Wednesday, October 31, 2007


The boy was questioned a day after the fire started. A young boy has confessed to starting a devastating wildfire in California by playing with matches, officials say.
The unidentified child was questioned by police about a fire that destroyed 63 buildings north of Los Angeles.
Wildfires forced 640,000 people from their homes last week in the biggest evacuation in California's history.
Officials said the boy was sent home after confessing, and the district attorney's office is said to be considering whether to press charges.
The boy was questioned in relation to the Buckweed fire, which started on 21 October, and burned 59 sq miles (153 sq km) in the Santa Clarita area.
Three civilians and one firefighter were injured, and state officials estimate the cost of the blaze at $7.4m (£3.6m).
It was initially believed that downed power lines had started the fire.

The Buckweed fire was one of more than a dozen blazes.
Arson is also blamed for a blaze that destroyed 15 homes in Orange County, south of Los Angeles.
A reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
In total, at least 1,800 homes and other buildings were destroyed by last week's fires, and at least 14 people died as a result.
Damage in San Diego county alone is estimated at about $1bn (£487m), with nearly 800 sq miles (2,072 sq km) of land scorched.
A handful of fires are still burning, but they are mostly contained.



The judges are ruling on a total of 28 defendants. Security forces are on alert in Spain as a court began delivering its verdict on the March 2004 Madrid train bombs, the country's largest terror trial. A three-judge panel began its summary at 1130 (1030 GMT) on Wednesday, to be followed by verdicts and sentences.

Twenty-eight people faced trial over the devastating nail-bomb blasts that hit four commuter trains, killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,800. All the accused pleaded innocent during the four-month trial. Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez is reading the summary, which is expected to take about 45 minutes. There are 28 defendants, 27 men and one woman, 19 mostly Moroccan Arabs and nine Spaniards, who faced charges including murder, forgery and conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack over the 11 March 2004 blasts.


Bombs killed 191 people, injured 1,841
Ten backpacks filled with dynamite and nails blew up on four packed commuter trains
Twenty-eight on trial - 19 Arabs, mostly Moroccans, and nine Spaniards
Seven top suspects blew themselves up during police raid in April 2004
Prosecutors believe bombings were an Islamist plot
All defendants pleaded innocent

The defendants

The top eight defendants each face nearly 39,000 years in jail if found guilty on all charges, but under Spanish law the maximum sentence for terrorism is 40 years. Spanish investigators say the accused were part of a local Islamist militant group inspired by al-Qaeda, but had no direct links to the terror organisation. Fourteen of the accused went on hunger strike during the trial, in protest against what they called unjust accusations against them. Seven suspected ringleaders died in a suicide blast in a Madrid apartment three weeks after the attacks.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says he hopes the ruling will "give a definitive answer to those who have put forth absurd and despicable doubts about 11 March". Many Spaniards still have serious doubts about who was behind the attacks, says the BBC's Danny Wood in Madrid. Some theories - supported by a number of victims - suggest they were part of a coup d'etat involving Spain's secret services. But many others believe the verdict will clear up such doubts, and regard it as a key step towards recovery, our correspondent says.

Memorial services are planned for a week after the verdict.



By John Simpson World affairs editor, BBC News

Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz became king of Saudi Arabia in 2005.

Saudi king interview

Interviewing the leader of a country for TV is rarely easy.
Some try to get you to tell them the questions in advance. Others insist that you must leave your equipment with them for 24 hours beforehand, or search you rigorously.
When you saw Saddam Hussein you had to wash your hands in a special solution first, in case you might infect him.
But when I went to interview King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in Jeddah, a couple of days before his state visit to Britain, we did not even have to put our gear through an X-ray machine nor go through a metal detector.
I thought it was going to be easy.
King Abdullah's palace is tasteful, modern and charming. The white marble is cool and pleasant after the heat outside. The offices are wood-panelled, and there are some attractive paintings.
I was just running through my questions in my head when the difficult part began.
A few minutes before we thought the interview was going to begin, someone came to speak to us.

The king would not, it seemed, be prepared to talk about Iraq, or the possibility that the Americans might bomb Iran.
Nor would he speak about the BAE arms contract between the UK and Saudi Arabia, with its attendant allegations of corrupt payments.
The Saudis knew I wanted to talk about these subjects because although I had refused to hand over the questions in advance, I thought it was not unreasonable to tell them the general areas I wanted to cover.
I have never been told so close to an interview that some of the main questions are off limits.
And so I heard myself saying that, unfortunately, it looked as though we would not be having an interview after all.
But I did not quite walk out. That would have been rude, and the Saudis had treated us with kindness and courtesy.

The minister said he would call the Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, and ask him to give us an interview about the subjects the king did not want to speak about
Instead, we had a polite but firm argument. There were two ministers and an ambassador on the Saudi side, and I called in our producer, Oggy Boytchev, to back me up.
Cups of tea came in, and little sweets, and glasses of water. Two hours passed.
Then the minister who had been leading the discussion spoke to the other minister, and made a new suggestion.
He would, he said, call the Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, and ask him to give us an interview about the subjects the king did not want to speak about.
I have interviewed Prince Saud before. In fact, he gave me one of the best exclusives I have had, shortly before the US-led invasion of Iraq, when he showed how bitterly opposed the Saudis were to it.
In his quiet way, Prince Saud can be ferocious.

Something else had become clear to me by now. The king was not refusing to talk about Iran and Iraq because he was not interested in them.
On the contrary, I now realised he felt so strongly about what the US had done in Iraq, and the thought that they might soon bomb Iran, that he felt he might upset his relations with Washington if he spoke openly to me.
So I agreed.
Within five minutes of agreeing to the deal, I was sitting opposite the king. He was shrewd and pleasant and surprisingly frank, and at 82 still as sharp-minded as ever.
He said enough things to me about terrorism and the failure of other countries, including the UK, to act against terrorist activities, to get headlines around the world.
At the end, he said he wanted to say something personally to me.
"I have not spoken about some subjects," he said, "Because I did not want either to be dishonest or evasive with you."
Maybe he wanted to demonstrate how independent-minded Saudi Arabia has become during his rule.
But it was certainly one of the most complicated and interesting interviews I have ever done.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Mosul Dam has been a problem for engineers since it was built in 1984. The largest dam in Iraq is at risk of an imminent collapse that could unleash a 20m (65ft) wave of water on Mosul, a city of 1.7m people, the US has warned.
In May, the US told Iraqi authorities to make Mosul Dam a national priority, as a catastrophic failure would result in a "significant loss of life".
However, a $27m (£13m) US-funded reconstruction project to help shore up the dam has made little or no progress.
Iraq says it is reducing the risk and insists there is no cause for alarm.

An aerial view of the Mosul dam and its flood plain.
Enlarge Image

However, a US watchdog said reconstruction of the dam had been plagued by mismanagement and potential fraud.
In a report published on Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said US-funded "short-term solutions" had yet to significantly solve the dam's problems.
SIGIR found multiple failures in several of the 21 contracts awarded to repair the dam.
Among the faults were faulty construction and delivery of improper parts, as well as projects which were not completed despite full payments having been made.
The dam has been a problem for Iraqi engineers since it was constructed in 1984.
It was built on water-soluble gypsum, which caused seepage within months of its completion and led investigators to describe the site as "fundamentally flawed".

In September 2006, the US Army Corps of Engineers determined that the dam, 45 miles upstream of Mosul on the River Tigris, presented an unacceptable risk.
"In terms of internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world," the corps warned, according to the SIGIR report. "If a small problem [at] Mosul Dam occurs, failure is likely."
A catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam would result in flooding along the Tigris River all the way to Baghdad - US letter to Iraqi government.
The corps later told US commanders to move their equipment away from the Tigris flood plain near Mosul because of the dam's instability.
The top US military commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker then wrote to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki urging him to make fixing the dam a "national priority".
"A catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam would result in flooding along the Tigris River all the way to Baghdad" the letter on 3 May warned.
"Assuming a worst-case scenario, an instantaneous failure of Mosul Dam filled to its maximum operating level could result in a flood wave 20m deep at the city of Mosul, which would result in a significant loss of life and property."
If that were to happen some have predicted that as many as 500,000 people could be killed.

Iraqi authorities, however, say they are taking steps to reduce the risk and they do not believe there is cause for alarm.
The Iraqi Minister for Water Resources, Latif Rashid, told the BBC that a number of steps were being taken to tackle the problem, including a reduction in water levels in the reservoir and a round-the-clock operation to pump grouting into the dam's foundations.
Work would also begin next year on a longer-term plan to make the foundations safe by encasing them in a concrete curtain, he added.
The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says the debate over the dam has gone on largely behind the scenes so as not to cause public panic or attract the interest of insurgents.



Uganda's northern rebel group says it will hold unprecedented talks with the president in the capital on Thursday.
The visit by senior Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) figures will be the first to Kampala since the start of the 21-year bloody insurgency in the north.
The meeting is due after President Yoweri Museveni returns from the US, where he is due to talk to President George Bush about the peace process.
Last year, LRA leaders signed a truce with the government at talks in Sudan.
Be reassured that there is no split within the Lord's Resistance Army hierarchy -LRA statement.

LRA leader Joseph Kony remains at a rebel camp across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He has refused to take part in long-running but stalled peace talks in south Sudan unless the International Criminal Court lifts an arrest warrant against him.
Some two million people have been displaced and thousands killed during the conflict in northern Uganda.
Ahead of Mr Museveni's trip to the US, Ugandans petitioned Mr Bush to re-affirm his support for the ongoing peace process by urging the Ugandan leader not to seek a military option to end the rebellion.
Thursday's talks - to be attended by the rebels' chief negotiator Martin Ojul - are to pave the way for the LRA to hold nationwide consultations aimed at finding a lasting peace.

Peace talks bring change

An advance party of LRA security representatives have been in Kampala since Monday.
"The LRA peace team led by Mr Ojul will meet President Museveni before embarking on its mission covering West Nile, northern and eastern, central and western Uganda," LRA spokesman George Ayoo said at a press conference in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.
He said that Mr Ojul, who was present at the media briefing, will be accompanied by South Sudan Information Minister Samson Kwaje and representatives from South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique during the consultation exercise.
Earlier, Uganda's Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, who heads the government mediation team, said the new development will cement the achievements made in Juba, south Sudan's capital.
"We think that confidence has been built within both sides and we do not expect the walk outs that have been experienced in the past," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.
The LRA has once again dismissed reports of fighting between Mr Kony and his deputy, leading to mass desertions.
"To you people of Uganda be reassured that there is no split within the Lord's Resistance Army hierarchy," said an LRA statement issued at the press conference.
"There is superb and warm relationship between General Joseph Kony and Lt Gen Vincent Otti."



The BBC's Peter Biles is keeping a diary of his travels across South Africa examining issues facing the governing African National Congress (ANC) ahead of its major leadership contest and national conference in December:

Free State

It is always a liberating experience to get out of Johannesburg and explore the vast open space of South Africa's "platteland" (countryside).
My first stop on this two week journey is the town of Smithfield where I meet Carmel Rickard, a writer and social commentator.
She left Durban six years ago seeking a better quality of life in the southern Free State.
Smithfield is a rather quaint little place, founded in 1848, but Carmel tells me it is typical of so many small towns across the country.
"This is a poor community with few resources, and people are struggling," she says.
"The infrastructure is hopelessly inadequate and the local council cannot provide essential services."
She adds that there is also corruption and maladministration.

The N6 highway (known as "The Friendly Route" - for a reason that escapes me) leads across the Free State border into the mountains of the Eastern Cape.
The Udaba Band expresses concern about political and social issues
Here the towns bear British imperial names: Queenstown, Jamestown and King William's Town.
They conjure up images of the 19th century frontier wars.
At the foot of the Amatola Hills, I reach the tranquil surroundings of Fort Hare University.
This is the oldest black university in southern Africa, and can boast having produced four African presidents and three prime ministers.
Some of the university's rebellious luminaries, notably Nelson Mandela, were expelled before completing their degrees, but all that is forgotten nearly 70 years on.
Under the trees in Freedom Square, I meet a handful of today's students: Lisa, Phozisa, Dumisani, Pumelele and Baxolisa.
I want to know if they are as politically engaged as their parents' generation which rallied behind the fight against apartheid.
The youngsters acknowledge the ANC's considerable achievements in moving South Africa forward since 1994.
Lisa says she is worried about the personality-driven politics that herald the start of the party's leadership race .
"It's quite confusing for me at this stage. You ask yourself which ANC: The Jacob Zuma ANC, the Thabo Mbeki ANC or the Tokyo Sexwale ANC?"
They are also anxious about the growing gap between rich and poor in South Africa.
"Who are these black leaders who know the interests of the people? The rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer and it leaves us with a question mark. We feel like we are isolated," says Dumusani, a third-year politics student.
Phumelele introduces his Udaba Band - a trio of performers with traditional instruments - who produce a haunting, melodic sound.
The Xhosa lyrics express concern about political, economic and social issues of the day.
The ANC could do well to listen.


Monday, October 29, 2007


Mexico had to halt one-fifth of its production because of storm fears. Oil prices have risen to fresh highs due to a combination of the weak dollar, supply concerns in Mexico and continued tensions in northern Iraq. In early Asian trading, US light crude passed $93 a barrel for the first time, hitting $93.20 before easing back to $92.88 by early afternoon in Europe. London's Brent also hit a fresh high of $90 before pulling back to $89.58. Some analysts believe oil prices will hit $100 a barrel before the end of 2007 if current pressures persist.

An array of factors has forced prices up, analysts said. In past months there also have been concerns about the stop-start violence in Nigeria's main oil producing region, the international community's unresolved nuclear dispute with Iran, and concerns over heating supplies for the us Winter.

What is driving prices so high?

At the same time, the US currency has fallen to a fresh low against the euro, making oil - which is priced in dollars - attractive to buy, analysts said. Suggestions that the US Federal Reserve may cut interest rates further when it meets later this week has further hit confidence in the dollar and pushed money towards oil. "It looks like everyone wants to sell the dollar and buy other assets, whatever assets whether they be equities or commodities," said Christoph Eibl, head of trading at Tiberius Asset Management.

In recent days, prices have spiked further on worries about disruption to a fifth of Mexican oil output following a tropical storm in the Caribbean. Worries over Mexican output have also pushed prices up. Earlier in the month, prices were driven by fears that Turkey may carry out an extensive ground assault against Kurdish rebels in Iraq. US light crude broke through the $92 a barrel price for the first time on Friday and prices have now risen 30% since the start of August.

Efforts by producers' group Opec to restrain prices by agreeing to lift production from 1 November have so far failed to calm the market. Taking inflation into account, prices are still below the peak of $101 a barrel seen in 1980. But analysts are now bracing themselves for oil to approach the nominal $100 mark in the next few weeks should current conditions continue. "I personally don't believe we will see prices at $100 a barrel but it is not impossible given the situation," said David Moore, a commodity strategist at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.



Chad's interior minister has said six French aid workers are likely to go to prison after attempting to fly more than 100 children out of eastern Chad. Ahmat Mahamat Bachir told the BBC that a judge was expected to lay charges of child abduction against the workers. Ten other people have been detained, including seven Spanish crew of the plane that was to be used by the charity, known as Zoe's Ark. The charity has denied it planned to sell the children for adoption.It has said the 103 children are orphans from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.

Children's trauma
Profile: Zoe's Ark

However staff from the UN children's agency Unicef say many of the children, now being kept in an orphanage in Abeche, cry at night for their parents and say they are from villages in Chad. Mr Bachir said the case would go before a judge on Monday. "They made fake visas, which means they forged the documents. For us, abduction is more than a crime. They could be put in jail for several years. "They committed the offence in Chad, so they would be imprisoned in Chad of course, it's very probable," he said.

The French Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights, Rama Yade, said the planned operation by the charity was "irresponsible" but that France would offer its citizens "maximum consular assistance". The children are not being treated for any serious illnesses or injuries."France is a good mother, we will be with these French nationals to protect them as far as we can, to guarantee their rights and we will never leave them," she told Europe 1 radio. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said the charity workers' actions were illegal and unacceptable.

Chad's President Idriss Deby has promised "severe punishment" for what he has described as a "kidnapping" or "child-trafficking" operation. Denying it planned to sell the children for adoption, Zoe's Ark says it was given statements from tribal leaders that all the children were Darfur orphans with no known relatives. The charity insists it was trying in good faith to take endangered children abroad for medical treatment. However, a BBC reporter says the children appear to be in good health.
The BBC's Stephanie Hancock was among a group of reporters taken by Chadian authorities to the airport at Abeche, a town close to the Sudanese border, and shown the private charter plane still sitting on the runway where it was abandoned three days ago. The reporters were later taken to the local police headquarters to see the 16 detained Westerners - six French charity-workers, three French journalists and a seven-strong Spanish crew.

They are not being held in prison cells but in a large room and are showing no signs of mistreatment, our correspondent says. The seven Spaniards among the group are the plane's two pilots and five air stewards. Spanish media have reported they are employees of the Barcelona-based charter company, Girjet. The company said it had provided transport for the charity but was not otherwise involved in the plan, reports said.

The reporters were also taken to the orphanage where the children are being cared for by aid workers and UN staff. Aid workers confirmed they were not treating any of the children for any serious illnesses or injuries. The vast majority of the children are believed to be between three and five years old, with the oldest about eight or nine, and several babies no more than one and a half, our correspondent says.
The president of the French national committee for Unicef said 48 of the children questioned so far appeared to be Chadian, not Sudanese. "Our impression is that the majority aren't orphans, but at this stage it's just an impression," Jacques Hintzy told Radio Television Luxembourg. A Paris court began investigating the charity last Tuesday after receiving a report about the unauthorised action.



Mpho Lakaje BBC News, Johannesburg

With less than two months to go before the African National Congress elects a new leader, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa is emerging as a compromise contender. Mr Ramaphosa's name has been put forward by a Cape Town branch of the ANC to challenge for the top job. Jacob Zuma and Tokyo Sexwale are expected to stand as may President Thabo Mbeki even though he cannot serve a third term as South Africa's leader.

The ANC leader would be expected to become the next president in 2009. The nomination of Mr Ramaphosa, by the Rondebosch branch in the city of Cape Town, comes in spite of the former unionist's insistence that he has retired from political life. The 55-year-old former trade union leader was Nelson Mandela's choice as his successor at the head of the ANC.

He was outmanoeuvred by current president Thabo Mbeki and left active politics to concentrate on his investment company Shanduka. But Mr Ramaphosa remained a member of the ANC executive committee, the party's decision-making body. He first made headlines when he led mineworkers to one of the country's biggest marches in the 1980s.

Media reports suggest that Mr Ramaphosa was lobbied last week by influential ANC cadres including former Education Minister Kader Asmal. However he will find himself tussling with his comrade Jacob Zuma for the backing of his former comrades at the Union of Mine Workers. The union has already announced that it will support Zuma for the hot seat.

Profile: Cyril Ramphosa

Up until now the political battle within the ANC has been dominated by Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. Analysts say that could make Mr Ramaphosa an attractive compromise as an alternative candidate. It is believed that Gauteng Province, which has been divided on a candidate, could come out and back Mr Ramaphosa.

Mr Mbeki has the support of the powerful Eastern Cape while Mr Zuma is backed by the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC Youth League and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Some ANC members have urged both men to withdraw from the race because victory for either will sharply divide the ruling party.






King Abdullah says Britain is not doing enough to fight terrorism
Saudi king interview

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has accused Britain of not doing enough to fight international terrorism, which he says could take 20 or 30 years to beat.
He was speaking in a BBC interview ahead of a state visit to the UK - the first by a Saudi monarch for 20 years.
He also said Britain failed to act on information passed by the Saudis which might have averted terrorist attacks.
King Abdullah is expected to arrive in the UK on Monday afternoon; his visit begins formally on Tuesday,
In the BBC interview he said the fight against terrorism needed much more effort by countries such as Britain and that al-Qaeda continued to be a big problem for his country.
BBC world affairs correspondent John Simpson says King Abdullah is annoyed that the rest of the world has largely failed to act on his proposal for a UN clearing house for information about terrorism.
Speaking through an interpreter, the Saudi monarch said he believed most countries were not taking the issue seriously, "including, unfortunately, Great Britain".
"We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy."
The Saudi leadership maintains that it passed the UK information that might have averted the London bombings of 2005 if it had been acted on.
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says Whitehall officials have strenuously denied this, and a subsequent investigation by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) found no evidence of any intelligence passed on by the Saudis that could have prevented the 7 July 2005 bombings.
The king's visit has provoked controversy over Britain's relationship with Saudi Arabia.
A demonstration is planned outside the Saudi embassy in London later in the week in protest at the country's human rights record.
And acting Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has announced he is boycotting the visit, citing the corruption scandal over Al Yamamah arms deal, and the Saudis' human rights record.



A look at what could be dominating the headlines around the world this week - and some key background on those events.


BBC correspondent Alan Johnston answering readers' questions on his experience as a Gaza hostage
'My kidnap ordeal'

Drug trial: A court in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, is to host the latest hearing in criminal proceedings against pharmaceutical multinational, Pfizer stemming from 1996 trials of an anti-meningitis drug.
Q&A: Nigeria sues Pfizer

Technology Central: The Indian city of Bangalore hosts what is billed as Asia's largest information technology and telecoms event.
Here is the news from Bangalore

Power struggle: Six men accused of plotting to overthrow Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe are due to appear in court in Harare.
Q&A: Mugabe's Zimbabwe

Royal visit: Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is due to visit the United Kingdom on a state visit.
A very British solution to a Saudi problem

Football festa: Brazil is set to be confirmed as the host nation for the 2014 Football World Cup. Expect celebrations on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.
In pictures: World Cup kitsch

Spirited away: Pakistan's interior minister and the director of the country's secret service are due to appear at the Supreme Court to explain why exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was deported, hours after his return.
In pictures: Sharif's short return

Judgement day: A court in Spain is to announce the verdict and sentences for 29 people accused of involvement in the deadly Madrid training bombings of 2004.
In depth: Madrid train attacks

Feeling flush: The seventh world toilet summit takes place in New Delhi. Attended by sanitation experts, its aim is provide toilets for all by 2025.
Sanitation 'best medical advance'


Altars are draped in flowers and decorated with offerings.
Dia de los muertos: Mexico marks its Day of the Dead festival, a joyous and colourful celebration of souls who have passed away.
Profile: Mexico

Booming market: US drinks giants Starbucks and Pepsi launch new ready drinks aimed at Chinese consumers.
Forbidden City Starbucks replaced

You've got mail: Chinese dissidents begin their case against Yahoo for aiding torture, filed in the US. The company, which says it has to comply with local laws, is being sued by the World Organization for Human Rights for sharing information about its users with the Chinese government.
Yahoo plea over China rights case

Crossing borders: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to attend a conference of countries neighbouring Iraq to be held in Istanbul, Turkey.

Turkey wins Iraq backing on PKK

Robot racing: Saturday marks the final day of the Urban Challenge Robot Car Race. The competition, between cars designed to drive themselves, is organised by the US government's military research arm.
Robot rally cars face tough race

To the polls: Guatemalans vote in the second round run-off of presidential elections after none of the candidates secured the 50% of votes needed to win in the first round.
Profile: Guatemala

Running Athens: The 25th Athens classic marathon race takes place. Contestants run a 25-mile (40km) route across the city remembering Athenian courier, Pheidippides, who in 490BC ran back to the city to announce the victory of Greece over Persia.


Sunday, October 28, 2007


A Virgin Atlantic co-pilot has been arrested at Heathrow Airport on suspicion of being over the legal alcohol limit, police have said.
The 42-year-old first officer was held after police boarded the passenger jet on Sunday morning, as final checks were being carried out before take-off.
The 266 passengers on the Miami-bound flight were delayed while a replacement flight deck crew was found.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard said the man was later freed on bail.
"At 11.16am officers arrested a 42-year-old crew member on board a Virgin Atlantic flight to Miami. He was arrested under section 94 of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003," he said.

It is understood the arrested man was acting as relief first officer on the flight, providing cover for the captain and his co-pilot in the event of both becoming unable to fly the plane.
A spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic said the crew member has been suspended from duty pending a police investigation.
She said: "Virgin Atlantic can confirm that one of its first officers has been released on police bail in connection with an allegation made this morning.
"Virgin Atlantic would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused and would like to reassure passengers that the airline will be investigating this matter thoroughly in accordance with its strict company policies in relation to operational staff.
"The safety and security of its passengers and crew is Virgin Atlantic's top priority."
Following the airline's policy, all members of the three-man flight deck were replaced following the arrest, causing the flight's delay.
Airline regulations recommend flight crews do not drink alcohol less than eight hours before flying.



Nelson Mandela met the team, including wing star Bryan Habana.
Mandela's speech

South Africa's World Cup-winning rugby team has paraded through Soweto and met Nelson Mandela after reversing an earlier decision not to visit the area. However, steady rain and cold weather, plus short notice of the visit, meant few fans turned out to greet the team. The tour was organised after complaints from the black township that it was left out of the celebration plans.

Rugby authorities have come under pressure to select more black players in what is traditionally a white sport. Among the Springboks' first XV, only two players - wingers Bryan Habana (recently declared World Player of 2007) and JP Pietersen - are not white.
The BBC's Peter Greste, in Soweto, says the Springboks' arrival was heralded by an escort of police motorbikes.

Rain and cold meant few people lined the parade route. But with the weather cold, wet and miserable, the organisers had everything against them, our correspondent adds.
Just a handful of people lined the streets of the sprawling township to cheer the team through.
Shortly afterwards the team visited former President Nelson Mandela, 89.
"You have put us on the map," Mr Mandela told the team. "I doubt if there is anybody who doesn't know of the resistance of South Africa."

The Springboks decided to tour Soweto following an outcry when officials left the area out of the original victory tour itinerary, blaming "logistics".
"We've been worshipping them, supporting them throughout the World Cup and at this stage we should be taking the game to the people," Johannes Mhlongo - captain of the Soweto Rugby Club (the township's only rugby club) told the BBC.
The row surrounding the team's visit to Soweto has soured that sense of unity, our correspondent says.
But the organisers are planning many more parades in towns and cities across the country over the coming week.
They plan to stretch any lingering sense of pride and goodwill for as long as possible.


Cathy Buckle's Weekly Letter From Zimbabwe !

Dignity and Freedom
Sunday 28th October 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

The first real rain of the new season fell this week and it came with a bang. In the distance the rolling rumble of thunder got louder as the storm drew closer. The sky grew darker, the clouds dropped lower and then the birds went quiet - a sure sign that it was about to start. The noise soon built to tremendous levels and the flashes of lightning were instantly followed by cracks of explosive, roaring thunder - the storm was directly overhead. A strange orange, yellow cloud formed in the sky - a warning of ice for sure. Two shirtless men who had been toiling for most of the day down in the riverbed ran up to the road and raced for cover, using their buckets as umbrellas. The pair have become a feature of the neighbourhood this summer. They collect water from a pool they have dug in the almost dry riverbed that runs through a nearby vlei. The water is murky and the buckets are edged with mud but there is a continuous demand from urban neighbourhoods where water is usually only available for a couple of hours a day, and somedays not at all. The men fill buckets, decant them into twenty litre containers, load them onto a hand cart and then sell them in the neighbourhoods to those most desperate.

Moments after the water gatherers had taken cover the rain began, coming in thin slanting sheets at first but then overtaken by a rush of hail stones. The pea sized white balls skipped off the roof and lay on the ground giving a temporary white landscape which soon melted. When the hail slowed the torrents of rain moved in - big drops pelting down, bringing relief to the land and giving hope that always comes with a new season. Two inches (50ml) of rain fell in the first hour, accompanied by brilliant streaks of white fork lightning coursing through the sky, so close as to make your hair stand on end.

When it was over, seemingly from nowhere, came the summer regulars: Sausage flies, Dragon flies, Chongololos, Flying ants and the big black biting ants that give off a foul smell which we called Matabele Ants when we were kids. From unknown places a myriad crickets, cicadas and frogs have emerged to sing and screech and fill the air with the sound of Africa. The hard, baked ground has come back to life instantly and there is a new, soft spring underfoot. Almost overnight a flush of green has risen in the bush, on the roadsides and across our gardens. The barren, burnt landscape, ravaged by a devastating season of bush fires, can breathe again - you can almost feel the relief. The wild flowers that stood so starkly in the sand and ash have also taken on a new fullness and more mellow colour and are a picture: dwarf red Combretums, Yellow Heads, blue Thunbergia, exquisite orange Pimpernels and the Protea bushes are covered in creamy white flowers.

Zimbabwe came back to life again this week, you can see it and feel it and smell it. And now in our newly washed land we look to our leaders and politicians to finally put an end to this time of pain and suffering and turmoil. We are not a greedy, selfish and demanding nation, we want only food in the fields, products in the shops and space to walk, talk and act with dignity and freedom. We want our families that are living such hard and lonely lives in the diaspora to come home; we want to start rebuilding our communities and neighbourhoods and to have joy in our lives again. It is not too much to ask. Perhaps this new season can be the start, the change we all so desperately want.

Until next week, thanks for reading,
love cathy.



About 25,000 protesters are due to arrive in the Indian capital Delhi later on Sunday after marching 325km (202 miles) to demand land reform.
The protesters, mostly low-caste tenant farmers and landless indigenous people, say they have been left behind by India's economic boom.
The marchers set out on 2 October, the national holiday marking the birthday of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.
The government has promised to set up a commission to examine land reform.
Demands for land redistribution have been a familiar part of India's political landscape for many years, but now the government seems ready to listen, says the BBC's Jatinder Sidhu in Delhi.
The protesters have already met Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress Party and they hope to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday.
The marchers are converging on Delhi on Sunday and on Monday they say they will bring the centre of the capital to a standstill.
They are calling for a national authority to oversee land reform and a system of fast track courts to deal with the long delays in resolving land disputes.



Humans failing the sustainability audit.
By Richard Black Environment correspondent, BBC News website.

With its Geo-4 report, the United Nations tells us that most aspects of the Earth's natural environment are in decline; and that the decline will affect us, the planet's human inhabitants, in some pretty important ways.

Geo-4 provides a check-up on the health of the planet.
Feel like you have heard it before? Of course you have, not least from the UN.
So what, you might ask, is special about this report? Why is it worth any more than a cursory headline glance before returning to the party?
Well, first there is the sheer scale. Hundreds of researchers from a huge variety of disciplines have compiled, written and analysed its 572 pages; thousands more have reviewed the various chapters.
Second, Geo-4 covers the whole range of environmental issues, and the links between them.
In these climate-obsessed times, it is often forgotten that issues like forestry, fresh water supplies, agriculture, biodiversity, and the spread of desert land all connect to each other and to climate change.

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In the language of James Lovelock's Gaia theory, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that have punctuated 2007 allowed us to take the planet's temperature; Geo-4 shows us what is going on in the blood supply, the lymph system, the intestines and the immune defences.
Third, it explores the links between social trends and environmental decline in a way that is not often done. Which other body, for example, asks whether the divergence we are seeing in the wealth of the richest and the poorest is good or bad for the environment?
And fourth, it is a staging post on a journey which in principle the international community embarked upon 20 years ago; a chance to see how far society has come, and in which direction.
Sustainable commitment
1987 was perhaps the year when the international community, through the United Nations, began to sound as though it were serious about the environment.

Our Common Future contained fine words, and fine sentiments; Geo-4 suggests they have not been acted upon.

It was the year that the World Commission on Environment and Development, chaired by the then Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, delivered the gospel of sustainability.
When Mrs Brundtland presented the commission's conclusions to the UN General Assembly, in the form of a report entitled Our Common Future, they were well received.
The assembled governments declared they were "concerned about the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development".
They agreed that sustainable development - by which they meant "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" - should become a central guiding principle of the UN itself, as well as its member governments.
They called upon governments - ie themselves - to "ensure that their policies, programmes and budgets encourage sustainable development".
Officially, it was now acknowledged that environmental protection and human development were inextricably linked; there could be no sustainable economic development without environmental protection, and no sustained environmental protection without equitable economic development.
The Brundtland Report set the scene for the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit five years later, which would deliver more specific global commitments on climate, biodiversity, desertification and forests, turning the commission's broad vision into narrower objectives, more measurable and so - perhaps - more achievable.
Our Common Future contained fine words, and fine sentiments; Geo-4 suggests they have not been acted upon.
Almost everywhere it looks, Geo-4 finds evidence of decline in the years since.
Rivers - the lifeblood for millions - continue to be polluted and exploited.
From over-fishing and pollution in the oceans to climate-changing emissions in the atmosphere, it concludes that pretty much everything is going downhill.
More greenhouse gases, more widespread pollution, declining availability of fresh water, deforestation, degradation of farmland, ocean acidification - it is hard to come up with a more comprehensive and, frankly, a more depressing list.
Yet humans are living longer; and in most parts of the world, living standards are higher. Unep calculates that per-capita GDP has gone up from close to $6,000 to just over $8,000 over the last 20 years.
So what, you might ask, is the problem?
Marine fish stocks provide perhaps the clearest example.
Three-quarters of marine fisheries are exploited up to, or beyond, their maximum capacity.
Today's industrial-scale fleets deploy giant nets which could fit a phalanx of jumbo jets through their mouths, they use sonar to find shoals of fish and GPS to locate fertile fishing grounds.
Yet they are finding less and less to catch, because there is less and less there; eventually, there may be nothing at all worth hunting.

Oceans may not be able to meet the needs of future generations.
There could be no clearer example of a society engaged in unsustainable development; a society that is "meeting the needs of the present", but in doing so is very definitely "compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".
Humans might be living longer and richer lives now, this implies; but environmental degradation must at some point curb or even reverse the trend.
To use the jargon, the world's store of financial capital is rising at the expense of its natural capital, the bits of nature that humans rely on to provide food and water and to re-process our waste.
It finds that the unsustainable label sticks to everything examined by Mrs Brundtland's team: "There are no major issues raised in Our Common Future for which the foreseeable trends are favourable".
Growing concerns
Since Brundtland, the world's human population has increased by 34%; although the rate of growth is slowing, it is a long way from stabilisation.
A larger population needs more land to live on and grow food, hence causing more deforestation and more encroachment into areas previously left for nature. It means extracting more water for drinking, industry and agriculture; more energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Earth 'too crowded for Utopia'

Brundtland suggested developing policies that simultaneously aimed to restrain population growth while reducing both poverty and environmental destruction.
If that was ever feasible, politicians and their advisors now generally consider population growth such a sensitive issue that it has virtually disappeared off the sustainability radar.
By pointing out that global population growth is a significant environmental issue, Geo-4 might just encourage politicians to bring it back out of the closet, so that it can at least be discussed again.
Human salvation?
Sustainable development is not the easiest concept to catch up with; certainly it is much harder for a government to measure whether greenhouse gas emissions are rising, or whether economic growth is accelerating than to evaluate whether its overall policy portfolio is sustainable.

Why sustainable development matters

Jonathon Porritt has argued on this website that sustainable development is not just a "boring catch-phrase", but the key to a better future for humankind and the natural world.
As he also argued, there has never been more talk about it; in fact, if a tree were planted every time a modern European politician uttered the SD-phrase, loss of forest would probably be a thing of the past.
Geo-4 shows us that if 20 post-Brundtland years have upped the rhetoric, they have done little to change the reality; despite a plethora of good intentions, global society is less sustainable than ever.
Without major changes in direction, we had better hope that the people who believe that human ingenuity, technology and economic growth will always solve our future problems turn out to be right.



US forces are to hand over control of security in the Shia province of Karbala to Iraqi troops early next week, US and Iraqi officials say. US troops will remain in reserve positions to assist if called upon.
The province, 80km (50 miles) south of Baghdad, has been relatively calm but has seen rivalry between Shia factions.
In August, at least 50 people were killed in clashes between security forces and Shia fighters during a religious festival in Karbala city.
Karbala will be the eighth of Iraq's 18 provinces to come under Iraqi control despite a January statement by US President George W Bush that the process would be complete by November.

Iraqi and US military officials have downplayed concerns over rivalries between Shia factions in the province.
"This place is about a struggle for power and influence and there are indeed inter-Shia rivalries where different groups are trying to be in charge and sometimes they revert to violence," said the US commander in the province, Maj Gen Rick Lynch.

US commanders say Shia rivalries are not a significant problem"But it's not at the magnitude that's got me concerned," he told Associated Press news agency.
He said that from Monday he would "revert from being in charge of the security situation to being in support of the security situation".
The province's governor, Akhil al-Khazali, said Iraqi forces were ready for the mission.
"In spite of all the challenges we faced during those clashes we are determined to take over the responsibility," he told AFP news agency.
The provincial capital, the city of Karbala, is the site of two important Shia shrines.
The Shabaniyah festival had to be cut short in August as fighting broke out when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were in the city to mark the anniversary of the 12th Shia imam.
Gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles forced their way past security checkpoints and appeared to be trying to take control of the area around the shrines.


Saturday, October 27, 2007





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

1. An ai is a three-toed sloth from South America (and the word that clinched Paul Allan the title of national Scrabble champion).
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2. Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa originally had eyebrows and eyelashes
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3. Dumbledore is gay.
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4. A £500,000 note is not technically a counterfeit, because that word refers to legal tender - and the Bank of England has never issued £500,000 notes.
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5. But £1,000 notes were in circulation until being withdrawn in 1943.
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6. UN population projections go as far as 2300.
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7. Forty percent of household packaging can’t be recycled.
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8. Sheffield FC is the world’s oldest football club.
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9. One percent of organic food on sale in the UK is air-freighted in from abroad.
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10. Obesity rates in England were by 2005 the highest of the 15 member states who then formed the European Union.
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By Jan Raath in Harare.

When Nomatter Tagarira, a spirit medium, claimed that she could conjure refined diesel out of a rock by striking it with her staff, ministers in Robert Mugabe’s Government believed that they might have found the solution to Zimbabwe’s perennial fuel shortage.

After witnessing her apparently miraculous gift they gave her five billion Zimbabwean dollars in cash (worth £1.7 million at the start of the year but now worth one seven-hundredth of that) in return for the fuel. Ms Tagarira was also given a farm, said to have been seized from its white owner during Mr Mugabe’s lawless land grab, as well as food and services that included a round-the-clock armed guard on the rock in the district of Chinhoyi 60 miles (100km) from Harare, the capital.

More than a year later officials realised they had been duped. Ms Tagarira is now in custody, awaiting trial on charges of fraud or, alternatively, of being “a criminal nuisance”. Details from court papers published this week said that over 15 months, until July this year, Ms Tagarira convinced Cabinet ministers, ruling party heavy-weights and top army and police officers that by striking the rock with her staff she could produce enough fuel to supply the country for 100 years.



By Grant Ferrett - BBC News, New York.

Food prices have risen as more land is used to produce biofuels. A United Nations expert has condemned the growing use of crops to produce biofuels as a replacement for petrol as a crime against humanity. The UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, said he feared biofuels would bring more hunger. The growth in the production of biofuels has helped to push the price of some crops to record levels.

Mr Ziegler's remarks, made at the UN headquarters in New York, are clearly designed to grab attention. He complained of an ill-conceived dash to convert foodstuffs such as maize and sugar into fuel, which created a recipe for disaster. It was, he said, a crime against humanity to divert arable land to the production of crops which are then burned for fuel. He called for a five-year ban on the practice. Within that time, according to Mr Ziegler, technological advances would enable the use of agricultural waste, such as corn cobs and banana leaves, rather than crops themselves to produce fuel.

The growth in the production of biofuels has been driven, in part, by the desire to find less environmentally-damaging alternatives to oil. The United States is also keen to reduce its reliance on oil imported from politically unstable regions. But the trend has contributed to a sharp rise in food prices as farmers, particularly in the US, switch production from wheat and soya to corn, which is then turned into ethanol. Mr Ziegler is not alone in warning of the problem.

The IMF last week voiced concern that the increasing global reliance on grain as a source of fuel could have serious implications for the world's poor.


Friday, October 26, 2007


The Revolutionary Guards are thought to control a third of Iran's economy. Iran has responded defiantly to new sanctions imposed by the US targeting Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and three state-owned banks.
The Iranian foreign ministry said the sanctions were doomed to failure.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the measures are to "confront the threatening behaviour of the Iranians". But both China and Russia criticised the sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin likened the US move to "mad people wielding razor blades". Earlier, US Assistant Secretary of State Nicholas Burns criticised Russia for selling weapons to Iran and China for investing in the country. He told the BBC: "It's very difficult for countries to say we're striking out on our own when they've got their own policies on the military side, aiding and abetting the Iranian government in strengthening its own military." Iran's foreign ministry condemned the sanctions.

Officially the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), or Pasdaran
Formed after 1979 revolution
Loyal to clerics and counter to regular military
Estimated 125,000 troops
Includes ground forces, navy, air force, intelligence and special forces
Also has political influence: dozens of ex-guard sit as MPs
Iran President Ahmadinejad is a former member

US turns heat up on Iran
Timeline: US-Iran relations
Send us your comments

Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said: "The hostile American policies towards the respectable people of Iran and the country's legal institutions are contrary to international law, without value and, as in the past, doomed to failure." The head of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jaafari, said the corps was ready to defend the ideals of the revolution more than ever before.

Correspondents in Tehran say the sanctions could be very damaging for Iran as the Revolutionary Guards are thought to control a third of the country's economy and foreign firms may now be deterred from dealing with them. Mr Putin's comment came ahead of an EU-Russia summit in Mafra, near the Portuguese capital Lisbon. BBC Europe editor, Mark Mardell, says that behind the president's colourful language, diplomatic sources say there is a real Russian irritation, a belief that new sanctions are the wrong approach and only make Iran less likely to give up its nuclear programme. Russia is helping Iran construct a nuclear reactor.

On Friday, China's foreign ministry said Beijing was "opposed to imposing sanctions too rashly in international relations", saying it "can only make the situation more complicated". Western nations suspect Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, although Tehran says its programme is purely peaceful.

Ms Rice tried to play down any rift with Russia, saying neither wanted a nuclear-armed Iran. "After all, Moscow is a lot closer to Iran than the United States," she said. She strongly defended the sanctions, saying: "The international community cannot just sit idly by... A nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranian regime would be deeply destabilising in the world's most volatile region."

Mr Burns said that despite differences with both Russia and China the US still hoped that the UN Security Council would approve a third resolution imposing new sanctions this November. The US has repeatedly accused Iran of destabilising Iraq and Afghanistan, blaming the Revolutionary Guards for supplying and training insurgents.

The BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says Condoleezza Rice continues to be committed to finding a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. However, he says Vice-President Dick Cheney is widely believed to be pressing for a military strike on Iran before the Bush administration's term is over, and if these sanctions have no effect, Ms Rice may well have to give way to his strategy.



By Mark Doyle - BBC world affairs correspondent.

DR Congo's army is trying to contain a rebellion in the east. A possible role for US military trainers in the Democratic Republic of Congo is expected to discussed at a meeting in the White House on Friday. The military situation in DR Congo will be a key topic of discussion at talks between US President George W Bush and Congolese President Joseph Kabila. US officials said Mr Kabila is due in the US with a large delegation.

The Congolese president is also expected to visit the headquarters of a big US mining company in Arizona. The US sees DR Congo as an important ally in Africa. A senior US diplomat, William Swing, has headed the big United Nations peacekeeping force there for several years, and the US has made large financial contributions to the UN force. US officials said that at their White House meeting Presidents Bush and Kabila would discuss "security sector reform" in DR Congo.
This could mean, primarily, the progress of the war in the east of the country and the role the US might play there.

Forces loyal to President Kabila have recently deployed around the positions of the breakaway general Laurent Nkunda who has so far refused to integrate his most effective soldiers into a coalition national army. President Kabila has told loyal troops they have "a green light" to prepare for the disarming of General Nkunda's men, although the main attack has yet to be launched.

The senior US official on African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week that the US was considering direct military training for parts of the Congolese army to improve its capacity to deal with what she called "negative forces".

On his trip to the US, President Kabila will also be talking to US business leaders attracted by DR Congo's rich mineral resources. US officials said he would be travelling to the state of Arizona to talk to a copper mining company, Phelps Dodge. The company has what it describes as one of the largest, highest-grade undeveloped copper and cobalt concessions in the world in DR Congo's southern province of Katanga.



The South African rugby team are to include Soweto in their victory parade after winning the World Cup in France. The SA Rugby Federation (Sarfu) president announced this amid cheers as he presented the trophy to President Thabo Mbeki in the capital, Pretoria. This follows complaints from the black township that it had been left out of the Springboks' celebration plans.
Sarfu has been under pressure to bring more black players into the game, with the national side still mostly white. "We are going to Soweto early in the morning [on Saturday], Sarfu's President Oregan Hoskins said on Friday. "We made a promise to the nation that we will take rugby to the people," he said, speaking at the Union Buildings which house the South African presidency.

President Mbeki welcomed the move and said the World Cup victory should inspire children across the colour divide to rugby. Hundreds of fans gathered in the street outside the Union Buildings and thousands more lined the route the Springboks were to take through Pretoria, the BBC's Peter Greste reports from the city. Some fans and clubs in Soweto interpreted it as a snub when a Sarfu spokesman said on Thursday that Soweto had been left out of the victory tour itinerary for reasons of "logistics".

"We've been worshipping them, supporting them throughout the World Cup and at this stage we should be taking the game to the people," Johannes Mhlongo - captain of the Soweto Rugby Club (the township's only rugby club) told the BBC. He said the move would be a blow for recruiting new members. Among the Springbok's first XV, only two players - the two wingers Bryan Habana (recently declared World Player of 2007) and JP Pietersen - are not white.



Violinist David Juritz has just returned from a round the world trip funded entirely from busking, and shares some valuable lessons. The concert violinist has performed in many of the world's greatest halls as a soloist, guest artist and concertmaster of London's Mozart Players.

Hear Juritz busking

But when he left his London home on 9 June he had an empty wallet and had to earn his fare into the city centre. Since then, he has made £35,000 in loose change and online donations - £11,000 to fund the trip and the rest for music education for some of the world's poorest children.

1. Put the hours in. To earn this sort of money, Juritz has worked from 6am until midnight almost daily from the day he left home until his return to London on Wednesday.

2. That's two million notes, played in 50 cities in 24 counties and on every continent but the Antarctic.

3. And earning an average of £83. Although only £7.71 in Berlin, which goes to show that the German capital can be tough.

4. It's possible to earn £2,500 busking in less than an hour in London, if your friends and neighbours come and support you. "Maybe they wanted to make sure I had enough money to go away for four-and-a-half months," he says.

5. Bach is much-loved outside Town Hall metro station in Sydney, which is a very busker-friendly city. Commuters not only stop to listen but know the composer.

6. Outside a concert hall is not a good place to busk, although Vienna is the exception. Railway stations are good - the grottier the surroundings, the better the busking prospects.

7. Busking can give you blisters on your feet, from walking, and on your hands, from lugging both your instrument and your luggage.

8. People in Rio live and breathe music. The rhythm and energy of their drum groups are very impressive.

9. All those coins will help Aids orphans in Uganda and the poor of Caracas rebuild their self-confidence through music lessons.

10. But they might boost the coffers of taxi drivers in Rome, who are keen to overcharge violin-toting buskers.






By Jonathan Marcus - BBC diplomatic correspondent.

Israel has admitted its jets attacked a Syrian target on 6 SeptemberNewly-released satellite images of the presumed site of an Israeli air raid on Syria last month show that a large building has been completely removed.
The independent US research group, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), obtained and analysed the photographs.
The industrial-style building may have been a nuclear reactor under construction, says the ISIS.
Syria says it never had any plans to build a nuclear reactor.
The images suggest that, for whatever reason, the Syrian authorities have gone to great length to remove any trace of the facility.
Image comparison
Just a few days ago the ISIS released satellite images of a facility in northern Syria that it believed was the target of an Israeli air strike on 6 September.
The images pre-dated the attack.
But they showed both a large industrial building and a pumping station near the Euphrates river that the organisation believed could well have been a nuclear reactor under construction.
The images, though, were far from conclusive.
Now the ISIS has come up with a more recent image of the same site taken on 24 October, more than six weeks after the alleged air attack.
The image shows that the suspected reactor building has been completely removed and the ground scraped clean.
In its report, the ISIS says that a comparison of the before and after images effectively confirms that this site was indeed the target of the Israel raid.
It argues that "dismantling and removing the building at such a rapid pace dramatically complicates any inspection of the facilities and suggests that Syria may be trying to hide what was there."
The ISIS report also raises the question as to whether Syria might be in breach of its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Under that, it would have an obligation to notify the UN's nuclear watchdog of any plans to construct a new nuclear facility.


Thursday, October 25, 2007


Microsoft has invested $240m (£117m) in social networking site Facebook in exchange for a 1.6% share of the company. That puts a value of $15bn (£7.3bn) on a firm that has only been in existence three and a half years.

So why does Microsoft think Facebook is worth $15bn? Here are 15 possible reasons....

1. The network has gone viral in the last 12 months, with more than 50 million users worldwide and a user base that is growing faster than great rival MySpace. According to Facebook, it adds 200,000 new users each day.

2. The average user spends 3.5 hours a month on Facebook - more than the average user on rival MySpace - which is increasingly attractive to advertisers.

3. Facebook is the current Web 2.0 darling - popular with ordinary users and "tech heads" alike.
4. US research reveals that Facebook users come from wealthier homes and are more likely to attend college than MySpace users - increasing that attraction for advertisers.

5. Microsoft's investment makes them a serious player in the growing market of "social advertising". Social network profiles are full of personal data that users voluntarily hand over, which is very useful for targeting adverts.

6. Sixty percent of Facebook users are outside of the US - so Microsoft's investment buys access to a global audience quickly and simply.

7. Facebook is the new web: The decision to open up the network to outside developers turned Facebook into a destination for many uses, like messaging, photos and video. Of course, as Facebook is on the web it could never really be the new web.

8. Every major content firm with an online presence is either working on a Facebook application or has already launched one - from Google to the BBC.

9. According to a report, 233 million hours of work are lost each month in the UK due to staff looking at social networks. Advertisers can now target people when at their desks.

10. The openness of Facebook is attracting a wealth of talented developers who can launch their applications to millions of users quickly.

11. Facebook messaging is the new e-mail. Everyone feels stressed from a deluge of e-mail from unwanted people and companies. But Facebook messages are always from friends.

12. Facebook's "status updates" have become the easiest way to let friends know what you are doing and how you are feeling at any given moment.

13. Facebook thrives on playful applications such as Pirates, Zombies, Super Wall and Top Friends, which have made the network a place to play as well as communicate.

14. Facebook is the acceptable face of blogging - you can reflect your life and personality online without being seen as a "blogger", which often carries a geeky stigma.

15. Facebook is worth $15bn only because Microsoft says so. The value of Facebook is based on a 1.6% share of the firm being worth the $240m Microsoft paid for it. Microsoft and Google were in a bidding war for a slice of the firm and both companies have large pockets. This was not just business, this was personal, according to some analysts.



Elephant creation !
Enlarge Image

A picture of a large bull elephant kicking and spraying mud in a Botswana water-hole has won the Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. Ben Osborne's image was captured during a three-week stake-out on location in the Chobe National Park. Speaking about his winning snap, Mr Osborne said: "I love the energy in this image. It has more to do with physics than biology."
The competition has become one of the most prestigious in world photography.

It is organised by BBC Wildlife Magazine and London's Natural History Museum, and sponsored by the oil giant Shell. Judges spent three months sifting through more than 32,000 entries from 78 countries. Commenting on the record number of entries in the event's 46-year history, competition manager Debbie Sage applauded the quality of the winning images. "This year's winners have gone to great lengths to capture such rare moments in nature," she said. "These images are the best in the world and give us all an insight into the beauty, drama and variety of the environment around us."


Mr Osborne, a freelance photographer based in the UK, has worked on all seven continents during his 25-year career.
He specialises in wildlife, landscape and environmental photography. His work has featured in major TV series, including the BBC's Planet Earth.
During his three-week stake-out of the waterhole, Mr Osborne used his vehicle as a hide.
When the winning moment of an large bull elephant arriving at the location, he used a slow shutter speed to capture the low morning light and the texture of the mud.
Describing why he thought his image was a physics pin-up, Mr Osborne said:
"The mix of light, texture, mass, stress, force, velocity and acceleration are all captured in a visually dramatic moment in time.
"And apart from anything else, it looks like pretty good fun too."
Elephants have become an iconic species for conservationists. In the 1980s, the numbers were halved as a result of the ivory trade. Since a global ban was introduced in 1989, their numbers have increased in southern Africa.
The success of conservationists' efforts has led to difficult questions being asked about how to balance the growing population, which is expanding its range and coming into conflict with local farmers and communities.


Monkey moment
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This year's prize for Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year has been won by 11-year-old Patrick Corning, also from the UK.
Taken during a family holiday to Costa Rica, it shows three squirrel monkeys who were regular visitors to a tree above Patrick's balcony.
"I think it is cute how one of the monkey's is pulling another one's ear," he says.
"I remember thinking to the monkeys, 'don't move!'," he said, recalling the moment he took the photo
The chairman of the judging panel, Mark Carwardine, said the image raised a smile every time he looked at it.
"Everything comes together in this perfect wildlife moment. It is transformed into something original and eye-catching by that simple gesture."

Canadian Paul Nicklen's aerial photograph of a group of narwhals feeding won the Animals in Their Environment category.

Breath taking
Enlarge Image

He spotted them while he was flying 30 miles off the Admiralty Inlet ice edge of Northern Baffin Island.
Explaining his winning image, Mr Nicklen said: "As with most of my photography the environment is often as important as the subject.
"I am constantly trying to get viewers to care as much about the sea ice as the main subject in the photograph." One of the judges, Sophie Stafford, said the photo offered an unusual bird's eye view of the rare marine mammals.
"An ice-hole makes a pleasing frame for the narwhals, whose bodies are neatly aligned as they surface to breathe, their extraordinary tusks and camouflaged markings visible.
"This image transports the viewer to the frozen kingdom of the 'moon whale'."


Battling blackcocks
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The artistic composition of this photo by David Tipling of two black grouse was specially commended by the judging panel.
Mr Tipling spent six days lying in a hide in a frozen bog in Finland to capture this striking shot of blackcocks displaying.
He said his goal was to capture an image that portrayed the character of the bird in a new way.
"I got countless images of them displaying and fighting," he explained, "but this composition was my ultimate goal."
Usually secretive birds, male black grouse become highly visible in spring. At dawn they form a lek - where up to 30 males meet and display to impress the watching females.
Winning the Animal Portraits category by getting up close and personal with a brown bear was a shock for Sergey Gorshkov in more ways than one.

Bear glare
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The Russian was so absorbed in trying to photograph spawning salmon in the Ozernaya River, East Russia, that he did not spot the bear until he was fixed in its stare.
"It was a terrible shock to see this massive face glowering at me from just a metre away," Mr Gorshkov recalled.
Chairman of the judging panel Mark Carwardine said the resulting image captured the moment perfectly.
"The water and sky... give the bear a wonderful sense of place," he said.
"But it's that immediate question on everyone's lips that gives it the edge: how did the photographer do it?"



Superjumbo takes off

The world's largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, has landed in Sydney on its first commercial flight, after a seven-hour journey from Singapore. Singapore Airlines took delivery of the huge plane, dubbed the Superjumbo, just over a week ago. Passengers bought seats in a charity online auction. It can carry some 850 passengers, but took about 450 to Sydney. The superjumbo's advent ends a reign of nearly four decades by the Boeing 747 as the world's biggest airliner.

The new aircraft suffered almost two years of delays because of a number of construction problems, but took off on time. One of the passengers on board, Laurence Watts, told the BBC during the flight that it was a "phenomenal" plane. "I'm actually sitting in the economy class on the lower deck of the plane," he said. "The most amazing thing is here you have two classes of economy, split over two decks, with stairs in between the two, which I think is a huge novelty for everyone. "The plane itself - the space is bigger than anything you can imagine. I can look out the window to my right at the moment and I can see a wing that looks bigger than most ordinary planes."

Hundreds of staff and passengers at Singapore's Changi Airport watched it lift into the sky, snapping the moment with pocket cameras and camera phones. Passengers paid between $560 and $100,380 to be on the inaugural flight. "I have never been in anything like this in the air before in my life," said a fellow passenger, Australian Tony Elwood, who travelled in a private first-class suite with his wife Julie. "It is going to make everything else after this simply awful."

Sydney Airport has had to make modifications to fit the giant plane, the BBC's Nick Bryant reports from the city. Two 20th-Century design icons - Sydney's Opera House and its Harbour Bridge - will form the backdrop for what the Airbus consortium hopes will become an emblem of the 21st. With the superjumbo's wing span almost the size of a football pitch, the airport has spent millions to accommodate the new plane. To cope with the two decks of seating, it has had to construct new aero bridges. It has also had to realign one of the taxi ways and strengthen a tunnel which runs underneath the main runway.



Estimated fire damage stands at more than $1bn.
Raging wildfires

Weather forecasts have raised hopes of some respite from the wildfires raging out of control across southern California for the last four days. Forecasters say the Santa Ana winds, which fuelled the spread of the flames and had reached hurricane strength, are just starting to die out. But correspondents say firefighters still face a huge task in controlling the fires, as no rain is expected. President George W Bush is due to fly to the area later. He has declared seven counties in the state as a major disaster area.

Satellite image shows the smoke from the California wildfires being blown out to sea.
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About one million people have had to leave their homes, officials say.
Among the worst affected areas is around San Diego, where evacuation centres are struggling to provide shelter for more than 300,000 people.
Only one person has been killed as a direct result of the fire.
But the fires have destroyed more than 1,600 homes and the material damage is estimated to have risen to more than $1bn.
Police say at least one of the larger fires may have been started deliberately.
One arson suspect was shot dead by police after a pursuit and another was arrested, police said, although neither man has been connected with any major fire.
The fires have ravaged at least 674 sq miles (1,745 sq km) of land from Santa Barbara down to the Mexican border.


8,000 firefighters - including a number of prison teams
1,500 national guards
50 helicopters
55 firefighting planes
Source: Office of Emergency Services

A fireman's account of 'hell'
Battling the inferno
Readers' experiences

In some areas, wind speeds on Wednesday were down to 21-36 mph (34-58km/h), from highs of 100mph earlier in the week. Helicopters and air tankers took advantage of the weather to drop 30 to 35 loads of water on two fires that have burned hundreds of homes in the San Bernardino Mountains, near Lake Arrowhead. Several major fires were contained in Los Angeles County. Maurice Luque, spokesman for the San Diego Fire Rescue Department, told the BBC that while the crisis was easing in urban San Diego, some rural areas were still under threat. "The weather has turned a little more calm, there's no winds, the humidity is up, the temperatures are down a little bit in some areas," he said.

Detailed maps of the fires
Paradise lost in California
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"However, in other areas... [the fires] keep spotting ahead of each other, and there's a number of fires that are burning now, and requiring evacuation, and there are homes that continue to burn, mostly in the outlying areas of San Diego, out in the more rural areas." There were also reports that power lines connecting San Diego to the national grid were under threat. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the "great co-ordination" and "immediate response" of federal, state and local government agencies to the fires. He also thanked President Bush for signing the disaster declaration, which will free federal funds to help governments, families and individuals recover from the devastation wrought by the blazes.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (Fema), David Paulison, said the government had learnt lessons from the Hurricane Katrina disaster on the Gulf Coast two years ago.



There has been much speculation surrounding Woolmer's death. A Jamaican government pathologist who conducted Bob Woolmer's autopsy has maintained his view that the Pakistan cricket coach was murdered. Dr Ere Shesiah's findings prompted a global murder inquiry and speculation about corruption and match-fixing. But the inquiry was dropped after three independent experts said Mr Woolmer died of natural causes.

Mr Woolmer, 58, died after being found unconscious in his hotel room in March, after his team's early World Cup exit. Dr Shesiah was speaking on Wednesday at the former coach's inquest, which opened in Jamaica nine days ago. He is expected to give further evidence on Thursday. He said his conclusion was based on his own initial findings and the results of a toxicology report.
"I stand by my findings that Mr Woolmer was strangled and, based upon additional information which I received, he was also poisoned," he said.

The pathologist added that police had rushed him to make a final judgement before the report came back, and that he only received it in June - after the murder inquiry was dropped. He said the poison used was cypermethrin which caused "salivation, vomiting, diarrhoea and muscular incoordination" and that this may have explained the disarray in Woolmer's room when he was found. Three other pathologists, from South Africa, the UK and Canada, have testified Woolmer died of natural causes, probably related to heart disease.

They also criticised procedures used by Dr Shesiah. He says he used the correct methods to carry out the post mortem. Mr Woolmer was found dead in his hotel in Jamaica on 18 March after Pakistan were beaten in the cricket World Cup first round by Ireland. Days after the discovery of Mr Woolmer's body, Mark Shields - Jamaica's deputy police commissioner - announced at a news conference they were treating the death as murder.

There were suggestions he had been murdered by an angry fan or by an illegal betting syndicate. There was also speculation members of the Pakistan team may have been involved. Every member of the team was fingerprinted before returning home, but the investigation found no evidence of impropriety by players, match officials or management. In June, Jamaican police said they accepted the three pathologists' reports concluding that the original finding of death by manual asphyxiation was wrong.



Turkey has been building up forces on its border with Iraq. A high-level Iraqi delegation is expected in Ankara for key talks aimed at stopping attacks by Kurdish fighters based in northern Iraq. In unusually blunt comments, the Turkish foreign minister has said the Iraqis must come up with concrete proposals for ending the crisis. The talks come amid intense diplomatic pressure for Ankara to show restraint.

The Turkish military has already been carrying out attacks against Kurdish rebels near its border with Iraq. It has threatened to mount a ground offensive across the border to flush out fighters from the banned PKK group if diplomatic efforts fail. Turkish officials have said Thursday's talks could be the last chance. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said Turkey was "expecting them to come with concrete proposals and otherwise the visit will have no meaning". "We need more than words," Mr Babacan said. "We said that preventing the PKK from using Iraqi soil, an end to logistical support and all PKK activities inside Iraq and closing of its camps are needed. "We also said its leaders need to be arrested and extradited to Turkey."

Formed in late 1970s
Launched armed struggle in 1984
Dropped independence demands in 1990s
Wants greater autonomy for Turkey's Kurds
Leader Abdullah Ocalan arrested in 1999
Ended five-year ceasefire in 2004

In recent days, Turkey has been building up its military presence on the border with Iraq, while PKK rebels have stepped up their attacks against Turkish troops. On Wednesday, Turkey's semi-official Anatolia news agency said Turkish jets had bombed PKK rebel positions. The raids followed an attack by PKK rebels on Sunday in which 12 Turkish soldiers were killed. The Turkish military also says eight soldiers are missing. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said on Tuesday he would work to limit the PKK's activities, and that the group's offices in Iraq would be closed. There are thought to be about 3,000 PKK rebels based in Iraq. They have been blamed for a number of cross-border raids. Turkey, the US, and the EU describe the PKK as a terrorist organisation. Turkish leaders have come under intense pressure from the public and the media to use force.