companies seeking investment opportunities in Africa in the next five years.

"While there is no doubt that Africa needs growth," the TICAD NGO Network argues, "this is precisely the time to prioritise direct investment in the area of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), both because many African societies suffer from social and economic divides and in order to ensure that the poor people can take part in economic activities."

The MDGs are eight goals to be achieved by 2015 that respond to the world's main development challenges. These are drawn from the actions and targets contained in the Millennium Declaration that was adopted by 189 nations-and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.

The NGO Network is also concerned about the implication of the large amount of loans on the poor communities in Africa.

The NGO Network argues in a position paper circulated to the media Thursday that Africa's current debt crisis had started with plummeting primary commodity prices. "It is not clear whether the current growth is sustainable, and it is questionable whether Africa will have the capacity to repay the (fresh) loans announced (Wednesday)," the authors of the paper say.

Announcing the aid package, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda reiterated the importance of achieving the MDGs, and committed Japan to support reproductive health, and to train 100,000 health workers in the coming five years (TICAD is held every five years).

"Although welcome in itself, the plan does not go far enough to help Africa reach the health MDGs," the NGOs say.

Africa's public health sectors suffer from a huge lack of money to recruit and pay for human resources, with the result that trained and qualified people have little choice but to migrate to rich countries, they say.

"If Japan is serious about overcoming the health worker crisis, then it needs to be prepared to pay for these expenditures," says the position paper.

"No amount (of money) is too much to invest in human development," says the paper, adding: "Africa is currently losing over eight million lives a year to health related reasons, and this is unacceptable."

Investment in the MDGs should be seen as "a kind of Marshall Plan for Africa" that would provide "increased and sustained development support" over the period necessary for the infrastructure for sustainable development to be in place, the paper says.

The NGOs point out that though Africa has experienced some positive developments in democratisation over the past decade, there are several signs causing concern.

The recent events in South Africa involving violent attacks on immigrants, for example, indicate that even in a highly developed country with a relatively strong economy and institutionalised democratic structures, huge income gaps, high unemployment and continuing poverty for the majority of the people can threaten such strong foundations of democracy.

"The challenge (in Africa) therefore is to ensure that democratic consolidation is embarked upon alongside redistributive development," says the paper.

It adds: "There can be no long-term peace in Africa without redistributive development. TICAD IV has to put back the issue of democratisation on its agenda and link it with peace and development. African countries and their partners have to evolve development agendas complimented by forms of governance that promote democratic, responsible, participation."

As part of the Cool Earth Partnership, Japan has announced a plan to provide 10 billion dollars for developing countries trying to reconcile economic growth and climate mitigation objectives.

The NGO Network regrets that the money is mainly intended for large developing countries emitting greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. It is not clear how much will be spent on Africa that is faced with the challenge of climate change adaptation rather than mitigation.

The Network also stresses the need for a climate fund that they want to be separate from and in addition to the 0.7 percent Gross National Income (GNI) commitment on official development assistance (ODA).

The NGOs want this fund to be made available to the UN Adaptation Fund which ensures that the majority of the developing countries have a say in how it is spent.

According to the Network, "Africa will continue to suffer as long as and as much as Japan continues to cause global warming." It urges Japan to set and achieve an ambitious mid-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction target and provide adaptation financing to African countries.


Fukuda opens TICAD IV with $4-billion pledge
asahi.com 05/29/2008


YOKOHAMA--Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda opened an international conference on African development Wednesday by announcing measures aimed primarily at improving infrastructure on the continent, including up to $4 billion (418.7 billion yen) in yen loans.

In his keynote speech at the outset of the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV), Fukuda said Tokyo would gradually double the amount of fresh official development assistance (ODA), currently around $900 million, over five years to $1.8 billion.

The prime minister also pledged $560 million to the World Fund as financial aid to help tackle the HIV/ AIDS problem.

Fukuda noted that Africa's recent economic surge indicated the continent was ready to "open a new page titled 'the century of African growth.'"

He then outlined a series of measures that will form the core of a declaration and action plan to be adopted at the three-day conference in Yokohama.

The $4 billion in yen loans over a five-year period will be used to build infrastructure, such as highway networks, power systems and port facilities.

"The most important thing is development of infrastructure" to fuel the momentum of economic growth, Fukuda said.

Noting that private-sector involvement would also be crucial, Fukuda pledged to set up an "Africa investment facility" within the World Bank, to which Tokyo will provide $2.5 billion over the next five years to increase direct investment into Africa.

Fukuda said Tokyo would send a large business mission to Africa later this year and improve Japan's trade insurance system to ease Japanese concerns about the risks of doing business and investing in Africa.

The prime minister said he believed that through such measures, "Africa will become a powerful engine driving the growth of the world."

Many African leaders echoed the need to bolster the continent's economy.

Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, president of Tanzania, chair of the African Union, said more Japanese trade would help.

"Besides the increase in ODA, which is highly appreciated, TICAD needs to go further," he said. "What remains to be seen is increased trade and investment between Africa and Japan."

He pointed out that of total global direct investment from Japan, only 0.4 percent went to sub-Sahara Africa.

"I wish these figures were not correct," he said.

Thomas Boni Yayi, president of Benin, said he welcomed Japan's commitment to bolster the African economy, saying fundamental issues, such as developing human resources, will be necessary to ensure success.

In addressing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), an eight-point list of targets for tackling poverty-related issues, Fukuda pledged that Japan will train 100,000 medical and health workers over a period of five years.

On environmental issues, Japan will provide $10 billion in assistance to African and other developing countries that are striving to reduce emissions while pushing for economic growth.

Tokyo will also support Africa's "Green Revolution" and efforts to double annual rice production, currently at 14 million tons, in 10 years with the cooperation of international organizations in training agricultural instructors.

On the food crisis that has sparked unrest in developing countries, Fukuda said a "significant portion" of Tokyo's $100-million emergency aid package to alleviate food shortages would go to Africa.

Several African leaders called attention to the food problem, caused mainly by soaring grain prices, in their keynote speeches Wednesday.

"The food crisis is the most dramatic crisis so far. It is the first issue that must be addressed," Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires, the president of Cape Verde, said.


Africa awaits real action in TICAD wake
May 31, 2008
Time to follow through with donor pledges


YOKOHAMA — The three-day Tokyo International Conference on African Development closed Friday with participants issuing a declaration committing Japan and multinational organizations to promote sustainable growth on the continent and fight poverty and climate change.

A five-year action plan detailing the agenda and measures planned came out of the Yokohama gathering to ensure the TICAD process advances.

The participants also agreed to establish a followup mechanism to ensure the steps are taken.

"I believe we have established a strong sense of partnership with each other during the three days," Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said in his closing speech.

The Yokohama Declaration, subtitled "Towards a Vibrant Africa," acknowledged the positive trends that have emerged on the continent since the last TICAD meeting in 2003, due to political stability and improved governance in many countries that had endured conflicts.

At the same time, Africa continues to face serious challenges — from widespread poverty, unemployment and rapid population growth, low agricultural productivity and poor infrastructure, to infectious diseases, the declaration said.

Amid soaring global food prices, the declaration emphasized that "special attention" is necessary to combat the crisis and its negative impact on development.

To deal with the problem, Japan plans both short- and midterm support measures, including providing emergency food aid to doubling rice production in African countries within 10 years, according to the action plan.

Addressing a joint news conference after wrapping up the meeting, Fukuda said, "As the chair of the TICAD meeting, I would like to introduce the voice of African nations" during next week's international conference in Rome on the worldwide food crisis.

Fukuda described TICAD as a "conference on an unprecedented scale," telling reporters that Japan's efforts to assist African development was greeted with appreciation from the continent's leaders.

The prime minister also said he was able to gain support from African leaders regarding Japan's push to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

Security Council reform "will effectively play a role in sustaining peace and safety in the international community, including Africa," he told the news conference.

Asked if TICAD was in any way linked to Japan's geopolitical rivalry with China, which is aggressively offering support in Africa, Fukuda responded that TICAD had a more dignified intention.

Africa's rich natural resources were not a factor when TICAD was inaugurated 15 years ago, Fukuda said, and the meeting's aim was purely to assist the continent and its advancement.

"As a country that was able to revive after the war because of assistance" from other countries, Japan will in return provide its experience and knowledge in development assistance to Africa, he said.

The prime minister said he feels responsible for the strong expectations expressed by the participants toward the TICAD process and hopes to convey these goals to the Group of Eight summit he hosts in Hokkaido in July.

"As the chair of the summit, I'm going to live up to your expectations," he vowed.

President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of Tanzania, chairman of the African Union, told reporters that African leaders generally agreed that the meeting "went well," and Africa's concerns "were addressed properly" during the talks.

Kikwete said that the biggest challenge now is the implementation of what was discussed between the delegates, but that he felt assured because of the newly established TICAD mechanism to monitor the implementation of assistance pledges.

To support economic growth, Japan and other development partners pledged to provide infrastructure and promote trade and other measures that encourage direct investments from the private sector to African countries, according to the action plan.

To help Africa achieve a U.N.-initiated Millennium Development Goal to halve the number of those living on less than $1 a day by 2015, Japan and international organizations will support various projects, including promoting community development, community health care, educating women, fighting infectious diseases, and transferring technology and researchers.

Japan on its own also pledged to construct 1,000 elementary and secondary schools for about 400,000 children as well as expand teacher training in math and science. It also vowed to train 100,000 health and medical workers.

Regarding climate change issues, the Yokohama Declaration states that the partners will support the development and use of clean energy, investment in sustainable land and forest management, disaster prevention and management capacity.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan political activist, called for "carbon justice" during a session Thursday, and urged those who "destroyed" the climate and emitted greenhouse gases to take the moral responsibility to aggressively curb global warming.

Fukuda stressed during the news conference that Africa "must be saved from the effects of climate change" and Japan will continue to search for an effective framework to succeed the Kyoto Protocol with the developed countries.

To characterize TICAD and differentiate it from other conferences, including those by African countries with China, Brazil and India, the declaration noted the TICAD process was an open forum cohosted by multinational bodies, including the U.N. and the World Bank, and it served as a bridge between Africa and Japan and Asia as a whole.


Japanese politician arrested
BBC 19 June, 2002


Mr Suzuki, pictured before his arrest, denies corruption

A senior Japanese politician, Muneo Suzuki, has been arrested on corruption charges.

Mr Suzuki, 54, was taken into custody after an arrest warrant was approved by parliament - a requirement under Japanese law.

He is accused of accepting a $40,000 bribe from a timber company in return for lenient treatment in an illegal logging case. He denies the charge, saying the money was a gift.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon, in Tokyo, says it is the latest in a series of scandals that have undermined the popularity of the Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi.

Hitting the headlines

Mr Suzuki is a former power-broker for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and has been portrayed in the media as the archetypal string-puller.

He gave up his membership of the Liberal Democratic Party in March, as allegations of corruption surfaced against him, but he still holds a seat in parliament.

The lower house of parliament is expected to vote on whether or not to urge Mr Suzuki to resign from parliament this week.

Takenori Kanzaki, who heads the Buddhist-backed New Komeito party, a partner in the ruling coalition, said: "Muneo Suzuki's political and moral responsibilities are extremely grave. Suzuki should resign from parliament immediately."

Mr Suzuki first hit the headlines earlier this year when he led a campaign to bring down the highly-popular Foreign Minister, Makiko Tanaka.

But the Japanese public reacted with fury when it was revealed that Mr Suzuki's held significant influence within the Foreign Ministry.

He held no official post but top bureaucrats deferred to him on a range of policy issues and overseas aid projects.

He is accused of having used his influence to ensure overseas contracts went to his friends in the construction industry.

A dam project in Kenya and building work on Russian islands claimed by Japan have come in for particular scrutiny.

Our correspondent says Mr Koizumi has suffered by association.

He came to office promising to clean up the political system but continuing scandals show little has changed.

Mr Koizumi's agenda of political and economic reforms has become bogged down, while the discredited old guard in his party is gaining the upper hand once again.


'Africans in Japan' . . . not from the quill of Ishihara, thank God
Japantimes Feb. 18, 2007


Last week, The Japan Times ran a Bloomberg interview with Shintaro Ishihara in which the proudly provocative Tokyo governor followed up his contention that foreigners were behind the city's rising crime rate. He challenged his interviewers to go to Roppongi and see for themselves. "Africans -- and I don't mean African-Americans -- who don't speak English are there doing who knows what," he said.

You expect such careless bluster from Ishihara, but his statement deserves scrutiny. One explanation for the governor's popularity is the way he is seen to reflect what his supporters think is common sense. What are non-American black people doing in Japan? It must be something bad.

It wouldn't be difficult to believe that Japanese people have a negative image of Africans, given what they see and hear through the media. As far as Roppongi goes, newspapers and magazines often run articles about how Africans, especially Nigerians, have become increasingly involved in Tokyo's bar and nightclub business and use credit-card fraud and bill-padding practices to milk customers.

Tarento Bobby Ologun, who's from Nigeria, may represent the only favorable image many people have of Africans living in Japan. Having emerged in 2001 on the variety show "Karakuri Terebi," earning laughs as he learned Japanese, Bobby's childlike appeal remains the same, despite his being blackballed from TV for a while over an alleged assault last year. With his sweet, deep voice and awkward command of the language he comes across as an innocent.

Bobby is not the first or only African tarento -- in the 1990s, Guinea Embassy employee Osuman Sankhon was everywhere -- but he appears on TV much more than either John Muwete Muruaka , the former secretary of politician Muneo Suzuki, or the multilingual Baudouin Adogony, two Africa-born tarento who have a more worldly image (and who belong to the same talent agency as Bobby ).

Though university-educated, Bobby comes across as someone who doesn't understand the world and doesn't realize it when comedians poke fun at his skin color or lack of sophistication. He represents the perceived backwardness of Africa, which makes him the perfect topical tarento. By my count, at least seven feature films about Africa are opening in Japan this spring, but, except for South Africa's "Tsotsi," whose viewpoint is African, these films were made by white people who acknowledge the tragedy of the continent and even the West's hand in creating that tragedy, but nevertheless approach it as outsiders. Regardless of the filmmakers' intentions, these movies erect a wall, a feeling that the region's problems are so huge that nothing can be done about them. As film critic Manohla Dargis recently wrote in the New York Times, "Watching Leonardo DiCaprio share the screen with genuine handless black Africans . . . doesn't rouse me to action; it stirs horror, pity, sometimes repulsion, sentiments that linger uneasily until the action starts up again."

Without the proper context, Africans become objects of fear or pity. One of the saddest developments of the last two decades is the diminishment of history as a scholastic pursuit. In America, history has become an option in compulsory education, and in Japan it is a tool for inculcating nationalism.

History provides the context with which we make judgments, but now we rely on the kind of "common sense" that Shintaro Ishihara prizes so highly, and which is shaped by the narrow parameters set by the media: What will get your attention? What will evoke fear and pity the best?

Jinichi Matsumoto's ongoing series of articles in the Asahi Shimbun, "The Africans of Kabukicho," provides this context. Using statistics and interviews, and then providing history as background, Matsumoto answers Ishihara's question and explains exactly what those Africans are doing in Japan.

He focuses on a Nigerian named Austin who was recently released from jail. Austin came to Japan in 2001 on a tourist visa, hoping to buy used auto parts for export back to Nigeria. It was more difficult than he thought, and he eventually started working for Nigerian-owned bars in Roppongi as a street solicitor.

During the 2002 police crackdown of illegal immigrants, many of the Chinese and Korean-owned drinking establishments in Kabukicho closed, and rents plummeted. Nigerians who fled Roppongi's crackdown opened their own bars in the ensuing vacuum, including Austin, who had married a Japanese woman. He was eventually arrested for fraud. He denies cheating anyone and never confessed to anything, but in Matsumoto's retelling he does not come off as an innocent. "I think we should try to cultivate regular customers," Austin's wife says about the bar, "but he wants to make as much money as he can right now." It's this sort of detail that makes Austin a real person, and his situation comprehensible.

The series elaborates on Austin's upbringing in the city of Port Harcourt, and in turn describes the history of Biafra, the southeastern region that tried to break away from Nigeria in the early 1960s and failed. Nigeria is controlled by the Muslim Hausa, but Biafra is populated by the Ibo, who are Christian and discriminated against by the government. It is on Ibo land where most of Nigeria's oil is being drilled, though the Ibo don't benefit at all.

Matsumoto estimates that 70 percent of the 2,400 legally registered Nigerians in Japan are Ibo ( Bobby belongs to a third major ethnic group, Yoruba), and describes how Japan became a last hope for those who had the grit and money to make the long journey. It's an amazing story, and while it doesn't pardon any crimes that may have been committed by people who made that journey, it should at least make readers understand them better. As human beings, they deserve more than fear and pity.


Suzuki's Congolese aide has fake passport
Japantimes March 13, 2002


A Congolese national hired by Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Muneo Suzuki as his private secretary has been found to possess a fake diplomatic passport, Foreign Ministry officials said Tuesday.

According to communications from the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo received early Tuesday through the Japanese Embassy in Kinshasa, the diplomatic passport John Muwete Muluaka has presumably been using is a forged document, the officials said.

In addition, the official passport Muluaka had previously used became invalid after the African country changed its name from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997, the officials said.

The previously used official passport, issued Nov. 16, 1994, was legitimate when it was issued, according to the note from the Congolese Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ministry.

The Foreign Ministry is consulting other government bodies to consider what action to take, the officials said.

A report on the Foreign Ministry's investigation into its alleged improper ties with Suzuki, released last week, indicated only that the Democratic Republic of the Congo responded it had no record of having issued a diplomatic passport to Muluaka .

As the passport was found to be counterfeit, Muluaka's legal status in Japan will probably be called into question.

The Foreign Ministry found Muluaka had permanent residency in Japan, but the status may be revoked if he gained it using the fake passport.

Muluaka is believed to have entered Japan in the 1980s using a passport issued by the government of Zaire. He has reportedly been in frequent contact with the Foreign Ministry in his capacity as secretary to Suzuki.


Bobby's Day in Court
JAPANZONE February 28, 2006


Police have filed papers with the Tokyo District Court on talento Bobby Ologun (39). The decision was made after they failed to resolve exactly what happened and who did what to whom during a brawl at his management agency in January. At the time, Ologun turned up at the Shibuya agency to dispute payments with R&A Promotions boss, Ito Kazuyuki (55). When Ito refused to meet with him, Ologun - a burly K-1 fighter - started trashing the office and got into a fist fight with 2.1m-tall John Muwete Muluaka (44), a fellow talento from Congo. The pair later appeared at a press conference and tried to patch things up. But when repeated questioning by police failed to resolve conflicts in their versions of events, it was decided to try and settle the matter in court. Talento Thane Camus (35), formerly with the same agency, offered encouragement for his friend at the opening of a new bar in central Tokyo yesterday. Camus himself is currently in a dispute with R&A after he left the agency to set up his own.

• Talento Niiyama Chiharu (25) is five months pregnant. She married Yomiuri Giants infielder Kuroda Satoshi (31) in December 2004. Kuroda is currently at the Giants' spring training camp in Miyazaki Prefecture.

• Actress Matsushima Nanako (32) has been named to the cast of "Inugamike no Ichizoku", a remake of the 1976 hit movie. It will be her first movie role in six years. The movie has the same lead actor, Ishizaka Koji (64), and director, Ichikawa Kon (90), as the original. Ishizaka will again play Yokomizo Seishi's famous detective creation Kindaichi Kosuke.

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What's going on in Japan
The foreign community

JAPAN ZONE - February 28th 2002


An interesting aside in the Suzuki Muneo investigation is the involvement of his private secretary. John Muwete Muluaka, who is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is appropriately known as Big John, is said to have used his position to interfere with operations at his country's embassy. There are also questions about whether he entered Japan as a diplomat, which would make him ineligible to serve as a bureaucrat, for security reasons.

The Education Ministry is set to adopt guidelines for a Japanese as a Second Language (JSL) curriculum for foreign elementary school students from 2003. There are some 43,000 foreign children studying at public primary schools, about a quarter of whom need help with Japanese.

In an indication of the growing illegal immigrant problem, about 700 trainees working in the central Japan area around Nagoya were found to have "gone missing" in the last couple of years. The trainees were mostly from China and Vietnam.

Former Korean President Kim Young Sam is to join the faculty of Tokyo's Waseda University from April. He is expected to lecture on Asian political relations.

Well, they may not count as members of the community but large numbers of soccer hooligans are expected to arrive in Japan for the World Cup this summer. Police are taking measures to control the situation but if arrests are as high as have been seen in previous championships, detention centers just won't be able to cope. Facilities in Shizuoka Prefecture, which will host games featuring Germany and Belgium, are said to be already 97% full. Other prefectures report similar statistics. In a possibly counterproductive move, the Japanese and Korean organizing committees announced that they would allow sales of beer at stadiums before and during games. Measures such as selling people only one beer at a time and refusing to sell to those already drunk seem unlikely to prevent the inevitable.

In Hawaii and northern California, hundreds of tenants are being evicted into an already tight market by a billionaire Japanese property magnate. Kawamoto Genshiro, once the sixth-richest man in Japan, has decided to sell up his US real estate, consiting of some 800 homes, and invest the money in a new venture.


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