Monday, July 31, 2006


Saitoti has denied wrong doing in the Goldenberg affair. Kenyan former Vice-President George Saitoti should not be charged over the country's biggest financial scandal, the Kenyan High Court has ruled.
The court rejected the conclusions of an earlier commission of inquiry that recommended Mr Saitoti's prosecution over the so-called Goldenberg affair.
The $1bn scam in the 1990s involved government payments to a company for non-existent gold and diamond exports.
Mr Saitoti was serving at the time as finance minister and vice-president.
The court ruled that Mr Saitoti had been acting according to procedure when he approved a payment to the firm Goldenberg International.
The court also noted the attorney-general had cleared Mr Saitoti of wrongdoing in a statement that he issued in parliament more than a 10 ago.

"Today marks my happiest day in the last 16 years because during that period I have gone through much pain and suffering," Mr Saitoti said after the judgement.
Both Mr Saitoti and former President Daniel arap Moi, in whose administration he served, have denied any knowledge of the scam.
In February, Mr Saitoti resigned as education minister in the current administration, after being named in a report by a commission of inquiry into the Goldenberg affair.
The commission of inquiry led to the prosecution in March this year of six people - including a former intelligence chief and a former central bank governor - who are now bail.
The Goldenberg scandal is one of two huge corruption cases which has put President Mwai Kibaki under pressure to keep his 2002 election promises of fighting graft.



The city that got its soul back.
by Bryony Jones BBC News, Bath.

For almost 30 years, Bath has been a city without a soul. The city draws visitors from across the world, but the thermal springs on which Bath was founded have been off-limits since the 1970s, their mineral-enriched waters - and reputed 'healing powers' - wasted.

The rooftop pool boasts views across the city.Residents and tourists have been unable to do any more than taste the sulphurous liquid at the Roman Baths.
Those more used to the spa towns of continental Europe have been left perplexed at the lack of an opportunity to bathe in a city whose name is derived from that very pursuit.
"Bath would not exist were it not for the hot springs," said local councillor Nicole O'Flaherty, one of the spa's most vocal supporters.
"But for the past 20 or so years - for the first time in 1,200 years - the people of Bath have not been able to use their springs."
The thermal springs, which produce some 1.2 million litres of hot water every day, were closed off in 1978 amid fears over the safety of the water source after a woman died of Legionnaires' Disease.
The listed buildings which had housed the various spas fell into disrepair and the city built on its spring lost some of its purpose.
In the intervening years, five attempts were made to rejuvenate and reopen the thermal waters to the public, but each eventually failed, until the city hit upon the idea of doing so as a millennium project.
But as costs spiralled to £45m, three times over the original budget, and planned opening dates came and went, many residents of the city - whose council tax money was being used to fund the scheme - lost heart.
"The whole thing's been a bit of a catastrophe really," said local resident Christine Hawkins.
"It has really annoyed me that they have spent so much on it."

Staff have been busy with the final touches.

In pictures: spa unveiled

Squabbles between Bath and North East Somerset Council and builders Mowlem turned into full-blown rows, which went all the way to the High Court, delayed work even further.
But now the wait is over.

The pools have been filled, although the steam room smelled of turpentine rather than the delicate scent of lavender, jasmine and eucalyptus as the final work was being completed.
Contractors have been busy with the finishing touches, lifeguards have been trying out the rooftop pool and beauty therapists have been practising their reiki massage and hot stone therapy.

Charlotte Hanna, spokeswoman for the complex's operators, Thermae Bath Spa, said it was a very exciting time.
"We are really looking forward to welcoming our first customers and are just eager to get on with it."
And, for Nicole O'Flaherty at least, it has been worth the wait.
"It is like waking from a nightmare to see the finished building, how fantastic it is.
"In the middle of a World Heritage side, as well as restoring five listed buildings, we now have an unashamedly modern building, an iconic building."

What makes Bath's water so special:
Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate
Spa's highs and lows

But Christine Hawkins said she had reservations that the building design was not the right choice.
"The building doesn't really go with Bath - the city is Roman or Georgian - this looks really out of place, it doesn't fit in.
"I don't know if it will really benefit us - I think it's more for the tourists.
"It's not something which appeals to me personally, but then I've lived here all my life and I've never been to the Roman Baths."
However Hotelier Matthew Stevenson said he was convinced: "Bath is a busy city anyway, it is very popular with people looking for short breaks, but the spa will mean we can really offer the complete package."

Visitor numbers to Bath, particularly from the US, have declined in recent years, and it is hoped the new spa will increase tourism.
Nicole O'Flaherty said: "Tourism is a very important factor in the city's economy - it brings in £400m a year... so it is vital to make sure tourists keep coming to the city."

Whether the spa will be top of tourists' must-see lists is unknown.
But it may take time to convince them to return, after a host of building problems and rows between the council and contractors saw the complex's opening date delayed time and time again.
Mr Stevenson, manager of the Abbey Hotel, said: "We've had people coming to stay with us for years, asking what time the spa opens, and we have had to say, 'Well, it will be a few years yet'."
"Being a spa town without a spa has been something of an issue, obviously."
The city will get its spa back on Monday, August 7, and while people may not be queuing around the corner to get in just yet, the spa has been inundated with bookings.
"I hope it will create a greater pride in what is already a very beautiful, special place," said Charlotte Hanna.
"I hope it will raise awareness of the importance of our heritage, because the thermal waters flowing under the streets of Bath are the lifeblood of the city."
Nicole O'Flaherty said: "We could have done no end of projects for the millennium."
"But this is simply perfect for Bath - it reconnects the city with its soul."



Athletics' sorry saga.
By Andrew Benson.

Even praying may not be much use to Gatlin now. The ramifications of Justin Gatlin failing a drugs test are extensive and serious for both the American and his sport.
The world and Olympic 100m champion - and joint holder of the world record - was found to have elevated levels of the hormone testosterone after a meeting in April, it has been revealed.
Both his primary and back-up samples have tested positive, meaning Gatlin now faces a fight to clear his name.
What is testosterone and what does it do?
Testosterone is a hormone that occurs naturally in both men and women, and can also be manufactured articificially and administered externally.
It helps build muscles, increasing speed, stamina and aggression and helping recovery.
It is listed with anabolic steroids on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of prohibited substances.
A urine test measures its ratio with epitestosterone, a hormone produced along with testosterone but without its effects. The ratio in most people is 1:1. The ratio accepted in athletes' drugs tests is up to 4:1. Gatlin's levels have not yet been published.
What does it mean for Gatlin?
Gatlin, who denies knowingly taking drugs, is facing a lifetime ban from athletics unless he can prove the positive test came about through exceptional circumstances.

Gatlin had dominated athletics with his powerful sprinting. He would also almost certainly be stripped of the world record he shares with Jamaica's Asafa Powell. Gatlin equalled Powell's mark of 9.77secs in Doha in May, the month after his positive test.
Athletics operates a strict liability policy, which dictates that athletes are responsible for any substance found in their body.
A first offence would normally carry a ban of two years, but Gatlin failed a previous drugs test when he tested positive for amphetamines in 2001.
His suspension was lifted early after he persuaded athletics' governing body the IAAF that the test failure had been caused by medication he was taking.
But the IAAF made it clear at the time that he would be banned for life if he failed another drugs test, and it reiterated that stance on Sunday following the news of Gatlin's positive test.
How credible is the claim of Gatlin's coach that the sprinter was the victim of sabotage?
Athletics legend Michael Johnson has dismissed this suggestion by Trevor Graham as being "an old excuse" from a man with "no credibility".
Gatlin's lawyer Cameron Myler said Graham's comments were "not made with the knowledge or authorisation of either Justin or us", adding: "At this point we are trying to figure out what was the cause of the positive test."

Trevor Graham was a controversial choice of coach for Gatlin. Gatlin is the latest in a series of athletes trained by Graham to find themselves mired in a doping scandal.
Graham has worked with six other world champions who have tested positive - the shot putter CJ Hunter, 400m runners Alvin Harrison, Calvin Harrison, Antonio Pettigrew and Jerome Young, and the 200m athlete Michelle Collins.
He also coached former 100m world record holder Tim Montgomery, who despite never failing a drugs test was banned as part of the doping scandal arising from the California-based nutritional supplement company Balco.
Graham is a central figure in the Balco scandal. He was the whistle-blower who started it by supplying the authorities with a syringe containing the newly-created steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG).
Will Gatlin actually be banned?
Governing body US Athletics has come under fire in the past from world anti-doping chief Dick Pound for not doing enough to fight doping in the country.
But there has been a series of high-profile doping bans in America in recent years, so Gatlin's chances of escaping punishment do not look good.
Is testosterone easy to detect?
An effective test for elevated testosterone levels has existed for many years. There are complications arising from the fact that it is naturally produced in the body, so drug testers have to be satisfied the levels were not natural.
Doping is still a huge problem for athletics.
Michael JohnsonWorld record holder for 200m and 400mIn Gatlin's case, it has been established that the testosterone found in his body was administered artificially.
Gatlin tested positive for "testosterone or its precursors", which means that the substance responsible for the positive test may have been artificial - testosterone precursors can be found in sports supplements.
Athletes have been warned about these supplements because the industry is not fully regulated and they may be contaminated with prohibited substances.
What happens next?
Gatlin faces a hearing before the US Anti-Doping Agency, possibly early next week.
If he is banned, as seems likely, he will probably appeal, and the saga could rumble on for months or even years.
How big a blow is this for athletics?

With the world title added to Olympic gold, Gatlin had the world at his feetMichael Johnson, holder of the 200m and 400m world records despite retiring in 2000, says "doping is still a huge problem for athletics".
Just as cycling finds its reputation in the gutter following Tour de France winner Floyd Landis testing positive for testosterone, so it is with Gatlin and athletics.
His rivalry with Powell was the sport's most compelling storyline, and was building towards one of the most eagerly-anticipated showdowns in years. Now that race will probably never happen.
The men who run the 100m are the standard-bearers for the sport. It is the event with the biggest and most straightforward public appeal - it establishes who is the fastest human being on the planet, a hugely evocative concept.
It is hard to think of anything more damaging than the man who jointly holds that title - and who is also the reigning champion in the sport's two most high-profile championships - being exposed as a drugs cheat.
Even if Gatlin eventually clears his name, his reputation, as Johnson has said, will forever be tarnished.
And coming on the heels of the exposure of a number of other world-famous names, this is a revelation from which the sport's reputation will take a long time to recover.


Sunday, July 30, 2006


Back to school... in China
By Carrie Gracie BBC News, China.

The BBC's former Beijing correspondent, whose husband is Chinese, follows her children's progress as they spend a term in a Beijing primary school.

Exercise is an important part of the learning process in Chinese schools. Teacher Song is built like a battleship. On the first day of term, she looked down from a great height, held out two broad brown hands and swept my children down the school corridor.
"Lai xiao pengyou! Come little friends!"
The little friends were pale with anxiety and sleep deprivation. Rachel, aged nine, had been first to wake in fear in the middle of the night before:
"I'm afraid I'll have no friends and I'll do something silly and everyone will laugh at me."
Seven year old Daniel was not far behind: "Mummy, I'm having bad thoughts!"
The bad thoughts turned out to be a dream in which a squirrel fell out of a tree and tumbled towards the water's edge. In the water was something unseen but threatening.
Daniel looked like that squirrel now rolling towards the unknown.
But I knew my job was to look calm and encouraging.
Morning school sounds surged in through the window. Not the hymns Rachel and Daniel sing in their catholic primary in south west London, but the Chinese national anthem, every child in the school saluting as the red flag snapped its way up the flagpole.
The scene took me back to all the other schools I have visited in China over the years. The same green tracksuits, the same flag, the same physical exercises...yi, er, san... one, two, three.
For Rachel and Daniel, three months in a Chinese primary school never got as traumatic as their dad's experience of 40 years ago From frozen north to tropical south, from rich seaboard to drought cursed hinterland, tens of millions of children all moving as one.
Watching that formidable regimentation is one kind of experience when you are a reporter and quite another when you are committing your own children to it.
"And every pupil must bring their own toilet paper." The deputy head was coming to the end of her lecture for new parents as we arrived at the door of the class.
The daughter I know as Rachel Gracie Cheng was introducing herself as "Cheng Rui".
Rui, auspicious, happy.
Daniel followed.
"Cheng Dan." Bright red. China's favourite colour of celebration.
Surrounded by strangers, they were not quite living up to their names. But when the 25 pairs of brown eyes turned to stare at Jin and me in the doorway, they broke into smiles and waves. Perhaps it was not going to be so bad after all.
Cultural Revolution
Rachel's nightmare did come to pass on day two though.
She had to stand up and admit that she could not understand the question she was being asked let alone answer it.

Tiananmen Square holds many memories of the RevolutionRachel and Daniel speak domestic Chinese at home in London, a vocabulary confined to food, sport and cartoons. The text about a great classical Chinese calligrapher was way above her head.
"The other children laughed behind their hands," she wept that afternoon when she got home.
When we had dried the tears, I told her the true story of her dad, Jin, aged eight.
The Cultural Revolution had just begun. Chairman Mao was worshipped as a jealous god. Jin's grandfathers had both been imprisoned because they had suspect foreign connections and too much education.
His grandmothers were beaten and his parents sent to the countryside to be re-educated. A story just like millions of others. But Jin made matters worse for himself by suggesting that as everyone could make mistakes, Chairman Mao might make mistakes too.
He was paraded in front of the school with the head teacher explaining that only a child from a very bad family background could make such wicked comments.
I explained to Rachel that her dad had chosen not to feel humiliated, that even at eight, life had become so surreal, so paradoxical it had forced him to separate his own judgment of himself from that of the world around him.
I did not tell her that her great grandmother had beaten Jin when he got home for bringing more shame on the family. But the story was already compelling enough to stop her crying. And when we caught up with Jin later, he had a practical suggestion.
If it happens again, you turn to your class and you say: "Little friends, if I spoke perfect Chinese I would not need to come all the way from London to learn. I hope you'll all help correct me when I make mistakes rather than laugh at me."
Exotic pets
For Rachel and Daniel, three months in a Chinese primary school never got as traumatic as their dad's experience of 40 years ago.
They stopped being treated like exotic pets and got told off themselves In fact it never got any worse than Rachel's moment of shame.
Now they both write Chinese characters and chant Tang dynasty poems. They have won red scarves and red stars for effort.
They got used to seeing teacher Song throwing books at their classmates. And they stopped being treated like exotic pets and got told off themselves. They learned to expect an uplifting moral at the end of every lesson. By the end of term, they belonged.
In fact the only grumble Rachel and Daniel have about school in China is the very same as the grumble they have about school in London.
And that is not enough to do at playtime.
Safety worries mean no climbing frames, and in the Beijing school no football even.
And what is the point of being seven and nine, after all, if you cannot hang upside down on the monkey bars or kick a ball around with friends?

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 29 July, 2006 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.



The arts go on show in Edinburgh.
By Charles Pamment BBC News.

Each August the population of Edinburgh swells as thousands of visitors take in a wealth of theatre, comedy, music, art and film in the Scottish capital.
Commonly referred to as "the Edinburgh festival", the annual celebration of the arts incorporates several different festivals.
Six of the key figures preview their programmes for this summer, and explain how their festivals have evolved.

One of the newest festivals, highlighting the visual arts

Audiences with award-winning poets, authors and writers

An array of comedy, theatre and music

New and classic movies, championing independent cinema

The best in classical music, ballet, theatre and opera

With musicians from around the world



Iran's role in crisis still murky.
By Mohammad Tabaar BBC World Service, Washington

Israel has deployed overwhelming force against Hezbollah. Since the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah erupted nearly two weeks ago, many pundits and US officials have blamed Iran for the crisis.
From the New York Times and Washington Post to Haaretz in Israel, commentators have warned of an Iranian trap to provoke Israel and the United States.
An American TV commentator called Iran "the spookiest country" and claimed that Iran "orchestrated the whole thing" in order to put pressure on the G8 summit and divert attention from Tehran's nuclear program.
But is it really an Iranian trap?
Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the situation was not that clear-cut.
Whenever we have tensions with Iran over an issue like Iraq or nuclear weapons, people tend to end up with very clear, decisive conspiracy theories," he said.
And, indeed, he argued Iran has been trying to exploit any opportunity against Israel.
However, he added, it was simply unrealistic to think "that Iran somehow controls Hezbollah, that Syria doesn't need to be considered, that Hezbollah has no decision-making authority or capability on its own".
Careful balance
For the past two weeks, Iranian leaders have trod a fine line, continuing to support Hezbollah strongly, yet also indicating that they are not seeking a direct military confrontation with Israel.
In a recent statement, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Israel had "pushed the button of its own destruction" by attacking Lebanon.

Iran's official statements tread a cautious lineHe has also warned that if Israel attacks Syria it will face "a staunch response" from the Muslim world.
Nevertheless, the chairman of Iran's military joint chiefs of staff, Maj Gen Sayyed Hassan Firuzabadi, said on Saturday that Iran would "never militarily" join the current Middle East fighting.
Israel's use of overwhelming force against targets in Lebanon during this conflict has led some experts to argue that the crisis was not set in motion by Iran but is, rather, a pre-emptive trap by Israel to ensnare Iran.
Trita Parsi, a Middle East specialist at the Johns Hopkins University, said that following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Israel sees Iran as its main strategic rival in the Middle East and is looking for an excuse to weaken its new geo-political enemy.
"Israel knows that it is now much stronger than Iran, but the current balance [of power] between Iran and Israel will probably shift in Iran's favour" if Tehran achieves nuclear capability - not even necessarily nuclear weapons - within the next few years, he said.
Mr Parsi contends that the current conflict could be seen as Israel's pre-emptive strike against Iran: "From Iran's perspective, it is better to confront Israel in the future. But from Israel's point of view, this can be seen as pre-emption."
Simple miscalculation?
Geoffrey Kemp, an international security expert at the Nixon Center, agreed that the Middle East balance of power played a role in the conflict, but said there were also larger issues involved.

Hezbollah's leader may not have expected such a response"I certainly believe that that's one item on Israel's agenda, but it is not the primary item," he said of the balance of power, but added that there was a more immediate objective for Israel.
"The real Israeli agenda is to defeat Hezbollah to the point where the Lebanese government can exercise control over its border."
That would weaken both Iran and Syria, he said.
"My view is that Hezbollah miscalculated. I do not believe that Sheikh Nasrallah had any idea the Israeli response would be as ferocious and intense as it has been."
But whether this latest conflict is an Iranian trap, Israeli pre-emption, or simply Hezbollah's miscalculation, there is one thing that is clear: The one who instigated this crisis is not necessarily the one who can control it - or put an end to it.


Former settlers return to Algeria
By John Laurenson BBC News, Algeria.

Some 30,000 former French settlers have returned to Algeria. The bitter war which ended with Algerian independence from France in 1962 is still blighting relations between the two countries 44 years later.
The Algerian president is boycotting September's summit of Francophone nations to press his demand for an apology for what he calls the "cultural genocide" his country suffered at the hands of French colonialists.
But an extraordinary reconciliation has been taking place. Former French settlers in Algeria are returning in their thousands to visit what many see as their home country.
Our correspondent joined a party of 130 former colonialists for their return to the eastern Algerian town of Bijaya, the port the French called Bougie.
Political baggage
Josiane, an imposing former schoolmistress with forearms like sandbags, came out of the terminal building into the white African sunshine and made a speech.
"This is where we come from! This land belongs to us all, it's all of ours! No-one can take that away from us! No-one!" she cried, breaking into tears.
A polite round of applause. A "Bravo Josiane". Everyone was a bit tired after the flight, not really up for this.
But as people carried on getting on the coaches, she started up again.
"We never should have left! We would have made Algeria the most beautiful country in Africa!"
From a round of applause to a ripple. What with the heat and everything, Josiane was getting a bit carried away.
Don't forget. They classed us as natives - inferior in our own country!
Colonial tourists, and their sometimes rather unusual items of political baggage, are returning - on package holidays to the past, to a time when they were young, and "Algerie" was "Francaise".
They are still only a fraction of the one million settlers who once lived in Algeria, but 30,000 have already come back since the Islamist insurgency died down three years ago.
Pierre, whose family was in Algeria for eight generations, is one of those people. He says he has been living like a hydroponic plant ever since - out of the soil. He wants to find his roots again and start his life anew.
Jocelyne is another, proud of her headmaster father who was so determined that his Algerian pupils should get good marks and good jobs. "And they did", she says, her eyes shining.
And Brigitte, whose mother cried every night when they arrived in France, was called a colonialist, an exploiter, though her father was a road mender and her mother a seamstress.
She felt so guilty about being a pied-noir ("black feet" - the name once given to French settlers in Algeria) she did not even admit it to her husband until years after they married.
"But here, people remember my family", she says. "They say we were good people. They say 'Welcome home!' Do you realise? 'Welcome home!'"
Cultural genocide
The mayor invites everyone to a grand Couscous Royal of reconciliation.
After sharing his national dish he tells me he is enchanted by his meeting his former townspeople.
They are very welcome and he hopes they will return often. And if anyone wants to invest, they are very welcome to.

There is a pro-French sentiment in the town.
The mayor is not one of your slick, modern politicians.
He is a meat importer by trade and his communications advisor fidgets nervously every time he opens his mouth.
But he is a loyal member of the FLN, the party that drove the French out of Algeria and has held power ever since.
I ask if it is not contradictory for his country to welcome the pied-noirs as long-lost sons when Algiers has just said French colonisation was "cultural genocide".
He thinks about it a bit then says he follows his president's line and agrees with what his president says.
"But not in a nasty way", he adds with a winning smile, "in a nice way".
Bad memories
In town, I walk past a huge statue of a fearsome National Liberation Army mujahideen.
Some 300,000 people lost their lives in the war, 90% of them Algerian.
Pro-independence fighters bombed, assassinated and massacred pied-noir civilians as well as soldiers; the French army tortured and summarily executed suspects.

Anne-Marie managed to find her old flat.
Abdelnaur says he would not want to prevent the pied-noirs coming back but: "Don't forget. They classed us as natives - inferior in our own country!"
Mourad agrees they bring back bad memories. "Of abuses?" "Yes."
What is he thinking of? He won't say. I press him. He cries. I let it go.
Anne-Marie wants to find the apartment her family had to abandon when they left.
We walk past a shoe-shop still called Le Chat Botté (Puss In Boots) and the Church of Saint Theresa that has since become a mosque.
A local asks her what she thinks of how her town has changed. "For the better, of course, for the better!"
He says nothing has changed for the better. Nothing at all. They are all smiles. I don't think either is saying what they really think. But these are the soothing lies of peace.
Bound together
Up three flights of stairs she rings her old doorbell.
A man answers. His wife and her sister are there too, and everyone is kissing everyone on the cheeks.
And "of course we can come in" and "please excuse the mess".
Anne-Marie is invited to look round. The old bed. The old mirror. Out on the balcony she admires the view then points to the steps below.
"A surgeon we knew was assassinated here. His body was right there."
Inside, the master of the house says it is time to turn the page.
Despite everything that happened, Algeria and France are still bound together.
Algeria has inherited from French civilisation and is still economically dependent on France and the Algerian immigrants living there. Everybody agrees. We drink our orange squash. It is time to go.
From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 29 July, 2006 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.


Cracks emerge in Darfur peace deal.
By Jonah Fisher BBC News, Sudan.

This week President Bush met Minni Minnawi, one of the rebel leaders from Darfur in western Sudan. Mr Minnawi is the only rebel leader there who has signed up to a peace deal, but there are fears that this has made matters worse in the region. President Bush urged Mr Minnawi to build support for peace.

As the sun beats down on Darfur's dry flat desert, the order goes out from a leader to his men: "Solve lora infernis, unleash hell! We will not tolerate this any more."
These men are not the Janjaweed - the feared militia backed by the Khartoum government and responsible for the worst atrocities of this war. A hundred thousand people have died and two million have been displaced.
They are not the Darfur rebels either - a sprawling mess of armed groups who have targeted aid workers and food convoys.
No, this is the African Union (AU) - the organisation sent to bring peace to Sudan's far west.
Barking out the orders is a man who would not be out of place in a Hollywood film - South African sector commander Richard Lourens.
A veteran of wars in Angola and Namibia, he is not a man who takes failure well.
Sporting a closely trimmed black beard and a macho swagger, he has been in Darfur just a few months but he has had enough of being pushed around in this messy conflict.
Large parts of the surrounding desert are off limits to his patrols and twice in the past two weeks Colonel Lourens' men have suffered the ultimate military humiliation.
Stopped by rebels on a road, the South African soldiers handed over their weapons and vehicles without a shot being fired. Some 45 machine guns and four vehicles were taken.
Traumatised population
As Colonel Lourens reads the riot act, the man at the centre of Darfur's confusion is being acclaimed in Washington as a peacemaker.
For Minni Minnawi, a photo opportunity with President Bush is his reward for bowing to international pressure and signing an African Union-sponsored peace agreement with the Sudanese government.
The problem is that Mr Minnawi's signature has made the situation in Darfur worse, not better.

SLA forces are dividing along tribal lines
A former primary school teacher, Mr Minnawi leads his own faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) - the only rebel group in Darfur to have agreed terms with the Khartoum government.
But the deal has done little for the region's traumatised population and new rebel alliances spring up every few days.
The one positive note is that fighting has now stopped between Mr Minnawi's rebel faction and the Sudanese government.
But with both hands now free he has been able to devote his full attention to what had previously only been a side issue - attacking rival rebel leaders and their supporters.
In one of the African Union camps I spoke to a West African commander. He loaded a detailed map on to his laptop.
"This town is Korma," he said.
Korma and the surrounding villages are dominated by a tribe loyal to SLM Wahid, a rebel group which is opposed to Mr Minnawi and outside the peace agreement.
Taking me through events in meticulous detail, the commander explained how Mr Minnawi's rebels spent the first few days of July clearing villages of people en route to capturing Korma.
At least 80 people had been killed, he said, 18,000 fled for their lives.
"This was ethnic cleansing," he told me. Remaining villagers were being shot on sight, and he said he had seen pictures of two mass graves.
'Part of the problem'
Mr Minnawi's violence has left the African Union humiliated and deeply compromised. When the deal was signed the AU had welcomed him with open arms.
The rebel leader stays inside AU headquarters, eats AU food and his men drive, and on some occasions crash, AU cars. Atrocities have been brushed under the carpet and when Mr Minnawi wants to go into the field, an African Union helicopter is made available to fly him there.

Who are Darfur's rebels?

The men of the African Union went to Darfur to help protect its displaced people. Now they are seen as part of the problem: on the side of the Sudanese government and of Minni Minnawi. They are not welcome in many of the camps they are supposed to be protecting and despite the best efforts of people like Colonel Lourens, their men are demoralised.
Western donors have seen enough.
They want the AU's troubled mission to be replaced by a United Nations force.
President Bush apparently made his support for this proposal clear to Mr Minnawi when the two men met at the White House on Tuesday. But the Sudanese government firmly opposes it. A holy war will greet any western invading force, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has declared.
So now it seems the AU will stay here in Darfur at least until the end of the year.
A donor conference was held so they could ask for funds to beef up their operations and try to implement fully the peace deal.
The response was lukewarm. They were given only half the money they needed - just enough to continue stumbling along their current path.
Having pushed a partial peace deal onto Darfur the world seems to be walking away from a mess it helped to create.
Out in the desert again, Colonel Laurens is speaking to his men.
"Enough is enough," he shouts.
"We came here to be friends with our African brothers, but that's over. If they raise their weapons at you again - kill them."


From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 29 July, 2006 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4.
Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Feeding time!

My creation
Originally uploaded by Mara 1.

Namibia Cheetah ~Research~Namibia has the largest concentration of Cheetahs in Africa.

But the actual numbers are not so certain, and research is going on to find out if the numbers are on the decline, which is probable, or on the increase. Maybe the numbers have remained static.I was told that should the numbers have increased, then the Government would increase the number of Hunting Permits allowed on this magnificant Cat, so that Tourists - Hunters (Sic) would be permitted to shoot more of them per year.


Living under the paparazzi's gaze
By Kevin Young Entertainment reporter, BBC News.

Paparazzi are regular fixtures at premieres, seeking pictures of starsSinger George Michael has said he intends to sue two photographers for harassment after he was pictured searching for "no-strings" sex in a park in London.
He claimed in a BBC interview that he suspected two newspapers of paying the pair to follow him for "the best part of six months".
But is this level of attention something a celebrity should expect?
"It's not the norm, but it's happening more now than ever before", says Max Clifford.
He is perhaps the UK's best-known publicist, having spent his career setting up - and suppressing - stories involving figures in the public eye.
These days there were "more and more" paparazzi, he claimed, because "anybody who has access to a camera" could sell images to the press.

If you're craving it and always trying to get it, you can't complain if they're following you around - Publicist Max Clifford.
He says he felt sorry for the former Wham! singer because "he's far more sinned-against than sinner".
"It's been many, many years since he played the paparazzi PR game", Clifford says.
He has far more sympathy for George Michael than for the Beckhams because Victoria Beckham is "always using and working the publicity machine", he adds.
'It's a pain'
But while Michael says he "should not have to worry about who's watching me at 2.30 in the morning", actor Colin Farrell says he accepts the attention he receives as a celebrity.
"Yes, it's a pain, and have I ever wanted to punch a paparazzi? Sure. But the pros outweigh the cons," he told the BBC News website.
However, although some stars complain about being photographed illicitly, they are not necessarily blameless, according to one leading editor.
"Some celebrities are in on the game and are taking half the money for these paparazzi shots," claims Jane Ennis of British magazine Now.

Michael denied recent news stories had caused a rift with his partner"There are some celebrities who are in devils' deals because they know the shots will fetch a lot of money - so they're on holiday and they take their tops off.
"The paparazzi photographer takes the shots from some distance away and the two of them share the money."
Some celebrities do this to maintain their profiles, Ennis says, although she stresses this was not the case for Michael.
"Some of them haven't done anything of any talent or ability for years," she says.
"They're kept alive by behaving outrageously, getting photographed and those shots appearing in the papers."
Moves have been taken to protect people in California from paparazzi who are felt to have overstepped the mark.
Photographers who commit assault while chasing celebrities face large fines under laws introduced by the state's governor - and former film star - Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In the past 18 months, there have been several accidents involving celebrities who were being followed by photographers.

The public are more interested in the reality of people's lives and the unofficial take on their lives
Jane Ennis, Now magazine
Actress Lindsay Lohan was cut and bruised after a photographer's van collided with her car, although he was cleared of any charges.
Lost in Translation star Scarlett Johansson had a minor crash while allegedly being followed by paparazzi.
Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon claimed she was once chased by photographers who were trying to force her from the road.
And singer Britney Spears was reported as saying her fear of "reckless" paparazzi prevented her from taking her baby son out in public.
'Deeply saddened'
Perhaps the most famous case of all was the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.
Three photographers were convicted of breaching French privacy laws for taking pictures of her on the night she was killed in a car crash in Paris.
Earlier this month, Princes William and Harry said they were "deeply saddened" that Italian magazine Chi had printed a photo of their mother as she lay dying.
However, there seems little chance that demand for such "off-guard" photographs will decline.
"The public are more interested in the reality of people's lives and the unofficial take on their lives than they are in the stuff that celebrities and their publicists like to feed out," says Ennis, whose magazine sells almost 600,000 copies per week.
And Clifford added that stars who sought publicity could not protest about the paparazzi.
"If you're craving it and always trying to get it, you can't complain if they're following you around," he said.


Dear Family and Friends,

Parliament re-opened on Tuesday this week but all attempts to watch the full event on state run TV were in vain. There was a power cut just a few minutes after the special repeat broadcast began and the night went dark and quiet - again. Those few brief minutes however had been more than enough to raise eyebrows. A number of "cultural reforms" have been undertaken by Zimbabwe's parliament which now resembles a safari lodge. A stuffed leopard and two antelope heads hang on the walls and a leopard skin adorns the ceremonial chair used by Mr Mugabe. Two enormous elephant tusks now frame the Presidential chair and it was between these two great teeth that Mr Mugabe stood to address the House. Near him sat Mrs Mugabe on a high backed green leather chair which had been carefully placed on a striking zebra skin. Hardly had these images registered and before the speech began, the electricity went off.

The images of our leaders sitting amongst elephants and kudu, zebra and leopard are particularly ironic now as the country plunges back in time and people ravage the environment in order to survive. Our lavishly decorated safari parliament is about as far away from the reality of life in Zimbabwe as you can possibly imagine.

Every morning the sound in urban and rural Zimbabwe is that of woodchopping. All day every day you see lines of women walking with bundles of great long tree branches balanced on their heads and men with hand carts and wheel barrows piled high with newly chopped indigenous wood. All day, every day and in every direction you see smoke. Some is from urban householders cooking outside on open fires. More is from incessant uncontrolled fires streaming across the horizon, consuming everything in their path. Seeing the massive amount of wood collecting and looking at horizons permanently smudged with smoke, you cannot help but wonder how Zimbabwe's wildlife can possibly survive this unrelenting attack on the environment. Grass for grazers is reduced to ash, leaves for browsers is burnt out and trees for shade, shelter and habitat are felled. Undoubtedly the abundance and variety of birds, reptiles, mammals and insects is under severe threat as the assault on our envirnoment continues unchecked.

The reality of life in Zimbabwe has been shocking in the last week. In my home area the electricity was cut for over 29 working hours during the week. The price of a loaf of bread shot up from one to two hundred thousand dollars overnight. The foreign currency rate soared on the blackmarket with one British Pound selling for one million Zimbabwe dollars.
Appreciating cultural reforms of elephant tusks and leopard skins is aworld away from bread we can't afford, bills we can't pay and hours and hours on end when we cannot work or conduct our business as the electricity is off. Reality in Zimbabwe draws ever further away. Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

29 July 2006 Copyright cathybuckle My books "African Tears" and"Beyond Tears" are available from: ;


The Africans risked a perilous crossing to reach Spain. Four Africans have been found dead in a small open boat packed with migrants, intercepted off the Canary Islands.
The Spanish authorities said the boat, carrying 26 other migrants, was escorted to a port on Tenerife.
Boats carrying almost 300 people have been intercepted off the Canary Islands in the past 24 hours, officials say.
The Spanish government says more than 11,000 Africans have made the perilous crossing to the Canaries this year - already double the total for 2005.
Spain and Malta are struggling to cope with an influx of migrants from Africa.
The European Union plans to launch maritime patrols around the Canaries and along the West African coast to help limit the flow of migrants.


Friday, July 28, 2006


Kabila's Kinshasa rally will conclude his campaign. Thousands have gathered in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as President Joseph Kabila returns for a last election rally.
Campaigning is prohibited on Saturday, with voting to start on Sunday.
The elections will be DR Congo's first democratic polls in more than 40 years, and are the culmination of a process aimed at ending a long civil war.
Armed opposition supporters clashed with government security forces on Thursday, and reportedly on Friday. On Friday, crowds gathered at Kinshasa airport and lined the road into the city as Mr Kabila arrived and made his way towards the stadium.

33 presidential candidates
9,707 parliamentary candidates
25.6m voters

Reporters' log
The mood was that of a visit by a head of state rather than by an election candidate, the BBC's Arnaud Zajtman reports.
Mr Kabila's arrival was more orderly, but also less well-attended, than was the case when opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba arrived in the city on Thursday.
Security forces, including anti-riot police and the presidential guard were deployed along the way, as Mr Kabila's route to the stadium took him through opposition stronghold districts, our correspondent says.
An official in the RCD, the party of presidential candidate Azarias Ruberwa, told the BBC that a soldier in Mr Ruberwa's entourage had been killed and two others wounded in a clash with Mr Kabila's security forces as the two groups met on the way to their respective rallies.
Correspondents say the incident, as well as Thursday's clash between Mr Bemba's troops and the police, highlights the problem of former rebel leaders who have now become presidential candidates still being able to muster their own troops.
An estimated 10,000 people have gathered at the stadium where Mr Kabila is due to speak, the BBC's Mark Doyle says.
There was also lively campaigning in the southern city of Lubumbashi on Friday, with party supporters carrying placards and playing Congolese dance music through loudspeakers, the BBC's Joseph Winter reports.

At least four people were killed in Kinshasa on Thursday: two babies who died when Mr Bemba's bodyguards' compound was set alight, and two police who died in clashes with Mr Bemba's supporters.
UN envoy Ross Mountain expressed confidence that the polls would be a success.
He said that while Thursday's deaths were tragic, the Bemba rally had not sparked a major confrontation.
"The security forces played a proper, professional role," he told reporters in Kinshasa on Friday. "We were tested I think yesterday, and I believe the Congolese authorities and the Congolese leaders came through that test."
In the east of the country, the leader of South Africa's observer mission, Minister Mlueki George, has expressed concern that police had not yet received riot gear for crowd control nor motor vehicles in the volatile North Kivu province.
Over 25m voters are registered for the presidential and parliamentary vote.
The United Nations has about 17,000 soldiers - its biggest peacekeeping mission in the world - deployed to ensure order.
Before the violence in the capital, one of the last obstacles to Sunday's election was removed on Wednesday when the three main militia groups in the troubled eastern province of Ituri agreed to lay down arms.


Thursday, July 27, 2006


South African media have leapt onto reports - later denied - that trade unionist turned businessman Cyril Ramaphosa was back in the running to lead the ANC and perhaps the country. South African writer William M Gumede examines where Mr Ramaphosa fits into the race to succeed Thabo Mbeki.
When South African business tycoon Cyril Ramaphosa steps out in public, he is often besieged by South Africans of all colours and political stripes - ANC supporters and opponents alike.


Chairman of Shanduka Group
Market influence estimated $20bn
Major player in resources, energy, property, financial services
Leading black economic empowerment company
Shanduka Foundation has pledged $15m in social investment. Most of them have only one question: is he going to make himself available as a candidate for the presidency of the ANC next year, and, if he wins, the leadership of the country in 2009?
He usually brandishes his trademark warm laugh, and replies: "But I'm quite happy doing what I'm doing" - meaning business.

This week, he dismissed Sunday newspaper reports that he had put his name forward as a presidential successor.
But the possibility of a President Ramaphosa has been on the cards for as long as South Africa has been a democracy.
Shortly after Nelson Mandela became president in 1994, he recommended to the ANC inner circle that his presidential successor should be Cyril Ramaphosa.
The suggestion was declined. The group of former exiles who were then very powerful in the party were adamant that Mr Mandela's successor be drawn from among them.
They insisted on Thabo Mbeki, the heir named by former ANC leader-in-exile Oliver Tambo on his deathbed.

Ramaphosa was Nelson Mandela's first choice as successorMr Mandela then proposed constitutional amendments that would see Mr Ramaphosa - who cut his teeth in the domestic wing of the ANC - becoming the prime minister under an Mbeki presidency.
But Mr Mbeki and his supporters did not want a serious rival so close to the throne.
'I'll be back'
The result was that Mr Ramaphosa left politics for business, to the disappointment of Mr Mandela and his legions of supporters.
In parting, a visibly sad Nelson Mandela, said Mr Ramaphosa was still young (he is now 53) and could still succeed Mr Mbeki.
Mr Ramaphosa then promised he would be back in 10 years. Those 10 years have now passed.
Mr Ramaphosa was the ANC's chief negotiator during the constitutional negotiations with the National Party government that brought legal apartheid to an end.
He was also the architect of South Africa's constitution-making process.

Thabo Mbeki's presidential term ends in 2009He cut his teeth in the trade union movement, where he was general secretary of the biggest and richest trade union in Africa, the National Union of Mineworkers.
He has remained a member of the ANC's highest decision making body, its national executive committee.
In 2001, Mr Mbeki accused him and two other ANC grandees and Mbeki rivals, Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa, of plotting to oust him as president.
Following the fallout - and a subsequent apology from Mr Mbeki - Mr Ramaphosa and Mr Mbeki struck a secret pact.
Part of the pact, according to close associates of both men, was that Mr Mbeki would not stand in Mr Ramaphosa's way, if he decides to stand as a candidate to succeed the president.
Leadership style
The irony is that Mr Ramaphosa, despite his early bitter fallout with Mbeki over who should succeed Mr Mandela, shares the same economic and social policy views as Mr Mbeki, although he has a more inclusive, participatory and warmer leadership style.
Mr Ramaphosa has gone out of his way to endorse Mbeki's economic policies, although he has been critical of his unorthodox views on the causes of Aids and his quiet diplomatic approach to the problems in Zimbabwe.
However, Mr Ramaphosa's main obstacle will be to overcome negative perceptions that black economic empowerment, of which he is a major beneficiary, has only empowered a small elite who rarely plough their newly-found riches back into their communities.

Ramaphosa made his name as a trade union leaderHis insistence this week that he was not interested in the ANC presidency should not be taken as a definite "no".
Mr Mbeki said the same thing just before he became president.
And if you asked Jacob Zuma if he was interested in becoming president of the ANC, he would also say no - despite the fact that he is running a very public campaign for the position, backed by some powerful factions within the ANC and its allies.
Even current Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka - Mr Mbeki's protégé and the woman he desperately wants to succeed him - says she is not interested in the top job.
To get ahead in the ANC, one does not openly state one's ambitions, but rather feigns humility.
Compromise candidate?
However, historically the ANC presidential election has usually only been decided at the conference itself, with Mr Mbeki's election being the main exception to the rule.
Mr Ramaphosa, as one of the ANC's most accomplished strategists, knows that.
It does appear that the "leak" to South African newspapers over the weekend about Mr Ramaphosa's entry into the presidential succession race, is likely to have come from his opponents, who want to draw him into the rough and tumble of the race sooner rather than later.

Zuma's divisive campaign tactics could backfireThis way, they hope that by the ANC's conference in December 2007, the glitter would have gone out of his campaign.
It appears that ANC members - even some of those who support Mr Zuma - increasingly accept that a Zuma presidency could tear the ANC apart, and potentially lead to the break-up of Africa's oldest liberation movement.
Something similar happened to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in 1997: she was popular, but ANC grassroots members feared her ascendancy would cause even more division and she lost out.
Indeed, judging by the divisions already caused by Mr Zuma's presidential campaign, he is unlikely to be able to unite the ANC, let alone build confidence in South Africa, at the moment when the country has finally reached economic take-off.
Come the ANC's December 2007 conference, members will most likely want to opt for a compromise candidate, who has not been part of the acrimony, smears and mudslinging that have accompanied Mr Zuma's attempts to stake his claim.
Cyril Ramaphosa, as astute as he is, probably knows that.
William M Gumede is author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC.



Electronic waste is the fastest growing form of rubbish in the EU. Producers and importers of electronic goods will become responsible for their recycling from July 2007, the UK government has announced.
Ministers said the introduction of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive would ease the growing problem of e-waste.
The legislation was introduced in every EU nation last summer, apart from the UK and Malta.
The new date was confirmed at a launch of a consultation on the measures.
Speaking at the launch, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) minister Malcolm Wicks said: "Electrical equipment is the fastest growing category of rubbish across the European Union, and the UK alone is now generating about one million tonnes of the stuff every year."
'Major difficulties'
The WEEE directive is intended to minimise the impacts of electrical and electronic devices on the environment during their life time and when they are thrown away.
Under its measures, producers will have to finance the treatment and recycling of equipment, and retailers will have an obligation to offer take-back services to consumers.
WEEE was originally planned to come into force in August last year, but the government delayed its implementation citing "major difficulties".
While many manufacturers had taken steps to make their products recyclable, problems surrounded the legacy of goods made or sold before 2005.
Mr Wicks said he hoped the confirmation of the July 2007 date would help those affected by the plans.
"In announcing full producer responsibility, I want to provide those businesses who have yet to take up their obligation with the certainty they need to plan for implementation," Mr Wicks added.
The Environment Agency, which will be responsible for overseeing the measures, welcomed the announcement.
The government have gone about implementing this directive in a thoroughly shambolic way
Alan Duncan, Conservative trade and industry spokesman
"The regulations will lead to less waste going to landfills and more materials being made available for recycling," said the agency's head of waste regulations, Liz Parkes.
"We have been preparing in anticipation of our role and have been gearing up to handle the registration of producers of WEEE in line with DTI proposals."
'Longest WEEE in history'
Peter Robinson from campaign group Waste Watch said it was good that a date was set for the much-delayed directive.
"We are pleased it is finally coming into force, and after all the delays it is better it is late rather than a bad piece of legislation."
The Conservative trade and industry spokesman, Alan Duncan was less complimentary, describing it as the "longest WEEE in history".
"After five consultations, a review and three years of delays the government is today launching yet another consultation on how best to put this directive into UK law," Mr Duncan said.
"The government have gone about implementing this directive in a thoroughly shambolic way."
The government's consultation on the key proposals will run until October, ahead of the measures becoming law in December, with full producer responsibility being introduced from 1 July 2007.



The Meadows in Edinburgh was one area basking in the sunshine. Experts have issued safety advice as Scotland continues to swelter in the summer heatwave.
Temperatures nudged 30C this week, with Aberdeen experiencing its hottest day since records began.
Scotland's chief medical officer has advised people to drink plenty of water and stay out of the sun at the hottest times of the day.
The RNLI has warned people of the dangers of using inflatables in the water off Scotland's coast.
Colin Millar, of Troon lifeboat team, said: "We've rescued many children who have been swept out to sea due to the offshore winds.
"Lilos may be fun in the swimming pool but they are not safe on the sea.
Swimming pool
"If you see someone on a lilo being swept out to sea, don't go after them, ring 999 or 112 immediately."
Thousands of people flocked to the beach in Aberdeen on Monday as temperatures reached 29.8C.
More than 1,100 people visited the open air swimming pool in nearby Stonehaven, giving the attraction its busiest day for decades.
Mary Mitchell, the chairwoman of the Friends of the Pool, said: "It's a long time since I remember it being so busy, I'd have to go back to the 1970s I think."
The area was cooler on Tuesday, with temperatures falling to 19.5C.

Temperatures have been rising in the south of Scotland
However, the south and west of the country continued to see high temperatures.
Prestwick Airport reached 28C at noon, while there were figures of 26.9C at Threave in Dumfriesshire, 26C in Glasgow and 22C in Edinburgh.
With the hot spell set to continue, Chief Medical Officer Dr Harry Burns issued advice about being safe in the sun.
"The most important thing to remember in hot weather is to keep properly hydrated by drinking lots of water," he said.
"The public should be sun aware and should avoid sitting in direct sunshine between 1200 BST and 1500 BST, when the sun is at its hottest.
"You should stay cool by using fans or sitting in the shade and if you are going to be in the sun, you should use UVA protective lotions and wear a hat."



Leaders uneasy over Iraq's future.
By Jamie Coomarasamy BBC News, Washington

Both leaders seemed unsure about who should answer questions. Neither man talked about failure, nor were they likely to, but that was the subtext to the meeting between US President George W Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.
The security operation in Baghdad, which the Iraqi leader launched six weeks ago - and which Mr Bush had endorsed during his unannounced visit to the Iraqi capital last month - has not produced results.
Or, more accurately, it has produced the wrong ones.
The upsurge in sectarian violence which has coincided with the crackdown, has seen the Iraqi civilian death toll rise to about 100 per day.
The US military estimates that there have been 40% more major attacks in Baghdad in July, than in previous months.
It has all led a sombre-looking President Bush to approve what a White House official has called the "reshufflement" of American troops in Iraq; essentially, beefing up their numbers in Baghdad.
The scale and timing of the redeployment were not revealed during the White House news conference, although the president's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, later gave some details of the new security plan, which he described as taking a "more neighbourhood-to-neighbourhood approach".
What the joint news conference did seem to do, though, was shed light on the president's state of mind and on his developing relationship with Mr Maliki, a Shia politician, who is - at once - Iraq's first democratically elected prime minister and - for some - America's last hope for achieving a stable democracy.

There have been an increasing number of attacks and killings
In Baghdad last month, it was Mr Bush, the guest, who seemed to be calling the shots.
His trip there was a political, diplomatic and security event, with his host apparently unaware of his arrival, until five minutes before the US president appeared on his doorstep.
On home territory, though, at a scheduled news conference, Mr Bush looked strangely ill-at-ease.
Although he was both welcoming and supportive of Mr Maliki, he was not his usual forceful self; often speaking away from the microphone, as if to betray a lack of confidence in the message.
'Terrible' violence
Whether or not this reflects a sense of pessimism in the White House, it is certainly consistent with the growing mood of realism that's been on display over the past few weeks.
You could hear that in the president's description of the violence in Baghdad as "terrible" and in the care he took to say that Mr al-Maliki had called for US troops to stay in the region.
There was none of the usual talk of American troops standing down as Iraqi troops stand up. In the current crisis, everyone is forced to stand together.
At least, that is true for Iraq. It would have been impossible to paper over the splits between the two leaders over Lebanon and, so, they didn't really try to.

Security plans to rein in the violence have failed so far.
President Bush stressed America's commitment to providing Lebanese civilians with humanitarian assistance, but he and his guest avoided answering such awkward questions as "What was Iraq's view of Hezbollah?"
It all made for a rather awkward occasion. At one point there was an almost comic back and forth between the two leaders over who should answer a question - not helped by the translator's delay.
And, even at the very end of the news conference, when the two men were walking away, there was another potentially embarrassing moment.
The Iraqi prime minister had only gone a few steps, when he spun around and strode back to the lectern. Was he so determined to have the last word, that he would make such an obvious breach of diplomatic protocol?
No. He had simply forgotten his notes.



Presidents escape Liberia blaze

The fire broke out during independence anniversary celebrations. A fire has broken out in Liberia's presidential offices as President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was about to host a gathering of visiting presidents.
Firefighters had managed to put out the blaze at the Executive Mansion by late Wednesday afternoon, the BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh reports from Monrovia.
The leaders of Ghana, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone were there when the fire broke out, but escaped unharmed.
No injuries are reported but the blaze marred independence day celebrations.
Officials have not yet stated what caused the fire, which began on the fourth floor of the building, where the president's office is situated.
They say the incident will be investigated.
The blaze came just after the president switched on generator-powered street lights in the capital, Monrovia, which has lacked electricity for 15 years.
On Tuesday, piped water was made available in the capital for the first time in many years.
Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf had promised to bring electricity to the whole of Monrovia within six months of assuming office in January.
Ghana's President John Kufour joined her to switch on the street lights in Congo Town, an eastern suburb of Monrovia on Wednesday morning.

Liberia switches on street lights

Ghanaian technicians have helped install the street lights for the event, and the generators and poles came from Ghana.
"Ghana is proud to have been able to render this support to you and your nation," Mr Kufour said to Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf.
"As lights dispel darkness, so with the restoration of power to Liberia the period of gloom and darkness engendered by political turmoil must come to an end," he continued.
As Liberia celebrates 159 years of independence, every effort was being made to ensure visible signs that life in the capital is improving, our correspondent says.
In another landmark event, parts of the capital got access to pumped water for the first time in 15 years on Tuesday.
But after decades of misrule, Liberia's road network is still in ruins, an there is no national telephone network and no national electricity grid.
Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf won presidential elections last year that ended a brutal 14-year civil war and promised to rebuild the resource-rich country.
President Johnson-Sirleaf admitted that she had expected to do more by this stage, but contracts and plans already in place were difficult to change.
Low fee
Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf led an array of officials to the densely populated Fiamah community of Monrovia for the water supply launch late on Tuesday.

The water will supply greater Monrovia and the east of the city.
"I just want to say how proud we are. This was done by a full Liberian team," the president said.
She was told that 30% of the city's water needs had been addressed so far.
The water will flow from there to greater Monrovia and at least two large communities in the east of the capital.
The country's water treatment plant outside Monrovia was destroyed during the civil war that ended an 2003 when in interim government came into power.
Since then there has been serious renovation work on the main 36-inch pipe that supplied greater Monrovia before the war.



Fans say goodbye to Top of the Pops
By Mark Savage BBC News entertainment reporter

Former Radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis was one of the presenters. As the audience queued to get into the final recording of Top of the Pops there was something of a buzz in the air.
Several people were dressed as their favourite pop stars, and Axl Rose rubbed shoulders with Nana Mouskouri for possibly the first and last time.
As the crowd entered the studio, decorated with logos from the past 42 years of the BBC pop programme, the excitement only grew.
The question of the evening: Which bands would be appearing?
The tickets promised "surprise guests" and excited fans speculated they might see Robbie Williams, McFly or even The Rolling Stones - closing the show in the same way they had opened it 42 years earlier.
In the end, they were to be disappointed.
The last ever Top of the Pops will be constructed from archive performances, and on Wednesday the producers were merely recording the links between those clips.
I haven't had so much fun since 1947!
Tony BlackburnHowever, the crowd seemed to take it in their stride, screaming for the cameras and singing along to a video of Sonny and Cher performing I Got You Babe.
There was also excitement at seeing an array of presenters from the programme's history.
Trading insults
Sir Jimmy Savile, Janice Long, Dave Lee Travis and Tony Blackburn were back on the Top of the Pops stage alongside more recent presenters such as Sarah Cawood and Reggie Yates.
The guest presenters helped to keep the audience in high spirits, exchanging banter with the crowd and trading insults with one another.

Fans dressed up as their favourite pop stars for the recordingAt times it felt like a Radio 1 roadshow, as Sir Jimmy asked all the single women in the room to raise their hands.
"I haven't had so much fun since 1947," exclaimed Tony Blackburn later in the recording.
Others were less enthusiastic. "My hair was black when we started this," remarked the greying Dave Lee Travis.
However, there was an air of nostalgia in the studio as classic moments from Top of the Pops history were played out on the studio's big screens.
"It was sort of a trip down memory lane," said Paul Cooksley, 34, who was in the audience for the 44th and final time.
"Watching some of the clips they were showing, I spotted some of the shows I'd been to in the past."
Shiny disco balls
Many of the elements that made Top of the Pops an institution in the 1970s were brought back for the programme's finale.
The whole atmosphere at the end was quite sad
Paul CooksleyTop of the Pops fanA gigantic glitter ball hung from the ceiling, dry ice flooded the stage, and Pan's People made a fleeting appearance.
The audience, as ever, pushed and shoved for a spot beside the presenters in the hope of being seen back home on television.
Those with deeley boppers, crazy wigs and short skirts got manoeuvred to the front by the show's ever-attentive floor managers.
After a marathon two-and-a-half hours, fireworks exploded and balloons dropped from the ceiling as the presenters read their final link.
"Perhaps we should say 'see you next week'," joked Mike Read.

Paul Deacon, 44, came dressed as Sir Jimmy Savile. But, as the studio lights went out, the carnival atmosphere gave way to a more sombre mood.
The hosts huddled together to wonder whether the show would ever come back, while the production team took photographs of each other on the set for the last time.
"The whole atmosphere at the end was quite sad, because everyone realised that that was it," said Mr Cooksley.
"It was obviously the end of an era and it was just really, really sad to have that brought to a close."
"In 20 years time we can say 'I was there'," said another audience member as they left the studio to the strains of Queen's We Are The Champions.
But it was the song playing in the BBC's audience foyer, Coldplay's The Scientist, that best summed up the evening.
"No-one said it was easy," sang Chris Martin.
"No-one ever said it would be this hard."


Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Liberia switches on street lights.
By Jonathan Paye-Layleh BBC News, Monrovia

The street lamps will be powered by generatorsLiberian leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has switched on generator-powered street lights in the capital, which has been without electricity for 15 years. She had promised to bring electricity to the whole of Monrovia within six months of assuming office in January. "When I made this commitment... I was an outsider looking in," she said.

As Liberia celebrates 159 years of independence, every effort is being made to ensure visible signs that life in the capital is improving. On Tuesday, tapped water became available in the war-torn capital. But after decades of misrule, Liberia's road network is still in ruins, an there is no national telephone network and no national electricity grid.

Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf won presidential elections last year that ended a brutal 14-year civil war and promised to rebuild the resource-rich country. President Johnson-Sirleaf admitted that she had expected to do more by this stage, but contracts and plans already in place were difficult to change.

Ghana's President John Kufour joined her to switch on the street lights in Congo Town, an eastern suburb of Monrovia on Wednesday morning. Ghanaian technicians have helped install the street lights for the event, and the generators and poles came from Ghana. "Ghana is proud to have been able to render this support to you and your nation," Mr Kufour said to Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf. "As lights dispel darkness, so with the restoration of power to Liberia the period of gloom and darkness engendered by political turmoil must come to an end," he continued.
In another landmark event, parts of the capital got access to pumped water for the first time in 15 years on Wednesday. The water will supply greater Monrovia and the east of the city.Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf led an array of officials to the densely populated Fiamah community of Monrovia for the launch late on Tuesday. "I just want to say how proud we are. This was done by a full Liberian team," the president said.

She was told that 30% of the city's water needs had been addressed so far. The water will flow from there to greater Monrovia and at least two large communities in the east of the capital. The president was clearly impressed by what she saw and waved to a crowd, mainly made up of local children. For a low fee residents and businesses in coverage areas can now apply to be connected to mains water. Those who cannot afford this can rely on 23 strategically placed stand pipes, eight of which have already been installed.

After years of neglect, the vast majority of the city's underground pipes were dilapidated. The country's water treatment plant outside Monrovia was destroyed during the civil war that ended in 2003 when in interim government came into power. Since then there has been serious renovation work on the main 36-inch pipe that supplied greater Monrovia before the war. In one area near the site of the launch, a group of children watched a water technician struggle to mend a rusty pipe.

Managing Director of the Liberia Water Corporation Hun-bu Tulay insisted that the water was safe from impurities. "The water meets WHO (World Health Organization) standards; that's the highest standard any water treatment can meet," he said.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Minni Minnawi, a former teacher, leads the largest rebel faction. US President George Bush is due to hold talks in Washington with the leader of the main rebel group in western Sudan's Darfur region, Minni Minnawi. Mr Minnawi heads the SLA, which was the only rebel organisation to sign a peace deal with Sudan's government in May. The talks are intended to show US support for the peace deal and the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force in war-torn Darfur.

Some 2m people have fled their homes in Darfur and violence continues.

Who are Darfur's rebels?

Two other Darfur rebel groups refused to sign up to the peace deal saying the terms were inadequate.

The Sudanese government remains strongly opposed to the idea of a UN force replacing the current African Union force, which is seen as too small and too poorly funded to be effective. Darfur has been in the grip of violence since the rebellion was launched three and a half years ago.

While the peace agreement has had an effect in some areas, the UN says that fighting between the rival rebel factions is bringing renewed violence.


Bleak future for Congo's child soldiers.
By Karen Allen BBC News, Masisi, Democratic Republic of Congo

Innocent was abducted when he was 10 years old.But the boy in the baggy green uniform, eyeing us up suspiciously as we move through the village, represents one of the Democratic Republic of Congo's ugliest of legacies - the use of child soldiers. Estimates put the number at 30,000. Easy to train and even easier to hide, these children are too young to vote but old enough to carry a gun. With historic elections just around the corner, these boys and girls - a third of those recruited are young girls - represent the enormous challenge that lies ahead, to stabilise a region that's long been rebel territory.

Many militia groups have nothing to gain from these elections and uncertainty about the future is making it harder to persuade them to surrender the young back to the community. Only last month a minibus was ambushed as it tried to take demobilised youngsters home; some of the victims of that incident are now in hiding.

In Masisi, in eastern DR Congo's north Kivu region, a range of militia, including remnants of Rwanda's Hutu patrol the hills around here and despite the presence of UN peacekeepers, the recruitment of children into armed groups continues with impunity. Most of the children who have swollen the ranks of the militia and the fragmented Congolese army have been abducted from their villages. Ndungutsa was taken when he was just 13 years old, forced to make a choice between the militia or death. "When they came to my village, they asked my older brother whether he was ready to join the militia. "He was just 17 and he said no; they shot him in the head. "Then they asked me if I was ready to sign, so what could I do - I didn't want to die".

The youngsters are either taken on as fighters, porters or guards. Many children in DR Congo remain at risk of abductionFor the girls, many end up as "soldiers' wives" or sex slaves, some as young as 10. Try to speak to them and they respond in monosyllabic hushed tones. These are youngsters who had their childhood innocence knocked out of them. A third of DR Congo's child soldiers will never be reintegrated back into their communities. In some cases because of the shame, others simply because their families can't afford to take them on, but there are also the ever-present threats and intimidation.

I accompanied 12 year-old Innocent as he made his way back home. He was a fighter battling against the Mai Mai militia. In his village, his mother and siblings embrace him but on the fringes of the celebrations the same militia that abducted him are looking on. In a part of DR Congo where virtually all Innocent's fellow children are severely malnourished and in tattered clothing, a life with the rebels offers food, power and some status. A sad reality is that all too often children like Innocent return.

Boys are seen as potential soldiers. So do elections bring fresh hope? "Not at all" says Simon Muchanga from a Catholic mission in Masisi which seeks to rehabilitate child soldiers. "The rebel groups are unlikely to alter their position because of the election. "Maybe if a real, responsible government is elected with the capacity to bring about change and improve the prospects of these people, maybe then we can see some real progress".

It's an issue that has been largely ignored - recruiting juveniles is a breach of international law.
The world's biggest peacekeeping force has made some inroads into trying to disarm the rebels.
The vast scale of the country and years of insecurity makes it a painfully slow task. With elections just days away, there is little incentive for the militia to hand over their children, not least because most armed groups will see their power eroded.
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Residents in southern Beirut have been salvaging what they can.

Israel says it will keep control over an area in southern Lebanon until an international force can be deployed. Defence Minister Amir Peretz said: "We have no other option. We have to build a new security strip that will be a cover for our forces." His comments came as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ended a regional tour before heading for talks in Rome.

Hostilities are continuing, with fresh explosions reported in Beirut and Hezbollah rocket attacks on Haifa. More than 380 Lebanese and 42 Israelis have died in nearly two weeks of conflict in Lebanon, which began after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on 12 July. Another soldier was seized by Palestinian militants earlier.

In the latest military action:

UN observers have said Israeli forces are now in control of the town of Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon after fierce fighting with Hezbollah and are moving on the village of Yaroun to the south Israel resumed air raids on Beirut, with explosions heard in southern suburbs - a Hezbollah stronghold

Mid-East crisis map
New force for peace?
Press scrutinises Rice trip

Hezbollah maintained fire of Katyusha rockets into Israel, killing a 15-year-old Arab-Israeli girl in the northern Israeli village of Maghar and striking Haifa with a large salvo. Hezbollah said 27 of its fighters had been killed as of Monday, but the Israeli military said it had killed "some dozens".

Mr Peretz said a zone in southern Lebanon would be maintained "under the control of our forces if there is not a multinational force". He did not specify whether Israeli troops would remain there but insisted they would "continue to control [Hezbollah]" in their operations. Hezbollah has maintained its rocket fire into Haifa.

Israeli government sources have estimated the width of the zone at anything from three to 10km (1.9-6.2 miles). An unnamed Israeli official quoted by Reuters news agency said between 10,000 and 20,000 international peacekeepers would be needed. BBC defence and security correspondent Rob Watson says Israeli details on the zone - and how it will be secured - are far from clear. He says it is possible Mr Peretz is trying to put pressure on the international community to deliver the peacekeeping force.

The idea of the multinational force is likely to be high on the agenda of a key international ministerial meeting on the crisis in Rome on Wednesday. Israel is acting with tremendous restraint, were they targeting civilian populations there would be thousands upon thousands dead - Steve Gross, US.

Saudis' $1.5bn offer
Haifa's Arabs tested

The UN has had a military force - Unifil - in Lebanon to patrol the border since 1978 and is currently 2,000 strong. Earlier, Ms Rice had expressed concern for the suffering of "innocent people" in the fighting during her tour of the Middle East. She met Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and later Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Mr Abbas called for an immediate end to "aggression against the Gaza Strip and the West Bank" and for an "immediate ceasefire" in Lebanon. Ms Rice said the only solution was a sustainable and enduring peace.

Her words were reinforced later by US President George W Bush who said: "I support a sustainable ceasefire that will bring about an end to violence... Our mission and our goal is to have a lasting peace, not a temporary peace." In his meeting with Ms Rice, Mr Olmert said he was "very conscious" of the humanitarian needs of Lebanon's civilians, but insisted Israel was defending itself against terrorism.

Correspondents say that Ms Rice was unlikely to have called for an end to Israel's military offensive during her talks with the Israeli leader. The BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson, in Jerusalem, says it was understood that Ms Rice would tell Israel that the US will allow it more time to continue its military operations. Ms Rice has, however, also been highlighting the need for Israel to consider the humanitarian needs of both Lebanon and the Palestinian people and the need for a durable peace. She said: "It is time for a new Middle East, it is time to say to those who do not want a different kind of Middle East that we will prevail; they will not." Ms Rice arrived in Israel from Beirut, where she met Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

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Anti-Ethiopian sentiment is high among many Somalis. Thousands of Somalis have staged a rally in Mogadishu calling on Ethiopian troops to leave their country. The demonstrators burnt Ethiopian flags at a protest in the capital, which since June has been run by the powerful Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). The UIC has vowed to expel Ethiopian troops who are deployed to assist the weak transitional Somali government. As well as the government's Baidoa base, Ethiopian troops have also been seen in another central town, Wajid. Ethiopia and the transitional government have refused to confirm Ethiopian troops are on Somali soil.

Placards carried by protesters at the rally in a Mogadishu stadium bore slogans such as "Down with the Addis Ababa regime" and "We are ready for holy war against Ethiopia". Anybody who sides with Ethiopia will be considered a traitor - Sheikh Sharif Sheikh AhmedSenior UIC leader.

Islamic leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed told the rally that forces loyal to the Islamic courts were ready and would be allowed to fight Ethiopians when appropriate. "We are talking to the international community to avoid serious bloodshed and we are urging the Ethiopians to withdraw from Somalia. Patience has its own limitations," AFP news agency quoted him as telling the crowd. Talks held in Sudan between the UIC and the transitional government - which correspondents say has little authority outside Baidoa - have been suspended.

Ethiopia, a long-term ally of President Abdullahi Yusuf, has warned the Islamic courts not to make any further military advance on Baidoa.

In Baidoa, prominent warlord Mohamed Qanyare has re-emerged more than one month after the Islamic courts ousted him and his militia from Mogadishu following weeks of bitter fighting. Mr Qanyare, accompanied by more than 100 militiamen, drove into the town at dawn after spending several days avoiding positions held by the Islamic militias. He has offered his support to the transitional government. Correspondents say that Mr Qanyare is a strong political rival of President Yusuf, and distrusts Ethiopia.

The Islamic courts have wrested control across southern Somalia in recent weeks from many of the warlords who divided up the country into rival fiefdoms following the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991. They appear to be making considerable progress in imposing law and order in the capital.


Cool nights at Spain's hot festival
By Ian Youngs BBC News, Benicassim, eastern Spain.

Benicassim's beach was a major draw until the music began. Spain's Benicassim festival, which played host to the Pixies, Scissor Sisters and Depeche Mode at the weekend, is one of Europe's hottest festivals - in more ways than one. At the train station, two figures are curled up in a doorway. Further into town, three more lie spent in the entrance of a closed clothes shop. In front of the sports centre and the church, and anywhere else offering shade, small groups shelter from the sun, desperate for somewhere to recover from the exertions of the night before and prepare for those ahead.

The sun is one of the main reasons for coming to Benicassim - but in mid-afternoon, to hide from it is the only option. At this weekend's Festival Internacional de Benicassim, that meant the music did not begin until 1630, with the first act on the main stage at 2100. The entertainment continued well into the next morning, with music going until 0800.

So by the time the most spirited souls made it to bed, the sun was already starting to bake their tents again - making a shady siesta a top priority. Most fans abandoned the canvas during the day, leaving the sweltering campsites empty and quiet except for the few with shelters - and the constantly chattering insects. Cold outdoor showers in the campsites helped keep the heat at bay - and highlighted some cultural differences between nationalities.

In pictures: Benicassim
Brits decamp to Glasto del Sol

Did you go to Benicassim?
Spanish men had no qualms about baring all in the unisex al fresco washrooms - but most British blokes preferred to retain their trunks. On the beach, meanwhile, Spanish women could be identified by their apparent disdain for upper body clothing. With the music not starting until the evening, the beach was the daytime destination for most festival-goers. The long stretch of scorching sand may have been a bit of a trek from the campsites - but few festivals can offer a diversion as inviting as the Mediterranean.

With so much spare time to spend under a parasol or in the sea, the weekend felt as much like a beach holiday as a music festival. And those cold showers came in handy when trying to get rid of the Benicassim body lotion - equal parts sweat, sea water, sun cream and sand. The campsites were equipped with rows of outdoor unisex showersThe town itself would be unremarkable if it were not for its beach and its new-found fame as host to some of the world's biggest bands.

The festival takes over Benicassim for five days. But because the town effectively becomes part of the festival, it can become engulfed by its temporary inhabitants. Every cashpoint had a constant queue, the pavement cafes were often packed and restaurants struggled to keep up with demand. Many only offered a slimmed-down festival menu to make the job easier. But when the sun faded, the fans started to make their way to the festival arena.

The compact site is no bigger than strictly necessary to fit in the fans and four stages. That made it very easy to get around, but there was not much else to do if the music did not turn you on. One popular pastime was standing in front of four large electric fans that had tubes blowing water into the air, while the tent housing the second stage - which turned into the dance tent after 2100 - cooled the crowd with a fine water spray from the roof.

Water-spraying electric fans kept people cool.The smaller stages attracted acts like Babyshambles, Rufus Wainwright, the Editors and The Ordinary Boys - as well as bands from Spain and elsewhere. On the main Green Stage, all the stars were from the UK or US, with the Pixies, Scissor Sisters, Depeche Mode and Franz Ferdinand all getting particularly frenzied receptions. The Pixies' set on Friday even had to be stopped for half an hour when one of the barriers in front of the stage started to buckle.

Maybe the local crowd was so enthusiastic because such global stars only come to town once a year. And perhaps the international contingent appreciated it more because they had made the extra effort to be there. Or maybe they were just raring to go after a day on the beach and a siesta in the shade.