Thursday, January 31, 2008


The US, EU and other democracies are accepting flawed and unfair elections out of political expediency, Human Rights Watch says in its annual report. Allowing autocrats to pose as democrats without demanding they uphold civil and political rights risked undermining human rights worldwide, it warned. HRW said Pakistan, Thailand, Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Kenya and Russia had been falsely claiming to be democratic.

The World Report 2008 summarises human rights issues in more than 75 nations. In the report, HRW said established democracies such as the US and members of the European Union were increasingly tolerating autocrats "claiming the mantle of democracy". "In 2007 too many governments, including Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Russia and Thailand, acted as if simply holding a vote is enough to prove a nation 'democratic', and Washington, Brussels and European capitals played along," it said.

"The Bush administration has spoken of its commitment to democracy abroad but often kept silent about the need for all governments to respect human rights." HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said it had become too easy for autocrats to get away with mounting a sham democracy "because too many Western governments insist on elections and leave it at that".

Outright fraud: Chad, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Uzbekistan
Control of electoral machinery: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Malaysia, Thailand, Zimbabwe
Interfering with opposition candidates: Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Libya, Turkmenistan, Uganda
Political violence: Cambodia, Congo, Ethiopia, Lebanon
Stifling the media and civil society: Russia, Tunisia
Undermining the law: China, Pakistan
Source: Human Rights Watch

"They don't press governments on the key human rights issues that make democracy function - a free press, peaceful assembly, and a functioning civil society that can really challenge power," he added. HRW said the West was often unwilling to criticise the autocrats for fear of losing access to resources or commercial opportunities, or because of the perceived requirements of fighting terrorism. "It seems Washington and European governments will accept even the most dubious election so long as the 'victor' is a strategic or commercial ally," Mr Roth said.

HRW highlighted Pakistan as an example. It said the US and UK, its largest aid donors, had refused to distance themselves from President Pervez Musharraf, despite his "tilting the electoral playing field" by rewriting the constitution and firing the independent judiciary ahead of February's election.

It also argued that Washington's acceptance of the result of the Nigerian election in February 2007, "despite widespread and credible accusations of poll-rigging and electoral violence", had encouraged the Kenyan government to believe that fraud would be tolerated in December's presidential poll.

And it said the US and some allies like Britain and France had made it harder to demand other countries uphold human rights by committing abuses themselves in the "war on terror".

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other European leaders were criticised for their reluctance to allow Turkey to join the EU, despite its improved human rights record. HRW said the EU "lost leverage itself and diminished the clout of those in Turkey who have cited the prospect of EU membership as a reason for reform".

Among the countries where the watchdog said human rights atrocities had been committed were Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam were criticised for severe repression and closed societies.

When asked about the claims made by HRW, US state department spokesman Sean McCormack said he had not seen the report, but insisted his country did not promote false democracy and condone human rights abuses. "In terms of the United States and this administration speaking up in defence of, and advocating for, and putting its effort behind its rhetoric, I don't think there's any question about where we stand in terms of promotion of democracy," he told reporters.



Four men who run one of the most popular file-sharing sites in the world have been charged with conspiracy to break copyright law in Sweden. The Pirate Bay's servers do not store copyrighted material but offer links to the download location of films, TV programmes, albums and software. The website is said to have between 10 and 15 million users around the world and is supported by online advertising.

Police seized computers in May 2006, temporarily shutting down the website. According to the Pirate Bay website, its users are currently downloading close to a million files. "The operation of The Pirate Bay is financed through advertising revenues. In that way it commercially exploits copywrite-protected work and performances," prosecutor Hakan Roswall said in a statement.

In an interview with the BBC's technology programme Click last year Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde said: "I think it's okay to copy. The other three men facing charges are Carl Lundstrom, Frederik Neij and Gottfrid Svartholm Warg. If convicted, the four men could face a maximum of two years in prison.

The Swedish prosecutor listed dozens of works that had been downloaded through The Pirate Bay site, including The Beatles' Let It Be, Robbie Williams' Intensive Care and the movie Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire. Plaintiffs in the case include Warner, MGM, Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox Films, Sony BMG, Universal and EMI.

John Kennedy, chairman and chief executive of global music body, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industries, said: "The operators of The Pirate Bay have always been interested in making money, not music.

"The Pirate Bay has managed to make Sweden, normally the most law abiding of EU countries, look like a piracy haven with intellectual property laws on a par with Russia."



Japan's Antarctic fleet has resumed whaling after anti-hunt activists suspended their pursuit of the vessels in the Southern Ocean to refuel. Media reports say an Australian customs vessel saw five whales being harpooned and hauled on to a Japanese ship. The Japanese fleet had stopped hunting for three weeks while it was pursued in Antarctic waters by the campaigners.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith held talks with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo on the issue. A ministry spokesman said Mr Smith had "expressed disappointment that whaling had resumed in the Southern Ocean". He also "conveyed the Australian government's strongly held view that Japan's whaling programme should cease". But the two had "agreed to disagree" on whaling.

Before the meeting, Japan's Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told reporters the issue would "inevitably" be raised. "Minister Smith may bring up the whaling issue or I may bring up the harassment issue," he told reporters.

Australia has declared a whale sanctuary in parts of the Southern Ocean where the Japanese fleet has been, but Japan does not accept Canberra's authority. As the protesters left the scene, a member of the Sea Shepherd group vowed to come back and continue harassing the whaling fleet. "This is a retreat for supplies only. We have not surrendered the sanctuary to the whale killers," Paul Watson said.

The Japanese fleet plans to kill about 900 minke whales and 50 fin whales by mid-April as part of what it describes as a scientific research programme. Other nations and environment groups say the research goals could be achieved using non-lethal methods, and call the programme a front for commercial whaling.



Swedish carmaker Volvo has been found guilty of manslaughter after a French court ruled that faulty brakes were to blame for a fatal car crash in France. The driver, Catherine Kohtz, lost control of her Volvo 850 TDI vehicle and killed two children in 1999. Ms Kohtz received a six-month suspended jail term, a 300-euro ($446; £224) fine. Her licence was also suspended for a year.

Volvo was fined 200,000 euros, though it has denied the car was faulty. The accident occurred in June 1999, in the eastern French town of Wasselonne. "This is a tragic incident for everyone involved," a company spokesman said. "There was no problem with the brakes."

Volvo's lawyers rejected that the accident was the result of a mechanical defect and are expected to appeal the ruling. The car manufacturer, based in Gothenburg, is owned by US car giant Ford, which bought it in 1999.



By Roger Hardy - BBC Middle East analyst.

The chaotic scenes at the border of Gaza and Egypt, as tens of thousands of Palestinians poured across to stock up on supplies, were an extraordinary human drama. But they were also an act of calculated defiance by Hamas, the Islamist movement which seized control of the territory in June last year.

"I think what Hamas has done," says Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution in Washington, "is remind everyone it's the spoiler." Mr Riedel recently retired from government after long service with the CIA and the National Security Council. "Hamas," he says, "has shown it cannot be ignored - and has the capacity to change the situation on the ground."

Palestinian academic Yezid Sayigh says Hamas is signalling that it will not play by Israel's rules. It is also openly challenging the legitimacy of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

According to Professor Sayigh, Hamas is telling the PA, "You have been totally ineffective. Look at what we've done - we've challenged the Israelis head-on and shown they can't impose a siege on us. "

Israel's immediate concern is border security. It wants to stop weapons coming into Gaza - and rockets coming out and striking Israeli cities. It is urging the Egyptian authorities to re-impose control of the border. Danny Yatom, former head of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, says Israel prizes its peace treaty with Egypt -but wants the Egyptians to do more to help. Some analysts say Israel will have to change tack and start talking. The Israelis argue that the two countries have a common interest in sealing the border and curbing Hamas.

The dilemma of the Egyptian authorities, however, is acute. They are under pressure from their own people to show solidarity with the long-suffering Palestinians of Gaza - and under pressure from Israel and the Americans to re-establish border security. Their great fear, according to Yezid Sayigh, is that Israel wants to dump Gaza in their lap.

Talking to Hamas?

At root, the Gaza problem is a political rather than a security issue. Danny Yatom sticks to the line of the current Israeli government: no talks with Hamas as long as it does not renounce violence and recognise Israel. But it is far from self-evident that Gaza's borders can be secured - or an eventual peace deal struck - without the co-operation of Hamas.

Bruce Riedel believes that sooner or later Washington's regional friends - Egypt, Mahmoud Abbas, even the Israelis - will reach this conclusion. Whether the Bush administration does so is a more open question.

Listen to Wednesday's edition of Analysis on this subject on the BBC World Service The Gaza Break-Out



An opposition MP has been killed in Kenya, as violence continues over last month's disputed election. David Too was shot dead by a traffic policeman in the western town of Eldoret, said a spokesman for his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). He is the second ODM MP to be killed this week. The shooting of Mugabe Were in Nairobi sparked violent clashes in slums seen as opposition strongholds.

More than 850 people have been killed since the disputed presidential poll. Another 250,000 have fled their homes in what used to be one of East Africa's most stable countries.

ODM spokesman Henry Kosgie said Mr Too was killed at a roadblock as he drove from Nairobi to Eldoret in the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley has seen some of the worst violence since the 27 December election.

On Wednesday, the top US official for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, said there had been "ethnic cleansing" in the region.







Mann was rearrested shortly after his release from prison last year.

Zimbabwe's High Court has ruled that Simon Mann can be extradited to Equatorial Guinea to face trial over a foiled coup in the West African nation.The British ex-SAS officer was jailed in Zimbabwe on arms charges in 2004, and rearrested shortly after his release last May. He had appealed against extradition on the basis that he might be tortured.

With his appeal turned down on Wednesday, Mann's lawyer will now file an appeal to Zimbabwe's Supreme Court. "We are appealing the first thing tomorrow (Thursday) but we have not had full sight of the whole judgment as it was only delivered this evening," said Jonathan Samkange.

Mann, 55, was arrested when his plane, loaded with 61 alleged mercenaries and military equipment, landed at Harare airport in March 2004. He was accused of trying to buy arms as part of a plot against Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, and sentenced to seven years in jail.

Most of his co-accused were released from a Zimbabwean prison in 2005, and Mann himself was briefly released last year after his sentence was reduced for good behaviour. But shortly after his release he was rearrested on an immigration warrant while awaiting deportation.

Last May, a Harare magistrate's court agreed to a request by Equatorial Guinea that Mann be extradited to stand trial there. His lawyers appealed against the decision on the basis Mann was likely to be tortured in Equatorial Guinea and his extradition would be tantamount to a death sentence.

Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was fined and received a suspended sentence in South Africa for his involvement in the affair.

President Obiang Nguema has ruled Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony, since he seized power from his uncle in a 1979 coup.



By Gary Duffy - BBC News, Rio de Janeiro.

The carnival will be in full swing this weekend.

The police force in Rio de Janeiro is facing a crisis after dozens of senior officers offered their resignations just days before the carnival. Forty-three officials signed a letter of resignation after their commander was sacked by the state governor. The head of the military police was dismissed after he allowed a mass protest by officers over their pay to go ahead last weekend. Security chiefs say they are confident the carnival will go ahead peacefully.

Carnival is the highest profile event of the year for the city of Rio de Janeiro and there could hardly be a more difficult moment for the city's police force to be confronted with such a crisis. The problems began last weekend when the commander of Rio's military police, Ubiratan Angelo, allowed officers to stage a mass protest to complain about low pay. He also voiced his support for their demands, and was then dismissed by Rio's governor Sergio Cabral who said permitting the demonstration to go ahead had been an act of insubordination.

That decision caused widespread anger among senior police officers. At least 43 officials have now offered to resign, 17 of them battalion commanders, Brazil's TV Globo reported. Security chiefs say they are confident that carnival, which is expected to attract more than 700,000 Brazilian and overseas visitors will go ahead peacefully this weekend.

A new police commander has already been appointed, and the governor has accused the rebels of trying to stir up trouble. In a separate development several alleged drug traffickers were killed when police backed by helicopters and armoured cars raided the favela or shanty town of Jacarezinho.

The operation was meant to seize drugs and stolen vehicles. Police say all those who died were involved in drug gangs in the area, but human rights organisations have frequently complained that large-scale operations such as this often result in indiscriminate killings.

More than 1,200 people died in clashes with the police in the state of Rio de Janeiro last year.



Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Mwai Kibaki, an ethnic Kikuyu, was declared the winner of Kenya's disputed presidential poll in December to the anger of supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who is from the Luo community.

The fallout has fuelled ethnic tensions in the country which has more than 40 ethnic groups - and up to 900 people have died in the post-election violence. Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society, spoke to the BBC about the parallels that some are drawing with what happened in Rwanda where such divisions ended in the 1994 genocide and the killing of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Is there anything in such comparisons?

I don't think so. The situation in Rwanda was completely different. First of all the Rwandan genocide was state-initiated. There were government militias - the army, the police took part it and organised it, and that is not happening in Kenya.

Secondly, [Rwanda's] Hutus and Tutsis are not separate ethnic groups - they're actually racially different and their roles in society were different - it's a unique situation. They have the same language, the same culture.

In Kenya, what we're seeing is different ethnic groups and what has happened there is that one particular ethnic group - the Kikuyus - are seen by the others as being richer, politically favoured and just generally better off.They're also in many places on the land of the Kalenjin and the Luo [communities] and that land issue is very, very important.

Population: 37m, comprising more than 40 ethnic groups
Kikuyu: 22%
Luhya: 14%
Luo: 13%
Kalenjin: 12%
Kamba: 11%

It would have been originally Luo or Kalenjin land which was taken by the British in colonial times turned into white farms, a bit like Zimbabwe, and then at independence handed over to the Kikuyu.

So that's why the people in those areas [mainly the Rift Valley Province] are trying to drive the Kikuyu out and the Kikuyu are taking revenge on local Kalenjin and Luo communities in their areas. So it's a sort of ethnic-cleansing.

Think Bosnia, think Kosovo, don't think Rwanda.

Nonetheless, frightening?

Oh, yes and I think we haven't seen the worst of it yet. It's got a momentum of its own now where ethnicity is everything and the politics has slipped away. The election released these feelings of deep frustration which go back a long way.

So although we're seeing talks at a high level now, you're suggesting that may not have that much impact on people the ground? Well I think Kibaki's government could make a difference - if they said we'll have a coalition or a rerun of the election and made concessions - that could control their side.

But I don't think Raila Odinga is in control of these gangs of Kalenjin youth that are running around and I think he doesn't control his troops in the same way as the president does.

What do you think will happen?

I think it'll continue.

The government has hoped that they will just ride this out - they were quite prepared to sit it out even at the cost of a lot of violence. But I think it's become too big now and I think they will have to make some sort of concessions. The rest of the world is pressurising them very heavily.

But even if they do, will they do it in time? Will the concessions be big enough to prevent the people on the streets taking what's now become a sort of a very nasty local personal revenge?



The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes is travelling in a Volga car along the Volga river to take a snapshot of life in Vladimir Putin's Russia, as the presidential election looms. This is his second piece, from the city of Nizhny Novgorod.

Rupert waxed lyrical about Volgas - before actually driving one.

I am going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction. Russia's indigenous car industry is finished. It may take many more years to finally die, but die it will.
The reason is simple - Russian cars are awful. The worst car I have ever driven, by a long, long way, is a Lada I had the misfortune to try out shortly after arriving in Russia a year-and-a-half ago. I should have learned my lesson. But no.

Now I am preparing to depart on a 1,000-mile (1,609km) road journey, in the middle of the Russian winter, in another horror of Soviet engineering - the Volga. In my first diary entry I waxed lyrical about how the Volga was the Mercedes, Rover, or Buick of the Russian car industry. That was before I had driven one. Even the new production line is ancient, one car expert admits.

I have now taken delivery of an eight-year-old 1.5-tonne black monster. A day of driving it around the snowbound streets of Nizhny Novgorod, and I think I can safely say it has gone straight in at No.2 in my all time worst car list. The Volga was, possibly, an OK car when it first came out. But that was in 1970.

My Volga was made 30 years later, and it is essentially exactly the same car. And they are still making them today! Its the equivalent of Ford still building Cortinas, or Vauxhall still making Vivas!

I went to the Volga factory on Tuesday.It is suitably vast. The whole south-west district of Nizhny Novgorod is simply called "Car Factory" - mile after mile of ugly grey apartment buildings and hulking factory sheds. The factory gate is equally vast: five storeys of grey marble, topped off with a hammer and sickle and not one, but two, reliefs of Lenin.

You would never guess it from the gate furniture, but the Volga car plant is now a private company, part of the brave new world of Russian capitalism. It was bought in 2001 by one of Russia richest men - 40-year-old aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska. If there is one thing Russia's young oligarchs have learned fast from their Western brethren, it is the art of spin.

I was met at the gate by a young, slick, English-speaking team straight out of a Moscow PR agency. I was immediately dragged off for an interview with the equally young and also fluent English-speaking director of the car division. It was very clear the last thing Leonid wanted to talk about was Volgas. Instead, I was pummelled with the business school jargon of "just-in-time" production. "Toyota is our model," Leonid told me, with not even the slightest hint of irony. "Car making is a global industry, and we're going to have to learn to compete if we are to succeed."

Brave words, but how?

The answer is to go on a shopping spree, a very big shopping spree. I was taken to a vast hangar on the other side of the factory. Inside it was crammed with row upon row of bright orange robots, fresh out of their wooden crates from America. This whole robotic production line, hundreds of high tech machines, has been bought lock stock and barrel from Chrysler in the US.

Leonid and his PR team proudly showed me the attractive new model their robotic production line is about to start building. It is called the Siber and for the Russian car industry, it is a quantum leap forward in technology.

So what about my prediction of impending doom? Well, I hope I am wrong. But car making is a brutally relentless business. Market leaders like Toyota now change their model range every three to four years. Beneath its skin the shiny new Siber is actually an old Chrysler Sebring. It is what the British call "mutton dressed as lamb".

One of the Canadian engineers brought in to programme the robots told me quietly that, by North American standards, this production line is ancient. He described the robots as "dinosaurs". It reminded me of another former state-run car company that tried to compete by dressing up old technology in new clothes. That one was called British Leyland.



An Air Canada flight made an emergency landing in Ireland after a pilot apparently suffered a mental breakdown. A passenger said the pilot was carried from the plane shouting and swearing, saying he wanted to talk "to God".

The flight from Toronto to Heathrow landed at Shannon airport after its crew declared a medical emergency. Passengers flew on to London later. Air Canada has confirmed that a crew member was unwell, but did not confirm he was suffering mental problems. "At no time were the safety of the passengers or crew in question," said an Air Canada spokesman. "The flight was met by medical personnel and the individual is now in care."

One of the passengers, Sean Finucane, said he saw the co-pilot being carried into the cabin in restraints. "He was very, very distraught. He was yelling loudly at times," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "He was swearing and asking for God and very distressed. He basically said he wanted to talk to God."

Passengers were put up in hotels while another crew was found. They eventually arrived in London eight hours late.



By Martin Patience - BBC News, Jerusalem.

Jerusalem's iconic Dome of the Rock - normally a resplendent gold - was turned half white on Wednesday morning. Snowfalls blanketed streets and buildings with an inch-thick of powder. Jerusalem's school, universities and court houses all closed for the day

In a city more used to high temperatures than snow, the wintry weather seemed to be appreciated by those residents braving the cold. "The snow brings people together," said Oded Goldberger, 19, wearing a hat and gloves. "It's something really special."

In some parts of Jerusalem, people were making snowmen while others were having snowball fights. The city's mayor is expected to judge a snowman competition on Wednesday afternoon. "Of course it's cold and wet," said Evyator Rubin, 13, making a snowball. "But because it snows so little here it's great when it does happen."

Many people took the day off leaving the streets deserted of traffic. "I don't need to go to school today and I had a science exam."

All Jerusalem's schools, universities and courthouses were closed for the day. The public transport system is working on a scaled-back timetable. Some of the offices in the city are shut but a number of shops and restaurants are open. Many Israeli commuters took the day off and the streets are largely empty of cars.

Inna Kanaan, 31, walked to work. The Russian-born architect says that the snow reminded her of her home before she emigrated to Israel. "There was more snow in Russia, but this is good. It breaks the routine of waking up and just going to work," she said, removing her earmuffs before speaking. "It's good to enjoy nature's simple pleasures."

The Jerusalem municipality made preparations for the snow which had been forecast for days. It had 100 snow-ploughs ready to clear the city's main streets. A ritual among a small section of the city's ultra-orthodox Jewish community is to purify themselves by rubbing snow on their foreheads. While snow in Jerusalem is unusual, other parts of the country regularly see snowfall. In the occupied Golan Heights in the north of the country there is a ski-resort.

By midday, the snow was still falling in Jerusalem. But some of the city's streets were turned into streams as the snow began to melt. A cold weather snap has hit Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, causing several fatalities. Also on Wednesday the Winograd committee - a government appointed inquiry - is set a deliver a final report into the government's handling of the war against Hezbollah in 2006.

There were some rumours that the event might be cancelled because of the snow. But Israeli officials have commandeered a snow-plough - nicknamed Winograd - to make sure the committee members get to deliver the report.



Mr Annan opened formal mediation talks between the two on Tuesday. Kenya's government and opposition are due to begin full negotiations to try to end the crisis resulting from last month's disputed presidential election. President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga have each appointed three-man teams to discuss proposals drawn up by former UN chief Kofi Annan.

At earlier preliminary talks, he urged both sides to help restore calm. Ahead of the talks, the top US envoy to Africa described recent violence in the Rift Valley as "ethnic cleansing". Up to 900 people have died as violence has spread since the 27December presidential poll, which the opposition claims was rigged. At least nine people were killed in outbreaks of violence throughout the country on Tuesday, following the killing of Mugabe Ware, an MP from Mr Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

Meanwhile, Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula has said Mr Kibaki will attend the African Union summit on Thursday, dismissing suggestions that there were more pressing issues for him to attend to at home. On Monday, ODM Secretary General Anyang Nyong'o called on member states not to recognise what he called the illegitimate and illegal government of Mr Kibaki.

But Mr Wetangula said there was no injunction against the president and so he had to discharge his function as a head of state. The three-man teams of representatives from Mr Kibaki's Party of National Unity and the ODM were due to begin their deliberations in the capital, Nairobi, on Wednesday.

Negotiations will be based on a series of proposals drawn up by Mr Annan and his team, which includes former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and Graca Machel, the wife of ex-South African President Nelson Mandela. The former UN secretary general has given the two sides four weeks to resolve the "immediate political issues" and up to a year to sort out details.

Party of National Unity:
Justice Minister Martha Karua, Mutula Kilonzo, former Health Minister Prof Samson Ongeri
William Ruto, former Kenyan UK High Commissioner Sally Kosgei, former Vice-President Musalia Mudavadi

Launching the formal mediation process on Tuesday, Mr Annan warned that the crisis was having a "profound and negative impact" and urged both sides to take the talks seriously or risk losing international aid.

The BBC's Adam Mynott in Nairobi says parts of the country, particularly the Rift Valley and western Kenya, are cauldrons of hatred as a result of inter-ethnic fighting during the past month. Even if the talks are successful, some of the wounds caused to Kenyan society may take many years to heal, our correspondent says.

Members of Mr Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe have in recent days been launching attacks on Luos and Kalenjins, who largely backed Mr Odinga in the election. The initial violence was characterised by mob attacks mainly targeting Kikuyus. Earlier, Kenyan Internal Security Minister George Saitoti said the authorities would now "act tough" when dealing with those behind the ethnic and political violence.

"We do not want to have the criminals running around and disrupting the activities of this country and I would like to tell those... who have been used to taking laws into their hands... that they are going to face very, very, very serious consequences," he told NTV television.

Speaking in Ethiopia on the eve of the AU summit, US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, described recent violence in the Rift Valley as "clear ethnic cleansing". Ms Frazer said that what she had seen when she visited Kenya earlier this month was a clear effort to drive out Kikuyus. "The aim originally was not to kill, it was to cleanse, it was to push them out of the region," she said "The cycle of retaliation has gone too far and become more dangerous." Ms Frazer criticised leaders from all sides for making inflammatory remarks and said those guilty of inciting or carrying out the violence should be held to account.

The UN's special adviser for the prevention of genocide, Francis Deng, has said he is sending one of his members of staff to observe the situation in Kenya. "At the moment I would not use the word genocide," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme. "At the moment we are concerned about certain atrocities that could conceivably escalate if they're not stopped."



By Mark Duff - BBC News, Milan.

The case has gripped Italians for the past year, and the wait is now over as the trial of a middle-aged couple accused of killing four of their neighbours in a row over noise gets under way. The sheer brutality of what became known as the "Massacre of Erba" transfixed Italy.

Late on the night of 11 December 2006, four people - including a two-year-old boy and his mother - were stabbed and bludgeoned to death at a flat in the town of Erba, not far from Lake Como. The killers tried to cover their tracks by setting fire to the apartment.

Within a month, though, the police had arrested a middle-aged husband and wife from a neighbouring flat. The two made a confession - which they later retracted. Prosecutors say the couple were driven to murder by the barrage of noise they'd faced from their neighbours' flat at all hours of the day and night. If they are right, the killings would be one of the most extreme examples of what's been dubbed "neighbour rage".

Every year some 850,000 arguments between neighbours end up in Italian courts. The vast majority of them are petty and consist of arguments over maintenance bills or noise between neighbours in the often cramped, poorly-designed apartment blocks built during Italy's post-war economic miracle.

Such was the appetite for a seat at the trial that people queued from crack of dawn to secure a place - and some tickets are reported to have changed hands for hundreds of euros.






Burma's detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is "not satisfied" by recent discussions with the country's military leaders, said her party. Ms Suu Kyi's comments followed her fifth meeting with the official appointed to liaise with her and the National League for Democracy (NLD). She also met NLD party members for the second time since last year's protests. Ms Suu Kyi's party said she was concerned that the meetings might raise false hopes of political reform.

Labour Minister Aung Kyi was appointed to negotiate with Ms Suu Kyi amid the global outrage which followed the deadly crackdown on political protestors in September 2000But NLD spokesman Nyan Win told reporters: "Aung San Suu Kyi is not satisfied with her meetings with the relations minister, mainly because there is no timeframe." The junta has said it is drawing up a roadmap to democracy, but the plan has been widely dismissed as a sham by observers.

Mr Win read out a statement from Ms Suu Kyi in which she told her party to "hope for the best and prepare for the worst," reported Reuters news agency. She said she had not received any clear messages from the government, but urged party members to remain united. "We have to be patient, as we have sacrificed for many years," said the statement. "I don't want to give false hopes to the people. I will tell the people more when the time comes."

Ms Suu Kyi also repeated her insistence that talks about political reform must involve pro-democracy groups and representatives of Burma's ethnic groups. The NLD won elections in 1990 but has never been allowed to take power. Ms Suu Kyi has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest in Burma's commercial capital, Rangoon.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008


A Kenyan (who wishes to remain anonymous) in the Rift Valley town of Naivasha describes how members of an outlawed sect - the Mungiki - are forcibly recruiting members of their Kikuyu ethnic group to kill non-Kikuyus - allied to the opposition.

Law and order has broken down in the Rift Valley area since the disputed 27 December presidential election. Kenyan politics is polarised and because of this, when a community feels threatened, groupings or gangs arise in their defence. It is really disgusting. People are being killed and burnt in their houses, even one person was buried alive... buried alive?

And other people are just watching.

There are gangs of Kikuyu coming knocking from door-to-door. But I really don't think they are from Naivasha - people know that Naivasha is usually a safe place, a place where people like peace. But these people are coming and forcing people here to fight. So that's why they are going house-to-house making sure that if you are a Kikuyu, you have to come out and fight.

If you are not a Kikuyu, they just kill you immediately. Not long ago they came into our estate and demanded the keys to the gate. They used a petrol bomb to frighten us, telling us if we don't come out, they'll burn us. Luckily, I managed to hide under the bed.

Where they are targeting right now is Naivasha prison. Homes belonging to Luos are being ransacked and set alight The Kikuyus are going to the prison and they want to get the Luos and the Namdis who have gone there to seek refuge. Gangs of Kikuyus are outside the prison and burning houses nearby but the police - there are many of them there - but it is like they are relaxed.

They are not doing anything, just shooting, shooting, shooting [up in the air] but not stopping these people from getting closer to the prison. These Kikuyus that are doing all this - it is a kind of revenge. In Naivasha it is revenge for what has been happening in other areas where Kikuyus have been killed.



French stock market officials warned Societe Generale about alleged rogue trader Jerome Kerviel late last year, a Paris prosecutor has said. With Mr Kerviel now released on bail, the prosecutor's comments increase the pressure on the bank to explain why his trades were not discovered earlier. Mr Kerviel is being investigated for breach of trust, falsifying documents and breaching computer security.

Societe Generale says his actions cost it 4.9bn euros ($7bn; £3.7bn). The bank, which says it only discovered Mr Kerviel's unauthorised trades 10 days ago, had been pressing for Mr Kerviel to face the more serious charge of fraud. His lawyer, Elisabeth Meyer, on Monday called the judges' decision not to press for fraud charges a "great victory".

Mr Kerviel's other lawyer, Christian Charriere-Bournazel, said his client had committed no fraud, adding that Societe General's chief executive Daniel Bouton had no evidence to back up his allegations. "The word fraud was used by Mr Bouton numerous times," he said. "Mr Bouton held this unfortunate man up for public vilification, threw him to the dogs... and there was no substance to it."

Societe Generale says Mr Kerviel had a position, or a bet, worth about 50bn euros on the future direction of European shares.

Founded in 1864
467bn euros in assets under management (as of June 2007)
22.5 million customers worldwide
120,000 employees in 77 countries

That was more than the bank's value - about 35bn euros - and about the size of France's entire annual budget deficit. To avoid that potentially catastrophic loss the bank had to unwind Mr Kerviel's trades, but that still cost it 4.9bn euros. Societe Generale said Mr Kerviel's background in handling the administration of trades enabled him to fool those monitoring traders' activities.

It says Mr Kerviel invented deals that, on paper, balanced out his bets. Under French law breach of trust carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of 370,000 euros ($546,637; £186,562). While a formal investigation has started into Mr Kerviel's actions, this does not automatically guarantee that a trial will follow.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that Societe Generale's senior managers would have to accept their share of responsibility for the scandal. "When there is an event of this nature, it cannot remain without consequences as far as responsibilities [of senior managers] are concerned," he said.



An asteroid some 250m (600ft) across is about to sweep past the Earth. There is no chance of it hitting the planet, but astronomers will train telescopes and radar on the object to learn as much about it as they can. The asteroid - which carries the rather dull designation 2007 TU24 - will pass by at a distance of 538,000km (334,000 miles), just outside Moon's orbit.

Scientists who study so called near-Earth objects say similar-sized rocks come by every few years. The moment of closest approach for 2007 TU24 is 0833 GMT. The asteroid is only expected to be visible through amateur telescopes that are three inches (7.6cm) or larger.

Detailed observations of 2007 TU24 could reveal whether the asteroid is a solid object or simply a loose pile of space rubble. Knowledge of how asteroids are put together will be key to working out how we might defend ourselves against future, more threatening rocks.

An explosive attack - so popular with Hollywood scriptwriters - may not be the most effective approach. Many scientists believe that giving a hostile object a gentle nudge over a long period of time may in fact be our best strategy.

Given the estimated number of near-Earth asteroids of this size (about 7,000 discovered and undiscovered objects, says the US pace agency), an object similar to 2007 TU24 would be expected to pass this close to Earth, on average, about every five years or so.

The average interval between actual Earth impacts for an object of this size would be about 37,000 years, Nasa adds. A little over a year-and-a-half ago, a 600m-wide (2,000ft) asteroid known as 2004 XP14 flew past the Earth at just about the Earth-Moon distance. The asteroids' names include the year in which they were first identified.



The national death toll since the elections is now about 800.

A Kenyan opposition MP has been shot dead in Nairobi, police say, adding they could not rule out a connection to disputed presidential elections. Mugabe Were, a member of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of the defeated candidate, Raila Odinga, was attacked outside his home, police said. An ODM spokesman called for calm and restraint following the MP's death.

Meanwhile the parties will begin formal talks on Tuesday to resolve the crisis, mediated by former UN chief Kofi Annan. A UN spokesman said the dialogue process would start at 1600 local time (1300 GMT) at a neutral location.

Mr Were is the first leading politician to have died amid violence that has gripped Kenya since December's poll. Two gunmen shot Mr Were as he drove up to the gate of his house in the capital just after midnight, Kenya police spokesman Eric Kiraithe was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying. "We are treating it as a murder but we are not ruling out anything, including political motives. We are urging everyone to remain calm," he said.

Mr Were, who represented Nairobi's Embakasai district, won a seat in the 27 December legislative election, which was held at the same time as the presidential vote. ODM spokesman Tony Gachoka said: "The current situation makes one suspicious. All fingers will point at the government, and the government will have to show it is not involved."

Another ODM spokesman, Salim Lome, called on people "to be peaceful and to only respond to this kind of violence by shunning violence". The appeal came amid reports of opposition supporters pouring onto the streets in several cities. In the Kibera slum in Nairobi, eyewitnesses spoke of clashes between rival ethnic groups. Members of President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe have been fighting with Luos and Kalenjins who backed his rival, Mr Odinga, in last month's election.

Police fired tear gas and live bullets to disperse a crowd of about 100 opposition supporters who had gathered in the western city of Kisumu in a show of anger at Mr Were's killing, AFP news agency reported.

"First they started killing the ordinary people like us, now they are killing our leaders, we won't accept it," demonstrator Justus Othieno told AFP news agency. The protest followed bloodshed in Kisumu and also in Eldoret. Riots have also been ongoing in the towns of Naivasha and Nakuru in the Rift Valley, where dozens of people have been killed in five days of ethnic violence. Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the lakeside at Naivasha, as crowds apparently looted the homes of people fleeing the violence.

Mr Odinga accuses Mr Kibaki of stealing the vote and has refused to recognise the result. Analysts warn a cycle of violence is emerging amid the political impasse, where the pattern of attacks is followed by reprisals. The former UN secretary general Kofi Annan has been trying to mediate a solution between the two sides. He set Tuesday as a target for Kenya's government and opposition to name negotiators, in the hope that engaging in formal talks might make it possible to quell the violence.


Monday, January 28, 2008


The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes is travelling in a Volga car along the Volga river to take a snapshot of life in Vladimir Putin's Russia, as the presidential election looms. This is his first piece, from the city of Nizhny Novgorod. Rupert plans to drive 2,000km of the Volga's length.

I am sitting in a spartan hotel room in a grim industrial suburb of Nizhny Novgorod. During the Soviet era, this city of two million people on the banks of the Volga river was renamed Gorky, in honour of one of Russia's most famous 20th-Century writers. Maxim Gorky ended his days as a, perhaps reluctant, apologist for Joseph Stalin's genocidal regime. In return, Stalin named a city after him.

Fifty years later, the city of Gorky once again briefly attained world fame. Russian Nobel prize winner Andrei Sakharov and his wife were sent into internal exile here, as the old men in the Kremlin fought a losing battle to muzzle the Sakharovs' eloquent condemnation of their corrupt and decaying regime.

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and released the Sakharovs. Six years later the Soviet Union was gone. Gorky returned to being Nizhny Novgorod, and slipped quietly back into obscurity.

So what, you may ask, has brought me here?

Two things. The Volga, and a Volga. The first is the river. The second, a once-loved icon of Soviet engineering. It all stems from a rather mad scheme cooked up by one of my colleagues in the BBC Moscow bureau - that we should buy a Volga car and drive it along the Volga river. The Volga car was, and to some still is, a Soviet icon. It was the car everyone aspired to own, but few would ever get to drive.

Russians never had much love for their Ladas. But the Volga was different. It was the Soviet Mercedes Benz, Rover or Buick. It was the car driven by the KGB men in their black leather coats, or the Kremlin bureaucrats in their grey homburgs. For 60 years they have been building Volgas in a sprawling factory in this grim suburb of Nizhny Novgorod. That is why I am here, to pick up my Volga, and begin my journey down the river it is named after.

For those who think that this sounds like a good lark, I should explain there is a serious point to all of this. The Volga is to Russia what the Mississippi is to America, or the Rhine to Western Europe. Rising near the Baltic, the Volga winds its way some 3,000km (1,864 miles) south-east until it empties into the Caspian Sea amid the salt marshes south of Astrakhan.

Along its banks are dotted cities with names like Kazan and Samara, Ulyanovsk and Saratov. I am going to drive 2,000km (1,243 miles) of its length, from Nizhny Novgorod to Volgograd, once more famously known as Stalingrad. The aim is to try and find out what Russia is like in the vast area beyond the Moscow ring road. To take a snapshot of life in Russia after eight years of President Vladimir Putin.

How is Russia really doing economically? What do ordinary provincial Russians think about life after Mr Putin? Is there renewed hostility here to America and Britain? If so, why? Along the way I plan to visit car factories, military bases, war veterans and the birthplace of another Vladimir - Lenin.

One thing is already clear. Life in this provincial city is very far removed from the days when the Sakharovs were exiled here 30 years ago. This morning I got into my car in Moscow and drove here, no special documents, no permission forms, no KGB men following me (at least I do not think so). Even in this suburb of endless grey apartments, there is now a brightly-lit shopping mall with coffee shops, pizzerias and the unmistakable signature of capitalism - a drive-in McDonald's.

On my hotel television the cable stations are showing American pulp, MTV and even porn. On the surface at least Russia has changed enormously. But what about below the surface?



By Greg McKevitt - BBC News.

A statue in Limavady town centre has caused a media storm 14,000 miles away on the other side of the world. The monument pays tribute to William Ferguson Massey, who was born in the town in 1856 but emigrated to New Zealand when he was 14. Massey grew up to become prime minister of his adopted country from 1912-25, and was one of the world leaders to sign the Treaty of Versailles.

New Zealand's second-longest serving prime minister landed back in the news 83 years after his death when police were called to Limavady Borough Council's offices on Tuesday night. Councillors had been discussing how to create a neutral environment in council spaces, with Sinn Fein proposing to remove unionist-associated flags and emblems. With feelings running high in the area, two Sinn Fein councillors said they were abused by a crowd of loyalist protesters as they left the building.

The news story has reached New Zealand because one of the items which Sinn Fein suggests should be removed is a statue of the country's former leader. Massey was also an Orangeman, who kept up his interest in the Protestant-based movement as a lodge member in Auckland.

Under the headline 'Irish target NZ PM's statue', Auckland historian Dr Michael Bassett told the New Zealand Herald: "You'd have thought a little town in [Northern] Ireland would be rather proud that one of their people went off to New Zealand and became prime minister. "If multicultural politics involves destroying the history of a place, well then it has no future."

Dr Bassett said any move to remove Massey's statue because of his Orange Order connections would be over the top as he was not an extremist. However, Paddy Butcher, the leader of the Sinn Fein grouping on Limavady Borough Council, told BBC News that the Massey statue "could not be taken in isolation". "There was an inventory of 10 items, one of them a republican dedication to hunger striker Kevin Lynch, which may cause offence to the republican side of the community if it was removed," he said.

"William Massey was a prominent Orangeman, he was the grand master of the Orange Lodge in New Zealand which folded two years after he died. "His track-record was substantially representative of just one side of the community, you cannot cherry-pick neutrality - it's either neutral or not."

Former DUP mayor George Robinson said unionists would not back down over the Massey statue. "There's widespread outrage - he's a man held in very high esteem, there's streets in Limavady and Belfast named after him," he said.

"He's a big tourist attraction as well - I have met relatives of Mr Massey who have visited Limavady just to see the statue. During the tourist season we get quite a few people who come along to see him."



Some of South Africa's coal mines have resumed production after being shut down on Friday because of power cuts. Coal is used to generate about 90% of electricity supplies at state power company Eskom. But the main gold, diamond and platinum mines remain closed. South Africa is one of the world's biggest producers of platinum and gold.

On Friday, Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin said the power cuts should be treated as a "national emergency". Eskom increased supplies over the weekend but not by enough for production to resume. The mines were closed in case miners were trapped underground by power cuts. "The power we are having is not enough for us to take people underground," Reidwaan Wookay, a spokesman for mining company Gold Fields, told AFP news agency. "We are using it to maintain the mines and keep them safe. It doesn't allow us to excavate or engage in any kind of production."

Further talks between the mining companies and Eskom are expected later in the week. The halt in production has led to fears of possible closures and job losses. "It is very stressful, as our members are not sure what are the consequences of this shutdown," general secretary of South Africa's National Union of Mineworkers Frans Baleni told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

The government has admitted it was wrong to refuse to invest in electricity generation several years ago, when asked by Eskom. South Africa's three biggest gold producers AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony have suspended production, along with the world's biggest platinum miner, Anglo Platinum, and diamond firm De Beers.

This has led to sharp rises in the price of gold and other precious metals. South Africa has already reduced electricity supplies to its neighbours, affecting countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia.



Israel is inviting the surviving members of The Beatles to celebrate the country's anniversary, 43 years after it banned the group. The Israeli ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, is meeting John Lennon's sister, Julia Baird, in Liverpool. He will invite Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and relatives of Lennon and George Harrison to come to Israel in May for the 60th anniversary.

Israel banned the Beatles in 1965, fearing they would corrupt young fans. But the ambassador - who is in Liverpool after marking Holocaust Memorial Day there - is a big fan of the Beatles and would like them to be part of the planned birthday celebrations.

The invitation is being passed to the director of the city's Beatles Story museum, Jerry Goldman. Mr Goldman said: "I've got close ties to Israel, so I'm thrilled. It would be fantastic if they did visit."

Liverpool is trying to develop cultural links with Israel, including the possibility of building a new museum dedicated to Jewish music.



The building has an eco-friendly translucent shell. Beijing Olympic officials have officially unveiled the bubble-wrapped National Aquatics Centre. Nicknamed the "Water Cube", the imposing £72m venue is clad in a honeycomb of transparent cushions and was funded by overseas donations. Li Aiqing, president of the company behind construction, said: "The whole project is complex and unique. "After five years of effort, we are very, very happy. It is one of the biggest swimming centres in the world."

The cushions in the outer layer of the building comprise over 100,000 square metres of ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene), a plastic with a melting-point of 275C. No fewer than 6,700 tonnes of steel and 1,300 tonnes of welding rods were also used in the construction.

A total of 42 gold medals will be won at the venue in swimming, diving and synchronised swimming. After the Olympics and Paralympics, a quarter of the venue will be retained for competition with the rest used for leisure purposes. The centre will host its first test event with the China Open swimming competition, which starts on Thursday.

The second showpiece venue of the Games, the neighbouring 91,000-seater National Stadium, or "Bird's Nest", is scheduled for completion by the end of March.



Police are struggling to restore order in western Kenya, amid a recent wave of violence linked to disputed elections. Riots were continuing in the towns of Naivasha and Nakuru, where dozens of people have been killed in five days of ethnic violence. Police arrested 150 people in the towns, accused of murder and arson.

Meanwhile former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who is trying to mediate in the crisis, has called for the army to be deployed. The national death toll since December's polls is now nearly 800. Members of President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe have been fighting with Luos and Kalenjins who backed his rival Raila Odinga in the election a month ago.

Mr Odinga accuses Mr Kibaki of stealing the vote and has refused to recognise the result. Much of the weekend's violence centred on Nakuru, Kenya's fourth largest city, and Naivasha, some 60km (37 miles) south.

The BBC's Adam Mynott in Nairobi says Naivasha, which witnessed scenes of depraved brutality on Sunday, is once again a battle ground between rival ethnic communities.
However, police have managed to prevent the situation from getting completely out of control, by firing live rounds over the heads of rioters.

But heavily armed youths are continuing to threaten each other. Red Cross workers had been bracing themselves for the grim task of counting the dead from the weekend's violence. They said they could not establish a proper toll until they had searched the charred remains of burnt houses after a day on which at least 19 people died.

Earlier there were riots in the opposition stronghold of Kisumu, where two people were reported killed. Members of the Luo and Luhya tribes have been targeting Kikuyus in what looks like revenge for what happened in the Rift Valley over the weekend. "We want to show our anger at the killing of our people," Fred Onyango, a demonstrator, told news agency AFP.

But the protests turned violent, with reports of shops and vehicles set ablaze and barricades set up in the streets. There has also been violence and houses have been burned in Kakamega in western Kenya and Eldoret in the Rift Valley.

In Eldoret, which experienced some of the worst violence immediately after the election result, there are reports that all the major roads leading out of the town have been blocked by protesters. Separately, two Germans were hacked to death with machetes at a resort south of Mombasa, in an incident involving a robbery and apparently unconnected with the ethnic violence.

Mr Annan is due to meet Mr Kibaki again. While Kenya's leader says he is open to talks, he has refused to countenance Mr Odinga's demand for fresh elections. Mr Annan - who on Saturday travelled to the Rift Valley to meet victims of the violence - has been working to try to overcome the political deadlock. He met Mr Odinga on Sunday, and afterwards opposition spokesman Salim Lone said each side had been asked to name three negotiators to participate in talks, which he said would hopefully start "within a week", according to Associated Press.


Sunday, January 27, 2008






Nicholas Van Hoogstraten was jailed for manslaughter but later released. As the millionaire property developer Nicholas van Hoogstraten is arrested in Zimbabwe, BBC News looks at his business practices and private life. Once heralded as Britain's youngest millionaire, Nicholas van Hoogstraten has never made any secret of his robust approach to business. During one of his many court appearances a judge described the tycoon as a "self-styled emissary of Beelzebub".

From an early age he aspired to be what he calls a "quality person" and was a great fan of Margaret Thatcher because she made him "proud to be English". He left school at 16, joined the Navy and travelled the world. Just a year later he sold his astutely acquired stamp collection for £1,000 and embarked on a business career, buying property in the Bahamas.

Now he is believed to have homes in Barbados, St Lucia, Florida, Cannes and Zimbabwe. He has spoken warmly of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whom he once described as "100% decent and incorruptible". He holds vast fortunes in the African country and once said: "I don't believe in democracy, I believe in rule by the fittest."

Nicholas van Hoogstraten, 62, is no stranger to controversy and his list of previous convictions includes ordering a grenade attack on the home of a business associate, a Jewish clergyman who he claimed owed him money. For that he spent four years in Wormwood Scrubs in the 1960s, but he would later face much more serious charges.

In 1999, Mohammed Raja, 62, was shot dead by two men identified as Mr van Hoogstraten's henchmen, but the tycoon's conviction for manslaughter was quashed by the Court of Appeal in July 2003 and he was freed five months later.

Following his release from prison Mr Raja's family brought a £6m civil action against him. In December 2005 the civil courts - where the standard of proof required is much lower than the criminal courts - ruled that on the balance of probability, Mr van Hoogstraten was involved in the murder. High Court judges ordered him to pay £500,000 interim costs but the businessman was typically defiant and stated that Mr Raja's family would "never get a penny". Mohammed Raja was stabbed and shot by two 'career criminals'.

Mr van Hoogstraten also hit the headlines during an ugly spat with ramblers over a public footpath through the grounds of the enormous mansion he built near Uckfield in East Sussex. Called Hamilton Palace, after Bermuda's capital, it is neo-classical, with a copper dome.

It was estimated to have cost about £40m and was reportedly the most expensive private house built in Britain for a century. It is bigger than Buckingham Palace and has a 600ft art gallery and a mausoleum designed to hold Mr van Hoogstraten's body for 5,000 years. The mausoleum's walls are three feet thick because he said he wanted to "make the building last for ever".

Never afraid of a fight, the tycoon has described taking on a nun at school. She "tried to whack me with a chair-leg once - I grabbed it and hit her and she never tried again".

He was born in 1946 in Shoreham, East Sussex, as Nicholas Marcel Hoogstraten - the "van" was added later. His father was a shipping agent and his mother a housewife. With the profits he made from his Bahama property deals, he moved on to the British housing market, buying six properties in Notting Hill, London, before moving on to Brighton.

By the time he was 22, he was reputed to have had 350 properties in Sussex alone and to have become Britain's youngest millionaire. But he also gained a sinister reputation and was accused of using strong-arm tactics against tenants of slum properties which he bought cheaply for redevelopment.

In the 1980s, as the housing market boomed, he prospered, acquiring more than 2,000 properties. By the 1990s he had sold 90% of them, making massive profits and investing in other areas, including global mining. When a fire broke out at one of his properties in the early 1990s in Brighton, he described the five people who died in the blaze as "scum". He once said: "The only purpose in creating great wealth like mine is to separate oneself from the riffraff."

He has also said he believes that "the whole purpose of having money is to put yourself on a pedestal". He has five children - four sons and a daughter - by three different mothers. He said he is preparing his eldest son, Rhett, to take over his empire - which he says is worth £800m.

In a BBC interview in 2002 the property baron said he had no plans to retire, but wanted his son to be groomed to eventually take over. He said: "I'm still young and fit and I've got a long time to go. I'd like him to shadow me and find out everything that's going on. "But it's a difficult task because I keep everything close to my chest, nothing's in writing, there are no records of anything."



By Tim Weber - Business editor, BBC News website, Davos.

Trade ministers from rich and poor countries have agreed to meet this Easter to make one more attempt to negotiate a global trade deal. EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson warned the trade round could fail if a deal was not struck this year. The talks are stuck over high farm subsidies in Western countries, and the refusal of developing nations to open up to services and manufactured goods. The trade ministers were meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.

Mr Mandelson said any incoming US president would "find it difficult to put trade on top of their to-do list". He said a failure to agree a free trade deal this year would put the text that had been agreed so far "in deep freeze... and it will have turned to mash by 2010" when talks could continue. Rich and poor nations say a deal is close.

His Brazilian colleague Celso Amorim said if last year had been a "window of opportunity" to reach a trade deal, then 2008 would be the "window of necessity". The meeting of trade ministers at the World Economic Forum in Davos has tradition, but past years have seen similar agreements to strike a deal to a tight deadline, and they have always failed.

Pascal Lamy, the director general of the World Trade Organisation said that he was "not 100% confident" that a deal could be achieved now, but thought it would be "do-able".

US trade representative Susan Schwab said the administration of President George W Bush had made "a very clear commitment to achieve a trade deal in 2008". However, Mr Bush's "fast-track authority" to push through a trade deal in Congress ended last year, and the US elections are expected to persuade many US lawmakers to take a more protectionist stance on trade.

Ms Schwab called on companies to lobby lawmakers to ensure they would understand the huge economic benefits that this trade deal would bring.



The press in Kenya and neighbouring countries expresses deep dismay that the post-election violence has continued despite talks being held between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to find a way out of the crisis.

Several Kenyan commentators doubt that the talks mediated by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan will succeed unless political leaders acknowledge the full extent of the crisis and its underlying causes.

In neighbouring Uganda, one writer calls on the Kenyan government to engage with the opposition, while another urges the Ugandan-born Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, to speak out on the crisis.


The spiral of post-election violence, the killings, displacement and wanton destruction of property have reached catastrophic levels. It is time we stopped burying our heads in the sand as government officials claim life is returning to normal.


Mr Annan cannot avoid looking at the way the ethnic card has been played at different times by different politicians and to what ends? I agree with people who subscribe to the fact that power-sharing is good in principle. But I don't see it working when each side believes it won the election fair and square.


It is now recognised that women and children are bearing the brunt of the raging conflict. Sexual abuse has been thrown into the equation, and these two vulnerable groups are suffering double jeopardy... the increase in sexual attacks is a direct offshoot of the breakdown of law and order and the consequent collapse of social mechanisms. In our situation, there is no substitute for peace in ensuring women and girls are safe from sexual depredation.


In this situation it is pointless for any group to crow that they are properly elected and fully in charge of government. The reality is that the instruments of governance have been overwhelmed with the protests that followed the disputed presidential election.


Kibaki's camp cannot pretend that there is no crisis in Kenya when killings are continuing. As a way forward, Mr Odinga has floated three options: Kibaki's resignation, a vote re-run, or power-sharing then a new election. Disagreeable as these suggestions maybe for Mr Kibaki's side, they should surely form the basis of dialogue.


Uganda-born Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu has not uttered a word on the events in Kenya where the people have been drowning in blood for almost 30 days. Has the bishop got a selective sense of injustice, only noticing and condemning human rights abuses in the Middle East and Zimbabwe, or is he too busy praying for Mr Mugabe's immediate demise to care about the evolving genocide in Kenya?

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.


Cathy Buckle's Weekly Letter From Zimbabwe !


Dear Family and Friends,

Only once in the last seven days has there been electricity, water and
telephone services at the same time and that was for less than two hours
one afternoon. In the past week electricity has been off for 18 hours a
day, every day, and water cuts last for days at a time. This is now the
norm of life as everything is approaching, or has already reached, a state
of complete collapse. All attempts at normal day to day functioning are
virtually impossible.

This week I had a first hand encounter with the precarious state of
Zimbabwe's health delivery system and it made me very aware of why we have
the lowest life expectancy in the world. My body had been aching for two
days and I was racked with fever: dripping with sweat one minute and
shaking with uncontrollable cold the next. I knew I needed help and was
fortunate to be able to see a doctor - this is a luxury most Zimbabweans
rarely have. The first sign of abnormality came after the blood test when
the doctor apologised for not providing a plaster - something so simple but
now unobtainable. It was an insignificant inconvenience. Far worse lay
ahead. There are four pharmacies in the town and none had the common drug
that had been prescribed to treat malaria. An alternative drug was proposed
but none of the chemists had this one either. Malaria: so common, so
deadly, no drugs for treatment - this was chilling.

My next stop was the hospital, by now I was weak and disorientated and had
only got this far thanks to the help of a friend with a car - another rare
luxury unavailable to most. Only four patients occupied beds: few can
afford the hundreds of millions of dollars needed per night. The hospital
also didn't have the prescribed malaria drug, or the alternative that I
needed. Finally a course of injections was made available but only if I
could pay cash upfront for the vials so the hospital could immediately try
and replace them. How many others before me had been down this road and not
been so lucky?

Over the next five days I visited the hospital every morning for another
precious injection. For three days and nights the hospital had no running
water at all. When the doctor did his rounds, nurses trickled water from a
jug over his hands after he had examined each patient. A local farmer had
helped and provided a bowser of water but this was being carried in, by the
bucket load, to flush toilets, clean human waste, wash dishes and equipment
and sponge down patients. The hospital, like the rest of the town, was only
getting electricity in the middle of the night; water was being boiled
outside on open wood fires. A generator was dealing with emergencies, the
cost of running it phenomenal.

Every day I felt so privileged to be receiving treatment from nurses
working under such appalling conditions. They have left home without a hot
meal or cup of tea in the morning. They will return home to carry water
from wells, cook outside on open fires and prepare for another day of much
the same. And yet always they were polite, professional, helpful and
gentle. On my last day I asked the nurse when she would have time off - I
seemed to have seen her there every day. She told me they were short
staffed because so many nurses had gone. "Gone to the Diaspora," she said.
"To Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, South Africa, Botswana -
anywhere." I asked the nurse what made her stay and she said it was very
hard to go. As hard as it to stay.

Until next time, thanks for reading,
love cathy.

Copyright cathy buckle 26 January 2008 My books:
"African Tears" and "Beyond Tears" are available in South Africa from: and in the UK from:


Saturday, January 26, 2008


The four leaders said they already were in talks with other EU parties. Far-right political leaders from four EU nations have unveiled plans to form a pan-European "patriotic" party. The heads of far-right parties from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria and France said their aim was to defend Europe against "Islamisation" and immigrants. At a news conference in Vienna, they said they expected to launch the party by 15 November.

The move comes several months after the collapse of a far-right bloc in the European Parliament. The Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS) bloc disbanded itself in November after a row between its Italian and Romanian members over race.

In Vienna, the heads of Austria's Freedom Party, Belgium's Vlaams Belang, Bulgaria's Ataka and the French National Front said the new party would be a counter-balance to other political forces in Europe. "We say: Patriots of all the countries of Europe, unite! Because only together will we solve our problems," Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said. "Irresponsible mass immigration to Europe from outside Europe due to irresponsible politicians... is the problem," he said.

Asked about the chances of success of the new party, French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was also present in Vienna, said: "It's not necessary to hope in order to try."

The far-right leaders need support from seven EU parties to launch the group, but Mr Strache said that the goal was to have "more than 10 parties as members and ideally one party from each EU country".

The new party has no name yet, but Mr Strache said European Patriotic Party or European Freedom Party were working titles. The plan for the new party drew a rebuke from Austria's governing Social Democrats who said the proposed political force was absurd and contradictory.



By Adam Mynott - BBC News, Nairobi

Kenya's biggest donors have warned the country explicitly or implicitly that aid to the country may be cut or ended unless there is a satisfactory outcome to the post-election crisis that has killed around 700 people and driven 250,000 from their homes.

The US, the biggest donor, and the UK, the second biggest donor, have both said that under the current circumstances, where there is doubt over the outcome of the presidential election on 27 December 2007, that it is not "business as usual" with the Kenyan government.

Britain has given $2m (£1m) to help with the humanitarian crisis resulting from the violence which followed the election, but both countries are said to be watching and waiting before pressing ahead with their full aid programmes.

The other big donor, the European Union, is already under pressure to cut its funding; the European Parliament has voted for a freeze on donor aid to Kenya. It is not their decision - that lies with the European Commission - but the threat is real and it is hanging in the air.

When the European Development Commissioner, Louis Michel, was in Nairobi at the weekend I understand he made it clear to President Mwai Kibaki that unless moves were made to find a negotiated settlement to the crisis, then donor aid from the EU would be cut. Kenya is not one of Africa's "most indebted nations" but it is a very poor country.

The UN estimates that 250,000 Kenyans have been displaced Around 60% of Kenya's population of 37m lives on less than a dollar a day and although Kenya's GDP has been growing for the past three or four years, many of the other economic and social indicators have dropped.

Kenya slipped five places in the 2005 Human Development Report, life expectancy has fallen (WHO) and Kenya is seen as one of the 20 most corrupt countries in the world (Transparency International). The impression is given in some quarters, perhaps encouraged by the Kenyan government, that it does not need international aid and that it can stand on its own feet.

This is not the case. The US gives $600-700m dollars in aid. This is all targeted spending, none of it is given directly to the government as budget support. Much of this comes through the US PEPFAR fund and goes towards health care, education, HIV/Aids prevention etc. In addition another $300-400m is given through private funding or other means.

So the total aid injection from the US amounts to about $1bn. A spokesman at the US Embassy in Nairobi said that on top of this, investment, tourist spending and remissions by Kenyans living in the US amount to approximately another $1bn going into the Kenyan economy.

The UK was committed to giving Kenya $100 million in the coming year and since 2001 the Department For International Development has spent over $330m in Kenya. Like the US, none of that money goes directly to the government in budget support but is aimed at specific projects or areas of spending. Donors hope their pressure will end the post-election violence. A large chunk of the UK aid goes to education and the former Kenyan government under President Kibaki was able to fulfil its election promise of free primary education in part because of UK funding.

One of the big election promises made by Mr Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) at this election was to move to free secondary education. Realistically, this cannot be achieved without substantial help from donors. The EU provided $425m between 2002 and 2007 to Kenya and has promised a further $560m between 2008 and 2013. A third of this money does go straight to the Kenyan treasury as budget support. Euro MPs want this to be cancelled.

The dilemma for donors is that cuts in aid inevitably first hit those they're intended to help: the poor and sick and disadvantaged in Kenya; and so often in the past, threats of donor aid reduction have ended up being just that, threats.



Japanese whaling ships have been warned not to enter New Zealand's Antarctic waters by Prime Minister Helen Clark. Military planes were patrolling areas of the Southern Ocean for which New Zealand is responsible and would take photos if they see the fleet, she said. Ms Clark added that the surveillance pictures would be published - but not the exact co-ordinates of the fleet, because of security concerns.

Protesters have temporarily halted the Japanese ships' hunting activities. Tokyo officials say they want to shake off the activists - some of whom boarded a Japanese vessel last week - before they resume the hunt. New Zealand has search-and-rescue responsibilities over parts of the Southern Ocean, but does not have territorial waters. "It's an area that's very difficult to access. If there are problems it's difficult to render assistance," Ms Clark said. She added: "We won't release co-ordinates for obvious safety-related reasons but we will put information out to the world where we see the fleet."

The Japanese fleet plans to kill about 900 minke whales and 50 fin whales by mid-April as part of what it describes as a scientific research programme. Other nations and environment groups say the research goals could be achieved using non-lethal methods and call the programme a front for commercial whaling.



Global stocks finished down on Friday, as concerns returned about the state of the worldwide financial sector. With analysts saying some investors were also profit taking after two days of solid rises, Wall Street's main Dow Jones index lost 171 points to 12,207. The Nasdaq ended 35 points lower, while London's FTSE fell 6.8 points to 5,869, and Frankfurt's Dax lost 4.3 points.

Analysts said sentiment was hit by rumours of more big losses to be reported in the global banking sector. Dutch banks ING and Fortis were mentioned in some reports. Both said they declined to comment on market speculation. There was also rumours that one of the main US hedge funds was in financial difficulty.

Global stocks had risen earlier on Friday as investors welcomed the previous day's announcement of a US government plan to spend $150bn (£76bn) reviving the country's economy. Strong earnings from Microsoft and building equipment firm Caterpillar had also helped to lift the mood, with Japan's main Nikkei index closing up 4%.

On Monday, stock markets from Japan to the UK were heavily sold on growing fears that the US would fall into a recession and drag down other key economies too. In many markets, the falls were the worst since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US. The resulting turmoil prompted the Fed, the US central bank, to cut US rates to 3.5% from 4.25%.

Analysts now expect more volatility in the short term. "We expect sharp gains and losses in the next few days and weeks," said Heinz-Gerd Sonnenschein, a strategist at Postbank in Germany. "The US has done many things to stabilise the market, but all the bad news is not yet out there.



For a fourth day, Egypt is grappling with the problem of what to do about the thousands of Palestinians spilling over its border with the Gaza Strip. On Saturday, heavy traffic continued across the border in both directions, AP news agency reported, after a bid by Egypt to reseal it failed on Friday.

AP also reported that for the first time many Palestinians were using cars to cross, rather than going on foot. The Palestinians are defying a blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel. Israel has said the blockade was necessary to try to halt rocket fire into Israel from Gaza. But it had faced accusations of imposing illegal "collective punishment" on residents of Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas.

On Friday, Egyptian police withdrew from the border area after violent skirmishes with Gazans, some of whom used a bulldozer to tear down parts of the border fence.


12km (7.4 miles) long
Egyptian side patrolled by 750 soldiers under 2005 agreement with Israel
Border crossing terminal south of town of Rafah
PA control of terminal under EU supervision collapsed after Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007
Border closed almost continuously since

There appeared to be no attempt to halt the stream of cross-border traffic on Saturday, with AP reporting only two guards present at the main crossing. It said as well as Palestinians travelling into Egypt to stock up, and even to visit an Egyptian resort, some Egyptian vehicles were seen transporting supplies into Gaza.

Hundreds of thousands of people have surged into Egypt to buy supplies since the first breaches in the border wall were made on Wednesday. The UN has estimated that as much as half of Gaza's 1.5 million population has crossed the border in defiance of Israel's blockade, which was recently tightened leading to acute shortages.

Israel, alarmed at the ongoing breakdown in security on the Egypt-Gaza border, has closed the main road running along the border. Tourism sites and hiking trails have been closed. Security measures have been increased, according to the Israeli military, on fears that Israeli citizens could be vulnerable to attacks by Palestinians now free to travel in the area.

But Friday's failed bid by Egyptian riot police to plug gaps in the border was a humiliating setback for Cairo, which must now decide how to respond, say correspondents. Hamas said it respected Egypt's decision to close the border but it did nothing to assist the Egyptians on the ground.

Late on Friday, the United Nations Security Council failed to reach agreement on a state of "deep concern" about the situation.


17 January: Israel seals border following rise in rocket attacks
20 January: Gaza's only power plant shuts down
22 January: Israel eases restrictions
22 January: Egyptian border guards disperse Palestinian protest against closure
23 January: Border wall breached

A statement calling for talks had been in the council all week, but was finally blocked by Libya, which currently chairs the Security Council. Meanwhile, confusion surrounds reports that Egypt's president offered to host talks for rival Palestinian groups.

Hamas's leader in exile, Khaled Meshaal, told Reuters news agency his group would seek to make the dialogue a success. But the Egyptian foreign ministry told the BBC by text message that reports that Hosni Mubarak had invited Hamas and Fatah to Cairo for discussions were "not accurate".

Correspondents say the incursions by hundreds of thousands of Gazans are forcing Egypt, Israel and the international community to rethink their policy of trying to weaken the Hamas leadership by keeping the territory sealed.



By Adam Mynott - BBC News, Nakuru.

Some of the latest violence seems to be revenge attacks by Kikuyus. Terrifying mobs of young men armed with panga (machetes), rungus (wooden clubs) and bows and arrows stormed through the streets of Nakuru on Friday.

The market town, the capital of Kenya's Rift Valley, has not witnessed scenes like this for many years, if ever. It is about two and half hour's drive from Nairobi to Nakuru and as we came into the town on the main road we were confronted by a mob advancing down the tarmac.

A stone smashed a back-door window of our car, crashing against the head of my colleague Nawaz Shah, showering him with broken glass. He was not badly hurt and our troubles were nothing compared to those of hundreds of people in the town who had been attacked or forced to abandon their homes.

Ezekiel, a security guard watching over a petrol station, said he had left his wife and child in their home that morning and he had no idea whether they were safe. "They are crouching there in the room all alone. I told them not to move and it is now too dangerous for me to get near them," he told me.

Businesses have closed and Nakuru has been turned into a ghost town All around us people were hurrying away from a junction where another petrol station had been set on fire. More than a dozen people have been killed in a frenzy of violence in the town, and dozens of properties have been torched and destroyed.

Nakuru is 90% populated by Kikuyus, and many other Kikuyus, driven from their homes in other parts of the Rift Valley, have come to Nakuru in the past three weeks seeking shelter. They accuse mobs of Kalenjins, another tribal group, of launching attacks on them in the north of the town - trying to drive them out.

Attacks three weeks ago were sparked by the disputed election, but the fighting has now taken on a different complexion. Old inter-ethnic scores, some going back generations are being settled. Many relate to disputes over land which different communities claim was stolen from them.

In the centre of the town shops and businesses started to close down and by the middle of the afternoon, nothing was left open. Fear is etched deep into everyone's faces. Groups of terrified residents were suddenly running headlong out of the parts of town they live in, because they heard that houses were being attacked and set on fire.

Many people have abandoned their homes altogether. The road leading south out of Nakuru towards Nairobi was dotted with vehicles piled high with belongings: chairs, sofas, tables, pots and pans, chests of drawers and in one truck we saw, a cow. Many do not know where they are going - they simply know they must get away. The town of Nakuru is no stranger to inter-ethnic strife. For many years it has been eased and contained, but now it has erupted in sickening acts of murder and brutality.


Friday, January 25, 2008





President Mugabe is trying to extend his 27 years in office. Zimbabwe is to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 29 March, the government has announced.
President Robert Mugabe has been confirmed as his party's candidate.

The opposition is threatening to boycott the elections unless it gets guarantees they will be free and fair at talks with Mr Mugabe's party. Recent elections have been characterised by violence against the opposition and accusations of rigging - charges denied by Mr Mugabe.

On Wednesday, police used tear gas to disperse a banned march staged by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). In December, the government promised to relax tough security laws, which have been used to hinder MDC campaigning.

The MDC and Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF are holding talks mediated by South Africa in an effort to end the political impasse. The opposition wants constitutional changes to be enacted before the elections are held. They had been expected in March.

Zimbabwe is suffering from an acute economic crisis, which Mr Mugabe's critics blame on his seizure of white-owned farms. He says he is the victim of an international plot intended to bring him down.

Earlier this month, the BBC was told that former Finance Minister Simba Makoni would challenge Mr Mugabe, either from within Zanu-PF and be launching a breakaway party.



Staff at two hospitals in the South African city of Durban tell the BBC's Alice Lander how the current power cut and shortages - known as load shedding - are affecting them.


When the lights go out in the theatres it really is black. Once or twice when the generators haven't kicked in, we have had to get nurses to shine torches - down into a patient's abdomen for example - to try help the surgeon see what they're doing.

If the power went off and our generators didn't work, all our patients would need to be ventilated. We would have to allocate one nurse for each and every patient and they would have to take over the breathing requirements for the patients because all the ventilators would go off.

Some of the machines do have batteries but that would only last between three and four hours. The patients are all also on infusions that rely on electricity and most of our infusion sets are old and do not have batteries.


We cannot always rely on these generators and our back-up systems because once a patient comes in and we have him on a life-support system, he needs to be monitored regularly... and if the power goes off then we are lost. We would not know how to cope with that.

That patient lying on a support system would die, within minutes, if we couldn't get back-up to the relevant equipment. It is the most crucial aspect for us as an emergency department.


When I got to work on Monday, there was no power. The possible lack of power is worrying hospital staff. I got a call from theatre from the doctors wanting to know how long it would last. We enquired and it was actually from 0800 till 1000 in the morning. But the doctors were quite understanding because they knew it wasn't just the hospital, it was the entire country being affected by load shedding.

On Tuesday it went off at 1400 local time and came back up at 1600 local time. By that time, most of the procedures were completed in theatre but it did affect us again on Wednesday morning.

The municipality in this area was out so they swapped us onto another supply and since then we haven't been affected. It's a major relief. This load shedding is a worry and a concern because this is a hospital we're talking about.


Last week we were preparing supper when the lights went off. We had to use the gas stove - we have to have a substitute power because we have so many patients that we have to feed. We can't just give them sandwiches.

And even at home this load shedding is giving me so many problems because I have my elderly mother and father to look after. If we buy food and then there's no power to keep it fresh in the fridge then it just goes off. So we have to just throw that food away. The same happens here at the hospital if there's no power.


The continuing power cuts will affect daily life across South Africa. It [load shedding] really makes you angry when you get home and have to have a bath in the dark. We work long hours here and then when we go home, it's all dark. Last night, I had to wait until 2230 local time to be able to have a bath. You don't even feel like eating because there's no lights.


The load shedding by Eskom [South Africa's power supplier] is a worry to all of us, you know, it's a worry because when it happens it could cause problems at the hospital. Not all the units here at the hospital are actually connected to emergency back-up power supplies.


My worry is if our generators were not to work when we needed them - when the power goes off because of this load shedding. If it was to happen it would be the first time that it has happened and it would be a real disaster.

Everything else would also stop because we would have to be doing everything manually - ventilating the patient, etc. It would be so straining for the nurses and we do worry that with all these cuts, one day it will happen.


If the power was to go off with my mom here, I would be so worried. And very angry because like this morning she was in theatre... if the lights had gone off, what would've happened? Because I don't think that these hospitals always have a back-up plan. What's the guarantee that everyone is going to be safe?

There's no guarantee and no-one is prepared to take responsibility. Everybody says the government is apologising but it is a bit too late for apologies. It's a bit too late especially when there's people's lives concerned here.



Charles Taylor is accused of stoking the 1991-2001 Sierra Leone war. The family of a key prosecution witness in the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor say they have received death threats. Vamba Sherif told the BBC that unknown men had entered the family home's compound in Monrovia, shouting insults and saying they would all be killed. His brother Varmuyan Sherif has told Mr Taylor's trial that the former leader had close ties to Sierra Leone rebels.

Mr Taylor has denied charges he ordered the rebels' atrocities. Vamba Sherif said the men fled before the police arrived. He said that a few days later, a leaflet was left in the yard, repeating the death threats.

Mr Taylor's trial was moved to The Hague in the Netherlands because of fears that his trial in West Africa could lead to renewed instability in the region. Both Liberia and Sierra Leone are slowly recovering from years of conflict.

The prosecution are trying to prove the former president's links to rebels in Sierra Leone. Varmuyan Sherif, one of his former aides, has told the court that Mr Taylor set up a guest house for them in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. He also said rebel fighters crossed into Liberia from Sierra Leone to aid Mr Taylor's forces when they were attacked by Liberian rebels.

Mr Taylor, 59, is the first former African leader to face a criminal trial internationally. The ex-Liberian president is accused of responsibility for the actions of RUF rebels during the 1991-2001 civil war in Sierra Leone, which included unlawful killings, sexual slavery, use of child soldiers and looting.



By Tom Symonds - Transport correspondent, BBC News.

Mystery still surrounds the crashed British Airways Boeing 777. Why did a modern airliner, with an experienced crew on board, suddenly lose power in the seconds before landing? It is a question that many in the aviation industry simply can't stop asking. The mystery of flight BA038 intrigues them in so many ways.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch is admired around the world as the gold standard in crash investigation. Its experts are either experienced pilots or engineers.

Their task: to produce a highly detailed report of the crash that explains, rather than blames. Pulling together information from a variety of sources, including the AAIB's initial reports, it's possible to describe the last minute of the flight.

BA038 had been descending gradually into Heathrow, the autopilot and the automatic throttle system controlling the aircraft. As the handling pilot, first officer John Coward would have been preparing to take manual control below 1,000 feet. The trouble started two miles out at 600 feet, as the plane was slowing down in its landing configuration. At this point the engines would have required more power to keep the plane from sinking below the glideslope - an invisible three degree path down to the runway, generated by radio waves.

The plane had not run out of fuel, and there is no mention of birds being sucked into the engines, or violent blasts of wind throwing it off course. When the automatic throttle demanded more power, the engines initially responded. Then first the right engine, followed eight seconds later by the left, powered down - to a level below the thrust needed.

Warnings would have flashed up on engine monitoring screens in the centre of the control panel, showing the power was below that required. A lower screen would have shown more detailed information about the flow of fuel around the aircraft. The primary displays would show the likely height the plane would descend to in the next minute.

Faced with the knowledge that a disaster was in the making, the crew had around 40 seconds to save their aircraft. It's understood the captain Peter Burkill quickly reduced the amount of wing flaps deployed.

This was as important as the skilful manipulation of the control column by John Coward, in saving the aircraft. It cuts drag, speeds the plane up a little, and when a pilot has speed, he can maintain altitude. But it would only delay the inevitable -the plane would have been losing both speed and height, a potentially catastrophic situation.

The 150 tonne Boeing just cleared the busy A30, the airport perimeter fence, and a radio mast before crashing to the ground in a stall - where the plane can simply fly no longer. There would have been further warnings in the cockpit, including the stick-shaker, where the controls vibrate to alert the pilots.

But the quick actions and training of the crew had saved many lives. The latest information from the investigation has removed some of the possible causes from the list. The plane had not run out of fuel, and there is no mention of birds being sucked into the engines, or violent blasts of wind throwing it off course.

In fact, both engines were turning as the plane hit the ground. Significantly the AAIB has said "the autothrottle and engine control commands were performing as expected", suggesting no failure of a data link between the automatic systems and the engines. Instead the investigators specifically mention the plane's fuel system.

The Boeing 777 has three fuel tanks - one in the centre that is used up first, and one on each wing, which would have been in use during the later stages of the flight. There are six different pumps to push the fuel to the engines. If any pump fails, fuel can be routed via an alternate. If an engine fails the fuel can be 'balanced' between the wings to take account of the one-sided thrust, and the fact that the tank on one wing will empty faster than the other.

Keeping everything working is an 'electronic engine control', part of a system called the FADEC which monitors the power needed. This takes into account a range of variables including: the configuration of the aircraft, the condition of the outside air, the state of the engines themselves, and of course, the position of the plane's throttles. This system knows the limitations of the engines and stops them being damaged by heat or pressure. Crucially it is supposed to work independently of the plane's autopilot, to make sure the engines function properly.

It is this collection of computers, tanks, pumps, sensors and their backups, which the investigators are examining closely. But they will also be examining the fuel. It might have been contaminated. Or fuel 'waxing' may have occurred. This results from partial freezing, and pilots say the outside air temperature at some altitudes en route to the UK was down to minus 70 degrees that day - some of the coldest readings they could remember. There are heating systems to bring the fuel up to the temperature required. Perhaps these failed.

The US Federal Aviation Administration has identified previous seven incidents involving Boeing 777s where ice and melting water clogged up the sensors and pressure lines of the FADEC system, preventing it from controlling the engines properly. The biggest concern was that this could happen on both engines simultaneously, a scenario eerily similar to last week's crash.

The FAA's findings only related to General Electric GE90 aircraft engines. The pair on the British Airways Boeing were Rolls Royce engines. Maybe they suffered a similar problem.

At least modern airliners provide investigators with the maximum amount of information possible. Every aspect of the plane's performance was recorded, including the words of the crew. It could be weeks before the mystery of flight BA038is solved. The airline industry is waiting, with great anticipation, for answers.