Friday, February 29, 2008


The policy was introduced in the 1970s to combat population growth. China is considering scrapping its controversial one-child policy after three decades, a senior official says.
Family planning chief Zhao Baige told reporters she wanted an "incremental" change in the policy.
But there are not yet any specific proposals or a timetable for change, and she said some form of population control would remain in place.
Families in China's cities are restricted to one child, and those in rural areas to two children.
But the BBC's Dan Griffiths in Beijing says many wealthy Chinese are having large families and choosing to pay the standard fines for having more than one child.
Ms Zhao said it was common practice for some families in cities to have two or even three children.
And she expressed concern that China faces a huge disparity in numbers of females to males, as families in rural provinces continue to favour boys over girls.
"[In Henan there are] nearly 100 million people, but strongly influenced by the classical way, they want a son, and they are already very fragile environmentally," Reuters quoted her as saying.
From time to time China has considered changes to its one child policy but has always backed off, fearing a massive spike in population growth.
Strict family-planning controls were introduced during the 1970s to combat China's spiralling population.



British media agreed not to report the prince's deployment. Prince Harry is to be withdrawn from Afghanistan after news of his secret deployment leaked out.
The 23-year-old royal, who has spent the last 10 weeks serving in Helmand Province, is to be flown back to the UK amid concerns for his safety.
The move follows the collapse of a news blackout deal over his tour of duty, which was broken by foreign media.
There had been fears the prince, who is third in line to the throne, could become a target for the Taleban.
In a statement, the Ministry of Defence described the reporting of Harry's deployment by foreign media as "regrettable" but said that contingency plans for such a leak were in place.
More recently he took part in a major operation to disrupt Taleban lines of communication
Brigadier Andrew Mackay
It added that while the prince should have returned "in a matter of weeks" with his Household Cavalry regiment battlegroup, the situation had now "clearly changed".
Brigadier Andrew Mackay, Commander of Task Force Helmand, said Harry had been "deployed in the field, conducting operations against the Taleban" at the time of the decision.
He continued: "He has seen service both in the south of Helmand and in the north. More recently he took part in a major operation to disrupt Taleban lines of communication."

Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, in consultation with head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, had taken the final decision to withdraw Harry immediately, the statement said.
"This decision has been taken primarily on the basis that the worldwide media coverage of Prince Harry in Afghanistan could impact on the security of those who are deployed there, as well as the risks to him as an individual soldier," it added.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid tribute to the prince and said Britain owed him a "debt of gratitude" for his service in Afghanistan, but he added that it was correct to bring Harry back to the UK.

"Security considerations come first. That has been the deciding factor which was made by our defence staff and I think that everybody will respect that is the right decision."
He thanked Harry, a second lieutenant, for the "professionalism and dedication he has shown", and said the decision to bring him home was a reminder of the "difficulties and challenges" the armed forces faced on active duty.
Conservative leader David Cameron agreed that it was "right" to withdraw the prince from Afghanistan, but said everyone in Britain should be "proud of what he has done".
"It's incredibly tough out there. He's obviously shown great courage and bravery as all our soldiers do out there.
"And what they do is really important, not just for the future of Afghanistan but for the safety of our country too."
A member of the Household Cavalry, Prince Harry was based in a former madrassa along with a Gurkha regiment.
Work involved calling up allied air cover in support of ground forces and going out on foot patrols.
Defence Secretary Des Browne also commended Harry, saying the prince was "an example of a generation of young people" who were "prepared to take on these very serious and dangerous tasks for our security".
The Queen, opening the Queen's Court Care Home in Windsor, said she believed he had done "a good job in a very difficult climate".


A news black-out is unusual, but not unique
Jon Williams,World news editor, BBC News
Jon's comments in full

The prince's deployment was subject to a news blackout deal struck between the MoD and newspapers and broadcasters in the UK and abroad.
It is understood that the news was first leaked in an Australian publication in January but only after it appeared on the influential US website, The Drudge Report, did the deal break down.
In exchange for not reporting the prince's deployment, some media organisations were granted access to the prince in Afghanistan for interviews and filming.
The prince's withdrawal is the second major blow to his army career.
Last year, a planned tour to Iraq had to be cancelled at the last minute because of a security risk.






By Wanyama wa Chebusiri - BBC, Eldoret.
For the woman whose husband was burnt alive in a church in the worst of Kenya's post-election violence, it is a little premature to celebrate Thursday's peace deal signed by the country's warring leaders.
These land skirmishes are not about power or politics; it's not ODM and PNU - it's tribal
Displaced farmer
"It's become a habit of saying 'peace, peace, peace' - and then after peace we see flames of fire," the mother of four says in a displacement camp on the outskirts of Eldoret in the Rift Valley Province.
"After peace we see spears; we see arrows; we see bows; we see pangas [machetes]."
The church where her husband died was set ablaze by armed youths in the first few days after President Mwai Kibaki was hastily sworn in as president on 30 December after disputed elections.
Those sheltering inside were from Mr Kibaki's Kikuyu community.
Now some 20,000 Kikuyus, Kisis and Luyhas targeted in the area have taken refugee at the showground where white tents stretch out as far as the eye can see.
A man who fled his farm agrees that violence has opened up wounds that the power-sharing agreement in Nairobi will not immediately heal.

Some 600,000 people were displaced by the violence/
A coalition is to be set up headed by President Kibaki of the Party of National Unity (PNU) with Raila Odinga - whose Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) is the largest in parliament - set to take the newly created post of prime minister.
"The relationship won't help us," the farmer says.
"We'll still suffer more and more. Not unless people who fought with us talk to us and we come together with them and we forgive each other.
"You see these land skirmishes are not about power or politics; it's not ODM and PNU - it's tribal."
I don't imagine that I'm going to stay with a person who burned my house - it can't happen because he's still my enemy

In Eldoret town itself, where Kalenjins make up the majority of residents, the deal was greeted enthusiastically.
Many feel they will be able to put the clashes that rocked the town behind them.
But an unemployed youth at the show ground camp sees little hope of this.
"Kibaki and Raila have decided. For me I don't see that it is a deal.
"I don't imagine that I'm going to stay with a person who stole my cloth, who burned my house - it can't happen because he's still my enemy," he says, adding that he will not be returning to his home.

A recent school leaver wants assurances on the ground about the agreement.
I don't feel it's OK for me to be a refugee in my own country
Kikuyu widow
"For me to accept it, we need stern measures to be taken against the perpetrators so that these things will not recur in our country," he says.
"A lot of agony has taken place in our hearts.
"Families are dead and it is very late for us to say it's a power-sharing deal."
The church widow says she will not be returning to her farm any time soon and will see what happens with the coalition.
"I want to really to see [it work] as a Kenyan. I'll just take a step of faith and just watch them.
"I don't feel it's OK for me to be a refugee in my own country."



By Steve Tomkins
It comes but once every four years and this 29 February some workers are being given the extra day as holiday. Employers won't like the idea, but we tend to look at additional time as a gift.
Imagine that to adjust our timekeeping, ten minutes had to be added to one day each year. You would expect them to be ten minutes of free time, yours to spend as you will. You'd be miffed if they were added to one of your working hours, getting ten minutes more work out of you for no extra money.
But is this what leap year does to us? If you're on an annual salary, you will get the same pay as normal this year, while working one extra day. Is 29 February just another working Friday, or a sneaky bonus for your employer? Who does 29 February belong to?

He gets the day offIf you're starting to feel like a holiday today, you might be interested to hear that the National Trust has granted its whole workforce the day off. Calling it the Great Green Leap Day, they are asking staff to use it for the environment. "We're giving them this opportunity to look at steps to green their own lives at home," explains Mike Holland of the Trust. "Anything from converting to greener energy to starting a compost heap."
Just how many will be converting, composting and otherwise greening and how many will be shopping is hard to say, but Holland hopes most of the workforce have caught the vision. He says it would be good to see other workplaces catch it, so if you can just wait till 2012 there might be one for you too.
The National Trust does not want anyone to feel short-changed by their own employer. But if you do feel that way, then according to Steve Taylor, the author of Making Time: Why Time Seems to Pass at Different Speeds and How to Control It, there may be something in it.
Time as a 'gift'
The book argues that the way we perceive time is more real than the way we measure it. How else does time pass, except in our consciousness - sometimes faster, sometimes slower? When it comes to the extra day, like the extra hour when the clocks go back, he says, "We look on that time as a gift - just as in other ways we try to subtract time, like when we're on a long journey and immerse attention in a book".

Every fourth year is a leap year, unless it is divisible by 100 and not by 400
So 2000 was a leap year, as was, for those who can't remember it, 1600
1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years
The next such non-leap year is 2100
Perhaps, he agrees, employers may be getting an extra unpaid day out of us. "But then in a sense," he adds, "they own us already. We give half our waking hours to them, voluntarily, and our time is our lives - we're literally giving ourselves away." A thought which makes you want to hold on to any disputed days tighter than ever.
Where did this extra day come from in the first place? We need the leap day because of the deplorable untidiness of our solar system. One of our earth years (a complete orbit around the sun) does not take an exact number of whole days (one complete spin of the earth on its axis). In fact, it takes 365.2422 days, give or take.
The leap year was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46BC, to make the calendar tidier. The extra day every fourth year made the average year 365.25 days long.

This was still about 12 minutes longer than the solar year, which you can get away with on the short term, but in 1267 a monk called Roger Bacon noticed that the calendar had slipped nine days in the 13 intervening centuries.

Gregory XIII: Said to have provoked protests after 'stealing' 10 days It then took the church until 1582 to accept that it was celebrating Easter on the wrong week. That year Pope Gregory XIII adjusted the calendar, introducing the system we go by today: every fourth year is a leap year, unless it is divisible by 100 and not by 400. This makes the year 365.2425 days, which is still a little under 26 seconds too long, but nothing to fret about.
As a one off, Gregory's reform also skipped the 10 days they had gained since Caesar's time, jumping from 4 to 15 October 1582. It is said that this provoked demonstrations from people demanding their stolen days back.
So how about demos today, to reclaim the working day pinched from employees by their employers? Go for it, brothers and sisters, but the TUC will not be organising it.
A spokesperson says: "Salaried workers usually receive their annual salary in twelve monthly payments and know when they accept a job that some months are longer than others and that leap years come round once every so often. Indeed, leap years have been with us 1582, so the UK workforce has had a while to get used to the idea of an extra day every four years."
OK, off you go then, back to work.


Thursday, February 28, 2008


Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga have signed a power-sharing agreement which will see the creation of a prime minister post.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who mediated the negotiations, said the deal would be known as the National Accord and Reconciliation Act, and "entrenched in the constitution".
He outlined the key points of the agreement as follows:

The post of prime minister will be created, with the holder having the authority to co-ordinate and supervise the execution of government functions.

The prime minister will be an elected member of parliament and the parliamentary leader of the largest party in the National Assembly, or of a coalition if the largest party does not command a majority in parliament.

Two deputy prime ministers to be appointed, one to be nominated by each member of the coalition.

The prime minister and deputy prime ministers can only be removed if the National Assembly passes a motion of no-confidence with a majority vote.

A cabinet to consist of a president, vice-president, prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and other ministers.

The removal of a minister of the coalition will be subject to consultation and agreement in writing by the leaders.

The composition of the coalition government will at all times take into account the principle of portfolio balance, and reflect the parties' relative parliamentary strengths.

The coalition will be dissolved if the current parliament is dissolved; or if the parties agree in writing; or if one coalition partner withdraws from the coalition.



Swedish police did not say how the raid was linked to the Norway case. Swedish police say they have arrested three people in the capital, Stockholm, on suspicion of preparing terrorist acts and financing terror groups.
Earlier on Thursday, Norwegian police said they had arrested three people in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, on suspicion of financing terrorism.
The arrests were part of a co-ordinated operation, Swedish police said.
It said the three held in Stockholm were Swedish citizens and that they were arrested at separate addresses.
The Norwegian police security service (PST) did not identify the suspects, saying only that one or more of them faced a detention hearing in court.



Iran's leaders say women are better off in Iran than anywhere. Amnesty International has called on Iran to stop persecuting people who campaign for women's rights.
The human rights group says activists involved in a big campaign to improve women's rights have been targeted.
In a new report, Amnesty says women activists have suffered an "acute" backlash since the campaign was launched in August 2006.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has insisted women in his country are treated better than anywhere else.
The so-called Campaign for Equality aims to collect a million signatures for a petition to push for an end to discrimination against women.
But Amnesty says those involved in it have suffered harassment, intimidation and imprisonment. Dozens of women have been arrested.
Untapped potential
Among those persecuted, according to the group, are Ronak Safarzadeh, jailed without charge since October after her arrest at a meeting to collect signatures.
Delaram Ali, 23, was sentenced to nearly three years in prison and 10 lashes for participation in an illegal gathering, says the Amnesty report, though the punishment was suspended while her case is re-examined.
"Instead of intimidating and imprisoning women's rights campaigners, Iran should be unlocking the potential of its female population," said Amnesty's Tim Hancock.
A women's magazine was closed down earlier this year, accused by the authorities of endangering the spiritual, mental and intellectual health of its readers.
Amnesty says this is part of a wider crackdown on dissent in Iran, although it concedes that women have benefited in some way since the Islamic revolution of 1979.



The alleged victims vomited after being made to eat fouled food.
A video showing white students bullying black staff members was "no more than play-acting" according to a lawyer's letter, South African media report.
The video shows white students at the University of Free State allegedly forcing black employees to eat food that had been urinated on.
It sparked widespread condemnation and students and staff held an anti-racism march at the campus in Bloemfontein.
Two students have been suspended from campus and could face criminal charges.
But according to Volksblad newspaper, lawyers for the two students deny that they committed any criminal actions.

The most controversial extract of the film shows a white male urinating on food, and then - shouting: "Take! Take!" in Afrikaans - apparently forcing the campus employees to eat the dirty food, and causing them to vomit.
He did not urinate in the food, but opened a bottle of water and poured that into the bowl
Pieter Odendaal, head studentThe video also shows the two students and two former students instructing five black workers to drink beer and perform athletic tasks.
The video has caused strong condemnation from the university and from human rights groups.
The South African Human Rights Commission is investigating the incident and other incidents of alleged racism at the university.
However, some students have reportedly said the student did not actually urinated on the food.

Staff and students held anti-racism protests at the campus"He did not urinate in the food, but opened a bottle of water and poured that into the bowl," said Pieter Odendaal, the head student at the university residence, quoted by The Pretoria News.
The university is known for having predominantly white students since the days of apartheid and in recent years it has encountered difficulties trying to integrate people from other racial groups, reports the BBC's Mpho Lakaje.
The video was reportedly recorded several months ago in protest at moves to integrate black and white students in the same residences.

The university rector, Frederick Fourie, told the BBC he was "extremely upset about the incident".
The black staff members have been given time off and have been offered counselling, the university said.
Siviwe Vamva, from the South African Students Congress, said the group was planning to call a national strike on 6 March to highlight its anti-racism campaign.
He said racism was also still a problem in other universities.
"We are saying that all these issues must be brought forward so that all the people of South Africa can see that racism is still a dominant feature in South African society," he said.
The South African Institute of Race Relations has also expressed concern and said this incident and several others over the past month could threaten improvements in race relations since the end of apartheid.
Frans Cronje, the deputy chief executive officer at the institute, referred to the shooting of four black people by a white youth in the north-west of the country.
The institute also condemned a recent decision by the Forum for Black Journalists to evict a white journalist from a meeting with Jacob Zuma, the newly elected president of the ruling African National Congress.






Mas Selamat Kastari was first detained in 2003 in Indonesia. The suspected leader of the Islamist militant group Jemaah Islamiah in Singapore has escaped from jail there, the authorities say.
A huge manhunt is underway to find Mas Selamat Kastari, according to the home affairs ministry.
He's accused of planning attacks on official buildings and foreign targets in Singapore as well as Changi airport.
Kastari has been in detention since 2006 under Singapore's Internal Security Act.
Kastari was first arrested and imprisoned for immigration offences in Indonesia in 2003 after reportedly going on the run from the Singaporean authorities. He was extradited to Singapore three years later.

Police in Singapore accuse him of plotting to hijack and crash a plane into Changi International Airport in 2001 - a plan which was never carried out.
The American embassy in Singapore was among the buildings he's alleged to have targeted.
The home affairs ministry said in a statement: "Extensive police resources have been deployed to track him down." He was not known to be armed, said the ministry.
Police, Ghurkas and special forces are reported to be involved in the search for Kastari, who walks with a limp.
Jemaah Islamiah, which has links to al-Qaeda, is blamed for being behind the bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002, which left 200 people dead.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Russia has said that it may support a new set of UN sanctions against Iran if it does not stop work that may lead to the creation of nuclear weapons.
Western powers suspect Iran of developing weapons, and want it be subjected to sanctions in addition to those imposed in 2006 and 2007.
Correspondents say Russia has until recently been reluctant to impose further sanctions.
Iran denies it has a secret nuclear weapons programme.

Asked by journalists if Russia would support sanctions, Mr Churkin said: "Yes. If Iran in the next few days does not stop the enrichment activities of its heavy water project then yes, Russia... has taken upon itself certain commitments... to support the resolution that has been drafted in the past month.
"Russia is constantly insisting that the [UN] Security Council adopt certain sanctions against Iran," he added.

Heavy water reactors produce plutonium, which can be an alternative route to a nuclear device, the other being highly-enriched uranium.
Last week, the UN nuclear watchdog said Iran was being more transparent, but had not given "credible assurances" that it was not building a bomb.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had granted access to sites but remained evasive on key issues.
Renewed sanctions?
The UN Security Council imposed two rounds of sanctions in December 2006 and March 2007.
The first prevented the "supply, sale or transfer" of all goods linked to Iran's nuclear work, while the second prevented dealings with the Iranian state bank Sepah and 28 named people and organisations, many connected to the elite Revolutionary Guard. Imports of arms from Iran are banned while loans are supposed to be limited to humanitarian and development purposes.
The third sanctions resolution - formally submitted by France and Britain - calls for asset freezes and mandatory travel bans for specific Iranian officials. It also expands the list of Iranian officials and companies targeted by the sanctions.
Russia's growing ties to Iran's energy industry have made it reluctant to impose more sanctions. Russia is helping to build a nuclear plant in Bushehr, Iran. It has also just finished delivering nuclear fuel to this plant under a $1bn (£501m) contract. Russian gas monopoly Gazprom is also working to develop Iranian gas fields.
Tehran refuses to stop enriching uranium. It says its nuclear work is aimed at generating electricity.



Germany's highest court has ruled that spying on personal computers violates privacy, but governments across Europe are under pressure to help their security services fight terrorism and organised crime.

Here, BBC reporters give a snapshot of the extent of surveillance across Europe.

"The threat of terrorism has forced the German government to take stricter measures"Paul Kirby on Germany
"Privacy campaigners say the UK has some of the world's leading surveillance systems"Dominic Casciani on the UK
"On the whole, the French are not big fans of surveillance equipment."Emma Jane Kirby on France
"Italians are among the most spied upon people in the world, says the Max Planck Institute"David Willey on Italy
"Greece has such strong constitutional protection against state sponsored spying"Malcolm Brabant on Greece
"CCTV monitoring, while extensive in other parts of Europe, is not widespread"Julian Isherwood on Denmark

Germans have an historic fear of state intrusion, dating back to the Stasi secret police in the East and the Nazi-era Gestapo. But the threat of terrorism has forced the German government to take stricter measures.
During the 1970s, the West German authorities tightened legislation after a series of attacks by the left-wing Red Army Faction. The German government went further following revelations about Mohammed Atta, the head of the Hamburg cell involved in the 9/11 attacks on New York.

Court limits cyber spying
The most controversial changes have come since 2006, when police found explosives in a pair of suitcases left on two passenger trains in Koblenz and Dortmund in western Germany.
The bombs did not go off and, after surveillance camera video was posted on the internet, arrests were made.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said the use of video surveillance was clearly important and rail operator Deutsche Bahn stepped up its use of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras.
When a laptop was found apparently containing plans, sketches and maps, the authorities then considered how to monitor suspects' computers so that plots could be prevented at an earlier stage.
The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) already had the ability to monitor suspects' emails and the websites and chat rooms they visited.
They could also tap phones with the consent of a judge.
Now they wanted to send emails that would infect a recipient's computer with spy software and relay information to police computers.
The threat was compounded by the discovery of 12 vats of hydrogen peroxide in September 2007 and an alleged plot to bomb US civil and military targets.
Three hundred police had been involved in a nine-month surveillance operation but had not been able to access the suspects' computers.
The Constitutional Court has now decided that the practice of cyber spying violates the right to privacy but would be acceptable in exceptional cases, under the auspices of a judge.
Faced with warnings from Germany's privacy commissioner of ever more sweeping surveillance - and protesters' T-shirts bearing the slogan "Stasi 2.0" - the government will have to tread carefully.
The police believe they will need to use spy software in perhaps 10 cases a year.
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There is a big-budget sci-fi thriller running on BBC TV at the moment called The Last Enemy.
The hero is advising ministers on plans for a crime-fighting database to link all databases. And, unwittingly, he becomes a victim of the computer's all-seeing eyes.
So is it silly drama or the shape of things to come?
Privacy campaigners say the UK has some of the world's leading surveillance systems - and they argue there is now a real failure of sufficient oversight.

ID cards face delay
Take the millions of CCTV cameras, for example. They were rolled out to deter city centre crime.
But thanks to the internet and new software that can read number plates, text and, in certain circumstances, isolate specific human behaviour, their importance is increasing ten-fold.
The question in the UK is what would happen if you took camera data and married it to other sources, such as information on the location of mobile phones, swipe cards for urban transport and static databases about you, your family and life history. That would be a pretty effective surveillance system, say critics.
Ministers say this is completely fanciful - for a start there are no plans for a supercomputer to gather this information.
Secondly they argue two important laws govern the use of personal information and how the security services can use surveillance technology.
But the reality is they are now struggling politically to make reassurances stick.
The two main opposition parties oppose plans for full biometric identity cards on grounds of cost, oversight and, increasingly, fears of incompetence. The cards are almost certain to become a big issue at the next general election.
A string of controversies have buffeted ministers including the loss of a laptop containing information on armed services personnel and the disappearance of CDs holding family records. There has also been a row over the bugging of an MP.
While none of these rows seamlessly fit together, the jigsaw pieces are enough to make some people nervous.
So while the police-led DNA database - the largest in the world - has clear crime-fighting successes under its belt, no political party will back the calls of one highly respected judge to place everyone on it.
The Roman satirist Juvenal famously asked "Who watches the watchmen?" and that question is very much alive in British politics today.
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When you remember that the word "Liberty" is one of just three words enshrined in the French Republic's motto, you can guess that on the whole, the French are not big fans of surveillance equipment.
Too bad then that last year, the French Interior Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, announced that the number of CCTV cameras in France would triple by 2009 in a bid to crack down on street crime and to fight terrorism.
Official estimates suggest there are already about 340,000 authorised surveillance cameras in France and this new move would see the number of cameras on Paris's public transport network hit 6,500 in the next two years - compared with a projected 9,000 on the London Underground in the same period.
Plans to deploy 4ft-long spy drones across French skies in an attempt to tackle the country's growing problem of gang violence were also unveiled.
The drones, with day-night vision, will be used to track suspects and should begin full operational testing this year. The plan has annoyed many local officials who doubt spy cameras are the answer - they would rather see neighbourhood police officers brought back.
The children who have this device will think of their parents as Big Brother - I think that scares me
Jean Claude GuillemardPsychologist
Surveillance cameras are not just kept for the streets. Last year a company which manufactures GPS systems for cars launched Kiditel, a child-tracking device.
The games console-sized device slips into a child's pocket and allows parents to keep track of their child's movements via satellite images sent to their computers.
Many parents welcomed a product they believed would help their children keep safe, but psychologists like Jean Claude Guillemard were not so welcoming:
"The children who have this device will think of their parents as Big Brother" he said. "I think that scares me. I think it's dangerous for their mental health."
Similarly a French childminder caused a row last year when she became the first nanny to install an internet webcam in her creche so that parents could still look in on their children - and see that she was taking good care of them - even though they were at work.
The parents loved it, but local authorities and the National Federation of Maternal Assistants denounced the idea as undermining the relationship of trust between the parents and the child minder.
The eye in the sky may be keeping an ever closer watch on France - but the French are determined to keep their liberty.
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Italians are among the most spied upon people in the world. That's the conclusion of the authoritative German scientific think-tank, the Max Planck Institute, which reports that Italy leads the world with 76 intercepts per 100,000 people each year.
Although the Italian constitution guarantees privacy of information, and a national data protection authority was set up in 2003 with a communications ombudsman at its head, wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping are widely used not only by the secret services, but also by the judiciary, particularly in the fight against organised crime.

Telecom Italia was involved in an alleged wiretapping scandal
Prosecutors routinely order wiretaps as a result of police investigations, and the cost to the Italian state has become a heavy burden on the taxpayer.
Wiretaps are carried out with the help of the now privatised Italian Telecom, which has been frequently criticised in the media for working hand in glove with the secret services.
A former director of security at Telecom, Giuliano Tavaroli, who had close links with the secret services, was sent to prison together with his friend Marco Mancini, a former anti-terrorism chief, as a result of a wiretapping scandal.
Several recent high profile political scandals have revealed the extent to which the private conversations of politicians and public figures are being taped.
Although the bugging of MPs' phones is forbidden without the specific permission of parliament, prosecutors and judges routinely leak to journalists details of compromising conversations.
The former governor of the Bank of Italy, Antonio Fazio, was forced to resign as a result of a scandal which came to light in this way.
The outgoing government of Romano Prodi announced last year that it was going to introduce a law making it an offence punishable by up to three years imprisonment for journalists to publish information obtained through judicially authorised wiretapping leaks. But no such law was ever passed.
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In the run-up to the 2004 Athens Olympics, I met a man who was furious about the appearance of 350 cameras in the capital as part of a $1.5bn security programme to protect athletes and spectators.
"If I choose to have an affair with a woman who is not my wife, that is my fundamental human right, and I should be protected from being caught on camera," he said.

Costas Karamanlis and other ministers were tapped
The man was walking in the suburb of Nikaia, where the local left-wing mayor, who disapproved of surveillance, had ordered workmen to daub black paint over the lenses.
That cameo encapsulates the desire of most Greeks to resist state attempts to spy on them and helps explain why Greece leads the European Union and the rest of the world in privacy protection for its citizens.
The other important contributory factor is the strength and moral independence of the nation's Data Protection Authority, which is resolute in its determination to uphold the following principles enshrined in the Greek constitution:
Every person's home is a sanctuary
The private and family life of the individual is inviolable
Secrecy of letters and all other forms of free correspondence or communication shall be absolutely inviolable
The authority has real teeth. In December 2006 it fined mobile phone company Vodafone 76m euros for bugging more than 100 top Greek officials, including Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, around the time of the Olympics.
Vodafone's network planning manager in Greece, Costas Tsalikides, was found hanged not long after he informed his superiors he had discovered that spying software had been secretly installed in the company's system.
Mr Tsalikides family has always suspected he was murdered.
So many years after the dictatorship, Greece is very sensitive in the area of freedoms
Panos GarganosGreek protester
Since January 18, 2008, the case has been officially closed. Vodafone Greece will appeal against the fine and has co-operated fully with all relevant authorities since the beginning of the case.
The Data Protection Authority has also frustrated the efforts of the Conservative government to extract some value from the Olympic security system.
When a left-wing group called Revolutionary Struggle fired a rocket into the office of the US ambassador in Athens, there was no video record because the security cameras were switched off.
The authority refused to allow the cameras to be used for anything other than traffic control.
In November 2007, a state prosecutor told the police that they would be allowed to use footage from the surveillance system to prosecute demonstrators who turned violent.
The new rules were first applied during the annual November 17th march to commemorate the dozens of students killed in 1973 when tanks of the right wing colonels' junta crushed an uprising at Athens Polytechnic.
"So many years after the dictatorship, Greece is very sensitive in the area of freedoms," said Panos Garganos, who was marching for the 33rd year in succession.
The use of the cameras to monitor the demonstration led to the resignation of the head of the Data Protection Authority.
Despite the fact that Greece has such strong constitutional protection against state sponsored spying, some of my contacts refuse to have sensitive conversations on either land lines or mobile phones, because they assume that someone is listening.
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In keeping with other European countries, Denmark has also introduced anti-terrorist legislation that has provided the country's domestic security service PET with a raft of monitoring tools with which to carry out its counter-terrorism activities.
With the discovery over the past five years of terrorist cells, and particularly groups using Denmark as preparatory ground for activities elsewhere in Europe, Danish parliamentarians have been relatively unanimous in adopting monitoring counter-terrorism measures, with the broad support of the general public.
These have included the availability to the domestic security service of quite extensive monitoring measures, particularly in the areas of communication interception, data retention and the ability to monitor and geographically locate mobile and other telephone conversations.

Safeguards on CCTV monitoring in Denmark are strictInternet Service Providers are now by law required to keep all communication for at least one year. Access to all of these monitoring activities however, although simplified in the latest counter-terrorism legislation, is not automatic and still requires a court order.
While previous legislation required the security service to substantiate and obtain a court order for each telephone number it wished to monitor, the new law provides for application for a court order to monitor a person's full communication activities - telephones and cyber-communication - but only in connection with cases falling under counter-terrorism legislation.
CCTV monitoring, while extensive in other parts of Europe, is not widespread in Denmark, although there are currently plans, and a public demand, to introduce monitoring in some crime-prone urban areas following several murders and disturbances in defined areas at night.
However, safeguards against general CCTV monitoring are strict, preventing the installation of CCTV cameras in public areas that would allow the identification of individuals or groups.
A Copenhagen kindergarten that recently suggested it would like to install CCTV monitoring around its premises gave up the idea following a public outcry.
Similarly, workplace monitoring is under strict control, preventing camera surveillance of employees, although the installation of CCTV in public areas of shops in particular is permitted.



What's the dispute about?
The European Commission has fined US computer giant Microsoft for defying sanctions imposed on it for anti-competitive behaviour.
Microsoft must now pay a record 899m euros ($1.4bn; £680.9m) after it failed to comply with a 2004 ruling that it abused its position.
The ruling said that Microsoft was guilty of not providing key code to rival software makers.
EU regulators said the firm was the first to break an EU anti-trust ruling.
The fines come on top of earlier fines of 280m euros imposed in July 2006, and of 497m euros in March 2004.
"Microsoft was the first company in 50 years of EU competition policy that the Commission has had to fine for failure to comply with an antitrust decision," Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement.
Future improvements?
An investigation concluded in 2004 that Microsoft was guilty of freezing out rivals in products such as media players, while unfairly linking its Explorer internet browser to its Windows operating system at the expense of rival servers.
The European Court of First Instance upheld this ruling last year, which ordered Microsoft to pay 497m euros for abusing its dominant market position.


March 2004: EU fines Microsoft 497m euros and orders it to release key Windows code to rival software developers
September 2004: Microsoft tries to have the ruling temporarily suspended
April 2006: Microsoft appeals the ruling in the European Court of First Instance
September 2007: Microsoft loses its appeal

Last week, the firm announced that it would open up the technology of some of its leading software, including Windows, to make it easier to operate with rivals' products.
"As we demonstrated last week with our new interoperability principles and specific actions to increase the openness of our products, we are focusing on steps that will improve things for the future," Microsoft said.
But the firm is still being pursued by Brussels.
Last month, the European Commission launched two new anti-competition investigations against Microsoft into similar issues.
The first will look at whether there are still problems regarding Microsoft abusing its dominance of the PC market to grab market share of the internet.
The Commission will also investigate the continued interoperability of Microsoft software with rival products.



By Jeremy Bowen - BBC Middle East editor.
A famous Israeli writer once said that Jerusalem is the only place where the dead are more important than the living.
That means that history is more alive in the Holy Land than anywhere else I can think of in the world. Any discussion about the Palestinians and the Israelis can, without being especially argumentative, rewind very fast back past Israel's independence 60 years ago, through the British, the Turks, the Muslim conquest, to the Romans and beyond.
For the last few weeks I have been looking into what was happening in the Middle East in 1948, the year of Israeli independence and of what Palestinians call their Nakba, or "catastrophe".
By local standards, 60 years is not very long ago at all. History matters in this part of the world, because it is so much part of everyone's lives.

The consequences of 1948, or some of them at least, were supposed to have been on the agenda at the meeting last week between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Messrs Olmert or Abbas face a very busy spring, summer and autumn. This winter can already be written off So far, their new peace process is sauntering along at a casual pace.
US President George W Bush, sponsoring the process, wants the two sides to reach an agreement ending a century of conflict by the end of the year.
It is not clear whether Messrs Olmert or Abbas regard that as a deadline, but if they do then they face a very busy spring, summer and autumn. Matters are moving so slowly that this winter can already be written off.
Back in February 1948, the British had another three months as the governing power in Palestine, although the power they had to govern was reducing by the day.
A civil war had begun between Palestine's Arabs and Jews (in those days they didn't call themselves Israelis; the new state of Israel did not declare itself independent until May).
The Arabs did not want a Jewish state to be created. The Jews had accepted a UN resolution splitting the land between Arabs and Jews the previous November, but expected to have to fight for their survival.
These days Messrs Olmert and Abbas have three particularly difficult problems to solve - the future of Jerusalem, the route of a border between Israel and a Palestinian state, and the future of the Palestinian refugees.

Palestinian refugee numbers have swelled to more than four million. All three issues were given another reshaping by Israel's victory in the 1967 Middle East war, but essentially they date back to 1948.
The issue of Jerusalem actually goes back much further than 1948. Sixty years ago neither side could imagine a future without a dominant role in the Holy City. Now the question is whether they can find a way to share it.
The starting point for the border is, for the Palestinians at least, the line set in the 1949 armistice that ended the fighting. It is often called the 1967 boundary because it stood until then.
Finally, no problem will be harder to solve than the future of Palestinian refugees. It started with the exodus of between 600,000 and 760,000 Palestinians in 1947-48, who fled for all the reasons civilians do in wars, away from an advancing enemy, to protect their children and to save themselves, and in some places because they were forced out at the point of a gun.
The survivors - and their children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren - now make up a refugee diaspora of more than 4.5 million people.
I haven't, by the way, ranked them in order of difficulty. They will all be difficult.
Israelis will celebrate their state's first 60 years with pride One important thing to remember about 1948 is that is the biggest single landmark in a tale of two narratives.
This year will be a time for big celebrations for Israelis. Their achievement in building a modern, hi-tech, regional military superpower has been stunning.
Palestinians believe it has been done at their expense, and this year will be another reminder for them of the destruction of their society and the wreck of their dreams.
Most important of all this year is the fact that a Palestinian leader and an Israeli leader are trying to settle the 60-year-old legacy of 1948.
Most depressing is the fact that it is hard to find anyone who believes they can.



Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga has called off Thursday's mass protests after meeting ex-UN head Kofi Annan.
Mr Annan is also meeting President Mwai Kibaki in a bid to salvage suspended talks on Tuesday after he said the negotiations had become acrimonious.
Mr Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) had threatened to hold rallies if a deal to end the post-election crisis was not reached by then.
More than 1,000 people have died in political violence since the election.
"We... are committed to the talks. We have postponed until further notice any actions planned for tomorrow," Mr Odinga told reporters in the capital, Nairobi, after meeting Mr Annan, Reuters news agency reports.
Talks between the government and opposition on securing a power-sharing deal have stalled.
Mr Kibaki claimed victory in the 27 December poll, but Mr Odinga said it was rigged.
'Imposed deal'
Mr Annan, who has been in Kenya for more than a month trying to reach a settlement, is also expected to meet the African Union head, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who is also in the country to help save negotiations.

Q&A: Kenya poll violence
How talks halted

"The leaders have to assume their responsibilities and become directly engaged in these talks," Mr Annan said.
Both sides had agreed last week to create the post of prime minister, which would be taken by Mr Odinga, leading to hopes that a final deal was imminent.
However, they still needed to finalise which powers he would have.
The government now says the president should appoint the prime minister, which would not be an executive post.
As well as how to divide powers between a prime minister and a president, the rivals are also split on sharing cabinet positions and the possibility of a new election if the coalition collapses.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula has criticised comments by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said that bilateral relations between the US and Kenya could suffer unless progress was made in negotiations.
He said Kenya's international friends were welcome to support the dialogue process but not to impose solutions to the conflict.



By Laura Trevelyan - BBC News, New York

Female genital mutilation is deeply rooted in many societies. A range of United Nations agencies are calling for the practice of female genital mutilation to be ended within the space of a generation.
An estimated three million girls a year are thought to be at risk from this practice, many of them in Africa.
The practice of cutting off the clitoris of a young girl - and often more - is deeply rooted in some cultures.
Ten UN agencies want a major reduction in the tradition by 2015.
The practice is seen in some countries as a way to ensure virginity and to make a woman marriageable.
Yet it also leads to bleeding, shock, infections and a higher rate of death for the women's new-born babies, say the UN groups.
Up to 140 million women are thought to have undergone this procedure in 28 countries in Africa, and a few in Asia and the Middle East.
It is also happening to girls and women who have left their original countries and settled in the West.
The UN agencies say traditions are often stronger than law and legal action by itself is not enough to tackle this.
Change must come from within communities, they say, citing the example of West Africa, where villages have joined together to make pledges to abandon this practice.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Anti-depressant prescription rates have soared.
Study author
New generation anti-depressants have little clinical benefit for most patients, research suggests.
A University of Hull team concluded the drugs actively help only a small group of the most severely depressed.
Marjorie Wallace, head of the mental health charity Sane, said that if these results were confirmed they could be "very disturbing".
But the makers of Prozac and Seroxat, two of the commonest anti-depressants, said they disagreed with the findings.
A spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Seroxat, said the study only looked at a "small subset of the total data available".
Reviewed data
And Eli Lilly, which makes Prozac, said that "extensive scientific and medical experience has demonstrated it is an effective anti-depressant".

Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, has announced that 3,600 therapists are to be trained during the next three years in England to increase patient access to talking therapies, which ministers see as a better alternative to drugs.
Patients are strongly advised not to stop taking their medication without first consulting a doctor.
The researchers accept many people believe the drugs do work for them, but argue that could be a placebo effect - people feel better simply because they are taking a medication which they think will help them.
In total, the Hull team, who published their findings in the journal PLoS Medicine, reviewed data on 47 clinical trials.
They reviewed published clinical trial data, and unpublished data secured under Freedom of Information legislation.
They focused on drugs which work by increasing levels of the mood controlling chemical serotonin in the brain.
These included fluoxetine (Prozac) and paroxetine (Seroxat), from the class known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), alongside another similar drug called venlafaxine (Efexor) - all commonly prescribed in the UK.
The number of prescriptions for anti-depressants hit a record high of more than 31 million in England in 2006 - even though official guidance stresses they should not be a first line treatment for mild depression.
There were 16.2m prescriptions for SSRIs alone.
The researchers found that the drugs did have a positive impact on people with mild depression - but the effect was no bigger than that achieved by giving patients a sugar-coated "dummy" pill.
People with severe symptoms appeared to gain more clear-cut benefit - but this might be more down to the fact that they were less likely to respond to the placebo pill, rather than to respond positively to the drugs.
Lead researcher Professor Irving Kirsch said: "The difference in improvement between patients taking placebos and patients taking anti-depressants is not very great.
"This means that depressed people can improve without chemical treatments.
"Given these results, there seems little reason to prescribe anti-depressant medication to any but the most severely depressed patients, unless alternative treatments have failed to provide a benefit."
Professor Kirsch said the findings called into question the current system of reporting drug trials.
Reviewing guidance
Dr Tim Kendall, deputy director of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Research Unit, has published research concluding that drug companies tend only to publish research which shows their products in a good light.

He said the Hull findings undermined confidence in the ability to draw meaningful conclusions about the merit of drugs based on published data alone.
He called for drug companies to be forced to publish all their data.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is currently reviewing its guidance on the use of antidepressants.
Marjorie Wallace of Sane commented: "If these results were upheld in further studies, they would be very disturbing.
"The newer anti-depressants were the great hope for the future.... These findings could remove what has been seen as a vital choice for thousands in treating what can be a life-threatening condition."
Dr Andrew McCulloch, of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "We have become vastly over-reliant on antidepressants when there is a range of alternatives.
"Talking therapies, exercise referral and other treatments are effective for depression.
"It is a problem that needs a variety of approaches matched to the individual patient."
Dr Richard Tiner, of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said there was no doubt that there was a "considerable placebo effect" from anti-depressants when treating people with mild to moderate symptoms.
But he said no medicine would get a licence without demonstrating it was better than a placebo.
Dr Tiner said: "These medicines have been licensed by a number of regulatory authorities around the world, who looking at all the evidence, have determined that they do work better than placebo."



Police have fired tear gas after being stoned by Bosnian Serb protesters trying to reach the US consulate in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Several people were injured and police made a number of arrests at the rally against Kosovo's recent declaration of independence from Serbia.
The demonstrators had chanted "Kosovo is Serbia" as they tried to get to the US mission, which was shut last week.
The US and a number of EU states have recognised Kosovo's independence.
Serbia, backed by Russia, says it will never do so. Serb protesters attacked the US embassy in Belgrade last week.

About 10,000 demonstrators took part in the largely peaceful rally.
"We will not give the Serbian soul to the devil," they chanted.
Some demanded independence for their Republika Srpska - one of two entities comprising Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Addressing the rally, Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said the gathering was "a democratic, human revolt".
"This badge that I have on reads 'Kosovo is Serbia' and I will always tell this to everyone," he said.
"As long as we live here, we will not recognise Kosovo as independent," Mr Dodik said.
Later a group split from the protest to head towards the US consulate, which was closed last week because of threats.
Protesters broke shop windows and threw stones at police who blocked the streets leading to the building with armoured vehicles.
Last week a man died after the US embassy in Belgrade, Serbia's capital, was attacked during a similar rally.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has recalled the nation's ambassador to the US over the matter.
Most Serbs regard Kosovo as their religious and cultural heartland.
Serbia, supported by Russia and China, says Kosovo's independence declaration - made on 17 February - violates international law.
A 2,000-strong European Union mission will be deployed to help Kosovo develop its police force and judiciary.



Russian freedom of speech is "shrinking alarmingly" under President Vladimir Putin, says Amnesty International.
The murders of outspoken journalists go unsolved, independent media outlets have been shut and police have attacked opposition protesters, said the report.
It also said "arbitrary" laws were curbing the right to express opinion and silencing NGOs deemed to be a threat by the authorities.
The report comes ahead of Russian's presidential elections on 2 March.
The director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen, said: "The space for freedom of speech is shrinking alarmingly in Russia and it's now imperative that the Russian authorities reverse this trend."
She said dissent could be a matter of life or death in the case of outspoken journalists like Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in Moscow two years ago.
The 52-page Freedom Limited report warned any opposition demonstrations could suffer heavy clampdowns in the coming days, as Amnesty said had happened in the run-up to past elections.
First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, whom President Putin has named his favoured successor, is expected to be elected in this Sunday's poll.



Lord Blackadder spent most of his life devising witty 'put-downs. 'Insults by Captain Mainwaring and Lord Blackadder have been named among the top 25 put-downs in TV history, as chosen by the Radio Times magazine.
"Stupid Boy!" uttered by Dad's Army's Captain Mainwaring to Private Pike, is one of the lines in the list.
The selected Blackadder line was: "The eyes are open, the mouth moves, but Mr Brain has long since departed, hasn't he, Percy?"

The list of put-downs covers the last 40 years from British and American TV.

Basil Fawlty - Fawlty Towers. To Sybil: "Oh dear, what happened? Did you get entangled in the eiderdown again? Not enough cream in your eclair? Hmm? Or did you have to talk to all your friends for so long that you didn't have time to perm your ears?"
Mrs Merton - The Mrs Merton Show. To Debbie McGee: "So what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?"
Edmund Blackadder - Blackadder II. To Lord Percy: "The eyes are open, the mouth moves, but Mr Brain has long since departed, hasn't he, Percy?"
Roseanne Conner - Roseanne. To husband Dan: "Your idea of romance is popping the can away from my face."
Father Jack Hackett - Father Ted. "Drink! Feck! Arse! Girls!"
Carla - Cheers. Cliff: "I'm ashamed God made me a man." Carla: "I don't think God's doing a lot of bragging about it either."
Patsy Stone - Absolutely Fabulous. "One more facelift on this one and she'll have a beard."
Jim Royle - The Royle Family. Nana: "Is this hat too far forward?" Jim: "No. We can still see your face."
Malcolm Tucker - The Thick Of It. To a junior minister: "All these hands all over the place! You were like a sweaty octopus trying to unhook a bra! It was like watching John Leslie at work!"
Statler and Waldorf - The Muppet Show. Statler: "Wake up, you old fool, you slept through the show." Waldorf: "Who's a fool? You watched it."
Inspector Monkfish - The Fast Show. To a bereaved woman: "I realise this must be a very difficult time for you, so put your knickers on and go and make me a cup of tea."
No Offence - The Fast Show. "I notice you're not wearing a wedding ring which, given your age, means you're divorced or a lesbian."
Rupert Rigsby - Rising Damp. To lodger Alan, who complains his room is too cold to study in: "The only thing you study is your navel. You even shave lying down."
Nan - The Catherine Tate Show. Describing an encounter with an overweight hospital volunteer: "She said to me last time, 'You look bored, Mrs Taylor. I've got three words for you: Barbara Taylor Bradford.' So I said, 'Yeah? I've got three words for you too: calorie controlled diet."'
The Professor - The Mary Whitehouse Experience. "I have here a copy of your book, Origins of the Crimean War. It smells of poo." "That's because it's been inside your mum's bra."
Alf Garnett - Till Death Us Do Part. "You Scouse git!"
Alexis Carrington - Dynasty. "I'm glad to see your father had your teeth fixed - if not your mouth."
JR Ewing - Dallas. "Ray never was comfortable eating with the family - we do use knives and forks."
Dr Perry Cox - Scrubs. Dr Elliot Reid: "I don't think you understand the severity of the situation here. I am dangerously close to giving up men altogether." Dr Cox: "Then on behalf of men everywhere - and I do mean everywhere, including the ones in little mud huts - let me be the first to say thanks and hallelujah."
Dr Gregory House - House. "You can think I'm wrong, but that's no reason to stop thinking."
Gary Strang - Men Behaving Badly. "Let's face it, Tony, the only way you're gonna be in there is if you're both marooned on a desert island and she eats a poisonous berry or a nut which makes her temporarily deaf, dumb, stupid, forgetful and desperate for sex."
Arnold Rimmer - Red Dwarf. "Look, we all have something to bring to this discussion. But I think from now on the thing you should bring is silence."
Larry David - Curb Your Enthusiasm. "Switzerland is a place where they don't like to fight, so they get people to do their fighting for them while they ski and eat chocolate."
Sam Tyler - Life On Mars. To Gene Hunt: "I think you've forgotten who you're talking to." Sam: "An overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline-alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding?"
Captain Mainwaring - Dad's Army. "You stupid boy!"


Monday, February 25, 2008


By Adam Mynott - BBC News, Nairobi.

Mr Annan and the Panel of Eminent Africans know that time is crucial. After the first few days of talks intended to find a solution to the Kenyan election crisis, the impressions emanating from the room where the Kenyan government and the opposition have been negotiating were generally quite favourable.
Officials from the government Party of National Unity (PNU) and the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) were saying that "progress was being made".
But agreement was being found on straightforward issues; the items at top of the agenda drawn up by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan were non-contentious.
It was almost as if he wanted to get the two sides into the habit of agreeing because he knows the difficult stuff lies ahead, and it will be best tackled by two sides who have at least been able to find common ground on something.
The agreement reached on Friday on an agenda for further talks - in conjunction with a programme to eliminate the appalling violence, which has killed 900 people and driven at least 250,000 from their homes - was billed as a breakthrough.
It was important, but "breakthrough" is probably pushing it a bit.
It did give the vital impression however that progress was being made, because Mr Annan and others in the Panel of Eminent Africans who are overseeing the mediation process realise that time cannot be allowed to drag.
This exercise has to be seen by the people of Kenya as a problem that is heading towards a solution. If not, violence and unrest will continue, or even get worse.

The agenda gave the negotiating parties about a fortnight from 29 January to come to agreement on sorting out the violence, finding a satisfactory humanitarian response for the tens of thousands living in misery and hunger, and tackling the "political issues". Thousands of people have been displaced by the violence. A fourth agenda item of agreement on deep-seated institutional problems in Kenya was put in a separate category and given a time frame of a year.
The first two on the agenda have been relatively easy to come together on.
The "political issues", number three, centre around the events from the close of the polls in the presidential election at 1800 (1500 GMT) on the 27 December to 1700 (1400 GMT) on the evening of the 30 December when it was announced that Mwai Kibaki had won.
The two sides remain very far apart on this.
Mr Kibaki made it clear when he visited Ethiopia for the African Union Summit that he believes he won the election fairly and all the trouble since the election has been stirred up by the opposition.
The fear is that another election would simply lead to more violence
Mr Odinga says he is in no doubt that he won the presidential poll and it was stolen from him by vote rigging.
The challenge for the negotiating team is in bringing the two men from these widely opposing positions to a point where they can agree on a way forward.
Both parties have said they are open to discussions but neither has indicated it is open to anything that the other might accept.
Of course, you do not go into a negotiating process putting all your cards on the table, but even allowing for a bit of flexibility it is very difficult to see a way out.
This has been the case in other intractable international crises as well, like Northern Ireland, and the very process of negotiation can lead to agreement.
But in the case of Kenya and its election it is hard to be optimistic.
I understand that Mr Annan and his team have rejected one possible solution; a re-run of the election, something that the opposition has said it might favour.

Mr Odinga would only be satisfied with a powerful executive position. The fear is that another election would simply lead to more violence, and there would be no guarantee that either side would accept the outcome of a second presidential poll.
The government says it is open to anything that "falls within the constitutional and legal framework of Kenya".
This is a very limiting set of conditions.
There is nothing contained in the existing constitution which would satisfy the opposition ODM, and the much repeated advice from government figures that "if ODM have a problem with the vote they should go to the courts" is equally unpalatable.
The opposition says that Kenya's judiciary has been filled with Kibaki-pliant men and women, and even if they were to get a fair hearing, the justice system in the country is so cumbersome and slow it would take an entire parliamentary term to get a decision.
So what remains as the only possible option is a form of power-sharing; and this is the area where Mr Annan and his team hope agreement might eventually be found.
At present, most executive power in Kenya is in the hands of the president.
Among other roles he appoints the cabinet, assembles and dissolves parliament, appoints all the parastatal heads and is the commander-in-chief of the military.
There is no prime minister in Kenya's constitutional make-up.
For Mr Odinga to agree on a "power-sharing deal" he must be given a powerful executive position.
He will not settle for anything else.
The government/PNU will only agree to give Mr Odinga a powerful post if they feel it will not undermine the authority of Mr Kibaki.






Visa is owned by the banks that issue its cards. The world's biggest credit-card network Visa plans to raise a record amount of money by issuing shares and listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
Visa hopes to raise more than $18bn (£9bn) from the listing, which would make it the largest Initial Public Offering (IPO) in the US to date.
The share offering would be the culmination of a restructuring process that began in October 2006.
It is currently owned by banks that issue cards carrying the Visa symbol.
Of the net proceeds, $10.2bn from the listing will be paid to the banks who own the network.
Meanwhile $3bn will be set aside to cover the costs of a variety of litigation that Visa is currently involved with.

That includes allegations of price-fixing from major retailers.
Last year, American Express accepted a payment of about $2.1bn from Visa, after claiming it had been illegally blocked from the US bank-issued card business.

Payment on Visa cards for year to end June 2007 - $2.27 trillion
1.4 billion cards in circulation
Accepted by 27 million retailers
Source: Visa Inc

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Visa said it planned to sell 406 million Class A shares at a price between $37 and $42 per share.
It might sell an additional 40.6 million shares if there is sufficient demand, which would boost the potential size of the offering to $18.8bn.
The money raised would dwarf the listing of its rival Mastercard, which raised $2.4bn in May 2006.
But Mastercard's shares have risen sharply since they launched at $39 a share - they are currently trading at about $200.
The listing would also dwarf the $10.6bn raised by AT&T Wireless in 2000, which is the current record-holder.
There is some concern about the timing of the listing, coming at a time when many of Visa's customers are facing economic slowdowns.
"Our fear is that as credit deteriorates, consumer spending will go down and volumes will go down for the card networks," said John Augustine from Fifth Third Private Bank in Cincinnati.
"That would hurt revenue and profit."



The man tipped to become the next Russian president has vowed his country will "stick to" its support for Serbia in opposing Kosovo's independence.
Deputy PM Dmitry Medvedev was in Belgrade for talks with Serb President Boris Tadic and PM Vojislav Kostunica.
Although its focus is mainly economic, the visit is seen as a sign of support for Serbia's view on Kosovo, the BBC's Bethany Bell in Belgrade says.
Kosovo's declaration of independence sparked protests in Serbia last week.
"We proceed from the assumption that Serbia is a united country, whose jurisdiction covers the whole of its territory, and we shall stick to this principled stand," Mr Medvedev said during his meeting with Mr Kostunica, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.
Mr Medvedev's comments, and the timing of his visit, will be seen as evidence that Russia's foreign policy is unlikely to change once serving President Vladimir Putin steps down.

Mr Putin's term in office has seen a marked deterioration in relations with the West, most recently over the issues of Kosovo and Nato's ambitions in former eastern bloc states like Poland and the Czech Republic.
'Flagrant cynicism'
Mr Medvedev is the favourite to take over from Mr Putin after next Sunday's presidential election in Russia.
According to Itar-Tass, he said Kosovo's declaration of independence was "absolutely at variance with international law".
He said he and Mr Kostunica had "made a deal to coordinate together our efforts in order to get out of this complicated situation".

Serbs have turned against those who recognise the new Kosovo

A deal between Russian gas giant Gazprom and Serbian state enterprise Serbiagas on a planned gas pipeline in Serbia was signed during the visit, Russian news agency Interfax reported.
Our correspondent says Russia has emerged as Serbia's strongest ally in the country's opposition to Kosovo's independence.
On Sunday the Russian foreign ministry accused the United States of "flagrant cynicism" in recognising Kosovo's declaration of independence a week ago.
The statement followed a comment by US Assistant Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, who accused Russia of aggravating tensions over the Kosovo issue.
The US and most European countries have supported Kosovo's declaration of independence.
Border posts row
Also on Monday, Belgrade government ministers arrived in Kosovo, where they were scheduled to visit Serbian communities to press their message that Belgrade still regards Kosovo as its own.
Euroblog: Fired up by Kosovo
Profile: Dimitry Medvedev
Serbian Minister for Kosovo Slobodan Samardzic is leading the delegation.
There had been suggestions that Mr Samardzic might be denied entry until he apologised for comments seemingly condoning violence.
Mr Samardzic described the burning down of two border posts on 19 February by crowds of Kosovan Serbs as "legitimate" acts.
Two days later, Western embassies were attacked in Belgrade, acts Mr Samardzic blamed on the US for accepting Kosovo's declaration of independence on 17 February.
"The US is the major culprit for all troubles since 17 February," Mr Samardzic told the state news agency Tanjug.
"The root of violence is the violation of international law."



By Jon Brain BBC News, Kabul

Mobiles have grown hugely in popularity since 2001. The Taleban have threatened to blow up telephone masts across Afghanistan unless mobile phone companies agree to switch off their signals at night.
They say that US and other foreign troops are using the signals to track down insurgents.
The Taleban have warned the masts and offices of the mobile companies will be destroyed unless their demands are met. Mobiles were introduced after the Taleban fell in 2001 and are now the most popular way of communicating.
''If those companies do not stop their signal within three days, the Taleban will target their towers and their offices," Taleban spokesman Zabiullah Mujaheed said.
The Taleban say that Afghanistan's four mobile phone companies should stop operating between 1700 local time and 0300 the following morning.
Militants have threatened the companies in the past, accusing them of colluding with the US and other forces.
But communication experts say the US military uses satellites to pick up mobile signals and does not need the help of the phone companies anyway.


Sunday, February 24, 2008


The Sudanese military is said to have renewed its aerial bombing campaign in the west of the Darfur region.
The joint United Nations African Union mission in Sudan, Unamid, said it had received reports of aerial bombings in the Jebel Moun area of the region.
A Unamid spokesman said there was grave concern for the safety of thousands of civilians in the area.
The reports came as China's envoy for Darfur, Liu Guijin, began a five-day visit to the country to push for peace.
China has come under increasing pressure to use its influence with Sudan to end the fighting.
Mr Liu will travel to Darfur on Tuesday, the fifth anniversary of the start of the conflict which has left 200,000 people dead and 2.5m homeless.

In a joint news conference with the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Deng Alor, Mr Liu stressed the importance of Darfur to Beijing.
"My message to the media and to the world is that the Chinese government and people are ready to help Sudan and to help the international community to find the solution of the Darfur issue", he said.
The BBC's Amber Henshaw in Khartoum says Beijing is keen to show it is playing a positive role in the region - this week it will provide $11m (£5.6m) of humanitarian assistance.
China has long had strong trade and military links with Khartoum, which is accused of backing militias that have raped and murdered civilians in Darfur.
Activists have accused China of helping to arm pro-Khartoum militia against Darfur's rebel groups, but Mr Liu told the BBC on Friday that only 8% of weapons imported by Sudan came from China in 2006 and insisted it was not fuelling the conflict.
"There are seven countries selling arms to Sudan. So even if China stopped its sale, it still won't solve the problem of arms in Sudan," he said.
Mr Liu is also expected to push Sudan to co-operate on the deployment of more UN-African Union peacekeepers.
The force began deploying in January but it still lacks most of the 26,000 personnel planned for the mission.
The Chinese envoy's visit was announced just days after film director Steven Spielberg pulled out as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics, saying China was not doing enough to end the humanitarian crisis in the troubled Sudanese region.
Mr Spielberg said his conscience would not allow him to continue in the role.



Iran's leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that no amount of UN sanctions will deter Tehran from its nuclear path.
"If they want to continue with that path of sanctions, we will not be harmed. They can issue resolutions for 100 years," he said in a TV interview.
His remarks came after a UN report said Iran was being more transparent - but had not given "credible assurances" that it was not building a bomb.
Tehran insists its programme is aimed purely at generating electricity.
Following the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there was a "very strong case" for a third round of sanctions over the disputed nuclear programme.

Iran's key nuclear sites

Ms Rice said that the report showed that Iran's efforts to halt its uranium enrichment programme were inadequate and that Washington would push for further UN action.
UN Security Council members the US, UK, China, France and Russia meet on Monday in Washington to consider their next step.
But Mr Ahmadinejad said the latest report by the UN nuclear watchdog represented an historic victory for Iran.
"I congratulate your eminence and the Iranian people on the historic victory of Iran in its greatest confrontation with the oppressive powers since the Islamic revolution" of 1979, Mr Ahmadinejad said in a message to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, quoted by state TV.

The IAEA report released on Friday did praise Iran for granting its inspectors access to previously off-limits sites.
However, it said Iran remained evasive on key issues and had evaded a proper response to claims it had made secret efforts to "weaponise" nuclear material.

The US wants a new resolution on Iran agreed 'with some dispatch'It had also ducked questions about alleged high explosives testing and design work on a missile warhead, the IAEA found, noting: "This is a matter of serious concern."
Iran was also still openly enriching uranium in defiance of UN resolutions and testing advanced centrifuges to speed up the process, said the inspectors.
As a result, the UN nuclear agency said it could offer "no credible assurances" that Iran was not building a bomb.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the IAEA findings are definitely not a clean bill of health.
On Thursday, Britain and France introduced a UN Security Council resolution - a draft of which was approved last month - with support from the US, Russia, China and Germany.
It seeks to expand the number of Iranian companies targeted by sanctions and impose travel bans on certain Iranian officials.
A declassified US intelligence report last December judged that the Iranians had put a nuclear weapons programme on hold in 2003.
But the US, Israel and others contend Iran's continued advances in the crucial centrifuge work will eventually give it a capability to build a bomb.



Virgin has not revealed what the biofuel is. The first flight by a commercial airline to be powered partly by biofuel is to take off from Heathrow airport.
Billed as a green fuel breakthrough, the Virgin Atlantic flight to Amsterdam will not have any passengers on board.
Earlier this month, Airbus used the world's largest passenger jet, the A380 to flight test another alternative fuel - a synthetic mix of gas-to-liquid.
Many environmentalists argue that cultivating biofuel is not sustainable and will lead to reduced land for food.
Virgin's Boeing 747 will have one of its four engines connected to an independent tank filled with biofuel, which is derived from plants.
This reduces risk to the flight because there are three other engines which can power the plane using conventional fuel if there is a problem.
The three-hour Airbus flight from Filton near Bristol to Toulouse on 1 February was part of an ongoing research programme.

Virgin has so far refused to say what its biofuel is made from.
One problem with flying planes using biofuel is that it is more likely to freeze at high altitude.
The technology is still being manufactured by companies GE and Boeing, but Virgin believes within 10 years airlines could routinely be flying on plant power.
Kenneth Richter, of Friends of the Earth, said the flight was a "gimmick", distracting from real solutions to climate change.

They are any fuels made from living things
Commonly means fuel made from crops including corn
Pioneers such as Henry Ford designed cars to run on biofuels

"If you look at the latest scientific research it clearly shows biofuels do very little to reduce emissions. At the same time we are very concerned about the impact of the large scale increase in biofuel production on the environment and food prices worldwide," he said.
"What we need to do is stop this mad expansion of aviation at the moment it is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases in the UK and we need to stop subsidising the industry."
But Virgin Atlantic president Sir Richard Branson told BBC News 24 that using technology to develop greener fuel options will lower emissions and allow for other global warming issues to be tackled.
"It's not necessarily going to be the silver bullet for the long term future but it will prove that a fuel like this can fly at 30,000 feet," he said of the move which challenges the convention that biofuels freeze above 15,000 feet.
A spokesman said the airline will reveal the specific biofuel after the flight but stressed that it was one which did not compete with staple food resources.



Mrs Clinton's outburst comes ahead of key primaries in Ohio and Texas
Clinton's attack
US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has made her fiercest denunciation so far of Barack Obama, her rival for the Democratic Party nomination.
Mrs Clinton accused the Illinois senator of producing a misleading leaflet on her health care policy.
"Shame on you, Barack Obama!" the New York senator said at a rally in Ohio, which holds its primary in 10 days.
But Mr Obama said he stood by the leaflet, saying he was puzzled by what he called his rival's change in tone.
"Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove's playbook," said the former first lady ahead of Ohio's crucial primary early next month.
Both the Ohio and the Texas primaries, both being held on 4 March, are being seen as must-wins for Mrs Clinton.

Mr Obama, who has won 11 consecutive primaries and caucuses in recent weeks, is now seen as the Democratic front-runner.
But Mrs Clinton's campaign has struggled to find an effective way to cope with her rival's extraordinary momentum and has decided to "go negative", says the BBC's Kevin Connolly in Washington.
She and her advisers have clearly calculated that the state of the race now calls for sharper elbows and a sharper tone, our correspondent adds.

Barack Obama has pulled ahead of Hillary Clinton in recent primaries. Mr Obama now has at least 1,353 of the 2,025 delegates he needs to secure the Democratic nomination at the party's convention in August, according to an Associated Press projection.
Mrs Clinton has 1,264 delegates. Texas and Ohio have a combined total of 334 delegates up for grabs.
Correspondents say the blue-collar vote will be crucial in both contests, and the Clinton campaign has already begun targeting lower-income workers in its ads.
But in his drive to become the first black US president, Mr Obama has recently gained support from some powerful unions, including the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union.

Meanwhile, John McCain was given a further boost by the Pacific islands of Northern Marianas which chose its nine Republican delegates on Saturday.
The islands are among three US Pacific territories each sending nine delegates to the Republican convention in Minnesota this September, and delegates have praised the former Vietnam prisoner for his knowledge of their islands.
Republicans in American Samoa also announced that all nine of their delegates would support Mr McCain.
Guam Republicans take their decision on 8 March.
The latest results give the Arizona senator a total of 976 delegates, according to the Associated Press, and he needs 1,191 delegates to secure the Republican nomination.
His rival, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, trails far behind with 254 delegates.


Saturday, February 23, 2008


Relations between the sexes outside marriage is against the law. Prosecutors in Saudi Arabia have begun investigating 57 young men who were arrested on Thursday for flirting with girls at shopping centres in Mecca.
The men are accused of wearing indecent clothes, playing loud music and dancing in order to attract the attention of girls, the Saudi Gazette reported.
They were arrested following a request of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
The mutaween enforce Saudi Arabia's conservative brand of Islam, Wahhabism.
Earlier in the month, the authorities enforced a ban on the sale of red roses and other symbols used in many countries to mark Valentine's Day.
The ban is partly because of the connection with a "pagan Christian holiday", and also because the festival itself is seen as encouraging relations between the sexes outside marriage, punishable by law in the kingdom.
The Prosecution and Investigation Commission said it had received reports of such "bad" behaviour by 57 young men at a number of shopping centres in the holy city of Mecca, the Saudi Gazette said.
The guardians of some of the men defended their actions, however, saying they would regularly get together at the weekend to have fun without ever violating laws governing the segregation of the sexes, it added.


Cathy Buckle's Weekly Letter From Zimbabwe !

Dear Family and Friends,

Headline news on the propaganda mill one day this week was that three trillion Zimbabwe dollars had been raised for President Mugabe's 84th birthday party. I thought about what you could do with that much money but before I could work it out I had to check in a dictionary just exactly how much a trillion was.

My sources say that a billion is a thousand million and a trillion is a million million. This means that for the President's birthday celebration being held in Beitbridge, there is a pile of money which on paper is a 3f ollowed by 12 zeroes. Even in Zimbabwe's collapsed state, 3 trillion dollars is a huge amount of money. It didn't take long before my kitchen table was littered with bits of scrap paper covered with hand written sums.Why didn't I just use a calculator you might ask? That's simple, there are too many digits and so this sum had to be done by hand.

The calculations took some time to perform and the results were shocking. For three trillion dollars I could buy three million kilograms of maizemeal at the present Grain Marketing Board price of a million dollars a kg. This, of course, is assuming that the GMB had any maize meal for sale, which they say they haven't. Allowing half a kg of maize meal per person, 6million Zimbabweans, half the population of the country, could have had one decent meal with the President's birthday party money.

A friend who is far more mathematically minded than me, and had more patience with all those lines of zeroes, worked the figures out a different way. 85 trucks, each holding 35 tonnes of maize, could have been filled with the three trillion dollars of birthday party money. Moving away from the dollars, I went in search of ingredients usually found at a birthday party. Three major supermarket chains which have outlets all over the country were visited. The cake came first on my list but there was no flour, sugar, margarine, baking powder, milk or eggs in any of the supermarkets. Puddings and sweet treats were next on my list but there was no jelly, instant pudding, custard, biscuits or tarts to buy. Sandwiches, I thought, they are good for parties but there was no bread or rolls, nos pread, cheese, cold meats or sandwich fillings to buy. What about a hotmeal I thought but there was no maize meal, rice, pasta or potatoes and so that idea was also a non starter.

The shopping list and the search for ingredients was a pointless exercise but at least it was easier than trying to understand the latest official inflation figures. In January 2008 inflation was one hundred thousand, fivehundred and eighty percent - it is the stuff of hellish nightmares and the reason why we parents can't sleep at night.

Trying to understand three trillion dollars was utterly absurd for an ordinary mum in a collapsed country. Hardest of all though was knowing that half the population of the country could have gone to bed tonight on a full stomach if the birthday party had been sacrificed for the suffering, hungry people of a country whose 84 year old ruler has been in power for almost 28years.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Copyright cathybuckle 23 February My books: "African Tears" and "Beyond Tears" are availablein South Africa from: and in the UK from: