Friday, March 31, 2006


Blast as Kenya burns cocaine haul.

Witnesses were not at risk, authorities said. An incinerator, where one of Africa's biggest hauls of narcotics is being burnt in Kenya, has exploded, delaying the process, police say. No-one was hurt in the blast but it will now take 11 hours - three more than initially expected - as only one incinerator is working.

Police seized the 1.1 metric tons of cocaine worth $88m in December 2004. The BBC's Karen Allen in Nairobi says the drugs are being destroyed to dispel fears they could be sold. An official said the high temperatures reached by the bags of cocaine led the incinerator to malfunction. "The exercise is going on smoothly despite" the blast, said director of public prosecutions Keriako Tobiko. For the past few days, tests have been carried out on the cocaine seizure to prove that the sachets of drugs have remained intact.

Initial burning time: 8h 30mins
Heat: 900C-1,200C
Value: $88m
Weight: 1.1 metric tons

Seized: December 2004Since the consignment was taken into police custody, speculation has been rife that some of the cocaine may have leaked out onto the international market. The burning of more than 950 sachets of cocaine is being witnessed by foreign journalists, diplomats, members of the judiciary and suspects arrested for trafficking the shipments. Some 200 policemen are also there to ensure security.

Officials say the witnesses will be not affected by the smoke and fumes coming from the incinerators. Afterwards the residue will be buried in the grounds of Kenya's Medical Research Institute. US officials were called in to inspect the drugs. All week as part of a high security operation, tests have been conducted on the drug, closely monitored by international observers and in the coming weeks, more sophisticated forensic experiments will be carried out.

The falling drug prices in the capital and a number of arrests of Kenyan Airways staff carrying cocaine into the UK had led to speculation that some of the consignment may have been sold. Our correspondent says that despite evidence that the haul was not tampered with, some Kenyans remain sceptical about what they see as a public relations exercise. Intelligence circles accept that drug cartels are now using Kenya to store their drugs - and that is only possible with protection from senior authorities, she says.


Thursday, March 30, 2006


NZ's extreme ball sport takes off.

The zorb protects the user with a cushion of airZorbing - effectively throwing yourself down a slope in a giant ball - has become the latest extreme sport craze to sweep the world. Although zorbing was invented in 2000, it has only recently begun to take off around the world. It involves a giant plastic ball, which has two skins - one inside the other. The person zorbing is in the area between the skins, which is pumped up with air. The middle ball effectively suspends them on a cushion of air 700mm off the ground, and the ball is then rolled down a hill. "It's not really amazingly scary, it's not an amazing adrenaline rush - it's just bizarrely fun," the inventor of zorbing, Andrew Akers, told BBC World Service's Culture Shock programme. "I don't know why." Like a number of other extreme sports, such as bungee jumping, zorbing originated in New Zealand.

Mr Akers explained that there are a number of reasons New Zealanders why have developed an attraction to developing these types of activities. "We're so far away from anywhere that we've really had to make our own fun," he said. "Also, if you injure yourself, then the government is going to pay for you to not only get back on your feet, but they're going to rehabilitate you and get you back into the workplace as well. "This means that we have a non-litigious society, and so a lot of things start up that possibly would not be able to start up anywhere else in the world."

There are two different ways to zorb - either harnessed inside the ball, or "hydrozorbing", which involves putting water in the ball, which zorbers can slide around on as it revolves. Mr Akers explained that initially, there were fears that people would be sick. "You can imagine if it happened it would be completely disgusting," he said. "However, of over 100,000 people who have now done it, no-one has ever thrown up inside the zorb." This is because as the zorb is 3.2m in diameter, it rotates only once every 10m - so even down 100m of hill, it will make a full rotation only 10 times. "The whole feeling is actually not that quick - it's kind of a slow going over and over," Mr Akers said. "For some people this will be the scariest thing they do, but for people who do bungee jumping or skydiving or white water rafting, this really is nowhere near that sort of level of adrenaline or fear factor," Mr Akers added.


'Scammed by my internet lover".
Ghanaian Robert Adda, 35, told the BBC News website how he got scammed on the internet while searching for love.

Robert wonders if his so-called friend ever existed I was scammed two years ago, via the internet, by a woman I thought was pushing me into love. Initially she wasn't too ambitious to meet me. She just wanted to build a friendship, it seemed and so we exchanged photographs and communicated by email. A few months went by and as time passed our intimacy increased. Not a day went by without us being in contact. I was single at the time and was looking to have a relationship. I didn't think it would lead to what it did. I believe that she preyed upon my wish to find love. She started talking to me about us being together, physically. She was living in the US and I in Ghana. But I explained that I didn't have immediate plans of travelling, and because I was working, it would be difficult for me to travel any time soon.

Everyone should know that free things can turn out to be the most expensive - Sophia Malinga, Kampala, Uganda.

She understood but then as time went by she started being pushy - continuing to say that if I loved her then I would find a way to be with her so that we could stay together. She then introduced me to a programme called WRAHA which I think she said stood for West African Refugee and Humanitarian Authority or something like that. Initially I objected. I didn't want to be a part of it. It was devious and dishonest and purely, I really didn't want to travel abroad - that was my major thing. But as I discussed it with friends they encouraged me to try. There were actually a lot of people who wanted to give it a go. Even someone I know who had been previously been a victim to a similar scam wanted to try.

He told me that these matters were all down to luck and if you were lucky then you would succeed. For months afterwards I had to manage on very little money. I had to use all my savings We were not lucky, my friends and I. We were tricked into making advance payments for emigrating to the US. We paid a number of fees ranging between $110 and $346 as our applications progressed from one stage to the next. Each time we were told that time was limited, because of deadlines, and so there were only a few hours to get our payment through. This deadline rush ended up being our trigger to suspect that something was not right.

Sitting together and thinking and we all concluded that we'd been scammed. My friends were disappointed, like me, but they were not angry with me. They knew that I was not the one who collected their money and they knew that it had been a risk. I never heard from my so-called friend in the US once I told her that it was not going to be possible to continue making all the payments. That was when our relationship came to an end. I wonder if she ever even existed. I was really disappointed in myself for having got involved in such things. I couldn't be angry though. Instead I took as a lesson and put it down to a bad experience.

For months afterwards I had to manage on very little money. I had to use all my savings and start again from scratch. If she actually existed and something more had happened then I would have felt heartbroken, instead I felt as though someone had played with me. I am sorry that I allowed someone to play with me like that. The reason these terrible scammers get away with their troublemaking is because people are not satisfied with what they have. Unfortunately, people's wish to travel abroad keeps these groups going. I know some people who have fallen for these tricks not just once but twice, even thrice.


Thumbs up for Nigeria's census?
By Alex Last BBC News, Lagos.

Nigeria's population is estimated to be between 120 and 150 million. In the poor tenements and slums of Nigerian's main city of Lagos, census workers came to count the population. Clipboards in hand, they asked everything from people's age to what kind of toilet they used. Once counted, thumb prints were put on the form and fingernails marked with indelible ink. Many residents were pleased that they had not been ignored in the country's first census for 15 years. "I am very happy and surprised that they came here. It's the first time I have ever been counted," said Awhanji Madelenu from Makoko slum, where her house stands on stilts among the rotting waters on the edge of the city's lagoon. But there have been complaints around the country - from herders in the north-eastern state of Yobe, to a densely populated district of the Lagos - that they had not been counted in the seven-day operation.

The Nigerian National Population Commission (NPC), which ran the census, says overall it has been a success. NPC chairman Sumaila Makama said it was inevitable that a few people would be missed out, but almost all Nigerians had been counted. "There is nowhere in the world where you achieve 100% enumeration, but it is our aim to count all Nigerians, everybody who has made himself available to be counted," he said. The logistical challenge facing the census operation was huge. Nigeria's population is estimated to be between 120 million and 150 million.

The forms will be processed digitally over the next few months.The government says the census is to help plan development and had been planning it for three years. But from the very start the operation was dogged by problems. There were delays because of a lack of census forms and arguments with the enumerators over payment. The resulting backlog forced the government to extend the count from five days to a week. There was some violence in the east of Nigeria directed against census workers, blamed on the Biafran separatist group Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (Massob); though not on the scale many had feared.

Two of the most sensitive issues of religion and ethnicity were deliberately excluded from the questionnaire. The government was concerned that the results could trigger sectarian and ethnic riots. Just last month, more than 100 died in inter-communal violence in three towns. People in Lagos were ordered to stay at home to be counted.But the census form did include questions about people's origin. In Nigeria, that can give at least a clue as to people's likely ethnicity or religion. One of the biggest challenges for this census is credibility. In the past, censuses have been marred by widespread allegations of fraud and manipulation. In Nigeria, the higher a state's population the more money it gets from the federal government. Allocation of some government posts is also supposed to reflect different regions' populations.

The NPC says this time it will be fair. It has digital processing of the forms, and satellite positioning was used to identify the areas to be counted. The information is to be collated over the next few months. But in the end, it will only be when the results are finally announced, that the real test comes. Will Nigerians accept that the country's countless millions have finally been counted?


Afghanistan's hair-rising highway - the road connecting the capital, Kabul, with the southern city of Kandahar is one of Afghanistan's key highways. The BBC's Bilal Sarwary took a taxi ride down the 250-mile (400km) highway, rebuilt by the Americans, and found the journey perilous in more ways than one. I had to travel back to Kabul from Kandahar so I went to the main taxi stand in Kandahar to find a ride.
Taxi driver Abdul Bari was playing loud Pashto music and joking with his friends as I approached the group and politely asked them if there was somebody who could take me to Kabul. He was quick to get up. "I will take you and I will get you there before any one else. But I want 3,500 Afghanis ($70)," he said. It seemed a fair bargain so I agreed. Like all taxi drivers around the world, Afghan cabbies are also very keen to engage you in conversation - whether you like it or not. As it turned out my driver had a particularly colourful past.


As a young man, he had fought the Soviets. Many of his family members were jailed, some even killed. But he became disillusioned with the anti-communist mujahideen when they began abusing their power following the defeat of the Soviet troops. He fled to Pakistan and began supporting the Taleban "because they were the good guys". Soon after, he returned to Kandahar and bought himself a taxi. "I've been driving on this road for the past 10 years," says Abdul Bari. As we started driving towards Kabul the complaints began. Apparently driving down this highway was particularly hazardous. "You know the police take money from me, the Taleban come out and start breaking my music cassettes," he said. I inquired why the police asked him for money. "Just wait and see for yourself," he said.
As we tried to get out of Kandahar we were stopped at the first police checkpoint in Daman district. A uniformed policeman approached us and asked Abdul for 100 Afghanis ($2), claiming he had not been paid his salary. But once paid the policeman was very polite and thanked the driver. I had never driven at such a high speed in my life... Afghanistan's roads were never good enough "Our government has robbers and thieves to guard us," Abdul told me angrily. As we drove past Zabul the topic changed to the Taleban. According to Abdul Bari, they come out at different times "mostly early morning and late afternoon". The driver was quick to emphasise they did not ask for money or take belongings.
"They will break the cassettes... Start beating the passengers. We intervene and beg the Taleban not to harm them," he said. Sometimes robbers wearing police uniforms come out on to the road, he says. "The first thing they ask for are mobile phones. They don't take mine but they once told me if I ever had a foreigner I should call them," he said. By now we were hurtling down the highway at 140kph. I had never driven at such a high speed in my life. I always wanted to, but Afghanistan's roads were never good enough. The Kandahar to Kabul highway is not a place for the faint-hearted.I asked Abdul why he had not put on his seat belt. His answer was quite shocking. "I will die whenever God decides - nothing will keep me alive if my number is up. "Only the stupid foreigners put their seat belts on all the time, they are so scared," he added, sniggering. I just could not convince him to put his seat belt on.
We hardly saw any traffic police on the way. The only place you would see them was at the site of an accident. There are a few every day. The drivers try to drive really fast and race each other. Most accident victims die because they cannot make it to the hospitals in time and there are none on the road. As we talked about problems and security fears. I suddenly noticed a group of four cars had been stopped along with our taxi by police from a nearby checkpoint. Apparently an attack had been launched on the police post from the mountains which surrounded the road. The police returned fire using a heavy machine gun.
Goats and sheep far outnumber people along the road.In a few minutes they told everyone they could leave. I was shocked but it appeared very normal to everyone else. As we passed Zabul we reached Shah Joy, an area where the Taleban is strong and their members can often be seen driving on motorcycles. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. As I went inside, I saw a group of men on motorcycles driving around the car holding walkie-talkies. Security still a problem "Taleban," Abdul said quietly, "They come and check the cars and passengers and then they radio their friends. They are looking for foreigners and anyone working for the Afghan government."
During the five-hour drive to Kabul I did not see a single house or village along the road. I could see goats and sheep, but hardly any people. Burned and destroyed buildings could be seen - it was clear security in the south was still a big problem. As we said goodbye in Kabul Abdul Bari told me he dreamed of driving along this road without being asked for bribes. "I voted for [President Hamid] Karzai to make things right. I will not vote for him again unless he notices the problems of the poor like me," he warned.


Berlusconi baby gaffe riles China.

Silvio Berlusconi is known for his outspoken remarks. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has landed himself in hot water with comments that the Chinese under Mao Zedong "boiled babies". The PM, who is running for election in April, refused to withdraw his remarks when pressed by reporters, saying it was "an historical fact". But the gaffe has angered China, which is marking the Year of Italy in 2006. The Chinese foreign ministry has said it is "dissatisfied with such groundless words". "Italian leaders should use words and actions that are beneficial to stable and developing friendly relations between China and Italy," the ministry said in a statement. The Chinese embassy in Rome has also expressed its dismay.

Mr Berlusconi is renowned for making outspoken comments. At the launch of his 2006 election campaign, he told his audience: "I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone." His comments on Maoist China were first made at a rally on Sunday. "I am accused of having said that the [Chinese] Communists used to eat children," he said. "But read The Black Book of Communism and you will discover that in the China of Mao, they did not eat children, but had them boiled to fertilise the fields." He tried to calm the furore on Wednesday, telling Italian TV: "It was questionable irony, I admit it, because this joke is questionable. But I did not know how to restrain myself."

Romano Prodi, his main opponent in the elections being held on 9 April, said his comments were "unthinkable". "The damage caused to Italy by an insult to 1.3bn people is by all means a considerable one," he told Italian radio.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006




Muslim rejects 'sleeping divorce'. An Indian Muslim says he will not be separated from his wife, despite uttering the words necessary for divorce while he was asleep. Akhtar, from West Bengal state, told the BBC a ruling by village elders that the couple were divorced was unfair. Uttering the word "talaq" (I divorce you) three times allows a Muslim man to divorce his wife with immediate effect. But Akhtar says it has no force because he did not mean it, and he and his wife both say they want to stay together. We have become a laughing stock... I can't stay without my husband Akhtar's wife, Sobena.

The BBC's Amitabha Bhattasali in Calcutta says several Muslim authorities in India have spoken out against the elders' ruling, arguing that the "triple talaq" pronouncement must be intentional to be recognised. India's minority Muslim population has its own personal laws on issues such as marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Clerics in the village of Dalgaon Basti near Falakata in northern West Bengal found out about Akhtar's unfortunate pronouncement after his wife, Sobena, told friends. News of the case arose when the couple sought advice from the local counselling centre. Akhtar says he came home on the night in question last December and took sleeping tablets following a row with his wife. "I uttered the 'talaq' while I was asleep. I didn't mean it," Akhtar, a worker at a local brick field, told the BBC. "It's unfair that I'll have to leave my wife for what I said in my sleep and we are being socially boycotted by the villagers because we haven't accepted the verdict of the clerics." Sobena says: "Enough is enough. We have become a laughing stock. Come what may, I can't stay without my husband."

Akhtar's father, Ebadat, agrees the clerics "have taken a wrong decision". "I am victimised as I am still in touch with Akhtar. Nobody is coming to my grocery shop." The clerics, though, are refusing to budge. Village community leader Abbas Ansari says they have been told of the apparent mix-up. "But they have passed a verdict that Akhtar and Sobena can't stay together till they remarry each other." The couple registered their marriage under the special marriages act to get round the divorce ruling last week - it remains to be seen whether that will be enough.



Eclipse myths

Libyan eclipse experience

The total eclipse of the Sun finished its journey across the globe at 1148 GMT (1248 BST) in sunset along Mongolia's northern border. Skywatchers around the world marvelled as they caught a glimpse of the "ultimate astronomical show". As the spectacle passed overhead, witnesses prayed, cheered and clapped. The eclipse took just over three hours to sweep a narrow corridor across the world, crossing Africa, Turkey and Central Asia. 'The most amazing sight' The Moon's umbral shadow first touched down on Earth at 0836 GMT (0936 BST) at sunrise on the east coast of Brazil. It then raced across the Atlantic Ocean before making African landfall in Ghana at 0908 GMT (1008 BST), where residents of the capital Accra filled the streets to view the event. As the temperature dropped and the sky darkened the crowd looked skywards and shouted and clapped as the eclipse swept above.

Find out more about the route of the eclipse across the Earth
More details

An eclipse watcher in the capital said it was "the most amazing sight" and "a must see experience". At 1011 GMT (1211 BST) the eclipse reached the desert of southern Libya where professional and amateur astronomers had gathered to witness the point of greatest eclipse; a sight which lasted a total of four minutes and seven seconds. The Libyan government prepared for the tourist rush by erecting desert tent villages, with a total capacity for 7,000 people. Continuing on a northeast course, the eclipse then crossed the southern Mediterranean coast at 1040 GMT (1140 BST). Astronomers from the US space agency (Nasa) and Britain's Royal Institute of Astronomy joined thousands of skywatchers to view the phenomenon from a Roman amphitheatre in Turkey. "It's one of those experiences that makes you feel like you're part of the larger universe," said Nasa scientist Janet Luhman.

Other scientists viewed the eclipse from Kastellorizo Island in Greece. "It was more fabulous even than we expected," said Jay Pasachoff, professor of astronomy at Williams College, Massachusetts, after he had observed his 42nd solar eclipse. "All the technical equipment worked perfectly, the corona shone brightly, and sunspots on the eastern edge of the Sun provided an even more dramatic show than predicted." The eclipse then moved across Russia through to Central Asia, where its journey finally ended at 1148 GMT (1248 BST) at sunset in the northern borders of Mongolia.

See how the world reacted to the event
In pictures

A partial eclipse was visible across a much wider region, including most of Africa, all of Europe, and much of western and southern Asia. In the UK overcast weather hampered many hoping to catch a glimpse of the event. "Solar eclipses are the ultimate astronomical show," Dr Robert Massey, senior astronomer at the UK's Royal Observatory Greenwich told the BBC new website. "It's up there with the highest-rated television programme. If there is one thing you do to do with astronomy in your lifetime, go and see a solar eclipse." Over the past 25 years there have been 16 total solar eclipses, a rough average of one every 18 months. They occur when the Moon completely covers the face of the Sun as seen from the Earth's surface. The track of the Moon's shadow across Earth is called the "path of totality". The Sun's harsh light should only be viewed through protective equipment - proper solar glasses or through a pinhole projection system. The last total eclipse took place on November 23, 2003, but was visible only from a part of Antarctica. The next is due on August 1, 2008, and will cross North America, Europe and Asia.


Deaths in Joburg building blaze. Twelve people have died after a fire broke out in a central Johannesburg building early on Wednesday. Officials said the deaths were caused by asphyxia, and that 33 were injured. Exit routes were blocked by belongings that people had tried to remove. The building was an abandoned factory, now occupied illegally. Rapid urbanisation and housing shortages have led to the squatting of many Johannesburg buildings, often in dangerous conditions. "We had to remove 12 bodies. They died from traumatic asphyxia," emergency services spokesman Malcolm Midgley said. People were sleeping on at least three storeys of the building when the fire broke out around 0100 local time (2300 Tuesday GMT).

Mr Midgley said of the men who died appeared to have been pushed against a locked security gate in the rush to get out. "One of the bodies had the imprint of a security gate on his skin. For those imprints to have remained on him for several hours, you can imagine the pressure with which he was squeezed against it," he said. The injured were taken to hospital, some of them severely hurt. It is not known how many people were inside the building at the time of the blaze. The nationalities of the victims are also unknown, though reports say Malawian passports were found on the scene after residents had left the building.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Kenyans battle cattle-raiders and drought.
By Tim Cocks BBC News, Kenya.

Kenya's Turkana people have long struggled with poverty and deadly cattle-raids. Now a severe drought threatens them with starvation. The Turkanas are known for their colourful necklaces. On the shores of Kenya's biggest lake in the north-west, all but a few live a subsistence life, herding goats in one of East Africa's poorest and most neglected places. Like pastoralists the world over, the Turkana have found themselves increasingly edged out of greener lands by agricultural peoples, leaving them hemmed into an inhospitable environment. Insecurity plagues the region, with cheap, easily available AK-47s putting a deadly edge on traditional conflicts between the Turkana and neighbouring groups. Heavily armed cattle-rustlers from Karamoja, on the Ugandan side to the east, and the Pokot, to the south, attack Turkana villages and often leave a trail of dead in their wake. Retaliations are swift and just as brutal.

International aid agencies have launched a massive appeal to save millions across East Africa from famine and emergency relief aid is pouring in. But aid workers say more can be done in the long term to improve the livelihoods of people in this drought-prone region.

Turkana's drought in pictures

Like their close cousins, the Maasai, the Turkana are a tall, dark and slim people, easily identifiable by their elaborate jewellery, piercings and colourful bead necklaces. To maintain their traditional lives, they need pasture for their growing herds to graze. But with drought drying up the already thin vegetation, thousands of livestock whose milk, blood and meat the Turkana depend on for their survival, have died. "It's never been this bad before," said Chegem Epeyon, from Nandanpal village, who doesn't know his age but thinks he is about 60. "Livestock and people are dying. People are drinking dirty water from the muddy riverbed and getting sick."

Famine has already claimed human lives. Lea Emathe brought her one-year-old daughter Juma to a hospital in the town of Lodwar after she became sick from malnutrition. "She started losing weight and coughing all the time. She was really sick," Mrs Emathe said. "We don't have enough food, so I didn't produce enough milk for my baby." Lea Emathe's daughter Juma died two days after this photo was takenEmaciated and too weak to move, the nurses put Juma on an emergency drip. But the help came too late. Two days later, she succumbed to hunger and died on her hospital bed. "We've seen a lot of these malnourished children coming in like this," said Alice Akalapatan, senior nurse at the hospital. "There's little we can do once they get this bad. They urgently need more food in their homes."

Thanks to a rush of emergency food aid for east Africa, a widespread famine is likely to be averted. But aid agencies say they are still short of funds and warn of a catastrophe if the season's rains, expected March-May, fail like last November's did. As droughts get more severe throughout Africa, some blame global warming.




Addis Ababa hit by fatal blasts.

The minibus was full at the time of the blast, One person has been killed and at least 14 injured in five bomb attacks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The most serious blast destroyed the rear of a minibus in the south of the city, killing one and injuring three. Explosions at a small cafe, a guard shack, an abattoir and a residential home followed in what is the latest in a string of attacks to hit the city. The government has in the past blamed the opposition and separatists for the attacks, and suspects Eritrean backing.

"The explosions which caused loss of life and destruction of property are aimed at disrupting the peaceful lives of citizens," a police statement read out on television said. The 11-seater bus was attacked just south of the city's central Meskel Square on Monday morning, police spokesman Demsach Hailu told the AFP news agency. "I was sitting in the back of the bus. It was full. I was on my way to work when suddenly it blew up," Mohamed Rachid, 30, who escaped with a broken nose and leg burns, said.

A government-owned abattoir became the next target, although the blast caused no casualties or damage, Mr Demsach said. At least 10 people were injured in the attack on the cafe, while a fourth blast tore the tin roof off a guard's shack in the busy Mercato trading district and injured a street seller, Reuters news agency reported. An explosion also went off outside a house in a residential suburb but there were no reports of injuries.There have been no immediate claims of responsibility.

Tensions have been running high in the capital since 80 people were killed in violence following last May's disputed general election. A number of public buildings and hotels in Addis Ababa were damaged by explosive devices in January. Earlier this month, four people were injured in three small explosions in the city. A restaurant, crowded market area and tourism training centre were hit. The government accused Eritrea of supplying the grenades to the "terrorists", a charge denied by Eritrea. It has also blamed the attacks on the main opposition coalition, as well as separatists from the southern Oromo region.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Race to plug China toxic gas leak.

Tons of cement and slurry are being trucked in to plug the leak. Emergency workers are trying to seal a leaking gas well in China that has forced 11,500 villagers to evacuate their homes. The leak triggered a huge explosion in the south-west municipality of Chongqing on Saturday. There were no initial reports of deaths or injuries and the incident has not caused any serious contamination, according to the local government. A broken pipeline is believed to have caused the blast, the China Daily said. A similar leak in the same area in 2003 killed 243 people.

Both accidents were in operations run by the Chuandong Drilling Company, owned by China's largest oil firm. Tons of cement and chemical slurry were being trucked in to plug the well, Chinese news agency Xinhua said. Checks were also being made for other possible leaks over an area extending 4km (2.5 miles) from the well. "We are studying the possible consequences of the capping and trying to figure out how big the evacuation should be," China's official Xinhua news agency quoted Chongqing's vice mayor Zhou Mubing as saying.

Authorities evacuated 10,000 people from the area on Saturday and another 1,500 on Sunday evening, Xinhua said. Officials have warned local residents against drinking water from a nearby river in Gaoqiao town, Kaixian county, where the accident took place. A gas leak in the same area in December 2003 spread toxic hydrogen sulphide across mountain villages, killing 243 people in one of China's deadliest industrial accidents. More than 41,000 villagers were forced from their homes and thousands of survivors suffered lung damage and burns on their eyes and skin.

Six gas company employees were sentenced to prison in 2004 for negligence. Industrial accidents are increasing in China. Last year a chemical spill in the country's north-east left the residents of Harbin without water supplies for several days.



~ Joe Knapp.


Libya seeks boost from eclipse tourists. By Rana Jawad BBC, Tripoli.

Libya is opening its doors to thousands of tourists for this week's total solar eclipse and says all nationalities are welcome - except Israelis.

Special glasses are needed to view the eclipseIn a country where visas are hard to come by, the large influx of tourists expected for the event is a massive undertaking. The eclipse will be visible from much of Asia, Turkey, and Brazil, but Libya will experience the best and longest view. Individual tourist visas are normally hard to come by but authorities here have assured people that the process will not be bureaucratic for this special event. Tourists will be able to view the eclipse for up to four minutes and seven seconds.

How a total eclipse happens

The tourism ministry says it has issued 6,700 special one-week visas so far. The largest contingent, 2,000, is from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, France, and other European countries. These figures exclude other nationalities, like Egyptians and Tunisians, who do not require visas for entry. But viewing the eclipse from the deserts of Libya will be an expensive matter. Prices are fixed by the tourism ministry, which issued licences to just five local tourism agencies to handle transport and accommodation.

Libya will have one of the best views of the eclipseThe best - and most expensive - eclipse viewing, from the desert town of Waw Al Namus, 2,000km south of Tripoli, costs 2,200 euros ($2,650) for four day including flights, says Abdel Rizak Rwasht, chairman of the Winzrik tourist agency. Most flights from Europe will land in nearby desert towns and eclipse enthusiasts will be driven to the designated locations. According to tourism officials, the special camp sites set up for this event will include full hotel services in four locations: Bir Ghbay, Waw Al Namus, Jalu and Bardi. Libya is often criticised for its limited tourism infrastructure and organisational capacities.

"We started to work on the infrastructure of this event in 2003," says Abdulrazzag Abulgassim, head of development in the tourism ministry. "There will be no problems because the eclipse line is in the desert, so the tourists will come to the camps there and we will take care of security, health and sanitary facilities." This will be the largest tourist event Libya has ever undertaken. The authorities here are confident they can do the job. Libyans are hoping the eclipse event will generate a long-term positive impact on their tourism sector, an industry that has been ignored for decades.

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Police catch runaway athletes.

Australian police have detained six athletes from the Sierra Leone team who went missing from the Commonwealth Games village in Melbourne. Eight other Sierra Leone squad members are still unaccounted for, and Cameroon report nine of their athletes missing. They were all hoping to stay in Australia after the Games finished but will now have their visas revoked. The three men and three women from Sierra Leone will be detained until immigration authorities collect them. Immigration officials said they would be happy to talk to the missing athletes if they came forward. Over half of Sierra Leone's 22-strong squad have disappeared, following the 21 who went missing in Manchester four years ago.

Eleven athletes were reported missing to police between last Tuesday and Friday, while another three had disappeared from the athletes village in Melbourne by Sunday. A statement from Games organisers confirmed: "At the request of the management of the Sierra Leone team, the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games Corporation has withdrawn accreditation from 14 athletes officially described as missing by Victoria police." An immigration spokesman added: "We strongly urge the athletes, or anyone who knows their whereabouts, to contact local police or their nearest department of immigration office."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has already warned that the country does not give"blanket asylum" to athletes who go missing from sporting teams visiting the country. Australia has some of the toughest policies in the world against illegal immigration. A Tanzanian boxer and a Bangladeshi runner have also gone missing.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Bolivia finds hope in Jesuit treasures.
By David Atkinson In Bolivia.

The Jesuit mission at Conception.
Enlarge Image

As dusk settles across the main square, a virtuoso performance of traditional Baroque scores by local violin-toting teenagers accompanies the nightly Mass at the mission church, which was founded in 1708. Outside a ragtag of photocopied signs around the remote jungle settlement proclaim an event to be held March 23-24 to bring the rich colonial heritage of the missions to the world's attention. Until now, Bolivia's Jesuit missions had been all but forgotten, overgrown with jungle foliage and isolated from the outside world. Indeed, with just 400,000 international tourist arrivals per year to Bolivia, the seven principal mission settlements - which form a trail strung out across Bolivia's eastern lowlands towards the Brazilian border, in the region known as Chiquitania - have traditionally been overlooked by even the backpackers.
Local tourism authorities hope that will all change, however, when the "Global launch of JesuitMissions of Chiquitos" showcases the culture of the missions before an audience of invited dignitaries. Jesuit missionaries brought Catholicism to Bolivia in the late 17th Century. The elaborate churches they founded went on to become important centres of cultural learning with each church founding its own Baroque orchestra to accompany the Mass. Unesco inscribed the seven churches that currently form the Missions Trail as World Heritage Sites in 1990.

Today, while Jesuit Missions in Paraguay and Argentina have since fallen into disrepair, their Bolivian counterparts remain a vibrant cultural force, set against a frontier-town backdrop straight out of the 1986 Robert de Niro film, The Mission. "The missions house rare musical instruments, musical scores, and priceless works of art," says Geoff Groesbeck, who runs the website, dedicated to the culture of the missions. "They also train the next generation of local artists and artisans, who remain faithful to the music and carvings their ancestors produced centuries ago." The biggest tourism initiative in recent years, the launch event has been conceived to restore confidence in Bolivia's fledgling tourism industry after the country was hit by massive social unrest and transport strikes in 2005.

The combination of rediscovered musical scores and a setting that takes you back in time is quite earth-shattering Local councillor Mike BennettBolivia's National Chamber of Commerce reported the tourism sector lost US$20m (£11.5m) during the unrest in May and June last year, while agents in La Paz reported up to 80% cancellations in the immediate aftermath. But can an influx of tourists to the missions bring credibility to beleaguered Bolivian tourism, just as the Jesuit missionaries hoped to bring salvation to the "heathen lands of South America" some 300 years earlier? The new government led by Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, elected by a popular mandate in December 2005, has brought relative calm to the country, but UK tour operators, at least, are reserving judgement.

In Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia's economic powerhouse city, the talk is of a tourism renaissance. If the three to five-day Missions Trail tour, best accessed by jeep from Santa Cruz along dirt road, is a success, the potential knock-on effect could bring vital tourist greenbacks to a previously little-explored area. The town of Porongo, located 27km (17 miles) north-west of Santa Cruz, is vying for its share with its own Jesuit-built mission church and baroque music school making it an ideal spot for day-trippers.

Until now, Bolivia's Jesuit missions had been all but forgotten. In this quest it has a secret weapon: its former "gringo" (foreign) mayor. Michael Bennett, a six-and-a-half foot (1.98m) native of Stoke-on-Trent, England, who gave up his job in mining to stand as a local councillor.Mr Bennett subsequently served as mayor of Porongo from 2000 to 2003 before becoming a councillor in Santa Cruz for the Unity and Progress Movement (Mup). "Bolivia is still cheap, unspoiled and has now got over the trauma of its new government, so in terms of tourism things can only improve," he explains as we survey his erstwhile domain, the rustic mission church looming over a serene town square surrounded by lush, tropical foliage.


Climate change 'harms world poor'.
By Roger Harrabin BBC News Environment Correspondent.

More extreme weather events are forecast. The poorest people in the world in Asia and Africa will be worst hit by climate change, a UK government report says. It says droughts and floods fuelled partly by carbon emissions from countries such as the UK will hurt the same people targeted by overseas aid. The report was obtained by BBC News under the Freedom of Information Act. It says emissions are making natural disasters worse and warns that rising sea levels could undo more than half the development work in Bangladesh. The internal report at the Department for International Development (Dfid) reveals the depth of concern shared by officials about climate change.

It forecasts that global warming threatens to reduce India's farm output by as much as a quarter - just as its population is booming. In Africa, the number of people at risk from coastal flooding is likely to rise from one million in 1990 to 70 million by 2080. The Dfid report will increase pressure on the Prime Minister. Next week, the government publishes its review of Climate Change Strategy. It's committed to cutting emissions by 20% below 1990 levels but under Labour emissions have actually increased by 1.9%. The report is Dfid's contribution to the UK government's review of climate economics being carried out by Nick Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank. The Dfid report points that natural disasters cost donors $6bn annually. Seventy-three percent of them are climate related, so the bill will almost certainly soar if, as forecast, extreme weather events get much worse as the climate changes.

Ice melt 'to hasten sea rise'
Dfid says the world will need to adapt to some degree to an inevitable measure of change fuelled by greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere; but it says all international development policies must be framed with climate change in mind. It urges a target to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations (a difficult goal as the US - the main emitter of these gases - refuses to discuss any such target). And it complains that the price of carbon is too low internationally to prompt cleaner development.

"It's crazy for the UK government to be talking a lot about climate change while at the same time our emissions are increasing," Farhana Yamin of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, told the BBC. "A great deal more action is needed domestically to reduce our carbon footprint which is going to have a massive impact on developing countries."
Until recently, the debate over climate change economics tended to have been dominated by industry lobby groups worried about the effect of clean-up measures on growth. I understand that the Stern review is likely to predict that it will be much cheaper to reduce emissions than to attempt to deal with all the consequences of climate change.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Commonwealth Games day 10 review.

England grabbed five boxing golds and Scotland one on a dramatic day in the ring and Melbourne's athletics arena. A disqualification denied England's women gold in the 400m relay, while their 4x100m team claimed silver. England's Nick Nieland and Phillips Idowu won the javelin and triple jump and Jamaica cruised to victory in the men's and women's 100m relays. Shooter Mick Gault won his fourth Games gold and Scot Susan Hughes clinched bronze in the badminton singles.

The highlights of the day's action are listed below - if you want to find out more on individual events use our schedule and/or results pages.
You can also watch the highlights on the website if you are a UK broadband user by choosing the sport you'd like to follow from our five video streams.

DAY 10 HIGHLIGHTS - all times GMT.


Danny Kaye 1913 - 1987. American Actor.


Global battle plays out in Somalia.

Gunmen have controlled Mogadishu for 15 years. Since the 11 September attacks on the United States more than four years ago, Somalis have feared that their lawless country could become the setting for a battle between US-backed anti-terror forces and al-Qaeda sympathisers. Now it seems as though their worst fears may be coming true. The capital, Mogadishu, has been rocked by the worst violence in almost a decade, leaving at least 70 people dead. Hundreds of people have fled their homes as the rival militia clashed with mortars and anti-aircraft guns. The few private hospitals still operating are unable to cope with the deluge of people injured in the fighting.

The fighting is between the Islamic Courts' militia, which wants to set up Sharia law to end the years of anarchy, and a coalition of the warlords who have devastated the country, fighting for control in the 15 years since there was last an effective national government. The Islamists say the warlords, who recently formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, are being funded by "non-Muslim foreigners", taken to mean the US anti-terror task force based in neighbouring Djibouti.

Facts and figures about life in Somalia
The US authorities have not commented on these latest allegations. They have previously said they had "no information" on widely accepted reports that warlords had kidnapped terror suspects in Mogadishu and handed them over to US agents to be flown abroad for questioning. The warlords - Mohammed Deere, Mohammed Qanyare and Bashir Rageh - and their business allies control large parts of Mogadishu and crucially the airstrips around the capital. It is always difficult to know exactly what is going on in a country with no central authority. Some analysts say the fighting may also be over business rivalries between militia leaders.

The BBC's Hassan Barise in Somalia says the latest fighting is the worst seen in Mogadishu for almost a decade - since the aftermath of the last US intervention in the country and the death of warlord Mohammed Aideed. To make matters worse, the fighting has come at a time when there seemed finally to be some progress in Somalia's snail-like peace process. Most people are just desperate to be able to go about their daily lives without the fear of being killed by a stray mortar.
More than a year after a new parliament and president were sworn in in neighbouring Kenya, the MPs finally started their first meeting on Somali soil last month - just a week after the fighting between the Islamic Courts and the warlords first started. A diplomat following the Somali peace process told the BBC News website that the fighting was a "serious blow", which has overshadowed the parliamentary session in the town of Baidoa. "Three of those involved should be in Baidoa but instead they are fighting in Mogadishu," he said. President Abdullahi Yusuf has long argued that Mogadishu is too dangerous to host the government. He has set himself up in Jowhar, 90km north of the capital, to the concern of some MPs, led by Speaker of Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan.

They say the president does not have the authority to move Somalia's capital. This latest fighting only makes it more difficult to set up a government in Mogadishu and puts backwards the date when Somali can again be a "normal" country. Some Somalis back the Islamic Courts for doing something to establish law and order in a country where the law of the gun has long held sway. But the warlords, and others, say the Islamists are also behind a series of targeted assassinations of prominent figures, including a peace activist and senior military officials.

A US anti-terror base is as close as it could be to Somalia.Many of the Somalis killed are those who had argued in favour of a foreign peacekeeping force in Somalia - an idea strongly rejected by the Islamists. The warlords further accuse the Islamic Courts of sheltering a Sudanese man, known as Zuweydan, wanted by the US as a terror suspect. Western diplomats have long said that Somalia was home to training camps for Islamic radicals. In a country without a government, a group with enough money can do just about anything it wants. Weapons are easily available in Mogadishu's arms bazaar.

Last year the International Crisis Group, a political think-tank, reported that: "In the rubble-strewn streets of the ruined capital of this state without a government... al-Qaeda operatives, jihadi extremists, Ethiopian security services and Western-backed counter-terrorism networks are engaged in a shadowy and complex contest waged by intimidation, abduction and assassination."
One of the key figures in the Islamic Courts, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is wanted by the US, denies the existence of training camps in Somalia. Sheikh Aweys denies terror groups operate in Somalia.But he says he has sympathy for the "Muhajadeen who are fighting back" against attacks by the US and their allies around the world. On the streets of Mogadishu, many distrust the Islamic Courts but also have little time for the warlords who have ruined their country, or for the US, which they see as oppressing Muslims. The thousands living as refugees, in tents or wooden shelters erected on waste ground or in derelict buildings, are desperate for more permanent shelter, and for schools and clinics. Before then, however, most people are just desperate to be able to go about their daily lives without the fear of being killed by a stray mortar.


Enticing rebels out of DR Congo's forests.
By Nick Miles BBC News, DR Congo.

As The Democratic Republic of Congo prepares for its first multi-party presidential elections in four decades, the world's largest peacekeeping force is stepping up its efforts to rein in the militia groups, which continue to rampage in parts of the east. The peacekeepers hope the leaflets will persuade rebels to leave the forests. The United Nations's peacekeeping operation in DR Congo, Monuc, is using force but increasingly this is an information war. Inside a UN military helicopter flying above impenetrable tropical rainforests, half a dozen men are huddled around some cardboard boxes full of leaflets. They each pick up a handful, open the round cabin windows and hurl them out as we pass a village. "Civilians or combatants from here or abroad please come to Monuc reception centres, we will provide security," the leaflets say in both Swahili and Rwanda's main language, Kinyarwandan.

The leaflets are aimed at members of the FDLR militia group, which has some 10,000 armed soldiers, mostly concentrated in a swathe of forest about 100km to the west of Goma, on the border between DR Congo and Rwanda. Its hardline core is made up of ethnic Hutus from the Interahamwe militia that was involved in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. We've lived a terrible life, eating whatever we could find... I want to go back to see my family and continue my life Miseke Fungan - Former Rwandan rebel. "This terrain - steep hills and thick forest - is similar to that of central Vietnam so there is no way we can win a military victory here," says Ramon Miranda Ramos from Monuc's demobilisation programme. "We have to steal supporters from the militia groups, convince them that life in the forest is no life."

Mr Miranda takes us to another of his projects. Perched high on a hillside near the town of Minova two hours by dirt road from Goma, there is a farmyard. Past a chicken coop and some snorting pigs, sit two men in a wooden shack in front of a black radio transmitter the size of a small suitcase. They talk earnestly into the microphone. Their voices are transmitted in a 50km radius to the rebel held areas all around. "At the moment the messages are about how we are here to make their lives better, how there is no future for them in the forest," Mr Miranda tells me. "If that fails then we'll start more personal attacks of their leaders, we have to undermine their support."

The FDLR is one of the largest of the militia groups operating in the area. Prominent too are the Mai Mai militias, that were mobilised by the Congolese government from 1998 onwards. Those who leave the forests are given pots, pans and a radio.Both groups have been linked to widespread human rights abuses of Congolese civilians, including thousands of rapes. "They are a menace to the population and as far as Monuc is concerned, we can never have enough security here," Jean-Marie Guehenno the UN head of peacekeeping told the BBC in Goma during a recent two-week tour of the region. "But I think if there's the political will here we can have credible elections in all areas this June." There are increasing numbers of foreign militia members coming forward to the UN's disarmament programme. Over the last year, some 1,000 FDLR fighters have voluntarily handed themselves in to Monuc.

When we met Miseke Fungan at Monuc's demobilisation centre in Goma, he was holding a rusting AK47 rifle, which soon joined a pile of hundreds of other guns to be destroyed. He says he fled for his life from Rwanda 12 years ago. Now he feels the situation is safe enough to go home. Some 2,000 ex-rebels have now gone back to Rwanda. "We've lived a terrible life, eating whatever we could find... I want to go back to see my family and continue my life." As with all of the former militia members we interviewed, he denied ever having seen or having carried out any of the long list of atrocities on civilians in eastern DR Congo in recent years.

Cathy Buckle's Letter from Zimbabwe!

Million Dollar Loaf?
Saturday 25th March 2006.

Dear Family and Friends,

Almost every night now the electricity goes off for at least two hours and that's if we are lucky. In the last week the daily power cuts have ranged from 1 to 6 hours at a time and they almost always coincide with the main evening TV news bulletin. In these circumstances it is very hard to keep track of what is happening in the country - both news and propaganda. Frankly most people would rather not know anymore as it's all just too shameful. On the one evening when both electricity and news were on at the same time this week, I watched a group of agricultural experts presenting the facts and figures about the imminent winter wheat crop. It made me feel very afraid for Zimbabwe. According to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Zimbabwe is planning to plant one hundred and ten thousand hectares of wheat this winter. If everything was as it should be, this hectarage would yield four hundred thousand tonnes of wheat - this, coincidentally, is almost exactly how much wheat the country needs for a year. According to the agricultural experts though, this 110 000 hectares is unrealistic in the extreme and three main farming unions said that at best they would only be able to plant 45 000 hectares this winter. The reasons were glaringly obvious. A shortage of tractors for ploughing was one reason, no fuel was another and then there were the nitty gritty's like money, pesticides, fertilizer and irrigation. A pesticide expert said there are currently only enough chemicals in stock to treat thirty thousand hectares of wheat - just over a quarter of the government planned crop. Referring to crippling controlled prices imposed by the state, the fertilizer representative said that unless government allowed them to charge viable prices they would go out of business. The expert didn't give figures but said there was currently "hardly any fertilizer in the country" and that 72 000 tonnes would be needed for the wheat crop. The final "challenge" to the winter wheat crop was apparently going to be ZESA . (Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority) The experts pointed out that wheat is dependant on irrigation and said that any periods of "outage would derail the crop." Outages, in ordinary English, are power cuts and the acronym ZESA, it is now joked, stands for Zimbabwe Electricity Sometimes Available. In March 2005 a loaf of bread was four thousand eight hundred dollars. In March 2006 that same loaf is sixty six thousand dollars. Unless something dramatic happens in the next few weeks and assuming prices continue to rise at their present rate, a loaf of bread in March 2007 will be nine hundred and eight thousand dollars. Imagine, almost a million dollars for a loaf, what shame upon Zimbabwe. It is impossible to believe that just six years ago we were called the "Breadbasket of Africa".

Until next week,
love cathy.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Mood hardens against Afghan convert.
By Sanjoy Majumder BBC News, Kabul.

Abdul Rahman is refusing to return to Islam. Increasing international pressure over the case of Christian convert Abdul Rahman is forcing the Afghan government to play a careful balancing act between its Western allies and religious conservatives at home. Under the interpretation of Islamic Sharia law on which Afghanistan's constitution is based, Mr Rahman faces the death penalty unless he reconverts to Islam. "The Prophet Muhammad has said several times that those who convert from Islam should be killed if they refuse to come back," says Ansarullah Mawlafizada, the trial judge. "Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, kindness and integrity. That is why we have told him if he regrets what he did, then we will forgive him," he told the BBC News website.

The judge's comments are one indication of why President Hamid Karzai, who already has a reputation for being pro-Western, faces some difficult choices. The president has yet to comment publicly on the trial but statements put out by his office point out that, while the government respects human rights and personal freedom, the country has an independent judicial system. In practice, it is even more complicated. The Afghan judiciary is dominated by religious conservatives, many with strong religious ties or backgrounds. Many feel it will be difficult for the president and the government to confront the judiciary. But the bigger problem confronting the president is that an overwhelming number of ordinary Afghans appear to believe Mr Rahman has erred and deserves to be executed.

At Friday prayers in mosques across the Afghan capital, the case of Abdul Rahman and the consequent international outcry is the hot topic of discussion and the centrepiece of sermons.
"We will not let anyone interfere with our religious practices," declared cleric Inayatullah at Kabul's Pulakasthy mosque, one of the city's largest. "What Rahman has done is wrong and he must be punished."

The issue has not reached the stage of street protests, as was the case recently during demonstrations against the publication in the West of cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad. But there is little doubt that feelings run deep and can easily be inflamed. The mood among worshippers in Kabul is hardening."What is wrong with Islam that he should want to convert?" asks an agitated Abdul Zahid Payman. "The courts should punish him and he should be put to death."

Few were willing to listen to the growing condemnation in the West. "According to Islamic law he should be sentenced to death because God has clearly stated that Christianity is forbidden in our land," says Mohammed Qadir, another worshipper. US President George Bush says he is "deeply troubled" by the case. That cuts no ice with Mr Qadir. "Who is America to tell us what to do? If Karzai listens to them there will be jihad (holy war)." Western backers of the Afghan government are pressing to create a country that is a moderate and progressive democracy, able to turn its back on its Taleban past. But analysts say they often forget that Afghanistan is a deeply conservative country rooted in tribal traditions. "This is a Muslim country. The state is Muslim, people are Muslim 99%," says Judge Ansarullah. "This is a very sensitive issue."

Afghanistan's constitution, written in 2004, enshrines the country as an Islamic state under which no law can contravene Islam. But it also protects personal freedom and respects international human rights conventions. "It is a deliberately ambiguous document which tries to paper over the cracks and contradictions of Afghanistan," says one Afghan law professor privately. "But now the contradictions have risen to the surface."


Somali deaths in fierce clashes. Mogadishu has been ruined by years of fighting. Heavy fighting continued on Friday between an Islamic militia and an alliance of warlords and businessmen in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. At least 70 people are now reported killed in the three days of fierce clashes between rival forces. A BBC correspondent in the city says the fighting,concentrated in the north-east, has further intensified, with hundreds fleeing their homes. These are the most serious clashes in Mogadishu for almost a decade. Hundreds of people have been fleeing the northern suburbs where their homes have been hit in the cross fire. "Today we've lost five people shot dead," an Islamist militia leader told Reuters news agency by telephone on Friday. "And on the other side, they've lost six who were burned in a technical [a truck with a mounted gun]," he added.

No government for 15 years
Peace process was inching forward
Mogadishu fighting worst since 1996
'Anti-terror' warlords fighting Islamist militia.
Global battle plays out in Somalia
The conflict began in mid-February, when Somali warlords who control Mogadishu formed an alliance to challenge the emerging influence of the Islamic militia. The warlords in the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism have accused the Islamists of sheltering foreign fighters, assassinating critics and having links to al-Qaeda. The BBC's Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu described this week's fighting as "horrific" as people's homes were hit by anti-tank shells and mortar rounds. "Many people could be seen fleeing from the area with their children on their backs and what you can see on the ground is only militiamen carrying guns from the line of fighting," he said on Thursday. In February, the clan-based warlords formed an alliance to challenge the Islamic militia which has set up a system of Sharia courts. The dispute started near the port area, which is currently controlled by powerful businessmen.

Facts and figures about life in Somalia.

Much of the fighting has been in residential areas and the latest clashes are reportedly closer to the city centre. There are fears that with such a strong ideological divide between the two sides, it may prove difficult to negotiate an end to the fighting. Somalia has been without an effective central government for 15 years and has been carved up by rival militias. A transitional parliament met recently for the first time on home soil since it was formed in Kenya more than a year ago as part of attempts to restore peace and stability.


U.K. Politician.


'Clive of India's' tortoise dies.

Watch the tortoise

A tortoise that once belonged to British colonial general Clive of India in the 18th Century has died in a zoo in Calcutta. Adwaita, "the only one" in Bengali, was found dead by keepers in Alipore Zoo on Wednesday. His shell cracked some months ago and a wound had developed. West Bengal officials said records showed Adwaita was at least 150 years old but other evidence pointed to 250.

The shell of Adwaita, an Aldabra tortoise, will now be carbon-dated. Forestry minister in the West Bengal government, Jogesh Barman said: "Historical records show he was a pet of British general Robert Clive of the East India Company and had spent several years in his sprawling estate before he was brought to the zoo about 130 years ago." Mr Barman said Adwaita was probably brought from the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean and presented to Clive, an increasing force in the East India Company's military hierarchy.

Clive was reportedly brought four tortoises but only Adwaita livedAldabra tortoises are found in the four-island Aldabra atoll of the Seychelles, a UN World Heritage Site that now has about 152,000 giant tortoises. They average about 120kg (265lbs) and are thought the longest-lived of all animals. The BBC's Amitabha Bhattasali in Calcutta says Adwaita brought in many of the zoo's visitors and when he fell sick for the first time eight years ago with a leg infection a full medical board was instigated to treat him.

The director of the zoo, Subir Chowdhury, said Adwaita's shell would be preserved and kept there. One zookeeper told the Reuters news agency: "This is a sad day for us. We will miss him very much." Lord Clive, the son of a Shropshire squire, became a soldier and adventurer who rose through the East India Company. He won the key Battle of Plassey against the Nawab of Bengal in 1757. Lord Clive later became an opium addict and committed suicide in 1774 at the age of 49.


Kenya removes forest squatters.

Land is a sensitive issue in Kenya. Kenyan police have evicted more than 3,000 people who have been squatting on forest land in Rift Valley province. Police and forest officials reportedly destroyed more than 100 squatters' homes in the Kipkurere forest area. The operation followed a series of meetings between local officials, some of whom accused the squatters of causing environmental damage.

The squatters say they had long appealed to the Kenyan authorities to resettle them elsewhere. The squatters watched in disbelief as forest guards and police officers set their houses on fire following the expiry of a 21-day eviction notice, Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper reports. The forest area is the subject of long-running dispute between the Ogiek people, who claim the forest as their ancestral land, and other communities who have settled in the area more recently. "Some outsiders have taken advantage of our presence to encroach on [the forest] despite being allocated alternative land by the government," Shadrack Mtung, a member of the Ogiek community who welcomed the eviction, told the paper.

In the 1990s, the Rift Valley was the scene of violent ethnic and political clashes over land.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Kenyan crime puts off investment.

Corruption worries are long-standing in Kenya. Crime has now topped corruption as the biggest barrier to foreign investment in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, a senior UN official has warned. Paul Andre de la Porte, who heads the United Nations Development Programme in Nairobi, noted that Kenya still led global corruption tables. But he said the capital's soaring crime rate was now even more of a problem. Nairobi and its 3.5 million population has had to endure increasing levels of robberies, murder and rapes. We consider there is an insecure climate in terms of foreign investors operating in the country [Kenya] Risk consultant Rashna Writer.

"We are living in dangerous times," Nairobi's Sunday Standard newspaper said in a recent report on crime. It is today so much a fact of life in the city that private security guards stand outside banks and shops, and homes in well-off suburbs are protected by high walls and electric fences. Public information billboards warn women to guard themselves against rape. "If we could get rid of the level of insecurity that we have in Kenya, that would be a major breakthrough for its socio-economic development," said Mr de la Porte.

Recent figures show that Kenya received just $46m (£26m) in foreign direct investments in 2004, compared to $237m in Uganda and $470m in Tanzania. Such are the twin problems of corruption and crime in Kenya that Merchant International Group - a London-based consultancy which measures investment risk - recently gave Kenya a worse rating than Sudan, despite the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region. "We consider there is an insecure climate in terms of foreign investors operating in the country [Kenya]," said Rashna Writer, head of the consultancy's global risk department.

Thousands of people recently marched through Nairobian protest at a police clampdown against an independent newspaper. They have called for the resignation of the government's internal security minister John Michuki.


Israelis bring high-tech food to Angola,
By Sarah Grainger BBC, Luanda

An Israeli company is using the latest water-saving technology to grow fruit and vegetables in Angola, which imports much of its food after 27 years of civil war. No water is wasted in growing the crops"I think Angola is experiencing a boom time right now," says Uri Ben Basat, co-manager of Terra Verde, a 45-hectare farm outside the capital Luanda. The farm was set up at the end of the war in 2002 and has been harvesting tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, mangoes, melons and grapes for three years. In fact, the farm produces 35 tonnes of vegetables every week of the year, selling most of this food to supermarkets and restaurants in Luanda.
During the war, the agricultural sector was devastated. Bridges were blown up and roads and railways mined, so the food which was grown locally could not be transported to where it was needed. Those who could afford to, came to rely on expensive imports from the rest of the world, rather than food grown within Angola.

Terra Verde is a joint Angolan-Israeli business, but the agricultural expertise comes from Europe and Israel. The company has built its own pumping station 6km away on the banks of the River Bengo to ensure that its drip-irrigation system, where plants are fed water and fertilizer drip by drip through ground level pipes, would never run dry. Because of the war there are untold numbers of mines out there and goods and people can't move freely Rick CorsinoWFP Country Director A computer programme calculates the exact amounts of water needed, depending on temperature and humidity.

Different varieties of vegetables are grown both in open fields and greenhouses depending on their suitability to Angola's almost tropical climate. And the company buys in boxes of bees to pollinate its tomato plants organically. All this investment came with a price tag of some $8m.
The company says the farm is paying its way but will not say how much profit they make or what their turnover is like. "This is a long-term project," says marketing manager Merav Zacharin. "Terra Verde is very much our calling card. We want investors to see what we have done here and realise that we could build the same thing for them somewhere else in Angola."

Some 200 jobs have already been created and the company is expanding. Another farms has been set up in Kwanza Sul province, which is 10 times bigger than Terra Verde at 450 hectares.
"Angola is hungry for food now," says Mr Ben Basat. Most of the produce is destined for upmarket supermarkets"They have an impressive history of agricultural production, lots of good land and water." But 27 years of civil war have taken their toll. "The biggest problem this country has is access to food," according to WFP Country Director Rick Corsino. "There are certain parts of the country in which most of the food is grown. Because of the war there are untold numbers of mines out there and goods and people can't move freely."

This is why those residents of Luanda who can afford to, still rely heavily on expensive imported food and Terra Verde sees imported vegetables as its main competitor. A kilo of tomatoes costs about $4 in the supermarket, compared to $6 for imported produce. This is not cheap food and the average Angolan can't afford the produce grown at Terra Verde. Their market includes large supermarkets, restaurants and the country's big employers - the oil and diamond companies. Mr Ben Basat thinks there's only one way to lower prices considerably in Angola. "In most countries the government assists the agricultural sector. But here they haven't helped us at all," he says. "It's very expensive to produce here and so the prices are very high. If they want the prices to go down so that everybody from Angola can buy our product, then it needs the power of the government. I don't see any other way."




The prince and duchess are on a two-week Middle East tour.
Prince's comments

Prince Charles has called for greater respect between religions, saying his "heart is heavy from... never-ending death and destruction" in the world. The prince said the row over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad showed "the danger... of our failure to listen and to respect" others' views. He was giving a speech at Al-Azhar University in Cairo on a tour of Egypt with the Duchess of Cornwall. Charles was awarded an honorary degree by the university. One of the few non-Muslims to have been invited to speak at the university, the prince told 800 Islamic scholars that religious leaders needed to encourage understanding. Images of communities torn apart by religious conflict are deeply harrowing said Prince Charles.

Royal tour in pictures

"We must foster, encourage and act upon that which embodies the divine attributes of mercy and compassion," he said. "That calls for calmness and the exercise of restraint. And, if I may say so, it requires all those who are in positions of authority in our different faiths to preach clearly and consistently to others the eternal values of these divine attributes. "I look forward to a world in which we share a vision that acknowledges our differences with respect and understanding, that recognises what others hold sacred, and to a world in which we see that we cannot and must not abuse our great traditions and their teachings as a weapon in the service of selfish worldly power." He added: "The recent ghastly strife and anger over the Danish cartoons shows the danger that comes of our failure to listen and to respect what is precious and sacred to others."

The prince said fears about growing misunderstanding between the West and Islam that he had more than a decade ago - expressed in a 1993 speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies - appeared to have come true. "For so many, those years have been profoundly bleak. My heart is heavy from witnessing the never-ending death and destruction." He added: "Images of communities torn apart by religious conflict are deeply harrowing, from Bosnia to Baghdad, from Chechnya to Palestine - evidence of just how far misunderstandings have continued and escalated."

An interview with the prince had earlier been broadcast on Nile TV, in which Charles spoke about similarities between Christianity, Islam and Judaism. "People who are reasonable and responsible and feel things in the heart need to work even harder and speak up louder about the vital importance of understanding that the three great Abrahamic faiths share an awful lot more in common than perhaps people realise," he said.

The 15-minute television broadcast was pre-recorded at Clarence House before Charles and Camilla left for the official two-week visit to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India. The prince said he had been given an insight into the effects of terrorism as a young man when he suffered the loss of the great-uncle he also regarded as his mentor in 1979. Lord Mountbatten was on a fishing trip in the Irish Republic when his boat was blown up by the IRA. Charles said he has "some understanding... of what people go through with these horrors". He added: "It seems to me that we have to work even harder."

Monday, March 20, 2006


DR Congo rebel in landmark trial.

Thomas Lubanga's UPC has been battling for control of Ituri's gold. The leader of a Democratic Republic of Congo militia has become the first war crimes suspect to face charges at the International Criminal Court. Thomas Lubanga was transferred to ICC custody on Friday from DR Congo. He appeared before the court, based in the Dutch city of The Hague, to face three charges relating to the use of children in armed groups. The ICC was set up in 2002 as a permanent court to deal with war crimes and genocide around the world.

"For 100 years an international court was a dream, now it's becoming a reality," said chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Mr Lubanga appeared on Monday before judges in a hearing that mainly dealt with administrative issues. Further charges are being prepared and are expected to be confirmed at the court's next session in June. He wore a dark suit and speaking in French, he said he was "a politician by profession". His provisional defence lawyer Jean Flamme said he would be asking for his client to see the file on his case, as he said Mr Lubanga had been held in jail for a year without being told of the charges he was facing.

Mr Lubanga was arrested a year ago after nine Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers were killed in the volatile Ituri area. His ethnic Hema Union of Congolese Patriots has been battling rivals from theLendu ethnic group, partly for control of Ituri's large deposits of gold.


Enlisting children under the age of 15 into armed groups
Conscripting children under the age of 15 into armed groups
Using children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities

Several teams of ICC investigators have been sent in recent months to Ituri, where more than 50,000 people have died since the inter-ethnic war began in 1999. The BBC's Robert Walker, who has travelled widely in eastern DR Congo, says Mr Lubanga emerged as one of the most notorious warlords in the civil war of the late 1990s. Soldiers under his command are accused not just of murder, torture and rape, but also of mutilating their victims, our correspondent says.

In one massacre, human rights groups say, Mr Lubanga's militiamen killed civilians using a sledgehammer. At different times, the UPC was backed by both Uganda and Rwanda - DR Congo's neighbours, which were closely involved in its conflict. Some 17,000 UN peacekeepers are in DR Congo, tasked with ensuring that elections scheduled for June go smoothly. They have been backing up the Congolese army as it conducts raids against the numerous rebel groups based in the east.

Our correspondent says the challenge for DR Congo and the ICC is to bring to justice the many other warlords who committed crimes during the civil war. Rape and killings still continue in the east and for now the charges against Mr Lubanga are an exception, and impunity still the norm, he says. The ICC has also issued its first arrest warrants for the leaders of Uganda's rebel Lord's Resistance Army but they remain at large. It is also investigating alleged war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region. The existence of the court is strongly opposed by the United States, which fears its troops could face political prosecutions.


SA pirates 'hijack' Tsotsi film.

Actor Presley Chweneyagae plays the troubled Tsotsi. South Africa's Oscar-winning film Tsotsi (slang for "gangster") has fallen prey to real-life tsotsis. Pirate DVD copies are selling in Johannesburg for less than a quarter of the retail price of a commercial DVD. The pirate DVDs give the film, about the life of a young car-jacker, a different ending from the one being shown on the big screen. The film, with a South African director and cast, this year won South Africa its first foreign language film Oscar.

Director Gavin Hood expressed anger at the appearance of the pirate discs. "When you buy a ticket and when you buy a genuine DVD, you are an investor in South African film as your money is going back to people who invest in local films," he told the Sunday Times newspaper. "But when you buy a DVD you are giving your money to criminals who are in the business of investing in nothing but their greedy souls." The pirate DVD is selling on the streets for less than 50 rand ($9) - commercial DVDs sell for over 200 rand in South Africa. A cinema ticket in South Africa costs up to 38 rand.

Mr Hood confirmed the ending on the DVD was not the same as in the big-screen version. Three different versions were filmed. The DVD was made from a rough edit that was apparently taken illegally from the edit room while editing was still under way. It lacks the full soundtrack and colour grading. "It's a rough mess, so anyone who buys it is getting a poor-quality version," Mr Hood said.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Mugabe rival urges mass campaign.

Morgan Tsvangirai is hoping to put a party split behind him. Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has called for mass action against the government at a congress of his party in the capital, Harare. He called for a short, sharp programme of action and a sustained and concerted effort by all Zimbabweans. Mr Tsvangirai's party has been trying to unseat Robert Mugabe who has been in power since independence in 1980. His Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is holding its first congress since it split last year. Mr Tsvangirai is facing a challenge from the breakaway faction which last month elected a rival leader, Arthur Mutambara, and held its own congress.

The BBC's Peter Biles says this weekend's congress should indicate whether Mr Tsvangirai is still a major political player. His rivals accuse him of ignoring the party's wishes while his supporters say the split was engineered by Mr Mugabe's party. Our correspondent says for the past six years, opposition supporters have expected much of the MDC led by Mr Tsvangirai. Arthur Mutambara returned from exile to lead the other MDC faction.But President Mugabe's hold on power remains as strong as ever as internal wrangling within the MDC divides the party, he says.

The split was sparked by a row over whether to take part in elections to the senate last year. But senior party officials say the decision highlighted a problem with Mr Tsvangirai's leadership. They say he imposed an election boycott even though a majority of party leaders wanted to take part. Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for the pro-Tsvangirai faction, said the Mugabe government was behind the split. "These divisions have been induced by this dictatorship, people who have been bought over by Zanu-PF and the regime of Mugabe," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme. Mr Chamisa also predicted the congress would boost Mr Tsvangirai. But our correspondent says the relationship between the two MDC factions remains hostile and the differences apparently irreconcilable.

Observers say President Mugabe continues to take advantage of the weakened opposition although Zimbabwe is still experiencing serious shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency, as well as hyperinflation.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Cathy Buckle's Letter from Zimbabwe!

Value Bacon for a house.
Saturday 18th March 2006.

Dear Family and Friends,

It was with a feeling of great sadness to watch the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games this week and not see Zimbabwe walk in with all the other countries. All our African neighbours were there, smiling, colourful and bursting with patriotic pride. Even though I knew that our President had withdrawn Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, still I watched, expectant, hopeful but at last sad and disappointed as we were not present at the "friendly games." What a shame it is that our rising young sportsmen and women have to suffer this isolation. It is things exactly like these lost opportunities which push more and more Zimbabweans into the agonising decision to leave the country. For six years we have been going backwards in nearly every regard and now almost a whole generation of youngsters have gone from home. It is hard to see what Zimbabwe has to offer that would entice them, or their parents, to come back. There is still no place like home but right now Zimbabwe feels like somewhere else, nothing makes sense anymore and the overwhelming feeling is one of exhaustion.
A simple shopping trip to a supermarket has become an exhausting and depressing event. You cannot take the price of anything for granted as almost everything seems to go up every third or fourth day. It doesn't take long to gather up the few things you can afford and then you wait, twenty or thirty minutes to get to the tills. A combination of exorbitant prices and ridiculously small denomination bank notes makes for very long delays while tellers count great handfuls of money. As I stood behind ten people, none of who had more than six items to pay for, it was a long twenty minutes to get to the front of the queue. The woman in front of me had a bag of flour, it cost four hundred thousand dollars, she was paying in ten thousand dollars notes and that meant forty notes for her to count and then forty notes for the teller to count. As I stood waiting for my turn I looked at the prices of things and it is like being in cuckoo land. A 500 gram packet of "value" bacon costs more than I paid for my entire house just five years ago ! A single egg now costs twenty five thousand dollars and a friend told me that he had bought his two thousand acre farm a few years ago for the price of two eggs and half an egg shell! Familiar international brands of things like toothpaste have disappeared and been replaced by complete unknowns. Products once made in Zimbabwe but now imported because companies have relocated, are ludicrously expensive. You see a familiar product, put your hand out and then gasp in despair when you realise that just a bottle of shampoo costs 1.2 million dollars. Five years ago I could have bought a prime luxury car for just over a million dollars. When you finally get to the till and your goods are rung up, there is a scam going on but you have to know about it to benefit. If your goods have cost more than three hundred thousand dollars you can buy a bag of sugar - its on the floor under the tellers feet. People being supported by families outside of the country are still coping with Zimbabwe's nightmare days but the vast majority are struggling desperately and everyone is so overwhelmingly tired of it all.
Until next time,
with love cathy.