Monday, August 31, 2009


Gaza's ruling Islamist movement Hamas has resisted suggestions that Palestinian children should be taught about the Holocaust in UN-run schools.
The head of its education committee in Gaza, Abdul Rahman el-Jamal, told the BBC that the Holocaust was a "big lie".
He said that to teach it would be to "grant a big favour" to Israel, which has been fighting Hamas for years.
The UN, which runs most Gazan schools, recently asked local groups whether the Holocaust should be taught.
It uses local textbooks and, in Gaza, that means using material from neighbouring Egypt, the BBC's Tim Franks reports.
But over the past seven years the UN has added its own coursework about human rights.
Mr Jamal told the BBC that the UN should, instead, teach about the Naqba, the term Palestinians use to describe the establishment of the state of Israel and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.
A spokesman for the UN said that no final decision on this year's curriculum had yet been made. Some 200,000 children are taught in schools run through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
During the Holocaust, Nazi Germany murdered some six million Jews.
However, the event's significance is often disputed in parts of the Middle East where Israel is seen as the enemy and the Holocaust is seen as a tool used by Israel to justify its actions.




Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi intends to renovate her house to stop intruders, after a US man's visit led to her house arrest being extended.
A spokesman for her party said Ms Suu Kyi worried about security and wanted to prevent a repeat of the incident.
US well-wisher John Yettaw swam uninvited to her lakeside home in May.
He was convicted and then released, but Ms Suu Kyi's house arrest was extended by 18 months, ensuring that she cannot take part in elections next year.
Her trial brought international condemnation. She continues to deny the charge of violating security laws and her lawyers are drafting an appeal.
Nyan Win, her lawyer and spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD), said Ms Suu Kyi had been in contact with architects about the renovations.
"She worries for the security of her house and that's why she wants to repair it," he said, quoted by AFP news agency. "It is to prevent another trespassing."
She would pay for the renovations herself, he added.

Ms Suu Kyi, 64, a Nobel Peace laureate, has spent nearly 14 of the past 20 years in detention.
Her previous period of house arrest expired on 27 May, and this new term will mean she is still in detention during the polls, which are expected to happen in about May 2010.
The NLD won the last elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power.
Mr Yettaw, 54, swam to Ms Suu Kyi's lakeside house in Rangoon uninvited and stayed there for two nights.
As a result, Ms Suu Kyi was accused of breaching the terms of her house arrest.
Her intruder was also convicted, but was released during the visit of US Senator Jim Webb. He left Burma with the senator and returned to the US.




By Will Ross BBC News, Nairobi

Ask most students what they would like to do during the school holidays and it is highly likely that the response "More school, please" would be at the bottom of the list.
Not in Kenya, however. The country is in the middle of a drought and there are food shortages, so the offer of a free school meal is, for some, too good to pass up.
"Nowadays there is no rain and that is causing us a lot of problems," says 15-year-old Hanan Sirat.
"There is no pasture for the animals and people are not getting enough food at home."
She is one of about 200 pupils attending lessons during the August break at St Kizito Primary School, in the hot and dusty town of Isiolo, about 300km (186 miles) north-east of Nairobi.
"Here there are so many poor families and so people enjoy coming to school and receiving food," adds Hanan, who, like many of the students, is from a family of pastoralist farmers in this Muslim-dominated part of the country.
"Some do not come - maybe because they are from rich families."
A social studies lesson was interrupted at noon when a young boy walked over to a spot under a tree, picked up a metal pole and banged the living daylights out of the rim of an old car wheel.

Some children save the food they get at school to take home to their families.
St Kizito's improvised school bell might well have been heard in all the other schools across the district.
It signalled time for the all-important lunch. The students grabbed their plates and headed to a shed behind the classrooms, where the food was being prepared over firewood in two of the largest cooking pots I've ever seen.
Using an enormous wooden spoon, the school cook mixed up wheat and split peas - provided by the United Nations World Food Programme, the WFP.
The result was a stodgy concoction which was served up to the students amid pleas of: "More, more."
The UN is currently feeding more than one million Kenyan school children.
"For some of them this is the only meal they will get all day," said Rose Ogola, of the WFP.
"In fact, you find in some places the children do not eat all the food. They hide some of it away and take it home to share with their families."
The drought and subsequent lack of pasture is estimated to have killed more than 100,000 cattle across Kenya. And, as herds become emaciated, it is getting harder for people to sell them.

Thousands of cattle have died and the remaining stock fetches little at market.
In July, Maasai herdsman Lesakut Perewan left his home in Dol Dol with 120 head of cattle and, in a desperate search for pasture, scoured the slopes of Mount Kenya.
Only 56 cattle remain, as the others in the herd succumbed to cold-related diseases. Carcasses litter the pine forests and newborn calves stagger around bewildered, as their weak mothers die.
"I will continue to try to take care of them and when they all die I will return home to my six camels," the herdsman said, adding that although he did not know his own age, others had told him he was born in 1952.
In Kenya's markets food prices have increased, as the poor harvests have led to a shortage of staple foods like white maize.
And due to the shortage in the region, prices are likely to climb higher, despite the fact that on the world market prices are much lower than last year.
In some of the markets across Kenya the maize price has doubled over the past year.

Audio slideshow: Kenya's drought

There are parts of the country which are arid and prone to regular droughts; however, this year some of the more fertile areas have also suffered.
In the village of Nyariginu, near Mount Kenya, the maize should be head high at this time of year. Instead it is only knee high, frazzled by the sun.
I found Halima Kinyua harvesting her crop just to keep the family's only cow alive.
"We listen to the radio and we are told that maybe there will be rain but we don't know whether to believe them," she told me, after bending to cut the maize stalks with a machete.
"It is all up to God. We need water."
As if to rub salt into the farmers' wounds, these barren fields are adjacent to commercial farms, where vegetables for export flourish behind a barbed wire fence, thanks to extensive irrigation systems.
With many Kenyans spending more than half their income on food, the price increases are hitting people hard. The number in need of food aid has shot up from 2.5 to 3.8 million.
The national grain reserves currently hold enough food for less than two months. This comes after the Kenyan government was accused of involvement in a maize scandal in which grain was being sold to Sudan.
The WFP has just appealed for $230m (£141m) to provide emergency food assistance over the next six months.

Back at St Kizito Primary in Isiolo, the vast lunch pot was being scraped clean as children sat around in the shade with their rapidly shrinking mounds of food.
I asked teacher Bogori Solomon if he minded coming to school during the holidays.
"It is not a punishment," he replied, rather defensively. "We always come and help the exam candidates revise, so it is normal," he added.
Going to school during the holidays may sound like a guaranteed turn-off for many children but for these students the chance of a free meal is a potential life saver.
For young Hanan Sirat, school during the holidays is no problem, as it provides an opportunity to pursue a dream.
"No, it is not strange to come here," she said. "We form reading groups and get ready for November's exams.
"When I finish school I want to be a surgeon. I will come to our district to help the poor families when I grow up," she added, with a proud smile.




Firefighters tackling an intense wildfire north of Los Angeles say the blaze remains "very dangerous".
Fuelled by hot weather and dense, dry brush, the blaze is threatening 12,000 buildings and key communications masts.
Two firefighters were killed on Sunday after their vehicle was overrun by flames and rolled down a mountainside.
Mike Dietrich, of LA County Fire Dept, said: "We are making progress. But it is... slow and very dangerous. We have to wait for the fire to come to us."
The fire has been growing steadily, doubling in size on Sunday. Mr Dietrich said it was possible it would double in size yet again over the next few days.

See map of California wildfires

Some 6,600 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders. State Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger described the blazes as "still totally out of control".
The fires also threaten communication towers housing transmitters for all Los Angeles' major TV stations.
Mount Wilson, where the towers are located - near the city of Pasadena - is also home to a historic solar observatory.

In pictures: California's wildfires

Firefighters are on the mountain clearing brush and spraying fire retardant in preparation for the fires, which are approaching the transmitters.
About 2,500 firefighters are trying to contain the fires, which have burnt over 66 sq miles (170 sq km) of forest.
Fire department officials say the area's steep, rugged hills are making efforts to fight the fire more difficult.
With forecasts of continuing hot weather, there has been speculation that it could take firefighters a week to bring the blaze under control, says the BBC's David Willis in Los Angeles.
Wildfires are a feature of the Californian summer, but it is unusual for them to break out so close to major population centres.
A number of other fires are also burning in southern and central California.
A new fire in Placer County, north-east of the state capital, Sacramento, has destroyed 60 structures, many of them homes in the town of Auburn.




10 things we didn't know last week !

Friday, 28 August 2009

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

1. iPhones are not yet sold in China.
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2. Margaret Thatcher suffered one parliamentary defeat as prime minister - on Sunday trading laws.
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3. English holidaymakers drink an average of eight alcoholic drinks a day.
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4. The UK population grew more in 2008 than at any time since 1962.
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5. And Germany's population is shrinking.
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6. West Ham's stadium is really called the Boleyn Ground, not Upton Park.
More details (Guardian)

7. The smell of cut grass makes people happy.
More details (Telegraph)

8. A pint glass lasts an average of only three months.
More details (Times)

9. An Englishman sailed to the "New World" only two years after the first European is thought to have landed in Newfoundland.
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10. Men in China cannot marry until aged 22.
More details (Times)


Sunday, August 30, 2009


28th August 2009.

Dear Friends,

The BBC World Service last night showed an interview with Moeletsi Mbeki, the brother of the former president of South Africa, and an independent-minded man who has shown in his speeches and writings that he is not bound by rigid partisan political thinking. He was asked in the interview whether he thought anything would come out of President Zuma's visit to Zimbabwe. In sharp contrast to the naive optimism being expressed by some commentators inside Zimbabwe, Moeletsi Mbeki replied, with reasoned argument, that he thought very little would come out of Zuma's visit to resolve the stalemate in the Zimbabwean political situation. As evidence of this he cited Zuma's own political credentials. As a Liberation fighter, as was Mugabe, Zuma has not demonstrated that he differs in any way from the 'Liberationist' stance taken by SADC and the AU , both of which organizations have failed to raise their voices to condemn Zimbabwe's blatantly rigged elections and human rights abuses. As Mbeki pointed out, South African observers were there in Zimbabwe and saw for themselves the rigging and intimidation but still declared the elections 'free and fair'. In addition, the ANC itself has also not spoken out clearly to condemn the continuing violations of the GPA by Zanu PF. In effect, Mbeki argued that President Zuma's visit to Zimbabwe was unlikely to bring about any real change in Robert Mugabe's behaviour. Like his predecessor, Zuma is bound by the 'Old Boy' network that continues to protect Africa's dictators. Only two African leaders, Moeletsi Mbeki pointed out, have actively condemned Mugabe's blatant rigging of elections. Mbeki might also have pointed out that Zuma has only a short period left before he hands over the Chair of SADC to Angola, another ally of Robert Mugabe.

It was interesting in the light of Meoletsi Mbeki's comments to read what President Zuma said at the banquet held for him by President Mugabe at State House last night. Zuma spoke of 'positive developments' foretelling 'good things' for Zimbabwe, a suitably vague comment which could be taken to mean just what his listeners wanted to hear! "We are all encouraged" Zuma went on, "by how the three parties put their differences aside in the service of the country…The remaining issues are not insurmountable and can be overcome." Perhaps it was too much to expect that Zuma would spell out the specifics at such a 'ceremonial' occasion but the fact that he had already had a private meeting with Robert Mugabe before the banquet rather suggests that Mugabe still has the dominant voice.

As for 'putting their differences aside' as President Zuma put it, we had two different speakers from the Zanu PF side this week who both articulated the real state of affairs, six months after the GPA was signed. Patrick Chinamasa the Zanu PF Minister of Justice who had earlier led the walkout of Zanu PF ministers at the retreat held for members of the Unity government said prior to Zuma's visit, "Our position is very clear. We hope our principal, President Robert Mugabe tells President Zuma that the outstanding issues are sanctions and external interference." Chinamasa went on to dismiss the issues of the Governorship of the Reserve Bank and the office of Attorney General saying, " they are nowhere in the GPA… There is continued interference in our private affairs."

It was Didymus Mutasa, the one remaining old war-horse and close ally of Robert Mugabe, speaking to Zanu PF parliamentarians the day before President Zuma arrived in the country, who spelt out in no uncertain terms the 'hardliners'stance. Mutasa's words hardly suggest that differences have been set aside 'for the good of the country'. "Cde Mugabe is the head of government," he said, "He is the one who chairs our cabinet. He is the one who tells us all, including the Prime Minister, what should be done." With breath-taking disregard for accuracy, Mutasa went on to claim that "the MDC was responsible for the poverty and starvation currently taking place in Zimbabwe" all of this he alleged was a result of sanctions which the MDC has invited. He reminded the Zanu PF parliamentarians that they should never forget that "the MDC want nothing less than regime change." That last statement is perhaps the most accurate in Didymus Mutasa's wild ramblings. To get rid of Mugabe was after all why the people voted for the MDC in the last election and why they are increasingly disillusioned with this Government of National Unity's failure on so many fronts: to restore the rule of law, to take forward the constitutional process and to bring about media reform. One report in the Zimbabwe Independent concerning this last point clearly shows how fed up ordinary people are with the continued use by Zanu PF of the media to further their own propaganda and continue the deification of Robert Mugabe. Some 200 ordinary citizens attended a Public Meeting called by the Media Committee of parliament to sound out public opinion on the conduct of the state-controlled media in Zimbabwe. It was a school girl in a bright red jersey who had the crowd on their feet, applauding and cheering when she said, "If I go to America to study medicine I will never come back. The media made me hate my country." That young school girl spoke for so many of us inside the country and outside in the diaspora. Is it likely that President Zuma and other African leaders will read her words and think again about their support for the 'Liberation Hero' who has led his country to the brink of annihilation?

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009


Comedian Dan Antopolski has won a prize for the funniest joke of this year's Edinburgh Fringe.
The funnyman, who has previously been nominated for the Perrier award, picked up the trophy from TV channel Dave.
Nine comedy critics sat through thousands of jokes before choosing 27 for viewers to vote on.
The winning joke was a one-liner from 36-year-old Antopolski's show Silent But Deadly - "Hedgehogs. Why can't they just share the hedge?"
The Londoner proved popular with critics and viewers and another of his jokes made the top 10 list.

The Top 10 jokes were judged to be:

• 1) Dan Antopolski - "Hedgehogs - why can't they just share the hedge?"
• 2) Paddy Lennox - "I was watching the London Marathon and saw one runner dressed as a chicken and another runner dressed as an egg. I thought: 'This could be interesting'."
• 3) Sarah Millican - "I had my boobs measured and bought a new bra. Now I call them Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes because they're up where they belong."
• 4) Zoe Lyons - "I went on a girls' night out recently. The invitation said 'dress to kill'. I went as Rose West."
• 5) Jack Whitehall - "I'm sure wherever my dad is; he's looking down on us. He's not dead, just very condescending."
• 6) Adam Hills - "Going to Starbucks for coffee is like going to prison for sex. You know you're going to get it, but it's going to be rough."
• 7) Marcus Brigstocke - "To the people who've got iPhones: you just bought one, you didn't invent it!"
• 8) Rhod Gilbert - "A spa hotel? It's like a normal hotel, only in reception there's a picture of a pebble."
• 9) Dan Antopolski - "I've been reading the news about there being a civil war in Madagascar. Well, I've seen it six times and there isn't."
• 10) Simon Brodkin (as Lee Nelson) - "I started so many fights at my school - I had that attention-deficit disorder. So I didn't finish a lot of them."

The judges sat through an average of 60 comedy performances each before creating a shortlist of 27 jokes.
More than 3,000 comedy fans voted, with almost 18% choosing Antopolski's one-liner.
Antopolski said: "I'm delighted to get the prize. Although I have won things before at the Fringe, this definitely means the most to me and that it should unite my loves of hedgehogs, comedy and Dave makes this prize very special."

The judges also listed some of the worst jokes at this year's Fringe.

• Carey Marx - "I'm not doing any Michael Jackson jokes, because they always involve puns about his songs. And that's bad."
• Frank Woodley - "I phoned the swine flu hotline and all I got was crackling."
• Alex Maple - "Michael Jackson only invented the moonwalk so he could sneak up on children."
• Phil Nichol - "She's got a face like a rare Chinese vase - minging."
• Alistair McGowan - "I've just split up from my girlfriend, which is a shame, because it was a long-standing arrangement. Perhaps if we'd sat down a bit more..."



Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cathy Buckle's Letter from Zimbabwe !

20th August.2009.
Dear Family and Friends,
Swine Flu has officially arrived in Zimbabwe. A ZBC TV news bulletinthis week reported that there were a number of confirmed cases ofswine flu in Mutare. The report said that people should not panic because hospitals were prepared, staff had been trained and information would soon be disseminated to private practitioners. Special attention is apparently going to be given to critical areas like the country's border posts.
This latter cannot come soon enough and I am sure that every poor soul who has had to endure the horrors of Beitbridge border post will agree with me. In the last few days I have met two Zimbabweans who have been through the Beitbridge border post this month. They say it is hell, a nightmare, a national disgrace, a shame on our country, a deep embarrassment to Zimbabwe. And this is being polite!
When you arrive at Beitbridge from South Africa you are overwhelmed by touts. Aggressive young men in their twenties who swarm around you and solicit bribes in order for you to proceed through the formalities. The touts control the speed and progress of everything: the queues, the forms, the stamps and signatures, the customs inspections and the final scrap of paper, the gate pass, that allows you get through the boom and into Zimbabwe. Both of the travellers I spoke to said they simply found it impossible to proceed without giving in to the demands for bribes. Every time they got near the counters in the border post the touts and their customers would push in ahead of them with great piles of papers and none of the officials on duty were interested in intervening, not immigration, security,customs or tax collectors. Touts appeared to be making an average of 500 Rand, or 50 US dollars per customer - half the month's pay of a trained teacher in Zimbabwe.
The toilets at the border are apparently a swamp, there is no toilet paper, no towels and no way at all to keep yourself clean. Everyone waits till they are through the border and then pull up on the roadside and relieve themselves in the bush. If we are to believe ZBC, it is into this madness of Beitbridge border post that there is going to be swine flu detection and control. Pardon the pun, but pigs might fly!
Zimbabwe's unity government has been in place for six months but it is still the thieves, con-men, blackmailers and bullies that are manning the entry points into our country. Until they are gone and until Zimbabwe can clean up the shop window to the country we haven't got a hope of controlling swine flu, of tempting tourists into the country or of getting any of the overflow of visitors from the 2010World Cup football games in South Africa. Its about time that some of our senior leaders went incognito to Zimbabwe's borders and saw the thieves and bullies holding tourists, visitors and returning residents to ransom.

Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy


Saturday, August 22, 2009


21st August 2009

Dear Friends,

To the surprise of many Africa watchers, Frederick Chiluba, the former President of Zambia was found 'Not Guilty' by a Zambian court this week on a charge of embezzling public funds. He was the first African leader to be prosecuted in his own country. Earlier in his six-year long battle to clear his name, Chiluba had lost a civil case in a London court which had clearly revealed some very shady arms deals involving millions of dollars. The trial in Zambia was a criminal trial and had he been found guilty Chiluba could have been sent to gaol. That did not happen but it was surely not for lack of evidence. The offices for Zambia's Anti-Corruption Taskforce are now home to Chiluba's collection of 100 pairs of hand-made shoes, monogrammed shirts, tailor-made suits with matching silk ties and handkerchiefs, all stored in metal trunks. The UK's Independent run a piece by Ian Birrell titled 'Big men, bankers and the stench of corruption' which gave some fascinating insights into Chiluba's lifestyle. While the vast majority of the Zambian population was living on less than a dollar a day, and Chiluba himself was earning £52.000 a year as President, he would think nothing of jetting off to Switzerland and spending as much as £300.000 in his favourite clothes store.

Unlike much of the British coverage of Africa and its dictators however, Birrell's purpose was not to show that Africa is by nature corrupt and unable to govern itself. Rather, Birrell's intention was to show that African corruption cannot succeed without the direct connivance of western companies and banks. Birrell claims that African dictators and despots would not be able to make away with their ill-gotten gains were it not for the greed of foreign banks and governments which cheerfully accept vast sums of money from African leaders, no questions asked. As examples of this, Birrell gives several cases where foreign banks and governments have failed to co-operate when attempts are made to refund monies after the dictators have fallen from power. It was the British government who hindered the return of Abacha's looted wealth in Nigeria. The Swiss went even further and refused to return the money despite a Court ruling that the money should be repatriated. Kenya too has suffered from Britain's reluctance to return stolen funds. In short, Birrell maintains that Africa's looted millions reveal the hypocrisy of the west which preaches the doctrine of fighting poverty in Africa while at the same time positively assisting Africa's Big Men to salt away their ill-gotten gains in foreign banks. Bankers lawyers and accountants in Europ and America are effectively living off immoral earnings, Birrell claims.
Of course, Birrell's otherwise excellent piece makes no mention of Zimbabwe which has become almost a non-country in discussions about Africa. It is as if Zimbabwe has somehow ceased to exist as an African entity. Even the Kenyan Nobel prize winner Wangari Mathaai, whose book The Challenge for Africa I have just read, makes almost no mention of Zimbabwe preferring to concentrate instead on the evils of colonialism and the terrible legacy it has left behind. Robert Mugabe's claim that Britain is intent on re-colonising Zimbabwe has no basis in reality as he should know if he understood the myriad problems facing the UK government. What Mugabe and his cronies want is for sanctions to be lifted so that they can access their funds stashed away in foreign banks. So while NGO's spend millions fighting hunger and disease in Africa as a whole and Zimbabwe in particular, foreign banks are making huge profits at the African people's expense.

The sanctions imposed against Zimbabwe are directed at specific individuals in Zanu PF. They were not instigated at the behest of the MDC and for Mugabe to claim as he does, that it is the responsibility of the MDC in terms of the GPA to have sanctions lifted is nothing less than political chicanery. For once the MDC, too often seen as doing little more than placating Mugabe's inflated ego, hit right back with Nelson Chamisa saying at last weekend's rally in Mutare, "Sanctions are a matter between Zanu PF and those who imposed them. Zanu PF should be grateful that they are in power despite the fact that they were rejected by the people in March last year." Zimbabwe needs more hard-hitting speeches like Chamisa's. It is one thing to join Zanu PF in a so-called Unity Government but the MDC and all its officials should be speaking with one voice in reminding Mugabe and the former ruling party that they are not there through the democratic choice of the people and that it is Zanu PF's misgovernance and downright corruption, not sanctions, that has brought the country to its knees. In a significant comment by an unnamed Zanu PF official this week we get a strong clue to the real electoral intentions of Mugabe and his cronies "I wish we could continue for the next ten years with this inclusive government" he said, "to get the country out of the mess it is in." Ten more years of incompetence and corruption, ten more years for the Zanu PF fat cats and others who have joined the gravy train to salt away their illegal diamonds and assorted plunder gained from shady deals; it does not bear thinking of!

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.


Suspected hijackers flown in military plane

By Alan Quartly
Editor, BBC Moscow bureau

Against the early morning Atlantic sun, a bus pulls up on the tarmac at the airport of Cape Verde.

A group of weather-beaten, unshaven men are led in handcuffs through a line of camouflaged soldiers up the rear ramp of a large transport plane.

It is the beginning of a long and arduous journey for the eight alleged hijackers of the freighter Arctic Sea.

Russian state television showed this scene on its main evening news on Thursday evening in a report that looked like a scene from an action film.

The report gave us a closer glimpse of the men who had allegedly been in command of the ship that had been missing for nearly a month.

But, if anything, what we saw and heard only added to the mystery.

With characteristic toughness, the Russian military made the alleged hijackers lie face down on the floor of the plane - apparently for the entirety of the journey to Russia.

They were bare-chested and their hands were cuffed behind their backs. Some of them lay with their heads just millimetres from the boots of their colleagues.

As ever, Russian television did not shy away from asking questions of people accused of crimes, but not yet convicted.

The report showed one alleged hijacker, apparently called Andrei Lunev, answering questions.

A Russian military official escorts one of the eight suspected hijackers at the Cape Verde island of Sal, 19 August 2009
The suspects were detained by Russian officials off Africa's coast

"You called yourselves ecologists, which organisation do you belong to?" he was asked.

"I don't know, some kind of private firm," replied a strained-looking Mr Lunev.

"We wanted to save ourselves from the storm, so we went on board [the Arctic Sea] on the night of 25 July. When we got away from the storm, the captain wouldn't give us any petrol."

The cameraman zoomed in on the colourful tattoos emblazoned on the backs of some of the men.

The implication for Russians is that these men are professional criminals - it is traditional for criminals in Russia to adorn their bodies with complex tattoos.

So we saw intricate pictures of skulls and a lion's head.

Mr Lunev denied that the group had any weapons. Russia's defence ministry says the group threw their weapons overboard when the vessel was finally located and halted by the Russian warship Ladny on 17 August.

The Arctic Sea, file image
The ship is reportedly heading for the Russian port of Novorossisk

Moscow also says the hijackers demanded a ransom, threatening to blow the ship up if it was not paid.

Russian newspapers have sought to verify this. Kommersant quoted Vladimir Dushin, vice-president of Renaissance Insurance, as saying the company was phoned by an English-speaking caller on 3 August, who demanded $1.5m (£910,000) or the crew of the Arctic Sea would be shot and the ship sunk.

All we know for sure is that once the Ilyushin transport plane landed at the Chakalovsky military airfield near Moscow on Thursday morning, the alleged hijackers were frog-marched off to waiting buses and delivered to the Lefortovo prison in the east of the Russian capital.

Various countries are now involved in indentifying the band of eight. Russia's official investigation department says its officials will be cooperating with other states.

Estonian police have apparently said the majority of the group are known to them as criminals, although there are questions about the exact citizenship of the men.

As for the 15 Russian crew members of the cargo ship, most of them too have found themselves spending the night in the same prison as the ship's alleged assailants.

Officials insist the men will be released once they have been questioned fully.

However, representatives of the families of the crew have complained about being kept in the dark.

"We don't understand the curtain of secrecy that's not allowing us or the relatives to find out what's happening with the sailors and how they are feeling," Alexander Krasnoshtan, a sailors' union representative, told the official Russian news agency Interfax.

He went on to say that, according to "rumours", the men had been interrogated at a location belonging to the FSB (Russia's internal security service) until 0100.

"Apparently one of them is suspected of links to the pirates who seized them," he said.

Authorities will not confirm that. The ship itself - according to President Dmitry Medvedev's spokeswoman - will now head for the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, with its captain and three crew members still on board. The ship is actually registered in Malta.

Some analysts and journalists continue to speculate about the nature of the Arctic Sea's cargo, suggesting - without as yet presenting any evidence - that it was carrying more than its stated batch of timber destined for Algeria.

But the reality is that, at this stage, nobody knows.


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1485: Richard III is killed at the Battle of Bosworth and Henry VII becomes the first king of the Tudor dynasty.







10 things we didn't know last week

10_bottles.jpgSnippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. PowerPoint was originally called Presentation.
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2. The average length of a PowerPoint presentation is 250 mins.
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3. Emoticons in the East are the right way up (^_^).
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4. The British Board of Film Classification has denied only three titles seeking an 18 rating during the last four years.
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5. Surnames can have question marks.
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6. You can write using squid ink.
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7. Cricketer Andrew Flintoff played chess for Lancashire as a schoolboy.
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8. The number of people reporting UFO sightings leapt up in the year when Independence Day was released in the UK.
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9. London Ashford Airport and London Southend Airport are not officially recognised as London airports.
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10. Four people died after being stung by a wasp, bee or hornet, in England and Wales in 2007.
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Child on stairs (file image)
The law was seen as a step in lowering NZ's high child abuse rates

New Zealanders have voted by a wide margin in favour of allowing parents to smack their children, two years after a law banned discipline by force.

The legislation was brought in two years ago to try to lower the country's high rate of child abuse.

The referendum asked: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

The referendum is non-binding, and Prime Minister John Key has said he will not change the existing law.

Based on preliminary results, 54% of the voting population took part in the referendum, with nearly 90% responding No, the election commission said.

The United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef, said in 2003 that New Zealand had the third-worst rate of child abuse and neglect of the OECD group of countries.

The vote was held following a campaign by opponents of the 2007 legislation, which removed a provision allowing parents "reasonable force" to discipline their children.

The legal change was to stop people using "parental discipline" as a defence against assault changes but allowed police wide latitude to not prosecute cases seen as trivial.

Opponents of the law said it would result in good parents being prosecuted.

Austria, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Latvia, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Referendum campaigner Larry Baldock said he was ecstatic at the vote's result and hoped it would send a strong message to the prime minister that the current law was not working.

"There are an incredible number of people all over the country tonight who will be feeling really great about what they helped bring about with their vote."

Many critics of the referendum, including the prime minister, said the question was loaded and ambiguous.

Mr Key, who did not cast a vote, said he would put some proposals on the issue to his cabinet on Monday.

"I think they will give New Zealand parents added comfort that the law is working," he said.

The issue has provoked heated debate in the country, but the postal vote - at a cost of $6.1m (£3.7m) - is considered by many to have been a waste of time and money.

New Zealand is one of six countries to have banned corporal punishment of children in 2007.

The first country to take the step was Sweden in 1979, followed by Finland in 1983 and Norway in 1987.



Friday, August 21, 2009


by Genevieve Hassan
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

X Factor
Thousands of people turned up to auditions all over the country

It's 0630 and I'm standing outside London's O2 Arena with a big crowd of people. No, I'm not queuing up to get concert tickets - I'm lining up to audition for the X Factor.

I'd received an audition letter, which sternly informed me that anyone who arrived after 0900 would not be seen, so I thought getting there bright and early would see me done by 1300 at the latest.

How wrong was I? A theme park-style snaking queue had already formed and I was seemingly at the back of it.

Alexandra Burke

But everyone kept shuffling forward in stops and starts, eager to get that little bit closer to the door, so while we were moving I took the opportunity to check out my competition.

There were all the usual suspects - the flamboyant cross-dresser; the two women in their wedding dresses; and the man with a plastic chicken on his head.

I befriended the girl standing next to me, 23-year-old Kenny from London, who had brought her husband along for support.

She had never auditioned before, but her husband had filled in the application form, so thought she'd have a go.

Cunningly (or so I thought) I had brought a portable chair and Harry Potter book with me to pass the time. It drew some curious looks at first - but I was vindicated two hours later, when people's feet began to ache and those looks of pity turned to envy.

Finally, 0900 came and a warm-up man came out to greet the excited crowd.

X Factor ticket
Everyone was handed a ticket as they entered the O2 Arena

We were told to shuffle forward again so that, instead of standing in the rather polite two-by-two line we had formed, we lost any semblance of personal space whatsoever.

The reason for this eventually became clear: we would be filmed by overhead cameras while we waved our hands, bounced up and down, screamed and raised our arms above our heads in a cross while shouting: "I have the X Factor!"

We did this for an hour until host Dermot O'Leary appeared and recorded some links to camera, followed by more cheering. This lasted another long, tiring 60 minutes and the gathered throng were now becoming bored and tetchy.

At 1100, we were finally allowed to enter the O2 Arena, but auditions were not to begin until everyone was seated. It sounded reasonable enough but, with 10,000 people to process, we weren't all in place until 1215. At which point Dermot filmed yet more links and the crowd were made to repeat everything that had just happened outside.

X Factor judges
The X Factor judges were not at the first round of auditions

Unbelievably, production staff went around handing out hand-made posters for people to hold up saying things like "I have the X Factor", "I love you Cheryl" and "Pick me Simon!". I had always thought they were lovingly made at home...

Once again we were made to stand up, sit down, scream, wave our hands and dance. When the auditionees began to revolt (there was audible moaning and complaining) a member of the production team took out a loud-hailer and told us off.

If we didn't want to participate "then you shouldn't be here". One guy was singled out and made an example of. He got up and left.

Nearly seven hours after I arrived, the auditions finally began in little makeshift booths in the middle of the arena floor.

No TV judges here - we were told we'd be singing to a member of the production team. If successful, we'd receive a golden ticket, allowing us to return and sing to a more senior production member.

If that went well, we'd get to sing for Simon and, presuming we made a big enough impression (good or bad) the footage might eventually end up on TV.

Having the auditions in the open meant that everyone could see - and hear - everyone else's performance.

There was a strange, hushed silence at first as people listened in, followed by gasps at certain show-stopping performances and cheers as people ran out waving their golden tickets.

The same songs could be heard over and over - And I'm Telling You from Dreamgirls, Bill Withers' Lean On Me and various Alicia Keys tunes.

X Factor audition number
I was auditionee number 156097

In the booth, someone sang a pretty off-key version of I Will Survive, yet unbelievably (or perhaps predictably) he was given a pass to the next round.

Undoubtedly he was entertaining and would make good TV, but I couldn't help thinking that, if the TV judges told him the truth, he would be mystified as to why he had been through so many gruelling rounds of auditions.

Finally, it was my turn. I was greeted by a girl who looked like she was in her mid-20s and after a few pleasantries (no chance to give my life story or find out why I wanted to win) I sang a verse and chorus of Sam Brown's 1989 hit Stop.

"Thank you, but I'm afraid this time it's a 'no,'" she said.

"Okay, can I ask why?" I replied.

"Sorry, we don't give feedback."

And that was it. After 11 hours' wait, it was all over in a minute.

I'm no Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, but I can hold a tune, so I thought I had a chance of passing the first round at least. I guess I should just be happy I wasn't bad enough to be humiliated on national TV…

As I was leaving the O2, Kenny caught up with me to find out how I got on.

She hadn't made it through either, but I was surprised when she told me: "Next year I'm coming back and I'm going to be better prepared."

Given the day I'd just had, I think I'll pass.




Graff Jewellers
Rings, bracelets, necklaces, watches and earrings were taken in the raid

Two men have been charged in connection with a £40m armed robbery at a central London jewellery store.

Craig Calderwood, 26, and Solomun Beyene, 24, are accused of "conspiring with others" to rob Graff jewellers in New Bond Street, Scotland Yard said.

Mr Calderwood, of no fixed abode, and Mr Beyene, of north London, have also been charged with a firearms offence in connection with the raid on 6 August.

The pair are due to appear before Wimbledon magistrates later.

Forty-three pieces, including rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings and watches, were stolen in what was the biggest ever jewellery raid in the UK.

Two shots were fired as the robbers made their escape.

Insurers put up a £1m reward in an effort to find those responsible.

A third man arrested in connection with the robbery remains in police custody.

Last week a 50-year-old man was arrested in Ilford, east London, by police investigating the raid. He was released on bail pending further inquiries.




Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol
Brown's The Lost Symbol is expected to break global sales records

He may have sold more than 80 million copies of The Da Vinci Code but Dan Brown's works are being offloaded to second-hand shops faster than anyone's.

Oxfam named him the "most donated" author at its chain of charity shops.

John Grisham, Ian Rankin, Danielle Steel and Helen Fielding were the other high-profile authors to achieve the dubious honour of making the top five.

But Brown can take comfort in knowing Oxfam's survey also revealed him to be its second most purchased author.

Brown is unlikely to lose any sleep over seeing his previous novels given away, with his next novel The Lost Symbol expected to break global sales records when it is released next month.

After The Da Vinci Code was released in 2003, it became a worldwide phenomenon. It sold 11.7 million copies in the UK and sparked huge interest in Brown's three previous novels.

1. Dan Brown
2. John Grisham
3. Ian Rankin
4. Danielle Steel
5. Helen Fielding
6. Stephen King
7. JK Rowling
8. Catherine Cookson
9. Patricia Cornwell
10. Mills & Boon

Their popularity also spawned two hit movies each starring Tom Hanks as central character, the symbologist Robert Langdon.

Topping the best-seller list at Oxfam's 700 branches was Rankin, known for his hugely popular Inspector Rebus series.

He said: "It's always good for an author to know that their books are popular. With Oxfam, it's also heartening to realise that each book donated and bought is helping such a worthwhile organisation."

Others on the best-seller list included Bernard Cornwell, Stephenie Meyer, Terry Pratchett, Khaled Hosseini and Margaret Attwood.

Oxfam says that its nationwide Bookfest celebrations last month led donations to the charity's shop network to rise by 40%.

Some donations have also proved particularly lucrative recently. A first edition of JRR Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings sold for £800, while a rare print of the sheet music to Don Giovanni raised £750.



Thursday, August 20, 2009


Michelle Obama
Media interest in Mrs Obama has been huge - helping her onto the list

US First Lady Michelle Obama is among the newcomers in a list of the world's most powerful women.

Mrs Obama made her debut at number 40 on the list for Forbes Magazine, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the top spot for the fourth time.

Only four UK women made the Top 100 - down from five last year. They were led by Anglo American chief executive Cynthia Carroll, in fourth place.

Forbes ranks its list using a mix of media "reach" and financial impact.

Other women from the UK on the list included Pearson boss Dame Marjorie Scardino (19) and the Queen (42).

Meanwhile Burberry chief executive Angela Ahrendts (70) made a return to the list after two years of absence.

"We look at hundreds of women who are at the top of their fields in business, politics, and non-profits, and set them against one another to see how they rank in terms of power," said Chana Schoenberger, co-editor of the list.

Angela Merkel
1. Angela Merkel (German Chancellor)
2. Sheila Bair (Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, US)
3. Indra Nooyi(PepsiCo, US)
4. Cynthia Carroll (Anglo American, UK)
5. Ho Ching (Temasek, Singapore)
6. Irene Rosenfeld (Kraft Foods, US)
7. Ellen Kullman (DuPont, US)
8. Angela Braly (WellPoint, US)
9. Anne Lauvergeon (Areva, France)
10. Lynn Elsenhans (Sunoco, US)

"In our sixth year of this list, we're finding increasing numbers of women who are running the world."

In this year's list there are 27 heads of large companies, and 10 women with the title of chancellor, prime minister or president.

Forbes said Ms Merkel had topped the list "after leading Germany out of recession earlier than expected".

As well as Mrs Obama, Iceland's first female prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, made her debut on the list - mainly due to her being charged with getting her country's banking system back on its feet after Iceland was forced to rescue its three main banks last year.

"It's a good year for women in power. The economic turmoil means that companies and countries are frequently looking for a change, so I think we'll see opportunities for women leaders," added Ms Schoenberger.

Other newcomers include Chanda Kochhar, chief executive of ICICI Bank (20) and the prime minister of Bangladesh, Hasina Wajed (78).




Lockerbie bomber boards plane home

The Lockerbie bomber has left Scotland on board a plane bound for Libya after being freed from prison on compassionate grounds.

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, 57, was jailed in 2001 for the atrocity which claimed 270 lives in 1988.

The decision to release Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, was made by the Scottish Government.

The White House said it "deeply regretted" the decision and some of the US victims' families reacted angrily.

A police convoy left Greenock Prison, where Megrahi was serving his sentence, more than an hour after the announcement of his release was made.

Megrahi left Greenock prison in a police convoy
Megrahi was released from Greenock Prison

He was taken to Glasgow Airport to board the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus plane bound for Tripoli, which took off shortly before 1530 BST.

The government said it had consulted widely before Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill made his decision on applications for Megrahi's compassionate release or his transfer to a Libyan jail. He told a media conference on Thursday that he had rejected the application for a prisoner transfer.

However, after taking medical advice it was expected that three months was a "reasonable estimate" of the time Megrahi had left to live.

He ruled out the option of the Libyan being allowed to live in Scotland on security grounds.

And Mr MacAskill stressed that he accepted the conviction and sentence which had been handed to Megrahi.

"Mr al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them," he said.

"But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days."

Fiona Trott
BBC News correspondent, in Lockerbie

After the Scottish justice secretary made his announcement, life continued as normal in rain-soaked Lockerbie.

People were surprised by the decision he made - the real question was whether they had a strong opinion about it.

When the bombing happened 21 years ago, this town was full of army personnel and the emergency services and local people who helped that night became heroes.

But it happened a generation ago, and, while some American victims' families say his release is incomprehensible, people here in Lockerbie say they don't see things in black and white.

Two families were wiped out here, but the immediate families of the other victims no longer stay in Lockerbie. Some say it's right Megrahi has been released because he is very ill.

Does the decision bring everything to a close? People here say no.

Even though they have put the event in the past, tourists from across the world still come here.

For them, Lockerbie will always be known as the place where PAN AM flight 103 came down.

Mr MacAskill continued: "Our justice system demands that judgement be imposed, but compassion be available.

"For these reasons and these reasons alone, it is my decision that Mr Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing, now terminally ill with prostate cancer, be released on compassionate grounds and be allowed to return to Libya to die."

Mr MacAskill had been under intense pressure from the US government to keep Megrahi behind bars, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying his release would be "absolutely wrong".

"Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs the we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people - no matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated," he added.

Some 189 Americans were among those who died in the airliner explosion.

Reacting to the decision, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement: "The United States deeply regrets the decision by the Scottish Executive to release Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi.

"As we have expressed repeatedly to officials of the government of the United Kingdom and to Scottish authorities, we continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland."

The families of American victims of the Lockerbie bombing reacted angrily to the news.

Kara Weipz, of Mt Laurel, New Jersey, who lost her 20-year-old brother Richard Monetti, said: "I don't understand how the Scots can show compassion. It is an utter insult and utterly disgusting.

Lockerbie scene
The bombing claimed 270 lives

"It is horrible. I don't show compassion for someone who showed no remorse."

New York state resident Paul Halsch, whose 31-year-old wife was killed, said of Mr MacAskill's decision: "I'm totally against it. He murdered 270 people.

"This might sound crude or blunt, but I want him returned from Scotland the same way my wife Lorraine was and that would be in a box."

However, British relatives' spokesman Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the atrocity, said he believed Megrahi had "nothing to do with" the bombing.

"I don't believe for a moment that this man was involved in the way that he was found to have been involved," he said.

"I feel despondent that the west and Scotland didn't have the guts to allow this man's second appeal to continue because I am convinced had they done so it would have overturned the verdict against him.

"It's a blow to those of us who seek the truth but it is not an ending. I think it is a splitting of the ways."

Megrahi was convicted of murder in January 2001 at a trial held under Scottish law in the Netherlands.

A first appeal against that verdict was rejected the following year.

However, in 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission granted him a second appeal.

It subsequently emerged he was suffering from terminal cancer but a bid to have him granted bail was refused.

His second appeal got under way this year but shortly afterwards applications were made for both his transfer to a Libyan jail and release on compassionate grounds.

Earlier this week the High Court in Edinburgh allowed Megrahi's application to drop his second appeal.


1. Tripoli, capital of Libya. Megrahi was born here on 1 April 1952, and worked - according to the FBI - for Libyan intelligence services.

2. Malta. Megrahi's day job, as security chief for Libyan Arab Airlines, took him to their office on the island. From there he would travel to Zurich. The bomb began its journey here in December 1988.

3. Zurich, Switzerland. The bomb's timing device was made and purchased here.

4. Frankfurt, Germany. On arrival, a suitcase later found to have contained the bomb was transferred from an Air Malta jet to a flight bound for London Heathrow.

5. London's Heathrow Airport. Pan Am flight PA 103 took off from Heathrow at 1825 GMT on Wednesday, 21 December 1988.

6. Lockerbie, Scotland. The bomb on Flight PA 103 exploded above the Scottish village at 1902 GMT.

7. Camp Zeist, Netherlands. Here, in a landmark trial, Scottish judges convicted Megrahi in 2001.

8. HMP Barlinnie. Megrahi served the first part of his sentence in this Scottish prison.

9. HMP Greenock. Megrahi was transferred from Barlinnie to Greenock in 2005.




Campbell Bridges (pic:
Campbell Bridges was credited with discovering the rare stone Tsavorite

Police in Kenya say they have arrested a "key suspect" in the murder of a British-born gemstone expert.

Campbell Bridges, 71, was attacked last week near the southern town of Voi by a gang armed with spears and machetes.

A police spokesman said a man was arrested in the town of Taveta, near Kenya's border with Tanzania, as he tried to flee the country.

Mr Bridges' son Bruce, who was also attacked, told the BBC his father had received death threats for three years.

The 30-year-old said the family had been threatened by "bandits" trying to gain illegal access to their gemstone mines.

But he alleged politicians were ultimately behind his father's murder as part of a continuing effort to grab his land.

Mr Bridges was ambushed on 11 August by up to 30 men in the grounds of his 600-acre property.

He died from a stab wound while two guards who were with him were seriously injured.

Map of Kenya

Herbert Khaemba, regional police commander, reportedly told Reuters news agency on Wednesday: "The suspect believed to be the main organiser of the brutal murder was arrested by the police at the Kenyan border town of Taveta in hiding.

"The police are still pursuing other suspects who were armed with crude weapons during the attack."

Mr Bridges was born in Scotland, but had lived in Africa for most of his life.

He was a world-renowned gemstone expert, credited with discovering the green Tsavorite gem, a rare stone unique to the region, more than 40 years ago.

The BBC's East Africa correspondent Will Ross said the find had fuelled interest in the region's mineral reserves, but had led to frequent clashes between contracted and local artisanal miners in both Kenya and Tanzania.

A memorial service for Mr Bridges is due to take place on 21 August in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.




Porsche badges
Porsche tried to take over VW before agreeing a merger deal

The offices of German luxury carmaker Porsche have been raided by federal prosecutors probing the alleged market manipulation of Volkswagen shares.

Porsche had built up a stake of 51% in VW in an attempt to launch a takeover of Europe's biggest carmaker.

The two have subsequently agreed to a merger, ending months of bitter feuding, which will take place in 2011.

The carmaker denied the accusations and said that it would co-operate fully with the prosecutors.

"On Thursday morning, officers from Stuttgart prosecutors entered the company's offices with search warrants.

"The prosecutors suspect a breach of public disclosure requirements and market manipulation," Porsche said.

Under former chief executive Wendelin Wiedeking, who resigned last month, Porsche built up a majority stake in the much larger VW, but failed in its attempt to force a full takeover.

As a result, the carmaker was saddled with huge debts.

Porsche announced last week that the state of Qatar would take a major stake in the company.




Authorities in China have closed a second metal smelter after more than 1,300 children fell sick with lead poisoning, state media have reported.

The children were living near a manganese plant in Wenping, in Hunan province, Xinhua news agency said.

Two executives of the plant have been detained over the poisoning.

It follows the closure of another smelter in northern Shaanxi province, where more than 600 children were found to have lead poisoning.

In both cases, the smelters were closed after angry parents confronted authorities over their children's illnesses.

Lead poisoning can cause a range of health problems, from learning disabilities to seizures. Children under six are most at risk.

Air, soil and water pollution is common in China, which has seen rapid economic growth over the past few decades.




By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Young Chinese men play computer games at an internet cafe in Beijing - 6 August 2009
China has almost 300 million internet users

A teenage boy is in a serious condition after being repeatedly beaten at a boot camp to treat internet addicts in China, state media have reported.

Pu Liang, 14, is said to have been beaten several times by the camp's principal and by other students.

It comes after a 15-year-old boy was beaten to death earlier this month at another of the military-style camps.

The death drew outrage in China, where many parents and officials believe some children spend too much time online.

Pu Liang's mother told local reporters that she sent her son to the camp, in the city of Chengdu in Sichuan province, because he was spending too much time playing online games.

She said the camp claimed it could cure the "problem" for 5,000 yuan ($730; £450).

But the mother said her son was beaten up and now has chest and kidney problems.

The camp is now closed and its principal has been arrested, according to Chinese media reports.

Wu Yongjing, the man who set up the military-style camp, admitted to the BBC that youngsters were sometimes beaten.

"Physical punishment is an effective way to educate children - as long as it can be controlled," he said.

China has more internet users than anywhere else in the world - almost 300 million.

Some parents send their children to boot camps to cure them of their "addiction".

At the camps, youngsters are usually put through rigorous physical exercises and taught to appreciate other pastimes.

But treatment for internet addiction remains a controversial issue in China.

Tao Ran, an expert on the issue at Beijing's Military General Hospital, said the rules covering this area were chaotic in China.

He said most people running internet addiction boot camps were not properly qualified to treat or handle youngsters.

"Only hospitals and doctors with proper qualifications should provide treatment," said Dr Tao.

China's Ministry of Health said there was no scheme to register - or monitor - camps that treat internet addiction.