The world's most wonderful natural stadium!
By Rob Penn
The best place to be at sunset is standing on top of the stout, black walls of Galle fort. Leaning over an embrasure on Moon bastion, I could see the entire old town within the promontory ramparts.

Beyond the frangipani trees, the terracotta-tiled roofs and crumbling church porticoes was the Indian Ocean, a vast blue emptiness rolling away thousands of miles to Antarctica. To the north, the modern town of Galle was teeming like a disturbed ant hill. Beyond the main road and the honking bus station, past the brightly-coloured buildings and the proud facade of St Mary's Church was the jungle - a jade sea of palms broken only by the gleaming white point of a Buddhist temple.

Lionel, a chatty old man with lips the colour of beetroot, reappeared by my side. We had met in the afternoon when I mistook him for a gem-shop tout and he asked if I was German. Waving a hand before me, like an umpire signalling a boundary, he indicated the large oval of turf immediately below us.

"The Galle cauldron - a 20,000 seater stadium," Lionel announced. In size, the ground is more like a village green in Suffolk than an international arena and I looked at him quizzically. "Ten thousand seats below," he rejoined. Then turning to look along the ramparts and grinning like a conjuror whose trick has worked, he added: "Plus 10,000 seats up here. All free!"

It is extremely unlikely that the Dutch governor of Galle had cricket spectators in mind when, in 1667, he began re-fortifying the original Portuguese defences. He was more interested in keeping out the bellicose Sinhalese kings and protecting the profitable spice trade. In any event, he has provided the modern-day denizens of the town with the game's most wonderful natural stadium. "It is marvellous," Lionel continued. "We can sit here and watch the English get beat, at no cost."

The fort walls may be the most obvious remnant of the European influence on Galle, but within them are a myriad of other references to colonial times. You can still find a fading inscription of the Dutch East India Company on the Old Gate leading down to the harbour, and on the other side, the British coat of arms.

Streets still have their Dutch and British names - Leyn Baan Street, Queen Street and (British imagination in full flow) Middle Street. On Church Street, there is the grand Dutch Reformed Church and nearby, All Saints Church. Outside a grocery shop, the disembowelled chassis of an old Riley has been mounted as advertising. Another shop was called Daily Needs and sold "Short Eats". The shopkeeper said "cheerio". During the fleeting equatorial evening, kids play with sagging footballs and old women lean over their verandas to chat. I looked down Lighthouse Street and thought of an alleyway in the Barrio above Lisbon harbour.

Here, perhaps more than anywhere else in Sri Lanka, you forget that the country is in the throes of a war that has ruined the north and turned Colombo into "a Belfast in the sun," as I heard it described.

The quiet, narrow streets of the Fort are laid out on an orderly grid and an unusual radiance graces the cracked, decaying plaster of the huddled buildings. The whole enclave feels remarkably un-Asian. Like Penang or Panjim, Galle Fort is a heterogeneous place and happy with it. There is even a Moorish quarter beneath the lighthouse. Galle, it seems, is going places again. I met Ameen, a suitably cosmopolitan gem and antique dealer underneath a banyan tree on Hospital Street. "It will be like the old days," he said with a wry smile. "The Fort will be full of colonials." (Guardian.)

A peace of women
Miss World contestants may say they want 'world peace', but how can that be done when some of them can be so apathetic over the sentenced stoning of a Nigerian woman?

Miss World's awfully big misadventure in Nigeria has shown it up to be an out-of-touch, slumbering beauty - lobotomised by the exploding flashbulbs of commercial exploitation and too many mechanical utterings of 'world peace'.

While countries have been issuing travel advisories to their citizens against travelling to South-East Asia, Ms. Julia Morley, the contest's chief executive, was merrily herding her young charges into a strife-torn African country that practises syariah law in many parts and which has seen its fair share of violent religious riots.

What in the World was she thinking? This is what the Miss World website says glowingly of itself: 'Every aspect of the contest will underline the ideals promoted by Miss World, reflecting the attributes of today's woman; a woman who has her own goals and views of her role within society.'

I wonder where Amina Lawal fits into this template.

She is the 30-year-old Nigerian woman sentenced to be stoned to death for having a child out of wedlock. It was her plight which triggered a planned boycott by about seven of the Miss World contestants.

Indeed, it is ironic that the tumultuous lead up to the finals has done more to highlight the true plight and nature of women than the pageant itself ever did. Rather than being the usual cookie-cutter bevy of diagonally-sashed, swimsuited women, a few of the Miss World contestants this year bravely showed they were more than the sum of their legs and teeth.

Miss Belgium, Ann Van Elsen, broke into tears when Miss Sweden and Miss Italy refused to join her in the boycott. She said: 'Every year, contestants say they are for world peace, but I'm not sure if it has any effect. The chance that I can really say something during the pageant is really small. I think I will have a much more powerful effect if I boycott the contest.'

Sadly, she did not get the chance to put her words into action. Ms Morley, the originator of its motto - 'Beauty With A Purpose' - who had remained disingenuously neutral the whole time, said at the end that the contestants should respect Ms Amina's wishes and rescind the boycott. More was to come.

A Nigerian journalist, probably trying to quell the rumblings of unhappiness from the Muslim segment of the population, said in an article that the Prophet Muhammad would have approved of the contest if he were alive today, and may even have taken one of the contestants to be his wife. All hell broke loose. There were riots in Kaduna where about 215 people were killed. At least 22 churches and eight mosques were destroyed. Ms Morley is lucky. Compared to what she has left behind in Nigeria - many deaths and the knowledge that possible death awaits Amina Lawal.

While the Nigerian government says it will protect her, the syariah ruling imposed on her still remains - it dictates that she will be killed by stoning once she has finished weaning her child. What kind of world does Miss World stand for? I would have liked to have seen Ms Morley standing next to the contestants in solidarity, pleading for the life of Ms Amina: World peace!

Perhaps Ms Morley will now use the Nigerian experience to take the contest into the real world and champion real women's issues - those that cannot be resolved by a glittering tiara, a designer wardrobe and a victory walk.

But I doubt she will do it. It's up to the women themselves to take a stand, like Miss Korea, Jang Yu Kyong, who has decided to return home and wash her hands off the hollow ideals of the event.

Most telling of all, the voice of the current Miss World - a Nigerian - remains poignantly absent. She is Agbani Darego, the first Black African woman to win the title. It was her victory that brought the pageant fatefully to her home country.

Now, she is uncomfortably invisible. Quite likely, like many other women, she has been cowed, if not silenced - by the 'world peace' of a world in pieces. Courtesy Straits Times Singapore.

Where will terror strike next?
In a recent article Sandra Dick of Edinburgh Evening News says it could even be Sri Lanka

WHEN the tourists packed their cases and headed off on a journey to the sun-soaked and peaceful island of Bali as one of their stops on their round-the-world travels they could not have suspected for a second that they were actually heading to their deaths.

None of the innocent men and women who perished in the horrific blast which ripped apart Sari's nightclub would ever have contemplated that the oasis known as the Land of Temples, where the sun kissed sands and crystal-clear waters lure tourists from around the world, could be a target for terrorism.

But it has, in the most horrific way. And if Bali, with its peace-loving people and a culture seeped in colourful dance, native art and haunting music, can become a target, then just where on Earth is safe?

News that Bali's Kuta Beach area was brutally ripped apart by a terrorist's car bomb with hundreds of young lives lost and scores more ruined, came as less of a surprise to international terrorism expert Professor Paul Wilkinson than to many of us.

For he firmly believes that there is simply nowhere in the world 100 per cent safe from terror attacks.

"I don't think you can say any country is immune," he declares.

"All you can say is that there are relatively more risky places to be and relatively safer places to be."

Bali, he believes in hindsight, couldn't have been a more perfect place for the terrorists to strike. "Indonesia has been one of the more volatile Muslim areas - extremists have been able to operate there, to move their weapons and explosives and plan their attacks," he explains. "To specialists, it has not come as a great shock to hear of a major attack in Indonesia. What has surprised people has been that it was in Bali, a holiday island which has been free of these kinds of problems, a small island of tranquillity in a rather troubled area.

"But, from the point of view of the terrorists - who I'm sure are linked to

al-Qaida - this just made it all the more attractive as a target. Here you have lots of Westerners relaxing, with very little security or measures to prevent terrorist opportunity.

Among their objectives is to kill as many of their designated enemies as possible and that includes civilians.

"In a sense, it was wide open to terrorists who wanted to mount a major atrocity."

For travellers and tourists just regaining their confidence after the horrors of September 11, bloody events in Bali have further fuelled fears over international travel. The Foreign Office has updated its advice for those considering travelling to Indonesia and renewed its warning that UK citizens should remain vigilant at all times to the threat of global terrorism.

Meanwhile, Prof Wilkinson, of St Andrews University's Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, has few words of comfort. "To quote Sir Winston Churchill, 'I am an optimist - I don't see any point in being anything else'," he states. "But we are facing a global network with a presence in so many countries. It is difficult to say that anywhere is 100 per cent safe.

There is no immunity from terrorism in the modern world. But some countries have taken better measures than others to make themselves less vulnerable." Among the 50 or so listed, Sri Lanka is listed as below

48 Sri Lanka: There has been a high level of terrorist activity from the Tamil Tigers and visitors are advised not to travel to certain areas in the north and east.

The civil unrest could be exploited by global terrorists.

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