Saturday, August 30, 2008


An elderly Swedish woman tried to get herself on board an international flight by climbing onto an unmanned luggage belt after her suitcase.
The incident happened at Stockholm's Arlanda airport.
The unnamed 78-year-old thought she was just following instructions on how to check in for her flight.
She carefully lay down on the conveyor belt and was whisked into the baggage handling bay where she was rescued by surprised staff.
"It was a bit unfortunate," said Ari Kallonen of baggage handling firm Nordic Aero. "The little old lady arrived at the airport and had to take care of herself.
"Unfortunately, she did not understand when she was given check-in instructions. She took the belt together with her bag. Luckily it wasn't a long ride - only a couple of metres."
The woman did not reportedly suffer any injuries, managing to catch her flight to Germany, police said.
The airport does provide a service, on request, to help guide elderly or vulnerable people through the departures process.



By Phil Mercer - BBC News, Sydney.

An analysis of new census figures has shown that Australia is suffering from an unprecedented "man drought".
The statistics have revealed that there are almost 100,000 more females than males in Australia.
The problem is worse in the coastal cities, where women have moved seeking better jobs and lifestyles, while many men have gone overseas.
Thirty years ago Australia was with flush with men thanks to immigration policies that favoured males.
That position has been reversed because thousands of Australian men in their 20s and early 30s have gone overseas either to travel or to work.
It has caused a gender imbalance that is having far-reaching implications.

Major cities in Australia now have concentrated groups of unattached women, along with dwindling numbers of the opposite sex.
Demographer Bernard Salt says the exodus of young men to foreign countries is leaving its mark.
"If you go into the United Arab Emirates census you'll find there is around 12,000 Australians living in Dubai, mostly male, mostly in the 25 to 34-year age group.
"Here is an example of one country that has drawn out a specific age demographic out of Australia which has contributed to the 'man drought'."
But the situation outside of the larger towns and cities is very different.
Vast numbers of women have abandoned the countryside seeking better jobs or education in metropolitan areas. They have left behind communities overloaded with younger males.
In the town of Glenden in the northern state of Queensland there is one single female for every 23 men.
Demographers have compiled a so-called "Love Map" that shows how the various clusters of unattached men and women are distributed across the Australian continent.



By Kim Ghattas - BBC News, Dayton, Ohio.

There were no late night text messages and perhaps not the same build up that preceded the announcement of Barack Obama's choice for running mate.
But because it was kept a secret almost until the end, John McCain's choice did generate a fair amount of rumour and speculation.
Was he going to pick a traditional candidate, a safe bet - someone like the young governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, or would the veteran Arizona senator go for the wild card?
The answer came on a private jet that flew in from the Alaskan city of Anchorage on Thursday night and landed outside Dayton, Ohio, apparently carrying on board a woman, two men and two teenagers.
All the journalists who were covering the story started looking up the biography of Sarah Palin, the 44-year-old governor of Alaska.

She may be seen by some as a rising star of the Republican Party, but she was relatively unknown on a national level.
As he took to the stage, in front of a packed audience, Mr McCain introduced her as "exactly who I need, exactly who this country needs to help me fight the same old Washington politics of me first and the country second".
For observers, it showed Mr McCain felt he needed to make a bold move to help change the course of the race to the White House.

Elected Alaska's youngest and first woman governor in 2006
Grew up in Wasilla, near Anchorage, and was voted Miss Wasilla in 1984
Studied journalism and political science at University of Idaho
Is mother of five, including a son with Down's syndrome
Her husband Todd is an oil production operator
Likes hunting and fishing.

The two presidential hopefuls have been running head to head, with Mr Obama gaining eight percentage points in the polls in recent days.
The choice of Sarah Palin is a high risk bet that could bring high rewards, but there are no guarantees.
Mrs Palin, a mother of five, is the first woman to be on a Republican presidential ticket.
Married for 20 years to Todd Palin, her high school sweetheart, she was nicknamed "Sarah Barracuda" during her college years for her aggressive basketball playing style - the name has stuck.
On stage, dressed in a conservative black power suit, her hair raised in a high ponytail, she described herself as "an average hockey mom from Alaska".
She drew applause when talking about her anti-corruption drive, her standing up to big oil companies and even the "good old boys club", which drew a smile from Mr McCain.
She eats moose meat and is an inveterate hunter, a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
One of her sons is heading to Iraq in September. The other, born in April, is diagnosed with Down's syndrome.
In many ways, her story is all American and her values will appeal to the conservative base and to blue-collar voters.
With 80% approval ratings back home, she seemed to also get the approval of the crowd she was addressing, drawing very enthusiastic cheers, as she spoke in a relaxed, accessible way.
It turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all
Sarah Palin
Mrs Palin also ticks several required boxes - she is fiscally conservative, in favour of drilling for oil and very staunchly anti-abortion.
Most of all she is a reformer and a fresh face for the Republican ticket.
President George W Bush said she was "an exciting choice" and Mrs Palin certainly adds energy and sizzle to the McCain campaign.
She also clearly reached out to disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters, who are disappointed their candidate did not make it on to the Democratic ticket, not even as vice-president.
"I can't begin this great effort without honouring the achievement of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and of course, Hillary Clinton, who showed determination in her presidential campaign," Mrs Palin said.
"It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all."
The Democrats for McCain group sent out an e-mail saying its supporters, especially the women, were "ecstatic" about the choice of Mrs Palin.
But other Democrats said they felt insulted that Mr McCain thought he could woo women by just putting any woman on his ticket, with one sentence making the rounds: "Palin, you are no Hillary Clinton".
Experience questioned
It all made for an exciting day in Dayton, a city of just over 150,000 that has been hard hit by job losses in the past few years.
But the whole of the US is probably now scouring the internet for more information about Governor Palin and trying to assess her credentials.

Many will be wondering whether she is ready to be vice-president and even lead the US, should something happen to Mr McCain if he is elected president.
As commander of the Alaska National Guard, she visited troops in Kuwait last year, but has a very thin foreign policy background.
Similarly, while she does have executive experience, the Obama campaign wryly pointed out she had been the mayor of a town with just 9,000 people.
As governor of Alaska during the past two years she has gained more experience, but even some Alaskans calling into talk shows on US network television said they doubted whether that had prepared her for the challenge of national politics.
She did herself no favours in a recent interview.
"As for that VP talk all the time, I can't answer until someone answers me. What is it exactly that a VP does every day?" she said just a month ago on CNBC when asked about her chances of being on the ticket.
"I'm used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration. We want to make sure that this VP slot would be fruitful type of position especially for Alaskans and for the kind of things we are trying to accomplish here for the rest of the US."

By choosing her, Mr McCain may have undercut his best attack against Senator Obama - if he uses the inexperience card now it will be turned against him and his running mate.
While conservatives, such as radio host Rush Limbaugh and former Bush adviser Karl Rove, hailed the Palin surprise, there were also dismayed reactions from some Republicans, who felt the choice underscored Mr McCain's weaknesses and was too risky.
Polls in the coming days, and Mrs Palin's performance at the Republican National Convention, will help assess the impact of Mr McCain's decision.
In the meantime, Mr McCain and his new partner have something else to worry about - Mrs Palin is facing an investigation in Alaska for alleged abuse of power involving her former brother-in-law. Her deposition is expected to be scheduled soon.
She says she has "nothing to hide" and is "cool" about the investigation.



10 things we didn't know last week

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

1. Twenty-three wedding cakes were made for the nuptials of Charles and Diana.
More details
2. That third brake light, the one in the rear window, is called a chimsil.
3. Aircraft oxygen systems have just about 12 minutes worth of reserves.
More details
4. And when deployed, the oxygen flow can be so light that passengers can be confused into thinking something is wrong, and pulling oxygen masks from the ceiling.
5. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can be even more painful.
More details
6. Most people have an above average number of feet.
More details
7. Shetland is the fattest part of the UK.
More details
8. There are more than 150 books with the "...before you die" premise in their titles.
More details
9. Life really does imitate art.
More details
10. Almost a third of BT payphones have been removed in the past six years.
More details



30th August 2008.

Dear Friends,

I have long believed that a politically compromised police force is one of the root causes of the collapse of law and order in Zimbabwe. Without impartial policing and an independent judiciary the citizen has nowhere to turn for protection. From 2000 onwards we have seen that the so-called forces of law and order are tilted in one direction only and that is to uphold the political imperatives of the ruling party. The white farmers were the first victims; as their properties were violently invaded and they were driven from their homes, the police refused to intervene on the grounds that it was 'political' and they could do nothing. Even when there were violent physical assaults and murder, the police failed to act and, in many cases actively supported the farm invaders. As Mugabe's political fortunes began to wane he resorted more and more to racist rhetoric, "Our party must continue to strike fear in the heart of the white man, our real enemy," he said at the time.

I was living in Murehwa when the first white farmer, David Stevens, was murdered and five of his fellow farmers brutally assaulted as they attempted to rescue their friend. It was April 2000 ( See Cathy Buckle's Beyond Tears for an account; she calls it 'The weekend from Hell') The news of that murder went all round the world; indeed I heard of it first on the World Service of the BBC. Robert Mugabe, of course, was quick to respond with his now familiar accusation of western racism. One white man is killed and the western media goes into a frenzy he claimed. On the ground in Murehwa we all knew that it was the police who had handed the white farmers over to the war veterans. We knew the names of the killers and as the days went by after the incident we saw those very men walking freely about the township. They had acted with complete impunity knowing that no policemen would dare to lay a finger on them. That was where it all began, the politicisation of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, a body of men and women who had once been a highly trained and disciplined force, trusted by the people as the guardians of law and order. Now, eight years later, the ZRP has become no better than an arm of the ruling party. Once called 'the dogs of Ian Smith' they serve a different master now but one no less ruthless and they carry out his bidding with complete disregard for human rights or considerations of justice and the law. This week we had another example of police complicity when they stormed a perfectly lawful AGM of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition at a hotel in the middle of Harare and with a truck full of armed cops disbanded the meeting on the grounds that it was an illegal gathering. Earlier in the week the police had arrested five democratically elected MDC MPs as they were about to enter the parliament building to attend the opening of the new session. In a blatant attempt to prevent MDC members from voting for a new Speaker of the House, the police had once again proved their total partiality to Zanu PF. The democratic will of the people means nothing to them, the MOU means nothing to them, they continue their blind allegiance to Robert Mugabe and his party of thugs and thieves while the country slides further and further into the abyss. With police and judges corrupted by Mugabe's patronage and croneyism, law and order collapses. Traditional chiefs, once the upholders of customary law in the rural areas have been subverted too and there is nowhere to turn for justice. Rural or urban, black or white, it makes no difference if you are opposed to Mugabe and Zanu PF you are 'the enemy within' and the police will deal with you accordingly.

Ironic then that when Kirsty Coventry returned to Zimbabwe with her gold and silver medals this week she was treated as a heroine despite the colour of her skin. There was a victory parade through the streets of Harare and a banquet in her honour. Mugabe congratulated her 'most heartily on that heroic performance' Hypocrisy or just political expediency on the Old Man's part? The truth is that he is using Coventry's victory because he thinks it reflects well on him and his government; he fails to acknowledge that Coventry went to the hated US to train for her medals so utterly desperate are conditions in her own country. Accompanied no doubt by a police escort the white Olympian is honoured and feted by a man who will do anything to prove that the country is prospering under his leadership despite the fact that he said only this week after the State Opening of Parliament that his cabinet was to be restructured because, in his own words, "This cabinet I had was the worst in history - most of the ministers were unreliable - incompetent and spent time attending to their own businesses. Many abused their power to deny people food." (Rich, coming from the man who has banned NGO's distributing food aid!) Perhaps he has forgotten that he appointed the cabinet in the first place - the same way he extended Police Commissioner Chihuri's term of office three times thus ensuring a sickeningly compliant police force whose only concern appears to be propping up Mugabe's rotten regime while the real criminals stalk the corridors of power. Will they ever be brought to justice?

Yours in the (continuing) struggle. PH


Thursday, August 28, 2008


By Tom Geoghegan - BBC News Magazine.

The man who wrote 100 Things to Do Before You Die, which sparked a publishing phenomenon, has died in the US. But why do 'before you die' books have such appeal to us?
This is not an article you have to read before you die, just one you might like to read if you have a spare five minutes.
In this respect it differs from the 100 Belgian beers, 50 fish to catch, 101 places to have sex and 50 places to play golf. All before you die, of course.
Amazon lists more than 150 before-you-die books, plus many more with a shorter but more anxiety-inducing time span, like 40 Things to Do Before You're 40.
The man who is thought to have got there first, co-writing the best-selling adventure travel guide 100 Things to Do (you know the rest) in 1999 was Dave Freeman, who has died in California aged 47.
The 'before you die' element risks being a vulgarism, implying that knowledge should be consumed voraciously - Mark Irving - Editor of 1,001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die.
But his legacy is still felt indirectly in the bestseller book charts, although it's starting to wane. But why did "before you die-ism" become so popular?
Part of its appeal is its simplicity, what they call in Hollywood "high-concept", says Jon Howells of Waterstones.
"It's something people are going to grasp from the cover. It does what it says on the tin and it's quite aspirational. A thousand is a big number but it's not unreachable.
"And they are great dipping-into books. You can pick them up, dip in and then put them down. Sometimes they might inspire you to go out and see a movie but sometime they won't."
It's not just the book industry that has felt the force of this phenomenon. The Guardian newspaper recently published 1,000 Films to See Before You Die and Channel 4 broadcast a similar format with the less-ambitious 50 films.
The concept was dramatised on screen this year when Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman played two terminally-ill men fulfilling a wish-list, in the film The Bucket List.

But how sincere are these edicts for everyone to drop everything and start a new mission? Mr Freeman himself had only got halfway through his own list, even though the success of the idea had given him the means and freedom to pursue it.
The title shouldn't be taken too literally, says Mark Irving, who edited 1,001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die. He believes it's a note of insistence, rather than an instruction, but he did have second thoughts about endorsing it.
"The 'before you die' element risks being a vulgarism, implying that knowledge should be consumed voraciously. However, I took the view that putting these buildings together in a list would implicitly reveal their comparative strengths and weaknesses."
The titles that have 101 or 1001, rather than the round figure, signify that it is an incomplete list, he says.
"It derives from the Arabic classic 'The 1,001 Nights' and implies the endless potential of storytelling as well as the absurdity of limiting the knowable."
The risk of having 100 things to do can become a distraction - Philosopher, Mark Vernon.
Philosopher Mark Vernon says the concept has echoes of Socrates, who said that to philosophise is to learn how to die, and this has been a recurring theme in philosophy ever since, because thinking about your death brings life into greater focus.
The key difference is that the philosopher - who famously rarely left the city walls of Athens - believed fulfilment came not through what you did but who you were. Contemplating death is about reflecting on the kind of person you are and reaching your own potential, rather than ticking off a checklist of activities.
"It's not the number of things you do in life," says Mr Vernon. "If you do one thing really well then that can make a life. Finding a cure for cancer, for example, is one thing but a very good thing. That would be the advice of the Greek philosophers."
Socrates thought that by paying attention to what's in front of you, you really get to grips with life.
"The risk of having 100 things to do can become a distraction and you only skate across the surface. They become 100 distractions rather than 100 things lived for.
"It's an implicit critique of consumerism, that life is lived by consuming more rather than living well."



Police searched three addresses in Blackburn and Accrington.
Three men questioned over an alleged threat to assassinate Gordon Brown have been charged with terror offences, Lancashire Police have said.
Ishaq Kanmi, 22, of Blackburn, was charged with soliciting murder, and three other charges.
Abbas Iqbal, 23, and Ilyas Iqbal, 21, each face two charges of possessing and disseminating terrorist material.
It is understood no actual plot was in place but officers discovered a written threat on an extremist jihadi website.
The threats were also made against former prime minister Tony Blair.

Ishaq Kanmi, of Cromwell Street, faces additional charges of belonging or professing to belong to al Qaeda, inviting support for al Qaeda, and dissemination of terrorist publications.
Brothers Abbas Iqbal and Ilyas Iqbal, both of Percival Street in Blackburn, are both charged with possession of an article in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism. Abbas Iqbal is also charged with dissemination of terrorist publications.
Charges against Ilyas Iqbal include collecting or making a record of information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.
The men were arrested at Manchester Airport and in Accrington, Lancashire on 14 August.
All three are due to appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Friday.
A fourth man, arrested on Tuesday in Blackburn and a fifth man arrested in Derby the same day, remain in custody.
On Wednesday, Lancashire Constabulary and Greater Manchester Police were granted an additional seven days to question them.



By Genevieve Hassan - Entertainment reporter, BBC News.
With only three weeks to go before Strictly Come Dancing returns, this year's crop of celebrity contestants are shaking in their sequinned suits.
"It is frightening," says celebrity chef Gary Rhodes, one of 16 new dancefloor hopefuls.
"When you're watching at home you think, 'I can do that', until you find yourself in a studio and you realise you can't do it at all.
"The skill of these people is phenomenal."
Former EastEnders actress Jessie Wallace also admits she is apprehensive at the prospect of the show's trickier dance routines.
"I'm scared of doing the foxtrot and the quickstep because it's so graceful and I'm so not!" she says.
"I'm just focussing on getting it right."
So aside from the lure of tight lycra and sequins, what makes a celebrity sign up to the show?
For GMTV presenter Andrew Castle, it was his colleagues and former Strictly contestants Fiona Phillips and Kate Garraway who tipped him over the edge.
"I spoke to them about it and both of them said 'it's going to be the best time of your life'," he reveals.
"Everybody who's ever done it has said the same thing... So here we are."
Wallace says she joined the show simply because she wanted to learn how to dance, but reveals her real hidden motive: "It's a great excuse to wear beautiful dresses."
Most of the contestants have little to no previous dancing experience.
"I know the mashed potato," reveals another former EastEnders star, Phil Daniels.
"But apart from that I haven't really done any dancing."
Daniels admits he has, however, been receiving dancing tips from his on-screen son and last year's runner-up, Matt Di Angelo: "He's told me to glide and not to take any notice of anybody."
Model Jodie Kidd is also keen to point out she has "absolutely zero" dancing ability.
"I race cars and play golf and polo," she says.
"I nod a lot and tap my foot at parties - I had no idea how technical this would be."
One contestant who is familiar with dancing is Rachel Stevens, who became famous as part of the pop group S Club 7.
Rachel Stevens will be partnered by Vincent Simone.
But the singer - last seen in a contact lens advert - does not think her stage background gives her an advantage in the competition.
"A dance routine in a pop band is very different from this kind of dancing," she says.
"I feel the pressure so much but I think I've just got to remember that the only pressure we have is the pressure we put on ourselves, so I just want to have fun."
Along with the long rehearsal hours comes the pain, and the contestants are already suffering at this early stage of their training regime.
"I thought I was a reasonably fit guy," says Rhodes,
"But forget it, my thighs are aching so much - and I've got blisters all over my feet."
TV presenter Lisa Snowdon is also feeling the pain: "My feet are in bits - I'm going to have really gnarly feet afterwards and I've got wicked bruises and bumps," she says.

There have long been claims of tension backstage between the stars and dancers.
Most recently, former Strictly dancer Nicole Cutler told a Sunday newspaper of bitterness behind the scenes during the show's last series.
But professional dancers Darren Bennett and Erin Boag dismiss the claims of backstage backbiting.
"It's not bitchy at all backstage - it's actually very friendly," says Boag, who has twice reached the final of the show with stars Julian Clary and former athlete Colin Jackson.
"We all get on, we're all training and get tired and we keep encouraging each other.
Bennett, who won series two with actress Jill Halfpenny agrees: "Most of us have known each other professionally since we were youngsters."
"We've all competed against each other for years and years so we all know each other inside out - it just doesn't exist."
The contestants will get to find out for themselves when the new series kicks off on Saturday, 20 September.



Self-checkout systems in UK supermarkets are being targeted by hi-tech criminals with stolen credit card details.
A BBC investigation has unearthed a plan hatching online to loot US bank accounts via the checkout systems.
Fake credit cards loaded with details from the accounts will be used to get cash or buy high value goods.
The supermarkets targeted said there was little chance the fraudsters would make significant gains with their plan.
With the help of computer security experts the BBC found a discussion on a card fraud website in which hi-tech thieves debated the best way to strip money from the US accounts.
The thieves claim to have comprehensive details of US credit and debit cards passed to them from an American gang who tapped phone lines between cash machines and banks.

The gang plans to copy card details onto the magnetic stripes of fake cards and then use them in UK stores. In the discussion on the card site those co-ordinating the fraud say they are seeking places to "cash out", meaning strip funds from the bank accounts using fake cards.
In the forum they are asking for information about Asda and Tesco stores in which it is possible to use self-service systems that mules could visit with the fake cards to get at the cash.
The fraudsters are looking for self-service systems to avoid contact with store staff who may spot the fake cards.
Over the period of a month from mid-August the ringleader claims he will have details from 2300 cards to handle.
In the forum he declares: "Its (sic) shopping spree guys help me out and I will take care of you."
It's not difficult to take compromised cards from one country and exploit them in another
Andrew Moloney
The information found by the BBC has been passed to the Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit so it can investigate the ongoing fraud.
Andrew Moloney, security evangelist at RSA, said the gang were involved in "classic" card fraud by cloning details on to magnetic stripes.
He said it was an example of a long observed trend in fraud.
"We've seen a shift from card-present fraud to card-not-present to fraud abroad," he said.
"The internet is the global marketplace," he said. "It's not difficult to take compromised cards from one country and exploit them in another. It's a simple and routine procedure for these guys these days."
The discussion on the crooks' forum is a bit of a wake-up call for all those who think that the introduction of chip-and-pin in the UK has wiped out card fraud
Rory Cellan-JonesBBC technology correspondent
Read the blog in full
Jacques Erasmus, from security firm Prevx, agreed that cashing out abroad was a well established method. "They do not normally cash out in the same country," he said, "just because it makes the law enforcement job that much harder."
He said many criminal gangs even offer their fraudulent services via the web.
"They will do it for you in India and China," he said.
Armed with fake cards and a list of shops and supermarkets that can be hit the fraudsters could make £5-8000 per day, according to Mr Erasmus.
The funds would be split between the mules who actually carry out the transactions, those organising the mules and the hi-tech thieves who stole the original card numbers.
Representatives from both Tesco and Asda argue that payment systems automatically contact the banks when a card is swiped instead of using chip-and-pin. The banks must authorise the acceptance of a signature.
"If the card has not been reported as having been cloned, yes, it can go through," said a spokeswoman for Tesco. However, she pointed out that swipe and sign transactions represent a tiny fraction of the supermarket chain's trade.
"We would hope this will bring further pressure on the States to introduce chip-and-pin," said Jemma Smith of the UK payments organisation Apacs. "Until that happens we will still see fraud on US cards happening in our shops and our cash-machines and also fraud on our cards happening in the US."


Wednesday, August 27, 2008


By Caroline Cheetham - BBC News.

A Muslim has been found guilty of child cruelty after forcing two boys to beat themselves during a religious ceremony. The practice has caused controversy in Britain, but this is the first case of its kind to be brought before a UK court.
Husayn - the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad - and members of his family were slaughtered during the battle of Karbala in Iraq 1,400 years ago.
Ever since that day devout Shia Muslims have commemorated the tragedy with a month-long period of mourning called Muharram.
On the 10th day of Muharram, believers relive the tragedy through the Ashura ceremony.
Millions take part in prayers and processions, and some participate in a traditional flagellation ceremony called "zanjeer zani".
Using a long-bladed whip called a zanjeer, men beat themselves on the back until they bleed.
The ritual is not obligatory, but many believe it expresses their grief and helps them to re-enact the pain suffered by Husayn and his relatives.
Like many devout Shia Muslims brought up in Pakistan, Syed Zaidi has self-flagellated during Ashura since he was a young boy.
He told Manchester Crown Court that children as young as seven flogged themselves with the zanjeer during the ceremony in his homeland.
In January this year Zaidi took part in "zanjeer zani" at a centre in Levenshulme, but he then allowed two brothers aged 13 and 15 to do the same.
In the UK the law states that children under the age of 16 should be protected from harm by adults.
Prosecutor Andrew Nuttall told the jury: "In this country children under the age of 16 will be protected under the law from harm. Beyond the age of 16 it is a matter for them, but a line has to be drawn in the sand and that line is 16.
"In this country the laws are very different from those in Pakistan. If you want children to perform this act, then take them to Pakistan."
The case is the first of its kind to be brought before a British court, but it is not the first time police and prosecutors have been made aware that children are involved in "zanjeer zani" in the UK.
Cases in Bradford have been investigated and referred to Child Protection Officers, but charges were never brought.
Similar cases have also been reported in Greater Manchester, but Crown Prosecution Service lawyers decided prosecuting was not in the public interest because the children involved were willing participants.
Jaffria Islamic CentreThe jury in Manchester has been told that children cannot consent to self-harm.
Both boys admitted they wanted to take part in the ceremony, but Mr Nuttall said children under the age of 16 could not consent to harming themselves, and if they did they had to be protected from themselves by adults.
Shias make up about 10% of the world's Muslim population and not all worshippers take part in the all-male ritual of "zanjeer zani".
The Shia community in Manchester know the practice is controversial.
Safbar Zia, the general secretary of the Jaffria Islamic Centre in Levenshulme, said senior members of the community now tried to encourage believers to donate blood as a sign of mourning rather than beat themselves.
But he admitted many men who become very emotional during the ceremony still beat themselves and if children wanted to take part too they were not stopped.
He said: "How can you stop a child who wants to do this for his faith? We cannot discourage or stop them.
"The ceremony is very emotional and people get very involved. At that particular time of high emotion it is very difficult to say no to a child who wants to do it.
"We are trying to educate people but it will take time. We can't change things overnight."



The Dalai Lama has cancelled trips to Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
The Dalai Lama is suffering from exhaustion and has cancelled all his international trips, officials say.
The exiled spiritual Tibetan leader, 73, has cancelled two forthcoming trips to Mexico and the Dominican Republic, said a statement issued by his office.
The 1989 Nobel peace prize-winner had recently been experiencing "discomfort" which his doctors attributed to "exhaustion", the statement said.
Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of stirring up unrest in Tibet.
The spiritual leader is due to travel to Mumbai (Bombay) for medical tests and all international engagements scheduled for the next three weeks have been cancelled, according to the statement released on his website.
The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 during an uprising against Chinese rule, has said he only wants limited autonomy for his homeland, but Beijing accuses him of wanting full independence.
He usually spends large parts of the year teaching Buddhism and promoting the Tibetan people's cause around the world.



Sir Paul's has played a number of big concerts this year.
Sir Paul McCartney is to play a concert in Tel Aviv next month - 43 years after being banned from performing there.
Israel's government banned the Beatles in 1965, fearing they would corrupt young fans.
But earlier this year, Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to the UK, visited Liverpool and apologised to the band for the "misunderstanding".
The gig takes place on 25 September. "We can't wait to get out there and rock," said Sir Paul in a statement.
"I've heard so many great things about Tel Aviv and Israel, but hearing is one thing and experiencing it for yourself is another," he added.
"We are planning to have a great time and a great evening."
Sir Paul has played a number of special, one-off concerts around the world this year, including the Independence Concert in Kiev, Ukraine; in Liverpool as part of the city's European Capital of Culture celebrations; and in Quebec to help celebrate the Canadian city's 400th anniversary.
He is also due to make a rare live appearance with his dance music side project, The Fireman, on Jools Holland's BBC Two show when it returns on 16 September.



The leader of Burundi's last active rebel group - the FNL (National Liberation Forces) - has said that there is a plot to assassinate him.
In a letter to the president, Agathon Rwasa said army, police and intelligence officer were planning to eliminate senior FNL members.
Mr Rwasa told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme he had proof of the plot.
President Pierre Nkurunziza and Mr Rwasa held talks this week to resolve their outstanding differences.
A peace agreement signed in 2006 broke down after the government rejected rebel demands for power-sharing.

The BBC's Prime Ndikumagenge says the assassination allegations are a setback to a ceasefire agreement signed between the two parties in May, after Mr Rwasa returned home from exile in Tanzania.
The ceasefire was seen as the first step in implementing the 2006 pact.
But Mr Rwasa told the BBC the "plot" should not affect the peace process.
"I don't mean by that letter that we have to stop the [peace] process and just discuss the security of my person," he said.
He said he has not yet discussed his security fears with the president.
There are daily reports of people being killed in various incidents and the FNL says many of those being targeted are its members, our reporter says.
Mr Rwasa said that there was an attempt on his life in May, but the police have not taken any action.
He claims that weapons and mobile phones have been distributed to death squads and that money to pay them is being collected.
Ex-rebel Pierre Nkurunziza was elected president in 2005 under a deal to end years of conflict between the Tutsi army and Hutu rebels.
About 300,000 people were killed in more than a decade of civil war.






Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe says he will form a new government despite stalled power-sharing negotiations with the opposition, state media reports.
"The MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) does not want to come in apparently," he is quoted as saying.
The BBC's Karen Allen says such a move would be the death-knell for the South African-brokered talks to end the post-election crisis.
Meanwhile, three MDC MPs were arrested on Tuesday when parliament was opened.

See the breakdown of parliamentary seats

Two other opposition MPs had been arrested the day before, although one was later released.
"MDC views this continued harassment and arrest of MDC legislators by the state security agents as a direct affront to the will of the people of Zimbabwe," the party said in a statement.
The police have said the arrests were in connection with rape, attempted murder and political violence.

Our correspondent in Johannesburg says Mr Mugabe was speaking in bullish mood about forming a government alone, after being booed and jeered by opposition MPs at the formal opening of parliament on Tuesday.

Following the March elections, Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF lost its majority in the House of Assembly for the first time since independence in 1980.
The president looked annoyed and raced through the final lines of his speech and it must have been humiliating for him, as the speech was broadcast live on national television, our reporter says.
"We shall soon be setting up a government," the Herald newspaper quotes him as saying.
At the start of his speech on Tuesday, Mr Mugabe had said there was "every expectation" that a power-sharing deal would soon be agreed.
The MDC says it still wants the talks to continue.
"We remain committed to a dialogue process that is going to produce an acceptable outcome for all the players, an inclusive government," Reuters news agency quotes MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa as saying.
Last week, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said the balance of power between the president and the prime minister - a new post Mr Tsvangirai would take - was still a stumbling block at the negotiations.
Mr Tsvangirai won the first presidential round in March, before pulling out of a June run-off, citing a campaign of violence against his supporters.
The president said he regretted the "isolated cases of political violence" earlier this year and blamed all parties.
The MDC says some 200 people were killed and 200,000 forced from their homes.



Tuesday, August 26, 2008


By Brian Hungwe - Harare.

The speaker's seat in Zimbabwe's lower house of parliament is an intimidating chair, overlooked by an artificial leopard mounted on the walls. It is a symbol of power.
The man who has occupied it as parliament opens is volleyball fan Lovemore Moyo, 43, from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mr Moyo becomes the first opposition speaker to assume that position since the country attained independence from the United Kingdom in 1980.
It is a development that is forcing President Robert Mugabe to take a hard look in the mirror as the balance of power slowly shifts.
It is creating tremors along the corridors of the lower house of parliament, where the opposition commands more legislative seats than the ruling Zanu-PF party.
But the election of Mr Moyo as speaker does have its ironies.

He won with 110 votes to 98, meaning some Zanu-PF MPs voted for him.
One could have been his mother-in-law, Sithembiso Nyoni, a former minister in President Mugabe's government, who may make it into the new cabinet.
It is not easy to guess if family or party loyalty won the day for her in Monday's vote.
Given their different political backgrounds, Mr Moyo says the two "don't discuss politics at home".
But if she gets out of line in the House of Assembly, Mr Moyo will have no qualms in doing his job.
"I will call her to order," he chuckles.
The new speaker is warm and softly spoken. MDC insiders say it is difficult to read his mind, because he is quiet and aloof.
"Quiet yes, but very tough," he says.
"I don't care who you are, I just hate being patronised."
His relationship with Mr Mugabe over his five-year term is likely to be turbulent given their wide political gulf.
"I'm not in this job to pander to the interests of individuals or political organisations. Even with the head of state, we both have different constitutional obligations."
He says he wants to oversee a parliament where there are lively and real "balanced" debates.
"The polarised parliament of the past should remain in the past. I don't owe anybody anything, I owe Zimbabweans a service."
Mr Moyo hails from Matabeleland, in southern Zimbabwe, and the marginalised region will take comfort in an opposition speaker that will spearhead their interests.

There is much resentment among the region's Ndebele people towards Mr Mugabe, which stems from the massacre of an estimated 20,000 people after independence.
His passion for politics was cut early in life, when he and his seven brothers went to join the liberation struggle against white minority rule.
He cut his education short and left for Zambia in 1977 and trained to become a political commissar in Zipra - the military wing of Ndebele nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo's movement.
At independence, he refused to join the army and retired to his rural home in Matabeleland
He describes himself as a cultural and developmental activist and founded the Matabeleland Development Association.

He only finished his secondary education in 1990.
"I was taught by people that were younger than me," he remembers.
Now a father of three, he comes from a large family - his father had three wives and 17 children altogether.
"We are many and proud of that," Mr Moyo says.
His favoured way to relax is to watch a game of volleyball.
He plays socially and has sat on the committees of Zimbabwe's Volleyball Association and his favourite Bulawayo-based Highlanders Volleyball team.
His Matopos constituency is home to the grave of the man who engineered the colonisation of the region, Cecil John Rhodes.
I tease him about the British puppet tag Mr Mugabe continues to put on his party.
"I went to war, I'm a freedom fighter. My whole Mute village in Matopos was reduced to ashes during the liberation war.
"When Rhodesian forces would ask for terrorists, people would point at our village," he says.
"Our family has a liberation war tradition and I'm proud of that."
His village, he adds, also has the grave of Mzilikazi - the last king of the Ndebele people.
"Those that call us puppets, have no understanding of our history."


Monday, August 25, 2008


The 2008 Beijing Games have been praised as "truly exceptional" by Olympics chief Jacques Rogge.
Sixteen days of action, starring 10,000 athletes from 204 nations, climaxed in Sunday's spectacular closing ceremony at the Bird's Nest Stadium.
"New stars were born. Stars from past Games amazed us again," said Rogge.
"We shared their joys and their tears, and we marvelled at their ability. We will long remember the achievements we witnessed here."
Rogge, the International Olympic Commitee president, added: "We come to the end of 16 glorious days which we will cherish forever. Thank you to the people of China."
Chinese President Hu Jintao acknowledged the support from around the world.

BBC Sport's Claire Stocks in Beijing"The Beijing Olympics proceeded smoothly and successfully amid support from the international community," he said.
Liu Qi, head of the Beijing organising committee, was presented with a special award - known as the Olympic Order in Gold - to recognise the hard work that went into making the Games a success.
He said the event had been "a grand celebration of sport, of peace and friendship".
After the Olympic flag was handed over to 2012 hosts London on Sunday, the Chinese media reflected national pride.
"The Games was a historic climax of three decades of China opening to the world," said the English-language China Daily.
While China won global plaudits for staging a successful Olympics, protesters remained critical of the country's human rights record.

The Olympic flag passes from Beijing to 2012 hosts LondonDespite fears over security, pollution and humidity, the 2008 Games will be remembered for some record-breaking achievements.
Hosts China topped the medals table for the first time, with 51 golds ahead of the United States (36) and Russia (23).
Great Britain were a surprise fourth - 19 gold medals was their best Olympic performance for a century.
Two competitors at the Games went from being famous in their own sport to being international superstars.
American swimmer Michael Phelps won eight titles, beating the 36-year-old gold medal mark set by Mark Spitz.
Jamaican Usain Bolt broke three world records as he cruised to a sprint title treble and livened up the athletics arena with his flamboyant celebrations.
And India celebrated its first individual Olympic gold medal, courtesy of Abhinav Bindra in the 10m air rifle shooting event.
The number of countries represented in the medals table was up to 86 from 74 in Athens four years ago.
Rogge said his own moment of the Games was the emotional meeting between two shooting medallists from warring Russia and Georgia.
"If I had a story to tell, it definitely would be the embrace and hug of Georgian and Russian athletes on the podium two days after there had been violent clashes in Georgia," he said.
Rogge said the IOC was "extremely pleased" by how the Olympics had unfolded.

BBC Sport's Claire Stocks in Beijing"We had a splendid athletes' village, we had state-of-the-art venues, we had impeccable competition," said the 65-year-old Belgian, a former Olympic yachtsman.
"More than 40 world records were set, more than 100 Olympic records, and of course we had the two icons of the Games, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt."
There was a cautious response to the event from Japan, China's neighbour.
"Holding the Olympics was good in terms of China taking a more democratic path. We believe this is an irreversible path," said Japanese government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke positively about the Olympics and what they meant for the world.
"I think our friends in China have hosted a highly successful Olympic Games," said Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker who was once a diplomat in Beijing and attended the Games opening ceremony. "I don't know of a single Olympic Games in recent history which has not generated controversy of one sort or another."
At a party to celebrate the handing over of the flag, mayor Boris Johnson said: "London is the sporting capital of the world. "And I say to the Chinese, and I say to the world: Ping pong is coming home, athletics is coming home, sport is coming home."



As Israel releases nearly 200 Palestinian prisoners, the BBC's Heather Sharp in Jerusalem looks at some of the personal stories behind prisoner swaps and releases involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority and militant groups.

Abu Ali Yatta is one of few with "blood on their hands" to be released.For Um Ali, Monday's release will end 28 years as a single parent. She was seven months pregnant with her third child when her husband, Muhammad Abu Ali, was jailed for killing an Israeli reservist in the West Bank town of Hebron. He is among 199 prisoners due to be released by Israel, as a goodwill gesture.
Unusually for a unilateral release, this time Israel is freeing two prisoners with Israeli "blood on their hands", something which has been largely limited to exchange deals for the return of Israelis - alive or dead - held by militant groups.
The whole area is a deeply emotive one, particularly for Israelis when it involves the release of killers, and for Palestinians because with at least 8,500 of them held in Israeli prisons, it touches large numbers of families across the West Bank and Gaza.
Speaking from her village near Hebron, Um Ali said she barely dared believe the news of the impending release of her husband, known as Abu Ali Yatta, in case, as on previous occasions, her hopes were dashed.
"I can't tell what I will do... I will hug him, kiss him, I can't wait for the moment when I have him next to me, talking to me, eating with me," she said.

But, as Meir Indor, of the Almagor victims' support group says, for Israelis who have lost loved ones in Palestinian attacks, such reunions are hard to stomach.
"You see them sitting watching the news with wide eyes. There is a feeling that not only did he succeed in killing - now he is going to continue with his life, to build his family."
The organisation is strongly opposed to all prisoner releases, and says 180 Israelis have been killed since 2000 by prisoners who have been freed under such deals.


According to official Israeli figures obtained by human rights group B'tselem, there are about 8,500 Palestinians from the West bank and Gaza in Israeli jails:
Serving sentence: 5,137
Detainees: 270
Detained until end of legal process: 2,352
Administrative detainees [detained without trial]: 730
Figures include:
Aged 16-18: 282
Aged under 16: 34
The Palestinian Authority says 11,000 Palestinians in total are behind bars in Israel

But victims do not always oppose the freeing of those who killed family members.
In June, Smadar Haran decided not to protest against the release of Samir Qantar, who in 1979 killed her husband, her four-year-old daughter and a policeman.
Mrs Haran accidentally suffocated her other daughter, aged two, trying to silence her as they hid from the attackers.
As part of a deal for Qantar's release, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah returned the remains of two Israeli soldiers captured in the incident that sparked the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war.
It was not certain until the day of the swap that the soldiers were dead.
Mrs Haran was able to see the exchange taking place in the distance on the Lebanese border as she laid flowers on the northern Israeli beach where, according to eyewitnesses and the court verdict, Qantar shot her husband in front of her daughter, and went on to smash in the little girl's head.
"It was very difficult, and so were the days afterwards. It re-opened the wounds. I was mourning again - just like it was in the beginning," she said.
Media debate
Her decision too, was hard. But she said she realised Qantar, who she described at the time as an "abhorred murderer", "was not my personal prisoner" and such decisions should be taken by the Israeli government.
In a society where most people's children serve in the military, Mrs Haran shares the deep, widely held commitment to doing what is necessary to bringing Israeli soldiers home:

Karnit Goldwasser: "It's not a deal, it's a person""My pain is terrible and big, but there are other families who suffer, and I can't close my eyes or my heart to their feelings."
The wife of one of the soldiers, Karnit Goldwasser, was aware too of the emotional cost of the exchange, even as she mounted a campaign to bring her husband and his colleague home.
"It was tough. They [the Haran family] are from my home town. I know everything," she said.
And although she ultimately achieved her aims, the result was heartbreaking.
"The worst thing was to work for two years and to end every day alone - and then to get him back, but not alive."
Like Mrs Haran, she also faced the media spotlight, and debate over the price Israel had paid.
"It's talked about like it's a deal, but it's not a deal, it's a person," she said.
This week's release is a different case, with nothing in exchange. Israel says the aim is to boost the standing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
According to the head of Shin Bet security service, quoted by Haaretz newspaper, the move also seeks to pressure the militant group Hamas towards a deal for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, snatched from the Gaza border more than two years ago.
The Shalit family are not the only ones anxiously following the negotiations for his release.

Nemer Mohammed Youssef al-Sharadha, now 28, was nine when his father was jailed for three life sentences plus an additional 30 years.
Speaking from his home in Gaza, he said the family was "waiting on red coals" because the father of four, Mohammad, is on a list of prisoners Hamas wants released as part of a deal for the return of Gilad Shalit.
Mohammad was sentenced for the deaths of two Israeli soldiers, during operations he took part in as a member of Hamas's military wing, Nemer said.
Although the organisation has long targeted civilians, he says his father never did.
"What my father has done is a normal reaction of any person in any occupied country," he said.
"After spending 20 years in Israeli jails, he deserves to be released."
In the eyes of many Palestinians, including Um Ali, there is an imbalance in the whole situation:
"Israel kills lots of Palestinians every day," she says. "Why do we have to be punished when they are not?"
This is a widespread feeling among Palestinians, and does reflect the Palestinian death toll during some periods in the conflict, though Palestinians have also killed many Israelis.
An Israeli human rights group estimates that approximately 4,850 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict since 2000. Over the same period, about 1060 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians.

As an occupying power, Israel carries out arrests during military incursions into the West Bank and Gaza, and has a system of military and civilian courts in which to try and punish suspects.
In contrast, there is no effective channel of redress for the majority of Palestinians - both militants and civilians - killed and injured during Israeli military operations.
Cases of specific abuse by Israeli soldiers are tried in Israeli courts, but weighty punishments are rare and human rights groups often complain that censures are too rare and too light.
Initially, Um Ali said "not one hair on my head is moved" in empathy for the family of the soldier her husband killed, as he was part of an army that was "beating us and killing people".
But then, aware of the complexity of the issue, she adds: "As a mother, I wouldn't like to see my son killed, and as a mother, I would want the killer to be in jail."



An 18-month-old boy is critically ill after apparently being shot with an airgun by his five-year-old sister.
West Midlands Police said the boy was shot in the head in a "tragic accident" while playing in the garden of his home in Washwood Heath, Birmingham.
The boy's grandfather said it was believed the girl picked up the air weapon when the children's father left it unattended to answer a phone call.
The boy was taken to Birmingham Children's Hospital.
He sustained a pellet wound to the back of the head.
Police inquiries into the circumstances have continued but it has been stressed officers were not seeking anyone else in connection with the incident.
"While we are still trying to establish precisely what happened, this does appear to be a tragic accident involving young children," said DI Simon Vowles.
A spokeswoman for the ambulance service said when crews dropped the boy off he was in a stable but critical condition.
An ambulance, two rapid response vehicles and a doctor were sent to the scene, she said.
The spokeswoman added: "When crews arrived they found an 18-month-old boy who had suffered a very serious head injury.
"They were told that it had been caused by an airgun.
"Crews immediately started treating the child and very quickly took him to Birmingham Children's Hospital travelling on blue lights.
"Two additional paramedics travelled with the ambulance crew to provide additional assistance on route to hospital."
A spokesman for the hospital confirmed it was still treating the boy but was "not at liberty to confirm anything else".
The spokesman said: "I know this is a subject of police interest already and we will know more as time goes on."



By Jude Sheerin BBC News

Danny Hall is a former winner of TV quiz show The Weakest Link.
How can someone disappear without trace on a small island?
That is the question nagging the family and friends of Danny Hall, a British backpacker who went missing in the southern Thai resort of Koh Pha Ngan six months ago.
The disappearance of the 36-year-old - last seen on 25 February - has baffled investigators and loved ones alike.
A roadie and former winner of TV quiz show The Weakest Link, Mr Hall had been on his third trip to Thailand when he was last seen after the island's world-famous Full Moon Party.
Every month, it is estimated up to 25,000 revellers descend on Koh Pha Ngan for the all-night beach rave.
For most of the party-goers their worst experience is likely to be waking up with a hangover.
But the British foreign office website warns that incidents of date rape have been reported at the event.

The Bangkok Post reported in April that a Koh Pha Ngan police chief had recently been transferred amid a rising crime rate and complaints about visitors' safety.
Meanwhile, a number of accounts of tourists being attacked on the island can be found on internet travel chatrooms.
Mr Hall's friend, Roy Twemlow, was one of the last people to speak to him when he rang Mr Twemlow from a bar, in the afternoon following the Full Moon Party.
The pair became friends at Birmingham University, where Mr Hall, from Norwich, England, graduated with an honours degree in history.
The 36-year-old said: "It was about 2pm when [Danny] rang me and he sounded fine, he didn't sound panicked. It's just not like him to vanish without trace.
"I've kind of accepted I'm never going to see him again. But someone must have seen something, someone must know something.

In pictures: Full Moon Party

"Danny's very sociable, makes friends easily and is highly intelligent. He's also very non-confrontational."
On arriving in Thailand at the end of January, Mr Hall, who had worked as a roadie for The Rolling Stones and at England's Glastonbury music festival, spent a week in Bangkok at Mr Twemlow's home.
"He wasn't moping around or depressed," recalls his friend. "It was just the same old Danny."
Mr Twemlow, a teacher who has lived in Thailand for a decade, travelled down to Koh Pha Ngan to investigate after Mr Hall had been reported missing.
He expected to find police on the island in the midst of a full investigation when he arrived at the end of April.
But he says: "When I got to Koh Pha Ngan, the police knew very little about the case, they hadn't even searched the area where Danny was last seen. It's a bit of a disgrace really."

Mr Hall (right) on the day he was last seen in the Backyard Bar
Mr Twemlow found his friend's possessions - a backpack and an acoustic Yamaha guitar - left in his accommodation, a hut at the island's secluded Hat Yao beach. But Mr Hall's passport and money belt have not been found.
American backpacker Chris Chester, who met Mr Hall on Koh Pha Ngan a week before his disappearance, but did not attend the Full Moon Party, raised the alarm within three of four days of the Briton vanishing.
The 39-year-old said he and his German girlfriend had met up with Mr Hall almost daily, going to the beach, relaxing with a massage and shopping.
"He had been in regular contact with us the whole time, so when we didn't hear from him for a couple of days I thought it was pretty strange. I started trying to find him and asking around," he said.
Mr Chester checked hospitals and clinics on Koh Pha Ngan and neighbouring Koh Samui in his search for the missing tourist, but to no avail.
"There was nothing to suggest he was depressed. I really can't fathom what happened to him," he said.
Mr Hall is known to have joined dozens of party-goers at the Backyard Bar for an "after-party", on the morning after the Full Moon rave.

Thai police say Mr Hall's bank account remains dormant
Niki Kursakul, 45, from Sydney, Australia, who is married to the Thai owner of the bar, described Mr Hall's disappearance as "totally bizarre".
The mother-of-two, who has lived in Thailand for 16 years, said: "It's very, very strange. The bar isn't near a beach but I suppose it's possible he could have wandered down to the sea, gone swimming and got into difficulty.
"But a body would usually get washed up if someone drowned. If he'd fallen or had an accident near the bar he would have been found by now.
"There can be the occasional fight [in the Backyard Bar] but no-one saw any argument taking place that day as far as I know."
Bangkok's ministry of foreign affairs said the Thai authorities were working closely with Mr Hall's family and friends and the British embassy to investigate his disappearance.

Mr Hall's friends have launched an appeal to help find him on Facebook
Spokesman Tharit Charungvat said: "The safety of tourists in Thailand is a matter of great concern to the Royal Thai Government."
He said the number of visitors to Thailand was on the rise and that the country's popularity was "due, among other things, to the hospitality and safety tourists can expect when visiting Thailand".
Thai Police Colonel Chataree Pandum said Mr Hall's bank account remains dormant since he disappeared and investigators believe the Briton did not leave the island.
Norfolk Constabulary in England said they were treating Mr Hall as a missing person - as is the UK foreign office - but that officers currently had no plans to travel to Thailand.
In the meantime, the agony for Mr Hall's loved ones continues.

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China has deported eight Americans detained in Beijing last week for demonstrating about Tibet during the Olympic Games.
The eight left China on Sunday while the closing ceremony was taking place after American officials pressed for them to be released.
Washington had voiced "disappointment" that China had not used the Olympics "to demonstrate greater tolerance".
Two other detainees, a Briton and a German, were reportedly also freed.
The eight Americans were deported by the Chinese authorities at 2100 Chinese time (1300 GMT) on Sunday on a China Air flight to Los Angeles, the White House said.
They had been among dozens of foreigners who evaded security checks to demonstrate in favour of Tibetan independence and were arrested on 20-21 August.
They had faced up to 10 days in custody after hanging a "Free Tibet" banner near an Olympic venue and holding other small demonstrations.
Briton Mandie McKeown is expected to arrive home on Monday.
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown had raised Ms McKeown's case when he met his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, in Beijing on Friday.
Florian Norbu Gyanatshang, an ethnic Tibetan German, is said by German media to have been released and to be on his way home.


Sunday, August 24, 2008


10 things we didn't know last week !

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

1. Misheard song lyrics are known as mondegreens.
More details
2. The Banana Splits theme tune is very similar to reggae classic Buffalo Soldier.
More details
3. Clouds can be breast-shaped.
More details
4. And thunderclouds are so menacingly dark because they are four to five miles (6.4 to 8km) thick.
More details
5. A 72oz steak is about the size of a large telephone directory. And since 1960, 8,000 people have managed to eat one - plus all the trimmings - in under an hour.
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6. DNA from 3,000-year-old skeletons can be matched to living descendents.
More details
7. Jerry Springer, the American talkshow host, was born in a London Tube station during World War II.
More details (The Scotsman)
8. Some chemotherapy drugs are made from yew tree clippings.
More details
9. The Queen no longer sends telegrams to those turning 100.
More details
10. The rock hyrax - a modestly proportioned rodent - is the closest living relative to the elephant.More details







By Ian Youngs - Entertainment reporter, BBC News, Cardiff

Madonna has begun her new world tour in Cardiff, proving to fans that she can still cut it on stage at the age of 50.
In a typically energetic performance, the pop superstar played two hours of hits from her 25-year career.
It featured radically reworked versions of some of her old favourites, such as a techno remix of Like A Prayer and a rock take on Borderline.
"She gets better with age," said Lewis Aldous, 23, from Brentwood, Essex.
He said Madonna looked "incredible", adding: "She looks like she's in her 30s. This is the most fast-paced tour of recent times, especially Like A Prayer."
Maria Paradisis, 32, who travelled from Sydney, Australia, for the show, said Madonna's dancing was "mesmerising".
"She can still shake it like she's a 20-year-old," she said.

But some fans at the Millennium Stadium were not so happy with her latest reinvention.
"She didn't do any of the traditional stuff that everyone loves her for," said Susan Harvey from Cardiff.
"For £85 a ticket, I was really disappointed."
The show is split into four sections - Pimp, Old School, Gypsy and Rave
Danielle Wheeler, 26, said she was "not as good as Kylie", while Stephanie Olokopa, 20, from London, gave the show six out of 10.
"She was late and she didn't even thank the people," she said.
The show was first of 51 dates for the pop superstar, who celebrated her birthday a week ago.
It involved 250 crew, 16 dancers, eight costume changes and £1m of jewellery.
The concert was split into four sections - Pimp, Old School, Gypsy and Rave.
Madonna appeared on a jewel-encrusted black leather throne with the letter M written on its back.
Opening with Candy Store, the first track of her latest album Hard Candy, the Pimp section was characterised by revealing and risque black outfits for Madonna and her troupe.
When a classic white convertible rolled on, it took Madonna and her dancers out into the crowd, with Madonna donning the driver's white top hat before pushing the car back.

The intricately planned visual spectacle was as potent as the music, and Madonna is the master at using colour, costume and choreography to full effect.
She was raised on podium for Vogue with four female dancers wearing long black gloves and boots and very little else.

After that, it was into the Old School segment - intended to evoke her 1980s New York roots - with Madonna appearing in red shorts, pop socks and a skipping rope, surrounded by the kids from Fame.
Into the Groove was the first of her '80s hits to be updated, backed by heavy bass and trance piano.
She then picked up a guitar for Borderline, backed by a more conventional rock band set-up.
The star donned heart-shaped sunglasses for She's Not Me, from her latest album, with her old videos flashing up behind her.
When four dancers appeared as Madonna at various stages of her career, the singer went on to abuse them before indulging in some very frenetic, angry dancing.
Gypsy theme
With her long, wavy blonde hair, fit physique and endless stamina, she doesn't look too dissimilar to the Madonna of a couple of decades ago.
She certainly doesn't look ready for a Saga subscription.
The Gypsy segment began with Madonna in a black cloak writhing on top of a black piano, before her dancers donned hooded robes for Spanish Lesson.

They then ripped off the cloaks to reveal shiny, gaudy shirts and indulge in some flamenco-style dancing.
Not everything quite made sense - but it looked quite good, and that, you suspect, is what matters to Madonna.
With her dazzling friends, she went on to play a Europop version of La Isla Bonita, complete with big, bearded violinist in a sequined shirt.
The final section was Rave, which started with a pair of sparkly American football shoulder pads for her recent hit 4 Minutes.
It then turned into a full-on rave as the queen of pop played thumping techno versions of Like A Prayer and Ray Of Light.
During Like A Prayer, screens behind her flashed the names of sacred figures from various religions and quotes from holy texts.
Heavy beats
Most of the crowd seemed to lap up the pumped-up dance remixes.
But as she strummed guitar in a skin-tight silver top, surrounded by futuristic creatures during Ray of Light, lasers firing over her head, it was tempting to think that maybe she should calm down just a bit.
The entire night had the feel of a giant nightclub - and that is something that some purists didn't like.
But heavy beats made the more mediocre new songs more passable, and the momentum was maintained by non-stop music even when she was off stage.
With wailing thrash metal guitars at end of Hung Up, Madonna posed, hand on hip, seemingly satisfied with her night's work.
Now she's hit 50, she seems even more determined to prove that she doesn't stand still, and she certainly doesn't slow down.



A court in Saudi Arabia is reported to be preparing to hear a plea for divorce from an eight-year-old girl who has been married off to a man in his 50s.
The Saudi newspaper al-Watan said the girl had been married off to the man by her father without her knowledge.
The child's mother is thought to be pushing for the marriage to be annulled - though the father opposes the move.
In April, a court in neighbouring Yemen annulled the arranged marriage of another eight-year-old girl.
She had been married to a 28-year-old man.
Child-protection groups say children are often given away in return for hefty dowries, or as a result of old customs in which a father promises his infant daughters and sons to cousins out of a belief that marriage will protect them from illicit relationships.
Activists have called for an end to the practice.



22nd August 2008.

Dear Friends,

Another week has gone by, another year is almost over and still Zimbabweans wait in exile all over the world for something to happen, anything that will tell them their country is finally shaking off the shackles of dictatorship. Here in the UK, as August draws to its wet and windy close we too watch and wait for news of the change which seemed so tantalisingly close just a month ago. For the past week the British media has been almost totally silent on the subject of Zimbabwe, their attention has been elsewhere: Russian tanks advancing into Georgia, the Olympics with its clutch of medals for Britain and for a little while it was the resignation of Pakistan's president Mushareff that dominated the news. Listening to Mushareff's resignation speech it was hard not to wonder if there was a warning there for Robert Mugabe? If there was, then Our Man in Harare just wasn't listening - but then he rarely does. Now, top of the news is the Spanish air crash, that's the story for the moment until some fresh disaster grabs the headlines.

Meanwhile Zimbabwe's disaster goes on: people die of starvation or Aids or a combination of the two, Zanu PF continues its campaign of violence against the opposition and the remaining white farmers are driven off their farms, villagers are raped and brutalized, the shops are still empty, even affluent suburbs are going without water for months and power supplies diminish by the day while inflation climbs to even more dizzying heights. It's just the same old story. So much for Gideon Gono chopping off the noughts; like white ants climbing up the house wall no matter how often you knock them down they will not go away; everyone knows you have to eliminate the cause if you really want to rid yourself of the tiresome beasties. Left to their own devices, they will bring your house down in the end.

Commenting on the Central Statistical Office's inflation figure of 11.2 million percent, the Minister of Finance - I didn't even know we had one, he's been so silent lately - Samuel Mumbengegwi commented that Zimbabwe wasn't the only country in the world with high inflation. In Zimbabwe's case, the minister maintained, the situation was exacerbated by world food prices and western sanctions. Perhaps it is better if the Minister remains silent with that kind of reasoning! Since when has Zimbabwe with its stone-age barter economics been part of the twenty-first century world economy? The real Finance Minister, Gideon Gono aka the Governor of the Reserve Bank says we must find a way of getting people in the diaspora to contribute more to the country's economic revival. While Zanu PF sharks gobble up the country's remaining assets, Gono expects hard-pressed exiles to send even more of their precious pounds and dollars home to rebuild the collapsing economy which he and his government cronies have plundered. Only watch the parallel market rate and you will see in a five day period the rate shot up from 340 to 800$ to the pound sterling. Those pesky noughts are already back again!

In the absence of hard news, political hacks spend their time writing stories whose sole purpose is to make trouble and create division, particularly in MDC ranks. 'It's all Morgan Tsvangirai's fault that there is no agreement signed,' they claim, ignoring the fact that it is Robert Mugabe aided by Thabo Mbeki and SADC who stubbornly clings to power. Worse than that, he still refuses to let the NGO's do their work of feeding the people. An estimated 5 million Zimbabweans face starvation; villagers in Matabeleland survive on wild berries and roots and urban folk struggle to cope while the infrastructure collapses around them. It is indeed the same old story.Now we hear talk that Mugabe will reconvene parliament next week in direct contravention of the MOU that all parties to the talks signed. Yet another example of the spineless SADC mediation that virtually gave Mugabe the go-ahead to do just what he likes; after all he is the Liberation Hero and liberation credentials are apparently the only qualifications needed to run a country - into the ground. Witness the antics of one Joseph Chinotimba, the so-called war veteran, as he directs the terror campaign in Manicaland.

But it's Arthur Mutambara who continues to echo Mugabe's vitriolic rhetoric against the west and appears to align himself with the dictator. Interviewed by an Australian radio station, Mutambara was at his loud-mouthed, arrogant best. "We are smarter than the Australians. We are smarter than the Americans" he bragged. " We went to better schools than most of these leaders in America, in Britain and Australia. I am coming out of Oxford. None of your prime ministers can challenge me intellectually." With two such massive egos: Robert Mugabe, the self-elected president, at the top and Mutambara, the self-proclaimed intellectual giant, at his side in whatever role, there is little hope that sanity will prevail in Zimbabwe soon but Robert Mugabe will be 85 years old in February. He will go at a time of his own choosing, we hear, not when he is told to. But what if the summons comes from a higher authority? That's one call the Old Man will not be able to reject.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle. PH.


Thursday, August 21, 2008


A big pro-independence rally is being held in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region and a similar rally is expected soon in war-ravaged South Ossetia.
Separatists in both regions are urging Russia and other countries to recognise them as independent from Georgia.
Russia says it is reviewing its co-operation with Nato, which has insisted that Moscow pull its troops out of Georgia, in line with a truce.
Nato said on Tuesday there could be no "business as usual" with Moscow.
At an emergency meeting, Nato suspended formal contacts with Russia because of the Russian military presence in Georgia.

See map of the region

"Relations with Nato will be reviewed," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency on Thursday.
"This will apply to the military co-operation programme," he said.
There is still no clear indication of a significant withdrawal of Russian military forces from Georgia, despite Moscow's promise to pull out most of its troops by the end of Friday.
Gen Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian military's general staff, reiterated on Thursday that "by the end of 22 August all the forces of the Russian Federation will be behind the line of our zone of responsibility".
But a BBC correspondent in the Georgian village of Igoeti, just 35km (21 miles) from the capital Tbilisi, says Russian troops there do not appear to be preparing to leave. Russian forces are also dug in around Georgia's main Black Sea port of Poti.
Co-operation stopped?
Russia poured troops into Georgia after Georgian forces tried to retake the breakaway South Ossetia region on 7 August. Russian-led peacekeeping troops had been deployed there since a war in the early 1990s.
The world-renowned conductor Valery Gergiyev - himself an Ossetian - plans to give a concert in South Ossetia with his St Petersburg orchestra on Thursday. The regional capital, Tskhinvali, where it will be held, was heavily damaged in the intense fighting.

No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Georgia faces reality of defeat
Who started the crisis?
Nato's Russia dilemma
Georgia conflict: Key statements

Nato has accused Russia of failing to respect a French-brokered ceasefire plan requiring both Russian and Georgian forces to pull back to the positions they held before heavy fighting erupted in South Ossetia.
On Wednesday, Norway's defence ministry said Russia had informed Norwegian diplomats that it was planning to freeze co-operation with Nato.
Norway's Aftenposten newspaper said Oslo was trying to establish exactly what impact the Russian decision would have on existing co-operation, such as joint rescue operations and border controls. Norway shares a border with Russia in the Arctic.
A statement from the Norwegian defence ministry said: "Norway notes that Russia has decided that for now it is 'freezing' all military co-operation with Nato and allied countries.
"We expect that this will not affect planned activities in the areas of coastguard operations, search and rescue and resource management, because on the Russian side these are handled by civilian authorities."
Russia has not yet given Norway formal written notification about its suspension of co-operation, a ministry spokesperson said.

Russia's permanent envoy at Nato headquarters in Brussels, Dmitry Rogozin, has been recalled to Moscow for consultations, Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reports.
He said that in light of Nato's position on the Georgia conflict, relations with Nato "really cannot remain as before," but he added that "there will not be a cold war".
A state secretary in Norway's defence ministry, Espen Barth Eide, said "there's no doubt that our relationship to Russia has now chilled".
On Tuesday, Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said "there can be no business as usual with Russia under present circumstances".

Russian news agencies say an armoured column, consisting of more than 40 vehicles, has passed through South Ossetia, on its way to the Russian border.



Happy Days ran from 1974 to 1984
In pictures

Actor Henry Winkler has unveiled a statue of his iconic Happy Days character Arthur "Fonz" Fonzarelli in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The bronze Fonz sports a trademark black leather jacket and slicked back hair, and strikes the character's classic two thumbs up pose.
Winkler told the crowd: "To see it in real life and that it exists it's just unbelievable. It really is."
The series was set in Milwaukee, although it was filmed in California.
The unflappable Fonz was the most iconic character in the long-running sitcom, which centred on the life of the middle-class Cunningham family.
Other members of the cast present at the unveiling included Anson Williams (Potsie), Don Most (Ralph), Marion Ross (Mrs Cunningham), Tom Bosley (Mr Cunningham) and Erin Moran (Joanie).
Film director Ron Howard, who played straight-laced Richie Cunningham, was unable to attend as he was on location.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008


A Nigerian group backing US senator Barack Obama for president has told the BBC the money it raised from a gala event was never meant for his campaign.
It is illegal for campaign groups outside the United States to donate funds to US political parties.
Earlier this week, the Obama campaign wrote to the Nigerian press saying it was not affiliated to Africans for Obama and would not accept its money.
The group said it wanted to use the funds to urge US Nigerians to vote.
Tickets to the lavish event in Lagos on 11 August cost more than $21,000 (£11,000) for an eight-person table.
Africans for Obama chairwoman Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, who is also the head of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, told the BBC News website there had been a misunderstanding in the press regarding the event.
"We never said we were going to donate money for the campaign," she said.
"We paid for the hall and the entertainers and the surplus we said would be spent on advertisements aimed at persuading Nigerians to tell their relatives in America to register to vote.
"There is not one Nigerian who doesn't have a relative or friend in America. Our aim was to encourage those people to tell their family who have the right to vote in America to vote for Obama."

Local media had reported the event raised more than $840,000 (£420,000), but Mrs Okereke-Onyiuke said the group's accountant had not finished counting the proceeds yet.
I am a woman of the highest integrity
Ndi Okereke-OnyiukeAfricans for Obama chairwoman
Full-page adverts in major newspapers publicising the event did not mention what the organisers were planning to do with the money.
Tickets to the gala dinner at the Muson Centre, usually used for conferences and trade shows, were split into two price ranges: "gold" and "platinum".
Individual tickets for more expensive platinum range cost $2,754 (£1,300) with an option to buy a "corporate" table sitting eight for more than $21,000.
A line-up of Nigerian musicians and comedians were billed as the evening's entertainment.
Mrs Okereke-Onyiuke said the cost was "not unusual".
"This year a newspaper put on a concert where tables cost 10m naira ($87,000, £43,500) and no-one blinked an eye then, why should they now?"
Prominent figures such as opposition People's Democratic Party grandee Chief Sonny Iroche and human rights lawyer Femi Falana had warned the group to cancel the event and give back any money.
The Barack Obama campaign wrote to Nigerian newspaper The Punch this week to confirm it would not be taking any money from the group.
"We want to make it clear that the event and this organisation are in no way associated with Obama for America of the Democratic National Committee should this organisation seek to place additional advertisement in your paper," the letter said.
Mrs Okereke-Onyiuke hit back at critics who have accused her of abusing her position as head of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
She said the press was trying to attack her because they were jealous of her success.
"I am a woman of the highest integrity," she said.



Jamaica's Usain Bolt added the 200m crown to his Olympic 100m title in an incredible new world record time of 19.30 seconds in Beijing.
The 21-year-old, who won the 100m title in a world record of 9.69 secs, powered past the field to cross the line and smash Michael Johnson's mark of 19.32.
American defending champion Shawn Crawford took silver with team-mate Walter Dix getting the bronze.
Great Britain's Christian Malcolm clocked 20.40 secs for fifth place.
While Bolt's win was never in doubt the minor medals were shuffled twice, first when American Wallace Spearmon was disqualified for running out of his lane and denied bronze.

Officials then upheld the US team's protest that second-placed Churandy Martina of the Dutch Antilles had also stepped out of his lane which bumped Crawford into silver and Dix, the 100m bronze medallist, up to third.
Bolt told the BBC after his sensational win: "It's great. I have a great feeling.
"This is a dream come true. You come out every day to be a champion and I'm just happy."
When asked if he planned to go all out for Johnson's world record, the 21-year-old said: "I was worried after the semis.
"But I told everybody I would leave everything on the track and I did just that.
"I've proved I'm a true champion and that with hard work anything is possible."

Bolt was simply incredible - this guy is Superman II

Bolt had been accused of jogging through the line in his heats but the Jamaican said he would run flat out in the final and he delivered on that promise with interest.
He blasted out of the blocks and was already well clear of the field going into the bend at the Bird's Nest stadium.
The Olympic 100m champion accelerated away down the straight, gritting his teeth as he chased down gold and the record that Johnson set 12 years ago in Atlanta.
Bolt seized both with ease, becoming the first man to secure the prestigious Olympic sprint double since Carl Lewis in 1984.
The 6ft 5in sprinter is also the first since compatriot Don Quarrie in 1976 to hold both sprint world records at the same time.
Bolt, who will celebrate his 22nd birthday in Beijing on Thursday, could win a third gold medal when he competes in the 4x100m relay.
"I have been dreaming about winning the 200m since I was yay high," he added pointing to his knees.
"It means a lot to me - more than the 100m because I have loved this event since I was 15 and I became the youngest ever winner of the world junior championships. Since that day it was dear to my heart."
He added: "I am looking forward to my birthday tomorrow - I am looking forward to going to bed, going to sleep and letting it all soak in."
Welshman Christian Malcolm was satisfied with his achievement in reaching the 200m final after finally rediscovering some following after a spate of injuries.

"I didn't run particularly great," the 29-year-old said. "But I have got to take the good from these championships.
"I have made the final and I am injury free, so I can move on and build from this.
"You have got to keep going because he [Bolt] is going to have a bad day some time. He has had a great championships and got it right on the day but I am improving so I am looking forward to next season."


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cathy Buckle's Weekly Letter From Zimbabwe !

Just out of reach !

Sunday 17th August 2008.

Dear Family and Friends,

The will of the people. It is impossible to believe that 140 days after Zimbabwe voted for an MDC Parliament and an MDC President the will of the people has yet to be accepted or implemented. After nearly five months we remain locked in a truly horrible state without sworn in legislators, without a parliament and without legitimacy. Everything around us is falling apart so fast now and yet the people and party in power for the last twenty eight years simply refuse to go.

The electricity is now off more than on - in my area its only been on twice during daytime working hours in the last week. Urban water supply seems to have virtually collapsed and in my home area taps are dry for at least 20 hours a day. Massive environmental devastation is being done as people have no choice but to cut trees down for fuel wood. Shops remain barren of virtually all goods and banks have become nightmare places where hundreds of people queue for hours at a time to withdraw the maximum daily allowance which is now handed out as a small bag of coins. At some banks the situation is so bad that the doors stay closed and locked all the time and people are only allowed to enter in small batches.

Much as the old leadership would have us believe, we are not a country at war, no one is trying to invade us or take us over and the future is waiting, just out of our reach. It is very hard, however, to stay sane, healthy and focussed on the Zimbabwe that the majority voted for on the 29th March 2008.

One afternoon this week I went with a friend to a small environmental education centre and game park at a local school and the magnificence of the Zimbabwean bush helped revive flagging spirits. The Msasa trees are coming into new leaf and putting on a spectacular display of copper, caramel, burgundy, port and hot red. The wild oranges are starting to turn yellow and they hang heavily from branches of leafless trees. On rocks and kopjes there are unexpected and vivid scatterings of lime green and bright orange lichen. In between trees and rocks, superbly camouflaged, there were giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and impala. This small environmental education centre, a vision from the past, giving knowledge and understanding to our children in such troubled times and promising hope for the future of our beleaguered, broken Zimbabwe.

Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.