Tuesday, June 30, 2009



June 30, 2009

French safety inspectors had discovered faults two years ago on the Yemenia airliner that crashed Tuesday near Comoros, and the airline had been under strict surveillance by the French authorities since, France’s transport minister said.

Relatives and friends of passengers arriving at a crisis center set up at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport, where the flight had originated.
The plane was carrying 142 passengers and 11 crew on a flight from the Yemeni capital of Sana to Moroni, on the main island of Grand Comore in the Indian Ocean. The flight originated in Paris and stopped in Marseille before continuing to Yemen, where the passengers and crew changed planes.

The Associated Press reported that a child was rescued from the crash site and that three bodies had been recovered.

The Airbus A310-300 crashed into the Indian Ocean early Tuesday as it approached an airport on the island nation of Comoros in heavy winds, the Yemeni authorities said.

The French transport minister, Dominique Bussereau, told French television that the “A310 in question was inspected in 2007 by the DGAC and they noticed a certain number of faults.” He was referring to the French civil aviation authority. The plane had not returned to France since that inspection, Mr. Bussereau said, adding that the airline was to be interviewed “shortly” by a European Union committee which has the power to ban airlines from European skies in the case of serious safety violations. The E.U. is due to publish its latest quarterly list of airlines banned from the region this week. Officials of the French air safety regulator and the E.U. Transport Commission in Brussels were not immediately available for comment.

The majority of the passengers on the doomed jet were from Comoros, returning home from Paris , the deputy chief of Yemen’s civil aviation authority, Mohammed Abdul Qader, told journalists in Sana.

The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that 66 of the passengers were French. Hadji Mohamed Ali, the director of the airport at Moroni, told French radio that the plane lost radio contact with air traffic controllers five minutes before the crash.

President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his “deep emotion” about the accident and said France was sending military equipment and personnel from the French islands of Mayotte and Réunion to assist in the search operation. The Yemeni authorities said the bodies of at least three victims had been recovered, along with debris.

On June 1, an Air France flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed in the Atlantic, killing all 228 people aboard.



Jun 30, 2009

An Airbus A310-300 from Yemen with 153 people on board crashed into the sea as it approached the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros in bad weather early today. One survivor has been rescued from the sea, officials said.

Airbus crashes in the Comoros

Some bodies were recovered from the wreck of the Yemenia plane, said Abdul-Rahman Abdul-Qader, undersecretary of Yemen’s aviation authority. The airline said one survivor had been rescued from the sea.

The Paris airports authority said 66 French nationals were aboard the plane, which was flying the final leg of a flight taking passengers from Paris and Marseille to Comoros via Yemen.

A large number of Comoros nationals were also on board.

Two French military planes and a French ship left the Indian Ocean islands of Mayotte and Reunion to search for the plane.

“The planes have seen debris at the supposed point of impact,” Ibrahim Kassim, an official at the regional air security body ASECNA, told Reuters.

It is the second Airbus to plunge into the sea this month, following an Air France Airbus A330-200 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing 228 people on board on June 1. A preliminary report on that crash is due on Thursday.

The Paris-Marseille-Yemen leg of the Yemenia flight was flown by an Airbus A330. In Sanaa, those passengers who were flying on to the Comoros changed onto a second Yemenia plane, the A310 that crashed.

French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said faults had been detected during inspections in France in 2007 on the Yemenia A310, and that it had not flown to France since.

“The A310 in question was inspected in 2007 by the DGAC (French transport authorities) and they noticed a certain number of faults,” he told the I-tele television channel.

“The company was not on the black list but was subject to stricter checks on our part, and was due to be interviewed shortly by the European Union’s safety committee.”

French television showed pictures of friends and relatives of the passengers weeping at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, many of them railing at the airline.

Airbus said it was dispatching a team of investigators to the Comoros. It said the aircraft was built in 1990 and had been used by Yemenia since 1999. Its engines were built by Pratt and Whitney, a unit of United Technologies (UTX.N).

“We still do not have information about the reason behind the crash, or survivors,” Mohammad al-Sumairi, deputy general manager for Yemenia operations, told Reuters.

A Yemenia official said there were 142 passengers including three infants, and 11 crew. The plane was flying to Moroni, capital of Grande Comore, the main island of the archipelago.

“The weather conditions were rough; strong wind and high seas. The wind speed recorded on land at the airport was 61 kph (38 mph). There could be other factors,” Sumairi said.

“We think the crash is somewhere along its landing approach,” said Kassim from ASECNA. “The weather is really not very favourable. The sea is very rough.”

ASECNA — the Agency for Aviation Security and Navigation in Africa and Madagascar — covers Francophone Africa.


The French military said it had sent military and civilian medical teams, boats and divers to the crash site aboard the plane from Reunion. Comoros authorities sent small speedboats to the area.

France and the Comoros have enjoyed close ties since the islands’ independence in 1975. France estimates 200,000 people from Comoros live in mainland France, and remittances from France are an important part of the islands’ economy.

A United Nations official at Moroni airport, who declined to be named, said the control tower had received notification the plane was coming in to land, and then lost contact with it.

Yemenia is 51% owned by Yemen and 49% by Saudi Arabia. Its fleet includes two Airbus 330-200s, four Airbus 310-300s and four Boeing 737-800s, according to its website.

The Comoros comprises three small volcanic islands, Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli, in the Mozambique channel, 300 km northwest of Madagascar and a similar distance east of the African mainland.



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
June 30, 2009

I have written about this subject before. I have no problem having a go at it again. I probably will do so again in the near future until Kofi Annan becomes decisive enough to do the only sensible thing; hand over the envelop containing suspects of the 2008 massacres to the Hague.

However, while we await Annan’s latest deadline, there is a curious development within the ODM ranks. Led by William Ruto, a group seems obsessed with The Hague trial as opposed to a locally constituted Tribunal. They are slowly but carefully spinning the story that if a local court was set up here, the influential beneficiaries of the post election violence now holding top positions in the government will derail it.

I may be wrong but my take on this is that William Ruto is a member of the government holding a top position in the current cabinet. He cannot today say he never benefitted from the post election chaos. Because of the chaos that followed, Ruto was one of the privileged few that sat at the negotiating table to craft a coalition government.

And like seven other members from both sides of the coalition, he benefitted hugely by being appointed to the cabinet in a very senior position. If this was not a benefit, then I do not know how else Ruto should have benefitted.
Of the eight members of the national accord team, only Martha Karua is now out of the cabinet by choice after falling out with PNU operatives. The rest are comfortably settled in the government and are more or less wielding a lot of power and influence.

Could Ruto be furthering an argument that the only people who benefitted after the chaos were Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga? Surely as for Kibaki, he was already sworn in a president for a second term as the war was raging in Rift Valley and other parts of the country. He never gained anything more as a result of the National Accord.

That leaves only Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi who were subsequently appointed as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister from the ODM side as the possible beneficiaries in Ruto’s mind. Again this depends on Ruto’s interpretation of posts such as the ones he, Sally Kosgey and 20 other ODM MPs received.

William Ruto may have been a very popular regional leader n the Rift Valley in the run up to the elections. He may have been instrumental in getting votes for the ODM. But it may be misleading if not overrating his role in the 2007 because he was not the only major player in the province. He may have been the most vocal politician to champion the anti- Moi campaign but he certainly was not the only player.

It would be a travesty of justice, a misrepresentation of facts to downplay the crucial roles that were played by Sally Kosgey, Musa Sirma, Henry Kosgey, Kipkalias Kones and William Ole Ntimama in the entire Rift Valley.

What is intriguing is that nobody has confessed to reading the contents of the envelop, let alone openly accuse Ruto of being the mastermind of the post poll chaos. Yet, he is so buy exonerating himself left and right for the past one and a half years. Even as the likes of Uhuru have tended to play it down, Ruto never misses an opportunity to blame others for the chaos. He is ready to blame everybody except William Ruto.

The truth is the evidence that Justice Waki gathered is not sufficient to convict anybody. The report is very clear on the process. More and thorough investigations will have to be conducted before arrests are made. These investigations will have to be carried out by foreign investigators to ensure fairness for all parties concerned. During these investigations, more names will probably be added to Prosecutor Ocarpo’s list while some names in the current list may be dropped for lack of sufficient evidence.

It is at this investigation stage that William Ruto, Ababu Namwamba and others that seem to know much, that seem to have gathered enough evidence against the beneficiaries of the Coalition government will be free to spill the beans as they have been reported to be threatening.

Since they seem to know who instigated the Kibera and Kisumu riots, they should feel obliged to record their statements and volunteer to be prosecution witnesses when Ocarpo lands in town.

The way I understand it is simple: We want The Hague or a local Tribunal to deal with impunity cases that have dogged us for almost two decades now. In setting up a tribunal or sending suspects to The Hague, let us agree that anybody found to have been sufficiently involved in planning and executing the violence that caused the lives of innocent Kenyans should never be spared. If in the end we find that Mwai Kibaki, Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta, Musalia Mudavadi, William Ruto or George Saito was involved, we will pray that the law takes its cause.

This is the reason Ruto’s current panic is premature and misplaced.




By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
June 30, 2009

The Mungiki sect is outlawed in Kenya. It is an underground organization that operates in this country as a terrorist organization. It specializes in killing innocent Kenyans- more particularly the Kikuyu community in Central and Rift Valley provinces.

Recent massacres of tens of people in Kirinyaga and Muranga are still fresh in our minds. And as I write this article, their sect leader, already serving another jail sentence for earlier crimes is again in court charged with the mastermind of close to thirty deaths in the same region.

Started as a religious sect for the Agikuyu, the outfit has grown into a murderous mob that thrives on extorting cash and services from victims that have long given up on police protection. If truth be said, it is their tendency to kill and exploit poor peasants indiscriminately that has born the existence of another killing mob; the vigilantes of Kirinyaga and Muranga. This second group has turned as vicious as the Mungiki themselves.

From the records available; the Mungiki sect, along with the Talibans, Kizunguzungu, Bagdad and any other illegal groupings were banned from operating way back in 2003 when one Philemon Abongo’ was still the Police Commissioner. To my knowledge, that ban has never been lifted either by the government or by successive police commissioners.

Last weekend, a section of the local press reported that former President Daniel Moi held a rare rally in Nakuru that was reported to have been attended by close to 10,000 youths that looked everything like Mungiki followers. These hooligans came from all parts of Central and Rift Valley provinces. And they arrived in similar styles and circumstances as they had done in the past.

It reminded me of the time Moi addressed a similar rally in Nakuru in 2001 where he invited the Mungikis to lay down their arms in exchange for material gifts or jobs in the government. That gathering was also addressed by the late Kihika Kimani, the then KANU chairman for the area.

A year later, it transpired that Moi was actually propping up the Mungikis for his eventual handover of power at the end of 2002. That was the reason his first big rally to launch Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign took place at the Afraha Stadium where government vehicles and matatus were used to transport thousands of youth from the two provinces to the venue. Then as this last rally, the youths checked into available hotels in Nakuru and came in buses hired for the same purpose. Obviously somebody must have footed the bill this time round as was done in 2001 and 2002.

Whereas it was easy to assume that Moi ordered government resources to meet such expenses, questions must be raised as to who financed the Nakuru rally last week. Or have the Mungikis amassed enough wealth due to their illegal activities that today they can finance themselves whenever called upon to do so?

If Moi tolerated the Mungikis to destabilize his political opponents while he was still in power, what use is it for him to continue associating with this illegal sect? Is this the group to bring about peace in the Rift Valley that Moi is purporting to preach? Does Moi understand the mind of a Mungiki; a person that can carry out a ritual killing without any human feeling at all? How can a past head of state associate with bizarre murderers that have made the deaths of ordinary Kenyans their pastime?

Much as we may want to blame Moi for associating with this illegal outfit; one wonders at the role played by his former Vice President, George Saitoti whose office apparently forced all DCs and Dos in the region to attend the rally. Did Saitoti know or didn’t he know the sinister agenda of the meeting? What about our arms of department charged with the responsibility to gather intelligence on such gatherings? Did they know that the Mungiki followers would be addressed by Moi as part of his peace drive in Nakuru? If they did, did they inform the powers that be about it?

My basic knowledge of proscribed sects is that they are outlawed. They are not supposed to operate above board. They are not supposed to appear at public meetings. They are supposed to be arrested on sight and charged at the nearest law courts not for crimes they have committed but for belonging to an outlawed organization. That is crime enough to send them to prison for a long time. Yet here in Kenya, a former head of state invites them to a meeting, addresses them and walks away as if nothing has happened.

If Moi lived in another country, he would have been questioned by the CID by now.


Monday, June 29, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
June 29, 2009

The death of Michael Jackson invokes many fond memories of the 1970s and 80s when his music career was peaking. This is the generation I belong to. I, liker my generation, grew up with MJ’s action packed music that has remained as danceable as ever.

I remember some years back when I was travelling with my two young daughters from Detroit to Nairobi. As we waited to connect to Amsterdam, there was this shop playing old Motown music of the Temptations, the Jackson Fives and others of that era. Before I realized it, the girls had dashed to the shop and were dancing to those old tunes to the amusement of the shop attendants and other shoppers. For their efforts they got mugs with MJ and The Temptations signatures. I couldn’t believe that nearly thirty years later, my daughters were responding to the same music the way I did as a young man in my 20s.

Just last Saturday, a day after MJ died, the same little girl who danced in Detroit was visibly upset on learning that Michael had died. Despite her tender age of 12 at the time Michael died, the first thing she asked me was if she could call her friends in the US to tell them about Michel’s death; never mind that the star’s death was allover the world.

This reaction just goes to show how Michael’s 40 years in the music industry will transcend all ages for generations to come. And may be through his music, he has conquered death because he will still be singing for humanity many years after.

However, as I ravaged the papers and switched TV channels to get everything I need to know about my lifetime entertainer, so many images and scenes from the past came popping up. My memory went into overdrive and dug up a lot of the past events and people related to the Jackson era.

I realized that it was difficult to think or talk about Michael Jackson without remembering the tumultuous years of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s when his contemporary entertainers such as Prince, The Pointers Sisters, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie, The Temptations, Isaac Hayes, Millie Jackson, Donna Summer and Gladys Maria Night controlled our airwaves and dancing halls.

I remembered George Benson, Teddy Pendergrass, Curtis Mayfield, Barry White, Billy Ocean, Marvin Gaye, Thomas Rufus, BB King and Ben E King.

My mind raced faster and retrieved Freddie Jackson, Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, James Brown and MJ’s little sister Janet Jackson from my past.
Also in my mind were poet Nikki Giovanni, revolutionaries Angela Davis, Stockley Carmichael and Eldrige Cleaver, author James Baldwin and actor Jim Brown.

The reason these images kept coming up was simple. The American cultural domination of the world was at its peak. Black actors and political activists were emerging in their droves to claim a stake in the American society and in the process; they were asserting their Black consciousness in a racist American system.

It was the age of Black beauty, afro- hairstyle and general defiance of Western cultural colonialism. This era of Black consciousness united us with every Black movement across the globe from South Africa through Bob Marley’s Jamaica to the struggles of Black Panther members in the North America. When Martin Luther King and Malcolm X fell by the gun, we felt it like they were our own brothers. It was the same feeling we had when Bob Marley and Steve Biko died thousands of miles apart.

Led by Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X, James Brown, Angela Davis, Stockley Carmichael and a host of other Black Panther Movement radicals, we in Africa readily identified with voices of conscience be they in music, writings, poetry, politics, sports or armed resistance to racist regimes worldwide. We identified with similar struggles in Walter Rodney’s Caribbean Islands, the struggle against South Africa’s apartheid and Ian Smith’s UDI in the present Zimbabwe.

As we innocently imbibed anything American especially if it came from Black brothers, we in Africa had our own music in Lwambo Makiadi( Franco), Tabu Ley, Youlou, Johnny Bokelo, Marie Marie, Dr. Nico, Manu Dibangu, Yvonne Chakachaka, Mangelepa, Samba Mapangala, Fella Kuti and Osibisa to celebrate.

However, the American brand was too strong for our struggling music industry such that as the American icons were selling millions of their music worldwide, our local heroes were confined to their local markets determined by geography and language. The only exception to this were the Congolese artists who despite their singing in Lingala and French still found lots of fans in Kenya’s rural and urban slum dwellers.

Back here in Africa, as we mourned the deaths of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., we were acutely aware that Nelson Mandela was rotting in Robben Island, jailed by his apartheid oppressors. Yet these injustices in far away lands brought home the reality of a raceless class society where even some emerging Black rulers on the continent were beginning to display oppressive tendencies very much like what was happening in the US and South Africa.

As the JF Kennedy assassination took the world by storm, Kenya was mourning the death of its first victim of political assassination- Pio Gama Pinto. As apartheid South Africa was using brute force to suppress Black uprising, Milton Obote was also using excessive force to send Kabaka of Uganda into exile. Patrice Lumumba was already dead as soon Tom Mboya of Kenya would follow; courtesy of political assassinations.

This was the era that Black American art dominated in our part of the world. We watched Jim Brown’s movies because they were the first movies we watched that depicted racial struggle between Blacks and Whites in America. We watched Bruce Lee because we wanted action and the triumph of good over evil, whatever that meant.

We listened to the lyrics of Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gay, The mighty Temptations and Millie Jackson because they were social commentators with messages we could easily identify with.

If Isaac Hayes talked of a father who never had a fixed aboard, Millie Jackson liberated women from male domination by her defiant sex messages that were until then considered taboo. She defiantly stated that “If being in love with a married man was wrong, then she didn’t have to be right!”

For Michael Jackson, it was the power of his youth, probably the youngest star at the time that propelled him into the adult arena with powerful, energetic dance floor tunes. He was our wonder kid at the time, a wonder to behold. And as one of his friends, Sean Combs said following his death, “Michael changed the world for every race and creed on earth.”

This dancing machine was a product of the Cold War era, the Boogie dance hall and the disco music generation. But MJ was ahead of his time. He used technology to thrill his fans all over the world like no other musician.

If Bruce Lee, God Father, Rambo and Terminator mesmerized audiences on the big screen, MJ captivated live millions of fans across the globe. He was the most adored entertainer that ever lived even surpassing the Beatles and Elvis Priestley because he cut across all races in all continents.

Listening to songs like Thriller, Beat It, Billy Jeans, I’ll be There, Black or White, I’m Bad and many other songs, one realizes that MJ wrote songs with simple themes for the ordinary people. Perhaps this was the reason he has left the world that was moved by his greatness in which his childlike character charmed many hearts around the globe.

He has departed from millions that never met him yet loved him like one of their own. Perhaps it would be accurate to state here that MJ left millions of widows: women who wailed, wept and experienced orgasm just by his sheer sight on stage. A look at his Dangerous Tour in Bucharest, no less that five hundred women fainted in just one night of concert where tears of joy flowed freely as the wonder boy sang his famous I’ll be There song.

In his song Thriller, one could detect a person obsessed with the weird underworld that he desired to conquer and take control of. Dancing with ghost-like characters on stage gave him the feeling that his music could change and control the universe. In so doing this, MJ lived in fantasy world yet his music was real and enduring. And as we mourn him today, one can be forgiven for suggesting that MJ actually conquered death with his music because he will continue to entertain us for many years after his death!

I remember hearing many myths about Michael Jackson. One such folktale talked of his bedroom in which there was pure oxygen. People in the know justified such eccentric behavior because it was rumored that MJ had a plan to outlive all his fans and die at the age of 150 years. If that were the case, the king of pop has passed on 100 years earlier.

What he has left his fans with are the usual ecstasy, adrenalin, bursting emotions, fainting in crowds, police ambulances and paramedics on standby for fainting fans that were the hallmark of his live concerts.

MJ Worked the crowd like no other entertainer had done in modern history. He was a dancing robot, with perfect reflex action and superb body coordination. He was a master of crowd control, a black phenomenon on stage, and the epitome of break-dance era.

Fare thee well MJ


Sunday, June 28, 2009



AP Music Writer
June 28 2009


The cardiologist who was with Michael Jackson during the pop star's final moments sat down with investigators for three hours to explain his actions, and his spokeswoman says he is not a suspect.

Dr. Conrad Murray, a physician with a tangled financial and personal history who was hired to accompany Jackson on his planned summer concert tour, reportedly performed CPR until paramedics arrived at Jackson's rented home. The pop star was declared dead later at UCLA Medical Center.

In his interview with police, the doctor "helped identify the circumstances around the death of the pop icon and clarified some inconsistencies," Murray's spokeswoman Miranda Sevcik said in a statement Saturday. "Investigators say the doctor is in no way a suspect and remains a witness to this tragedy."

The statement said Murray has been in Los Angeles since Jackson's death, and plans to stay here until his cooperation is no longer needed.

Police confirmed that they interviewed Murray, adding that he was cooperative and "provided information which will aid the investigation."

The interview took place on a busy day when one of Jackson's lawyers was chosen to represent the family's legal interests and celebrities descended on Los Angeles for a star-studded public celebration of the King of Pop's life at the annual BET awards show.

President Barack Obama has written to Michael Jackson's family expressing condolence, White House adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." Obama did not issue a statement following Jackson's death, but the White House has said the president saw the pop star as a spectacular performer whose life had sad and tragic aspects.

L. Londell McMillan, who represented Jackson last year in a breach of contact lawsuit and has advised high-profile clients such as Prince, was picked to help the family by Katherine Jackson, the singer's mother, said a person who requested anonymity because the matter is private.

The legal move came as the Rev. Jesse Jackson revealed that Michael Jackson's family wants a second, private autopsy of the pop superstar because of unanswered questions about how he died.

"It's abnormal," Jesse Jackson said from Chicago a day after visiting the Jackson family. "We don't know what happened. Was he injected and with what? All reasonable doubt should be addressed."

People close to Jackson have said since his death that they were concerned about his use of painkillers. Los Angeles County medical examiners completed their autopsy Friday and said Jackson had taken prescription medication.

Medical officials also said there was no indication of trauma or foul play. An official cause of death could take weeks.

There was no word from the Jackson family on funeral plans. Many of Jackson's relatives have gathered at the family's Encino compound, caring there for Jackson's three children.

It remains unclear who Jackson designated as potential guardians for his children. Those details — likely contained in the 50-year-old singer's will — have not been released.

An attorney for Deborah Rowe, the mother of Jackson's two oldest children, issued a statement Saturday asking that the Jackson family "be able to say goodbye to their loved one in peace."

Sisters Janet and La Toya arrived Saturday at the mansion Jackson had been renting and left without addressing reporters. Moving vans also showed up at the Jackson home, leaving about an hour later. There was no indication what they might have taken away.

The Jackson family issued a statement Saturday expressing its grief over the death and thanking his supporters.

"In one of the darkest moments of our lives we find it hard to find the words appropriate to this sudden tragedy we all had to encounter," said the statement made through People magazine. "We miss Michael endlessly."

There was no immediate word on whether the second autopsy was being performed right away. Jesse Jackson described the family as grief-stricken.

"They're hurt because they lost a son. But the wound is now being kept open by the mystery and unanswered questions of the cause of death," he said.

Organizers of the annual BET awards show — which recognizes the best in music, acting and sports — scrambled to revamp Sunday's show to honor Jackson and his legacy.

Previously announced acts, such as Beyonce and Ne-Yo, hoped to change their planned performances to honor Jackson, said producer Stephen Hill. Other artists who hadn't planned to attend the ceremony, including Usher and Justin Timberlake, tried to catch last-minute flights to Los Angeles to participate.


Associated Press writers Anthony McCartney; Sophia Tareen in Chicago; Juan A. Lozano in Houston; and Gillian Flaccus, Brooke Donald, Beth Harris and Mike Blood and AP Global Media Services Production Manager Nico Maounis in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Saturday, June 27, 2009



Associated Press Writer
June 27 2009

LOS ANGELES – The King of Pop seemed driven and upbeat in the weeks, even hours, before his death as he rehearsed rigorously for a series of 50 concerts in London that were to begin a late-career comeback.

Friends and colleagues said Friday that Jackson appeared in recent months to be rejuvenated by the prospect of performing again.

After years of seclusion following a child sex scandal, the pop icon was heavily involved in all aspects of the concert rehearsals. He had hired a personal trainer and was practicing with backup dancers and choreographers several hours a day, they said.

"He was working hard, setting the example, overseeing the choreography, kicking butt and taking names," said Johnny Caswell, president of CenterStaging Musical Productions Inc., a Burbank sound stage where Jackson rehearsed until late May. "He was ready to blow everybody out of the water. This was going to be the biggest extravaganza, entertainment spectacle ever."

Jackson was involved in all areas of planning, including watching auditions and choosing the backup dancers who would appear with him, said Maryss Courchinoux, a 29-year-old dancer from Paris who sought a place on stage with Jackson.

Courchinoux said she had been selected as a backup dancer for the London concerts and had been fitted for a costume. She had been invited to Thursday's rehearsal in Los Angeles to meet Jackson and watch the practice to help prepare for her role, she said.

On the same day, Jackson was pronounced dead after collapsing at his home in Holmby Hills, a swanky neighborhood near Bel Air.

Courchinoux recounted how Jackson was in the audience as she auditioned in April, when she performed a set routine and then was asked to do freestyle dances — a hip-hop style called "pop-ins."

From the stage, she could make out Jackson's profile and his glasses where he sat in the empty auditorium. Friends later told her that Jackson jumped up and applauded after her group performed.

"I knew it was him, and I knew I was in his presence," she said. "In a way, I feel blessed that we got to dance in his presence, and I was looking forward to meeting him yesterday," she said, choking back tears.

"It was my dream since I was six years old. I guess there was a different plan."

Rehearsals for the tour began in late March, Caswell said.

Jackson and his choreographers, band and dancers took over about four of the 11 studios at Centerstaging. Jackson would wander in and out of the studios, keeping tabs on the work and would often sit on a large black leather couch and listen to the band practice.

He frequently offered band members suggestions and took an interest in the mixing levels for the concert's soundtrack, according to those who worked with him at the sound stage. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they had signed confidentiality agreements.

Caswell and other workers at the studio said Jackson would arrive in an SUV, with another vehicle following, about four or five times a week. One of the SUVs ferried Jackson, but the second was to fake out the paparazzi and European fans who flocked outside the studio's doors. Jackson, an infamous recluse, would always crack a window and allow fans to pass CDs in for him to autograph.

"There would be tons of fans — European fans — they weren't sharing the information with anyone else that he was coming here with anyone else. They didn't want to spoil the exclusivity," Caswell said.

Max Miller, a dispatch manager at the studios, said he saw the singer work on a transition routine between two songs.

Miller's team aimed a spotlight at the stage area as Jackson, wearing a black suit, practiced the moves with no music and just a metronome clicking.

"He was totally dancing like top-notch. He seemed totally good," Miller said. "He seemed totally cool and really focused."

As focused as energized as he was in Burbank, Jackson seemed even more excited about his comeback as the concert date approached.

He recently moved his rehearsals to The Forum, the Los Angeles Lakers' former arena in Inglewood, and ultimately to the Staples Center, where he was rehearsing daily, sometimes for hours.

Ken Ehrlich, executive producer of Grammy Awards, said he met Jackson there on Wednesday for a business meeting and spoke to him for about 20 minutes before Jackson invited him to watch him rehearse.

Ehrlich, who has known Jackson for years, said he was amazed by the singer's vitality and focus as he practiced moves with backup dancers and a handful of choreographers.

The choreographers walked him through moves and gave him stage directions. They also introduced him to some new props and appeared to be working with Jackson to incorporate them into the show.

"Michael was digesting it all. He was learning, but even with that, there were times during the songs where his singing was full out," Ehrlich said. "I would watch him move across the floor like the Michael of old. I was convinced (the comeback) was going to be the Michael of old."

Ehrlich said he left after watching Jackson work through five or six numbers, but got chills from watching him — a memory that seems especially precious now. The star showed no signs that he would die less than 24 hours later, he said.

"There was this one moment, he was moving across the stage and he was doing these trademark Michael moves, and I know I got this big grin on my face, and I started thinking to myself, 'You know, it's been years since I've seen that,'" he said.

"There was that Michael that was just like no one else and no one else could touch," he said. "The shame is that new generation won't see that — but we all came close to being able to see it again."
Associated Press writers Lynn Elber, Raquel Maria Dillon, Beth Harris, Solvej Schou and Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.



By Maseme Machuka, Caroline Nyanga and Agencies
June 27 2009

The crowns fit: Michael Jackson was the King of Pop; Elvis Presley was the King of Rock N Roll.

Both men commanded the pop-culture landscape, as much as the charts. Both men influenced their industry, as well as scores of artistes.

And both men died suddenly and barely into middle age.

Jackson died Friday morning at University of California at Los Angles Medical Centre, US, after being stricken at his rented home in Holmby Hills. He was 51.

Paramedics tried to resuscitate him at home for nearly 45 minutes, then rushed him to hospital. His brother, Mr Jermaine Jackson, said: "It is believed he suffered a cardiac arrest in his home. However, the cause of his death is unknown until results of the autopsy are known."

His Kenyan fans joined the world in mourning the ‘King of Pop’ who died as he prepared for a comeback to vanquish nightmare years of sexual scandal and financial calamity. They expressed shock at the sudden death of a music icon and recalled his influence during their youth.

Influenced Young And Old

Cabinet Ministers William Ruto and Amason Kingi said Jackson’s death was "tragic to the world", adding he had influenced the young and old of his generation.

MPs Simon Mbugua (Kamukunji), Joyce Laboso (Sotik), Joshua Kutuny (Cherang’any), Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i) and Danson Mungatana (Garsen) showered praise on the musical icon, who touched "many hearts throughout the world".

And local musicians and artistes were not left behind in paying tribute to a man they agree was a phenomenon. Emcee Big Ted says: "When all is said and done, I do not think it is right for any of us to pass judgement on him. Nobody knows what drove him to do what he did in changing his skin colour."

Musician Wahu Kagwi said: "My mum told me that MJ’s death reminds her of the day Elvis Presley died — the same euphoria around the world. I’m honoured to have experienced MJ and I shall try and share it with my daughter."

Revolutionised Music

Genge rapper Nonini credits Jackson with revolutionising music across the world: "As a boy I recall trying to emulate his moves to win over girls in my school."

Jackson’s death brought a tragic end to a long, bizarre, sometimes farcical decline from his peak in the 1980s, when he was popular music’s premier performer who united black and white music, shattered the race barrier on MTV, dominated the charts and dazzled on stage.

His 1982 album Thriller — which included the blockbuster hits Beat It, Billie Jean and Thriller — is the best-selling album of all time, with about 50 million copies sold worldwide.

At the time of his death, Jackson was rehearsing for what was to be his greatest comeback: He was scheduled for unprecedented 50 shows at a London arena, with the first set for July 13. As word of his death spread, MTV stopped programming to play videos from Jackson’s heyday. Radio stations began playing marathons of his hits. Hundreds of people gathered outside the hospital.

In New York’s Times Square, a low groan went up in the crowd when a screen flashed that Jackson had died, and people began relaying the news to friends by cellphone.

"No joke. King of Pop is no more. Wow," Mr Michael Harris, 36, of New York City, read from a text message a friend had sent him. "It’s like when Kennedy was assassinated. I will always remember being in Times Square when Michael Jackson died."

Jackson Five

The public first knew him as a boy in the late 1960s, when he was the precocious, spinning lead singer of the Jackson Five, the singing group he formed with four older brothers in Gary, Indiana. Among their lead hits were I Want You Back, ABC and I’ll Be There.

He was perhaps the most exciting performer of his generation, known for his backward-gliding moonwalk, his feverish, crotch-grabbing dance moves and his high-pitched singing, punctuated with squeals and titters. His single sequined glove, tight, military-style jacket and aviator sunglasses were trademarks as was his ever-changing, surgically altered appearance.

"For Michael to be taken away from us so suddenly at such a young age, I just don’t have the words. He was the consummate entertainer and his contributions and legacy will be felt upon the world forever. I’ve lost my little brother today, and part of my soul has gone with him," said Quincy Jones, who produced Thriller.

Jackson ranked alongside Elvis Presley and the Beatles as the biggest pop sensation of all time. He united two of music’s biggest names when he was briefly married to Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie. His death evoked comparisons to that of Presley himself, who died at age 42 in 1977.



June 26 2009


In the wee hours of Friday morning at exactly 1.25am local time, Michael Jackson, commonly known as the King of Pop, was pronounced dead by doctors at the UCLA Medical Centre Los Angeles after succumbing to a fatal heart attack.

The pop star was rushed to hospital from his home in the Bel Air district while paramedics tried to restart his heart after a suspected cardiac arrest. Mr Jackson was described as “unresponsive” when paramedics arrived at his home and he was transported by ambulance to the UCLA Medical Center where he passed away.

In Kampala, the news of Mr Jackson’s death was received with great shock. News started filtering through, with Ugandans sending text messages on Friday, as early as 1.30am announcing the sudden death of the king of pop.

Mr Moses Serugo, a local music critic, described Mr Jackson’s passing thus: “This is a very big loss to the music world. This is a man who revolutionarised the way music is done for the likes of Madonna who later became stars. Personally, it wasn’t a shock that he died. He deserves to rest not with the bashing the media was giving him. The same media that made him brought him down.”

Ms Angella Kalule, a local musician, said “It came as a shock to me. He was very influential and we are going to miss him.”

RIP: Michael Jackson performs “We are the World” during the World Music Awards at Earl’s Court in London November 15, 2006. REUTERS PHOTO

The headlines of international news stations the likes of CNN, Sky News, Al Jazeera and the BBC, all of a sudden had shifted from the Iranian election crisis, to the breaking news of the pop star’s demise, with many of the stations interviewing his friends, his former music producers like Quincy Jones, who all appeared shell-shocked by his death.

Stations like KFM, Sanyu, and Radio One, all had Michael Jackson classics like One More Chance, Liberian Girl, Human Nature, Billy Jean, Dirty Diana, BAD, Rock Wit You, dominating their playlists, with radio presenters like Fat Boy, Roger Mugisha, indulging their listeners with the illustrious music history of the pop star.
The office talk too was dominated by the death of the star.

The seventh child of the Jackson Family, Michael Jackson kicked off his music career with his siblings who went by the stage moniker Jackson 5. With the young Michael employed on the lead vocals, Jackson 5, went on to churn out memorable hits like ABC, I Want You Back, and I’ll Be There and by the 60’s way through to the 70’s Jackson 5 had acquired stardom with the young Michael Jackson emerging as the main draw of the group.

In 1979, Michael Jackson paired up with the legendary producer Quincy Jones, whom he met while Jackson starred in a film musical The Wiz, whose musical scores were arranged by the legendary producer. That partnership was to give birth to the album Off The Wall, which spanned classics like Rock Wit You, a favourite with many Ugandans, Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough among others.

Thrill of Thriller

However, it was in 1982, that Michael Jackson reached the apex of his musical career when he dropped the Thriller album. Again, with Quincy Jones behind the production decks, Thriller went on to sell over 50 million copies worldwide making it the best-selling album of all time.

A record that to some in the industry are predicting will never be broken since nowadays buying of music albums is on the decline due to the emergence of the internet where people can freely download music.

Thriller not only churned out memorable classics like Billy Jean, Thriller, and Human Nature but revolutionised, forever, the concept that is video making and song-presentation. With videos like Thriller, which were movie-like, Michael Jackson, had given a new approach to video making and in the process “forced” the music network MTV which originally featured videos of white artistes who mainly specified in Rock music, to play R&B videos and in the process making Michael Jackson, the first African-American to have his videos on heavy rotation on MTV.

This opened doors for the likes of Lionel Richie who were starting, out to have their videos played on the network.

However, the revolution was just starting; Michael Jackson introduced dance moves like the legendary “Moon Walking” which was a famous dance “stroke” for Ugandans, he even made men wear white socks, Tabliq-like trousers, complete with a single white glove on their palm, hold their crouches and let off a mild scream…Ohh! Jackson-mania gripped the whole world that his world concerts not only had tickets selling out in minutes, but scenes of fainting women were normal occurrences.

Cost of stardom

But his stardom was to come with a fatal price. As his star shone brighter, especially in the 80’s where he kept releasing hit albums like Bad (which featured the rock hit Dirty Diana) way through the early 90’s, Jackson was slowly turning into one freak show. His continuous usage of plastic surgery made his face look awkward. His eccentricities like attending press conferences with his pet chimpanzee named Bubbles, appearing in court to answer child molestation charges wearing his pygamas! or his over-friendliness with young children; whom according to his admission occasionally slept in the same bed with him at his Neverland Ranch left some questioning his mental state.

The hits too dried up, with his last album Invincible released in 2001 not doing as well as expected. Court cases too were to dominate his later years on this earth, with many involving his questionable relationship with young children.

Some accused him for being a pedophile, but he was always cleared of any charges and always had a waiting crowd outside the courthouses screaming his name in admiration…Michael, Michael…! He was due to have another chance at a comeback with a massive concert tour in Britain-some were saying this was his make or break chance for a comeback- but sadly it was not to be.

The Pop star aged 50 left behind three children and millions of fans worldwide, who forever will remember the King of Pop.



June 25, 2009

Michael Joseph Jackson died at age 50 in Los Angeles on June 25, 2009. He spent a lifetime surprising people, in recent years largely because of a surreal personal life, lurid legal scandals, serial plastic surgeries and erratic public behavior that have turned him -- on his very best days -- into the butt of late-night talk-show jokes and tabloid headlines. But when his career began to take off nearly four decades ago as a member of the pop group the Jackson 5, fans and entertainment industry veterans recognized something else about the pint-size musical dynamo that was unusual: He was in possession of an outsize, mesmerizing talent.

The introduction to his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame entry seemed apt as a global audience followed reports of his hospitalization and then death:
"Michael Jackson is a singer, songwriter, dancer and celebrity icon with a vast catalog of hit records and countless awards to his credit. Beyond that, he has transfixed the world like few entertainers before or since. As a solo performer, he has enjoyed a level of superstardom previously known only to Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra."

John Rockwell, the music critic of The Times, cited Mr. Jackson's musical and cultural influence in a 1982 review of the album "Thriller," calling it "a wonderful pop record, the latest statement by one of the great singers in popular music today." But it was more than that, he contended: "It is as hopeful a sign as we have had yet that the destructive barriers that spring up regularly between white and black music -- and between whites and blacks -- in this culture may be breached once again. Most important of all, it is another signpost on the road to Michael Jackson's own artistic fulfillment."

Mr. Jackson was born in Gary, Ind., on Aug. 29, 1958 and began performing professionally at age 5, joining his three older brothers in a group that their father, Joe, a steelworker, had organized the previous year. In 1968 the group, now five strong and known as the Jackson 5, was signed by Motown Records.

By 1969, Mr. Jackson had already spent years in talent shows and performing in seedy Midwestern clubs under the aegis of his dictatorial and ambitious father and Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records. They were the singer's twin mentors during his early career.

The Jackson 5 was an instant phenomenon. The group's first four singles - "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There" - all reached No. 1 on the pop charts in 1970, a feat no group had accomplished before. And young Michael was unquestionably the center of attention: he handled virtually all the lead vocals, danced with energy and finesse, and displayed a degree of showmanship rare in a performer of any age. The Jackson brothers were soon a fixture on television variety shows and even briefly had their own Saturday morning cartoon series.

Mr. Jackson had his own recollections of those years. "When you're a show-business child, you really don't have the maturity to understand a great deal of what is going on around you. People make a lot of decisions concerning your life when you're out of the room," he wrote in "Moon Walk," his 1988 autobiography. "Berry insisted on perfection and attention to detail. I'll never forget his persistence. This was his genius. Then and later, I observed every moment of the sessions where Berry was present and never forgot what I learned. To this day, I use the same principles."

In 1971 Mr. Jackson began recording under his own name, while also continuing to perform and record with his brothers. His recording of "Ben," the title song from a movie about a boy and his homicidal pet rat, was a No. 1 hit in 1972.

The brothers (minus Michael's older brother Jermaine, who was married to the daughter of Berry Gordy, Motown's founder and chief executive) left Motown in 1975 and, rechristened the Jacksons, signed to Epic, a unit of CBS Records. The following year Michael made his movie debut as the Scarecrow in the screen version of the hit Broadway musical "The Wiz." But movie stardom proved not to be his destiny.

Music stardom on an unprecedented level, however, was. Mr. Jackson's first solo album for Epic, "Off the Wall," yielded four No..1 singles and sold seven million copies, but it was a mere prologue to what came next. His follow-up, "Thriller," released in 1982, became the best-selling album of all time and helped usher in the music video age. The video for the album's title track, directed by John Landis, was an elaborate horror-movie pastiche that was more of a mini-movie than a promotional clip and played a crucial role in making MTV a household name.

Seven of the nine tracks on "Thriller" were released as singles and reached the Top 10. The album spent two years on the Billboard album chart and sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. It also won eight Grammy Awards.

Such accomplishments would have been difficult for anyone to equal, much less surpass. Mr. Jackson's next album, "Bad," released in 1987, sold eight million copies and produced five No..1 singles and another state-of-the-art video, this one directed by Martin Scorsese. It was a huge hit by almost anyone else's standards, but an inevitable letdown after "Thriller."

It was at this point that Mr. Jackson's bizarre private life began to overshadow his music. He would go on to release several more albums and, from time to time, to stage elaborate concert tours. And he would never be too far from the public eye. But it would never again be his music that kept him there.

Sales of his recordings through Sony's music unit generated more than $300 million in royalties for Mr. Jackson since the early 1980s, according to three individuals with direct knowledge of the singer's business affairs. Revenues from concerts and music publishing -- including the creation of a venture with Sony that controls the Beatles catalog -- as well as from endorsements, merchandising and music videos added, perhaps, $400 million more to that amount, these people believe. Subtracted were hefty costs like recording and production expenses, taxes and the like.

Those close to Mr. Jackson say that his finances had not deteriorated simply because he was a big spender. Until the early 1990s, they said, he paid relatively close attention to his accounting and kept an eye on the cash that flowed through his business and creative ventures. After that, they say, Mr. Jackson became overly enamored of something that ensnares wealthy people of all stripes: bad advice.

Mr. Jackson's pre-expense share of the "Thriller" bounty -- including the album, singles and a popular video -- surpassed $125 million, according to a former adviser who requested anonymity because of the confidential nature of Mr. Jackson's finances. Those who counseled him in the "Thriller" era credit the pop star with financial acumen and astute business judgment, evidenced by his $47.5 million purchase of the Beatles catalog in 1985 (a move that served to alienate him from Paul McCartney, the Beatles legend who imparted the financial wisdom of buying catalogs to Mr. Jackson during a casual chat, only to see Mr. Jackson then turn around and buy rights to many of Mr. McCartney's own songs). Acquaintances from that period say that he would occasionally borrow gas money, and he still lived in the Jackson family home in the suburban Encino section of Los Angeles.

It wasn't until the end of the 1980s that Mr. Jackson began to exhibit more baronial tendencies. In 1988, he made his $17 million purchase of property near Santa Ynez, Calif., that became Neverland.

At the same time, Mr. Jackson was redefining the concept of spectacle in pop music. He hired Martin Scorsese, the film director, to direct a video for "Bad," a clip that one adviser with direct knowledge of the production budget said cost more than $1 million. The same adviser said that Mr. Jackson netted "way north" of $35 million from a yearlong "Bad" tour that began in 1987, and that heading into the 1990s Mr. Jackson was in sound shape financially.

By the mid-90s, though, Mr. Jackson's finances were under strain. He retreated from working regularly after the release of "Dangerous" in 1991 and settled a child-molestation lawsuit for about $20 million. More significantly in terms of his finances, he had to sell Sony a 50 percent stake in the Beatles catalog in 1995 for more than $100 million, which one adviser said helped shore up the singer's wobbling accounts. Mr. Jackson wouldn't produce another studio album of completely new material until 2001.

In June 2005, he was acquitted today of all charges in connection with accusations that he molested a 13-year-old boy he had befriended as the youth was recovering from cancer in 2003. Mr. Jackson's complete acquittal ended a nearly four-month trial that featured 140 witnesses who painted clashing portraits of the 46-year-old international pop star as either pedophile or Peter Pan.

Along with the verdict, the jury gave a note for the judge to read out in court. In it, they said they felt "the weight of the world's eyes upon us all" and that they had "thoroughly and meticulously" studied all the evidence. The note concluded with a plea "we would like the public to allow us to return to our lives as anonymously as we came."

The case arose from the February 2003 broadcast of "Living with Michael Jackson," a British documentary in which Mr. Jackson admitted sharing his bed with young boys, calling it a loving act unrelated to sex. The boy who later became the accuser was shown holding hands with the singer and resting his head affectionately on his shoulder. He was described as a 13-year-old cancer patient whom Mr. Jackson had decided to help.

On March 5, 2009, Mr. Jackson announced that he would perform a series of concerts in London in the summer, in what he called a "final curtain call." Mr. Jackson, 50, revealed the details of the concerts at a news conference in London, where he said he would perform 10 shows at that city's O2 Arena, beginning July 8. "When I say this is it, I mean this is it," Mr. Jackson said. "I'll be performing the songs my fans want to hear."

The shows would have been Mr. Jackson's first major performances since 2001 and 2002, when he appeared at a pair of 30th anniversary celebrations and two benefit concerts; a brief appearance by Mr. Jackson at the World Music Awards in 2006 was booed by audience members.

Highlights from the Archives
A Star Idolized and Haunted, Michael Jackson Dies at 50
Michael Jackson, 50, who went from boy wonder to global pop superstar to sad figure haunted by lawsuits, paparazzi and failed plastic surgery, died Thursday in a Los Angeles hospital.

June 26, 2009artsNewsTricky Steps From Boy to Superstar
An unsurpassed entertainer, a superstar and a recluse, Michael Jackson built his stardom on paradox.

June 26, 2009artsAn Appraisal Michael Jackson at 25: A Musical Phenomenon

In the world of pop music, there is Michael Jackson and there is everybody else. Earlier this week the singer-dancer-songwriter received 12 Grammy nominations. No one has ever received so many nominations, a reflection of the popularity of a performer who has stirred the kind of worldwide enthusiasm that recalls the Beatlemania of the 1960's.

The Sequined Glove That Mesmerized the World
Michael Jackson's prodigious musical talents were matched by a genius for deploying the symbolic language of fashion in an age dominated by visual mediums.

June 28, 2009A Web Site Scooped Other Media on the News
TMZ, a celebrity news Web site, reported Michael Jackson’s death well ahead of traditional news outlets, which hesitated to follow suit.

June 27, 2009Jackson Estate Has Piles of Assets but Loads of Debt
Michael Jackson’s business life, like his public life, was a perplexing mass of contradictions, and his personal finances, at least in recent years, were perpetually in tatters.

June 27, 2009Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson expected us to be caught up in the excitement the music caused in him. And we were.

June 27, 2009Medication Is a Focus of Jackson Inquiry
A car belonging to Mr. Jackson’s physician was seized “because it may contain medications or other evidence.”

June 27, 2009Jackson’s Health a Subject of Confusion
Michael Jackson had a long and intricate history of health problems, according to people who knew him, but separating rumor from reality is difficult.

June 27, 2009His Moves Expressed as Much as His Music
Michael Jackson will be remembered as a great and widely imitated mover. Other things about him will be remembered too, but it is amazing how many of them are apparent in his dancing.

June 27, 2009Jackson Was Beacon of Hope for His Declining Hometown
People in Gary, Ind., are proud that their hometown produced Michael Jackson, a little boy born on the lowly west side who, at the height of his career, was the brightest star in the world.

June 27, 2009In Any Format, News of Loss Resonates
People divided by years and technology can agree that the King of Pop was one of a kind.

June 27, 2009Around the World, Shock and Grief Over Jackson’s Death
The extent of the reaction to Michael Jackson’s sudden death underscored how far his influence had spread.

June 27, 2009A Path to Superstardom Paved With Video Hits
As MTV raided its back catalog of Michael Jackson videos, it generously slipped in a few other clips.

June 27, 2009Looks Like a Blockbuster, but It Could Be a Bust
A fading superstar has joined the N.B.A.’s most valuable player. What happens if they don’t win a championship for the Cavaliers?

June 26, 2009In Los Angeles, a Gathering of Jackson Fans and the Curious
Most people at the hospital where Michael Jackson was treated came seeking a connection with an icon or simply celebrated, sang and played his music.

June 26, 2009Sale of Michael Jackson’s Property Canceled
After a collection of Michael Jackson’s memorabilia went on view for a public auction, the auctioneer and Mr. Jackson announced that they had agreed to cancel the sale and return the property to him.

April 15, 2009Shuttering Neverland: Michael Jackson’s Effects Go to Auction
Items belonging to Michael Jackson are part of an auction so large that it has been installed in a former department store in Beverly Hills.



June 26, 2009
GARY, Ind.

With block upon block of crumbling houses, abandoned stores, and churches and theaters left to rot like ancient ruins, this old industrial city can easily seem like a ghost town of vanquished dreams.

Michael JacksonSteel City, so nicknamed in its heyday when all the smokestacks were pumping, lost its big shoulders a long time ago, replaced with a slump from the weight of rampant poverty and a forlorn economic scene.

Visions of renaissance have come and gone. But if there is anything left that brings a twinkle to this town’s eye, it is the pride its people have felt over the decades knowing that Gary produced Michael Jackson, a little boy born on the lowly west side who, at the height of his pop music career, was the brightest star in the world.

Although he might not have always known it, Mr. Jackson took Gary, a place so much in need of a spectacular fantasy ride, along on his journey. And in the years before his death Thursday at the age of 50, he had made it a point to visit the old neighborhood — perhaps not enough to satisfy everyone, but with a sincerity that many said they cherished as the highlight of their lives.

“He came my junior year and performed on the same stage where I was standing — amazing!” Belle Dean, 23, a flight attendant, reminisced Thursday night at a vigil outside the old Jackson home. “Michael Jackson to us, he gives us hope that we can be someone. Most people who look at Gary think there’s nothing good coming out of Gary. Well, there are everyday people doing amazing things. Michael was one of those people, and he’s a fine example of how an ordinary person can do something extraordinary.”

Built as a company town by U.S. Steel in 1906, Gary had a promising start as a destination on the shores of Lake Michigan in northwest Indiana, only 25 miles from downtown Chicago. The remnants of great buildings along the main boulevard, Broadway, hint at a past of some grandeur and cultural richness.

Old-timers remember theaters and clubs, and a vibrant social scene in church basements, at neighborhood socials and in high school gyms that was particularly appealing to poor black families who had migrated from the South to work in the mills in the 1940s and ’50s.

Doris Darrington, 77, can still picture the singing. “There were a lot of talented kids,” Ms. Darrington said. “All they did was sing. Everybody wanted to perform.”

It was into this world that Mr. Jackson’s father, Joseph Jackson, a steelworker, pushed his family to excel, with young Michael, born in 1958, as the lead singer of the group of five siblings known first as the Jackson Brothers, and later as the Jackson Five.

They won a talent show at the neighborhood high school, and then at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and their fame spread like wildfire. A singing and dancing sensation, they were signed by Motown Records in 1968.

But as the Jacksons’ personal fortunes took off, Gary began a rather rapid decline like so many places that fell on hard times in the 1960s. Richard G. Hatcher, one of the nation’s first black mayors of a major city, won election and white flight swept through. Given global shifts in the steel industry, jobs that the city was built to accommodate started to disappear, leaving whole communities adrift.

Time has not eased the pain. Recently, things have only gotten worse. The share of people living below the poverty line in the city, of about 97,700, grew to 33.2 percent in 2007 from 25.8 percent in 2000, according to estimates by the American Community Survey of the Census Bureau.

The current recession has done nothing to help, bringing rampant layoffs and cuts to city services. Yet there are pockets of resilience that defy expectations.

Even though her house is in the shadow of a blown-out apartment building on a street with as many vacant, overgrown lots as occupied houses, Ms. Darrington, for instance, tends an immaculate garden. Ms. Dean, the flight attendant, glows as she talks about sitting in the same classrooms where the older Jackson brothers attended school before the family moved away for a life on the road.

Tracell Britton, 17, said he decided to go to college — and received a baseball scholarship — after one of Mr. Jackson’s brothers, Tito, gave a speech at his high school about the importance of higher education.

“It meant a lot to us,” Mr. Britton said. “That they could be so successful coming from the same place we come from.”

But was there something particular about Gary that the Jacksons took with them? Something particular to the place that made them great? Thomas Neal Jr., a lifelong Gary resident, thinks so.

“Joe Jackson believed you had to go get what you want to succeed,” Mr. Neal, 41, said. “That determination, that striving, was part of the Gary work ethic. Nobody came here unless they wanted to work.”

By chance, the Jackson family lived on Jackson Street, named for President Andrew Jackson. The modest house at 2300 still stands, a small clapboard monument to big dreams.

“For a couple of years, this was the murder capital of America,” said Mr. Neal, who worked in rail car manufacturing until the local plant closed a few weeks ago. “But we could also claim to be home to the King of Pop. And that always gave us something positive to feel good about.”



Published: June 26, 2009

Having completed a preliminary autopsy, Los Angeles County medical officials said Friday that Michael Jackson had taken prescription medications but that the cause of his sudden death would not be known for weeks, pending toxicology tests.

As his fans across the globe continued to mourn the fallen pop star, questions about the last minutes of his life with his doctor at his side, the fate of his children and his complex financial dealings began to slowly and inconclusively unravel.

Craig Harvey, chief investigator for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, said that there was no evidence of trauma or foul play and that the family was free to take Mr. Jackson’s body on Friday evening.

“There will be no final ruling as to the cause and manner of death until requested tests results have been received and reviewed in context with the autopsy findings,” Mr. Harvey said. That process will take four to six weeks to complete.

The police investigation into Mr. Jackson’s death on Thursday — which one police official called “highly resource-intensive” — focused in part on his private doctor, Conrad Murray. The authorities impounded Dr. Murray’s car at Mr. Jackson’s rented home in Holmby Hills late Thursday, with the hope of finding clues to what led to the singer’s cardiac arrest. Police officials interviewed Dr. Murray on Thursday and intended to do so again, officials said.

“Every investigation can go one way or another,” said Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, the chief of detectives. “But nothing suggests criminality at this point.”

Detective Beck said the department’s robbery and homicide division had been assigned to the case only because of its high-profile nature.

The 50-year-old pop star, who had been preparing for a lengthy comeback concert series in London, was rushed to U.C.L.A. Medical Center shortly after noon Thursday by paramedics and was pronounced dead in the emergency room.

A 911 tape released Friday featured the voice of a young man imploring an ambulance to hurry to Mr. Jackson’s home, where he described a doctor frantically trying to revive Mr. Jackson. When asked if anyone had seen what happened, the unidentified man replied: “No, just the doctor, sir. He’s not responding to CPR. He’s pumping his chest, but he’s not responding to anything.”

Dr. Murray, who public records show is a 56-year-old cardiologist with a practice in Las Vegas, has lived in numerous homes over the last decade in several states, filed for personal bankruptcy in 1992 in California and has five tax liens against him for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to HealthGrades, a health care ratings company, Dr. Murray is board certified in neither of his two specialties, internal medicine and cardiology. Board certification is not required to practice a specialty but is recommended and indicates a high level of training and expertise.

The death of Mr. Jackson was the latest Twitter-enhanced luminary spectacle that is specific to Los Angeles, with the customary body-slamming paparazzi, weeping celebrities, grim-faced officials trying to maintain dignity and tourists seeking their succor along Hollywood Boulevard, where the police were forced to place barricades on Friday to hold back the throngs seeking to peer at his star on the Walk of Fame.

The mourning continued beyond American soil. From Moscow to Paris — where fans moonwalked around Notre Dame — celebrations of Mr. Jackson’s life continued into Friday evening.

A central concern now of the Jackson family is the fate of Mr. Jackson’s three children, who lived and traveled with him but were rarely seen in public.

For now, they are being cared for by their grandmother, Katherine Jackson, said Frank DiLeo, the singer’s manager at the time of his death. Mr. DiLeo said the children were at the hospital and in an adjacent room when they were told of their father’s death.

Debbie Rowe, who was married to the singer for three years ending in 1999 and is the mother of the two oldest children, Michael Joseph Jackson, 12, and Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, 11, has fought in recent years to have her parental rights restored. (A private settlement was reached in 2006.)

“If they have a reasonably good relationship she will probably get custody,” said Scott Altman, a law professor at the University of Southern California and child custody expert. “It is unusual for biological parents not to get custody when the custodial parent has died.”

Mr. Jackson’s youngest child, 7-year-old Prince Michael Jackson II, is the son of a surrogate mother who has never been identified. On Friday, however, one of the star’s financial advisers, Alvin Malnik, who said he is the godfather of the youngest Jackson, said he had signed a document at one point saying that if Mr. Jackson died, “I would provide for Prince Michael in the same capacity as I would provide for my own kids.”

Mr. Malnik, who lives in Florida, said he had not been contacted by anyone since Mr. Jackson’s death.

A biographer, Stacy Brown, said Friday that Mr. Jackson’s wish was for the children’s longtime nanny, Grace Rwaramba, to take on a more formal role should anything happen to him.

Questions are almost certain to be raised about Mr. Jackson’s health as he prepared for his comeback tour; he had a long, intricate history of health problems, according to people who knew him, but they were not easy to pin down.

“It’s always been a subject of confusion,” said J. Randy Taraborrelli, a Jackson biographer who knew him for 40 years. “He has not been addicted to painkillers for 30 years, but he has had addiction over time that was resolved and then resurfaced, and was resolved and then resurfaced.”

Mr. Brown said Mr. Jackson’s family had been recently concerned about his use of painkillers, which had started up again a few months ago, he said, and “tried a number of different times” to get the star to quit once and for all.

Mr. Jackson had become “very frail, totally, totally underweight,” Mr. Brown said, adding that the family had worried that he would not be healthy enough to handle the pressure of performing. None of Mr. Jackson’s doctors could be reached Friday.

Reporting was contributed by Randal C. Archibold, Brooks Barnes, Solomon Moore and Ana Facio Contreras from Los Angeles; Mary Chapman from Detroit; and Tim Arango, Pam Belluck, Alain Delaquérière and Liz Robbins from New York.

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Published: June 26, 2009

As Hollywood reacted with sadness and shock to the death of Michael Jackson, Sony executives in New York were on the phone all night Thursday with advisers to Mr. Jackson trying to understand the financial morass the pop star is leaving behind.

“It’s all a mess,” said one executive involved in Mr. Jackson’s financial affairs who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of respect for the entertainer’s family. “No one really knows what is going on, but these are early days.”

Mr. Jackson’s business life, like his public life, was a perplexing mass of contradictions. Unlike many performers, he was a keen negotiator and shrewd investor — in 1985 he pulled off one of the great deals in music business history when he bought the publishing rights to the Beatles catalog for $47.5 million. Today it is part of a larger collection of songs worth more than $1 billion, and owned in partnership with Sony.

But his personal finances, at least in recent years, were perpetually in tatters, as he burned through millions of dollars to maintain his Neverland ranch, go on art-buying sprees and indulge in whimsies like traveling with a pet chimpanzee named Bubbles. And he burned through financial advisers almost as swiftly, with a revolving door of characters coming in and out of his life.

“Michael never thought his personal finances were out of control,” said Alvin Malnik, a former adviser to Mr. Jackson who is the godfather of Prince Michael II, the youngest of his three children. “He never kept track of what he was spending. He would indiscriminately charter jets. He would buy paintings for $1.5 million. You couldn’t do that every other week and expect your books to balance.”

The big question now is what happens to his assets. So far, that is unclear even to Mr. Jackson’s closest representatives, several of whom were hired only weeks ago, in Mr. Jackson’s latest round of managerial housecleaning. They say it could take years to sort through the financial and legal mess left after the singer’s death, not to mention millions of dollars worth of tickets sold for a series of 50 concerts Mr. Jackson had planned in London.

Mr. Malnik, for example, said that in 2004 he agreed to be the executor of Mr. Jackson’s estate. “I said yes, but I never inquired further, and I don’t know what’s happened since then,” he said. Mr. Malnik said there was still a chance that he was an executor, but had not heard anything since the death. Other advisers said that Mr. Jackson left behind at least two wills.

It is also unclear how much would be left for any heirs. It has been estimated that Mr. Jackson earned about $700 million as a performer and songwriter from the 1980s on, much of it spent. And his debts have been estimated at $400 million to $500 million.

His single biggest asset is a 50 percent share in Sony/ATV Music Publishing — which owns the rights to more than 200 Beatles songs, along with thousands of others — valued at more than $500 million, but he has about $300 million of debt against it held by Barclays, Mr. Jackson’s biggest creditor. He also owns his own publishing catalog, called Mijac, which is estimated to be worth $50 million to $100 million, and has an unknown amount of debt attached.

In late 2005, while Mr. Jackson was living in the Middle East after being acquitted of child molestation, his finances were particularly precarious. Sony then negotiated a deal with the singer that resulted in Mr. Jackson paying a lower interest rate on his debt in return for Sony gaining more authority to operate Sony/ATV and the option to buy half of Mr. Jackson’s share.

One question Sony executives have now is with whom they will negotiate. Mr. Jackson’s share is owned by a trust that he set up around the time of his molestation trial in 2005; people close to the situation say that his mother, Katherine, now controls it.

Mr. Jackson’s investment in song catalogs was no accident. Contrary to his popular image as a naïf, he took an active interest in the wider music business, associates say, with a shrewdness he inherited from his father, who shaped the careers of Michael and his brothers.

Martin Bandier, chairman and chief executive of Sony/ATV, said that Michael Jackson “had a keen sense of the value of music copyrights” and was a highly effective dealmaker.

“There was nobody better to close a deal,” Mr. Bandier said. “Michael called Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller a few years back to tell them that he wanted to buy their copyrights and that they would have a safe home at Sony/ATV.”

Mr. Jackson also negotiated a favorable royalty rate with Sony for his recordings; according to some estimates, he earned at least $300 million in record royalties since the early 1980s. And since Sony’s rights to his master recordings are set to expire in the next several years and would become owned by Mr. Jackson, according to one of his advisers, his estate would stand to earn even more from sales and from the licensing of music to film, television and any other media.

On the other side of the ledger, however, was Mr. Jackson’s biggest liability: his exorbitant lifestyle. His large Neverland estate in California, which contained a zoo and an amusement park and at its peak had as many as 150 employees, cost millions of dollars each year to maintain. He nearly lost it last year when he defaulted on a $24.5 million loan.

THE GLOVES Items from Neverland, including 13 of Mr. Jackson’s trademark gloves, were to have been put up for sale in April, but Mr. Jackson sued to stop the auction and the property was returned to him.

Neverland was saved by a real estate company, Colony Capital, and according to court papers, Mr. Jackson then contracted for an auction of memorabilia from the ranch. About 2,000 items — like statues of E. T. and 13 of Mr. Jackson’s trademark glittering gloves — were to be put up for sale in April 2009, and the value of the auction was estimated at up to $20 million.

But with only weeks before the sale was to begin, Mr. Jackson sued to prevent it, saying that he had never been given an opportunity to review the contents. In a settlement, the auctioneer, Julien’s Auctions of Los Angeles, returned all of the property to him.

Another big question left by his death is his deal with AEG Live, the big concert promoter behind the London shows. The company invested at least $20 million to produce the concerts and might have to refund more than $80 million in tickets, according to industry estimates. Randy Phillips, the chief executive of AEG Live, said in a telephone interview on Friday that that the concerts were insured, but that the company needed to wait for the coroner’s report before filing a claim.

“Over the weekend we’re all going to be working late trying to figure out what the basis of our insurance claim might be,” Mr. Phillips said. “It’s very, very critical for us that we get the toxicology report from the coroner so we know what the cause of death is.”

Perversely, the fortunes of Mr. Jackson’s estate could benefit from his death. First, there will undoubtedly be an influx of revenue from music sales after the entertainer’s death. Together, the sales from his own recordings, plus income from Sony/ATV and his own catalog would be worth $30 million a year, according to one of his business associates. And the amounts he spent on his lifestyle would be gone.

The winners in all of this could be his family.

“I’m of the view that Michael’s passing, as untimely as it is, is the one opportunity his family and his children have to preserve his asset legacy,” said Charles Koppelman, who is chairman of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and a former music industry executive who several years ago was a financial adviser to Mr. Jackson. “They will earn a tremendous amount of money over the next 12 to 18 months given the outpouring, and he won’t be spending.”

Bill Werde, the editorial director of Billboard, compared Mr. Jackson with Elvis Presley as a star whose very likeness would remain a valuable asset for decades to come.

“If this estate finds smart management, his image and likeness is going to be very easy to exploit,” he said. “There’s a fan base that is hungry for seemingly as much Michael as they can ever get.”

Just how much the outside world learns about the details of Mr. Jackson’s finances may well turn on whether he set up a trust intended to distribute his assets privately, limiting the role of a court. If there is not enough money left behind to satisfy his creditors, the ensuing battle could make the details public, according to lawyers interviewed on Friday.

“If there’s going to be litigation by creditors against these assets, that’s what would happen,” said Andrew S. Garb, a lawyer at Loeb & Loeb in Santa Monica, Calif. Creditors could essentially demand an accounting of the assets left in the trust by Mr. Jackson to satisfy claims, he said.

If instead Mr. Jackson relied on a will, and advisers think there are at least two, then personal financial information would be revealed through probate proceedings. (In the case of multiple wills, generally the most recent valid document prevails.)

Regardless of how Mr. Jackson structured his financial affairs, someone could try to challenge the validity of the documents. For example, someone might argue that he signed a document under duress or that he did not understand the import of signing.

“If, for example, he left everything to some unrelated person and did not provide for his children, that may be another basis to indicate he didn’t know what he was doing,” said Lawrence Heller, a partner in the Los Angeles office of the law firm Bryan Cave.

Mr. Koppelman says he believes the delays, even with the costs of litigation, could ultimately benefit the estate. “I think it’s going to be so confusing that they’ll be able to pile up a lot of money. There’s a real opportunity to save his financial empire.”

“He was a fantastic visionary on the business front,” Mr. Koppelman added. “He just couldn’t deal with his personal finances.”

Jonathan D. Glater contributed reporting.

Monday, June 22, 2009



JUNE 22 2009
Associated Press Writer

Riot police attacked hundreds of demonstrators with tear gas and fired live bullets in the air to disperse a rally in central Tehran Monday, carrying out a threat by the country's most powerful security force to crush any further opposition protests over the disputed presidential election.

Britain, accused by Iran of fomenting post-election unrest, said it was evacuating the families of diplomats and other officials based in Iran — the first country to do so as Iran's worst internal conflict since the 1979 Islamic Revolution escalated.

Witnesses said helicopters hovered overhead as about 200 protesters gathered at Haft-e-Tir Square. But hundreds of anti-riot police quickly put an end to the demonstration and prevented any gathering, even small groups, at the scene.

At the subway station at Haft-e-Tir, the witnesses said police did not allow anyone to stand still, asking them to keep on walking and separating people who were walked together. The witnesses asked not to be identified for fear of government reprisals.

Just before the clashes, an Iranian woman who lives in Tehran said there was a heavy police and security presence in another square in central Tehran. She asked not to be identified because she was worried about government reprisals.

"There is a massive, massive, massive police presence," she told The Associated Press in Cairo by telephone. "Their presence was really intimidating."

Iran says at least 17 protesters have been killed in a week of unrest so far after the electoral council declared hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winner of the June 12 election. His main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, charged the election was a fraud and insists he is the true winner. His followers have been staging near-daily rallies, at least one of them drawing a massive crowds of hundreds of thousands.

Severe restrictions on reporters have made it almost impossible to independently verify any reports on demonstrations, clashes and casualties. Iran has ordered reporters for foreign news agencies to stay in their offices, barring them from any reporting on the streets.

The country's highest electoral authority, the Guardian Council, acknowledged on Monday that there were voting irregularities in 50 electoral districts, the most serious official admission so far of problems in the election. But the council insisted the problems do not affect the outcome of the vote.

Earlier Monday, the elite Revolutionary Guard issued its sternest warning so far in the post-election crisis. It warned protesters to "be prepared for a resolution and revolutionary confrontation with the Guards, Basij and other security forces and disciplinary forces" if they continue their near-daily rallies.

The Basij, a plainclothes militia under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, have been used to quell street protests that erupted after the election result was announced.

The Guard statement ordered demonstrators to "end the sabotage and rioting activities" and said their resistance is a "conspiracy" against Iran. On Sunday, acting joint chief of the armed forces Gen. Gholam Ali Rashid issued a thinly veiled warning to Mousavi, saying "we are determined to confront plots by enemies aimed at creating a rift in the nation.

Ali Nader, an Iran specialist for the RAND Corp. think tank, said the Guard's crackdown threat was no surprise.

"I don't think their willingness to crack down was ever in doubt. They won't let these protests grow — this was the way the shah was brought down" in 1979, Nader said, but added: "Even if the protests peter out, you can expect a strong opposition movement in Iran."

Mousavi vowed Sunday night to keep up the protests, in defiance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran. In a sermon to tens of thousands on Friday, Khamenei said demonstrators must stop their street protests or face the consequences and he firmly backed Ahmadinejad's victory.

"The country belongs to you," Mousavi's latest statement said. "Protesting lies and fraud is your right."

Mousavi's Web site called Monday for supporters to turn on their car lights in the late afternoon as a sign of protest.

Mousavi's latest statements posted on his Web site also warned supporters of danger ahead, and said he would stand by the protesters "at all times." But he said he would "never allow anybody's life to be endangered because of my actions" and called for pursuing fraud claims through an independent board.

The former prime minister, a longtime loyalist of the Islamic government, also called the Basij and military "our brothers" and "protectors of our revolution and regime." He may be trying to constrain his followers' demands before they pose a mortal threat to Iran's system of limited democracy constrained by Shiite clerics, who have ultimate authority.

Mousavi ally and former president Mohammad Khatami said in a statement that "protest in a civil manner and avoiding disturbances in the definite right of the people and all must respect that."

Britain's Foreign Office said it was pulling staffers' dependents out because "the families of our staff have been unable to carry out their lives as usual."

In Washington, President Barack Obama said he does not want to become a scapegoat for Iran's leadership as the postelection upheaval continues, but Republicans continued criticizing him for being overly cautious.

The Czech EU presidency summoned the Iranian charge d'affaires to reject claims by Iran that the 27-nation bloc has been interfering in its internal affairs.

Iran state media reported at least 10 people were killed in the fiercest clashes yet on Saturday and 100 were injured.

A graphic video that appears to show a young woman dying within minutes after she was shot during Saturday's demonstrations has become the iconic image seen by millions around the world on video-sharing sites such as YouTube.

Police said Monday that 457 people were arrested on Saturday alone, but did not say how many have been arrested throughout the week of turmoil.

The country's highest electoral authority agreed last week to investigate some opposition complaints of problems in the voting. The Guardian Council said Monday it found irregularities in 50 voting districts, but that this has no effect on election outcome. Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei was quoted on the state TV Web site as saying that its probe showed more votes were cast in these constituencies than there were registered voters.

But this "has no effect on the result of the elections," he said.

Mousavi has demanded that the election result be annulled and a new vote held.

Khatami said "taking complaints to bodies that are required to protect people's rights, but are themselves subject to criticism, is not a solution" -- effectively accusing the Council of collusion in vote fraud.

The government has intensified a crackdown on independent media — expelling a BBC correspondent, suspending the Dubai-based network Al-Arabiya and detaining at least two local journalists for U.S. magazines.

English-language state television said an exile group known as the People's Mujahedeen had a hand in the street violence and broadcast what it said were confessions of British-controlled agents.

The exile group, also called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, is the military wing of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran. The council says it is dedicated to a democratic, secular government in Iran, but the military wing has been blacklisted by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

The Foreign Ministry lashed out at foreign media and Western governments, with ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi accusing them of "a racial mentality that Iranians belong to the Third World."

"Meddling by Western powers and international media is unacceptable," he said at a news conference shown on state TV, taking particular aim at French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"How can a Western president, like the French president, ask for nullification of Iranian election results?" Qashqavi said. "I regret such comments."


Associated Press Writers Rebecca Santana, Sebastian Abbot and William J. Kole in Cairo contributed to this report.



June 22, 2009,
Associated Press

President Barack Obama cited his own long struggle to quit the cigarettes he took up as a teenager as he signed the nation's strongest-ever anti-smoking bill Monday and praised it for providing critically needed protections for future generations.

"The decades-long effort to protect our children from the harmful effects of smoking has finally emerged victorious," Obama said during the sun-splashed Rose Garden signing ceremony.

The bill marks the latest legislative victory for Obama's first five months. Among his other successes: a $787 economic stimulus bill, legislation to expand a state program providing children's health insurance and a bill making it easier for workers to sue for pay discrimination.

The president has frequently spoken, in the White House and on the campaign trail, of his own struggles to quit smoking. He did so again during the ceremony, bringing it up while criticizing the tobacco industry for marketing its products to young people.

"I know — I was one of these teenagers," Obama said. "I know how difficult it is to break this habit."

Before dozens of invited guests, including children from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the president signed legislation giving the Food and Drug Administration unprecedented authority to regulate tobacco.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act allows the FDA to lower the amount of nicotine in tobacco products, ban candy flavorings that appeal to kids and block misleading labels such "low tar" and "light." Tobacco companies also will be required to cover their cartons with large graphic warnings.

The law won't let the FDA ban nicotine or tobacco outright, but the agency will be able to regulate what goes into tobacco products, make public the ingredients and prohibit marketing campaigns geared toward children.

"It is a law that will save American lives," Obama said.

Anti-smoking advocates looked forward to the bill after years of attempts to control an industry so fundamental to the U.S. that carved tobacco leaves adorn some parts of the Capitol.

Opponents from tobacco-growing states such as top-producing North Carolina argued that the FDA had proved through a series of food safety failures that it was not up to the job of regulation. They also said that instead of unrealistically trying to get smokers to quit or to prevent others from starting, lawmakers should ensure that people have other options, like smokeless tobacco.

As president, George W. Bush opposed the legislation and threatened a veto after it passed the House last year. The Obama administration, by contrast, issued a statement declaring strong support for the measure.



Associated Press Writers
June 22 2009

TEHRAN, Iran – A backstage struggle among Iran's ruling clerics burst into the open Sunday when the government said it had arrested the daughter and other relatives of an ayatollah who is one of the country's most powerful men.

State media said the daughter and four other relatives of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani were later released but their arrests appeared to be a clear warning from the hard-line establishment to a cleric who may be aligning himself with the opposition.

Tehran's streets fell mostly quiet for the first time since a bitterly disputed June 12 presidential election, but cries of "God is great!" echoed again from rooftops after dark, a sign of seething anger at a government crackdown that peaked with at least 10 protesters' deaths Saturday.

The killings drove the official death toll to at least 17 after a week of massive street demonstrations by protesters who say hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole his re-election win. But searing images posted online — including gruesome video purporting to show the fatal shooting of a teenage girl — hinted the true toll may be higher.

Police and the feared Basij militia swarmed the streets of Tehran to prevent more protests and the government intensified a crackdown on independent media — expelling a BBC correspondent, suspending the Dubai-based network Al-Arabiya and detaining at least two local journalists for U.S. magazines.

English-language state television said an exile group known as the People's Mujahedeen had a hand in street violence and broadcast what it said were confessions of British-controlled agents in an indication that the government, vilifying the opposition, was ready to crack down even harder.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi warned supporters of danger ahead, and said he would stand by the protesters "at all times." But in letters posted on his allies' Web sites Saturday and Sunday, he said he would "never allow anybody's life to be endangered because of my actions" and called for pursuing fraud claims through an independent board.

The former prime minister, a longtime loyalist of the Islamic government, also called the Basij and military "our brothers" and "protectors of our revolution and regime." He may be trying to constrain his followers' demands before they pose a mortal threat to Iran's quixotic system of limited democracy constrained by Shiite clerics, who have ultimate authority.

His chances of success within the system would be far higher if he has backers among those clerics.

In the clearest sign yet of a splintering among the ayatollahs, state media announced the arrests of Rafsanjani's relatives including his daughter Faezeh, a 46-year-old reformist politician vilified by hard-liners for her open support of Mousavi.

State media said Rafsanjani's relatives had been held for their own protection.

"It is a clear message about where a continued direct conflict with the regime could lead," said Michael Wahid Hanna, a regional affairs analyst with the Century Foundation, a New York think tank. "By going after family members, they have sent a warning as to the stakes involved and the price to be paid if Rafsanjani refuses to be quiescent."

Rafsanjani heads the cleric-run Assembly of Experts, which can remove the supreme leader, the country's most powerful figure. He also chairs the Expediency Council, a body that arbitrates disputes between parliament and the unelected Guardian Council.

Rafsanjani and his family have been accused of corruption by Ahmadinejad. And the 75-year-old ayatollah was conspicuously absent Friday from an address by the country's supreme leader calling for national unity and siding with the president.

That fueled speculation that Rafsanjani, who has made no public comment since the election, may be working behind the scenes and favoring Mousavi.

The Assembly of Experts has not publicly reprimanded Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei since he succeeded Islamic Revolution founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989. But this crisis has rattled the once-untouchable stature of the supreme leader.

Protesters have openly defied his orders to leave the streets and witnesses said some shouted "Death to Khamenei!" at Saturday's demonstrations — a once unthinkable challenge.

At least some lower-ranking clergy also appeared to have broken with the supreme leader. Photos posted by a moderate conservative news Web site showed what appeared to be mullahs in brown robes and white turbans protesting alongside a crowd of young men, some wearing the green shirts or sashes symbolizing Mousavi's self-described "Green Wave" movement.

The images and others flooding out from Iran in recent days could not immediately be independently verified due to government restrictions on foreign media, who were banned from reporting on Tehran's streets.

Ahmadinejad appeared to be courting his own clerical support. State television showed him meeting with mullahs at the presidential palace and telling them the election had demonstrated popular love for the regime.

He criticized British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Barack Obama, who on Saturday urged Iranian authorities to halt "all violent and unjust actions against its own people."

"With that behavior you will not be among Iran's friends," Ahmadinejad said, in a potentially ominous sign for Obama's recent efforts to warm relations with Iran.

Strengthening Ahmadinejad's position, Iran's military issued a thinly veiled warning to Mousavi after days of silence.

"We are determined to confront plots by enemies aimed at creating a rift in the nation," said Gen. Gholam Ali Rashid, acting joint chief of the armed forces.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki accused Britain of sending spies to manipulate the election, blasted France for "treacherous and unjust approaches" and said Germany had unfairly criticized Iran's government.

Blaming foreign conspirators is a staple of Iranian government rhetoric that resonates for many in a country with a long history of manipulation by Britain, the U.S. and other powers.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband "categorically" denied his country was meddling and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Iran anew to conduct a complete and transparent recount.

"This can only damage Iran's standing in the eyes of the world," Miliband said.

The British Broadcasting Corp. said its Tehran-based correspondent, Jon Leyne, had been asked to leave the country but its office remained open. Newsweek said journalist Maziar Bahari, a Canadian citizen, had been detained without charge and LIFE reported the arrest of the photojournalist who took an iconic photograph of a young woman in a headscarf making a "V" for victory gesture at the camera as white smoke roiled in the background. It did not reveal the photographer's name.

Reporters Without Borders said 23 journalists had been arrested during the past week.

There were unconfirmed reports of small demonstrations and clashes Sunday, and stores were closed in Tehran neighborhoods that saw violence the day before. Life appeared to be normal in other parts of Tehran on Sunday, a weekday in Iran, but experts cautioned that it could be a brief lull and not the end of Iran's worst internal turmoil in three decades.


Weissenstein reported from Cairo.