Tuesday, February 28, 2006





Somalis pushed into sea and drown. A boat sailing from Somalia forced all of its 137 passengers into deep waters off the Yemeni coast, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says. More than 30 of the migrants have drowned. Survivors that reached shore on Monday night says dozens more, including children, are missing. Thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians attempt to cross the Gulf of Aden each year, many hoping to reach Europe. Fearing Yemeni coast guards, smugglers often force their passengers overboard.

Trafficking boom town

The smuggling networks target migrants and asylum seekers and an estimated 100 people a day arrive in Yemen between September to March - when sailing conditions are at their best. However, the UNHCR says the risks of the voyage are extremely high, with passengers often paying the ultimate price. "Smugglers torture, rape and shoot their passengers if they complain. It's very dangerous," UNHCR's Peter Kessler told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.
Those aboard in this incident were Somalis and Ethiopians, including men, women and children. Bodies have been washed up along the southern coast of Yemen east of Bir Ali. "It is a sign of the fragility of the situation in Somalia and more and more Ethiopians are also opting to escape on this route," Mr Kessler says. "It's clear that the political insecurity, especially after the election in Ethiopia, are driving more people from that country to seek asylum."

UN staff in Aden say they are taking care of the survivors, giving them medical help and food.



S Africa's power cuts 'political'

President Thabo Mbeki is confident of victory. Power cuts which have caused havoc in Cape Town are the result of sabotage possibly intended to influence South Africa's local polls, a minister says. Minerals and Energy Minister Lindiwe Hendricks said there was a "curious coincidence" with Wednesday's polls. "Clearly other forces are at play here," she told local media.
The opposition has used the power cuts to illustrate what it says is the failure of the ANC government to deliver good services. Cape Town is one of the few parts of South Africa where the ANC does not have an overwhelming majority and could be defeated. Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin also said that the damage at one of the Koeberg nuclear power plant's two generators was deliberate.

Achievements since 1994
1.8m new houses built or being built
70% households electrified
11.4m access to water
Challenges ahead
2.4m families still in shacks
3.2m houses need electricity
3.5m people without water
Source: South African government.

Mbeki on the campaign trail

"Let me be very clear on this. The bolt that caused the generator's destruction did not get there by accident," he said. The generator has not been working properly since December. President Thabo Mbeki acknowledged that the ANC had come in for "very strong criticism" during the campaign - mostly over service delivery and corruption allegations - but said he was confident of victory. There have also been violent protests by people demanding housing and against plans to redraw provincial boundaries. While many people in squatter camps do not have access to running water and mains electricity, such services have been delivered to millions of poor South Africans since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The largest opposition party is the Democratic Alliance but this suffers from charges that it mostly caters for the white minority.


Mbeki woos voters as polls loom.

President Mbeki is making an effort to present a friendly face to voters. This week's municipal elections in South Africa are being seen a test of whether the governing ANC has managed to live up to public expectations. BBC southern Africa correspondent Peter Biles went on the campaign trail with President Thabo Mbeki.

It is rare for ordinary South Africans to get a visit from their president. However, on the election campaign trail, Thabo Mbeki moves effortlessly from house to house through Soshanguve, a township half an hour's drive north of the capital, Pretoria. He wears a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan "Vote ANC", and stops every few metres to greet, embrace and dance with the residents who have turned out to welcome him. There is no doubting both the warm reception here and the loyal support for the ANC, but there is also frustration and some anger about the government's record on "service delivery". Soshanguve is one township that has seen violent protests of late. Joyce Matjeke, 69, will definitely vote for the ANC in the local elections. "We are not going anywhere else", she insists. But she also wants President Mbeki to hear her concerns about increased rents and rates.

Can you afford the rent?

"I owe 3,000 rand ($500). Where am I going to find that money?" she asks. "The rent has been put up and up. We pay for this and that. Sometimes, I don't know what we're paying for. Please do us a favour. "Think about the rents. The children here don't work. The boys have got no jobs". Making his way down the street, President Mbeki stops to talk to Nathaniel Sibiya, 35. He wants the government to provide young people with more information about jobs and training opportunities. "We are willing to go and help our communities. But we don't know where to go, and who to consult," he tells the president. Mr Mbeki assures him that the government will work on setting up youth information centres. "And I'm going on pension next year, so you will need to take over," jokes the president.

Mr Sibiya says he is reassured by what Mr Mbeki has had to say. "As the president, he knows very well what the country needs at this moment. South Africa needs people who can take this country forward." The no-go area means it's difficult for the ANC to campaign there. But it's that much harder for opposition parties to campaign as well Ebrahim FakirCentre for Policy Studies. Mr Sibiya makes it clear that he too will be voting for the ANC in the municipal elections, and proudly displays the autograph signed on his t-shirt by Thabo Mbeki. During a short break between the house visits, I asked President Mbeki what lessons he has learnt from listening to the views of the people during this election campaign. "The principal thing is that we did not assist local government to get the capacity it needs, given the expectations that are put on the shoulders of local government. "This is where everything happens, whether it's water, electricity or roads. We said local government must deliver on these things, but when you look at the capacity of local councils to do this, many of them can't. "I am sure you will see from the election results that the ANC continues to enjoy the support it has in the past. But people expect 'more and faster'. "I am sure we can deliver 'more and faster', provided we attend to this matter of local government capacity," Mr Mbeki says.

The presidential visit to Soshanguve passed off without a hitch, but to the west of here, the township of Khutsong has become almost a no-go area for the ANC in the past few weeks. Loyalty to the ANC runs deep here, though many are dissatisfied with public servicesResidents have been protesting about government plans to change provincial boundaries - the protests have turned violent on several occasions. "This is proving quite a serious problem for the ANC," says Ebrahim Fakir of the Centre for Policy Studies, a political think-tank. "The ANC has had to send its national chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota to the area to calm things down, but it is still a very volatile situation. "The no-go area means it's difficult for the ANC to campaign there. But it's that much harder for opposition parties to campaign as well." Khutsong and other restive areas will be an important barometer. The ANC has promised much - clean water to all households by 2010 and electricity by 2012.

In a country as big as South Africa, that is why these local elections matter more than most.



The two contrasts in my life.

A rural picture of my life in Scotland.
A very peaceful, safe, cultured and a very
beautiful place to be. Plenty animals of
course, but not the really wild kind.

And here is my life in Africa, where I feel I belong, where my heart and soul is.

But as I am a white African I am really not wanted there, but accepted just for visits.
 Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 27, 2006


Uganda's Museveni attacks rival.

Museveni warned opposition supporters against "causing chaos". Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has accused his defeated opponent in last week's presidential elections of failing to understand democracy. He told the BBC that Dr Kizza Besigye's plan to challenge the result in court was "neither here nor there" as he is not the one who decides. Dr Besigye - once Mr Museveni's doctor - is currently out on bail having been accused of several crimes he denies. UK and US diplomats have urged Dr Besigye's supporters to avoid violence. Mr Museveni again accused Dr Besigye's Forum for Democratic Change party of links to "terrorist groups", which he said they must cut.


Yoweri Museveni: 59.28%
Kizza Besigye: 37.36%
With 99% of polling stations reporting
Source: Electoral Commission
Press urges calm

"The FDC does have some links with terrorism and so on. It will be sorted out in time. For us we are patient. We are watching." Dr Besigye, who has been facing treason and rape charges during the campaign, described the result as "outrageous", saying the Electoral Commission's compilation of votes was "illegal" and all part of an "illegitimate process". In the parliamentary elections at least 80 MPs lost their seats, including 17 ministers, the Uganda media reports, but Mr Museveni's National Resistance Movement will still have a huge majority.

New faces in the next parliament will include First Lady Janet Museveni. Earlier, in his first address to the nation since his victory, Mr Museveni thanked Ugandans for rejecting "negative forces". Kampala saw clashes between police and opposition supportersMr Museveni said opposition supporters threatened "to cause havoc" but large deployments of security forces were ready for trouble. He also referred to the protesters who gathered outside FDC offices on Saturday to demonstrate against the result. They were dispersed by riot police using tear gas. "They tried [to cause chaos]. They couldn't. It's too late for that type of game," he said. Mr Museveni - who has been in power for 20 years - won 59% of the vote, the Electoral Commission said on Saturday. Dr Besigye took 37%.

Uganda's first multi-party vote in 25 years was seen as a test of its democratic credentials. The outcome has been broadly endorsed by international monitors, although EU observers noted some problems with the campaign. In their preliminary report, the observers said there was no "level playing field", pointing to Dr Besigye's arrest last year. They also said state-media was biased towards Mr Museveni and his National Resistance Movement. Chief EU observer Max van den Berg recommended Uganda should reinstate a law limiting a president to two terms. Mr Museveni changed the constitution to allow him to contest these polls.



Sunday, February 26, 2006


China anger over EU shoe ruling.

China and Vietnam's shoe exports to the EU have surged. China has reacted angrily to a European Union plan to slap anti-dumping duties on imports of Chinese-made shoes. Beijing said the measures, due to come into force from April, were groundless and "smacked of protectionism". EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said on Thursday that punitive duties would be imposed on leather footwear imported from China and Vietnam. The EU said it had found evidence that suppliers from both countries were dumping footwear on EU markets. The duties, which are due be introduced between 7 April and 15 September, will be up to 19.4% for imports of Chinese-made shoes and 16.8% for shoes made in Vietnam. China denied allegations that it was dumping shoes, adding that the EU duties would be a breach of global free trade principles.
"This smacks of protectionism and is completely out of line with the overall trend of free trade represented by the (World Trade Organization) Doha Round," Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Chong Quan said. Mr Chong said China's leather shoe industry was one of the country's most market-orientated, with 98% of the sector owned by private firms. "It's well known that shoemaking is a labour-intensive industry, and China, with its low labour costs, has a comparative advantage in this industry," he said.
Mr Mandelson said on Thursday that the EU measures were designed to deal with "disguised subsidies" and "state-supported dumping". "We are not targeting China and Vietnam's natural advantages, we are targeting anti-competitive behaviour," Mr Mandelson said. Imports of Chinese leather shoes into Europe rose by 320% in the year to March 2005, while those from Vietnam gained by 700%, an EU official said earlier in the week. China's trade relations with key Western partners have become increasingly strained recently.
US trade representative Rob Portman said earlier this month that the US was readjusting its view towards the Asian economic powerhouse. He announced the setting up a task force to monitor China's trade policies. Critics in Washington have accused Beijing of engaging in unfair trade practices. China responded by warning that the possible threat of US trade sanctions would damage both countries.


Life in Somalia:
Personal stories.
Eight residents of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, tell us what the new government's priorities should be and how they have survived 13 years of anarchy.

Mahamut:Scrap metal worker
"I smash the foundations of the US embassy wall to get steel rods to sell"

Nimo:Khat dealer
"The government should regulate khat - it's bad. I wish I had another job"

"We were chased off our land by a group who had more weapons than us"

"I see a dark future for my children. There are no schools or health services"

Abdidir:Bus driver
"We can accept President Yusuf even though he is from northern Somalia"

"The gun rules Somalia today - my gun is how I support my family"

"I am too busy looking for food to think about the peace process"

"Only members of the armed clans can have big parties for their weddings"


Saturday, February 25, 2006


Timeline: Mexico.
A chronology of key events:

1910 - Beginning of Epic Revolution, triggered by unrest amongst peasants and urban workers, who are led by Emiliano Zapata.
Emiliano Zapata: Revolutionary was killed in an ambush in 1919

2001: In the footsteps of Zapata

1911 - Mexico's dictator, Porfirio Diaz, is overthrown. The new president is Francisco Madero, a liberal. Madero introduces land reform and labour legislation. Political unrest continues with Zapata leading a peasant revolt in the south.
1913 - Madero is assassinated. Victoriano Huerta seizes power.
1914 - Huerta resigns. He is viewed with suspicion by the United States for his alleged pro-German sympathies. Huerta is succeeded by Venustiano Carranza.
1916 - US forces cross the border in pursuit of the guerrilla leader Francisco "Pancho" Villa.
1917 - US forces withdraw, having failed to kill Villa. A new constitution is adopted, which is designed to ensure permanent democracy in Mexico.
1920 - Carranza is murdered. Civil war follows.
1929 - The National Revolutionary Party is formed. In 1946 it is re-named the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
1934 - President Lazaro Cardenas begins programme of oil nationalisation, land reform and industrial expansion.
1940 - Leon Trotsky murdered in Mexico.
Mexico City's Torre Mayor, Latin America's tallest building
City founded by Aztecs in 14th century
1519: Spaniards led by Hernan Cortes arrive
Population (metro area): approx 20 million

2005: Mexico's sinking city

1942 - Mexico declares war on Japan and Germany.
1960s - Unrest amongst peasants and labourers over unequal wealth distribution is suppressed. 1968 - Student demonstration in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, during the Olympic Games is fired upon by Mexican security forces. Hundreds of protestors are killed or wounded. The extent of the violence shocks the country.
1976 - Huge oil reserves discovered in southern state of Chiapas.
1985 - Earthquake in Mexico City kills thousands and makes many more homeless.
1993 - Mexican parliament ratifies the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the US and Canada.
Chiapas rebellion
1994 - A guerrilla rebellion in Chiapas by the Zapatista National Liberation Army is brutally suppressed by government troops. The rebels oppose NAFTA and want greater recognition for Indian rights. The government recognises the Zapatista National Liberation Front (EZLN).
1994 August - Presidential elections won by PRI candidate Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, after the previous candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, was murdered. The stock market plunges in December, the peso loses a third of its value.
1995 - Former President Carlos Salinas goes into exile after his brother Raul Salinas is connected with Colosio's murder.

2003: In pictures - Mexico's Zapatistas
Profile: Zapatistas' mysterious leader
2001: Zapatistas address congress

1995 November - The government and the EZLN reach an agreement on greater autonomy for the indigenous Mayans of Chiapas.
1996 - The insurgency in the south escalates as the leftist Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) attacks government troops.
1997 - The PRI suffers heavy losses in elections and loses its overall majority in the lower house of parliament for the first time since 1929.
1997 December - 45 Indians killed by paramilitary gunmen in a Chiapas village. The incident causes an international outcry, President Zedillo starts an investigation.
1998 January - Governor of Chiapas resigns. Peace talks with the rebels are reactivated, but break down at the end of the year.
Fox election victory
2000 July - Vicente Fox of the opposition Alliance for Change wins presidential elections, the first opposition candidate ever to do so. Parliamentary elections see the Alliance for Change emerge as the strongest party, beating the PRI by just over 1%. Vicente Fox: First opposition president, said to have a cowboy image.

2003: BBC Talking Point - Interview with President Fox
2003: Fox at signing of UN anti-graft pact

2000 December - Vicente Fox is sworn in as president.
2001 March - Zapatista guerrillas, led by Subcomandante Marcos, stage their 'Zapatour', a march from Chiapas to Mexico City to highlight their demands.
2001 April - Parliament passes a bill increasing the rights of indigenous people. A few days later, Subcomandante Marcos rejects the bill, saying it leaves the Indian population worse off than before. Marcos says the uprising in Chiapas will continue.
2001 November - President Fox appoints a prosecutor to investigate the disappearance of left-wing activists during the 1970s and 1980s.
2002 March - Roberto Madrazo wins the contest to lead the PRI, which governed for 71 years until 2000.
2002 June - Millions of secret security files are released, shedding light on the torture and killing by security forces of hundreds of political activists in the 1960s and 1970s. President Fox says his government is not afraid to pursue prosecutions.
2002 July - Former president Luis Echeverria is questioned about massacres of student protesters in 1968, when he was interior minister, and in 1971 when he was president.
Many would-be migrants are intercepted at the US border.

2004: Mexican migrants' growing influence
2005: Mexico's tips to enter US safely

2002 September - Three army officers are charged with first-degree murder over the killings of 134 leftists in the 1970s.
2003 September - World trade talks in the Atlantic resort of Cancun collapse after four days of wrangling between rich and poor countries over farm subsidies.
2004 January - Federal-level investigation ordered into unsolved murders of more than 250 women over 10 years in border city of Ciudad Juarez.
2004 July - Investigator deems 1971 shooting of student protesters by government forces to have been genocide; judge refuses to order arrest of former President Luis Echeverria on charges that he ordered attack.
2005 January - Six prison officers are murdered and Mexico's top-security jails are put on high alert amid escalating tension between the authorities and drug gangs.
2005 April - Political furore as Mexico City mayor and presidential favourite Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is stripped of his immunity from prosecution by Congress in a land expropriation dispute. The government eventually abandons the prosecution.
2005 October - At least six people killed when Hurricane Wilma hits Yucatan peninsula, causing severe floods and damage to buildings.





Rei Momo opens Brazilian carnival.

Watch the carnival

One of the world's biggest carnival celebrations has officially started in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Amid beating Samba drums, Mayor Cesar Maia handed over the keys to the city to the Carnival King or Rei Momo. The government is promoting safe sex during the next five days of revelling and is distributing 25m free condoms. On Thursday, a gang caused panic by firing at random in a middle-class Rio district in retaliation for the death of its leader in a fight with police.

While better known for partying and reckless abandon, this year's carnival is being used to push anti-Aids and healthy eating campaigns. "May a condom be your main Carnival costume," said Alex de Oliveira, 33, an architect when not the Carnival king. Mr de Oliveira has had to shed some excess weight to comply with the mayor's anti-obesity campaign.

Some 11,000 police officers will be on patrol in the coastal city, which has one of the world's highest murder rates. Up to 700,000 tourists, 20% from abroad, are expected to visit Rio during the annual festival. Many will pack the Sambadrome, a 700-metre (2,300-feet) avenue where the top Samba groups will parade on Sunday and Monday.

Friday, February 24, 2006


Emergency declared in Philippines.

Army roadblocks have been set up throughout Manila. Philippines President Gloria Arroyo has declared a state of emergency, after the army said it had prevented a coup. She said was taking the action "because of the clear threat to the nation". A top general is being held, suspected of planning to use rallies marking 20 years since the fall of President Ferdinand Marcos to launch a coup. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Manila on Friday in breach of the emergency order, but were beaten back by riot police using water cannon. Coup rumours have grown ahead of Saturday's 20th anniversary of the popular revolt which ousted Marcos. Mrs Arroyo's decision prompted street clashes between riot police and people banned from rallying at a shrine commemorating the 1986 uprising. Police beat protesters with truncheons and used water cannon to disperse the 5,000-strong crowd. Earlier, some 3,000 people gathered in a largely peaceful protest.

Schools around the country were also shut, checkpoints erected around the capital, Manila, and soldiers were sent to strengthen security around the presidential palace. The BBC's Sarah Toms in Manila says coup rumours are common in the Philippines, which has seen a dozen attempts to overthrow the government in the past 20 years. Two of Mrs Arroyo's predecessors, Marcos and Joseph Estrada, were ousted in public revolts. But the scale of protests on Friday was much smaller than in previous "people power" revolts, where hundreds of thousands took to the streets to undermine Mrs Arroyo's predecessors, our correspondent adds.

The head of the army's elite Scout Rangers regiment, Brig Gen Danilo Lim, has been accused of heading the plot. In 1989 he was arrested over an attempted coup against then-President Corazon Aquino, who succeeded Marcos. The army said he was planning to lead troops to Friday's protest, to tell demonstrators that they were withdrawing support from the president, hoping this would spark an uprising.

President Arroyo has survived attempted coups beforeHe is now under arrest and at least eight to 10 other people - including the commanders of an elite marine unit and a special police squad - are reportedly being sought for questioning. Army chief of staff Gen Generoso Senga said the government had the full support of the military. "We have reduced the threat," the Associated Press news agency quotes Gen Senga as saying. "We cannot say it has been stopped." Announcing the state of emergency, Mrs Arroyo said on Friday that she had authorised the military and police "to take ample measures". "This is my warning to those who are attempting anything against the government," she added. The conspiracy by "totalitarian forces of both the extreme left and extreme right" constituted "a clear and present danger to the safety and the integrity of the Philippine state and of the Filipino people," she said.

Emergency rule allows arrests without warrants and extended detention without charge. Analysts say it is a very sensitive issue in the Philippines, where martial law was in force for nine years under President Marcos. Both the Philippine stock market and the national currency, the peso, plunged at the news of the emergency declaration. Over the past few months, Mrs Arroyo has faced a mounting crisis because of allegations of vote rigging and corruption. She survived an impeachment attempt in September 2005 and an army mutiny, involving some 300 soldiers, in July 2003.




Living with race hate in Russia.
By Patrick Jackson BBC News website, Moscow.

Juldas Okie Etoumbi, a postgraduate international relations student at Moscow's RUDN university, remembers well his first encounter with a Russian. Gabriel Kotchofa says the number of prosecutions is minute.Standing in a Moscow Metro carriage for the first time, the young Gabonese man was thrown forward when the train started with a jolt and he grabbed a pole to keep his balance, brushing the Russian man's hand. Without a word, the Russian withdrew his hand, produced a handkerchief and proceeded to wipe it demonstratively in front of the other passengers.
Christian, a former electrical engineering student from Cameroon now working in Moscow, was recently assaulted by a group of about 10 teenagers on a Metro train in the city centre. Struck by a bottle on the head, he fell in a pool of blood. The driver kept the carriage doors shut at the next station and police caught three of the gang, but Christian thinks no action was taken. He hit me and I tried to hit him back, but another one struck me from behind - Mukhtar Ahmed Osman
Somali blood on the snow

When Somali civil engineering student Mukhtar Ahmed Osman was beaten unconscious in the snow by a gang of teenagers in a Moscow suburb, nobody came to his aid. Such violence has turned murderous in recent years. In St Petersburg, three Africans have been killed in suspected race attacks since September. Non-African foreign students have also been murdered, but it is the black students who attract most attention from the racists. Juldas, now leader of the African students at RUDN, says "monkey" insults and actual assaults are so frequent that students have ceased reporting them. "We see it as normal now because that's how we live."
Gabriel Anicet Kotchofa, head of the Foreign Students' Association in Russia, offers fellow Africans considering an education in Russia two pieces of advice: "Consider your personal safety" and "Make sure your parents can pay your living costs". Such considerations did not exist when he arrived in Moscow a quarter of a century ago from Benin. No Soviet citizen, he recalls, would have dared raise their hand against a foreigner, and the USSR bore all the costs of its student "guests" from the developing world. Benin was then "building communism", he says, and an education in the Soviet Bloc was a vital chance for poor students without the connections to net a French grant, for instance. After the USSR collapsed, Russia paid no grants to foreign students for five years. A fraction of the system was restored in 1997, and today the number of foreign students in Russia from outside the ex-USSR is barely half the 1991 figure. Some 1,000 African students from 43 states now study at RUDN, Moscow's purpose-built university for foreign students.
Communism may have gone, but the quality of Russian education is apparently still high. "If you are prepared to study, you can get an education here you would not get even in the West," says Juldas. As a professor at Moscow's Gubkin Oil and Gas University, training cadres for such giants of the market-driven economy as Gazprom and Lukoil, Mr Kotchofa is very much at home in the new Russia but is bitter about some post-Soviet "liberties".
One thing democracy brought Russia was the freedom to insult and attack people and be sure of not being punished," he says. He can, he adds, count on his fingers the number of criminals punished for hate crimes and "even the murders are immediately treated as cases of hooliganism". "Because nobody is arrested, it has become pointless to complain to the police."
What worries him especially is that organised groups appear to be inciting the violence with impunity, with slogans like "Russia for the Russians". RUDN students attending faculties off the campus, which has its own police station and security guards, have found the three days around Hitler's birthday in April particularly stressful, with neo-Nazis often turning up to taunt them with Hitler salutes and abuse.
Inna Svyatenko, chairwoman of Moscow City Council's Security Commission, accepts that Moscow has a problem with "groups of hooligans who have in common only a taste for public disorder", and that Africans are particularly at risk. Better protection for foreign students is being discussed, she says, along with the idea of a new city police force to specifically protect foreigners. Student leaders report that the worst of the racist violence is now in the provinces, but believe this is largely because of new anti-terrorism measures in the capital. Ms Svyatenko attributes some of the problem to a common misconception that foreign students are taking college places away from Russians.

Total about 103,000, including 43,000 from other ex-Soviet states
About 15,000 are African
Some 15,000 former students are staying on illegally, including about 5,000 Africans
sSource: Foreign Students' Association in Russia

Some suggest violence against foreigners may also be a sublimation of aggression towards Caucasian ethnic groups such as Chechens and Azerbaijanis, regarded as harder targets. Moscow sociologist Nikolai Fyodorov sees a deep-rooted psychological need for an "enemy figure" dating back to the Cold War. And he says irresponsible Russian journalism adds to the dangerous mix, with television crime reports regularly identifying the ethnic background of suspects. A decade ago, when foreign students were struggling to survive without Russian state funding, African student drug dealers were in the spotlight. "Back then Africans were in a desperate social situation, and when a person needs money that badly they may agree to do anything," says Juldas.
Even today, one in 10 Africans at RUDN has to live on a daily budget of 15 roubles ($0.50, £0.30), the price of a loaf and two eggs or a single ticket on the Metro. But speaking as a student rep, Juldas says the drug problem appears to have all but disappeared, and new students are warned about the dangers of being recruited by dealers. "Sadly, however, the stereotype of the drug dealer in the media here is the black student," he adds.
Some students have simply abandoned their studies and left. The Foreign Students' Association knows of Vietnamese, South Koreans and Africans who "went home in fear of their lives". But some have reacted by challenging racial stereotypes through an educational programme. With the support of Nashi, a youth movement set up by supporters of President Vladimir Putin, and funding from African embassies, 20 groups of black students have been visiting Moscow schools since September to explain about African culture. "We give free classes on subjects like daily life in Africa, or African weddings, and the schoolchildren are very receptive," says Juldas. "We get letters from schools to come and see them. It is fun for us and it teaches people about our culture. This should influence the mentality of the young."
Many believe that the existence of unique institutions like RUDN is a cause worth defending. "For a prospective diplomat, what other university brings together 132 countries?" asks Juldas. "We have students here from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti - countries with territorial conflicts. But when students come to RUDN, they form a single homeland. It is like a mini-United Nations. Such an experience is priceless."

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Nigeria's shadowy oil rebels.

Delta residents want to share in the region's oil wealth. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which has threatened "total war" in Nigeria's main oil-producing region and is behind the recent kidnapping of oil workers is a shadowy group, about which little is known. The BBC's Abdullahi Kaura Abubakar managed to meet one of the group's leaders, who used the alias Major-General Godswill Tamuno. But he refused to be interviewed on tape or for his location to be disclosed.

Our correspondent says the "general" was not visibly armed and you could easily walk past him in the streets without noticing him. Mend's leaders like to be faceless, our reporter says, and they usually send statements to the media via e-mail. Yet their threats and attacks on oil installations in the region have caused a 15% cut in Nigeria's oil output and a surge in world oil prices. Mr Tamuno told our reporter that Mend was fighting for "total control" of the Niger Delta's oil wealth, saying local people had not gained from the riches under the ground and the region's creeks and swamps. He said the Delta had been exploited for the benefit of other parts of Nigeria and foreign companies and ordered all oil companies and Nigerians whose roots lie elsewhere to leave the region.

Nigeria's oil hope and despair

This argument has been made by several other militant groups who have staged attacks in the Niger Delta in recent years. Nigeria is one of the world's biggest oil exporters and yet most Delta residents live in poverty. There are few major roads in the area and even fewer decent hospitals. The group enjoys considerable local support and it is difficult to pinpoint exactly who is a member, our reporter says. But unlike at least one other group, Mend has not specifically called for the Niger Delta to secede from Nigeria.

This was one of the demands of Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the leader of another militant group which said it was standing up for the rights of the Niger Delta's biggest community, the Ijaws. Last year, his threats of open warfare against foreign oil companies caused similar turbulence on the world markets.

In pictures: Fighting for oil

He was invited to the capital, Abuja for a meeting with President Olusegun Obasanjo. He operated quite openly and after talking about independence once too often, he was arrested and is in custody, awaiting charges of treason. Another Mend demand has been for the release of Mr Asari but they insist they are a separate organisation. However, Mr Asari's Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force has gone quiet recently and it is quite likely that at least some of his supporters are behind the new group. While Mend and the other militant groups claim to be standing up for Delta residents, some locals say they are just oil thieves. The region is home to a huge industry of stealing oil and selling it on the black market. This trade is believed to fund the purchase of weapons.




Dozens die amid Iraqi shrine fury.

Many Sunni mosques have been vandalised in Baghdad. More than 100 people have been killed in Iraq in the aftermath of a bomb attack on a key Shia Muslim shrine. Fifty bullet-riddled bodies were found in Baghdad overnight and 47 factory workers were killed at a roadblock on the outskirts of the capital. Iraq's leaders are warning about the dangers of a civil war, amid anger over the bombing of the shrine in Samarra. Sunni Arab politicians have suspended coalition talks in protest at reprisals against dozens of their mosques. "We are facing a major conspiracy that is targeting Iraq's unity," President Jalal Talabani said.
I hope both sides acknowledge that whoever executed this act of religious terrorism is seeking only to fan the flames of hatred - Chris, Glasgow.

Shrine blast: Have your say
Analysis: Civil war nightmare
Samarra: Pilgrimage centre

"We should all stand hand in hand to prevent the danger of a civil war."
The 47 factory workers were killed at a roadblock in Nahrawan, on the outskirts of Baghdad. The victims, aged between 20 and 50, had been travelling home from work in a convoy of buses. At the checkpoint, they were forced out of their vehicles and shot dead. It is not clear whether the murders are linked to the attack on the shrine or whether they are part of the general insurgency. However, the government has cancelled all police and army leave and extended the curfew in Baghdad to deal with the violence. The attack on the al-Askari shrine takes the danger of a civil conflict to a new level, which will be seen as a direct assault on the identity and rights of an entire community, the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says.

A civil war would destroy the chances of the elected Shia-led government which is still being formed following December's election, and could lead to the break-up of the country, he says. In other developments: A prominent Arab TV reporter and two of her crew are killed in Samarra, where they had gone to cover the attack Gunmen kill one person in a Sunni mosque in the town of Baquba, where a bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol kills 12 people At least 11 people are killed after gunmen masquerading as police abducted them from a jail in the southern city of Basra.

Atwar Bahjat was a well-known face on Arabic television. The journalists killed in Samarra worked for the Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV. Correspondent Atwar Bahjat's body was among the three found early on Thursday about 15km (10 miles) north of the city. The journalists had gone to Samarra to report on Wednesday's bombing, which destroyed the 100-year-old golden dome of the shrine. Protesters in several cities took to the streets following the bombing, some shouting anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans. "Death to America which brought us terrorism," they chanted in Samarra.

Iraqi political and religious leaders have called for calm. But a spokesman for Iraq's top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said the anger may be hard to contain. "You wouldn't expect an abrupt or sudden calm, because there are some people whose reaction you can't control," London-based spokesman Fadel Bahar al-Eloum told the BBC.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Mugabe 'feels 28' as he turns 82.

Mugabe is planning a huge party on Saturday. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe turns 82, saying he still feels like a 28-year-old. Mr Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, and his current term in office is due to end in 2008. In a hint that he might then stand down, Mr Mugabe said his Zanu-PF party was capable of choosing his successor. The official birthday celebration will be a party for thousands of youths in the eastern city of Mutare on Saturday.

"The other day they said in Singapore my bones were not exactly of a boy of 26 but they said certainly of someone 30," Mr Mugabe said in an interview broadcast on state television. "I feel like a 28-year-old." The president said Zanu-PF was "capable of electing a successor as long as aspirants campaign properly and people rely on leaders who come through [the party congress," the official Herald newspaper reported. "There is time to campaign, but campaign at the right time and not become divisive and over-ambitious, with secret meetings taking place and denouncing and denigrating others and so on," Mr Mugabe said.

Several top Zanu-PF officials were suspended last year as factions formed around rivals to succeed Mr Mugabe. The Herald described Mr Mugabe as "the greatest hero ever to grace Zimbabwe and Africa", and published a 16-page supplement of birthday messages. "May your visionary selflessness, dedication and shrewd acumen continue to inspire us towards land utilisation for maximum productivity, food security and enhancement of the quality of life for farmers," said the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, which mainly represents small-scale black farmers.

Mr Mugabe's critics say his land reform programme has ruined Zimbabwe's economy. Food, fuel and foreign currency are all in desperately short supply, and last month inflation topped 600%.
His supporters blame the economic decline on Western sanctions.


Bird flu: Country preparations.
The spread of bird flu has forced countries around the world to look at how they would tackle an outbreak.
Many have also developed plans to protect against the possibility that the virus will start to spread between humans.
The World Health Organization recommends countries should stockpile enough anti-viral drugs to cope with a pandemic, which it estimates would affect 25% of the population, but warns that developing countries in particular are likely to fall well short.
Click to see WHO advice to countries


Tuesday, February 21, 2006




Somali warlords battle Islamists.

Mogadishu is controlled by thousands of gunmen. At least seven more people have been killed on the fourth day of the heaviest fighting seen in the Somali capital for several years. Supporters of some of Mogadishu's militia leaders have clashed with an armed Islamist group which says it is trying to establish law and order. Their opponents say the Islamic courts are terrorising local people. More than 22 people have died since fighting began on Saturday - many of them civilians hit by stray bullets.
A witness told AFP news agency on Tuesday that they had seen two people die and 15 wounded in a clash in southern Mogadishu's Daynile district. "The place is full of blood and it is very scary," he said. The main airstrip there which is used by aid agencies and businessmen has been shut.

Facts and figures about life in Somalia. - At-a-glance

Another witness told AP news agency that a woman was killed and two children injured when a mortar exploded near a milk factory. AP also reports further deaths in the city centre and that two more people have died of their wounds in hospital. Clashes between armed groups have been common in Somalia since former military leader Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. The country has been without a functioning government since then.
Over the weekend, a group of MPs urged both sides to stop fighting. The fighting pits a new group, the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, against the Islamic courts' militia. But AP reports that gunmen from other groups have taken advantage of the fighting to go on a looting spree.
The fighting has also led to the closure of the Daynile airport, used by many aid workers. Hundreds of families have fled their homes around the former military academy. The BBC's Hassan Barise in Mogadishu says at least five warlords-cum-ministers in the transitional government are behind the new alliance, opposed to the Islamic courts. The courts have set up Mogadishu's only judicial system in parts of the capital but have been accused of links to al-Qaeda. Their critics accuse the courts of being behind the killing of moderate Muslim scholars.
On 26 February, the country's parliament is due to meet for the first time on home soil since it was formed in Kenya more than a year ago.


Hamas presents PM choice to Abbas.

Ismail Haniya has dismissed Israel's economic sanctions. Hamas leaders have officially presented Ismail Haniya as their choice for prime minister during talks in Gaza with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Mr Abbas was to ask Mr Haniya on Tuesday to start the formation of the government, said senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar after the talks. Hamas says it wants a coalition, and Mr Zahhar has been meeting faction leaders to enlist their support. Mr Abbas' Fatah party has refused to join as has militant Islamic Jihad.
Israel has announced a range of punitive measures against a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority. The UN envoy to the Middle East raised objections to Israel's move to withhold tax and customs duties which are paid monthly to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

Israel backed by the United States and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organisation because of its past suicide bombings against Israeli targets. Hamas calls the attacks legitimate resistance. Mr Haniya has dismissed the effect of Israeli financial restrictions on the PA. He told the BBC that Arab and Islamic states would offset a drop in Western aid and said Hamas would not disarm or recognise Israel. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has announced an international fund-raising campaign and Iran has called for pan-Islamic support. Hamas controls 74 of 132 parliament seats and could govern alone - even though nine of its candidates are currently held in Israeli jails. Hamas leaders have said they want to form a coalition that would include Mr Abbas's Fatah Party.
It is not clear who will take part in a Hamas-led coalition.Mahmoud Zahhar met representatives of other factions in Gaza and said the group expected to form a government in the next two weeks. "We are optimistic about establishing a national unity government that can represent a national attitude," Mr Zahhar said after holding talks with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. However, Fatah officials say they will remain in opposition, as have members of the Islamic Jihad militant group, which like Hamas does not recognise Israel's legitimacy. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP) says it has agreed in principle to join a Hamas-led government.
Israel's acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said Israel would "not hold contacts with the administration in which Hamas plays any part - small, large or permanent". The head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, told Israeli parliamentarians on Monday that a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority posed a serious danger to Israel. "A Hamas state on the borders of Israel is a real threat. This will be a radical Sunni state that radical forces can reach from around the world," Mr Diskin told the parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee. "Therefore a Hamas state like this, with military and terror capabilities, is a strategic threat to Israel."


MPs reject ID card costings call.

The ID Cards Bill suffered a number of defeats in the Lords. MPs have voted against making the government carry out a report on costs before introducing identity cards. They decided by a majority of 53 to overturn an amendment made to the ID Cards Bill by peers last month. But MPs called for a report on costs every six months for the first 10 years of the scheme being in place. MPs also backed ministers in making it compulsory for people to be given cards - and put on a register - when they apply for passports. Critics are concerned about the cost and civil liberty implications of the scheme and some commentators had predicted the votes would be closer. ID card plans, opposed by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, will now go back before the House of Lords.
An amendment, put forward by former health secretary Frank Dobson, requiring the government to produce a report every six months, was approved without a vote. MPs backed plans to put people applying for passports from 2008 on the ID cards register by a majority of 31. Around 20 Labour backbenchers rebelled against the government. MPs also decided by a majority of 51 to ensure all passport applicants are given ID cards.

Q&A: ID card plans
Interview: Info commissioner
Labour rebels in full

Earlier, MPs approved a government compromise requiring new legislation before ID cards are made compulsory for all. Prime Minister Tony Blair was not able to attend the debate after his plane was grounded by engine troubles in South Africa. He told the BBC: "I think we've won the argument on it. People have this idea that there's a problem in civil liberties with people having an identity card and an identity registered today when across all walks of our life this is happening. "And with the real problems people have today with identity fraud, which is a major, major issue; illegal immigration; organised crime: it's just the sensible thing to do."Last month, peers voted for the scheme not to go ahead until the full costs were known and for more security provisions for stored personal data.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke had said a stand-alone ID card would cost £30, while one linked to a passport would cost £93. But that figure has been disputed, most notably by a London School of Economics report estimating the cards could cost up to £300 each. Home Office minister Andy Burnham told BBC News that the vote showed support for the Bill was "solidifying". "We think it gives the vote a very clear mandate going forward," he added. "It's dispelled some of the doubts, the criticism, and we think the scheme can now move forward with confidence."
But shadow home secretary David Davis described the scheme as one of "creeping compulsion".
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: "The government made a pledge at the election to introduce voluntary identity cards. Tonight they broke that pledge. "The only way in which people will be able to opt out of the system is by giving up their right to travel abroad.
"The fight against compulsory ID cards will continue in the House of Lords, where we will hold the government to their manifesto commitment." Before the debate got under way about 70 people were at a protest outside Parliament involving civil rights group Liberty and the No2ID pressure group.

Monday, February 20, 2006


JEAN COCTEAU. 1889 - 1963




Holocaust denier Irving is jailed.

British historian David Irving has been found guilty in Vienna of denying the Holocaust of European Jewry and sentenced to three years in prison. He had pleaded guilty to the charge, based on a speech and interview he gave in Austria in 1989. "I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz," he told the court in the Austrian capital. Irving appeared stunned by the sentence, and told reporters: "I'm very shocked and I'm going to appeal." An unidentified onlooker told him: "Stay strong!". Irving's lawyer said he considered the verdict "a little too stringent". "I would say it's a bit of a message trial," said Elmar Kresbach.

But Karen Pollock, chief executive of the UK's Holocaust Educational Trust disagreed."Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism dressed up as intellectual debate. It should be regarded as such and treated as such," Ms Pollock told the BBC News website. Fears that the court case would provoke right-wing demonstrations and counter-protests did not materialise, the BBC's Ben Brown at the court in Vienna said.

Irving arrived in the court room handcuffed, wearing a blue suit, and carrying a copy of Hitler's War, one of many books he has written on the Nazis, and which challenges the extent of the Holocaust. Irving was arrested in Austria in November, on a warrant dating back to 1989, when he gave a speech and interview denying the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz. He was stopped by police on a motorway in southern Austria, where he was visiting to give a lecture to a far-right student fraternity. He has been held in custody since then. During the one-day trial, he was questioned by the prosecutor and chief judge, and answered questions in fluent German. He admitted that in 1989 he had denied that Nazi Germany had killed millions of Jews. He said this is what he believed, until he later saw the personal files of Adolf Eichmann, the chief organiser of the Holocaust. "I said that then based on my knowledge at the time, but by 1991 when I came across the Eichmann papers, I wasn't saying that anymore and I wouldn't say that now," Irving told the court. "The Nazis did murder millions of Jews." In the past, he had claimed that Adolf Hitler knew little, if anything, about the Holocaust, and that the gas chambers were a hoax.

Czech Republic
Timeline: David Irving
Denying the Holocaust

In 2000, a British court threw out a libel action he had brought, and declared him "an active Holocaust denier... anti-Semitic and racist". On Monday, before the trial began, he told reporters: "I'm not a Holocaust denier. Obviously, I've changed my views. "History is a constantly growing tree - the more you know, the more documents become available, the more you learn, and I have learned a lot since 1989." Asked how many Jews were killed by Nazis, he replied: "I don't know the figures. I'm not an expert on the Holocaust."

Of his guilty plea, he told reporters: "I have no choice." He said it was "ridiculous" that he was being tried for expressing an opinion. "Of course it's a question of freedom of speech... I think within 12 months this law will have vanished from the Austrian statute book," he said.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Brokeback emerges as Bafta winner.

Red carpet highlights

Western romance Brokeback Mountain emerged as the big winner at the Orange Bafta awards, winning best film and director for Ang Lee. Jake Gyllenhaal also won a best supporting actor for his role in it playing a gay rodeo cowboy.
There was disappointment for The Constant Gardener, which took only one of the 10 awards it was nominated for.
Philip Seymour Hoffman won best actor for Capote, while Reese Witherspoon won the actress award for Walk the Line.
British actor Rachel Weisz had been nominated in the best actress category for The Constant Gardener, alongside Charlize Theron for North Country and Dame Judi Dench for Mrs Henderson Presents.

They all deserve one. This is the first time that Bafta nominated films have actually interested me said Andrew, Devon.
Send us your comments
In all Brokeback Mountain won four awards, including best adapted screenplay. It is widely tipped to win many of the same awards at the Oscars in March. Speaking backstage, director Lee said: "When we started making the movie we thought it was going to be a small precious film, now it's a big precious film. "I'm not saying the British are smarter but I feel very committed to them."
But Heath Ledger and his real-life partner Michelle Williams missed out on the actor and supporting actress titles. Speaking after receiving his supporting actor award, Gyllenhaal said: "It's just a pleasure to be a part of this movie and I can't even believe I've got this for it." George Clooney also walked away empty handed, having been nominated for four awards, including two supporting ones for Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck and best director for Good Night, and Good Luck.

Full list of Bafta winners

The best British film on the night went to Nick Park's animated feature Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit. Accepting his award, Park said: "This is just amazing. I was just so delighted to be nominated alongside all the proper films tonight, I never thought I'd be up here."
The special achievement of a British director or producer in their first film went to director Joe Wright for his adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Thandie Newton won for her role in Crash.

Memoirs of a Geisha, based on Arthur Golden's best-selling novel, won three awards including best soundtrack, composed by John Williams, and costume design.
Ensemble drama Crash won two awards, including best supporting actress for Thandie Newton, who is part British and part Zimbabwean. Paul Haggis won the best original screenplay for the film, which centres around 24 hours in a racially volatile Los Angeles.
The make-up and hair award went to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire won best production design.

British film producer Lord Puttnam was given a Bafta fellowship in recognition of his body of work, which includes Chariots of Fire and The Killing Fields. Lord Puttnam, who received a standing ovation when he collected his award, said he was disappointed Clooney had not one any awards. "He puts his career on the line. He's been politically committed and has taken big cuts in his salary to make these kinds of films," he said. "My hope is that other film-makers will do that too. "I'm sorry that Clooney didn't win best director because of what he put himself through."


Solar-powered vision of the future.
By Martin Patience BBC News website, Rehovot.

Sitting in his book-lined office, Professor Jacob Karni likes to quote the French novelist Jules Verne. "Yes, my friends," says Prof Karni, director of the Centre for Energy Research at the Weizmann Institute of Science, quoting from Verne's 1874 novel The Mysterious Island.
Harnessing solar energy cost-effectively is the aim of research.

"I foresee that in the future, water will be used as fuel... water will be the coal of the future." The professor enthuses about the French author's vision 130 years ago that the world's reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable. But he disagrees with Verne, famous for 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, in one fundamental respect. Whereas the French writer saw water as the fuel for the future, the Israeli scientist says the future lies with solar energy.

"Even if we were to dam every river in the world and put wind turbines where ever there is wind," says Prof Karni, "it wouldn't be enough to provide for our energy needs. But with solar energy we could meet the world's energy demands." We will only find the solution when it's really urgent said Prof Karni. For the last 16 years, he has worked with colleagues at the Weizmann Institute, situated in a leafy campus in the Israeli city of Rehovot, to make renewable energy a viable alternative. The professor, who regularly works a 12-hour day, researches how to harness solar energy in a cost effective way and thentransport the energy to the user. The institute has been researching solar panels that produce a greater yield of energy. "One of the big problems with solar energy is that the energy is very diluted," says Prof Karni, "it can give you a suntan but not much else." Snags ahead But one of Prof Karni's projects has been to use solar energy to produce a non-polluting synthetic fuel that could be used, for example, to power cars.

Solar power is finding various other uses worldwide. Last summer, the Weizmann Institute published research that was "a step towards the solution," he says. Using solar power energy, zinc oxide was heated to 1,200 C. The temperature splits the ore, releasing oxygen and creating gaseous zinc, which is then condensed into powder. When the zinc powder reacts with water, it produces hydrogen that could power a car. The chemical reaction produces no greenhouse gases and the zinc oxide can be recycled into zinc and the process starts all over again. Prof Karni says that the research demonstrated that the process is achievable, but problems remain. For every kilogram of hydrogen gas produced, you would need 60 kg of zinc, which is not feasible on a large scale, he insists.
But with a map of China hanging in his office, Prof Karni insists we have to think big. "We could put solar panels here," he says, pointing at west China, "and this could provide the energy for the east of China where most people live. We just need to devise an effective way to transport the energy." The massive consumption in global energy coupled with rising pollution has made finding a renewable energy alternative more important, he declares. Over 3.5 billion people live in countries where the consumption of energy more than doubled from 1990 to 2003, according to the Energy Information Administration. If countries were to form a "Manhattan project" for solar energy, employing the best minds and ploughing enormous resources into research, renewable energy could be challenging fossil fuels in five years, the professor believes.

But that moment of reckoning has yet to arrive.


France confirms lethal bird flu.

France has taken steps to try to stop the virus reaching its poultry. French officials have confirmed that a wild duck found dead near Lyon had the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu - marking the first such case in France. The bird's remains had been undergoing tests since it was discovered in marshland last Monday. France - Europe's largest poultry producer - is the sixth country in the EU to suffer the deadly virus. The H5N1 strain has killed at least 90 people around the world, mainly in South-East Asia, since 2003.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says France - a crossroads for migrating birds - has been on high alert over bird flu for months. As soon as the case was suspected, the French government ordered all poultry to be either vaccinated or confined indoors to protect them from infection.
But our correspondent says French farmers already fear their livelihoods are under threat, even though no avian flu has been found in French poultry.

Bird flu
H5N1 bird flu can infect humans in close contact with infected birds, but there is no evidence that it can be passed from human to human.

In other developments:
India says it has recorded its first cases of H5N1 on a farm in western Maharashtra state. Iran confirms its first cases of H5N1in the northern province of Gilan. Emergency plans A 3-km (2-mile) safety cordon has been established around the site in Ain region where the wild duck was found, and wildlife surveillance stepped up across a 10-km area. Vets will check all birds in the zone, in accordance with EU emergency measures.

In an effort to address public concern, the French government has set up a telephone hotline and an information website as well as telling people not to handle any dead wild birds but to report them straight to the authorities. The French case follows the confirmation of the H5N1 virus in dead swans in Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Greece and Italy in the last week.
Other European countries to have confirmed outbreaks are Croatia, Romania, Ukraine and Russia. Tests are still being carried out on two dead ducks found in the Somme region in the north of France. Earlier this week, the EU approved a series of measures to try to halt the spread of the virus, including the automatic creation of protection and surveillance zones around outbreaks in wild birds.

If the virus transfers from wild birds to poultry, "buffer zones" that could cover an entire region could be established and the transport of poultry restricted within them.



- Kahill Gibran.


Thriller hoping for Bafta glory.

The Constant Gardener follows a diplomat (Fiennes) in Kenya. The Constant Gardener is tipped to be the big winner as some of the world's biggest movie stars gather for the British Academy film awards. It has 10 nominations including best film, best actor for Ralph Fiennes and best actress for Rachel Weisz. The British thriller competes against Ang Lee's cowboy love story Brokeback Mountain and LA racial drama Crash, both with nine nominations. Based on a John le Carre novel, The Constant Gardener follows diplomat Justin Quayle (Fiennes) as he attempts to get to the bottom of his activist wife's death in northern Kenya. The movie has been nominated for four Oscars, including best supporting actress nomination for Weisz, who has already won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Tessa Quayle.

Full list of Bafta nominees

The Constant Gardener, Brokeback Mountain and Crash were nominated in the best film category alongside Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck. Fiennes faces competition in the leading actor category from Oscar favourite Heath Ledger for Brokeback Mountain and Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote. Good Night, and Good Luck has six nominations, including best original screenplay and best director for George Clooney. Clooney is short-listed for a total of four Baftas, including best supporting actor nominations for Good Night, and Good Luck and oil thriller Syriana. Joe Wright's adaptation of Pride and Prejudice also has six nominations, as does Rob Marshall's adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha.

Constant Gardener - 10
Brokeback Mountain - 9
Crash - 9 [pictured]
Good Night, And Good Luck - 6
Memoirs of a Geisha -6
Pride and Prejudice - 6
Capote - 5

In the leading actress category, Weisz vies with fellow British star Dame Judi Dench for British comedy Mrs Henderson Presents. They compete against Charlize Theron for North Country, Ziyi Zhang for Memoirs of a Geisha and Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line. In the best director category, Brokeback Mountain's Ang Lee goes head to head with Clooney, Fernando Meirelles for The Constant Gardener, Bennet Miller for Capote and Paul Haggis for Crash.
Crash also received three nominations in the supporting acting categories - Matt Dillon and Don Cheadle for supporting actor, and Thandie Newton for supporting actress. Haggis, the screenwriter behind last year's Oscar-winning film Million Dollar Baby, also received a nomination in the original screenplay category with co-writer Bobby Moresco.

Brokeback Mountain dominated this year's Golden Globe awards. Pride and Prejudice is a contender for best British film, and director Joe Wright is nominated for the Carl Foreman award - which recognises a special achievement by a British director, writer or producer. Britain's Brenda Blethyn is nominated in the supporting actress category for her role as Mrs Bennet but Keira Knightley missed out on a leading actress nomination.
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit received just one nomination for the Alexander Korda award for best British film. Kung Fu Hustle, Joyeux Noel, Le Grand Voyage, Tsotsi and The Beat That My Heart Skipped compete in the foreign film category.
The Orange British Academy Film Awards are broadcast on BBC One at 2100 GMT on Sunday.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Rio ready for Rolling Stones gig.

Stage preparations have been underway for days.
Enlarge Image

Rio de Janeiro is gearing up to welcome almost two million people to Copacabana Beach for a free Rolling Stones gig. The massive concert - featuring a huge stage with eight video screens and 16 sound towers - will be one of the biggest the world has ever seen. It is the third time the Rolling Stones have performed in Brazil but the first time they have played for free.
About 10,000 police officers will be on duty for the show which is part of the Stones' A Bigger Bang world tour.

They will patrol the slums around the beach to safeguard the trouble-prone area of the city, officials said. Marcelo Itagiba, Rio de Janeiro's State Public Security Secretary, said everything will be done to prevent violence and theft during Saturday's show. "I don't think the venue is ideal either from the point of view of security or tranquillity for residents," he said.

The city is paying $750,000 (£432,000) for the gig, which takes place just a week before Rio's famous carnival. Fans in the US will be able to listen to the show on radio and on the internet and also in more than 150 cinema screens across the country. Saturday's crowd may not be as big as that at Rod Stewart's 1994 concert, also at Copacabana beach, which drew a crowd of 3.5 million.



Soaring sales for pro-Zuma song.

A record backing South Africa's charged former deputy president, Jacob Zuma, has sold 50,000 copies. The album, by the group Izingane Zoma, is called Msholozi, Mr Zuma's clan name, which is used as a respectful way of addressing a leader. The record calls for Mr Zuma to be the next leader of South Africa and for charges against him to be dropped. Mr Zuma was sacked as deputy president last year and accused of corruption and rape, both of which he denies.

State broadcaster the South African Broadcasting Corporation decided last week to exclude the album's title track from its playlist over fears some lyrics could be read as "indirect incitement".
Everybody says they want Zuma to rule, to be the government of South Africa, but parliamentarians are refusing. Madiba [Mandela] said Zuma would become president at the end of his term. Charges against Zuma must be withdrawn so that he can lead government.

Translation of Msholozi lyricsSABC spokeswoman Lesego Mncwango said that the SABC had excluded the song from its playlist because the words were strong. But other radio stations have played the song - and sales have soared. "The sales have been tremendous in a very short time," a spokeswoman for the record company said. "We expect it to sell at least 100,000 by June because of all the controversy about the trial," she said. The distributors were selling the CD outside the High Court in Johannesburg on Monday, where hundreds of Mr Zuma's supporters gathered for the first day of his rape trial.

Izingane Zuma, made up of three Zulu women, is a big name in South Africa's traditional music scene. The group's marketing manager, Linda Sabelo, said the group had not intended to make a statement. "Our song is not political, we just write about what is happening and what people think," she said. But the song has caught the public mood, with one radio DJ suggesting a recording of a house version to better suit urban tastes. Mr Zuma, once seen as heir-apparent to the presidency, was one of South Africa's most popular politicians.

Friday, February 17, 2006






'Many die' in Philippine mudslide.

Traumatised survivors have been hauled from the mudHundreds of Filipinos are feared to have died after the side of a mountain collapsed and buried their village. Nineteen people are known to have been killed and 83 have been found alive, but rescue officials say between 1,500 and 2,500 more might be under the mud. A school and hundreds of homes were swamped as a torrent of mud and rocks swept over the site on the island of Leyte, following heavy rains. Rescuers suspended efforts as boulders continued to cascade down the mountain.
Send us your experiences
Search efforts have been further hampered by thick mud, blocked roads, collapsed bridges and severed communication lines. I pulled out the body of a... child who must have been as young as my own daughter Dag NavaretteRescue worker.

President Gloria Arroyo ordered the coast guard and navy to the affected area, and two US vessels are on the way to the remote coastal village of Guinsaugon. Mrs Arroyo urged her compatriots to "pray for those who perished and were affected by this tragedy". "Everything was buried," survivor Eugene Pilo said. "All the people are gone." 'No signs of life' The landslide followed reports of a minor earthquake in the area on Friday morning.

Click to see more detailed map of the area
Enlarge Map

Survivors spoke of boulders bigger than a house tumbling into the village amid the torrent. Television images showed only coconut trees and a few tin roofs emerging from the reddish soil. "There are no signs of life... no nothing," provincial Governor Rosette Lerias said. She said the school that was buried had about 250 pupils and teachers. "We have been able to rescue only one child and one adult from the school area," she said. A rescue worker told the BBC News website they had been forced to pause their search because the mountain was still "crumbling" and "rumbling". Dag Navarette said teams had hauled bodies and traumatised survivors from mud, which was waist-deep in parts of the devastated area. "People are in shock," he said. Officials said the mudslide happened after heavy rains dumped about 200cm of rain on the area in the space of 10 days.

Dec 2004 About 1,800 people killed after a series of storms in north-eastern Philippines
Dec 2003 Up to 200 people die in landslides in Southern Leyte
Nov 1991 Typhoon Thelma strikes Leyte causing floods that drown at least 5,000

Eva Tomol, a board member for the Southern Leyte provincial government, denied that deforestation caused by illegal logging may have contributed to the disaster. Correspondents say the area lies in the path of several typhoons each year, and that coconut trees common locally have shallow roots which leave the soil vulnerable to landslides. Governor Lerias said many residents had left last week, fearing landslides, but had begun to return as rains eased in the past few days.


Nigeria oil 'total war' warning.

Despite the money generated from oil, many people still live in poverty. A Nigerian militant commander in the oil-rich southern Niger Delta has told the BBC his group is declaring "total war" on all foreign oil interests. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has given oil companies and their employees until midnight on Friday night to leave the region. It recently blew up two oil pipelines, held four foreign oil workers hostage and sabotaged two major oilfields. The group wants greater control of the oil wealth produced on their land.

The warning came as militants and the army exchanged fire after a government helicopter gunship attacked barges allegedly used by smugglers to transport stolen crude oil. Correspondents say the militants provide security for the smugglers. Nigeria is Africa's leading oil exporter and the fifth-biggest source of US oil imports, but despite its oil wealth, many Nigerians live in abject poverty. It is the first time the military leader of the Mend movement, Major-General Godswill Tamuno, has spoken publicly of his group's aims.

Nigeria's oil hope and despair

He refused to be interviewed on tape or for his location to be disclosed. He told the BBC's Abdullahi Kaura Abubakar that they had launched their campaign, called "dark February", to ensure that all foreign oil interests left. He said that they had had enough of the exploitation of their resources and wanted to take total control of the area to get their fair share of the wealth.
Our correspondent says the movement brings together a variety of local Ijaw groups that had been operating in the Niger Delta before. The group enjoys considerable local support and it is difficult to pinpoint exactly who is a member, he says. Mend's leaders tend to like to be faceless, our reporter says, and they usually send statements to the media via email.

Shell, one of the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, told our reporter that security measures were being taken to secure their staff and property, but would not give details. The Niger delta has been the scene of a low-level war in recent months and the government has increased its military presence in the region.

In pictures: Fighting for oil

After a government raid on oil barges earlier this week, Mend released a statement saying the helicopter gunship had fired rockets and machine-guns at targets on land and accused the military of targeting civilians. It warned that its fighters were capable of shooting down military helicopters and accused Shell of helping out the security forces by allowing them use of an airstrip it operates. The military has denied it used the facility. According to AFP news agency, Shell has not confirmed or denied that its airstrip was the base for the attack. The smugglers are believed to exchange oil for weapons from eastern Europe.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Woman loses Herceptin court bid.

Ann Marie Rogers is devastated by the ruling. A breast cancer patient has lost her landmark legal challenge to be allowed the drug Herceptin on the NHS. Ann Marie Rogers, 53, had gone to court after she was denied the drug - which is not licensed for early-stage breast cancer - by Swindon NHS bosses. But the judge ruled that the trust had not been acting unlawfully. Mrs Rogers has been given leave to appeal against the court's decision, and will be able to receive Herceptin treatment until then. Mrs Rogers is in the early stages of breast cancer, but has an aggressive form of the disease. When the judge made his ruling, Mrs Rogers simply shook her head and looked downwards. She is fighting for her life - Yogi Amin, Ann Marie Rogers' solicitor.

Plea to 'end the confusion'

Speaking outside the court, her solicitor Yogi Amin, of Irwin Mitchell, said: "Mrs Rogers is bitterly disappointed by the decision. It has come as a shock. "She felt it was common sense that a policy to refuse to provide treatment, where other authorities are providing it, should be struck down." He added: "It's an ordeal for her. This legal fight is something she is forced to do. She is fighting for her life." Mr Amin said Mrs Rogers felt the hopes of women had been built up after the health secretary said PCTs should not refuse patients the drug solely on the basis of cost.
Making his ruling, Mr Justice Bean said he knew there were different opinions on whether or not to prescribe Herceptin to patients with early-stage breast cancer. But he added: "The court's task is not to say which policy is better, but to decide whether Swindon's policy is arbitrary or irrational and thus unlawful. Ruling Swindon had not acted unlawfully, the judge said: "Accordingly, despite my sympathy with Ms Rogers' plight, I must dismiss the claim for judicial review."


The drug hasn't been proven to the extent that it should be freely prescribed - Rae Purnell.

Send us your comments

Jan Stubbings, speaking for Swindon PCT, said the judge had vindicated the trust's actions.
She added: "If something has not been approved as a treatment, and has not been through the licensing process, its safety and benefit haven't been absolutely checked. "This wasn't an economic decision." Mrs Rogers' case was the first of its kind to reach court. Herceptin has been licensed in England and Wales for the treatment of advanced breast cancer.
But pressure is mounting for the NHS to use it on patients with early-stage cancer, as research has shown it is effective in fighting the disease. However, the drug must first be licensed, and then assessed by the NHS drugs watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). NICE, which determines if drugs are cost-effective, has said it is one of five drugs it has selected for fast-track appraisal. In the meantime, some trusts have been hesitant to fund the drug when asked.
Other women, including nurse Barbara Clarke, had threatened legal action. But their local NHS trusts had decided to fund the drug - which costs around £20,000 per year - before their cases reached court. In November, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt intervened when North Stoke Primary Care Trust refused to fund the drug for mother-of-four Elaine Barber.

It targets the HER-2 protein, which can fuel the growth of breast tumours
Herceptin prevents this process happening
Around a fifth of breast cancers are HER-2 positive
It is currently licensed for use in women with advanced breast cancer - where the disease has spread within the breast or to another organ
Early stage breast cancer refers to the first occurrence of the disease
The cost for one year's treatment with Herceptin is 20,000 pounds.

Q&A: Herceptin

Ms Hewitt said she wanted to see the evidence upon which health bosses had made their decision and within a day the trust had reversed the decision, citing Ms Barber's "particular exceptional circumstances". Following Mrs Rogers' High Court judgement, a Department of Health spokesman said its position remained unchanged. He added: "PCTs need to take into consideration a whole range of factors before making a decision whether to fund Herceptin for a woman with HER2 positive early stage breast cancer. "Ahead of a decision on licensing, or NICE appraisal, such decisions will continue to be made at a local level on a case by case basis."

But Joanne Rule, Chief Executive of the charity CancerBACUP said cancer patients would see that as 'postcode prescribing'. She added: "The people who call our helpline want to know that decisions about their treatment depend on clinical need and not on where they live, how much money they have, or how 'exceptional' they are in comparison to someone else."


Hilton targeted in anti-fur demo.

Hilton had wowed the audience with diamond jewellery. Hotel heiress Paris Hilton's sparkling debut at London Fashion Week was eclipsed when she was hit by flour bombs in a fur protest. The US socialite opened Julien Macdonald's show on the first night wearing diamonds valued at £2m. But animal rights campaigners from Peta showered flour over Hilton and the designer, who uses fur, as they went to an after-show party in Mayfair. London Fashion Week runs until Saturday at the Natural History Museum.

"There is nothing remotely fashionable about the torture and death of animals killed for fur," said Peta Europe's Yvonne Taylor.

"Julien Macdonald may have been able to ignore images of bloody skinned animals gasping for breath in the past, but hopefully a dash of flour will help him rise to the occasion and forsake fur once and for all." A spokesman for Macdonald said he did not wish to comment on the incident outside The Cuckoo Club. Earlier, in the first day of the bi-annual event audiences saw Autumn-Winter collections by Paul Costelloe, inspired by post-war Britain, and Amanda Wakeley, known for her glamorous tailoring.

Some 170 designers will show off their wares in a series of 48 catwalk shows over the week. Unusually, US Vogue editor Anna Wintour is expected to make a visit, widely interpreted as suggesting the London scene is back in vogue.