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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Great Wall inspection to be done

Great Wall inspection to be doneGreat Wall inspection to be done
2005-12-29 Beijing Time
PREPARATIONS are ongoing for the first comprehensive inspection of a Great Wall section built during the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC), according to the China Great Wall Society yesterday.

The program will start in April or May next year, said Dong Yaohui, vice chairman and secretary general of the China Great Wall Society.

The society has already inspected a section built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The section built during the Qin Dynasty is deteriorating due to both erosion and human activity. The section is poorly understood or protected, Dong said.

China's first emperor, Qinshihuang, founder of the Qin Dynasty, had the Great Wall built to defend the country against the Xiongnu, an ancient race in north China.

Researchers believed the vast project was built by more than 1 million workers in 12 years.

Since the 1980s, the central government has allocated special funds to restore the national monument.


Rivals in Fatah Join to Endorse Candidates for Parliament - New York TimesRivals in Fatah Join to Endorse Candidates for Parliament

Rivals in Fatah Join to Endorse Candidates for Parliament - New York TimesRivals in Fatah Join to Endorse Candidates for Parliament

JERUSALEM, Dec. 28 - The two rival factions in Fatah, the party of the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, resolved enough of their differences today to submit a single list of candidates for parliamentary elections on Jan. 25.

However, the friction within Fatah was again on display, as gunmen from the movement seized election offices in five towns in the Gaza Strip and waged shootouts with the Palestinian police. Dozens of gunmen battled security forces at the election offices in Gaza City, and one policeman was shot in the leg.

Fatah has dominated Palestinian politics for decades, but is increasingly split along generational lines. Mr. Abbas, 70, represents the old guard, while younger leaders have been demanding more prominent positions.

"What is important is that we go through the election process united," Mr. Abbas said at a news conference in Gaza City. He said it was also essential that the election take place "with sportsmanship and a spirit of transparency and fairness so that we can achieve the true democracy that we all want."

Marwan Barghouti, the most prominent figure among the younger Fatah leaders, was placed at the top of the list of Fatah candidates. Mr. Barghouti, 46, is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison after being convicted last year of orchestrating five killings. He remains hugely popular among young Palestinians.

Other young leaders were also given places on the Fatah list that should assure them seats in Parliament, while a number of veteran Fatah figures are now unlikely to make the cut.

On Dec. 14, the final day to register for the elections, the young leaders announced a breakaway faction called "The Future," and submitted their own list of candidates. However, a Palestinian court ruled that the candidate lists could be revised and resubmitted today.

Fatah remains the favorite in next month's elections, but it is facing an increasingly strong challenge from the Islamic faction Hamas, which is competing for the first time.

Fatah's internal feuds have produced frequent acts of lawlessness, like today's takeover of elections offices by Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, a militant faction linked to Fatah. The gunmen, who have staged several such raids, were again demanding that the younger leaders receive prominent places on the election list.

In another development, Israel declared the northernmost part of the Gaza Strip a no-go zone for Palestinians, with military aircraft dropping leaflets that said anyone in the zone risked being shot.

"Anyone who does not heed this warning is placing his or her life in immediate danger," the leaflet says.

Palestinians fired a rocket from northern Gaza this evening, and the Israelis responded with artillery rounds, but there were no reports of injuries.

Israel pulled its troops out of Gaza in September, but says it cannot tolerate continued Palestinian rocket fire from the area. There was no indication that ground troops plan to re-enter Gaza. However, helicopters, drones and possibly other aircraft are expected to maintain round-the-clock patrols.

Mr. Abbas condemned the Israeli move, saying, "Israel left the Gaza Strip and has no right to return under any pretext, such as the firing of rockets, which I also condemn."

Israel said it was acting because the Palestinian Authority had failed to prevent the attacks.

"These steps are being taken to stop the firing of rockets on Israeli towns, which we have every right to do," said David Baker, an official in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The "buffer zone" consists largely of three former Jewish settlements on the northern edge of Gaza, and the military said the zone was currently uninhabited.

Israel's military destroyed the homes after the settlers were evacuated, and the Palestinians have not yet begun removing the rubble or rebuilding the area.

However, militants have entered the former settlements to fire rockets toward the Israeli coastal town of Ashkelon, which was previously out of range. The rockets have not yet hit the town, but are coming increasingly close.

The Palestinians have fired more than 200 rockets since the Israeli pullout, according to the military. No Israelis have been killed, but the rockets have caused damage and injuries.

Also in Gaza, Palestinian gunmen kidnapped three Britons in the southern border town of Rafah, Palestinian security officials said.

Initial reports were sketchy, but security officials said it appeared the kidnapping occurred after a British couple crossed from Egypt into Gaza, where they were met by their daughter.

Gunmen in Gaza have kidnapped Westerners on multiple occasions in the past year. The gunmen have issued various demands that include jobs in the Palestinian security forces or the release of a jailed relative. All of those kidnapped have been freed unharmed, usually after just a few hours.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

World Digest

World DigestWorld Digest

December 27, 2005

Pinochet to remain under house arrest
SANTIAGO, Chile // Chile's top court refused yesterday to drop charges against Gen. Augusto Pinochet in connection with the disappearance of six dissidents during his military regime, and it ruled that the former dictator must remain under house arrest. It was the latest in a string of legal setbacks for Pinochet, 90, in his long fight against human rights and corruption charges. He has been under house arrest since Nov. 24, when he was indicted for the six disappearances.

London mayor lists aborted attacks
LONDON // Terrorists tried to attack London eight times between the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and July 7, when suicide bombers killed dozens on the city's transport system, London's mayor said yesterday. Ken Livingstone said there had been two attempted attacks since July 7, including a failed attack on the transport network July 21. Livingstone did not provide details of the attempted attacks.

N. Korea pursues talks with Japan
SEOUL, South Korea // North Korea agreed Sunday on a new format for bilateral negotiations with Japan, a position motivated mainly by Pyongyang's desire for Tokyo to act as a go-between in a bid to break the political impasse between North Korea and the United States, according to diplomatic sources. North Korea hopes the negotiations eventually will lead to the normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan.

Hussein half-brother says U.S. offered deal
AMMAN, Jordan // Two lawyers for Saddam Hussein said yesterday that the former Iraqi president's half-brother claims U.S. officials offered him a ranking government position in Iraq if he testified against Hussein but he rejected the deal. Barazan Ibrahim purportedly made the claim Thursday during a closed-door hearing by the Iraqi High Tribunal. American officials could not be reached for comment on the claim yesterday.

Taliban claims 200 suicide attackers
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan // A top Taliban commander said more than 200 rebel fighters were willing to become suicide attackers against U.S. forces and their allies - a claim dismissed as propaganda yesterday by Afghanistan's government, which said the hard-line militia was weakening. In an interview Sunday with the Associated Press, the commander, Mullah Dadullah, ruled out any reconciliation with the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai and claimed the country's new parliament - its first in more than 30 years, inaugurated last week - was "obedient to America."

2,400 coal mines closed in China
BEIJING // China has closed 2,411 coal mines for safety violations its latest campaign to reduce the death toll in the troubled industry and will start requiring mines to post safety bonds, news reports said yesterday. A total of 12,990 mines were ordered to suspend operations for safety inspections, and 2,411 of them were told to shut permanently, the official Xinhua News Agency said. China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, with more than 5,000 deaths reported every year.

[From wire reports]

CBS 46 Atlanta - Remembering the Tsunami One Year Later

CBS 46 Atlanta - Remembering the Tsunami One Year LaterRemembering the Tsunami One Year Later
Dec 27, 2005, 08:54 AM
Tourists realize the danger, many too late, on Dec. 26, 2004.
Tourists realize the danger, many too late, on Dec. 26, 2004.

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- Survivors wept and prayed beside mass graves and at beachside memorials Monday, marking one year since earthquake-churned walls of water crashed ashore in a dozen nations, sweeping away hundreds of thousands of lives and uniting the world in grief and horror.

Mourners filled mosques in Indonesia's shattered Aceh province, the region hit hardest. Candlelight vigils in chilly Sweden remembered citizens lost during sunny holidays. An achingly personal tribute -- a bouquet of white roses -- stuck in the sand in Thailand.

In a taped message, President Bush recalled "the acts of courage and kindness that made us proud" in the sorrowful days after the disaster. Former President Clinton, the U.N. special envoy for tsunami recovery, promised not to let the world forget its pledges of aid.

Survivors relived the terrible awe they felt when the sea rose as high as 33 feet and surged inland for miles with seemingly unstoppable force, carrying along trees, houses, train cars -- and thousands people -- in a churning rush.

"I was not afraid at the time," said Muhammad Yani, 35, who scrambled to the second floor of an Aceh mosque and watched a muddy torrent roiling with people and debris. "I was more aware than ever that my soul belonged to Allah."

Like most survivors, Yani's family was devastated. Both his parents and a younger brother were killed.

"It was under the same blue sky, exactly one year ago, that Mother Earth unleashed her most destructive power upon us," Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told a crowd at a ceremony in Banda Aceh, provincial capital of Aceh province, which had 156,000 dead and missing.

He sounded a tsunami warning siren -- part of a system that did not exist last year -- at 8:16 a.m., the moment the first wave hit, to herald a minute's silence.

On Dec. 26, 2004, the region's most powerful earthquake in 40 years tore open the sea bed off the Sumatran coast, displacing billions of tons of water and sending waves roaring across the Indian Ocean at jetliner speeds as far away as East Africa.

The impact was staggering. Water swept a passenger train from its tracks in Sri Lanka, killing nearly 2,000 people in a single blow. Entire villages in Indonesia and India disappeared. Lobbies of five-star hotels in Thailand were filled with corpses.

At least 216,000 people were left dead or missing and nearly 2 million lost their homes in a disaster that still rends hearts.

On Monday, about the time the waves hit a year ago, a man sat alone on Patong beach in Thailand weeping quietly as the sea gently lapped before him, belying its earlier fury. A white rose bouquet jutted from the sand nearby. He refused to talk to a reporter.

Nearby, Ulrika Landgren, 37, had come from Malmoe, Sweden, to see where nine of her friends died. "Somehow it's good to see this place," she said, tears leaking from behind her sunglasses.

Indonesia tested its tsunami warning system for the first time Monday. Alarms sounded in the Sumatran town of Padang, 620 miles south of Banda Aceh, sending residents fleeing for higher ground in a simulation.

"We knew it was just a drill," said Candra Yohanes, 55, who was among those who ran. "Still, when I heard the siren, my heart was pounding so hard."

Dozens of powerful aftershocks have rattled the region since last year's magnitude-9 quake, keeping people anxious about the possibility of another tsunami.

Somber ceremonies were held around the world.

In Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapakse met with survivors near the site of the deadly train accident. Butchers hung up their knives to show respect for life, and Buddhist monks chanted prayers through the night.

Thousands of Indians attended an interfaith service at an 18th century church, then marched to a mass burial ground.

Sweden, Germany, Finland and other European countries held memorials to mourn their dead. The tsunami killed more than 2,400 foreigners, many of them European tourists, in Thailand.

Somalis gathered in mosques along the East African nation's coast to commemorate the 289 people who disappeared in the waves and to pray for the tens of thousands still homeless.

"It was so brutal, so quick, and so extensive that we are still struggling to fully comprehend it," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a videotaped message played in Banda Aceh.

The tsunami generated one of the most generous outpourings of foreign aid ever known -- some $13 billion in pledges. But frustration is growing among the 1.4 million people still living in tents, plywood barracks or with family and friends.

"You want to talk about changes, we've seen nothing," said Baihqi, a 24-year-old Acehnese survivor, waving a hand dismissively at the jumble of scrap iron and plastic sheeting that is all that remains of his neighborhood. "Many promises of aid, but that's all we get -- promises."

The anniversary "just means we've existed for one year," he said.

For most, though, it was a day to think about the hellish events of a year ago, about death, about survival.

On Thailand's Patong Beach, Raymond and Sharon Kelly recalled how she escaped because her husband boosted her onto a wall. He was swept away and washed inside a shop, but managed to open a skylight and get on the roof.

"I never thought I would come back. Every day I would cry," she said.

Despite their fears, the couple from Hull, England, came back to remember and to pay respects to those who were lost.

As they talked, a man tapped Sharon on the shoulder and said, "Remember me?"

It was Adolf Ruschitschka, 69, from Ruesselsheim, Germany. The two had been trapped together on a rooftop ringed by the savage, swirling waters.

Shaking with emotion, Sharon embraced him, tears pouring down her face.

Monday, December 26, 2005

CBS 46 Atlanta - UGA police will begin arresting students for underage drinking

CBS 46 Atlanta - UGA police will begin arresting students for underage drinkingUGA police will begin arresting students for underage drinking
Dec 25, 2005, 10:39 PM

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- Starting next year, underage students caught drinking at the University of Georgia will be arrested and sent to jail. The change represents a tougher stance on underage drinking after years of simply giving out citations.

U-G-A Police Chief Jimmy Williamson says the new policy is aimed at changing campus culture and increasing students' sense of responsibility. Williamson says he hopes the stigma of being arrested and jailed will deter students from the excessive drinking that can lead to other crimes.

University spokesman Tom Jackson says U-G-A police started issuing citations instead of arresting students in 1998 after parents complained about the way students were treated when arrested. But Jackson says the citation policy "is not working very well," so U-G-A police are returning to the old policy.

Some students complain that the new policy is unfair, but admit it will probably make them think twice about drinking on campus.

CBS 46 Atlanta - Katrina evacuees spike turnout at Hosea Feed the Hungry

CBS 46 Atlanta - Katrina evacuees spike turnout at Hosea Feed the HungryKatrina evacuees spike turnout at Hosea Feed the Hungry
Dec 25, 2005, 10:37 PM

ATLANTA (AP) -- Refugees from Hurricane Katrina helped swell the ranks of those seeking a Christmas meal Sunday from a 35-year-old program dedicated to feeding the poor and homeless. Organizers of Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless said about 12,000 people were served a traditional holiday meal at Atlanta's Turner Field, up about 20 percent from last year, while another 7,000 meals were delivered, doubling last year's total.

Event co-director Elisabeth Omilami said Hurricane Katrina evacuees now living in and around Atlanta likely were the cause of the increases. "A lot of the addresses were hotels," said event co-director Elisabeth Omilami. "There's no way to really explain it other than that." The federal government estimates more than 106,000 Katrina evacuees fled to Georgia, most of them to the metro Atlanta area. More than 46,000 evacuees registered for federal assistance in the state.

Civil rights activist Hosea Williams began the charity in 1971, serving 100 men a week each Sunday. Omilami took the reins in 2000 after her father's death and runs the program with her husband, Afemo. The group provides meals for over 40,000 people on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Martin Luther King Jr. Day each year. Omilami said that, for the first time ever, the group had to spend about $15,000 on turkey, ham, chicken and other food for the Christmas meal. In October, she said the group was about two months behind schedule on food donations -- largely due to the number of meals the group served to evacuees in the weeks following the Aug. 29 Gulf Coast

Powell Speaks Out on Domestic Spy Program - New York Times

Powell Speaks Out on Domestic Spy Program - New York TimesDecember 26, 2005
Powell Speaks Out on Domestic Spy Program

WASHINGTON, Dec. 25 - Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on Sunday that it would not have been "that hard" for President Bush to obtain warrants for eavesdropping on domestic telephone and Internet activity, but that he saw "nothing wrong" with the decision not to do so.

"My own judgment is that it didn't seem to me, anyway, that it would have been that hard to go get the warrants," Mr. Powell said. "And even in the case of an emergency, you go and do it. The law provides for that."

But Mr. Powell added that "for reasons that the president has discussed and the attorney general has spoken to, they chose not to do it that way."

"I see absolutely nothing wrong with the president authorizing these kinds of actions," he said.

Asked if such eavesdropping should continue, Mr. Powell said, "Yes, of course it should continue."

Mr. Powell said he had not been told about the eavesdropping activity when he served as secretary of state.

He spoke on the ABC News program "This Week" about the disclosure, first reported in The New York Times, that Mr. Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to intercept communications by Americans without approval from a special foreign intelligence court.

Though Mr. Powell stopped short of criticizing Mr. Bush, his suggestion that there was "another way to handle it" was another example of his parting company on a critical issue with the president he served for four years.

This fall, Mr. Powell broke with the administration on the issue of torture, endorsing a move by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, to pass a measure in Congress banning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees by all American authorities, including intelligence personnel. The White House at first opposed the measure but later accepted it.

Since leaving office at the end of Mr. Bush's first term, Mr. Powell has been involved in several business and public service ventures, including the establishment of the Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies at City College of New York, his alma mater.

On Iraq, Mr. Powell repeated earlier statements that differed somewhat from those of Mr. Bush, saying he did not know whether he would have advocated going to war with Iraq if he had known that the country had no stockpiles of illicit weapons.

Referring to the case for going to war if there were no such weapons, Mr. Powell said he would have told the president, "You have a far more difficult case, and I'm not sure you can make the case in the absence of those stockpiles."

Mr. Powell said he expected American troop levels to continue to go down in the coming year out of necessity, because it will become difficult to sustain the current high levels and because the effort to train Iraqis should be successful.

The main worry in Iraq, he said, is the growth of semi-independent militias with allegiance to sectarian groups within the Iraqi military.

Asked if the ethnic divisions in Iraq that were reinforced by the recent elections posed a threat of civil war, Mr. Powell said, "I think it is something we all have to be worried about."

Seeking a Public Voice on China's 'Angry River' - New York Times

Seeking a Public Voice on China's 'Angry River' - New York TimesDecember 26, 2005
Rule by Law
Seeking a Public Voice on China's 'Angry River'

XIAOSHABA, China - Far from the pulsing cities that symbolize modern China, this tiny hillside village of crude peasant houses seems disconnected from this century and the last. But follow a dirt path past a snarling watchdog, sidestep the chickens and ducks, and a small clearing on the banks of the Nu River reveals a dusty slab of concrete lying in a rotting pumpkin patch.

The innocuous concrete block is also a symbol, of a struggle over law that touches every corner of the country.

The block marks the spot on the Nu River where officials here in Yunnan Province want to begin building one of the biggest dam projects in the world. The project would produce more electricity than even the mighty Three Gorges Dam but would also threaten a region considered an ecological treasure. This village would be the first place to disappear.

For decades, the ruling Communist Party has rammed through such projects by fiat. But the Nu River proposal, already delayed for more than a year, is now unexpectedly presenting the Chinese government with a quandary of its own making: will it abide by its own laws?

A coalition led by Chinese environmental groups is urging the central government to hold open hearings and make public a secret report on the Nu dams before making a final decision. In a country where people cannot challenge decisions by their leaders, such public participation is a fairly radical idea. But the groups argue that new environmental laws grant exactly that right.

"This is the case to set a precedent," said Ma Jun, an environmental consultant in Beijing. "For the first time, there is a legal basis for public participation. If it happens, it would be a major step forward."

China's leaders often embrace the concept of rule of law, if leaving open how they choose to define it. For many people in China's fledgling "civil society" - environmentalists, journalists, lawyers, academics and others - the law has become a tool to promote environmental protection and to try to expand the rights of individuals in an authoritarian political system.

But trying to invoke the law is risky. Chinese nongovernmental organizations, few of which existed a decade ago, have taken up the Nu as a major cause. But the activism on the Nu and other issues has provoked deep suspicions by the Communist Party even as a broader clampdown against such NGO's has forced some to shut down. The government knows China has a drastic pollution problem and has passed new environmental laws. But top leaders also demand high economic growth and need to increase energy supplies to get it. The "green laws" are becoming a crucible to test which side will prevail and whether ordinary people can take part in the process.

The closed process that led to the Three Gorges Dam is what opponents of the Nu dams most want to avoid. In the late 1980's, a wide range of intellectuals and others tried in vain to force public hearings to discuss the environmental and social costs of a project that has flooded a vast region and forced huge relocations. Ultimately, opponents could only muster a symbolic victory as the final vote in the National People's Congress included an unusually high number of abstentions or nay votes.

The central government is still deliberating how to proceed on the Nu. Domestic media coverage has been banned in recent months. Three central government ministries refused interview requests, as did provincial officials in Yunnan. Local officials along the Nu River, after initially agreeing to an interview, failed to reply to a list of written questions.

Out in the jagged mountains along China's remote southwestern border, villagers in Xiaoshaba gather information about their future from rumors. In early December, a team of surveyors inventoried property and measured the narrow terrace of village farmland along the Nu. Several villagers say local officials have told them that everyone would be relocated around the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday, which ends in early February - even if the dams have not yet been approved.

"If they tell me to move," said one villager, Zhang Jianhua, "I have no other choice."

A Legal Reprieve

In the spring of 2003, a slender, studious man named Yu Xiaogang learned that the hydropower industry was eyeing the rivers of southwestern China. Mr. Yu, an environmental resources manager, knew that China believed that hydropower was a cleaner alternative for its energy shortages and that the Nu was considered one of the country's richest, untapped resources. But he and others believed that the Nu would be untouchable.

The Nu, which translates as Angry River, roars out of the Tibetan Plateau east of the Himalayas and plunges through steep canyons just inside the border with Myanmar, formerly Burma, as it careers south before crossing the border.

In China, it passes through a mountainous region with more than 7,000 species of plants and 80 rare or endangered animals and fish. Unesco said the region "may be the most biologically diverse temperate ecosystem in the world" and designated it a World Heritage Site in the summer of 2003.

"We were very happy because we thought the Nu would be protected and would have no problems," said Mr. Yu, who also led Green Watershed, an environmental NGO.

But not long after the World Heritage designation, a state-run provincial newspaper announced that a public-private consortium planned to build 13 dams on the river. The project would be the largest cascade dam system in the world, and it appeared politically unstoppable.

The majority partner, the China Huadian Corporation, was a state-owned goliath; the local government was a minority partner. In Beijing, the State Development and Reform Commission, a powerful government ministry, had approved the dams in August and planned to present the plan to the State Council, or the Chinese cabinet, for final approval. Construction would begin in September 2003.

The environmental community was blindsided. More than 50,000 people, most of them from ethnic minority hill tribes, would be relocated. The Nu also was one of only two free flowing rivers in China. The State Environmental Protection Administration, or SEPA, the country's environmental watchdog, criticized the project in its official newspaper. But SEPA was considered one of the weakest ministries in the central government.

Then, a snag arose - a bureaucratic delay, hardly uncommon in China. August became September and the proposal had not yet been presented for final approval. During the delay, a new environmental law took effect on Sept. 1. Based on an American model, the China Environmental Impact Assessment Law required comprehensive environmental reviews in the planning stages of major public and private development projects.

Decades of relentless economic growth had left China with dire pollution problems and squandered natural resources. President Hu Jintao had made "sustainable development" a new government mantra. The assessment law gave the environmental agency new powers to handle and approve environmental reviews before a project was approved. It also called for public participation, including hearings, as part of the review, though it did not detail specific guidelines.

But it would take public pressure to force action on the Nu case. Despite its uniqueness and natural beauty, the Nu was not well known, largely because of its isolated location.

In September 2003, an environmental conference in Beijing brought together academics, government environmental officials and NGO's to discuss the Nu. A month later, Pan Yue, the outspoken vice minister of the environmental agency, organized China's first "Green Forum," a public relations event that included Chinese music and film stars.

One person at the forum was a woman named Wang Yongchen, a member of Green Earth Volunteers, an environmental NGO in Beijing. Initially, the Green Earth Volunteers had concentrated on tree planting and teaching children about the environment. But in recent years, the group had participated in efforts to stop a dam proposal in Sichuan Province.

At the forum, Ms. Wang persuaded 62 celebrities and film stars to sign a petition in support of "natural" rivers. She would later donate money to build 30 libraries in poor villages along the Nu.

By early 2004, the controversy had attracted worldwide interest as 60 international organizations agreed to lobby the Chinese government about the Nu. Hundreds of volunteers in China called Unesco to protest the dam proposal. The country's most prominent NGO, Friends of Nature, embraced the cause, while an environmental group in Sichuan collected more than 10,000 signatures to stop the project.

But the crucial factor was the Sept. 1 law. As the project appeared to be nearing approval, biologists, academics and environmentalists all argued that the government had not properly conducted an environmental review.

In late winter, as Ms. Wang guided a tour of Chinese journalists, her cellphone rang. A friend informed her that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had temporarily suspended the project so that it could be "carefully discussed and decided on scientifically."

Ms. Wang began to cry with joy. Later, some Chinese newspapers speculated that Mr. Wen's edict meant that the project was dead.

Mr. Yu thought otherwise.

"I thought this was the first success of public participation," he said. "But I did not think the decision was final."

Opening a Closed Process

Located a short drive from the city of Liuku, Xiaoshaba is like countless poor villages along the Nu. Peasants live in crude homes, some under the same roof as their livestock and chickens. Some villagers have never gone farther than Liuku; some have never left the village. But on a May afternoon in 2004, a bus arrived. Inside was Yu Xiaogang, and he wanted to take villagers on a trip.

The prime minister's order to suspend the project had stunned developers and provincial officials. A delegation had hurried to Beijing to try to restart the process. At the same time, the government's environmental agency focused on the assessment review.

Mr. Yu was anxious to get villagers involved because the law had highlighted public participation. Most villagers knew nothing about the project or how it would change their lives.

"I thought we must let the Nu River people have their voice," Mr. Yu said.

So he offered to take a small group of villagers to the site of the Manwan Dam on the upper reaches of Mekong River in the southern Yunnan. In 2002, Mr. Yu had written an assessment of the social costs of the Manwan project, a report later endorsed by the prime minister at the time, Zhu Rongji. Leaving from Xiaoshaba, Mr. Yu took 14 peasants on a daylong journey to the Manwan, where they found many people living as scavengers.

"They heard how the government made promises but didn't follow through," Mr. Yu said. "Ten years later, nobody cared about them. The Nu River people were shocked."

Mr. Yu later led a small group of peasants to a Beijing hydropower conference jointly sponsored by the United Nations and China's National Development and Reform Commission. As several speakers extolled the virtues of dams, the dusty group of peasants sat in the upper reaches of the auditorium. Mr. Yu was allowed to speak at a sub-session of the conference. The villagers had practiced giving speeches but were not granted a speaking slot.

Meanwhile, momentum seemed to be shifting in favor of dam supporters. Prime Minister Wen had visited Yunnan to confer with provincial officials. Two prominent scholars toured the Nu - on a trip sponsored by dam developers - and attracted wide public attention by attacking the environmentalists.

But that criticism was insignificant compared to a broader governmental crackdown under way against nongovernmental organizations.

In the spring of this year, President Hu ordered an intensive examination of NGO's because of concerns of the role that environmental groups had played in helping to topple governments in Central Asia. In a secret speech to top officials, Mr. Hu warned that the United States was using such groups to try to foment social unrest.

Before, NGO's had hoped that onerous licensing restrictions were about to be repealed. Instead, environmental groups and other NGO's across the country were closely scrutinized, with some losing their licenses. Some groups began to fear that the "legal space" granted to the civil society would be tightened, or closed.

In Yunnan, officials began to pressure opponents. Mr. Yu would not comment about whether he had come under pressure. But acquaintances say he that has been forbidden from traveling to international conferences and that officials have put pressure on him.

In Beijing, the environmental assessment report was finished by this summer. But the Ministry of Water Resources, noting that government reports about international rivers were considered proprietary information, declared a small section of the assessment to be a state secret and forbade its release.

Dam opponents said the section could remain secret but argued that publicizing the rest of the report was essential for public discussion of the project. The government still had not outlined the potential environmental risks or explained what would happen to relocated villagers.

So on Aug. 31, opponents mailed a letter to the State Council and later posted it on the Internet. It cited Chinese law and said any decision without public participation "lacks public support and cannot tolerate history's scrutiny."

Nearly four months later, the government had not responded.

An Uncertain Future

A traffic sign on the narrow, unpaved road that passes through Xiaoshaba carries a propaganda message: "A Model Village for Democratic Rule of Law." A short walk away, beside the concrete block marking the proposed first dam, Guan Fulin, 55, said she had spoken to the surveyors who measured the village land in early December.

"The officials told us it is definitely going to happen," Mrs. Guan said. She trusted that the government would take care of her but admitted that she did not yet know how she would be compensated or where she would go. Pointing to the village, she said, "All these people will be moving."

If so, it would likely signal the start of a hydropower gold rush in Yunnan Province. One study estimated that China might build enough new dams, most of them in Yunnan, to double its hydroelectric output in the next five years. One plan would inundate one of the most popular tourist attractions in China - Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Part of the frenzied hydropower development is driven by the thirst for new energy supplies. But part of it is caused by the breakup of the state monopoly that once controlled electrical generation in China. That breakup left regional state-owned energy giants who were each assigned "assets" - like rivers or coal deposits. Each faces competitive pressures to develop new power plants quickly in order to claim market share.

Mr. Ma, the environmental consultant in Beijing, said environmentalists understood that China faced a complex challenge in developing new energy sources even as it must reduce pollution. But he said this intense pressure to develop was why laws that provide oversight and public review must serve as safeguards.

"Before the Nu River proposal, you would hear about opposition to certain projects," Mr. Ma said. "But it was all based on the tremendous courage of individuals. This time, we see progress in Chinese law that makes it possible for a more systemic challenge."

He added: "There is now more awareness of environmental rights and the rights of people as citizens. For such a major problem, they believe they have the right to know about it and at least have their views heard."

The dispute over the Nu seems at a standstill. Ultimately, the decision on holding hearings may fall to the prime minister. Earlier this year, Unesco issued a statement expressing its "gravest concerns" about the potential damage to the World Heritage Site. In October, environmentalists boycotted a dam conference linked to the National Reform and Development Commission. Organizers had promised to show parts of the assessment report, but environmentalists believed it was an effort to avoid full public hearings.

Ms. Wang, of the NGO Green Earth Volunteers, described the dilemma in simple terms.

"If the law is not enforced, what shall we do?" she asked. "We have this law. Why doesn't this law work?"

Courts Criticize Judges' Handling of Asylum Cases - New York Times

Courts Criticize Judges' Handling of Asylum Cases - New York TimesDecember 26, 2005
Courts Criticize Judges' Handling of Asylum Cases

Federal appeals court judges around the nation have repeatedly excoriated immigration judges this year for what they call a pattern of biased and incoherent decisions in asylum cases.

In one decision last month, Richard A. Posner, a prominent and relatively conservative federal appeals court judge in Chicago, concluded that "the adjudication of these cases at the administrative level has fallen below the minimum standards of legal justice."

Similarly, the federal appeals court in Philadelphia said in September that it had "time and time again" been forced to rebuke immigration judges for their "intemperate and humiliating remarks." Citing cases from around the country, the court wrote of "a disturbing pattern" of misconduct in immigration rulings that sent people back to countries where they had said they would face persecution.

The harsh criticism may stem in part from a surge in immigration cases before the federal appeals courts. Immigration cases, most involving asylum seekers, accounted for about 17 percent of all federal appeals cases last year, up from just 3 percent in 2001. In the courts in New York and California, nearly 40 percent of federal appeals involved immigration cases.

The increase occurred after Attorney General John Ashcroft made changes in 2002 to streamline appellate review within the immigration courts, which are part of the Justice Department.

Many federal appeals court judges say those changes essentially shifted work to their courts. The Justice Department counters that the increase is largely unrelated to the Ashcroft changes and is instead the result of a higher rate of appeals in the courts in New York and California.

Jonathan Cohn, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department, said the quality of the decisions rendered by the immigration courts on the whole was good, noting that the government won more than 90 percent of the cases in the federal appeals, or circuit, courts.

"The circuit courts do not see any of the tens of thousands of correctly decided cases that aliens choose not to appeal," Mr. Cohn said. "They're only seeing a fraction of the cases, and only a small fraction of those give rise to criticism."

But that criticism can be very sharp, particularly given the temperate language that is the norm in the federal appellate courts.

In the Philadelphia decision in September, Judge Julio M. Fuentes of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had this to say about Annie S. Garcy, an immigration judge, or I.J., in Newark: "The tone, the tenor, the disparagement, and the sarcasm of the I.J. seem more appropriate to a court television show than a federal court proceeding."

Judge Garcy ordered Qun Wang returned to China, where he said his wife had been forcibly sterilized. "He's a horrible father as far as the court's concerned," Judge Garcy ruled, saying Mr. Wang was obsessed with having a son and did not pay enough attention to his daughter, who is disabled.

All of that was irrelevant to the issues before Judge Garcy, Judge Fuentes wrote, returning the case to the immigration system for a rehearing before a different judge. "The factual issue before" Judge Garcy, Judge Fuentes wrote, had been only "whether Wang's wife had been forcibly sterilized and whether, if he returned to China, the Chinese government would inflict improper punishment on him for leaving the country."

Through a spokeswoman, Judge Garcy declined to comment.

In another decision, Judge Marsha S. Berzon of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said a decision by Nathan W. Gordon, an immigration judge, was "literally incomprehensible," "incoherent" and "indecipherable." A crucial sentence in Judge Gordon's decision, she said, "defies parsing under ordinary rules of English grammar."

Judge Gordon ordered Ernesto Adolfo Recinos de Leon returned to Guatemala, notwithstanding Mr. Recinos's testimony that he would be persecuted there for his political activities. Judge Berzon sent the case back to the immigration system for another hearing.

Judge Gordon, now retired, did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the unit of the Justice Department responsible for immigration adjudications, declined requests for interviews with officials there but provided answers to written questions.

"We would caution against drawing broad conclusions," the statement said, "from a small number of cases in the federal courts." The nation's roughly 215 immigration judges, the statement continued, "handle more than 300,000 matters every year," and "the vast majority of I.J.'s do an excellent job given such a large caseload."

Denise Noonan Slavin, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, a union affiliated with the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said she was concerned about what she called the rising number of "scathing opinions" from federal appeals court judges.

"To go name-calling and having an open season on judges, it's crossing the line of civility," Judge Slavin said. "That is not to say that immigration judges don't make mistakes."

But Lory Diana Rosenberg, a former judge on the administrative body within the Justice Department that reviews decisions from immigration judges before they reach the federal appeals courts, said the recent criticisms were warranted.

"They're a brave, honest and proper reaction," Ms. Rosenberg said, "to a pattern of unfettered misuse of authority."

Mary M. Schroeder, the chief judge of the Ninth Circuit, which hears almost half of all immigration appeals, said the current system was "woefully inadequate."

Immigration judges, she said, "are very unevenly qualified, and they work under very bad conditions."

The people who appear before immigration judges often do not speak English, and their cases often turn in part on changing political and social conditions around the world. In a decision in March, Judge Posner wrote that immigration judges' "lack of familiarity with relevant foreign cultures" was "disturbing."

Judge Slavin, who sits in Miami, disagreed, saying she and her colleagues often had a sophisticated understanding of conditions in the most relevant countries, which are China for immigration judges in New York and Philadelphia; Eastern Europe for those in Chicago; Haiti, Columbia and Venezuela for those in Miami; and Central and South America for those in California.

"I know more about Haitian politics than the people coming before me," Judge Slavin said. But she acknowledged both the difficulty and the importance of her work.

"Immigration law can be life-or-death decisions in terms of whether you're going to send someone back to a place where they may be killed," Judge Slavin said. "I have over 1,000 cases on my docket. Most of us do about four decisions a day. In Texas, on the border, you might get 10 a day."

Judges at the top and bottom of the system blame the administrative body between them, the Board of Immigration Appeals, for the surge in appeals and the mixed quality of the decisions reaching the federal appeals courts. The board is meant to act as a filter, correcting erroneous or intemperate decisions from the immigration judges and providing general guidance. The losing party can appeal the board's decision to the federal courts.

But the board largely stopped reviewing immigration cases in a meaningful way after it was restructured by Mr. Ashcroft in 2002, several judges said.

Mr. Ashcroft reduced the number of judges on the board to 11 from 23. "They just hacked off all the liberals is basically what they did," said Ms. Rosenberg, who served on the board from 1995 to 2002.

Mr. Ashcroft also expanded the number of appeals heard by a single board member and encouraged the use of one-word affirmances in appropriate cases.

The goal of the changes, Mr. Ashcroft said, was streamlining. The board had a backlog of more than 56,000 cases, which fell to 32,000 by September 2004.

At a conference at New York Law School in September, John M. Walker Jr., the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, said the changes at the board level served to transfer its backlog to his court and other federal appeals courts.

"He just moved the problem from one court to another court," Judge Walker said of Mr. Ashcroft.

In the two and a half years after April 2002, said John R. B. Palmer, a staff lawyer at the Second Circuit, his court received twice as many appeals from immigration board decisions as it had in the previous 30 years combined.

Several federal appeals court judges said they were frustrated by the quality of the board's review of decisions from immigration judges.

In his March decision, Judge Posner wrote that the board often affirmed "either with no opinion or with a very short, unhelpful, boilerplate opinion even when" the immigration judge had committed "manifest errors of fact and logic."

As a consequence, Judge Walker said, "We're the first meaningful review that the petitioner has."

In its statement, the immigration review office said "we absolutely disagree" with Judge Walker's comment. "Each decision that comes before the board is carefully reviewed by a staff attorney and at least one board member," the statement said.

According to the office, the number of one-word affirmances dropped this year, to about 20 percent from about a third in previous years.

The solution to some of what recent criticisms identified as problems, several federal appeals court judges said, is to add positions to the immigration board and to require judges there to explain the reasons for their decisions.

"At least write a couple of pages, three pages," said Jon O. Newman, a judge on the Second Circuit. "It would really help us."

An article to be published early next year in the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal concludes that the shift toward the federal appeals court "was triggered by the high volume of B.I.A. decisions issued starting in March 2002, and a general dissatisfaction with the B.I.A.'s review."

In its statement, the immigration review office disagreed.

"The surge in federal appeals," the statement said, "is not related to the board's increased number of decisions but the rate of appeal." In some parts of the country, immigrants appeal only 7 percent of the time, the statement said. In the states covered by the federal appeals courts in New York and California, the appeals rate is now more than 30 percent.

At an argument in an appeal of an immigration case in September in Chicago, the three judges on the panel expressed exasperation with the current state of affairs.

"Does the Justice Department have any idea of what is happening to your cases in this court?" Judge Posner asked Cindy S. Ferrier, the government lawyer defending the decision of the immigration judge.

She said yes.

A second judge, Ilana Rovner, offered Ms. Ferrier a measure of sympathy.

"It is so cruel to send a lovely human being like you in here to be a messenger of such madness, such nonsense," Judge Rovner said.