Sunday, December 31, 2006


Thousands of fans, friends and celebrities have paid final tributes to soul star James Brown at an emotional public funeral in his Georgia hometown.
He lay in an open golden coffin in the packed James Brown Arena in Augusta.
Singer Michael Jackson kissed Brown's forehead and called him "my greatest inspiration". Black rights activist Al Sharpton delivered the main eulogy.
Famous for hits like Sex Machine, Brown died suddenly on Monday in hospital after suffering pneumonia. He was 73.
He was a God-sent person - almost like an angel
Vickie Greene, James Brown fan
The Augusta funeral was the third memorial event in as many days for the musician known as the Godfather of Soul.
On Thursday, thousands of fans poured into the Apollo Theatre in New York, where Brown made his stage debut in 1956 and recorded several live albums.
A private service for family and close friends was held in South Carolina on Friday, with mourners including boxing promoter Don King, rapper MC Hammer and comedian Dick Gregory.
'Master at work'
After friends and relatives filed past the coffin, a video of Brown's last performance in Augusta and final concert in London were played and tributes were performed.
Despite several requests for the capacity crowd to behave as if they were at any other funeral, the funky rhythms that characterised the singer's sound and life soon had everyone on their feet, reports the BBC's Matt Wells from the stadium.

Brown was in his third costume change in as many days.
But for many, the highlight of Saturday's ceremony was a rare public appearance by the controversial pop star Michael Jackson.
"Ever since I was a small child, no more than like six years old, my mother would wake me no matter what time it was, if I was sleeping, no matter what I was doing, to watch the television to see the master at work," Jackson said.
"And when I saw him move, I was mesmerised. I had never seen a performer perform like James Brown, and right then and there I knew that that was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because of James Brown."
Reverend Al Sharpton said the singer had made an advance request for Jackson to be at his funeral in Augusta.
The whole world, he said, changed its beat because of James Brown.
Known for his frequent costume changes, Brown was in his third wardrobe change in three days - a black jacket and gloves, with a ruby red shirt.

Earlier fans filed past Brown's coffin.
Before the funeral started in earnest, fans queued in the rain to file past his coffin.
"He was a God-sent person - almost like an angel," said Vickie Greene, who had come to view Brown's body with her husband and grandson.
"He was so inspirational to people about sharing and helping and giving."
Atlanta resident Maynard Eaton, who organised a bus to carry 20 people to the funeral, said it was Brown's political message he valued.
"'I'm black and I'm proud' was the most influential black slogan of the 1960s," he said, referring to the refrain of Brown's song Say It Loud.
Adopted home
Brown was born in 1933 in Barnwell, South Carolina. He spent much of his childhood in Augusta, and adopted the town as his home.
He remained involved with the city throughout his stardom, handing out Thanksgiving turkeys every year, providing meals for more than 1,000 families.
The singer had also participated in an annual toy drive in the city just three days before his death.
As well as the auditorium named in his honour, the town renamed one of its streets James Brown Boulevard, and erected a statue to the singer last year.
Since his death, fans have flocked to the statue, leaving flowers, records and messages at its feet.



Joseph Kabila took power in 2001 after his father was assassinated. The newly-elected president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, has named a former opposition figure as the country's prime minister.
The nomination of Antoine Gizenga, 81, leader of the Unified Lumumbist Party (Palu), was widely expected as it had figured in electoral accords.
Mr Gizenga must now nominate ministers to form a government, a statement said.
Mr Kabila is DR Congo's first freely elected leader in 40 years having won October's run-off presidential poll.
The 35-year-old took power in 2001 after his father was assassinated.
'Extremely pleased'
Mr Gizenga, who came third in the first round of the presidential election in July, signed an agreement with Mr Kabila ahead of the run-off, promising his support reportedly in exchange for the post of prime minister.
"Palu is extremely pleased. We have finally come back to where we were when we were pushed aside," a spokesman for Mr Gizenga told Reuters news agency.
Mr Gizenga has been a prominent figure in Congolese politics for nearly five decades.
His support is concentrated in Bandundu province and Kinshasa, where Joseph Kabila is weaker. Palu won 35 seats out of 500 in the parliamentary poll.


Libya has faced strong criticism over the conduct of the trials. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has rejected calls for the release of six foreign medics sentenced to death for infecting children with HIV/Aids.
Those who committed crimes must accept the consequences, he said.
Libya has been under increasing pressure because of international doubts over the fairness of the trial.
Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor have been tried and found guilty twice of deliberately infecting more than 400 children with HIV.
Colonel Gaddafi stressed the "the independence of the Libyan judicial system", and he rejected what he called "Western intervention and pressure in this affair".
The medics have been in detention since 1999, during which time 52 of the 426 infected children have died of Aids.
Academic bodies have argued that the guilty verdicts run counter to scientific evidence.
Defence lawyers have said that the medics will file an appeal against the new verdict with the Supreme Court.
'Unhygienic hospitals'
The medics have protested their innocence throughout, retracting confessions that they said were obtained under torture and arguing that they are being made scapegoats for unhygienic hospitals.

The six foreign medics were arrested in 1999.
Lawyers for the medics have argued that the HIV virus was present in the hospital, in the town of Benghazi, before the nurses began working there in 1998.
Medical experts including the French co-discoverer of the HIV virus had testified on their behalf.
Oxford University in the UK said the verdict ran counter to findings by scientists from its Zoology Department.
A research team had concluded that "the subtype of HIV involved began infecting patients long before March 1998, the date the prosecution claims the crime began", a statement from the university said.
Libya has asked for 10m euros (£6.7m) compensation to be paid to each of the families of victims, suggesting the death sentences could be commuted in return.
But Bulgaria has rejected the proposal, saying any payment would be seen as an admission of guilt.

Friday, December 29, 2006


Dutch brothels take city to court.
By Geraldine Coughlan BBC News, the Hague.

Amsterdam's mayor says the sex industry attracts criminalityBrothel owners in Amsterdam's red light district have taken the city council to court over its decision to close a number of sex businesses.
The council is demanding the closure of 33 brothels, which account for around a third of the district's sex businesses, by the end of the year.
The prostitutes union says the move will force many women to work illegally.
Prostitution was legalised in the Netherlands five years ago.
Criminal activity
The brothel owners say they will go to the highest court to save a third of the windows in Amsterdam's famous red light district from disappearing.
Amsterdam's mayor, Job Cohen, claims that many sex businesses are fronts for criminal activity, such as women trafficking and money laundering.
But the prostitutes' union, the Red Thread, which represents 20,000 prostitutes, argues that closing legal brothels will force many women onto the streets.
The city council wants the banks to play a role by making it easier for sex businesses to get financing.
Many have loans from private companies which the city council says are too risky.
The city believes that with proper paperwork for registered brothels and prostitutes, banking could have a positive effect on the fight against crime at the heart of the sex industry.


Maoists are active across a number of Indian states. Police in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh say they have killed a senior leader of a banned Maoist group.
Chandramouli, alias Devanna, one of the most wanted Maoist leaders, carried a reward of one million rupees (£11,500) on his head.
He is the second member of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-M) leadership council to be killed in the state this year, police say.
More than 200 people have been killed in Maoist-related violence this year.
There has been no comment from the Maoists.
Senior police official JG Murali said that Chandramouli and his wife were shot dead in a clash with a special security team, the Greyhound force, in Visakhapatnam district on Wednesday night.
The Maoists say they are fighting for the rights of the poor and landless in India. They are active across a number of states.
Earlier this year India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the Maoists as the single greatest threat to the country's internal security.


China still blocks news sites such as the BBC's. The number of people using the internet in China grew by 30% over the last year to 132 million, state media reports.
And the number of people with access to broadband rose to 52 million, Xinhua news agency says.
China already has the world's second largest population of internet users after the United States.
The government encourages internet use for education or business purposes, but has been criticised for censoring items it deems subversive or offensive.
China's internet users rose from 123 million at the end of June to 132 million, according to the state Internet Network Information Centre, Xinhua reports.
Such a rapid rise has boosted the country's online commerce, advertising and games industries, the report adds.
Several people have been jailed in China in recent years for posting information on the internet deemed subversive.
The Chinese government has denied such reports, and insists its regulation of the internet is in line with the rest of the world.


Mr Gerez said he had been arrested and given electric shocks. A man who testified he was tortured by Argentina's military junta has become the second witness in the "Dirty War" trials to go missing in recent months.
Police are searching for Luis Gerez, a 50-year-old construction worker, who has not been seen since Wednesday.
He had implicated a former police chief in the human rights abuses committed by the 1976-83 military regime, helping block his bid for a seat in Congress.
Another witness who testified against Dirty War suspects remains missing.
Julio Lopez vanished in September, after giving evidence at the trial of a former police chief accused of human rights abuses during military rule in the 1970s and 80s.
Marchers took to the streets demanding more effort be made to find him, amid fears that he had been kidnapped and killed by supporters of the military regime.
An estimated 30,000 people were killed, or "disappeared" during military rule.
The military's repression of alleged left-wing opponents came to be known as the Dirty War.
Presidential concern
Mr Gerez told a congressional investigation this year a former police chief, Luis Patti, had been involved in torturing him.
Mr Gerez said he had been arrested and given electric shocks. He was reportedly blindfolded at the time but said he could identify Mr Patti by his voice as one of the men who tortured him.
Mr Patti had been elected to congress but Mr Gerez's testimony helped prevent him from taking his seat.
Mr Patti told Argentine media he was concerned by Mr Gerez's disappearance.
"I hope nothing has happened to him," he said.
Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner had cancelled a holiday to oversee the search for Mr Gerez, his office said.
The first civilian governments after military rule passed laws which allowed Dirty War suspects to walk free.
The current series of trials began after the Argentine Supreme Court last year ruled those laws to be unconstitutional.


Saddam Hussein will be hanged despite a second trial taking place. Lawyers for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein have confirmed to the BBC that they have been asked to pick up his personal effects.
But an Iraqi official denied that he has been handed from US military to Iraqi custody, following earlier reports this had already happened.
Saddam Hussein could be hanged at any time over the next four weeks, after an appeal against his execution failed.
The sentence is for the killings of 148 Shias in Dujail in the 1980s.
A trial for a second case, genocide against the Kurds, continues.
In further violence, nine people have been killed in a suicide attack near a Shia shrine north of Baghdad, police say.
Family visits
Correspondents say Friday's comments have created a storm of speculation.
According to Iraqi state TV, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said that there would be no delay in carrying out Saddam Hussein's death sentence.
"No-one can oppose the decision to execute the criminal Saddam," Mr Maliki was quoted by AFP as saying. "Those who reject the execution of Saddam are undermining the dignity of Iraq's martyrs."
Chief defence lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi told the BBC that US officials had asked him to appoint someone to collect Saddam Hussein's possessions, or give an address where they could be sent.


Saddam Hussein, former Iraqi president: found guilty and sentenced to death
Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half-brother: found guilty and sentenced to death
Awad Hamed al-Bandar, Chief Judge of Revolutionary Court: found guilty and sentenced to death
Taha Yasin Ramadan, former Iraqi vice-president: found guilty and sentenced to life in jail
Abdullah Kadhem Ruaid Senior Baath official: found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail
Abdullah Rawed Mizher, Senior Baath official: found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail
Ali Daeem Ali, Senior Baath official: found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail
Mohammed Azawi Ali, Baath official: acquitted

The lawyer said the Americans neither confirmed nor denied he was actually handed over from US military custody near Baghdad.
Another lawyer told the BBC that Saddam Hussein's half-brothers Sabawi Ibrahim and Watban Ibrahim - also in prison - were taken to visit him on Thursday.
Iraqi Deputy Justice Minister Bosho Ibrahim confirmed to the BBC that Saddam Hussein had not yet been handed over.
The time and location of the hanging has not been made public - and may be revealed only after the former president is dead to avoid civil disruption and unrest.
The confusion surrounding Saddam Hussein's fate comes a day after his lawyer urged the international community to stop him being handed over to the Iraqi authorities for execution.
Mr Dulaimi said he was a prisoner of war and should not be handed to his enemies.
In a letter written from his prison cell, Saddam Hussein said he was ready to die as a "sacrifice" for Iraq.
Saddam Hussein was convicted of human rights abuses in relation to the killings of the 148 Shias in Dujail, north of Baghdad, after a failed assassination attempt against the former Iraqi leader in 1982.
Saddam Hussein's half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and Iraq's former chief judge Awad Hamed al-Bandar were also sentenced to death.
Former Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan was sentenced to life imprisonment and three others received 15-year prison terms.
Another co-defendant, Baath party official Mohammed Azawi Ali, was acquitted. The White House has called the ruling a milestone in Iraq's efforts "to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law".
Many critics have dismissed the trial as a form of victors' justice, given the close attention the US had paid to it.
Saddam Hussein's defence team had also accused the government of interfering in the proceedings - a complaint backed by US group Human Rights Watch.
The 5 November verdict sparked celebrations in Baghdad but protests in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.


President Francois Bozize confirmed his order on radio. The president of the Central African Republic has ordered the army to set fire to the homes of two church leaders "to teach them a lesson".
The Baptist Church pastors had burnt down the home of another pastor in a row over the use of a chapel for Christmas services in the capital.
One of the men was subsequently beaten up and the other has been arrested.
Francois Bozize said he wanted them "to experience the suffering they had inflicted on others".
The BBC's Joseph Benamse says people in the capital, Bangui, are surprised that the order came from the head of state.
But Mr Bozize confirmed on a private radio station and he himself gave the instructions.
"It is the anger of God which strikes those who offend or do wrong to a servant of God," AFP news agency quotes him as saying.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


The speed of the government's advance has surprised observers. thiopian and Somali government forces have reached the outskirts of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, after Islamist forces abandoned the city.
Eyewitnesses say Somali troops were cheered by crowds, but some residents condemned the Ethiopian presence.
Ethiopia's prime minister said his men were consulting Somali officials and Mogadishu elders about what do to next.
In recent days Ethiopian troops have helped the interim government capture ground previously held by Islamists.
"People are cheering as they wave flowers to the troops," resident Abdikadar Abdulle told Reuters news agency, adding that military vehicles had passed the Somalia National University.
However another resident told the BBC: "The entire people of Somalia are ready and working against the Ethiopian armed forces... As Muslims, God willing we will defeat the enemies of Islam and their lackeys."

Conflict in pictures
Violence alarms press
US keeps a close watch

The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan, in the city, says clan militiamen seized key buildings - like the airport and old presidential palace - as soon as Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) withdrew its fighters early on Thursday.
Residents in the north of the city have reported cars and mobile phones being stolen. Rising insecurity has forced most businesses to stop trading.
The situation seems to be descending back into anarchy, our correspondent adds.

Observers say the UIC's departure leaves a power vacuum in Mogadishu, raising fears of a return to clan warfare that has plagued the city and Somalia for 16 years.
In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said: "We will act on the basis of the advice of the transitional government and in consultation with the elders of Mogadishu but at the moment we are not in Mogadishu, we are just outside."
He added: "Our mission in Somalia is very very limited... we are not there to reconstruct Somalia economically, politically or otherwise. We are there to remove the threat of the Islamic Courts militia on Somalia and Ethiopia."
Islamic fighters have fled towards the port city of Kismayo, their last remaining stronghold, 300 miles (500km) to the south.

In parts of Mogadishu, life seemed to be going on as normal
A senior UIC official Omar Idris said the retreat was "not the end".
He told the BBC's World Today radio programme: "We know what happened in Iraq... I think this is very, very early to say that the Islamic Court forces were defeated."
Meanwhile, a UIC delegation has been in Nairobi, meeting Kenyan officials and Western diplomats.
At the weekend Ethiopia began a major offensive to support the weak government against the UIC - which previously held much of central and southern Somalia.
The conflict has killed hundreds of people. The head of the International Red Cross Somalia delegation said it was "extremely concerned about civilians caught up in the fighting".
The African Union has called for Ethiopian forces to leave Somalia.
However the UN Security Council has failed to agree on a statement calling for the withdrawal of all foreign forces.
Hardline elements
The UIC has its roots in the north of Mogadishu.
Courts administering Islamic law restored order in a city bedevilled by anarchy since the overthrow of former President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
The UIC assumed control of the whole capital in June, driving warlords out and rapidly extending their influence to much of southern Somalia - with the exception of Baidoa, the seat of the transitional Somali government.
That body, set up in 2004 after talks between Somali factions, has been unable to meet in the capital because of opposition first from warlords, then from the UIC.
Almost all Somalis are Muslim and after years of lawlessness, many were happy to have some kind of law and order under the UIC.
But some are wary of the hardline elements among the UIC and do not want to be cut off from the rest of the world.
The UIC have staged public executions and floggings of people they have found guilty of crimes such as murder and selling drugs.
UIC leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys is accused by both Ethiopia and the US of having links to al-Qaeda - charges he denies.



Mugabe says illegal mining destroys Zimbabwe's forests and land. Police in Zimbabwe are reported to have arrested more than 16,000 people as part of a government drive to curb illegal mining.
The three-week-long campaign targeted settlements around the mining fields and seized large quantities of gold and diamonds, state media said.
During the raids, police officers burnt temporary homes used by panners.
Tens of thousands have turned to mining following the collapse of commercial agriculture, correspondents say.
People dig or pan for gold or diamonds, risking their lives in shallow mines which frequently collapse, says the BBC's Tony Andoh-Korsah.
Critics say President Robert Mugabe has ruined what was one of Africa's most developed economies.
Zimbabwe has the world's lowest life expectancy, highest inflation rate and chronic unemployment.
Mr Mugabe says he is the victim of a Western plot to bring him down because of opposition to his seizure of white-owned land.
Environmental damage
During the raids, officers recovered more than 500,000kg (79,000 stone) of gold and gold ore, and nearly 5,000 diamonds.
Most of the arrests and recoveries were made near border posts and included dealers from neighbouring Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique.
The suspects were trying to smuggle the minerals to neighbouring countries, reports the government newspaper The Herald.
Police say the suspects were all released after paying or promising to pay admission of guilt fines.
Police launched the campaign codenamed Chikorokoza Chapera (which means The End of Illegal Gold Dealings) following concerns over rampant smuggling of precious stones and environmental degradation in mining areas.
The government accuses powerful politicians and businessmen of buying minerals from panners and smuggling them outside the country.
"A few greedy fat cats have monopolised the industry and engaged every other person in the villages, farms and elsewhere to recklessly pan for gold and other precious minerals," Augustine Chihuri, the country's Police Commissioner, was quoted as saying recently by the Herald.
"We are also worried about the level of siltation in our dams and land degradation," he said referring to extensive destruction of the environmental by the panners.
In his state of the nation address last week, Mr Mugabe said Zimbabwe was witnessing rampant destruction of forests and land through uncontrolled fires and illegal panning.


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2. There are 200 million blogs which are no longer being updated, say technology analysts.More details
3. Urban birds have developed a short, fast "rap style" of singing, different from their rural counterparts.More details
4. Bristol is the least anti-social place in England, says the National Audit Office.More details
5. Standard-sized condoms are too big for most Indian men.More details
6. The late Alan "Fluff" Freeman, famous as a DJ, had trained as an opera singer.More details
7. The lion costume in the film Wizard of Oz was made from real lions.More details
8. There are 6.5 million sets of fingerprints on file in the UK.More details
9. Fathers tend to determine the height of their child, mothers their weight.More details
10. Panspermia is the idea that life on Earth originated on another planet.More details
11. An infestation of head lice is called pediculosis.More details
12. The Pope's been known to wear red Prada shoes.More details
13. The fastest supercomputer in the UK can make 15.4 trillion calculations per second.More details14. Online shoppers will only wait an average of four seconds for an internet page to load before giving up.More details
15. Donald Rumsfeld was both the youngest and the oldest defence secretary in US history.More details
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20. Sex workers in Roman times charged the equivalent price of eight glasses of red wine.More details
21. English is now the only "traditional" academic subject in the top 10 most popular university courses.More details
22. The number of people committing suicide in the UK has fallen to its lowest recorded level.More details
23. More than one in eight people in the United States show signs of addiction to the internet, says a study.More details
24. One third of all the cod fished in the world is consumed in the UK.More details
25. In Kingston upon Thames, men on average live to be 78. In Kingston-upon-Hull it is 73.More details
26. Each person sends an average of 55 greetings cards per year.More details
27. Just one cow gives off enough harmful methane gas in a single day to fill around 400 litre bottles.More details
28. More than 90% of plane crashes have survivors.More details
29. Tony Blair’s favourite meal to cook is spaghetti bolognaise.More details
30. The brain is soft and gelatinous - its consistency is something between jelly and cooked pasta.More details
31. The Mona Lisa used to hang on the wall of Napoleon’s bedroom.More details
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34. Plant seeds that have been stored for more than 200 years can be coaxed into new life.More details
35. There were no numbers in the very first UK phone directory, only names and addresses. Operators would connect callers.More details
36. The InterCity 125 train was designed by the same man who came up with the angle-poise lamp and Kenwood Chef mixer.More details
37. Pavements are tested using an 80 square metre artificial pavement at a research centre called Pamela (the Pedestrian Accessibility and Movement Environment Laboratory).More details
38. A common American poplar has twice as many genes as a human being.More details
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40. The medical name for the part of the brain associated with teenage sulking is "superior temporal sulcus".More details
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43. There is only one cheddar cheese maker in Cheddar, even though cheddar is the most popular hard cheese in the English-speaking world.More details
44. For every 10 successful attempts to climb Mount Everest there is one fatality.More details
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46. Involuntary bad language, a symptom affecting about one in 10 people with Tourette's syndrome, is called "coprolalia". More details
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52. Forty-eight percent of the population is ex-directory. More details
53. Red Buttons - real name Aaron Chwatt - took his surname from the nickname for hotel porters, a job he did in his teens. More details
54. The CND symbol incorporates the semaphore letters for N and D for nuclear and disarmament. More details
55. While 53% of households have access to a garage, only 24% use them for parking cars. More details
56. Mortgage borrowing now accounts for 42% of take-home salary.More details
57. The word "time" is the most common noun in the English language, according to the latest Oxford dictionary. More details
58. Forty-one percent of English women have punched or kicked their partners, according to a study. More details
59. Dogs with harelips can end up with two noses. More details
60. The clitoris derives its name from the ancient Greek word kleitoris, meaning "little hill". More details
61. A domestic cat can frighten a black bear to climb a tree. More details
62. Thirty-four percent of the UK has a surname that is ranked as "posher" than the Royal Family's given name, Windsor. More details
63. The Downing St garden is actually a Royal Park. More details
64. Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobiacs is the term for people who fear the number 666. More details
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66. One in four smokers use roll-ups. More details
67. Music can help reduce chronic pain by more than 20% and can alleviate depression by up to 25%. More details
68. The egg came first. More details
69. Humans were first infected with the HIV virus in the 1930s. More details
70. Sir Paul McCartney is only the second richest music millionaire in the UK - Clive Calder, is top. More details
71. Publishers have coined the term "Brownsploitation" for the rash of books that have sprung up in the wake of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code blockbuster. More details
72. Modern teenagers are better behaved than their counterparts of 20 years ago, showing "less problematic behaviour" involving sex, drugs and drink. More details
73. George Bush's personal highlight of his presidency is catching a 7.5lb (3.4kg) perch. More details
74. Britain is still paying off debts that predate the Napoleonic wars because it's cheaper to do so than buy back the bonds on which they are based. More details
75. Five billion apples are eaten a year in the UK. More details76. In Bhutan government policy is based on Gross National Happiness; thus most street advertising is banned, as are tobacco and plastic bags. More details
77. Metal detector enthusiasts are referred to as "detectorists"; there are about 30,000 in the UK. More details
78. The Labour Party spent £299.63 on Star Trek outfits for the last election, while the Tories shelled out £1,269 to import groundhog costumes. More details
79. The best-value consumer purchase in terms of the price and usage is an electric kettle. More details
80. Camel's milk, which is widely drunk in Arab countries, has 10 times more iron than cow's milk. More details
81. Iceland has the highest concentration of broadband users in the world. More details
82. There are 2.5 million rodent-owning households in Britain, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association. More details
83. Rainfall on the roof and gutters of a three-bed detached house can amount to 120,000 litres each year. More details
84. Thinking about your muscles can make you stronger. More details
85. The age limit for marriage in France was, until recently, 15 for girls, but 18 for boys. The age for girls was raised to 18 in 2006. More details
86. Six million people use TV subtitles, despite having no hearing impairment. More details
87. Goths, those pasty-faced teenagers who revel in black clothing, are likely to become doctors, lawyers and architects. More details
88. Nelson Mandela used to steal pigs as a child. More details
89. There are an average of 4.4 sparrows in each British garden. In 1979, there were 10 per garden. More details
90. The Himalayas cover one-tenth of the Earth's surface. More details
91. Lord Levy, recruited by Tony Blair to raise money for the Labour party, made his own fortune managing Alvin Stardust, among others. More details
92. In a fight between a polar bear and a lion, the polar bear would win. More details
93. If left alone, 70% of birthmarks gradually fade away. More details
94. There are two million cars and trucks in Brazil which run on alcohol. More details
95. US Secret Service sniffer dogs are put up in five-star hotels during overseas presidential visits. More details
96. Flushing a toilet costs, on average, 1.5p. More details
97. Tufty the road safety squirrel had a surname. It was Fluffytail. More details
98. A "lost world" exists in the Indonesian jungle that is home to dozens of hitherto unknown animal and plant species. More details
99. The term "misfeasance" means to carry out a legal act illegally. More details
100. In the 1960s, the CIA used to watch Mission Impossible to get ideas about spying. More details
Phew. If, after all that, you're still craving news-y facts, click here for an archive of 10 things.



The intense heat hampered recovery efforts. Nigeria's government has promised measures to avoid future disasters, after a pipeline explosion killed at least 260 people in Lagos.
Pipeline fires occur frequently in Nigeria as people try to scoop up fuel leaking from pipes that have broken or been vandalised.
Information Minister Frank Nweke told the BBC the government was encouraging people to report pipeline vandalism.
He said Nigeria was investing in more refineries to end petrol shortages.


May 2006: At least 150 killed in Lagos
Dec 2004: At least 20 killed in Lagos
Sept 2004: At least 60 killed in Lagos
June 2003: At least 105 killed in Abia State
July 2000: At least 300 killed in Warri
Mar 2000: At least 50 killed in Abia State
Oct 1998: At least 1,000 killed in Jesse
Pictures from the scene

The government is encouraging the establishment of more refineries... so there will be less incentive for people to try to profiteer from the sale of petroleum products," Mr Nweke told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.
He said the government had solved the problem of fuel shortages, "but there's this expectation that there may be some sort of scarcity, so people begin to hoard and to profiteer".
Some 2,000 people have died in similar incidents in recent years in Nigeria.
Although Nigeria is Africa's largest oil exporter, it suffers regular shortages of petrol and diesel because it relies on imports of refined fuel from the West.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said he was "shocked and saddened" by the vandalisation of an oil pipeline that led to Tuesday's disaster.
Hundreds of people in a Lagos suburb were scooping fuel from a pipeline punctured by thieves when it exploded.
It took the emergency services hours to extinguish the flames and many of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition.
Adding his voice to the condolences, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called for "a review of the country's fuel supply management, as well as a thorough regional review of risks that could lead to other environmental or technological disasters in West Africa."
Some of those injured in the blast are believed to have gone into hiding to avoid arrest. Others may not have gone to hospital because they lack money to pay for treatment.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Back in the dying USSR
By Steven Eke BBC Russia analyst.

December 1991 was a miserable time to be living in the Soviet Union. I was a student, in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Or, as it was then known, the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Gorbachev saw his authority ebb away as the USSR collapsedDuring the Soviet years, it had been seen as rather a desirable place to live.
"That's Eastern Europe, not the USSR," people would tell me.
They were alluding to its easy-going atmosphere, and the fact that you could once buy a reasonable range of food and consumer goods there.
Not during those final few months of the Soviet Union, though.
Minsk was totally destroyed during World War II. Rebuilt in the 1950s and 60s, it became a testing ground for Soviet architecture. Not all of it attractive, of course.
Profound pride
The suburb where I lived was called "Green Meadow 6". There was neither anything green, nor meadow-like there.
But in Belarus, there was a strong sense that the Soviet Union was something worth saving. Indeed, there was a profound pride in its achievements.
Yet, on the eve of the announcement that the USSR had ceased to exist, I spent three or four hours queuing outside a Soviet food store. Such shops had the laughable name Gastronom (Gourmet).

Minsk was rebuilt in Soviet style from the ruins of World War III froze, in driving snow, asking myself what on earth I was doing. For my efforts I eventually obtained a scrawny, blue, battered chicken.
But still, it was quite a find. There was real fear of hunger at that time.
Few people in the West can imagine the economic hardships that accompanied the Soviet Union's collapse.
It took a decade - or more - for national economies to begin to recover.
The agreements signalling the end of the Soviet state were signed in a place where, just months earlier, I had spent what I still consider to be some of the most blissful days of my life.
Vanished empire
I had friends in high places, working in state television and Minsk state university.
They were members of the Soviet elite, people who lived a life of relative - but still real - comfort. They were people who could not imagine waking up to find that the world's last great empire - their country - had simply vanished.
They had taken me to a lodge, Communist Party property, hidden deep inside an unspoilt forest on the border between Poland and the Soviet Union.
It was the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, home to the zubr, the European bison. Yes, there is such a creature.

Many in the ex-Soviet states feel nostalgic about the USSRIf air can be fresher than it was there, I am yet to breathe it. If the night sky can be darker, or more full of stars, I am yet to see it.
In the lodge, I had servants at my beck and call. Servants - in a country still calling itself communist, one that professed equality for all.
We feasted on roasted elk and hare, as well as several sorts of delicious, unusual mushrooms. The room in which I slept was the epitome of luxury.
I had become used to queues, empty shops, the incredible rudeness of officials, their petty, humiliating treatment of ordinary people, and the difficulties that characterised trying to do just about anything, anywhere, in the Soviet Union.
And so there was a chasm between what I saw, felt and ate in the Communist Party lodge, and the real struggle of everyday life.
As the scrawny, blue, battered chicken suggested, Soviet reality was, actually, quite wretched.
Yet in Belarus, the USSR was the country that defeated Nazi Germany, and then built a modern, educated and industrialised state.
Perhaps therefore, when it was announced that President Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned, and that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was no more, some felt that a calamity of indescribable proportions had enveloped them.


Vista opens new dawn for security.
By Mark Ward Technology Correspondent, BBC News website.

Windows Vista will be available to consumers in early 2007Hi-tech criminals are looking forward to the consumer release of Windows Vista, say security experts.
Vista will be the big event in computer security in 2007, say experts and add that it will have a profound effect on both sides of the security world.
Many organised crime gangs are already tearing the new version of Windows apart looking for ways to exploit its weaknesses, say some.
Others are expecting to see Vista attacked soon after it debuts.
Fresh target
While Microsoft's business customers have been able to buy Vista since 30 November, consumers are being forced to wait until late January 2007 to get their hands on the next version of the Windows operating system.
Microsoft has said that the whole development process of the operating system has been run with better security in mind.
Within Vista are several technologies that could stop many people falling victim to the most common sorts of malicious attack, said Kevin Hogan, director of security operations at Symantec.
In particular, he said, the way Vista handles user accounts will limit the freedom malicious programs have to run and install themselves surreptitiously.
Increasingly, said Mr Hogan, hi-tech criminals were booby-trapping benign looking webpages with code that slips through vulnerabilities in the various versions of Windows. It should also help stop people being caught out by malicious attachments on e-mail messages.
"That'll deal with a lot of the current threats we are seeing," said Mr Hogan.

Hypponen: Cyber criminals are translating their wares to work on VistaMikko Hypponen, chief research officer at security firm F-Secure, said the warnings that these account controls display when malicious code tries to install itself will prove useful.
"It'll become much more obvious when they get infected," he said.
But, said Mr Hypponen, as well as stopping some of the threats hitting users, Vista is also likely to spur many hi-tech criminals to step up their research efforts and translate their old malicious wares to the new software.
"None of the existing bots, backdoors, trojans in general run on Vista," said Mr Hypponen.
Already security experts are seeing exploits for Vista vulnerabilities being sold on underground websites and proof-of-concept code appearing on discussion boards.
Gerhard Eschelbeck, chief technology officer at security firm Webroot, said he expected the hi-tech criminals to start exploiting the many ways that Vista tries to warn people about security threats.
He said it was only a matter of time before cyber criminals find a way to mimic the security warnings that Vista uses to try to trick people into installing a malicious program.
"They are thinking how to attack the user directly rather than try to penetrate the applications," he said.
Old iron
While Vista might help many users stay safer online, many criminals would be happy targeting the tens of millions of people who own older versions of Windows, said Mr Eschelbeck.

Hi-tech criminals are targeting web-based databasesIn 2007 he said he expected to see malicious code turning up on many different types of sites - many of which looked completely benign.
Those behind malicious programs were also more interested in having their creations hang around longer, said Mr Eschelbeck.
"The goal is to stay undetected for a long time," he said. "It's being driven by people looking for financial gain."
The diversity of the hi-tech underground was also shown by the new targets many were going after, said Paul Davie, chief executive of security firm Secerno.
He said many hi-tech criminals were now targeting web shops that use a database to handle orders in a bid to steal valuable information they can sell or use.
Many attackers, he said, were using sophisticated techniques to squeeze information out of databases.
"These attacks - examples of which include hackers exposing hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers worldwide - certainly will increase sharply in 2007," he said.
"The security sector is coming to terms with the fact that it is dealing with highly financially motivated, technologically advanced and professional database infiltrators," he said.


Saddam Hussein will be hanged despite a second trial taking place. The US has hailed a ruling by an Iraq court that Saddam Hussein be executed within 30 days, while the EU has urged Baghdad not to carry out the sentence.
The former leader could be hanged on any day over the next four weeks, after an appeal against his execution failed.
The sentence is for killings in the town of Dujail in 1982. He is on trial in a second case, but under Iraqi law the execution must go ahead regardless.
The time and location of the hanging has not been made public.
Correspondents say it may only be revealed after the former president is dead in order to avoid civil disruption and unrest.
No further appeal
The White House called the ruling a landmark in Iraq's efforts "to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law".


Saddam Hussein, former Iraqi president: found guilty and sentenced to death
Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half-brother: found guilty and sentenced to death
Awad Hamed al-Bandar, Chief Judge of Revolutionary Court: found guilty and sentenced to death
Taha Yasin Ramadan, former Iraqi vice-president: found guilty and sentenced to life in jail
Abdullah Kadhem Ruaid Senior Baath official: found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail
Abdullah Rawed Mizher, Senior Baath official: found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail
Ali Daeem Ali, Senior Baath official: found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail
Mohammed Azawi Ali, Baath official: acquitted

World reaction to sentence

But a number of groups have complained about the legality of the proceedings, including US-based Human Rights Watch, which said the Iraqi government had undermined the credibility of the trial.
India meanwhile has urged clemency - expressing concern over any delay to the restoration of peace in Iraq, while the EU has called on Iraq not to carry out the death sentence.
Appeals Court judge Arif Shaheen told a news conference in Baghdad the execution date could not "exceed 30 days".
"As from [Wednesday] the sentence could be carried out at any time," he said, adding that there could be no further appeal and the sentence could not be commuted.
Saddam Hussein's defence lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said the court's verdict "was expected".
"We were not at all surprised, as we are convinced that this has been - 100% - a political trial," he said.
'Too lenient'
The Dujail case relates to killings that followed a failed assassination attempt against the then Iraqi leader in 1982.
Saddam Hussein's half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and Iraq's former chief judge Awad Hamed al-Bandar were also sentenced to death.
Former Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan was sentenced to life imprisonment and three others received 15-year prison terms.
The appeals court said Ramadan's sentence was too lenient and returned it to the High Tribunal for consideration of the death penalty.
Another co-defendant, Baath party official Mohammed Azawi Ali, was acquitted.
Saddam Hussein is on trial separately in connection with a military campaign against Kurdish communities in the 1980s.



The quake was felt across Taiwan. Telecommunications across Asia have been severely disrupted because of damage to undersea cables caused by Tuesday's earthquake near Taiwan.
Banks and businesses in Taiwan, South Korea, China and Japan reported telephone and internet problems.
The earthquake, a magnitude 7.1 according to the US Geological Survey, struck off Taiwan's southern coast
Two people were killed and at least 42 injured in the temblor, which shook buildings across the island.
The earthquake took place at 2026 (1226 GMT) south-west of Hengchun. It was followed by a number of aftershocks.
Japan's Meteorological Agency had warned of a possible localised tsunami heading towards the Philippines, but nothing was later reported.
'Seriously affected'
Taiwan's largest telephone company, Chunghwa Telecom Co, said damage to an undersea cable had disrupted 98% of Taiwan's communications with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong.
Repairs could take three weeks, Vice-General Manager Lin Jen-hung said, but quality would improve daily.

Telecommunications companies in Hong Kong, Japan and China also reported problems.
China's biggest telecoms provider, China Telecommunications Group, said that communications cables to the US and to Europe had been damaged.
"Internet connections have been seriously affected, and phone links and dedicated business lines have also been affected to some degree," it said.
In South Korea, broadband provider KT Corp said six submarine cables had been affected, interrupting services to customers including banks.
Some foreign exchange trading was reportedly affected.
"Trading of the Korean won has mostly halted due to the communication problem," a dealer at one South Korean domestic bank told Reuters news agency.
Several companies have warned of slow internet access over the next few days.
In Taiwan, rescue workers were searching through rubble for people injured in the earthquake.
Two members of a family died in Hengchun when their house collapsed, Taiwanese officials said
The earthquake came on the second anniversary of the Asian tsunami, which claimed almost 250,000 lives.


US wary of Somali 'terror' links
By Martin Plaut - BBC Africa editor.

Somali government soldiers have advanced with Ethiopian backingThe United States has closely followed the gains made by Somali government forces, supported by Ethiopian armour and troops, against Islamist militiamen.
Washington is determined to prevent the spread of fundamentalist Islam to Africa and has been deeply concerned by the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts.
The US has seen the fight against terrorism as its highest priority in Africa ever since 7 August 1998, when two car bombs exploded outside the American embassies in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the explosions, which killed more than 250 people and left 4,000 wounded.
Since then US officials say they have found links between key supporters of the UIC, and the attacks on the US embassies.
"We continue to be concerned about the state of security in the sub-region in eastern Horn of Africa; the threat that in some ways Somalia poses in terms of criminality and arms coming out of there, as well as the issue of terrorists' safe haven," the US Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, said while visiting Kenya earlier this year.
The UIC leadership has denied links to al-Qaeda, but there is evidence to suggest that some supporters of the UIC were indeed connected to the embassy attacks.
The US developed a strategy to tackle the Islamists. First Washington supported the warlords who controlled the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
But in June the militia of the Islamic Courts drove out the warlords, who are believed to have escaped to an American ship waiting offshore.
Since then the US has given diplomatic backing to the Somali transitional government at the United Nations, pressing for an African peacekeeping force to be sent to strengthen its position.
The Americans have worked closely with Ethiopia, using troops based in neighbouring Djibouti.
There is no suggestion that American forces are involved in the current Ethiopian offensive in Somalia, but Washington has satellite images and intelligence information that would be extremely useful to Addis Ababa as it attempts to crack the Islamic Court's hold on Somalia.


The intense heat hampered recovery efforts. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has said he is "shocked and saddened" by the vandalisation of an oil pipeline that led to at least 260 deaths.
Hundreds of people in a Lagos suburb were scooping fuel from a pipeline punctured by thieves when it exploded.
It took the emergency services hours to extinguish the flames and many of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition.
Some 2,000 people have died in similar incidents in recent years in Nigeria, which suffers frequent fuel shortages.
President Obasanjo blamed the tragedy on vandals damaging the pipeline and said he was sad that such vandalism continued despite his warnings that it was "not only illegal but a dangerous pursuit".

May 2006: At least 150 killed in Lagos
Dec 2004: At least 20 killed in Lagos
Sept 2004: At least 60 killed in Lagos
June 2003: At least 105 killed in Abia State
Jul 2000: At least 300 killed in Warri
Mar 2000: At least 50 killed in Abia State
Oct 1998: At least 1,000 killed in Jesse
Pictures from the scene

Adding his voice to the condolences, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said the UN was ready to provide immediate assistance. and also to help assess gaps in disaster response.
Mr Annan also called for " a review of the country's fuel supply management, as well as a thorough regional review of risks that could lead to other environmental or technological disasters in West Africa."
Despite being Africa's largest oil producer, Nigerians often suffer fuel shortages because of corruption, poor management and infrastructure problems.
It appears that thieves broke into a pipeline passing through the Abule Egba area of Lagos early on Tuesday to siphon off large amounts of fuel.
Some time later, hundreds of local people had arrived on the site carrying jerry cans and plastic buckets when a vast explosion shook the neighbourhood.
The Nigerian Red Cross (NRC) says at least 260 people were killed and dozens were injured.

Some of those injured in the blast are believed to have gone into hiding to avoid arrest. Others may not have gone to hospital because they lack money to pay for treatment.
Lagos journalist Adeyinka Adewunmi witnessed the aftermath of the explosion.
"The pipelines are in a popular neighbourhood, very close to the express road, which I normally use for my journey to work," he told the BBC News website.
"I could see fire, state ambulances, ambulances of the Red Cross, firefighters, government officials. There were scores of dead bodies on the ground and injured people being carried into ambulances.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Dear Family and Friends,

This December, for the second year in a row, my Christmas Tree has remained outside in the garden. This tree began life as a seedling amongst the firtrees behind our house on the farm. Just a couple of inches tall I planted the seedling in a black plastic bag when we were being evicted from our farm just before Christmas in 2000. Every year at Christmas time I dragged the pot inside, covered the tree with bits and pieces, starved it of water for a week and then back outside it went. As the tree grew I transplanted it into ever bigger pots and the Christmas tree has survived but not really thrived.
Two years ago my son and I planted the Christmas tree in the garden, agreeing that it would stay there until there was a change in the situation in Zimbabwe. At first when I took the tree out of its pot it stood there in the rich earth in a state of shock. For months it did nothing, did not seem to grow or lift up its branches or show any sign oflife. Then suddenly as if it finally realised it was free of the restrictions on its roots, my little Christmas tree began to grow. Now it is over six feet (two metres) tall and is alive and well and growing on the front lawn. This week, standing on tip toes I have put a small silver star on top of the Christmas tree in the garden and it stirs gently in the breeze of our hot and humid December days. Having my Christmas tree outside in the garden is symbolic of the state of affairs in Zimbabwe.
Christmas is not completely cancelled but it is not far off. All the usual traditional Christmas trappings are just not possible anymore. The traditional Christmas meal is off the menu, unaffordable by almost everyone. Most families are again separated by borders, countries and even continents as almost a quarter of our population remain in exile across the world. Christmas gifts are this year sparser than ever before - restricted almost entirely to just the children. I thought how I could best describe the atmosphere of this Christmas to people outside of the country and all week have added words to a list.

This is December in Zimbabwe:
Two inch long Msasa beetles armed with fierce nippers;
Great fat sausage flies everywhere telling us the rain is near;
Flame lilies - scarlet and yellow in the jungly green bush;
Paradise flycatchers trailing exquisite long orange tail feathers;
The bubbling call of the Coucal and the mocking warnings of the Go Away BirdsBig, orange, sticky mangoes.Towns seething with people and monstrous queues - not for presents or treats
but queues for money, for petrol and, longest of all, queues for sugar. This is Christmas in Zimbabwe in December 2006. To all my family and friends and to Zimbabweans wherever you are in the world, I send love and thanks for everything you all to do help this wonderful country. Until my next letter in 2007, have a peaceful and happy Christmas and New Year, love cathy.

Copyright, cathy buckle, 23rd December 2006. books "African Tears" and "Beyond Tears" are available

Saturday, December 23, 2006


An army Christmas in Iraq
By Martin Bell BBC News, Iraq

There are more than 7,000 British troops in southern Iraq.
Thousands of British troops remain in Iraq and most of them will remain on duty over Christmas. Army padres there will be trying to give the troops some spiritual cheer over the festive period.
There is not much to be said for war.
But one thing it does is to allow the military chaplains to hold their Christmas services at the right time, with the men and women of the armed forces all around them.
At home the services would be held days or even weeks before the event, in garrison churches, before the regiments dispersed for Christmas.
By contrast the 12 chaplains - 11 from the Army and one from the Air Force - serving more than 7,000 troops in southern Iraq will be in the thick of things.
They will hold midnight Masses and carol services in every unit for those who wish to attend provided they are off duty.
For the rest, Christmas is like any other day.
Patron of lost causes
Those attacking them do not take the day off and the defenders will, if anything, be extra vigilant.
We might want to give them encouragement and help rather than pull them down
Reverend Andrew MartlewBritish chaplain
Rocket and mortar attacks on British bases occur every day - three rockets fell on the Shaiba logistics base while we were with a padre visiting a sentry on a watchtower.
An artillery battery which went home on the last rotation lost four men killed out of 110: in modern soldiering, those are not light casualties.
Some of the young men, aged 18 or 19, are on their first operational duty, and even in their first foreign country.
Others have had one, two or even three previous tours of duty in Iraq.
All of them are facing six months of concentrated reality amid conditions of hardship, danger and boredom, which most of us who live in peace and comfort can hardly imagine.
Their homes are tents and their churches are portakabins.
In such conditions one of the few advantages of being an Army padre rather than a village vicar is that you can rename your church if you want to.
The Reverend Andrew Martlew, chaplain to 40 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery, holds services in a metal hut behind blast walls 10ft high which, when he arrived, was the Church of St Paul in the Desert. It is now the Church of St Jude.
St Jude is known, among his other functions, as the patron saint of lost causes.
Fag-break visits
The chaplains are frank about it: their task is harder because the soldiers feel more isolated, and have more questions to ask, because they are serving in a cause that is either unpopular or misunderstood at home.

Tony Blair spent three hours meeting troops before Christmas
The padres also wonder, "What are we doing here and why?"
The Reverend Andrew Martlew adds: "This is quite a difficult thing to say and an even more difficult thing to think, but almost by taking the Queen's Shilling we're putting elements of our consciences into cold storage.
"In order to help the guys we might be not necessarily economical with the truth, but we might want to give them encouragement and help rather than pull them down."
Another sign of Christmas is the seasonal migration of chiefs of staff and politicians. Like birds of passage, they fly into Basra and then out again.
As a disaffected soldier put it, they stay for the length of a fag break.
Tony Blair, on his fourth and last pre-Christmas visit, actually spent three hours with the troops.
The theatre of war - an aircraft hanger at Basra Air Station - was decorated with two Challenger tanks outside and two Warrior armoured personnel carriers, a Lynx helicopter and 300 serving men and women of all three armed forces inside.
These things are not left to chance. The prime minister's travelling party of 13, excluding bodyguards, included seven whose job was in one way or another to deal with the press.
Twenty reporters were also on the plane. That is a ratio of more than one to three of sheepdogs to sheep. On what is still a controversial conflict, presentation matters.
Getting on with it
The prime minister insisted there was no change of policy: "British troops will stay until the job is done."
Yet the soldiers themselves know that the Shaibah logistical base will be handed back to the Iraqis in the spring or early summer.
The three British bases in Basra will close. Forces will be concentrated around the airport.
The visible symbols of occupation, like tanks in the streets, will diminish to little or nothing.
The conditions will be in place to declare victory - or at least something less than defeat - and leave the field.
The troops just get on with it. They always have. They always will.
If there is a message from them this winter, it is more than one of seasonal goodwill. It is: remember we are here. We are here to stay or, better still, to go. And - please - do not take us for granted.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday 24 December, 2006 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.



Chinese retailers and young people have embraced Western festivals. A group of Chinese students has criticised a rise in Christmas revelry, urging people to "resist Western cultural invasion", state media says.
The 10 students, all from elite universities, posted their views on an internet website, the China Daily said.
They condemned the proliferation of Christmas trees, seasonal messages in the media and people celebrating "until very late" on Christmas Eve.
The government was to blame for failing to maintain traditions, they said.
"Occidental culture has been more like storms sweeping through the country rather than mild showers," the students argued.
People were joining in Christmas partying without giving its meaning much thought, they said.
"This is a phenomenon of the collective loss of sense," they said, urging a return to Confucianism.
But the posting had drawn heavy criticism, China Daily said, and was unlikely to receive much support.
Western festivals like Christmas and Valentine's Day have been enthusiastically embraced by Chinese retailers and young people alike in recent years.


Domestic flights restarted on Saturday afternoon. British Airways domestic flights have resumed at Heathrow after being cancelled since Wednesday due to fog.
The first flight to take off following the suspension left at 1322 GMT, bound for Newcastle.
The airline hopes to operate 95% of its Heathrow services - including 87% of short-haul flights - on Saturday, and a full service on Sunday.
More than 1,000 flights have been cancelled in recent days, and other airports in the UK have been affected.
BA said 55 flights to and from Heathrow, including 10 domestic flights, were scrapped on Saturday morning but hoped all 27 domestic flights would fly in the afternoon.
It is still using 30 buses to get people around the country.
A number of domestic flights operated by other airlines have also been taking off from Heathrow.
'Running normally'
Mark Bullock, managing director of Heathrow, told BBC News 24 the airport terminals were running normally and normal service would be resumed by the end of Sunday.
He said the biggest problem airport staff now faced was passengers turning up early for their flights.
"Today is a busy day. It's our third busiest day of the year.
British Airways customers should contact 0800 727 800 or check the website to see if their flight is still operating
There is regular travel information on BBC News 24, BBC Radio Five Live and the BBC's local radio and regional TV news.
This website will have updated advice and there are links to the BBC's travel and weather web sites below.
Travel advice at-a-glance
BBC Travel
BBC Weather
"But as I speak the terminals are running normally. Passengers are passing through security in the terminals as we'd expect ordinarily.
"If I could offer some advice, it would be to passengers: please check with your airline before departing for the airport, to check that your flight is still going. And please, do not turn up early."
A spokesman for BAA - which runs several UK airports, including Heathrow - said the tents which have been used to shelter passengers waiting for flights would remain outside the airport "for at least today" and that the situation was being kept under review.
Bmi has not cancelled any of Saturday's flights from Heathrow, and said it was looking to operate as full a service as possible.
BA flights from Heathrow to Paris and Brussels will resume on Sunday.
The flight cancellations came about after air traffic control placed restrictions on flights landing and taking off at Heathrow, because of the low visibility.
In the run-up to the festive holiday, the Highways Agency has suspended more than half of its 83 roadworks, and many rail engineering works are also being delayed until Christmas.
On the roads
RAC spokesman Adam Cracknell said major problems were not expected on the roads over the weekend.
"We expect there to be about 9 million or 10 million cars on the road on both Saturday and Sunday, mostly between 10am and 4pm as people carry out last-minute Christmas shopping," he said.
"There may be problems in city centres with parking but otherwise we are over the worst of the Christmas traffic."
At Gatwick Airport, where many tourist and ski holiday travellers are expected, there are no reported cancellations and most flights are leaving on time, although there may be some delays.


The Iranian government has vowed to continue its nuclear programme. The United Nations Security Council has unanimously voted to impose sanctions against Iran over its failure to halt uranium enrichment.
The sanctions ban the supply of nuclear-related technology and materials, freeze certain assets and limit travel for specific individuals.
The US representative warned that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons would make it less, not more, secure.
Iran says its programme is for peaceful purposes and has vowed to continue.
The draft was amended several times to meet objections from Russia and China.
Hours before the vote, Russia's Vladimir Putin and US President George W Bush discussed the issue by telephone, agreeing on the importance of a unified stance.
The US ambassador to the UN said the resolution sent a strong warning that there would be serious repercussions to Iran's continued defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"If necessary, we will not hesitate to return to this body if Iran does not take further steps to comply," he said.
Delayed vote
The main sticking point for the five permanent members of the Security Council was getting Russia to agree on sanctions, the BBC's Andy Gallacher reports from the UN.
After protracted negotiations, Russia agreed to back the resolution, saying it would send a "strong message" to Iran about the need to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In a statement before the Security Council, the Russian representative emphasised that the resolution did not authorise the use of force.
The text has been watered down to take account of Russian concerns over such provisions as a freeze on the assets abroad of specific Iranian individuals and organisations.
Both China and Russia have strong financial ties with Iran.
Russia is building a nuclear power station in the country and China has significant oil interests in Iran.
The resolution demands that Tehran end all uranium enrichment work, which can produce fuel for nuclear plants as well as for bombs.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to reconsider relations with those countries which support sanctions.



Do they care it's Christmas time?
VIEWPOINT : Menghestab Haile.

'Tis the season when some concerned present-buyers choose to sponsor goats for families in drought-hit regions. Schemes like this are little more than token gestures, says the World Food Programme's Menghestab Haile; a real gift would be serious political action to help those struggling with climate change.

We need to help protect people from every single drought or other calamity pushing them into destitution The growing damage wrought by climate change in sub-Saharan Africa demands more than seasonal good will; it needs true political will, matched by real action, if we are to halt the ever growing problem of world hunger.
Ask Mohamed Abey, a pastoralist leader in the dusty roadside community of Skanska in north-eastern Kenya. The 47-year-old says he owned 400 livestock before the 2005 drought; now he has just 20.
He admits pastoralism is no longer sustainable. While he is grateful for the monthly package of food aid, he urges the world to do more so the 2,000 people in Skanska can get back on their own feet.
Told that a lack of support for restocking or safety net schemes means that food is about all they can currently expect, he predicts: "If there isn't enough rain and we cannot return to pastoralism, we will come up with other options."
He then suggests trying farming, but admits he first needs help with seeds and irrigation.
Mohamed says some of his 14 children have been to school and he cannot see them returning to the pastoralist life. "The only option is to take them to school," he says.
If we cannot help people survive today's extreme weather, there's little point worrying about future climate change
Only too aware that droughts are hitting faster across East Africa and the Horn, pastoralists now know their best insurance is to educate their children so they join the modern economy.
Then when drought returns, pastoralists will not just rely on a fickle international community often prone to distraction by new emergencies.
Stark challenge
Compounded by climate change, the challenge in Africa is greater than ever.
In its annual report on the state of food insecurity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the number of undernourished people in the world was rising by four million a year.

Live Aid focussed attention on poverty; but for how long?The situation is worst in sub-Saharan Africa with some 206 million hungry people, 40 million more than in 1990-1992.
At the height of the regional drought this year, WFP gave food rations to three million people in Kenya alone. Even after the rains, WFP reaches 2.41 million Kenyans because of the severe impact of drought.
If we cannot help people survive today's extreme weather, there's little point worrying about future climate change.
Regular meals
WFP does indeed invest in the longer-term.
As part of its drought response, 550,000 children still receive meals at schools in the worst drought-hit areas. Another 1.1 million children receive school meals in Kenya from WFP's regular programme, which has run since 1980 and focuses on arid and semi-arid areas.
Some critics complain it is not right that 70% of global food aid is donated in kind, rather than as cash. They say that when hunger is caused by poverty, cash can be better than food aid.
And they call for less food aid from abroad, so local purchases help support farmers in developing countries.

The pastoralist way of life may no longer be sustainableSuch suggestions are often unqualified, even when there is clear need.
Mohamed's family eats food aid from the WFP. Little else is on offer in just about every community in the 80% of Kenya that is arid or semi-arid, despite development and investment plans and projects dating back to the 1980s.
On the issue of buying locally-produced food, WFP emergency operations often depend on food donations. We can only make local purchases when food is available and at the right price to balance the needs of producers and saving lives without disrupting markets.
In emergencies, local and regional food prices often skyrocket, making purchases uneconomical.
Food aid is one of many tools available to fight food insecurity. There is, however, insufficient evidence to conclude that cash transfers outperform food in contributing to food security - except in some particular contexts.
In most cases, it seems that food aid and cash together would provide a powerful response, especially if targeted to women.
WFP, like others, holds that the aid system must support people's livelihoods before and after crises, as well as meet the immediate needs of the hungriest.
This is a major reason why WFP is piloting humanitarian drought insurance in Ethiopia as one of several tools to help people hit by climate change before they have to sell their assets, lose their livelihoods and pull their children out of school.

Climate insurance for poor
People who depend on the land need all our efforts to build livelihoods that are less vulnerable to bad weather.
But it will take some time to increase overall education levels and employment. In the meantime, we need to help protect people from every single drought or other calamity pushing them into destitution.
Mohamed's children eat WFP food to stay alive and because it buys them time.
As with climate change, buying time definitely isn't a solution.
But in both cases, it is much better than doing nothing, in the absence of a massive sustainable drive to tackle the true causes of both climate change and the hunger fast growing across Africa.
Dr Menghestab Haile is a meteorologist responsible for integrating climate and weather analysis into food security monitoring for the UN World Food Programme
The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
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Cameroon corruption hinders Aids fight
By Jenny Cuffe BBC World Service, Cameroon.

Patients at Abongmbang say they are being charged for HIV testsIn Cameroon alone, the Global Fund and World Bank have allocated more than $133m (£68m) to stem the tide of HIV/Aids. But with corruption endemic, are the millions being spent on combating the disease being used effectively?
Latest figures show that 5% of Cameroon's population are infected with HIV/Aids, and there are plans to ensure they all have access to anti-retroviral drugs and cheaper treatment.
Both the Global Fund and a local NGO, the Scouts Association, have recently given money or testing kits to a hospital in Abomngbang in the rural east of the country so that it can provide free screening.
But when Serge Tchapdar went along, he was told he would have to pay - and he tells me his friends were also asked to do so.
And four members of staff - including the one in charge of the unit - say the hospital did not give any free tests.
The hospital's director, Dr Jean-Paul Kengue, says the tests were done for free - but the records he shows me as proof do not show this.
The tests are indicative of the problem in Cameroon. Tackling Aids cannot happen until a cure is found for Cameroon's second deadly virus - corruption.

The policies and strategies are to help the poorest, and now we have to work on the effectiveness of our policies
Urbain OlanguenaCameroon's public health minister
The government says it has put more than $4.5m (£2.3m) into the fight against Aids; resulting in treatment at specialist centres for 25,500 patients, the cost of anti-retrovirals falling to $5 from $13, and pregnant women, children and the very poor getting them free.
Roffine tells a different story.
"I am really suffering, because for the past four years I have been sick from HIV," she says.
"My parents discovered I was HIV-positive and they threw me out. I can't pay rent. I can't afford payment for my treatment.
"I don't have any work. I can't do anything for myself. I do everything to get drugs. At times I beg."
Roffine attends one of Yaounde's HIV clinics where she is entitled to free anti-retrovirals.
But after giving her the first month's supply, the pharmacist told her she would have to pay for any more - because her clinic did not receive enough money to buy the drugs it needed from the national supplier Cename, and the only way to get more was to charge.
It is a familiar story throughout Cameroon - patients complaining they are not getting the free or subsidised drugs they are entitled to.
Urbain Olanguena, the Cameroon's minister of public health, says Roffine's case is an isolated incident due to structural problems.
"It doesn't question the global system that today permits Cameroon to give drugs free of charge to people with no money," he adds.
"But if they need treatment they must get it free of charge... the policies and strategies are to help the poorest, and now we have to work on the effectiveness of our policies and ensure the implementation of these policies."
The $133m coming into Cameroon from the World Bank and the Global Fund has dwarfed the government's annual spending on HIV/Aids.
To distribute the funds, the minister has devised an elaborate system, co-ordinated by the National Aids Control Committee.

'Free' anti-retrovirals often end up being sold at Yaounde market
The committee passes money to Provincial Technical Groups, who then divide it between 48 private and several thousand non-governmental organisations (NGOs). At the bottom are the local committees, groups of volunteers who develop their own plans.
This system is wide open to abuse.
Halidou Demba of international NGO Action Aid says local committee presidents and treasurers sometimes misuse the money to buy food grains, stock them in their houses and sell them when food prices are very high in their local market.
Effectively, there is a hierarchy of individuals and organisations all giving money to the man above and taking from the man below.
The individual sums may be small, but multiply them across the country and you're talking millions of dollars.
The complete absence of written records makes proving corruption extremely difficult, and until recently the subject has been taboo in government circles. But in the New Bell Prison in Douala, three former civil servants are now awaiting trial, accused of embezzling $700,000 that should have been used for the fight against Aids.
Damaris Mounlom, who runs an NGO for women's health and development, blew the whistle on the financial irregularities in the Provincial Technical Group, where the accused worked.
"When we went to the field we found that every local committee have spent the money in the corruption," she says.
"The people responsible came to see them and said, 'Give me 200,000 because I am here, I have spent the petrol. I must teach you how to protect yourself. Give me 200,000.' - and so on."
But when Mrs Mounlom blew the whistle, she found herself blacklisted by the health ministry, and has now been removed from the National Aids Strategy Committee.
And corruption means donors are now asking whether there is sufficient return for their investment.
Francois Mkounga, who oversees the World Bank's HIV project - a loan of $50m (£25m) - says they are trying to improve the situation, but there is only so much they can do.
"If the civil society is not providing good information on what is being done on the field it will be very difficult to address those issues of corruption," he explains.
"There will be always allegations, but no way to address specific issues.
"We need to have a clear view of the mechanism being put in place by people dealing with corruption... we discuss with the government and try to get the government to understand where things are not working well.
"It's a challenge every day."

Friday, December 22, 2006


Russia's economic and business growth is attracting investors. Russia has decided to sell stakes in Sberbank and VTB, two of its biggest state-owned lenders, in deals that will be worth a total of about $12bn (£6bn).
The country's largest lender, Sberbank, will sell shares worth about 200bn roubles ($7.6bn) in February.
VTB, Russia's second-biggest bank, will try to raise 120bn roubles in May.
Russia has been selling stakes in some of its top firms. This year, it offloaded $10.4bn-worth of shares in oil company Rosneft.
Investors are interested in Russian firms because the country is benefiting from higher prices for crude oil and natural gas, as well as other metals and commodities.
At the same time, Russia's economy is expanding at a steady pace, helping boost the income of consumers.
There are concerns about shareholder rights in Russia, however, and critics have accused the Kremlin of ignoring rules and regulations when it suits their interests.



Visitors would most like to spend Christmas with Billy Connolly. Comedian Billy Connolly is the favourite Scots celebrity with tourists, according to a new poll.
The Big Yin was voted the Scots celebrity that visitors would most like to spend Christmas with.
Movie star Ewan McGregor was in second place followed by Hollywood legend Sir Sean Connery.
The most popular female celebrity in the new survey by VisitScotland was Strictly Come Dancing star and TV presenter Carol Smillie.
Other popular choices included John Hannah, Dougray Scott, Daniella Nardini and KT Tunstall.
The Big Yin came out on top with 30% of the votes in a VisitScotland poll asking potential visitors which Scot they dreamed of spending a white Christmas with.
Not surprised
Suzanne Casey, a VisitScotland manager, said: "Billy Connolly is a great ambassador for Scotland.
"We are well known for our sense of humour and our friendly people, so I am not surprised that he has come out on top in our poll."
The poll was part of a campaign promoting "white" things to do in Scotland this winter, from white wine at a rural hotel to attending the Scottish Snowdrop Festival.


Ken Livingstone called Mr Phillips a "complete dud". London mayor Ken Livingstone has attacked race equality chief Trevor Phillips, saying he could not have carried out his job if he was white.
The mayor said Mr Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), was a "complete dud" and said he no longer defended victims of racism.
He said a white man would not have been able to oversee the winding down of the CRE which is being replaced next year.
A CRE spokeswoman said the mayor's comments were "unfortunate".
'Cunning wheeze'
Mr Livingstone told LBC radio: "I think, if Trevor Phillips wasn't black, he couldn't have done what he's done.
"If a white man had been put into the CRE with the job of winding it down, there would have been uproar and they wouldn't have got away with it.
"It really was a quite cunning wheeze on the part of those people in government who never really liked the idea. 'Oh, look at these difficult black and Asian people making demands' - and now its been silenced and wound down."
The new Commission for Equality and Human Rights will combine the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Trevor Phillips will head the new commission
Mr Livingstone said he was opposed to the winding down of the CRE, saying he did not believe all minority groups should be included in the human rights commission.
The mayor also said he believed Mr Phillips was more interested in media coverage than helping people who had suffered racial abuse.
"Trevor thinks he's doing his job as long as he's all over the media," he said.
"Any public figure has got to project their views, but they used to do a lot of work at the CRE in taking up genuine cases of racism and prosecuting people and dealing with it there. All that's been wound down now."
The CRE spokeswoman said: "The CRE has always prided itself on bringing issues of race away from the margins and into the mainstream."
In September, Mr Livingstone accused Mr Phillips of "pandering to the right" so much that "soon he'll be joining the BNP".
Ken Livingstone said Mr Phillips had "an absolutely disgraceful record" at the Commission for Racial Equality.