Thursday, April 30, 2009


Silvio Berlusconi and his wife, Veronica Lario in 2004
Mr Berlusconi and his wife have had public arguments before

Italy's prime minister and his wife have clashed publicly after reports his party planned to field attractive young women as European election candidates.

Veronica Lario said the plan amounted to "shameless rubbish" being put on "for the entertainment of the emperor".

Silvio Berlusconi said she had been misled by left-wing media reports that TV stars, actresses and an ex-beauty queen were among potential candidates.

But only one of the so-called "show girl" candidates made the party list.

Ms Lario vented her feelings in an email to the Italian news agency Ansa, which was then picked up by the national newspapers.

She said it was "to entertain the emperor" that beautiful young women were fielded to stand as candidates for Mr Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party in June's European Parliament election.

"But behind the facade of curvaceous feminine beauty, what is even more serious is (Mr Berlusconi's) impudence and lack of reserve" she continued, it offends "the credibility of all women".

Mr Berlusconi later told reporters that he was sorry his wife had apparently believed "what she read in the papers".

He said his party was aiming to select female candidates because "we want to renew our political class with people who are cultivated and well prepared".

Candidates standing for the PdL would be unlike the "malodorous and badly dressed people who represent certain parties in parliament", Mr Berlusconi added.

Ms Lario, who is Mr Berlusconi's second wife and herself a former actress, said she wanted to make clear that "my children and I are victims and not accomplices in this situation".

"We must endure it and it causes us to suffer," she added.

It was later announced that Barbara Matera - an actress, TV announcer and former Miss Italy contestant - was the only one of the "showgirl candidates" as the Italian media dubbed them to have made the final list.




The interior of a cooling tower at Yongbyon (image from February 2008)
North Korea says it has resumed reprocessing fuel rods at Yongbyon

North Korea has threatened to carry out nuclear missile tests unless the UN Security Council apologises for its condemnation of a recent rocket launch.

Pyongyang said it would be compelled to take self-defence measures "including nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests" if no apology was made.

When North Korea launched its rocket on 5 April, the launch was seen by the US and others as a disguised missile test.

The UN denounced North Korea's actions and called for tighter sanctions.

Pyongyang has insisted it put a communications satellite in orbit, and said it would ignore the sanctions, describing them as "a wanton violation of the UN charter".

North Korea conducted its first and only nuclear test in October 2006.

The BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul says preparations for a second atomic test would cause serious international concern.

He says it would also confirm that North Korea is no longer taking part in the long-running international nuclear disarmament negotiations known as the six-party talks.

North Korea's foreign ministry said the UN should apologise for "infringing" the country's sovereignty and retract "all its resolutions and decisions" against Pyongyang.

It also announced plans to build a light-water nuclear reactor, according to the statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Following the UN criticism, the North pulled out of international negotiations on its denuclearisation and ejected all monitors from the country.

Pyongyang has since announced that it has started reprocessing spent fuel rods at its Yongbyon nuclear plant.

The reprocessing is a possible move towards producing weapons-grade plutonium.

North Korea had partially dismantled its nuclear reactor under a deal agreed at international talks in early 2007, in which it was also promised fuel aid.

It is thought to possess enough reprocessed plutonium for between six and eight nuclear weapons.

However, analysts say Pyongyang has not yet mastered the technology to make a nuclear warhead small enough to place on a missile.




Zimbabwe has received $400m (£270m) in credit from African governments, says Finance Minister Tendai Biti.
The funds are aimed at helping pay civil servants and regenerating the country's economy, he said.
Botswana provided $70m (£47m) and South Africa $50m (£34m), with the rest coming from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.
Mr Biti made the remarks during a visit to London, where he is looking for further funding.
A unity government formed by rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has appealed for billions of dollars from the West.
Mr Biti told the BBC on Thursday that Zimbabwe would actually need about $45bn (£30bn) to revive its economy over the next five years, according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund.
Western donors have called for real proof of power sharing and the restoration of law and order before they open their wallets.
Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday donors should withhold development aid until Zimbabwe halts a fresh wave of invasions of farms and frees opposition and human rights activists.
Mr Biti, a senior official with Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said there was a danger of the international community believing "Mugabe cannot be trusted and that he is taking the MDC for a ride", reported Reuters news agency.



Chrysler is to enter bankruptcy protection after failing to persuade its main lenders to write off its debts, a White House official has said.
President Barack Obama is now due to make a statement later on the future of the struggling US carmaker.
The news comes as Chrysler had been in last minute talks to restructure the business before a midnight deadline.
President Obama has already said that Chrysler would emerge stronger after any move into bankruptcy protection.
The US government had told Chrysler it would be given a further $6bn (£4bn) of vital state loans if it had successfully restructured the business by midnight.

This included trying to persuade the firm's main lenders to accept $2bn in cash, in exchange for writing off all of Chrysler's $6.9bn secured debt.
Reports have said that while Chrysler's banks accepted this proposal, it was rejected by hedge funds that also hold a sizeable proportion of its debt.
However, some analysts had speculated that Chrysler may prefer to go into bankruptcy projection as a means to give its lenders even less.
US Chapter 11 bankruptcy projection gives a US firm time to rearrange its finances under a court-supervised procedure, while continuing to trade, protected from its creditors.
Chrysler is owned by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, which bought an 80.1% stake from Germany's Daimler for 7.4bn euros ($9.9bn; £6.6bn) in 2007.

The US government gave Chrysler three key restructuring demands.
US bankruptcy protection is called Chapter 11
It gives US businesses time to rearrange their finances while continuing to trade, protected from their creditors.

History of Chrysler

In addition to lenders writing off the carmaker's debts, it was asked to secure a cost-cutting deal with its main union, and establish an alliance with Italian car firm Fiat.
While Chrysler appears to have failed to reach agreement with its lenders, it has gained an agreement with the union, and talks with Fiat are said to be near a successful conclusion.
Fiat is seeking an initial 20% stake in Chrysler, which would then rise to 35% and could even reach 51%.
The Italian firm will not have to pay anything for the share, which will give it access to the North American marketplace.
In return, Chrysler will be able to take advantage of Fiat's expertise in making smaller, more fuel efficient cars.

Chrysler, the smallest of the US "Big Three" carmakers after General Motors (GM) and Ford, secured a $4bn loan from the US government at the start of the year, and has since gained $500m more.
GM has also received multi-billion government loans. While Ford has yet to require any money, the government has agreed to give it financial support, should it be needed.
All three firms have seen sales slump dramatically in their home market as the recession has intensified.
GM has its own deadline of 1 June to restructure the business to receive additional state aid, and avoid needing bankruptcy protection.
Daimler said earlier this week that it would now be giving up its remaining 19.9% stake in Chrysler.
Under the deal, Daimler said it will also write off Chrysler's outstanding loans, and make three annual payments of $200m in the Chrysler's pension plans.
Daimler said it marked the final separation of the two firms.
The German firm bought Chrysler in 1998 for $38bn.



Saudi Arabia is ruled under an austere and patriarchal form of Sunni Islam
Media reports say an arranged marriage between a Saudi girl aged eight and a man in his 50s has been annulled, in a case attracting worldwide criticism.
The Saudi Gazette says the divorce was agreed in an out-of-court settlement after a judge rejected two attempts to grant the girl a divorce.
The case prompted Saudi officials to say it would start regulating the marriages of young girls.
Rights groups say some Saudi families marry off young daughters for money.
The judge who first heard the case in the town of Unaiza refused to end the marriage at the request of the girl's mother , but he stipulated the groom could not have sex with the girl until she reached puberty.
The girl's father is said to have married her off against her mother's wishes to a close friend in order that he could pay off a debt.
A new judge was appointed to oversee the case, who issued the annulment after the husband finally gave up his insistence that the marriage had been legal, reports say.
Saudi Arabia implements an austere form of Sunni Islam that bans free association between the sexes and gives fathers the right to wed their children to whomever they deem fit.
Saudi commentators pointed out that the marriage took place in the central province of Qaseem - the heartland of Saudi Islamic fundamentalism.
Earlier this year, the country's highest religious authority, the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Shaikh, said it was not against Islamic law to marry off girls who are 15 and younger.
On 15 April, after this case generated considerable negative publicity, Justice Minister Muhammad Issa said he wanted to put an end to the "arbitrary" way in which parents and guardians could marry off their young daughters.
However, he he did not say that the practice would be banned.



Vehicles and buildings were set on fire

At least 20 people have died in ethnic clashes in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, officials say.

Eyewitnesses said vehicles had been torched in different parts of the city, which is Pakistan's commercial capital and has a history of ethnic violence.

Karachi is dominated by Urdu-speakers, but there is also a growing population of ethnic Pashtuns.

Officials said the fighting was between members of the two groups, and started after an unidentified man opened fire.

"These are the targeted killings by the criminals, drug and land mafias who want to fan ethnic violence in the city," said Faisal Subzwari, a provincial minister.

Mr Subzwari, a member of the Urdu-speaking Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), said three of those killed were from his party.

The MQM is an ally of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan Peoples Party.

A spokesman for Mr Zardari said the Pakistani leader condemned the violence and called for unity.

Map of Pakistan

"The president said that the nation could not afford violence in Karachi at a time when it was already dealing with the militants in northern parts of the country," said the spokesman, Farhatullah Barbar.

Doctors in Karachi hospitals said they had received bodies riddled with gunshot wounds.

A spokesman for the Pakistan Rangers paramilitary force said it had arrested 25 suspects and recovered weapons and ammunition from them, AFP news agency reported.

Karachi, a city of over 15 million, is the capital of Sindh province.

It contains many Urdu-speaking Muslims descended from people who migrated to Pakistan after the partition of India in 1947.

The Pashtun population has grown further since last year when tens of thousands were displaced by the military operation in the country's north-western tribal areas.

Some politicians have voiced fears of Taleban infiltration of the Pashtun community.




The UN's World Health Organization has raised the alert over swine flu to level five - one short of a full-blown global epidemic, or pandemic.

A phase five alert means human-to-human transmission in at least two countries.

The move comes after a 23-month-old Mexican child died in Texas - the first death from swine flu outside Mexico, where the outbreak originated.

In Spain, officials confirmed the first case of swine flu in a person who had not travelled to Mexico.

Mexico's President Felipe Calderon addressed the nation late on Wednesday, announcing the partial suspension of non-essential work and services from 1 May to 5 May.

The efforts of the government were concentrated on containing the virus, Mr Calderon said, urging people to stay at home with their families during the shutdown.

Mexico: 159 suspected deaths - seven confirmed
US: one death, at least 91 confirmed cases
Canada: 13 confirmed cases
UK: 5 confirmed cases
Spain: 10 confirmed cases
Germany, New Zealand: 3 confirmed cases each
Israel: 2 confirmed cases
Austria: 1 case

He said he was "proud" of the response of Mexicans to the crisis, and assured people Mexico was well-stocked with anti-viral medicines.

Announcing the latest alert level after an emergency WHO meeting in Geneva, Director General Margaret Chan urged all countries to activate their pandemic plans, including heightened surveillance and infection-control measures.

She said action should be undertaken with "increased urgency".

She added: "It really is the whole of humanity that is under threat in a pandemic."

But she also said the world was "better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history".

Ms Chan said that for the first time, the pandemic could be tracked in real time.

This was necessary, she added, because the virus could mutate at any time into a more dangerous strain - or a milder one.

The Mexican boy who died in the US fell ill during a visit to relatives in southern Texas earlier this month.

He was transferred to a hospital in Houston, where he died on Monday night.

Speaking in Washington, President Barack Obama offered his condolences and said the federal government was doing the utmost to contain the virus.

He also urged local public-health bodies to be vigilant and said schools with confirmed cases "should consider closing".

Officials put the number of suspected deaths from swine flu in Mexico at 159, although just seven deaths have been confirmed, with 26 infections positively tested.


Flu viruses in different species
Phase 1: No infections in humans are being caused by viruses circulating in animals.
BACK 1 of 7 NEXT

Texas Governor Rick Perry said closing the US border with Mexico was an option, but added that taking that step now would be "a little premature".

Giving a televised news conference on Wednesday evening, US President Barack Obama said health officials were not recommending closing the border.

"The key now is to just make sure we are maintaining great vigilance, that everybody responds appropriately when cases do come up," Mr Obama said.

Since the virus emerged last week, it has also spread to Canada, Europe, Israel, and New Zealand.

Peru became the latest country to confirm it was treating a patient suffering from swine flu. An Argentine woman who had recently travelled to Mexico was Peru's first case of the virus, the country's health minister said late on Wednesday.

Several countries have restricted travel to Mexico and many tour operators have cancelled holidays.

France will ask the European Union on Thursday to suspend all flights going to Mexico because of the flu outbreak, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said.

The WHO, however, says measures like travel bans are unlikely to prove effective.

In Spain, the government said the first person to contract swine flu without having travelled to Mexico was the boyfriend of a young woman who had recently returned from there.

Spanish Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez said such cases were to be expected.

In total, the number of confirmed cases in Spain rose from two to 10 on Wednesday. None of the patients is seriously ill.

Swine flu symptoms are similar to those produced by ordinary seasonal flu - fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills and fatigue
If you have flu symptoms and recently visited affected areas of Mexico, you should seek medical advice
If you suspect you are infected, you should stay at home and take advice by telephone initially, in order to minimise the risk of infection

In Mexico, the search for the source of the outbreak continues, with the focus on the vicinity of a pig farm in the eastern part of the country.

The Mexican government is urging against jumping to conclusions and is suggesting the possibility remains that the virus originated outside the country.

Schools across Mexico have closed, public gatherings are restricted and archaeological sites have been placed off-limits.

Mexico City's chamber of commerce estimated restrictions in the city were costing businesses there at least 777 million pesos ($57m, £39m) per day.

WHO official Keiji Fukuda said other countries also needed to consider "social distancing" measures such as closing schools and delaying public meetings.

Meanwhile, Ghana has become the latest country to ban pork imports as a precaution against swine flu, though no cases have been found in the West African country.

Ms Chan, the WHO director, stressed on Wednesday that there was no danger from eating properly-cooked pork.

She advised hygiene measures such as hand-washing to prevent infection and said it was important "to maintain a level of calm".



Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Rashid Ramzi
Ramzi gives thanks after his Beijing success

Two Olympic medallists are among six athletes who failed a drugs test after the re-testing of Beijing samples.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said re-testing for the hormone Cera had led to seven positive tests.

Bahrain athlete Rashid Ramzi, who won gold in the 1500m and Italian cyclist Davide Rebellin, who won a silver, have both been named by their associations.

And a positive test by German cyclist Stefan Schumacher has been confirmed by his country's cycling federation.

Cera is an advanced version of the endurance-enhancing hormone EPO.

Ramzi, who used to compete for his native Morocco and still trains there, won Bahrain's first ever track and field gold medal in Beijing last August.

He also won the 800m and 1500m races at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has confirmed three athletes have failed tests, although the sport's governing body declined to give any names.

"The IAAF must wait for further details from the IOC before considering any provisional suspension of the athletes and a decision is not expected within the next week.

"Just as the IAAF has already re-analysed its own samples taken prior to Beijing, the IAAF would like to commend the IOC for their efforts in the storage and re-analysis of samples and for their coordination with the IAAF in this process.

"This step shows that athletes who cheat can never be comfortable that they will avoid detection and sends a strong message of deterrence," a statement read.

Britain's Andy Baddeley, who was ninth behind Ramzi in Beijing, told BBC Sport he was surprised an athlete had failed a test at a major event because of the intensive level of drug testing.

But he added: "Although it is bad news for the sport when you find that people are found to be taking drugs, it's good news that people are being caught and it should be the deterrent for other people not to use drugs in the future.

"If people can be caught after the event it's got to be a huge incentive to stop people doing it in the future."

Rebellin, who celebrated his 37th birthday by finishing second behind Spain's Samuel Sanchez in the men's road race, has denied any wrong-doing.

He told Italian newspaper La Stampa: "I don't know what may have happened. It is certainly a mistake. It is impossible that I tested positive."

Schumacher was given a two-year ban earlier this year after testing positive for Cera during the 2008 Tour de France.

He won two time trials during the Tour and held the overall leader's yellow jersey for two days.

British Olympic chiefs believe no members of Team GB are among the six athletes caught out by the IOC.

The British Olympic Association (BOA) has not been contacted by the IOC, which says the athletes in question have been notified through their national Olympic committees.

The vast majority of athletes do not seek an unfair advantage. We intend to do all we can to ensure that they have a fair environment for competition
Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC medical commission

BOA chairman Colin Moynihan gave his support to the policy of re-analysing samples when new lab tests become available.

"You need to go back and test samples to deter athletes who think they're cheating the system," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"You need to make them think: 'wait a minute, in a couple of years' time, they will be able to test for that substance and my sample may be tested'."

US Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel said the federation had not received notification from the IOC of any adverse findings involving one of their athletes.

"Unless we hear otherwise, we are treating no news as good news," Seibel told the Associated Press.

The IOC tested 948 samples from Beijing after new tests for Cera and insulin became available after the Olympics.

BBC Radio 5 Live's Gordon Farquhar said the offenders "are likely to be competitors from the endurance disciplines of swimming, cycling, rowing and athletics".

Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC medical commission, said: "The further analysis of the Beijing samples that we conducted should send a clear message that cheats can never assume that they have avoided detection.

"The vast majority of athletes do not seek an unfair advantage. We intend to do all we can to ensure that they have a fair environment for competition."

Pending any disciplinary action by the IOC, national and international bodies are free to impose provisional suspensions of athletes, the IOC said.

Any athletes found guilty of doping face being disqualified from the Olympics and stripped of any medals.




By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

sign saying what's in your network
Experts say the threat is increasing fast

America's cyber-security has been described as "broken" by one industry expert and as "childlike" by another.

The criticism comes as President Obama prepares to release the results of a review he had ordered.

Tim Mather, chief strategist for security firm RSA, told BBC News: "The approach we have relied on for years has effectively run out of steam."

Alan Paller from security research firm SANS Institute said the government's cyber defences were "embarrassing".

The government review, which will outline a way forward, is expected to be opened up for public comment at the end of this month.

At the same time, President Obama is also expected to announce the appointment of a cyber-security tsar as part of the administration's commitment to make the issue a priority.

For many attending last week's RSA conference in San Francisco, the biggest security event of its kind, such focus is welcome.

"I think we are seeing a real breaking point in security with consumers, business and even government saying enough, no more. Let's rethink how we do this because the system is broken," said Mr Mather.

Over the past couple of weeks, the heat has been turned up on the issue of cyber-security following some high profile breaches.

One involved the country's power grid which was said to have been infiltrated by nation states. The government subsequently admitted that it was "vulnerable to attack".

US government computer
The review will provide a roadmap for tackling cyber-security

Meanwhile reports during the RSA conference surfaced that spies had hacked into the Joint Strike Fighter Project.

The topic is very much on the radar of politicians, who have introduced a number of bills to address security in the virtual world.

One includes a provision to allow the president to disconnect government and private entities from the internet for national security reasons in an emergency.

The latest bill, introduced this week by Senator Tom Carper, has called for the creation of a chief information officer to monitor, detect and respond to threats.

Mr Paller, who is the director of research for SANS, believes the government's multi-billion dollar budget is the most effective weapon it has to force change.

"The idea of cyber-security leadership isn't if it's the White House or DHS (Dept of Homeland Security). It's whether you use the $70bn you spend per year to make the nation safer."

He said the best way to ensure that was to require industry to provide more secure technology for federal acquisitions.

"If you want to change things, use the laws of procurement," suggested Mr Paller.

There is a growing view that the industry is also at a crossroads and has a responsibility to alter the way it operates.

fraud sign
There are 32,000 suspected cyber-attacks every 24 hours

"I think we are more aware of security than ever before," said Benjamin Jun, vice-president of technology at Cryptography Research.

"We are looking at risk in a new way and the good security practitioners are in the hot seat. It's time for them to do their job."

It is also time for them to come up with new technologies that can keep pace with, and move ahead of, the threats that affect the whole of cyberspace, says Asheem Chandna of venture firm Greylock Partners.

"For the evolution of the internet, I think we need the next wave of innovation. The industry clearly needs to step up and deliver the next set of technologies to protect people and stay ahead of the bad guys."

He also believes the smaller innovative companies in Silicon Valley could help the government be more productive if they were not effectively locked out of the process by the big established firms.

"We want smaller companies that are innovating in Silicon Valley to be given a better chance to help government agencies meet their mandate but the bureaucracy to do this hinders these companies.

"Instead they go to commercial customers because they see the value, they move fast, they see the return on investment and the competitive advantage it can give them. The federal government is more of a laggard in this area," said Mr Chandna.

There is undoubtedly a consensus that the security of the internet needs to be improved and that attacks are taking their toll on everything from banks to credit card companies and from critical infrastructure to defence.

sign who's your hacker
The president has likened the threat to the internet to that of a nuclear attack

"There is a silver lining to this dark cloud," said Mark Cohn, the vice-president of enterprise security at security firm Unisys.

"Public awareness, and that among the community and interested parties, has grown tremendously over the last year or two.

"Cyber-security affects us all from national security to the mundane level of identity theft and fraud. But that means society as a whole is more receptive to many of the things we need to do that would in the past have been seen as politically motivated."

For security firm VeriSign, a shift in how people practise security is what is needed

"Security is a state of mind," said the company's chief technology officer, Ken Silva.

"Up until now we have relied on the inefficient system of user names and passwords for security. Those have been obsolete for some time now and that is why our research is focused on making authentication stronger and user friendly."

To that end, VeriSign has introduced a security application that produces an ever-changing password credential for secure transactions on the iPhone or Blackberry. To date the free app has been downloaded more than 20,000 times.

"It's one thing to say security is broken, but the consumer doesn't care until it affects them," said Mr Silva. "But if we as an industry want them to use stronger security measures we have to make it easy and more user friendly."

Indeed Mr Cohn believes everybody has to play his or her part as the online world becomes increasingly integral to our lives.

"It may seem like we are under attack and the world is more dangerous but in some ways the threat environment is shifting.

"Now the greater concern for people is protecting their information, their identity, their financial security as we move to put more information online like our health records and our social security records.

"We are at a crossroads and this should be viewed as a healthy thing," said Mr Cohn.




Ruth Halimi holds a photo of her son Ilan
Ilan Halimi was brutally tortured before he died

Twenty-seven people have gone on trial in Paris for the kidnapping and killing of a young Jewish man that shocked France three years ago.

A gang targeting Jews in ransom kidnappings has been blamed for the abduction and brutal torture of the victim, Ilan Halimi.

The alleged gang leader, Youssouf Fofana, shouted "God is great" in Arabic as he entered the courtroom.

The killing prompted large demonstrations against anti-Semitism.

Mr Halimi, 23, was kidnapped and brutally tortured for more than three weeks before he was found naked and tied to a tree near a railway track in the suburbs south of Paris.

He had been stabbed and set alight and he died on his way to hospital.

Youssouf Fofana, the leader of a Paris gang known as The Barbarians, is accused of carrying out the attack and faces life imprisonment if found guilty.

Mr Fofana entered the court wearing a white tracksuit. He looked at Mr Halimi's relatives, shouting "Allahu akbar".

When the judged asked the 28-year-old for his birthday, he said he was born on 13 February, 2006, in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois - the date and place of Mr Halimi's death.

Youssouf Fofana, courtroom sketch
Youssouf Fofana has pleaded not guilty to murder

Youssouf Fofana is alleged to have instructed gang members to target Jews and to kidnap them until their families paid a ransom.

He has admitted all the charges, including entrapment and kidnapping but he denies stabbing Mr Halimi to death.

The other defendants have been indicted on lesser charges. As some of them were minors at the time of the crime, the judge excluded the public and the press for the remainder of the trial.

The victim, who worked in a mobile phone shop, was lured by a gang member to an empty apartment in the Parisian suburbs where he was attacked and drugged.

During his ordeal, his family were sent harrowing images and video recordings by his captors.

The then-President, Jacques Chirac, promised his parents a full investigation.





A series of TV films designed by children's charity Barnardo's to raise awareness of child abuse proved the most controversial TV advert of 2008.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 840 complaints last year due to the imagery of child abuse and drug-taking - but none was upheld.

Despite the number of upheld complaints rising by 27% compared with 2007, none of the criticisms of the 10 most complained about ads was sustained.

The 10 most controversial ads, measured by the number of complaints, were:


Barnardo's ads showed scenes of children being physically or emotionally abused - and how such abuse could affect them later in life.

Still from Barnado's ad

Many of the 840 complainants were concerned about the imagery of abuse and drug use, especially because the ads were being shown at times when children could be watching.

Some other viewers, who reported they had been abused as children, asked whether the imagery could upset some people who had suffered such treatment.

But the ASA ruled that while it understood the ads could be distressing, it believed they had been appropriately scheduled and their aim justified the use of such strong imagery.

Complaints not upheld

Still from Volkswagen ad

Volkswagen's ads - showing a dog singing its canine heart out while travelling in the front seat of a car, yet cowering when out of the vehicle - drew complaints for a number of reasons.

Some viewers were concerned about the dog's welfare, wondering if it had been ill-treated during filming. Others thought the ads condoned animal cruelty, or showed a breach of the Highway Code by allowing dogs to travel in the front seat.

The ASA said that while it was sympathetic to opposition to using trained animals in filming, the ad's makers had ensured a vet was on set during filming, and the vet had confirmed the dog had not been abused.

It said the fantastical tone of the ad meant it could not be seen as an endorsement to harm pets, nor put them at risk.

Complaints not investigated

Still from Orangina ad

Viewers complained the ad for this soft drink was sexually offensive.

The promo showed a woodland scene with cartoon animals - such as bears, deer, zebras and peacocks - dancing together. The ad ends with the line "Orangina... Life is juicy".

The majority of those who complained found the ad overtly sexual. There were also complaints saying that it demeaned and objectified women.

Some said it endorsed women dancing for the gratification for men, while others said it might be inappropriate for younger viewers.

The ASA said the fact the advert was only shown after 2100 meant most viewers would be aware it would have adult tones.

Complaints not investigated


This ad showed children's lunches being made by their "mum" - an unshaven Italian-American man, who at the end of the ad is kissed goodbye by "dad".

Still from Heinz ad

Most of the complaints about the by HJ Heinz Company ad were over a same-sex kiss, and the fact the ad was shown in the daytime and early evening when children might see it.

But the ASA believed that despite some people's personal objection to same-sex kissing, it did not see anything in the kiss that would breach its code.

It said: "We believed most people would view it as humorous, surreal or daft."

Complaints not investigated

Still from Department of Health ad

One of many recent hard-hitting awareness drives aimed at improving public health, the TV and cinema campaign aimed to stop parents smoking in front of their children.

It showed children copying their parents in activities such as DIY, exercise and baking - but also smoking. It had the tagline: "If you smoke, your children are more likely to smoke. Smoking. Don't keep it in the family."

Some believed children would not grasp the meaning of the ad and would just see children smoking.

But the ASA said the importance of the message meant the advert was justified.

Complaints not upheld

Still from Tiscali ad

The telecommunications provider used adultery to help sell its wares in this TV advert, which drew complaints from more than 150 viewers.

The ad showed a woman sleeping with her next-door neighbour. There were complaints over its adult content, and also accusations that it trivialised adultery and that the advertisers were condoning it.

The ASA ruled that the tone of the ad was sufficiently "farcical and unrealistic" for it not to cause offence.

It also said the ad had not been shown in ad breaks for programmes where the very youngest children might be watching on their own.

Complaints not investigated

Still from Zac and Miri poster

The film Zac and Miri Make a Porno, starring Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks, was advertised by Entertainment Film Distributors on posters on the side of buses.

Many complainants were concerned with the use of the word "porno" in the title, and the fact that the poster could be seen by young children, who may then ask what it meant.

The ASA, however, said the ad did not contain any explicit imagery, and did not in itself breach any rules.

The ASA said: "We did not consider that the ad would cause widespread or serious offence or harm to children."

Complaints not investigated

Still from Walkers ad

A TV ad for Walkers crisps featuring ex-footballer Gary Lineker was deemed offensive for a scene in which a bus drove under a bridge and had its top deck ripped off.

Some of those who complained said it could have upset people who had experienced such accidents.

After hearing of the complaints, Walkers Snack Foods Ltd decided to withdraw the ad and no action needed to be taken by the ASA.


Still from Specsavers ad

There were complaints for the use of footage of French singer Edith Piaf singing her signature song Je Ne Regrette Rien with subtitles making it appear that she "should have gone to Specsavers".

Many of those who complained felt it trivialised the tragic life of the French singer.

The ASA did not believe the ad would cause widespread offence.

Complaints not investigated

Car Giant poster

Posters for the firm, a used car dealership, showed a man who had saved so much by using Cargiant to buy a car that he could afford to take his mistress on a trip to Paris.

The ad drew ire from people who said it condoned and even endorsed adultery.

Some also said it was chauvinistic and was not a good example for children.

The ASA, however, viewed the ads as light-hearted and did not see them as a promotion for an adulterous lifestyle.

Complaints not investigated

Below are a selection of your comments.

I would like to know what the ASA actually do? I was one of those who complained about the Heinz Deli Mayo ad with the same sex kissing as I did actually find this offensive, but got the standard letter saying that the ASA did not agree, as it has by the looks of it, for all the top 10 ads shown here. I won't bother to write in future!. They even had the audacity to email me asking if my complaint was investigated to my satisfaction!!
Phil Burton, Brighton

You seem to have missed a couple of adverts that received far more complaints. The neutrogena advert that dared to show a nipple received numerous complaints until the offensive nipple was cut from the ad. And the birth to death in around 30 seconds advert for microsoft's X Box received 136 complaints
Dean Messenger, Surrey UK

Lighten up - these are adverts. If you don't subsequently buy the advertised product then the ad has failed and what have you lost? If you have doubts over the veracity of a claim don't buy the product, if it offends you don't buy the product. At any one time the TV is full of content which probably upsets or offends someone somewhere. Here we have products now being displayed on a BBC website as a news item, probably doubling the intended target coverage. Either turn over or turn off. Life is too short.
Mark Turner, Oxford

Has the world gone overly politically correct mad? Do these people have nothing better to do with their time than complain about such nonsense? Seriously, take a deep breath, relax and it'll all be over in 3 minutes. It's not harmful, it's advertising.
Victoria Bennett, Edinburgh

I think that the decisions of the ASA show the steady decline in both morals and ethics displayed by advertisers nowadays, and a lack of respect for the intelligence of the general populace. That said, do as I do, if you think the ad is offensive or derogatory to groups of our community turn it off or turn it over.
S. Nicholson, Doncaster

These complaints and the fact that no further action was taken by the ASA just goes to show how many stupid people there are in this country who just don't "get it".
Tony Privitera, Worcester

How about naming and shaming the people complaining? There are clearly more important issues going on at any point in time. These self righteous do-gooders clearly have nothing better to do and their priorities are severely skewed.
Ben Walker, Leicestershire, UK




By Rajini Vaidyanathan
BBC News

Michelle Obama welcomes children of White House employees on 23 April
Michelle Obama knows the media and public interest in her is huge

"I have the best job being first lady. I think I have the best job in the White House because... I don't have to deal with the hard problems everyday."

That was how Michelle Obama responded to questions from the children of White House employees on what it is like to be the First Lady.

There were problems, she said, "but I get to do the fun stuff. And there's so much fun to be had with service."

Michelle Obama's first 100 days certainly seem to have been fun, be it spent opening the White House Easter egg hunt, or walking Bo the dog.

Mrs Obama has played the role of the President's wife in a traditional manner, accompanying him at state functions and, like many First Wives before, she has spoken out on issues she feels passionately about.

But she has put her own twist on some of those moments; placing her arm affectionately around the Queen at a Buckingham Palace reception, and getting on her hands and knees to show her support for organic foods in a practical way, by planting vegetables in the White House garden.

Michelle Obama's media strategy since moving into the White House has been to embrace the huge interest in her and use it to her advantage to come across as the kind of First Lady you could be friends with.

Michelle Obama arrives at 10 Dowing Street for a reception, 1 April 2009
I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life... who taught me about quiet strength and dignity
Michelle Obama

In the days after the inauguration it was virtually impossible to enter a newsagents in America without seeing Mrs Obama's face on the front of a magazine.

"People feel like they know Michelle Obama, she's accessible, she's become like the first lady next door," says Nia Malika-Henderson, a White House reporter for Politico magazine.

"She's had a strategic publicity plan… She's brought herself into people's homes and grocery stores."

A big part of introducing Michelle Obama to the American public, and the rest of the world, has been to remind people of where she came from.

During her much-publicised trip to London at the start of April, Mrs Obama visited a girls school in North London to talk to pupils.

"There is nothing in my story that would land me here," she told them.

"I wasn't raised with wealth or resources or any social standing to speak of. I was raised on the South Side of Chicago - that's the real part of Chicago. And I was the product of a working-class community."

"I am an example of what's possible when girls from the very beginning of their lives are loved and nurtured by the people around them.

"I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life: grandmothers, teachers, aunts, cousins, neighbours, who taught me about quiet strength and dignity."

Michelle's mother, Marian Robinson, has moved into the White House, the first "in-law in chief" to make the famous residence a home. Michelle Obama has also often spoken of the importance of maintaining a work-life balance as First Lady and "mom-in-chief".

As one of most photographed women in the world, early comparisons were drawn between her and President John F Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, for their similar sense of style, and fashion icon status.

The Queen and Michelle Obama
The Queen reportedly asked to stay in touch with Mrs Obama

Much has been written about Michelle Obama's choice of outfits, in particular her penchant for wearing sleeveless dresses, which show off her toned arms.

The lack of sleeves in her official White House portrait generated many column inches with discussions centring on whether Mrs Obama had the "right to bare arms".

While regularly seen in designer clothes, Mrs Obama also wears high street labels. Dee Dee Myers, who was press secretary under President Clinton, says these choices all contribute to an image that Mrs Obama is a First Lady ordinary Americans can relate to.

"That first impression is often a visual one, how does she look, and I think Michelle Obama has passed that test on a lot of levels," says Ms Myers.

"She's both comfortable in her own skin, she is chic but in a very accessible way, it's not Couture it's J-Crew. And I think that's been tremendously popular here particularly at a time when the economy is suffering and people are making cutbacks and sacrifices in their own life."

A recent Gallup poll backs this theory up. It suggested Mrs Obama has a higher approval rating than her husband, at 72% compared to the president's 69%.

Among the people Mrs Obama appears to have won over is the Queen. Many said that Michelle Obama broke protocol when she put her arm round the Queen during a Buckingham Palace reception.

The Palace issued a statement to the contrary, saying: "It was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection."

Showing a more personal side rather than a political one is perhaps a strategy which has developed after Mrs Obama was criticised during the campaign for comments she made while out on the stump for her husband.

Her comment at a rally - "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country" - prompted accusations that she was bitter and unpatriotic.

More recently she was criticised by a US farming group for her decision to grow organic vegetables.

The Mid-America CropLife Association (MACA) wrote to the First Lady to encourage her to support their technological methods of farming.

"If Americans were still required to farm to support their family's basic food and fibre needs, would the US have been leaders in the advancement of science, communication, education, medicine, transportation and the arts?" the group said.

But overall compliments have outweighed criticism.

Dee Dee Myers says it has been a turnaround in some senses.

"Six months ago there was a conversation in this city, Washington DC about Michelle Obama, asset or liability and now that question has been answered with a resounding asset... she's a tremendous asset."




Prime Minister of Japan Taro Aso, fourth from right, arrives in Beijing
Mr Aso is on a two-day trip, focusing on the global economy

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso has arrived in Beijing for a visit expected to focus primarily on the economy.

Japan and China, the world's second and third-biggest economies respectively, are hoping to work together to combat the global downturn.

But the visit comes at a sensitive time for China-Japan relations.

Last week Mr Aso sent an offering to the controversial Yasukuni shrine, which Beijing sees as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

China said in a statement that it expressed "serious concern and dissatisfaction" for the shrine offering.

Mr Aso was due to meet with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on Wednesday, and President Hu Jintao on Thursday.

Economic ties are expected to dominate talks, along with efforts to develop joint energy reserves and combat an outbreak of swine flu.

North Korea may also be on the agenda. Japan is keen to enlist Chinese help in persuading Pyongyang to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear programme.

North Korea walked away from the negotiating table in the wake of UN criticism over its rocket launch earlier this month.

Mr Aso's visit comes just a week after he upset China by a making an offering to Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni war shrine.

He did not actually visit the shrine, but sent a plant which he said expressed his "appreciation and respect as a Japanese national to the people who sacrificed their precious lives for the country".

Previous prime ministers have stirred regional tensions by visiting Yasukuni - which honours Japan's war dead, including 14 people convicted as Class A war criminals after World War II.

Repeated visits by Junichiro Koizumi caused anger in South Korea and China, where there remains a widely-held conviction that Japan has not atoned properly for its war-time crimes.




By Rayhan Demetrie
BBC News, Dushanbe

train arriving in Dushanbe station
The train from Moscow is full of returning migrants

As the Moscow train approaches the platform at Dushanbe station, it's the end of a three-day journey for hundreds of migrant workers.

The atmosphere is slightly chaotic, as people run after the carriages trying to locate their loved ones.

Looking out of the train are the smiling faces of those who have not seen their relatives for a long time.

Usually at this time of the year, thousands of migrants would be travelling abroad in search of seasonal work.

Last year over a million Tajiks found work abroad, mainly on construction sites in Russia.

But the Russian building industry is at a standstill, and as a result Tajikistan is experiencing a phenomenon best described as reverse migration.

In Chiptura village, 30km (20 miles) south of Dushanbe, Nosir Djalilov has recently returned from Russia.


He has done well from the money he has earned abroad, and his new house is currently under construction.

"This is my first visit back home in nine months," says Nosir, sitting outside in the warm spring sunshine with his five young children.

He intends to go back to Russia, crisis or no crisis.

"This way I can earn enough to provide for my family. I need to go again to give my children a better life, so that they can get an education. This is what life is about," he says.

A short walk in the village reveals the extent to which households in Tajikistan are dependant on remittances which migrants send home.

Almost every man we meet has worked or is still working in Russia.

In a nearby house, guests are gathering for a farewell party.

Toimurod has been working in Russia for the past 10 years. He came home in February, and is now going back to try his luck again.

What am I supposed to do? Go and steal? Well, I might well do if my children want to eat and there is no money
Mahmat Sharipov

"Last time I was in Russia there was still work, but I am not sure whether there is any work left," he acknowledges.

In a kitchen with concrete walls and a little gas stove, Toimurod's wife Chinnigul is cooking plov, a traditional rice and lamb dish for her guests.

"I am used to seeing him leave," says Chinnigul as she stirs the pot.

"He has been away for many years. A Tajik woman is used to this. Who would not want her husband to be nearby? But there is no work here and we are dependent on the money he sends us."

Remittances earned by Toimurod provide the only household income. There are many thousands of families across Tajikistan like his.

Nosir and family
Nosir is planning to go back to Russia despite the problems

According to the International Monetary Fund, migrants earned almost half of Tajikistan's GDP last year.

But there will be a decline of about 30% in remittances this year, says Asia Development Bank country director Makoto Ojiro.

That means lots of migrant workers are returning from Russia and Kazakhstan - and as a result the number of unemployed people in Tajikistan will rise.

The Tajik government says it will provide employment opportunities for returning workers, and international aid programmes are also providing funds for infrastructure projects to create more jobs.

But the problem remains acute.

On some street corners in Dushanbe, unofficial labour exchanges have sprung up for unskilled labour.

At one such labour market, up to 100 men sit and wait for a contractor to hire them for the day.

They are ready to do any work, and wages are typically between $2 and $10 a day.

Mahmat Sharipov is one such worker, who returned from Russia after work dried up.

"I spent 18 years there. Because of the crisis I had to return to Tajikistan, but it is the same situation here - crisis, and no work," he says.

"What am I supposed to do? Go and steal? Well, I might well do if my children want to eat and there is no money."