Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Food shortages have become common in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is to start circulating a new 200,000 Zimbabwe dollar note, in a bid to tackle the country's inflation, the highest in the world. The new note, issued by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe from Wednesday, can buy 1kg (2.2lb) of sugar. Food and fuel shortages have become common as the government relies more heavily on imports, pushing prices to new heights. The official annual rate of inflation in Zimbabwe is nearing 5,000%. In practice, this means the price of a loaf of bread costs 50 times more in cash than it did a year ago.

The new note is worth US$13 at the official exchange rate or $1 on the black market. Zimbabwe's government has created a commission to find a way to control soaring living costs. But correspondents say that as long as Zimbabwe has a shortage of staple foods, including maize, food shortages are likely to continue. Critics have blamed President Robert Mugabe's policies, especially the seizure of white-owned farms, for ordinary Zimbabweans' hardship.

For his part, President Mugabe has accused foreign governments of trying to interfere in Zimbabwe's affairs. The new banknote comes after International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts that by the end of 2007, prices will be 1,000 times higher than they were a year earlier, Reuters news agency reports. "Price controls that are being enforced are likely to exacerbate shortages and ultimately fuel further inflation," said Bio Tchane, director of the IMF's Africa department, who described Zimbabwe's prospects as "bleak".



By Matt McGrath - BBC environmental reporter.

Hurricanes have become more frequent over the past century. A new analysis of Atlantic hurricanes says their numbers have doubled over the last century. The study says that warmer sea surface temperatures and changes in wind patterns caused by climate change are fuelling much of the increase.

Some researchers say hurricanes are cyclical and the increase is just a reflection of a natural pattern. But the authors of this study say it is not just nature - they say the frequency has risen across the century.

Hurricanes are a spinning vortex of winds that swirl around an eye of low pressure. Thunder clouds surround the edges of these storms and they can wreak devastation on people and property when they hit land - most famously in the case of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. Scientific analyses in recent years suggest hurricane numbers have increased since the mid-1980s.

This new study, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in London, looks at the frequency of these storms from 1900 to the present and it says about twice as many form each year now compared to 100 years ago. The authors say that man-made climate change, which has increased the temperature of the sea surface, is the major factor behind the increase in numbers.

"Over the period we've had natural variability in the frequency of storms, which has contributed less than 50% of the actual increase in our view," said Dr Greg Holland from the United States National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, who authored the report. "Approximately 60%, and possibly even 70% of what we are seeing in the last decade can be attributed directly to greenhouse warming," he said.

Experts say that 2007 will be a very active season with nine hurricanes forecast, of which five are expected to be intense.



The Yangtze is one of several rivers to have burst its banks. More than 650 people have been killed during weeks of flash flooding and landslides triggered by heavy rains, Chinese media reports.
The violent summer downpours have affected 119 million people, destroyed 450,000 homes and nearly eight million hectares of crops, Xinhua said.
Seventeen people were killed across four provinces this weekend alone.
The Red Cross has launched a $7.7m appeal, calling it some of the worst flooding to hit China for a decade.
"There's an urgent need for rice, clean drinking water, shelter, clothing, medical services and disinfectant," said Gu Qinghui, of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
"It's the rural poor who are suffering the most, including many farmers."
More heavy rain is forecast for the south-west, north-west and north-east parts of China in coming days, according to Xinhua.
Annual problem
Over the weekend, fierce storms claimed the lives of 10 people in the central province of Hubei, where water levels on China's biggest river, the Yangtze, have reached some of their highest levels so far this year.

Five people died in north-west Shaanxi province while one person was killed in a lightning strike in the south-west province of Sichuan, Xinhua reported.
One person was also killed in eastern Anhui province, where millions of people have been affected by the swollen Huai River.
Deadly flooding is an annual problem in China, with millions of people in central and southern parts of the country living on reclaimed farmland in the flood plains of rivers.
Last year some 2,704 people died in flooding and typhoons in China, according to the country's Meteorological Administration.
But experts are warning that global warming will fuel more intense and frequent storms.






A military spokesman said there was nothing abnormal. Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has ordered the retirement of 40 of the army's most senior generals. They include the commanders of the five divisions of the Nigerian army.
Nigeria has been ruled by the military for 30 of the 47 years since independence but the army denied the move was linked to fears of a coup.
Mr Yar'Adua was sworn in in May - the first time one elected leader had handed power to another but the elections were widely condemned.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered a similar purge of the army shortly after his inauguration in 1999.
Mr Obasanjo, himself a beneficiary of a 1975 coup, said he wanted to rid Nigerian military of its penchant for plotting coups.
But the military says Mr Yar'Adua's motives for approving the retirement of 40 top generals are different this time.
"We are now following due process and trying to go back to the best military traditions," Nigerian defence spokesman Col MD Yusuf told the BBC News website.
"There is nothing abnormal about that number of officers being retired. If they joined the army at the same time, isn't it normal that they'd attain retirement age at the same time too?"
Mr Obasanjo became Nigeria's first democratically elected president after 16 years of military rule in 1999.



Many rapes go unreported in DR Congo. A UN human rights expert has said she is shocked at the scale and brutality of sexual violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Yakin Erturk said the situation in South Kivu province was the worst she had seen in four years as special UN investigator on violence against women.
She said women had been tortured, forced to eat human flesh and men had been forced to rape relatives.
She said rebels, soldiers and police were responsible.
Last year's UN-supervised elections were supposed to end years of conflict in DR Congo but violence continues, especially in the east.
Over the weekend, Humanitarian Affairs Minister Jean Claude Muyambu said that some six million people had fled their homes because of the fighting.
Rape as punishment
"The atrocities perpetrated by these armed groups are of an unimaginable brutality that goes far beyond rape," she said in a statement after visiting the region.
"Women are brutally gang raped, often in front of their families and communities."

Rape as a weapon of war

Ms Erturk said some 4,500 cases of rape had been reported in South Kivu this year - with many more cases believed to have gone unreported.
"Most victims live in inaccessible areas [and] are afraid to report or did not survive the violence," she said.
She called on the international community to do more to protect Congolese women - there are some 16,000 UN peacekeepers in the country.
She also said no action had been taken against security forces who had raped civilians.
"There seems to be a pattern of using rape as a planned reprisal to punish communities suspected of supporting opposition groups," she told the BBC's Network Africa programme.
She also warned that sexual violence was becoming common outside areas of conflict.
"Violence against women seems to be perceived by large sectors of society to be normal."



Ban Ki-moon made his first official visit to the UK last month. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to call for a greater international effort to combat Aids and poverty in a speech at the UN.
Mr Brown wants world leaders to live up to their Millennium promises made seven years ago to tackle a range of issues.
He is also due to meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss issues such as Sudan's Darfur conflict.
On Monday, Mr Brown concluded his first formal talks with President George Bush at Camp David, near Washington.
During the talks, Mr Bush and Mr Brown renewed pledges to fight terrorism and seek progress in Iraq.
Ambitious goals
Mr Ban and Mr Brown will be expected to discuss ways of dealing with the situation in the Sudanese region of Darfur where 200,000 people have been killed.
Later on Tuesday morning, an invited audience will hear the prime minister's address at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
Aides said he will focus on trying to find practical ways of meeting the ambitious goals set by world leaders in 2000.
Goals include eradicating extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, cutting child deaths and combating diseases.
'Common struggle'
The speech comes a day after Mr Brown's first official meeting as prime minister with President Bush.
Our aim, like the United States is, step-by-step, to move control to the Iraqi authorities -Gordon Brown. He said both nations had duties and responsibilities in Iraq, and that he would seek military advice before announcing any changes in policy.
The president spoke warmly of the "special relationship" with the UK and said he found Mr Brown a warm, humorous man.
But the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson, at Camp David, said Mr Brown did nothing to return those personal compliments - even referring to their meetings as full and frank, which is normal diplomatic code for an argument.
On the issue of Iraq, Mr Brown said: "Our aim, like the United States is, step-by-step, to move control to the Iraqi authorities."
He also denied suggestions that his view of terrorism differed greatly from that of Mr Bush.
Mr Brown added: "We know we are in a common struggle, we know we have to work together, and we know we have to deal with it."



Thousands still live in displaced camps. Uganda's rebels are demanding $2m from donors, or they say they will not return to peace talks in South Sudan.
Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) technical adviser David Nyekorach told the BBC the money was needed for consultations with its various groups.
Talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA rebels were expected to resume this week.
Some 2m people have fled their homes and thousands of children have been abducted during the 20-year conflict
In January, the LRA refused to resume talks after Sudan's president accused them of committing atrocities in South Sudan and threatened to evict them.
They however returned following a meeting between UN peace envoy Joachim Chissano and LRA leader Joseph Kony.
Mr Nyekorach said their technical team has been unable to travel to the affected areas to solicit the views of its people due to lack of funding.

Peace talks bring change
"The talks are on course but we cannot return to the table without suggestions from the people, so this money is important," Mr Nyekorach told the BBC.
He said donors had failed to pay the money they had promised.
Uganda's government has also indicated that it is not ready to resume talks aimed at achieving peace in the north of the country.
Mr Nyekorach said they hope that the funding would be released to enable the peace talks to resume at the end of August.
LRA leader Joseph Kony and three of his top commanders are wanted for war crimes at the International Criminal Court and have indicated that no deal will be signed while the warrants for their arrest are still in place.
But last month, the two sides agreed to use Ugandan justice to address human rights abuses.



Sam Nujoma is seen as Namibia's founding father. The International Criminal Court has been asked to investigate the role of former Namibian President Sam Nujoma, in the deaths of thousands of people.
The Namibian Society of Human Rights lodged a submission with the ICC, accusing Mr Nujoma and other officials of instigating the deaths of Namibians.
Some were allegedly killed after being accused of spying for South Africa.
Mr Nujoma, 78, led Namibia's struggle for independence from South Africa and became its president in 1990.
He stepped down in 2005 after serving three terms in office.
The NSHR said it had evidence that bodies were pushed down a deep crevasse near the border with Angola.
The petition calls for Mr Nujoma and three others to be investigated for "instigation, planning, supervision, abetting, aiding, defending and or perpetuating" the disappearances of some 4,200 people.
The ruling South West Africa People's Organisation (Swapo) has denied having any role in the deaths.


Sunday, July 29, 2007





Researchers hope to solve the mystery of the men's deaths. The bodies of two famous Italian literary figures from the 15th Century have been exhumed from St Mark's Basilica in Florence.
Scientists want to learn more about their lives and find out what caused their deaths.
Pico della Mirandola, a humanist philosopher, and the scholar and poet Angelo Ambrosini, known as Poliziano, both died in Florence in 1494.
They belonged to the court of the powerful Medici family.
Pico della Mirandola is believed to have been poisoned, but this has never been confirmed.
Now, DNA analysis of his bones could establish beyond doubt whether this story is true or not.
Poliziano - who was believed to have been one of Pico della Mirandola's lovers - is also a possible poison victim. But another theory is that he died from syphilis, which killed thousands of people all over Europe in an outbreak at the end of the 15th Century.
'Archive of information'
Giorgio Gruppioni, a professor of anthropology from Bologna who is in charge of the project, said modern biomolecular technology and scanning might clear up doubts that have persisted for centuries.

The exhumations will be the subject of a TV documentary. "Bodies are an archive of information surrounding the life and death of a person," Mr Gruppioni told the Associated Press news agency.
"With today's technology, we can clear up various doubts that have been passed down for centuries and we can provide answers that could not been discovered years ago."
Mr Gruppioni said analysis using the latest technology would also be able to establish what the two men looked like.
"We have already noticed that the structure of Pico's skeleton shows he had quite a robust figure, whereas most paintings show a more slender, feminine stature," he said.
The exhumations have been filmed and will be the subject of a TV documentary when scientists have completed their work.



By Martin Plaut BBC Africa analyst.

Thabo Mbeki wants to influence the choice of his successor. South Africa's ruling ANC party has signalled the start of a process that will almost certainly see the selection of the country's next president.
The African National Congresss has called on its branches to begin internal talks on who the party's candidate should be.
This is the starting gun for candidates to succeed President Thabo Mbeki to declare their hand.
The ANC will decide on its candidate at conference in December.
Whoever wins the party's nomination is almost certain to become the next president, as the ANC won nearly 70% of all votes in the last election in 2004.
Selection race

Mr Zuma has the support of the left in the ANC and the party's youth. Until now most candidates have kept a low profile. Only the ANC deputy president, Jacob Zuma, has declared he is willing to stand.
His supporters have been criss-crossing the country, trying to drum up support. But so too have President Mbeki's men.
Although Mr Mbeki cannot seek re-election as the country's president he wants to stay on as leader of his party - and influence his successor.
A leading Sunday newspaper says the president will back Joel Netshitenzhe, the head of the government's information service, and a key ally.
But other names are also in the frame. There is Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramaphosa - two of the country's richest men - and the ANC's secretary general, Kgalema Motlanthe.
The selection race has begun, and promises to be the most seriously contested political event since the ANC came to power at the end of apartheid.


Saturday, July 28, 2007





Libya's PM gave details of the agreement signed with the EU. Libya has given details about the deal that led to the release of six foreign medics found guilty of deliberately infecting 438 children with HIV/Aids.
It said backing for a fund for the victims had come mainly from the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Qatar.
Libya's prime minister has condemned Bulgaria for pardoning the medics - who always protested their innocence - as soon as they arrived in the country.
The six were freed last week after Libya reached a deal with the EU.
There has been much speculation about who contributed to the Benghazi International Fund, which provided $1m (500,000) for each of the infected children.

Profiles: The medics
Q&A: Libya medics' trial
'An eight-year ordeal'

At a news conference, Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi said the Libyan government had not contributed, saying the money had primarily come from Qatar, Slovakia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. He did not specify the size of the contributions.
He said France had promised to provide equipment for the Benghazi hospital, where the infections took place, and provide training for Libyan medical staff over five years.
Visa rules
Earlier this month, Libya commuted to life imprisonment the death sentences imposed on the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian-born doctor after the families of the infected children agreed to the compensation deal.
The medics' release to Bulgaria was made possible by a deal struck in Tripoli on improving Libya-EU ties, following years of negotiations.
The BBC's Rana Jawad in Tripoli says that as part of the deal the EU is set to significantly ease restrictions on visas for citizens, which could see Libyans obtain them within 48 hours.
But Bulgaria's decision to pardon the medics has angered the Libyans. Libyan officials said on Saturday they had sent a memo to the Arab League calling for action against Sofia as well as a protest to the EU.
The authorities said Bulgaria was in violation of international law and their bilateral agreement with Libya on prisoner exchange.


Cathy Buckle's Weekly Letter From Zimbabwe !

Clear as mud
Saturday 28th July 2007.

Dear Family and Friends,

There is a different feeling in the air this week - the stirring of dusty leaves on thirsty trees, a clearer colour to the sky and the calls of birds not heard for the last few months. The changing season at least brings a feeling of hope and a tantalizing promise of sanity to a time of utter madness which many people are saying may well be the final straw for them. In the fourth week of government ordered price-cuts, it would be absurd to list the things we cannot get because they are now too numerous and include most foodstuffs and basic toiletries.

Almost everyone is living entirely off their pantries and gardens, on food parcels sent from people outside the country or simply going without the bare essentials required for every day nutrition and existence.

It has become almost impossible to keep up with the changing statements coming from the government and things are as a clear as mud. It makes you dizzy trying to follow the announcements: close, open, banned, unbanned, allowed, forbidden, can import, can't import. The rules, lists and regulations have reached ludicrous proportions and, as it was with the farms, there does not seem to be a master plan at all except perhaps the desire of the government to control, absolutely and completely, every facet of life in Zimbabwe.

Shops, supermarkets and businesses that we all thought would close down have not done so because of the government threat to take over companies that folded. Shop workers know their jobs are hanging by a thread and they have the look of fear and resignation in their eyes. It is the same look that invaded farmers, evicted farm workers and then independent journalists had in their eyes as their lives and livelihoods collapsed. It is the same look that we saw on the faces of people whose homes were bulldozed by government two winters ago.

As each of the last seven winters have come to an end and the promise of warmth and renewal has returned, it has been hard to believe that season after season has been squandered and food supplies have got less and less. Politics, farming and food supplies is where this all began and must surely be where it will all end too.

Until next week, thanks for reading,
love cathy.



Friday 27th July 2007
Dear Friends.

Someone who knows I come from Zimbabwe said to me just yesterday, 'I don't know if it's my imagination but I think there's increased coverage of the situation in Zimbabwe over the last few weeks'. He was referring to the UK media, of course, and - as if to prove his point - the BBC's flagship news programme Newsnight covered the opening of parliament in Harare this week with a commentary to the effect that while Robert Mugabe rode in a Rolls Royce with all the pomp and ceremony befitting a Head of State, albeit a failed state, the Zimbabwean people were suffering shortages of even the most basic means of survival. That report was on Tuesday the 24th July 2007. The same story was covered in The Times and The Telegraph but, that apart, there has been a steady drip of news coming out for the last couple of weeks. Papers like The Guardian and The Independent, not noted for their coverage of Zimbabwe, have both carried stories about Zimbabwe and the steadily deteriorating situation in the country.

For three or four weeks now the media in this country has been concerned with the floods; the heaviest rains since records began with major rivers breaking their banks and thousands of people flooded out of their homes, without fresh drinking water or power. It was major news so it was quite a surprise that any other story should make it into the headlines but last night it was ITV who turned the spotlight on Zimbabwe in their 10.30 News broadcast that is watched by millions. Using a hidden camera ITV showed horrific pictures of the men and women beaten by the police for taking part in NCA demos up and down the country. We saw the demonstrators running, literally running down what looked like Samora Machel Avenue only to be set upon minutes later by the police and hauled away. The film then moved to the private clinics where the people were being treated. There were dozens of them and we saw them lying on the floor, too exhausted even to stand, while they waited to be treated for broken limbs, bruises and lacerations. There were men and women of all ages, ordinary people, many of them deeply traumatized by the experience. Their faces told the story, their eyes wide with shock at what had been done to them by brutal men with baton sticks, fists and heavy black boots.

I read today that the mothers were ordered to leave their babies at one end of the room at the police station while they lay face down on the floor and the police took it in turns to beat them and even to walk all over them while they lay there. For five hours it went on and the children wailed and screamed in terror as they saw their mothers being beaten and trampled on by men in uniform, men who are themselves husbands, brothers, fathers and uncles. And what was the reason for this savage brutality? These brave and wonderful ordinary Zimbabweans, armed with nothing more that their banners, had dared to demonstrate for a new constitution. They demonstrated not just in Harare but up and down the country they took to the streets in their hundreds to demonstrate the will of the people, zvido zvevanhu.

Watching the ITV coverage, I felt a deep sense of shame, a) that I was not there with my brothers and sisters sharing their pain and b) that I had ever doubted the courage of the ordinary people to bring about change in Zimbabwe. Time and time again it is the ordinary men and women of Woza and the NCA who have risked life and limb for what they believe in only to be beaten back by a ruthless regime armed with all the crushing apparatus of the state machine. But a machine needs men to operate it and it is those same men who are prepared to beat, torture and even kill their own people in order to keep Robert Mugabe in power. How do they sleep at night? How do they go home at the end of the day and look into the eyes of their own innocent children and answer the question Maswera sei baba? How was your day, Daddy?

Political analysts and learned academics may drone on and on, week after week, about the causes for all this mayhem; they may give us learned analyses of the political ramifications of this or that policy but the truth is that until they too find the courage to get out on the streets with the people this nightmare of repression and brutality in Zimbabwe will never end. We all know that the end will not come because of Thabo Mbeki's intervention; it will not come because of SADC's mealy-mouthed platitudes or the West's passive outrage or the AU's continuing inaction. The end will come when the people of Zimbabwe stand together, united in courage and determination to tell the dictator what sort of future they want for their children. Last night the British people saw that courage demonstrated by the brave men and women of the NCA. Of course, in Zimbabwe, the likes of Tafataona Mahosa and ZTV will ensure that ordinary Zimbabweans don't see the same footage but you can be very sure, the world is watching.

Ndini shamwari yenyu. PH



Snippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. There is an itch gene.
More details

2. More pop stars have been called Paul than any other name.
More details

3. One-day strikes now account for 55% of industrial stoppages.
More details

4. Naming an MP is how the speaker of the House of Commons disciplines a member – as happened to George Galloway this week .

5. Only six countries have no scouts - Cuba, Burma, Laos, China, North Korea and Andorra.
More details

6. Instead of paying inheritance tax, people can donate to museums.
More details

7. The $100 laptop costs $176.
More details

8. People who suffer from epilepsy cannot swallow their tongue, despite perceptions to the contrary.More details

9. Jerusalem has only one female, Muslim taxi driver.
More details

10. Obesity is "contagious" - that is people who put on weight lead those around them to think it is OK to be bigger.
More details




Film critics review The Simpsons Movie, as America's favourite dsyfunctional family hit the big screen for the first time.

BEWARE: film reviews may include spoilers.

THE GUARDIAN - Peter Bradshaw
The long-awaited movie has an environmental theme
So many movies promise what they could never deliver in a million years. The Simpsons movie gives you everything you could possibly want, and maybe it's a victim of its own gargantuan accomplishment.
85 minutes is not long enough to do justice to 17 years of comedy genius. It's still great stuff. Like Homer with his nachos, I could gobble it up until nightfall.

The Simpsons Movie feels like a celebration of the show's sheer longevity, but it's a shame that it's not more of a cause for celebration in itself. This is a slick, crowd-pleasing escapade with lots of scattershot sight gags, and a damp squib of a suggestion at the end that, if all goes according to plan, we might be in line for a sequel.

THE TIMES - Kevin Maher
The Simpsons Movie is funny, clever and at times even hilarious (Bart skate-boarding naked through Springfield has to be the sight-gag of the summer). But sadly, it's also a minor movie and never more inspiring than the sum of its admittedly witty parts.
THE SUN - 'The Sneak'
Watching this fantastic movie is a completely different experience to just watching three Simpsons TV episodes back-to-back.
The cinema is filled with collective, infectious joy (apart from the bloke in front of The Sneak). If you want to re-live The Simpsons mass hysteria of the Nineties, go and watch this movie.

An extensive range of merchandise has already been produced
After 400 episodes, everyone's favourite yellow family finally show up for their first big screen outing. Having been with us for 20 years on the telly, it's been a long time coming. Alas, not long enough.
There's a great half-hour show rattling around in here somewhere, but the rest is padding at its very dullest. Given the anticipation - not to mention the hype - surrounding The Simpsons Movie, this has to be the most disappointing film of the year.
Still, it beats Transformers. Just.

In all honesty, it isn't quite the knockout we hoped for. The last third in particular feels sluggish, at least in comparison with the vivid rat-tat-tat rhythm of gags in the first 20 minutes.
Perhaps it's inevitable that when a show has set the bar so high, one will demand something more from a supersize incarnation.
Better to think of it as a restatement of classic Simpsons virtues - superb dialogue, inspired slapstick, quickfire wit - rather than reaching for higher peaks of comedy greatness. It's just fine, even if you do have to pay for it.

THE LA TIMES - Carina Chocano
In some ways, it reminded me of the final Seinfeld episode. As much as I laughed throughout, I kept wondering what was with all the emotional lessons. Strangest of all was Homer's retreat to the cave (or igloo, in this case), where he experiences an epiphany and sees himself clearly for the very first time.
In fact, The Simpsons Movie is basically a conversion narrative, in which Homer's eyes are finally opened to the error of his ways. The turnaround feels like the end of something - like, say, the series. Because where do you go from an (albeit briefly) enlightened Homer and sensitive Bart?
The only place I can think of is off into the sunset.

Laughs come in all sizes - large, medium, small and failed, the latter happening only seldom. While little has been gained in bringing The Simpsons to the screen, other than a bigger canvas requiring a much larger army of animators, it's still fun to enjoy the crew in this new setting.

WASHINGTON POST - Stephen Hunter
The genius is in the writing and in keeping all gambits created by the individual writers in sync... the piece has a tonal consistency and a narrative flow. A lost art in Hollywood? It's really one of the best movies of the year.
The Simpsons Movie is on general release in the UK and US.




WHO, WHAT, WHY? The Magazine answers...

A cat has apparently "predicted" the deaths of 25 residents in a nursing home in the US. It seems fanciful but can pets detect illness or even death?

Oscar displayed sudden affection for dying residents. The residents of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Rhode Island would be forgiven for getting a little anxious if Oscar was to curl up next to them.
Not generally friendly to patients, this show of affection has been used to warn families that their loved one has not long to go.
Sounds far-fetched? Animal behaviour experts in the US say Oscar is probably smelling a chemical given off by the body.

Yes, dogs can sense cancer and epilepsy. And Jacqueline Pritchard, an expert in animal behaviour in the UK, agrees the explanation is biochemical, rather than psychic.
"I don't doubt that the cat in this case is sensing death approaching. There's little we really know about it but as the body is shutting down, I would hypothesise that the cat is sensing and smelling the organs shutting down."
But there could also be a more simple explanation for Oscar's "ability", she says.

A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines"We change our behaviour when we know someone is dying, so animals will pick that up."
Dogs with an acute sense of smell and awareness are known to detect cancer and predict epileptic seizures.
A ground-breaking study by Dr John Church, published in 2004, claimed to prove in principle that dogs could detect bladder cancer in urine. Since then a pilot study at a charity in Buckinghamshire has continued the research.
There is also anecdotal evidence of dogs scenting a wide range of cancers such as lung, breast and skin, ahead of conventional diagnosis.
A woman in Wiltshire said her Chihuahua detected her breast cancer on three occasions, while a Dalmatian kept smelling a freckle that the owner discovered was a malignant tumour.
He doesn't get a crystal ball and headscarf and say 'I predict you will have one three weeks on Tuesday'
Tony Brown-Griffin on Ajay. The work of dogs in epilepsy is more advanced. The charity Support Dogs has provided 45 seizure alert dogs to epileptics such as Tony Brown-Griffin, 35, from Kent.
Twelve years ago, prior to her getting her first alert dog, she was suffering 12 major seizures a week and countless minor ones, so was housebound and childless. Now she is independent and a mother of two.
Ajay, a golden retriever, licks her left hand 40 minutes before a major seizure, which only happens twice a week now, so she can get herself out of harm's way.

Seizure alert dogs accompany epileptics. "It's a major stress reduction. I don't have to worry about epilepsy at all unless my dog alerts me. Before I was thinking 'Do I have time to cross the road, will I have a seizure?'"
But neither Tony nor her husband knows exactly how Ajay is doing it, because the slight changes in Tony's behaviour prior to a seizure are imperceptible to them.
"He doesn't get a crystal ball and headscarf and say 'I predict you will have one three weeks on Tuesday' but whether it's a change in blood pressure or body temperature or whether I sweat or smell differently, or a combination of things.
"In the early days it was very difficult to go with the dog because I would feel so well but he was 100% accurate, 100% of the time."
Despite the persuasive evidence of dogs' prowess in these areas, the case of Oscar the cat is still a bit of a mystery, says animal psychologist Roger Mugford. Although they can detect illness, he has never known of pets picking up on impending death, and cats would be unlikely candidates to behave like this if they could.


45 provided by Support Dogs
Training can take between 12 and 18 months
During that time a client is matched with a dog
There is no preference for particular breeds
The way they warn owners varies
Facial expression, certain movement, a smell or pupil dilation are the kinds of changes they can pick up on
Source: Support Dogs

Cat 'predicts patients' deaths'

The question is what motivates a cat to engage in this behaviour. Dogs being trained to detect cancer are trained with a pay-off of play if they do the right thing and if it's your own dog they have a familiar affectionate relationship and will pick the site of the tumour. But a cat in a nursing home?
"Dogs are very good at picking up on emotional changes and when people are depressed and inactive they are very good at comforting people in these circumstances. Elephants show the same altruistic tendencies, but not cats, they are very much more selfish, solitary creatures."
One theory about how dogs have evolved this capacity is that their wolf ancestors developed an ability to tell when one of the pack was sick.
But it is not just in health that the heightened senses of animals have proved to be more advanced than humans'.
Scientists remarked at how few wild animals died in the Asian tsunami in 2004, because they were able to sense the disaster and move to higher ground.


Friday, July 27, 2007


A 64-year-old man who died with his son as they cleared up flood damage at a Gloucestershire rugby club has been described as a community "lynchpin". Bram and Chris Lane were clearing up at Tewkesbury RFC on Wednesday. They were found dead the next morning. It is not known if they were overcome by fumes from a pump they were using to clear the flood water or electrocuted.
One resident said of Bram Lane, a former player and the club's treasurer and director: "The club was his life."
Mr Lane and his son, who was in his 20s, were working in the cellar of the club and decided to carry on trying to pump out flood water when everyone else went home.
Mr Lane senior had played for the team in his youth.
'Well known bloke'
Local resident Mandy Masters said: "He was just the sort of man who would go down there to sort things out - the club was his life.
"He was the real lynchpin. It is going to be a massive loss as he kept it all going tickety-boo.
"He was a very well known bloke, he had been at the club for donkeys' years.
"He looked after the bar and the social scene and watched the matches."
She said about 12 volunteers had gathered at the club in the Vineyard fields to help clear up the mess.
Les Adams, a member of the rugby club, said the centre had been damaged by the water surge.
"The problem was in the cellar, that was still flooded. They wanted to get it cleaned out and for the club to get going again," he said.
He described Mr Lane senior, who was a founder member, as the heart and soul of the club.
Charlie Corderoy, 21, who had played for Tewkesbury Rugby Club for the past two years, said Mr Lane's death would be a huge loss to the club.
"He was a very, very genuine guy.
"He would be the first to open the club and the last to leave it.
"All the players are really shocked. When we found out it was Bram I thought 'Oh no, what a loss'.
"It's going to be very difficult but I think we want to pick up the mood for him and to make sure we never forget him and Chris."
Safety warning
Chief fire officer Terry Standing said the deaths were a "tragedy" and urged people to think about safety before using pumps.
Tewkesbury was cut off in the flooding, with hundreds of homes left without power.
Attempts are under way to restore water to 10,000 homes in the town using a temporary supply.
Severn Trent Water issued a strict "do not drink" warning for anyone about to be connected to this supply even when it has been boiled, but said the water could be used for baths, showers and flushing toilets.
Some 140,000 households in Gloucestershire remain without water after a treatment plant flooded, and health and sanitation fears persist.

A phone line has been set for anyone requiring the fire service to help them remove flood water: 01452 729340



Reports suggest the bomb was aimed at police officers.At least eleven people have been killed in a suspected suicide bombing near Pakistan's Red Mosque, following clashes between Islamists and police.
"Most of the dead were policemen," a security official said. More than 40 people were injured.
Torn police uniforms lay about the scene in Islamabad while blood stained the streets, a BBC correspondent said.
The mosque was the scene of a bloody siege that ended earlier in July with the deaths of more than 100 people.
A protest grew on Friday as students demanded the return of the mosque's surviving pro-Taleban cleric, Abdul Aziz, who is in detention.
Security forces initially stood by as the protest began, but later dozens of police officers in full riot gear were deployed.
Armoured riot vehicles confronted the protesters, some of whom carried wooden staves or hurled rocks at police. Tear gas was fired in return.
Cleric rejected
The protesters defaced the mosque, which had been repainted in pale colours by the authorities after the end of the siege.

They wrote "Red Mosque" in large Urdu script on the dome of the building. They also raised a black flag with two crossed swords - meant to symbolise jihad, or holy war.
Earlier protesters had prevented a government-appointed cleric from leading Friday prayers at what was supposed to be the peaceful re-opening of the mosque.
"I was told everything would be peaceful. I was never interested in taking up this job and after today I will never do it," Mohammad Ashfaq told AFP news agency as he left the mosque with a police escort.
The explosion took place soon after the protests were subdued by police, said the BBC's Dan Isaacs, who was only a short distance away.
It appeared to be targeted at the police cordon arranged round the mosque, where dozens of officers were lined up, he said.
A security official told the AFP news agency the bomb was set off by a suicide attacker, although our correspondent was unable to confirm this.
"A man detonated explosives strapped to his body among two rows of Punjab police constabulary members who were there on duty because of the unrest at the Red Mosque," he said.
One official said seven police officers were among the dead.
Centre of radicalism
Such a high-profile attack in the heart of the Pakistani capital will be extremely worrying for Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, who is under increasing political pressure and facing rising violence by militants, our correspondent says.
Less than three weeks ago, troops stormed the mosque after its clerics and students waged an increasingly aggressive campaign to enforce strict Sharia law in Islamabad.
The mosque had become a centre of radical Islamic learning and housed several thousand male and female students in adjacent seminaries.

Protesters daubed the mosque with graffiti.
The chief of Dyala prison in Rawalpindi told Pakistan's Supreme Court that 567 of the 620 students detained during the siege and 36-hour battle had been freed. Of those still being held, three are women.
A legal aid committee says it has received 58 complaints from relatives about men who are said to be missing following the siege.
More than 100 people were killed in the siege including 11 soldiers and an as yet unknown number of extremists and their hostages.
The attack on the mosque was the fiercest battle fought by security forces in mainland Pakistan since President Musharraf vowed to dismantle the militant jihadi network in the country in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.



Libya has emerged from its pariah status in recent years. German leaders have attacked French President Nicolas Sarkozy over a deal to provide Libya with a nuclear reactor for desalinating sea water.
Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler said "politically this business is problematic", adding: "German interests are directly affected".
He told the German business daily Handelsblatt that the French and German governments should discuss the matter.
Germany's Siemens has a 34% stake in a subsidiary of French atomic firm Areva.
President Sarkozy clinched the deal on a visit to Tripoli on Wednesday, during which he held talks with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The nuclear energy project is aimed at turning sea water into clean drinking water.
Mr Gaddafi gave up Libya's nuclear weapons programme in 2003, ending decades of international isolation.
Sarkozy 'show'
Mr Sarkozy's deal was condemned by other German politicians, including Greens leader Reinhard Buetikofer, who called it "highly questionable in security policy terms".
"I would not be surprised if [President Sarkozy] soon got up to say: 'Gaddafi is a flawless democrat'," he told the daily Passauer Neuen Presse.
He accused Mr Sarkozy of "reckless, nationalistic activism".
A senior Social Democrat (SPD) deputy, Ulrich Kelber, said Mr Sarkozy's Libya trip was "all about show and the primitive pursuit of his own interests".
The Gaddafi-Sarkozy meeting was seen as a sign of the normalisation of ties between Libya and the EU following the release of six Bulgarian medics, who had been jailed in Libya for more than eight years, accused of deliberately infecting 438 children with HIV-tainted blood.
The EU and the United States had made it clear to Mr Gaddafi that resolving the medics' situation was key to improving relations.



Spielberg is waiting for a response from the Chinese government. Film-maker Steven Spielberg may quit as artistic director of the Beijing Olympics unless China takes a tougher stance against Sudan, reports ABC News.
China, a major investor in Sudan's oil industry, has been criticised for not sending UN peacekeepers to the country's troubled Darfur region.
"Steven will make a determination in the next few weeks regarding his work with the Chinese," his spokesman said.
"Our main interest is ending the genocide," Andy Spahn told abcnews.com.
"No one is clear on the best way to do this."
Does Mr Spielberg really want to go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games?
Actress Mia Farrow, writing in the Wall Street Journal in May
Human rights groups have accused China of selling weapons to Sudan that have ended up in Darfur.
"Steven is one (of) many advisers to the Beijing Games and he is trying to use the games to engage the Chinese on this issue," said Mr Spahn.
He added that the two parties were engaged in "private dialogue" and that Spielberg expected to hear from the Chinese government "sometime soon, very soon".
Colonialist claims
The film-maker wrote to Chinese president Hu Jintao in May, calling on China to pressure Sudan into accepting UN peacekeepers, but this is the first time he has said he is considering leaving his Olympic role.
His letter followed criticism from actress Mia Farrow, who attacked his involvement in the 2008 Olympics in an article in the Wall Street Journal in March.
"Does Mr Spielberg really want to go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games?" she wrote, comparing the director to the Nazi-backed filmmaker who chronicled the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
Last month China announced plans to launch a $1bn (£500m) fund to increase trade and investment in Africa, but the move prompted accusations of modern day colonialism.



Hissene Habre's regime is accused of widespread murder and torture. France has promised to facilitate the trial of Chad's ex-President Hissene Habre, who lives in exile in Senegal.
"We have to help Senegal financially, technically, legally to deal with the case," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on a visit to Senegal.
Mr Habre, dubbed "Africa's Pinochet", faces charges of human rights abuses during eight years in office.
He fled to Senegal in 1990. Last year the African Union (AU) asked for him to be prosecuted there.
Mr Habre, who is in his 60s, was deposed in an uprising led by the current President, Idriss Deby, and denies knowledge of the alleged murder and torture of political opponents.
A commission of inquiry said his government was responsible for some 40,000 politically motivated murders and 200,000 cases of torture in the eight years he was in power.
"That a dictator is brought to trial to answer for his actions is already good news," French radio quotes Mr Sarkozy saying at a press conference with his Senegalese counterpart Abdoulaye Wade.

New scramble for influence?

"That the court in charge of the trial will be made up of Africans and will take place in Africa is another piece of good news."
Mr Wade acknowledged France's pledge and called for more international help, AFP news agency reports.
"This trial will cost a lot of money, I think that it should be the international community which should see to its financing," he said.
Mr Sarkozy is on his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since becoming president in May and is due to go to oil-rich Gabon on Friday.
Correspondents say he is trying to encourage support for his idea of what he has called a "EurAfrican" partnership for Europe and Africa: urging the two continents to find a new way of working together, free from much of the colonial baggage of the past.



Simon Mann, the British leader of a group of alleged mercenaries, has asked the Zimbabwe High Court to stop his extradition to Equatorial Guinea.
Mann's lawyers said he would not have a fair trial in Equatorial Guinea and would face torture there.
He was arrested in 2004 when his plane landed in Zimbabwe. He was accused of trying to fetch arms for a coup in Equatorial Guinea, and jailed.
The High Court hearing on Thursday ended without a ruling.
Mann, a former SAS officer, was due for early release in May for good behaviour.
Also in May, a Zimbabwean magistrate's court agreed to a request by Equatorial Guinea that Mann be extradited to stand trial there.
This prompted Mann's appeal to the High Court. He is to remain in custody until the court rules on his appeal.
More than 60 men arrested with him - most of them South African citizens of Angolan origin - were released in 2005 after serving a year's sentence in Zimbabwe.
Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former UK Prime Minister now Baroness Thatcher, was fined and received a suspended sentence in South Africa for his involvement in the affair.
The relatives of other plot suspects who are being held in Equatorial Guinea have complained of abuse and unfair treatment.
One suspect, a German, died in prison after what Amnesty International said was torture.
Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony, has been ruled by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema since he seized power from his uncle in a coup in 1979.




De Beers is the latest group to be hit by strikes in South Africa. South African workers for the world's biggest diamond producer, De Beers, have voted to go on strike over pay.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said about 11,000 of its members would down tools from 31 July to demand an 11% wage increase.
De Beers, which is 45%-owned by mining giant Anglo American, said contingency plans would be in place to operate the mines during the indefinite strike.
The planned strike is the latest union unrest that has rocked South Africa.
'Double-digits is the route'
The NUM has demanded an 11% pay offer and has said it is still open to negotiations. De Beers has offered 8%.
"Workers have told us in no uncertain terms that double-digits is the route," said Peter Bailey, the NUM's negotiator at De Beers.
De Beers told the AFP news agency: "In the event of a strike, contingency plans are in place to operate the mines.
"However, the company would prefer to settle this without disruption to its normal operations or to employees."
More than a quarter of a million engineering and metal workers walked out in protest over pay disputes earlier this month in a strike expected to bring 9,000 companies to a standstill.



Some readers may find the enlarged image upsetting.

Enlarge Image

Conservationists have expressed concern over the "senseless and tragic" killing of four mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The bodies of three females and one male were discovered by rangers earlier this week in the Virunga National Park.
Officials said the "executions" were not the work of poachers because they would have taken the bodies.
Since January, seven of the large apes in the region have been shot dead.
"This is a senseless and tragic loss of some of the world's most endangered and beloved animals," said Deo Kujirakwinja of the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Congo programme.
"This area must be immediately secured or we stand to lose an entire population of these animals," he added.
'Scare tactics'
The four animals belonged to a group of 12 gorillas, known to researchers as the Rugendo family, which was often visited by tourists.

Because poachers would have sold the bodies as food or trophies, conservationists think the apes were killed by a group that was trying to scare wardens out of the park.
The IWC said the protected area was coming under increasing pressure from "outside exploitation", including the charcoal trade.
"Whatever the motive underlying this tragedy, the gorillas are helpless pawns in a feud between individuals," said Mark Rose, chief executive of Fauna and Flora International.
"We are deeply concerned about this incident, which follows more than 20 years of successful collaboration for mountain gorilla conservation."
A census carried out in 2004 estimated that 380 gorillas, more than half of the world's population, lived in the national park and surrounding Virunga volcanoes region.
The latest killings take the number of shootings in the area to seven. Earlier this year, two silverback male gorillas were shot dead in the same area of the park, while a female was killed in May.
E-mail this to a friend
Printable version



By Peter Biles BBC Southern Africa correspondent.

FW De Klerk started dismantling apartheid in 1990. The former South African President, FW De Klerk, has denied any involvement in crimes or human rights abuses committed during the apartheid era.
At a news conference in Cape Town, he said he had been falsely accused of being implicated in an attempt on the life of Rev Frank Chikane.
Mr Chikane was a prominent anti-apartheid activist in the 1980s.
Mr De Klerk became president in 1989 and started to dismantle the apartheid regime, which ended five years later.
He said there was no basis to these accusations, and he wanted to clear the air.
The former South African leader is back in the limelight because a former law and order minister, Adriaan Vlok, is to go on trial next month, charged with trying to assassinate Mr Chikane in 1989.
I have, on these issues, a clear conscience
FW De Klerk
Mr De Klerk said he had not been president at that time, and had had no security portfolio in the government.
He said he was not guilty of any crime whatsoever.
Truth and reconciliation
"I'm not standing here to defend myself today. I have, on these issues, a clear conscience", Mr De Klerk said.
"I'm standing here to state my case, not in a defensive spirit, but in a spirit that I am owed a fair deal in my own country"

Frank Chikane was nearly killed 18 years ago.
The former president said reconciliation in South Africa was more advanced than was generally acknowledged, but there was a small element who wanted retribution and the relegation of the white minority to the position of second class citizens.
He stressed this was not the approach of President Thabo Mbeki or the ANC government, but - said Mr De Klerk - fires were being stoked by some malevolent activists.
He said the state had the right to prosecute anyone who had failed to get amnesty from South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but a witch-hunt should be avoided.
Last year, Adriaan Vlok, the former minister, made an extraordinary apology to Mr Chikane - who is now Director General of the president's office.
He washed the feet of the man whom the apartheid government had once tried to poison.


Thursday, July 26, 2007


According to Richard Morrison -

There are Reasons to be Cheerful !

1. Tewkesbury would make a very nice seaside resort. All it needs is a bit of lateral thinging, and a decent ferry service from the mainland.

2. All those 'lost rivers of England' lamented by gloomy environmentalists over the past few years have now been found. Often in easily observable places, such as people's living rooms.

3. We could halve the budget for the 2012 Olympics by holding all the swimming and rowing events on the M5.

4. In the interests of agricultural diversity, the West Midlands needs more paddy fields.

5. The hardship isn't confined to the regions, you know. Some very rich people in London have had their wine cellars flooded too.

6. Politicians look even more ridiculous than usual when wading through waist-high sludge, while trying to appear statesmanlike.

7. The Government has now ended the hosepipe ban. So no more parched lawns.

8. Worse things happened in the 14th century.

He will never know how much laughter this gave me when I read it, and for which I am truly grateful. I too needed some cheering up.




Sir Emyr Jones Parry is Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, a man at the centre of decisions which can make peace and war. He has held the job since 2003 and is due to retire next month. The BBC's UN correspondent Laura Trevelyan spends a day with him.

"Premium economy?" asks Sir Emyr Jones Parry peering at an entry in the monthly travel bill for the UK mission. Sir Emyr Jones Parry's days are long and intense."Not club class," Mike Balmer, the head of management, assures him.
It is 0745 and Sir Emyr Jones Parry is carrying out one of his less high-profile duties - going through the accounts.
Not only is he at the centre of ongoing negotiations on getting peacekeepers into Darfur, but he is also, in foreign office jargon, the "sub-accounting officer".
It all adds up to a 16-hour day.
Global hotspots
The ambassador's morning begins at 0700 when he reads through the diplomatic telegrams, which include instructions from London, and situation reports from the world's hotspots.
This particular day, Darfur, and the upcoming meeting of the Middle East quartet at which Tony Blair debuts as an envoy, are featuring heavily.
Sir Emyr is to introduce a revised draft of a resolution authorising the deployment of a joint African Union/UN peacekeeping force in Darfur to the Security Council later in the morning.
The UN can be frustrating, period. Some people describe it as wading through treacle
Sir Emyr Jones Parry

Profile: the UN

The initial draft was opposed by some members of the Council - and the Sudanese government - because it threatened sanctions if Khartoum did not allow the peacekeepers in.
This latest text has been "modified" - as diplomats like to refer to watering down - so it is more conciliatory, as the ambassador later tells reporters.
At just after 0800, Karen Pierce, the number two at the UK mission, Paul Johnston, the political counsellor, and Justin McKenzie Smith, the first secretary, join Sir Emyr to discuss the day ahead.
The four mull over possible names for the leader of the European Union effort on Kosovo.
The factors affecting the timing of a vote on the Darfur resolution are weighed up.
Are the South Africans on board for the Darfur resolution? Sir Emyr's assistant gets South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalu on the phone.
It seems he is broadly supportive.
Then it is off to a European Union meeting, where the ambassadors from the 27 EU countries at the UN meet to discuss what is coming up.
That ends with a round of applause for Sir Emyr and his French counterpart, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, both of whom are retiring soon.
Next, a brisk walk to UN headquarters, where the Security Council is about to meet.
Darfur will be discussed a situation that the ambassador has first-hand knowledge of after visiting the refugee camps in Sudan and neighbouring Chad in 2006.
"We were always very determined to try and bring peace to Darfur. Actually going to the camps is a humbling experience - actually seeing people line up, applauding, hoping, expecting.
Britain helped choose the new UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon
"In terms of what we have not done for the people of Chad, which is to provide them with real security, I'm very disappointed with that. Twelve months on we're still working very hard on that."
I ask whether the extraordinarily slow progress on getting peacekeepers into Darfur, four years after the killings began frustrating.
"The UN can be frustrating, period," comes the reply.
"Some people describe it as wading through treacle. But the challenge in the UN is to try and analyse what needs to be done in a certain situation.
"To then mobilise people to reach agreement, and then when you've got agreement, ensure that implementation happens."
This, he acknowledges, can seem like a never-ending process.
Whatever the frustrations though, the ambassador is a firm supporter of the UN, describing it as "remarkably effective" in dealing with global problems.
Although, he adds, "within New York, trying to get reform, trying to shake up the UN structures to make them more appropriate for the 21st Century, that's very difficult."
Inside the Security Council, the revised Darfur resolution is introduced.
Outside, the Sudanese Ambassador to the UN, Abdelmahmoud Abdalhaleen, tells reporters the text is "awful", and warns that Khartoum will say "no" unless changes are made.
The Sudanese have a problem with the mandate of the 24,000 AU-UN peacekeeping force to be deployed.
Sir Emyr goes from the council to a farewell lunch in his honour, being given by Caricom, the economic grouping of Caribbean countries.
After the Caesar salad, the crab cakes and the tribute, there are more meetings.
Then comes a lengthy encounter with the Sudanese ambassador - an hour and a half.
"He's calmed down a lot," says Sir Emyr afterwards.
'Making a difference'
That finishes just 20 minutes before the ambassador is due to be on parade for the garden party he is hosting to mark his departure.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is present. Britain, as a permanent member of the Security Council, helped select him.
So how does the retiring ambassador view the world's chief diplomat?
"In terms of the way he's settled into the job, the position he's taken on key issues like the Middle East, climate change, Darfur, I can't fault him at all.
"I think he's adjusting to the difficulty of getting things through the UN system. And that is an art form."
The day is drawing to a close. A telegram must be sent to London, containing the developments on Darfur.
Sir Emyr Jones Parry is about to leave this world behind when he retires in a few weeks.
What is the worst part of this job? I ask him.
"Having an idea of what needs to be done and having difficulty getting agreement."
And the best part?
"Knowing something you've done will make a difference to people's lives."



Michael Rasmussen again protested his innocence as the crisis-hit Tour de France continued on Thursday after two traumatic days of scandal. The Danish race leader was sacked and withdrawn from the Tour for lying to his Rabobank team about his whereabouts in the build-up to the event. Rasmussen told a Dutch newspaper that team boss Theo de Rooy was "desperate" and "at the end of his nerves". He added that the withdrawal had left him "broken and destroyed".

Interview: David Millar
Interview: UCI president Pat McQuaid

Erik Dekker, a member of Rabobank's management team, added that the incident had been a "disaster". "The guys were riding for the yellow jersey," he told Five Live. "On Wednesday it was pretty clear we were going to win the Tour de France.

"The guys were working for that and were really proud to be riding for Michael. They came back to the hotel and they heard it's over. This morning we woke up and everyone was hoping it was a dream." Rasmussen is the third rider withdrawal from this year's race.

Pre-race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov failed a doping test on Tuesday and his whole Astana team pulled out while Bradley Wiggins' Cofidis team quit the race on Wednesday after their rider Cristian Moreni failed a test. The loss of the riders and two teams has cast a long shadow over a sport still reeling from last year's Tour, which saw eventual winner Floyd Landis fail a doping test during the race.

Before the start of Thursday's 17th stage, a defiant Tour director Christian Prudhomme expressed his delight with Rasmussen's dismissal and insisted the race will not be cancelled. "Rasmussen's exit is the best thing that can happen to the Tour. The race will start without him and the yellow jersey will be given out after the stage," he said.

Most of the riders we have spoken to are sick of being tainted by association

BBC Sport's Phil Sheehan
"The race will go on for the rest of the riders and we believe it would be an insult to them to stop the race. We believe the general classification is much better now than it was." Shell-shocked riders at the start of Thursday's stage expressed their support for the withdrawals of Rasmussen, Vinokourov and Moreni. "The decision regarding Rasmussen was quite right," said Fabian Cancellara, who led the race in the first week. "The teams should all work the way we are now working, fighting against doping. "The majority of us want a clean sport and each rider has to take responsibility. "It reflects very badly on the tour when riders cheat and it is good for cycling if we treat riders strictly. I hope everybody else will get the message."

And Quickstep's Cedric Vasseur, winner of the 10th stage, added: "People were once saying that the tests were useless but now the cheats are being caught. It's good for cycling that we find out who these people are." The French media reacted strongly to the latest news with the Liberation newspaper calling for the Tour to be stopped while L'Equipe said the blow was an opportunity for organisers to clean up the event.

The crisis of the last few days is the latest in a long line of scandals that have rocked the sport this year.

24 May: Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag admit to using banned blood booster EPO in the mid-1990s
25 May: Bjarne Riis, who won the Tour in 1996, admits to using performance-enhancing drugs and is later struck off the list of winners
15 June: Ivan Basso banned for two years for his role in a Spanish doping scandal
7 July: Tour begins in London without a confirmation of the 2006 winner as Landis' hearing continues in Malibu
18 July: German cycling federation reveals that Patrik Sinkewitz tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone before the race
24 July: Vinokourov tests positive for blood doping after winning the stage 13 time-trial; Alessandro Petacchi cleared of any blame in regard to his failed doping test at the Giro d'Italia
25 July: Moreni tests positive for testosterone; Rasmussen sacked by Rabobank and withdrawn from Tour.

International cycling boss Pat McQuaid said teams must take more responsibility for the integrity of their riders in the wake of the crisis. "The teams are the ones who have to control the riders," he told BBC Radio Five Live. "They need to guarantee the riders are clean and riding fairly. They are the ones that need to clean out the riders who are iffy." McQuaid praised Rabobank for the way they have dealt with the Rasmussen situation, saying: "He was thrown out by his team because they received evidence he had lied to them. He told them he was in Mexico but he was seen in Italy at the same time.

"It was a straightforward lie and they threw him out which was a very responsible decision. Aspersions will be cast on him and they weren't prepared to accept that." But McQuaid insisted the sport was doing all it could to beat the drugs cheats and was confident the battle could be won. "We have brought in a completely new out-of-competition test control system this year and we are doing more of it," he said. "We already test to the maximum, with blood tests in the morning and normal anti-doping in the afternoon. "It's the older riders who have been beating the system but there's new testing all the time. The tests do work.

"Cycling is working very hard and we need to weed out the bad apples of the sport. "I would hope next year we'll have a Tour de France with no positive tests. We've had two bad years and we can't afford another."



By Abdul Hai Kakar BBC Urdu service, Peshawar

Abdullah Mehsud was detained, then freed, by US forces. Taleban commander Abdullah Mehsud was killed by Pakistani soldiers and did not commit suicide, one of the owners of the house in which he died says. The man, Shaikh Alam Mandokhel, said that Mehsud was shot in the stomach.
Pakistani police had said Mehsud blew himself up to evade arrest after being surrounded in Balochistan province. Mehsud, a Taleban veteran who the US freed from custody at Guantanamo Bay, became one of Pakistan's most wanted Islamic militant leaders. He was buried in his home village in the South Waziristan tribal area on Wednesday.

Knock on the door
Shaikh Alam told the BBC Urdu service the militant arrived at his house in the town of Zhob on Monday night. He said that neither he nor his cousin, Shaikh Ayub Mandokhel, had been at home at the time. The militant and his companion told the boy who opened the door they had been sent to spend the night by an Islamic priest, Shaikh Alam said. He said the boy opened the guest quarters for them, served them dinner and went back to his computer in another room. "We keep receiving guests from the city or the villages. We have been hosts to government and intelligence officials too on several occasions. This is part of the Pashtun tradition," Shaikh Alam said.

At 5:30 on Tuesday morning, there was another knock on the door. Shaikh Alam says this time another boy answered the door and was arrested by security forces who had surrounded the house. The boy's father, who followed his son to the door, was also arrested. Shaikh Alam says Abdullah Mehsud was killed in the intense firing by the security forces which then followed.

"If he had blown himself up, his body would have been in pieces. But he only had bullet wounds to his stomach," he says. Shaikh Alam said it was Mehsud's first stay at their house, and that he had never spent a night there before.

His account differs from the official version. An interior ministry spokesman said on Tuesday that Mehsud's movements had been monitored for three days, and he blew himself up with a grenade to avoid arrest when the house was raided. Correspondents say Mehsud was an important figure who had a fearsome reputation among pro-Taleban militants.

Mehsud, whose real name was Noor Alam, was a Pashtun, the same ethnic group as the Taleban of Afghanistan. He lost a leg in a landmine explosion as the Taleban fought to take over the Afghan capital Kabul in 1996, and was eventually captured and handed over to the Americans in 2001. Released from Guantanamo in 2004, he quickly resumed his militant role and was involved in the kidnap of two Chinese workers, one of whom died during a rescue bid by Pakistani forces in South Waziristan later that year.



Oxford has been one of the places affected by flooding. The early summer has been the wettest since records began more than 240 years ago, the Met Office has confirmed.
Figures covering three months up to 23 July show more than 387mm (15.2in) of rain fell in England and Wales.
That is more than double the average of 186mm (7.3in) for the period, resulting in two bouts of devastating floods in parts of England in June and July.
The previous biggest summer deluge since records started in 1766 came in 1789 when almost 350mm (13.8in) fell.

The UK summer in facts and figures

This year some places had almost three times their expected rainfall.
In contrast, parts of the west coast of Scotland experienced less rain than expected.
Severe floods have hit areas such as Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire since Friday.
Rising waters have affected electricity and running water supplies and rail services.
Dry April
In June, people in South Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire were among those struck by extreme flooding.
The month of April, however, saw record breaking high temperatures, sunshine and virtually no rain in some areas.
Rainfall was generally well below average across the UK, with south east England and East Anglia seeing less than 3mm.
The statistics show it was the driest April since 1980 and the fourth driest since records began.
All regions set records for maximum and mean temperatures, with a high of 26.5C recorded at Herstmonceux in East Sussex on 15 April.



It is not unusual for women to wear trousers in South African cities. Moves by men to stop women wearing trousers in a South African township have been condemned by politicians and civil rights groups.
Earlier this week, a woman in Umlazi township, near Durban, was stripped naked and her shack burnt down.
Men in the township are demanding that all women wear skirts or dresses.
South Africa's Gender and Equality Commission told the BBC that this was the first time something like this had happened in the country.
"It is extreme and the issue around this matter is being investigated by the police," the commission's Mfanozelwe Shozi told the BBC Network Africa programme.
He said it was not uncommon for women to wear trousers in and around Durban.
Correspondents say men in conservative rural communities in southern Africa sometimes harass women for wearing trousers and short skirts.
Conflict of values
Describing the incident on Sunday, he said the men tore off a woman's trousers.
"Unfortunately she did not wear any underpants; and they also burnt the woman's shack where she was living, just because she was wearing trousers," he said.
The incident happened in an area of Umlazi called T section which is a hostelry for men.
"Only men are supposed to stay there - emanating from the apartheid era when people were segregated in terms of areas.
"It's a place where men live from the rural areas so that they can be nearer their work environment."
According to South Africa's Mercury paper, after this a community meeting decided to ban women in the area wearing trousers.
Social anthropologist Prof Anand Singh told the paper the incident was a conflict of values.
"If one looks at South African societies, they are all patriarchal and it is difficult for people who assume authoritative roles in homes to adjust to women assuming their own roles and status within society," he said.
The Gender and Equality Commission and local politicians have condemned the actions.
"I was shocked when I learnt of the incident, because I wear pants myself and am not ashamed to do so. It is also not forbidden by our party," the paper quotes Theresa Nzuza from the Inkatha Freedom Party as saying.



The first convicts were sent to Australia in 1788. The records of tens of thousands of British convicts sent to Australia from the end of the 18th Century have been put online for the first time. Subscribers can browse names, date of conviction, the length of sentence and which penal colony they went to. Ancestry.co.uk features records of 160,000 convicts transported to Australia between 1788 and 1868. It is estimated two million Britons and 22% of Australians will have a convict ancestor listed in the records.

Minor offences
The journey to Australia by boat took eight months, six of which were spent at sea and two in ports where supplies were picked up. The majority of the convicts were men and although a small number had been found guilty of serious crimes such as murder and assault, most had committed minor offences. Some of the crimes they were punished for included stealing from a pond or river and setting fire to undergrowth.

Stealing fish from pond or river
Thefts under one shilling
Embezzling naval stores
Setting fire to underwood

Sentenced for stealing sheep

One convict of note was the father of Ned Kelly, Australia's famous bush ranger. His Irish father, Red, was sentenced to seven years for stealing two pigs and sent to Tasmania. The first female convict to set foot in Australia was Elizabeth Thackery, sentenced to seven years for the theft of five handkerchiefs.
Overcrowded prisons
Transportation of convicts to Australia began as British prisons were becoming overcrowded in the late 18th Century and crime in cities increased following the industrial revolution. The first 780 British convicts arrived in 11 ships at Botany Bay, in New South Wales, in January 1788. However, the area was deemed unsuitable for settlement so they sailed north to Port Jackson. Convict deportation reached a peak in 1833 when 36 ships transported nearly 7,000 people to the colonial outpost.

Penal colonies were also established in what are now Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. After serving out their sentence many convicts remained in Australia, becoming government officials and settlers. Many Australians are said to consider a convict in their family tree is a badge of honour and 22% are direct descendents of these convicts.



Last year 30,000 Africans were caught trying to reach the Canaries. Hundreds of African migrant children in the Canary Islands are at risk of abuse, a human rights group has said.
Children are being beaten and left to go hungry by staff in overcrowded government emergency centres, Human Rights Watch said in a report.
More than 900 unaccompanied children have arrived in the Spanish territory after dangerous journeys in makeshift boats in an attempt to reach the EU
In 2006, about 30,000 immigrants were caught trying to reach the islands.
'Abuse ignored'
In the report, "Unwelcome Responsibilities: Spain's Failure to Protect the Rights of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in the Canary Islands", Human Rights Watch says the children - mostly boys from Senegal and Morocco - are detained indefinitely in the migrant centres.

Read the HRW report

Children held at four centres told Human Rights Watch they had seen staff violently abusing other children on several occasions. They also said staff ignored violence between detainees.
The group urged Canary Islands officials to close the emergency centres, which it opened a year ago, and provide alternative accommodation and care for the children either on the islands or in Spain.
It also called for a full investigation into the children's claims of abuse.
"These children should be protected by the Spanish authorities, not left to suffer beatings and abuse," said Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Simone Troller.
"The Canary Islands government should close these centres and arrange better care for the children."
Under new agreements between Europe and African countries, many children are returned to their home countries, but face a life without family around them.
Those who do make it to Europe often grow up to contribute to the economies of their host country, says the BBC's Africa editor David Bamford.
But with large numbers of adult migrants desperate for a new life in Europe free of poverty the emphasis is on containment, and so far the authorities have been losing that battle, our correspondent says.
Earlier this month, Spanish officials called off a search for 50 African migrants missing after a boat capsized near the Canary Islands. Forty-eight people were rescued and several bodies recovered.
Most African migrants seeking to enter the EU sail from the west African coast in crowded open boats, many dying en route.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Delta militants have carried out a series of attacks and abductions. Unknown gunmen on motorcycles shot and wounded an American professor and a security guard in Nigeria's oil city, Port Harcourt officials say. The American had arrived in Port Harcourt to attend an awards ceremony at a local newspaper office.
In another oil city, Yenagoa, the mother of a local state legislator was kidnapped on Tuesday night and a Nigerian oil worker shot dead.
The oil worker was shot dead in his home, also in Rivers State, say police.
Details of the shooting are still quite patchy, spokesperson Irejua Barasua told the BBC.
The US embassy in Abuja says it is aware of the shooting.

Ibiba Donpedro, the journalist for whom the ceremony had been organized, said the gunmen arrived at the newspaper office on at least two motorcycles.
"The next thing, we heard shots all over. Young men came in, shot the (professor) on the hand, ransacked the offices, shot up the windows, shot the security guy on the leg, and left," she said.
"They were saying, 'Where's the white man? Where's the money from the bank?'" she says.
She could not say whether the attack, in which the office was destroyed and two laptops were stolen, was a simple armed robbery or linked to the paper's recent investigation of alleged links between local politicians and criminal gangs.
The gunmen who kidnapped the mother of the Bayelsa State local assembly speaker in Yenagoa arrived in two boats on Tuesday night, a local vigilante group leader said.
The kidnapping was the third attack on officials - or those close to them - this week in the volatile oil-rich Niger Delta.
A politician from neighbouring Delta state was found dead on Monday.
On the same day, gunmen in Port Harcourt stormed the house of a newly appointed energy official and killed two family members.
More than 150 foreigners - mostly oil workers - and many Nigerians have been kidnapped in the region so far this year.
The hostages are usually released unharmed after ransom payments that are always denied by the Nigerian authorities and the oil companies concerned.
Despite being Africa's top oil producer and the sixth largest exporter crude to the US, the Niger Delta remains heavily impoverished.
Attacks on oil installations have cut Nigeria's oil daily production by about 25%, helping to drive up world oil prices.



Old Etonian Mr Cholmondeley could face the death penalty if convicted. A British aristocrat accused of murdering a man who had been poaching on his Kenyan estate has a case to answer, a court has ruled.
Thomas Cholmondeley, 38, a descendant of white settler Lord Delamere, denies the murder of 37-year-old Robert Njoya.
The court has heard from 38 prosecution witnesses since it opened in September.
Under the Kenyan system judges can end the trial if they decide there is insufficient evidence, but in this case have ruled the defence should go ahead.
Defence lawyers for Mr Cholmondley, who faces the death penalty if convicted, are due to call seven witnesses.
He has already said he shot the poacher in self-defence.
It is the second murder charge divorced father-of-two Mr Cholmondeley has faced.
In 2005 he admitted shooting Maasai ranger Samson Ole Sisina but said he acted in self-defence, mistaking the warden for an armed robber.
The case was dropped due to insufficient evidence and his release prompted national outrage and mass protests from Maasais.
The case highlighted the security fears of landowners and the resentment of the local Maasai population in the Rift Valley region.



Facebook has seen rapid growth. Networking website Facebook is to face legal action on Wednesday in a suit brought by a rival site's founders. Three founders of ConnectU say Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea for the site while at Harvard.
Facebook has become a global phenomenon with about 31 million users, compared with ConnectU's 70,000.
A Federal case accuses Mr Zuckerberg of fraud and misappropriation of trade secrets, and asks for ConnectU to be given ownership of Facebook.
Last year, Facebook turned down a $1bn offer from Yahoo.
Facebook has asked a judge at a Boston district court to dismiss the case.
Copying claim
The ConnectU founders claim that while at college Mr Zuckerberg agreed to finish writing computer code for them, but that he stalled and eventually created Facebook using their ideas.
In court documents, Facebook's lawyers say that ConnectU's "broad brush allegations" had no evidence to support them.
"Each of them had different interests and activities," they said.
"Only one of them had an idea significant enough to build a great company. That one person was Mark Zuckerberg."
Like Facebook, ConnectU is designed to connect people online. Users create profiles and can post pictures and messages.
The legal action alleges that ConnectU founders Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narenda began developing a networking site in 2002.
They asked Mr Zuckerberg to help finish the code, which he agreed to, they claim.
"Such statements were false," the court documents allege.
"Zuckerberg never intended to provide the code and instead intended to breach his promise... and intended to steal the idea."



Oxford residents have been using their boats to get around.
Oxford aerial video

Fresh floods have hit Oxford while residents further along the River Thames have been warned that water levels are likely to peak later.
Homes were evacuated in Oxford overnight while places including Reading, Henley and Caversham are braced for similar flooding.
About 350,000 people in Gloucestershire without tap water are getting supplies, but could be cut off for up to 14 days.
The prime minister said flood-hit councils would receive £46m.
Gordon Brown also told the House of Commons he would push insurance firms to make payouts.
Refused to move
The Environment Agency still has six severe flood warnings in place - three on the Severn - in Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Worcester - two on the Thames around Oxford, and one on the Ock, near Abingdon, Oxfordshire.
BBC weather forecasters said flood-hit areas would see heavy rain of 10mm to 15mm on Thursday.
These levels are not expected to make the flooding worse but could slow the speed at which waters recede.
Water levels in the Thames around Oxford rose throughout the night and are expected to peak later.

See map of severe flood warnings

Flooding is predicted to start in Henley on Wednesday afternoon and in Reading and Caversham in the evening.
Waters are also predicted to peak at Pangbourne, Purley-on-Thames and Mapledurham on Wednesday evening, with residents braced for floods.

Please extend my sympathy to all the many people whose homes have been damaged, livelihoods threatened, or who have been affected by the water and power shortages.
The Queen's message of support.

It is predicted Windsor, Eton and Maidenhead will escape flooding while Marlow, Cookham, and Staines will see limited flooding later this week.
Responding to questions in the House of Commons Mr Brown said all councils affected by the floods would receive 100% compensation.
He said that £46m had been made available by the government in the immediate future and spending on flood protection would rise to £800m.
Of those evacuated in Oxford, about 30 people went to a shelter set up at Oxford United Football Club's Kassam stadium while another 250 decided to stay with family and friends.
Those who stayed in their homes told how water began flowing in at about 0300 BST.
Angela MacKeith, 61, said: "We are under 2ft of water throughout the house.
"The awful thing is that this time last year we were in the same situation after a flash flood.
"It appeared to be bubbling straight up from the water table."

Water covered the pitch at Abingdon Town FC in Oxfordshire.

Floods: At-a-glance
Water operation nerve centre
New alert in Cambridgeshire
Oxford homes flooded
Pumping continues in Glos

The Environment Agency's Robert Runcie said it was not the Thames itself causing the problems in Oxford, but the tributaries flowing into it and creating the higher levels.
There had been concerns about Osney Mead substation, which supplies power to Oxford city centre, but this has now receded, according to the county council.
In Gloucestershire, water supplies have been cut off after a treatment plant flooded.
Severn Trent Water is supplying water tankers known as bowsers, while the Army is delivering three million bottles of water a day from a base Cheltenham racecourse.
But Gloucestershire's Chief Constable Tim Brain said there had been instances of people "behaving most selfishly", using "very large receptacles" to empty bowsers and trying to resell water at inflated prices.
"That is simply theft and it is being treated as theft," he said.
'War-time spirit'
Long queues formed in supermarket car parks on Wednesday as people waited to collect their daily ration of six two-litre bottles of water.
At the Tesco in Quedgeley residents said the crisis had fostered a war-time spirit.
Reginald Davies, 91, who fought during the Second World War, said: "I did five days without water in Burma.
"I've seen men go mad from thirst. This is nothing. The worst thing is getting out of bed in the morning at 91 to get water."
Dr Brain said it could take seven to 14 days to restore supplies, but advised people to remain calm as there was enough water for everyone.
Gloucestershire County Council's chief executive Peter Bungard said the council had received 10,000 calls for help and advice since Monday morning.
He said there were about 25,000 elderly and vulnerable adults in the county and that 1,400 portable toilets had been ordered for those most in need.
Gloucestershire Police said teenager Mitchell Taylor, 19, who has not been seen since the height of the floods was still missing.
He disappeared after leaving a bar in Tewkesbury in the early hours of Saturday. It is not known if his disappearance is related to the floods.

Central Trains - services between Great Malvern and Hereford suspended
First Great Western - services suspended between Oxford and Didcot, and Oxford and Worcester
Virgin trains - services between Oxford and Reading suspended.

Latest from BBC Travel

There have been calls for the government to seek money from the EU to help cover costs arising from the floods.
Conservative MEP for the South West Neil Parish said: "There is a solidarity fund that is set up for disasters and of course many countries including Greece and Sweden in 2005 had 82m euros from the fund.
"There's money available to restore the infrastructure for drinking water, transport, telecommunications, health and education."
Environment Agency floodline: 0845 988 1188


The Severn: Severe warnings for Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Worcester
The Thames: Severe warnings affecting Eynsham to Sandford Lock and also Little Wittenham
The Ock: Severe warnings from Charney Bassett to Abingdon