Media Watch 7/4/15

By Rowan Williams

In Iraq, exhumation work has begun on believed mass graves in the city of Tikrit that could contain the bodies of up to 1,700 Iraqi soldiers. Iraqi forensics investigators are excavating the 12 graves near a former US Army base in the city, with 20 bodies recovered so far. The graves are believed to be the site of mass executions reported in June 2014, when Islamic State (IS) militants released photographs appearing to depict the execution of mostly Shia soldiers. The excavation work comes just days after Tikrit was reclaimed from IS by Iraqi government forces and Shia militias, following a month-long siege of the city. DNA testing will be used to identify the bodies found, with many Iraqis having never received confirmation of their relatives’ death. The exhumation is expected to be a rallying point for Iraq’s Shia militias, who have vowed to avenge the killings. Some observers have expressed concerns that evidence from the mass graves could be used to justify brutality on the part of the Shia militias.

Figures have shown that 600 fewer GP surgeries were open at evenings and weekends than before 2010, the Labour Party has claimed, as the political battle in the run-up to Britain’s 7 May general election continues. Labour has pointed to the figures as evidence of its superior care of the NHS. The Conservative Party has disputed the figures, while the Liberal Democrats have labelled the figures as out of date. In other political news, former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to step into the political fight today, claiming in a speech on Tuesday that an EU referendum as planned by the Conservative Party would bring chaos to Britain. Prime Minister David Cameron, meanwhile, is continuing in attempts to reach out to UK Independence Party (UKIP) supporters after the Conservative parliamentary candidate for the safe Labour seat of Hull West, Mike Whitehead, announced his defection to UKIP.

A major fire has broken out at a chemical plant in China’s south-eastern Fujian province, following an explosion at the plant on Monday night. Over 400 fire-fighters are reported to be battling the blaze at the plant in the city of Zhangzhou, with six people reported to have been hospitalised. The South China Morning Post reports that the explosion is the second at the plant in two years, while local reports claim that the explosion could be heard over six miles away. Construction of plants across China similar to the one in Zhangzhou, which produces paraxylene, has been met with protests by residents. Paraxylene is a chemical used in the production of polyesters.

The Papers

With the countdown continuing to the general election on May 7, political stories again make the headlines. The Daily Telegraph leads with news of attempts from Prime Minister David to reach out to UK Independence Party (UKIP) voters, with the Prime Minister saying it is “time to come home” in an interview with the paper. Cameron has “heard the message of frustrated Tories”, the paper writes. The Independent leads with news that the Conservative Party is searching for a “more positive message” in the run-up to the election; with the party’s manifesto still not approved “days before publication”, Conservative MPs are criticising a “lack of passion, optimism and eye-catching policies”, the paper reports. The Guardian leads with a news of an attack on the Conservatives to be made by former Prime Minister Tony Blair. In a speech on Tuesday, Blair will step into the election battle by warning that a referendum on EU membership “threatens chaos” not seen “since the second world war”. The NHS is the top story for the Financial Times, with the paper reporting that a “Collapse in efficiency” has left the health service with a spending “black hole deeper than admitted”. Whoever wins Britain’s election will face an “immediate crisis”, the paper writes. The Times leads with news that the relative of Britain’s youngest convicted terrorist is thought to have fled to Syria from Yorkshire. A teenager and a young friend from Dewsbury are thought to have vanished, with the teenager a younger relative of Hammad Munshi, a Briton arrested for terror offences at the age of 15 in 2006.

British Media on China

On the jailing of Ji Jianye: Ji Jianye, former Mayor of Nanjing, received a 15-year jail sentence on Tuesday for corruption charges, receiving coverage from the BBC and The Guardian. The BBC reports that Ji, nicknamed “Bulldozer Ji” for “his heavy promotion of construction and redevelopment”, was found guilty of accepting 11.3 million yuan in bribes. The BBC notes that Ji was tried in Shandong province, “far from his home province and support base in Jiangsu” – an increasingly “common practice”. The Guardian’s agency piece reports that State media linked Ji’s downfall “construction project awards to a company with which he had close ties”, but also notes that the case of Ji “is far from the most sensational” to come to light during China’s anti-corruption drive.

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