The NewsFuror

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monks return to streets of Burma

More than 100 monks have marched in central Burma, the first time they have returned to the streets since last month's bloody crackdown on protests.

The monks chanted and prayed as they marched through Pakokku, the site of an incident last month that triggered pro-democracy protests nationwide.

The government said 10 people died during the crackdown, but diplomats believe the toll was much higher.

Thousands more - many of them monks - were thought to have been detained.

Separately, the Human Rights Watch organisation has accused the Burmese army of forcibly recruiting children to cover gaps left by a lack of adult recruits.

Envoy's return

Pakokku is a centre of Buddhist learning about 630km (390 miles) north-west of Rangoon.

Reports that soldiers had beaten up monks there on 6 September gave momentum to protests that had begun on 19 August to demonstrate against fuel price rises.

Witnesses at Wednesday's march said the monks did not make any overt political statements but that the rally was clearly in defiance of the junta.

In the wake of the crackdown on protesters last month, public gatherings of monks in Burma have been banned and many monasteries remain deserted.

According to the BBC's Asia correspondent Andrew Harding, there is no way of telling whether this new demonstration is the start of another wave of protests.

One monk who was on the march told the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based radio station run by dissident journalists: "We are continuing our protest from last month as we have not yet achieved any of the demands we asked for.

"Our demands are for lower commodity prices, national reconciliation and immediate release of [pro-democracy leader] Aung San Suu Kyi and all the political prisoners."

Aung Nyo Min, the Thai-based director of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, said of the rally: "This is very significant... we are very encouraged to see the monks are taking up action and taking up peaceful demonstrations in Burma."

'Systemic abuse'

There are hundreds of thousands of monks in Burma. They are highly revered and the clergy has historically been prominent in political protests.

The crackdown on protests sparked international action, with the US and EU imposing sanctions and embargoes.

United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari is expected to return to Burma this weekend for talks with the military government in the wake of the crackdown.

I do think this sort of economic and political frustration that is within the population will manifest itself again in the coming months
Mark Canning,
UK ambassador to Burma

A Western diplomat told Agence France-Presse news agency Mr Gambari would be in Burma from 3-8 November.

Mr Gambari last visited on 29 September, just three days after the bloody crackdown began, and met junta chief Gen Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi.

He has been on a six-nation Asian tour to try to increase pressure on the generals.

British ambassador to Burma, Mark Canning, told that he expected further unrest in the country.

"I do think this sort of economic and political frustration that is within the population will manifest itself again in the coming months."

Meanwhile, in a move that will add further pressure to the ruling junta, the campaign group Human Rights Watch has released a report saying children as young as 10 are beaten or threatened with arrest to make them enlist in the military.

The government insists it is opposed to the use of child soldiers, but Human Rights Watch says the abuses have been extensive and systemic.

Be thin to cut cancer, study says

Even those who are not overweight should slim down if they want to cut their risk of cancer, a major international study has claimed.

The World Cancer Research Fund carried out the largest ever inquiry into lifestyle and cancer, and issued several stark recommendations.

They include not gaining weight as an adult, avoiding sugary drinks and alcohol, and not eating bacon or ham.

Everyone must also aim to be as thin as possible without becoming underweight.

People with a Body Mass Index (BMI), a calculation which takes into account height and weight, of between 18.5 and 25, are deemed to be within a "healthy" weight range.

Cancer is not a fate, it is a matter of risk, and you can adjust those risks by how you behave. It is very important that people feel that they are in control of what they do
Professor Martin Wiseman
Report author

But the study says their risk increases as they head towards the 25 mark, and that everyone should try to be as close to the lower end as possible.

There is no new research involved in this document: the panel examined 7,000 existing studies over five years.

The result, they say, is the most comprehensive investigation ever into the risks of certain lifestyle choices.

Limit red meat
Limit alcohol
Avoid bacon, ham, and other processed meats
No sugary drinks
No weight gain after 21
Exercise every day
Breastfeed children
Do not take dietary supplements to cut cancer

They see body fat as a key factor in the development of cancer, estimating its significance to be much higher than previously thought.

The report's authors say they have produced a list of recommendations, not "commandments".

"But if people are interested in reducing their cancer risk, then following the recommendations is the way to do it," said Professor Martin Wiseman.

"Cancer is not a fate, it is a matter of risk, and you can adjust those risks by how you behave. It is very important that people feel that they are in control of what they do."

Making cuts

However, two-thirds of cancer cases are not thought to be related to lifestyle, and there is little people can do to prevent the disease in these circumstances.

Nevertheless, more than three million of the 10 million cases of cancer which are diagnosed across the world each year could be prevented if the recommendations were followed, Professor Wiseman indicated.

The main message I would have is not to worry about it, to enjoy life, if you like a glass of wine have it, and a small amount of meat is not going to harm you
Karol Sikora
Cancer specialist
In the UK alone, there are 200,000 new cases of cancer each year.

Cancers of the colon and breast are some of the most common forms of the disease, and the report says the evidence is "convincing" that body fat plays a key role in the development of these tumours.

The report also links the kind of food consumed to cancers, especially colorectal ones.

In particular, researchers say people should stop eating processed meats, such as ham, bacon and salami, and limit the consumption of red meat to 500g a week - although this still means you could eat, for instance, five hamburgers each week.

From a cancer perspective, all alcohol should be avoided, although researchers accepted drinking small amounts could have protective benefits for other diseases.

The recommendation is therefore no more than two drinks a day for a man, and no more than one for a woman, slightly less than current UK government guidelines.

Sugary drinks meanwhile should be avoided, as these make you fat, and fruit juice consumption should also be reduced.

The report is also the first to urge breastfeeding as a means to protect against cancer, arguing that it may reduce breast cancer in the mother and prevent obesity in the child - although this has not been proven.

Commenting ahead of the report's release, cancer specialist Professor Karol Sikora said: "There's absolutely nothing magic about 10 bullet points to prevent cancer.

"The main message I would have is not to worry about it, to enjoy life, if you like a glass of wine have it, and a small amount of meat is not going to harm you."

Microsoft buys stake in Facebook

Microsoft will also sell internet ads for Facebook outside the United States as part of the deal that took several weeks of negotiating.

Microsoft already provides banner advertising and links on the US site.

Mark Zuckerberg started the online social networking site in his Harvard University dorm room less than four years ago.

Mr Zuckerberg, 23, has indicated he would like to hold off on an initial public offering for at least two more years.

He rebuffed a $1bn takeover offer from Yahoo last year.

Advertising magnet

Facebook hopes to become an advertising magnet by substantially increasing its current audience of nearly 50 million active users.

Facebook allows users to set up personal web pages and communicate with each other.

Google and Microsoft have crossed horns before for hot Internet properties.

Google beat Microsoft with a $1.65bn acquisition of online video sharing site YouTube last year.

Facebook expects to make a profit of $30m this year so on conventional valuations a $15bn price tag would look expensive.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Brazil set to host 2014 World Cup

Brazil are set to be unveiled as the 2014 World Cup hosts on Tuesday.

The South American country is the only nation bidding to host the tournament which is due to be staged on the continent under Fifa's rotation system.

The other South American nations agreed to back Brazil, who have won the World Cup a record five times, as their only candidate in 2003.

Two-time winner and former Brazil coach Mario Zagallo said: "I've no doubt the 2014 World Cup will be in Brazil."

And Zagallo, who won the World Cup as a player in 1958 and 1962, as a coach in 1970 and as an assistant coach in 1994, believes the country has enough time to get ready.

"In seven years Brazil will have new stadiums and we will fix those that need to be fixed," he added.

"Fifa has been here and have seen it is possible to be done."

Brazil have hosted the World Cup once before, in 1950.

They reached the final but were beaten 2-1 by South American rivals Uruguay in front of an official record crowd of 173,830 at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, although the actual attendance was estimated to be over 200,000.

Asian drug warlord dies in Burma

One of Asia's most notorious warlords, Khun Sa, has died in the Burmese city of Rangoon.

He had reportedly been suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

After decades of guerrilla warfare against the Burmese government, largely funded by his drugs empire, Khun Sa signed a peace deal in 1996.

He then retired to Rangoon, where he lived under the protection of the military rulers, despite the US offering $2m (£1m) for his capture.

He was once one of the world's most wanted men, with a vast drug-trafficking operation in the so-called Golden Triangle region, spanning the border of Thailand, Laos and Burma.

'Lofty ideals'

With a private army numbering in the hundreds, Khun Sa claimed to be fighting for independence for the Shan people - an ethnic minority group based mainly in Burma.

But he fell out with other Shan leaders in the mid-1990s and surrendered to the Burmese military government.

After his death, a former colleague said few in the Shan separatist movement would be mourning.

"He was a man with lofty ideals. He thought of becoming the liberator of Shan State," former guerrilla Khuensai Jaiyen told Reuters.

"But when the people he was supposed to be leading or liberating didn't accept his leadership, he turned his back on them."

'Prince of death'

Many have said his claims to be a freedom fighter were a ruse designed to give legitimacy to his drugs empire.

Washington reportedly branded him the "prince of death" and placed him on a par with the most notorious mafia dons.

As well as offering a huge reward, the US had requested his extradition to face drug-trafficking charges in a US court.

But it is believed he negotiated a deal with Burma's ruling generals to live out his life in relative luxury in Rangoon.

Family members and former colleagues of Khun Sa, who was in his mid-seventies, said he died within the past week. The cause of death is still unknown.

Gaza electricity cuts suspended

Israel's attorney general has intervened to suspend plans to restrict electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Israel has already begun reducing petrol and diesel supplies - it says the action is in response to rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

The government's senior legal adviser, said on Monday that ways of limiting the humanitarian effects of reducing the electricity supply had to be found.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called the plans punitive and unacceptable.

Attorney General Menachem Mazouz's decision came after a number of human rights groups criticised the proposed cutbacks as collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

Mr Mazouz did approve other restrictions, including on the supply of fuel to Gaza.

A range of such economic and political sanctions continue to cause daily hardship for Palestinians, our Jerusalem correspondent Mike Sergeant says.

'Humanitarian obligations'

A statement from Mr Mazouz read: "Security chiefs must carry out supplementary examinations to take account of the humanitarian obligations before ordering electricity cuts."

The Israeli Supreme Courts has given the government until Friday to justify the economic sanctions it is seeking to impose on the Palestinian territory.

Gaza relies on Israel for almost all its fuel and more than half of its electricity
Cuts of up to 15% in petrol and 10% in diesel
Targeted electricity outages of at least 15 minutes in response to each new rocket attack
Supplies of crude diesel to Gaza's power plant not due to be affected
Source: Israeli officials

Gaza relies on Israel for almost all its fuel and petrol, and more than half of its electricity.

Israel says fuel cuts of up to 15% are a non-violent way of increasing pressure on Hamas. Israel started implementing the cuts on Sunday.

It insists there will be enough power for hospitals and that supplies will continue to Gaza's sole power station.


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the action on Monday.

In a statement read out by a spokesperson, Mr Ban urged Palestinian militants to end indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel, which he condemned.

But he also stated his belief that the "punitive measures taken by Israel... harm the well-being of the entire population of the Gaza Strip".

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU commissioner for external relations, said on a visit to Jerusalem she was "very concerned" about the Israeli move though she understood Israel's "distress" over rocket attacks.

"I think collective punishment is never a solution," she said.

As part of its sanctions, Israel had was envisaging shutting down one of its power lines to Gaza for 15 minutes after a rocket attack, with the cut-off period gradually increasing to a two-hour limit if barrages continue.

The cuts have also been condemned by Hamas, which governs the territory, as a crime against Gaza's population.

Rockets are fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza into Israel on an almost daily basis. Israel withdrew all its settlements from Gaza in 2005. Palestinian militants say they are responding to continued Israeli aggression in Gaza and the West Bank.

Fatal blast near Musharraf's HQ

A suicide bomb attack has killed at least seven people and injured 11 near Pakistan's army headquarters, in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

Officials said the blast occurred some 2km (1.24 miles) away from a secure compound containing the army HQ and President Pervez Musharraf's office.

General Musharraf was in his office at the time of the attack, but was unhurt.

The attack follows a number of recent bombings in Pakistan, which have been blamed on Islamic militants.

The location of the explosion was a police checkpoint.

A man had approached the checkpoint on foot and detonated his explosives, a government spokesman said.

Two policemen and two paramilitary soldiers were among those killed by the explosion, along with the suspected bomber, according to the AFP news agency.

President Musharraf was safe inside his headquarters in Army House discussing the security situation with senior officials when the bomb went off, according to presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi.

Heightened tensions

This is the third bombing in Rawalpindi in the past two months.

On 4 September, two suicide bombers killed 25 people in the city, in an attack on a bus carrying intelligence officials to work.

The following month, 139 people were killed when bombers in Karachi attacked the motorcade of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as she returned to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile.

These earlier bombings are thought to have been the work of Islamic militants, who are angry with both the Musharraf government and Ms Bhutto, whom they believe to be too closely allied to the US.

Tensions in the country were heightened in July when Gen Musharraf ordered troops to storm the Red Mosque in Pakistan's capital Islamabad, killing hundreds.

The mosque had been occupied by Islamic militants, who were using it as a base from which to organise opposition to the government and enforce strict Sharia law in Islamabad.

Monday, October 29, 2007

SAS grounds planes in safety fear

Scandinavian airline SAS is to permanently stop flying Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 planes after several emergencies caused by landing gear problems.

The decision came after a plane carrying 44 people from Bergen, Norway, to Copenhagen made an emergency landing in Denmark on Saturday.

Nobody was seriously injured in the incident, the third involving an SAS Bombardier Q400 in two months.

The SAS board decided to "immediately discontinue" using the planes.

"Confidence in the Q400 has diminished considerably and our customers are becoming increasingly doubtful about flying in this type of aircraft," said chief executive Mats Jansson.

And the airline's deputy chief executive, John Dueholm, said the Dash 8-Q400 had seen "repeated quality-related problems".

"SAS's flight operations have always enjoyed an excellent reputation and there is a risk that use of the Dash 8-400 could eventually damage the SAS brand," he said.

Lease replacements

The airline operates 27 of the 8-400s, which are used on many Nordic regional routes and for connections to destinations including the UK, Germany, Poland and Luxembourg.

SAS said that since it began using the planes in 2000, they had accounted for about 5% of all passengers carried.

The carrier, which had already cancelled more than 40 flights on Sunday after the Copenhagen incident, said it was inevitable that there would now be more flights shelved.

It would look to fill the gap in schedules by reallocating planes in its current fleet and by leasing aircraft, it said.

In September, Bombardier grounded almost half of its Q400 turboprop planes after equipment failures forced emergency landings of SAS planes in Denmark and Lithuania.

At the time of the move, the Montreal-based company said that the groundings were a "precautionary measure", adding it believed its aircraft were "absolutely safe and reliable".

The Q400 turboprop - which carries between 68 and 78 passengers - has been in use since 2000, and more than 160 of the planes have been delivered around the world.

In March, an All Nippon Airways Q400 plane carrying 56 passengers and four crew landed safely after its nose gear failed to descend.

Gap pulls 'child labour' clothing

Fashion chain Gap has withdrawn from sale children's clothing allegedly made using forced child labour in India.

A 10-year-old boy was filmed making clothes for Gap shops in the US and Europe as part of an investigation by the UK's Observer newspaper.

The boy told the Observer he had been sold to a factory owner by his family.

Gap, which has made commitments not to use child labour, said that only one item - a girl's smock blouse - was involved.

The boy said he had been working for four months without pay and would not be allowed to leave the job until the fee his family had received was repaid.

Another boy of 12 said children were beaten if bosses thought they were not working hard enough, the paper reported.

This is very upsetting and we intend to investigate thoroughly
Gap spokesman Dan Henkle

Dan Henkle, a spokesman for Gap, said: "We were made aware earlier this week that a reporter had found an incident of children working in a factory that was producing for one of our brands, and this is completely unacceptable to us.

"We have a strict prohibition on child labour, and we are taking this very seriously. This is very upsetting and we intend to investigate thoroughly."

Emergency meeting

The spokesman said Gap monitors factories which make its clothing and in 2006 revoked approval for 23 factories which it said failed to comply with its standards.

Mr Henkle also said the company was calling an emergency meeting with its suppliers in the region.

The smock blouse will not be offered for sale in the company's 3,000 stores around the world, Gap said, and instead will be destroyed.

Western clothing chains increasingly get their products made in Asia, taking advantage of cheaper labour.

Fed tipped to deliver US rate cut

The Federal Reserve is widely expected to cut US interest rates once again when it meets this week, analysts say.

A slew of recent concerns - including ongoing problems in the housing market and woes at Merrill Lynch - has underlined woes in the US.

The Fed cut interest rates in September from 5.25% to 4.75% as it tried to stimulate the flagging economy.

Analysts say a further reduction to at least 4.5%, or possibly even 4.25%, is likely on Wednesday.

Inflation risk

The last rate decision was seen as sending a strong signal that the US authorities were prepared to intervene to stabilise the markets and to prevent the US economy sliding into recession.

If the Fed doesn't act decisively, the economy is at risk of calamity
Peter Morici, Economist
University of Maryland

But some say that risk to the economy is still very real and that further action from the Fed is needed.

Others argue a rate cut would encourage reckless spending and promote a return to conditions that led to a boom-and-bust cycle in the property market.

There is also a risk of inflation becoming a greater problem if money is made cheaper to borrow, encouraging more consumer spending and takeover activity.

'Low interest needed'

Sales of new and used homes are at record lows as lenders tighten up on who they will give mortgages to.

And up to two million US families - especially those with sub-prime mortgages - could eventually lose their homes as the credit crunch intensifies, a Congressional committee report said last week.

There is also nervousness in the markets, with uncertainty still lingering over how much exposure various big banks have to the credit crisis.

Last week Merrill Lynch reported $7.9bn (£3.85bn) in write-downs for the third financial quarter of the year - leading to its first loss since 2001.

The losses - which were much larger than it had initially forecast - were largely caused by exposure to bad mortgage-related debt.

We're not seeing the weakness in the US economy that would justify a big rate cut
Richard Kelly, Economist
TD Bank Financial Group

And one of the country's biggest mortgage lenders, Countrywide, said it was ready to refinance $16bn in loans after customers were unable to meet repayments.

'Goalposts moved'

University of Maryland economist Peter Morici said that the Fed needed to make another bold rates cut.

"Certainly a half-point cut would be in order in view of the revelations of Countrywide and Merrill," Mr Morici said.

"We cannot get the economy firing on all cylinders until the mortgage market reorganizes and that probably requires a low-interest environment for some time."

"If the Fed doesn't act decisively, the economy is at risk of calamity."

And Capital Economics analyst Julian Jessop said that a 50 basis point cut could not be ruled out.

"Two weeks ago it looked like they'd be able to keep rates on hold in December. Unfortunately, since then, the goalposts have moved".

Richard Kelly, an economist at TD Bank Financial Group, expects the rate to fall to 4.5% but argued that problems in housing should not be allowed to get out of perspective.

"We're not seeing the weakness in the US economy that would justify big rate cuts," Mr Kelly said.

"You won't see positive growth in residential investment until the end of 2008, but that only makes up 5% of the US economy.

"Exports are booming, and that's three times larger than the housing market."

New suitor 'preparing Rock bid'

A third potential suitor for the Northern Rock is looking at the beleaguered bank's books ahead of a possible takeover offer, a report says.

Private equity company Cerberus is putting together a bid for the bank, the Sunday Times has reported.

It is being backed by GMAC, the finance firm half owned by General Motors.

A consortium led by Richard Branson's Virgin Group and the US private equity firm JC Flowers are also keen on buying Northern Rock.

Treasury preference

The report says that GMAC, in which Cerberus owns a 51% stake, would play a pivotal role in a move for the bank.

Formed 88 years ago to offer finance for people buying cars, it evolved into a lender of other loans as well as a bank and insurance company.

Observers say that its involvement would make a Cerberus offer appeal more to the Treasury, which is keen to see the Northern Rock sold in a trade deal to another bank, rather than to a firm interested only in the financial aspects of the deal.

The Virgin-led consortium, also featuring US insurance company AIG and the Tosca hedge fund, has offered to buy a majority stake in the bank and inject "hundreds of millions of pounds" of money in exchange for taking control and rebranding the business as Virgin Money.

And last week JC Flowers stepped up its efforts to take control of the bank - putting together a management team in case a deal happens.

It includes former Marks and Spencer chairman Paul Myners as chairman of the bank and former Alliance and Leicester chief executive Richard Pym.

There have been reports that JC Flowers has secured £15bn to buy Northern Rock, the first major UK bank to be brought to its knees by the seizures in the credit markets which followed the crisis affecting US sub-prime home loans.

But according to The Sunday Telegraph, it wants the government to indemnify the bank against any litigation from shareholders, before it agrees to a deal.

Northern Rock's shares are still more than two-thirds below their price before the bank was forced to go to the Bank of England for emergency funding on 14 September.

Repayment commitment

Any future owner of Northern Rock will need to pay back hefty loans to the Bank of England which it has borrowed in emergency funds.

Over the past week, the bank is likely to have borrowed a further £4.65bn, according to the latest Bank of England data.

The figure appeared in the "other assets" category of the Bank of England's accounts, which includes any funds the Bank issues as "lender of last resort".

Analysts believe it is highly likely that this money has gone to Northern Rock.

This would indicate that Northern Rock's borrowings are now likely to total in excess of £20bn.

3 launches new Skype mobile phone

Mobile phone provider 3 has launched a new handset that will allow users to make free calls over the internet via telephony service Skype.

Users will also be able to use Skype's instant messaging service, 3 said.

But while people using Skype on their computers are able to make cheap global calls to any phone number, this will not be possible via the new 3 handset.

Skype has about 246 million registered users worldwide and is one of the firms reshaping the global phone industry.

Mobile potential

To date, mobile phone companies have been unwilling to let users freely access Skype via their handsets for fear that it would hurt their business.

While it is possible to access Skype from a number of handsets, this has involved downloading third-party software, something that has put off the majority of users.

The Skype-phone will be the first instance of a phone operator launching a mass market device that is designed to allow free calling over the internet from a mobile, 3 said.

"It takes an innovative operator... to challenge traditional thinking and offer the kind of product other operators are still shying away from," said Skype's acting chief executive, Michael van Swaaij.

"It's is now truly mobile. Skype has now taken a giant step forward in the mobile arena.

And chief executive of 3 UK, Kevin Russell, said the firm wanted to make mobile internet more accessible.

"Services need to be simple to access and affordable," he said.

"Mobile has the potential to massively increase access to internet calling."

Global reach

The service, launching on 2 November, will be accessed by a button on the handset.

As well as the UK, the 3 Skype-phone will be launched in countries including Australia, Denmark, Italy and Hong Kong.

Pay as you go customers will have to top up their account with at least £10 each month to qualify for the free Skype-to-Skype calls, 3 said.

Oil prices break through $93 mark

Oil prices have risen to yet another fresh high due to ongoing concerns over the situation between Turkey and Iraq, and general supply jitters.

In early Asian trading on Monday, US light crude broke through $93 a barrel for the first time, hitting $93.20 before easing back slightly to $93.06.

London's Brent also hit a new high of $89.90 a barrel, up $1.21.

Oil prices have risen on fears Turkey may carry out an extensive ground assault against Kurdish rebels in Iraq.

'Geopolitical tensions'

"What we see is a continuation of the trend that was in place on Friday," said David Moore, a commodity strategist with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney.

"Geopolitical tensions, issues regarding tensions between Turkey and Kurdish rebels... those sort of factors have added to oil prices."

Analysts said prices had been further lifted by concerns that a tropical storm in the Caribbean could make its way to the US gulf coast, hitting key American oil facilities.

US light crude broke through the $92 a barrel price for the first time on Friday.

Actor Bloom in clear after crash

British actor Orlando Bloom will not face hit-and-run and drunk-driving charges following a car crash in Hollywood earlier this month.

The official report into the accident said Bloom, 30, was not driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

And a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney said "there was insufficient evidence he was trying to get away".

Bloom swerved and hit a parked car as he was being chased by four paparazzi.

Bloom's two passengers were injured and had to be treated in hospital.

Police said a 30-year-old woman in the front seat had cuts and bruises on her face, while a 35-year-old woman in the back seat fractured her neck.

Straight after the accident Bloom - who was uninjured - walked about 20m away from the scene to avoid photographers, but he later returned.

He told police he had been dazed by what had happened.

Bloom spent the night at the Cedars Sinai hospital to be with the second woman, a childhood friend.

The Pirates of the Caribbean star told police he was leaving a nightclub at about 0215 local time (0915 GMT) when a photographer began following him.

Bloom's other films include The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Troy.

Shatner sad over Trek movie snub

William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series, has said he "can't believe" he has not been asked to be in the new movie.

Leonard Nimoy is reprising his role as Vulcan Spock in the film, which is due out in the US on 25 December 2008.

The film chronicles the early days of the Enterprise crew.

"I can't believe it, I'm not in the movie at all. Leonard, God bless his heart, is in, but not me," Shatner told the Associated Press news agency.

"I thought, 'what a decision to make', since it obviously is a decision not to make use of the popularity I have to ensure the movie has good box office. It didn't seem to be a wise business decision."

Since his Star Trek days, the 76-year-old actor has continued to work in film and TV and has had particular success in award-winning series the Practice and Boston Legal.

Captain Kirk - Chris Pine
Older Mr Spock - Leonard Nimoy
Young Mr Spock - Zachary Quinto
Scotty - Simon Pegg
Nero - Eric Bana
Uhura - Zoe Saldana
Chekov - Anton Yelchin
Sulu - John Cho
Leonard 'Bones' McCoy - Karl Urban

Director JJ Abrams announced last summer that Nimoy, 76, would come back as Spock, made famous with his crew mates by the 1960s television show and six Star Trek films.

The director also said Shatner would probably have a part in the film.

But Shatner said he had had a couple of meetings with Abrams, creator of Lost, without anything coming of them.

Little-known actor Chris Pine has been chosen to play the young Captain Kirk in the new film.

Heroes star Zachary Quinto will play the young Spock and Lord of the Rings actor Karl Urban will play Leonard "Bones" McCoy, the Starship Enterprise's medical officer.

The movie will show the crew meeting at the Starfleet Academy and embarking on their first mission.

The Paramount Pictures film is expected to begin shooting in November.

The Abrams film will be Star Trek's 11th big screen outing. The most recent Trek film, Star Trek: Nemesis, was released in 2003.

Triple injury blow hits Liverpool

Liverpool players Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano all face spells out after suffering injuries in Sunday's 1-1 draw against Arsenal.

Alonso (metatarsal) and Torres (abductor muscle) both had recurrences of the injuries which had kept them out for a month before the game.

Alonso limped off after 68 minutes while Torres was replaced by Peter Crouch at half-time.

Mascherano suffered a foot injury and left with his foot in a medical boot.

Manager Rafael Benitez said: "Alonso has suffered the same injury again, the metatarsal, he felt something go in his foot.

"Torres also has a similar injury, a problem with an abductor muscle. Maybe he is not as bad as before. But he could not work as hard as we wanted, we wanted his pace and it was not available.

"He just was not fit. We talked beforehand and he said he was fine. Now we must wait again, he had been out for some time and we have been pushing to get him back, but he has not been right and he still is not right.

"I will need to check with the doctor to see how the players are in the next two days."

Benitez admitted his side paid the price for the injuries they experienced during the game at Anfield.

"We had problems when we lost Torres and then Alonso. We could not control the midfield then, we also had Mascherano with a foot injury and had lost (Mohamed) Sissoko beforehand with sickness," he said.

"In the end there were too many problems against a really good team."

But he praised the contribution of his captain Steven Gerrard who netted Liverpool's goal after a difficult week.

"Stevie has been playing better and this was a very good performance," he added.

"We had a plan to use the strikers wide and for Stevie to attack through the middle with two holding players behind.

"But when we started losing players through injury, it just became too difficult to get forward.

"What pleased me most was the commitment of the players, our supporters should be happy with the efforts they put in against a very good team like Arsenal.

"Arsenal are playing well, a fantastic team. But it is too early, we are six points behind with a game in hand and there is a long way to go yet."

Red Sox claim World Series glory

Boston Red Sox have won the World Series, beating Colorado Rockies 4-3 in the fourth game for a sweep in the best-of-seven series.

It is the second World Series win in four seasons for the Red Sox after they beat St Louis in 2004. Before that they had to wait 86 years for a win.

Veteran third baseman Mike Lowell hit a solo home run and scored twice for the Sox before becoming a free agent.

It was Boston's seventh Series crown overall since it started in 1903.

Lowell blasted his homer in the seventh innings to give Boston a 3-0 lead.

And after Colorado's Brad Hawpe answered with a solo home run, pinch-hitter Bobby Kielty blasted on the first pitch of the eighth innings to seal the Rockies' fate.

The Rockies refused to give in, however, with Garrett Atkins hitting a two-run homer off Red Sox relief pitcher Hideki Okajima in the eighth innings to pull Colorado back to 4-3.

But then Jonathan Papelbon, Boston's closing reliever, forced the final five outs.

Colorado's Jamey Carroll cracked the ball deep to left field in the ninth innings, but it was caught for the penultimate dismissal before Rockies pinch-hitter Seth Smith followed by striking out, touching off a huge Red Sox celebrations.

It completed a remarkable turn-around in form for Boston who had rallied from a 3-1 deficit against Cleveland in the AL Championship series, before winning seven straight games.

"This team has got a lot of heart," Boston team captain Jason Varitek said afterwards.

"We just beat a very, very good team, an excellent team. We had to do the little things, and we were able to."

The Rockies, who won 21 of 22 games to storm into the post-season and their first World Series, never found their stride after waiting eight days for the Series to begin.

And Rockies manager Clint Hurdle admitted: "Boston executed better than us all four games.

"They deserve all the credit. We just got beat by a better team in this series in every way."

Iraq suicide bomber kills dozens

At least 27 people have been killed in a suicide bomb attack on a police headquarters in the Iraqi city of Baquba, north of Baghdad, police say.

At least 20 people were hurt. Most victims were police recruits.

Correspondents say the attack bears the hallmarks of militants al-Qaeda in Iraq, who often target recruits.

Baquba is the capital of Diyala province, where some local tribes have recently joined US and Iraqi forces to fight the group.

On Sunday, nine tribal leaders from Diyala province were kidnapped while returning from Baghdad.

Violence levels falling

Police said the bomber arrived at the scene of the attack on a bicycle dressed in civilian clothes concealing a suicide belt.

He blew himself up as recruits waited to begin the day's training session.

Baquba's chief of police was killed in a suicide attack last month.

The September attack happened in a mosque compound during reconciliation talks between Sunni and Shia groups.

But the Jim Muir in Baghdad says levels of violence have generally been falling since a US troop surge began in February.

The US was set to hand over the mainly Shia central province of Karbala to Iraqi control on Monday.

It will be the eighth of 18 provinces to be transferred to local control since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Saudi king chides UK on terrorism

King Abdullah says Britain is not doing enough to fight terrorism
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has accused Britain of not doing enough to fight international terrorism, which he says could take 20 or 30 years to beat.

He was speaking in an interview ahead of a state visit to the UK - the first by a Saudi monarch for 20 years.

He also said Britain failed to act on information passed by the Saudis which might have averted terrorist attacks.

King Abdullah is expected to arrive in the UK on Monday afternoon; his visit begins formally on Tuesday,

In the BBC interview he said the fight against terrorism needed much more effort by countries such as Britain and that al-Qaeda continued to be a big problem for his country.

BBC world affairs correspondent John Simpson says King Abdullah is annoyed that the rest of the world has largely failed to act on his proposal for a UN clearing house for information about terrorism.

Terror 'information'

Speaking through an interpreter, the Saudi monarch said he believed most countries were not taking the issue seriously, "including, unfortunately, Great Britain".

"We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy."

The Saudi leadership maintains that it passed the UK information that might have averted the London bombings of 2005 if it had been acted on.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says Whitehall officials have strenuously denied this, and a subsequent investigation by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) found no evidence of any intelligence passed on by the Saudis that could have prevented the 7 July 2005 bombings.

The king's visit has provoked controversy over Britain's relationship with Saudi Arabia.

A demonstration is planned outside the Saudi embassy in London later in the week in protest at the country's human rights record.

And acting Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has announced he is boycotting the visit, citing the corruption scandal over Al Yamamah arms deal, and the Saudis' human rights record.

Kirchner claims Argentine victory

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has claimed victory in Argentina's presidential elections.

Partial official results, based on two-thirds of ballots being counted, gave her 43.6% of the vote.

Her nearest rival, former lawmaker Elisa Carrio, has admitted defeat with 22.6% of the vote.

If confirmed by the full count, Mrs Kirchner will succeed her husband Nestor Kirchner and become Argentina's first elected female president.

"We've won by a wide margin," she told supporters in a speech at her campaign headquarters at a hotel in Buenos Aires.

27m eligible voters
14 candidates running for president
Winner needs 45%, or 40% plus 10-point lead
If needed, second round on 25 November
New president to be sworn in on 10 December

As her husband, the outgoing president, stood at her side, she said she would build on his work.

"We have repositioned the country, fought poverty and unemployment, all these tragedies that have hit Argentines," she said, referring to the country's recovery from the 2001 economic crash.

Exit polls showed Ms Carrio, who ran on an anti-corruption platform, took one out of four votes nationwide and did well with middle and upper-class voters in urban areas.

Ex-Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna won 19% of the vote, partial results showed.

Mrs Kirchner needs more than 45% of the full vote, or 40% with a 10 point lead over the next nearest candidate, to win the presidency without facing a second round of voting.

The partial count gives her an apparently unbeatable lead, with double the votes of her rivals.

Mr Kirchner has governed for the past four years, but surprised the nation by deciding not to seek a fresh term.

Polling was extended by one hour in some parts of the country to 1900 local time (2200 GMT) to accommodate a late rush of voters.

Besides a new president, voters were choosing eight provincial governors, a third of the Senate and about half of the Chamber of Deputies.

Some 27 million people were eligible to vote.

Economy and crime

The economy and rising crime have been the two main issues in campaigning.

Mr Kirchner has overseen a return to stability and some prosperity since the economy collapsed six years ago, plunging thousands into poverty.

But there are fears over how strong the economy really is and general scepticism over official statistics suggesting inflation is under control.

Mrs Kirchner's critics have attacked her for failing to outline exactly what her policies are, but voters said the opposition had failed to offer any real alternative.

Surprise candidate

Just a few months ago, Mr Kirchner was riding high in the opinion polls and looked set to continue for a second term.

The husband wife political swap reeks of corruption and nepotism
Brian, New York, USA

However, it was announced in July that his wife Cristina, senator for Buenos Aires province, would stand in his place. No explanation was given.

As candidate for the governing Front for Victory, she has promised to continue her husband's centre-left policies.

As well as facing comparisons with Eva Peron, Argentina's legendary former first lady, Mrs Kirchner has been compared to former US First Lady Hillary Clinton, who is also a lawyer and senator seeking to become the first elected female president of her country.

"I don't want to be compared with Hillary Clinton or with Evita Peron, or with anybody," she said recently.

"There's nothing better than being yourself."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

BP fined $373m by US government

Oil giant BP has been fined a total of $373m (£182m) by the US Department of Justice for environmental crimes and committing fraud.

The fines include $50m relating to a Texas refinery explosion in 2005 that killed 15 people and injured 170 more.

That sum is the highest fine of its kind levied under the Clean Air Act.

The largest fine - $303m - relates to a price manipulation scam between April 2003 and February 2004, over which four ex-BP workers have been indicted.

"The tragic explosion at the Texas city refinery, and the pipeline leaks in Alaska, were sad reminders that our environmental laws exist both to protect the lives and safety of the public, and also to preserve our natural resources," said Acting Attorney General Peter Keisler.

"Businesses that ignore those laws and endanger their workers and communities must be held accountable. Today's announcement shows that they will be," he added.

Manipulation schemes

The $303m relates to price-fixing charges for manipulating the propane market in 2004. It marks a record fine imposed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) for market manipulation.

"BP engaged in massive manipulation - the magnitude of this settlement reflects that the Commission will not tolerate trading abuses in our open and competitive markets," said CFTC acting chairman Walt Lukken.

The four former BP workers accused of "conspiring to manipulate and corner" the US propane markets were named as Mark David Radley, James Warren Summers, Cody Dean Claborn and Carrie Kienenberger.

They had been employed by a subsidiary of BP America.

BP has committed serious environmental crimes in our two largest states, with terrible consequences for people and the environment
Environment Protection Agency

BP America chairman Bob Malone said "These agreements are an admission that, in these instances, our operations failed to meet our own standards and the requirements of the law. For that, we apologize".

Mr Malone said the firm would look at ways of limiting further problems such as the "tragedy" of the Texas City disaster and the leakage of oil pipes in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

$50m criminal fine for breaking the Clean Air Act
$12m criminal fines, $4m to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, $4m in criminal restitution to Alaska for pipeline leaks
$100m criminal penalty and $25m to the US Postal Inspection Consumer Fraud Fund
$125m civil penalty to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission
Restitution of $53m for victims of market manipulation

BP polluted a lake and land in Alaska after two oil leaks from the pipeline in March and August 2006.

'Terrible consequences'

The government said that BP would be monitored by an independent body for three years to ensure that it complied with the terms of Thursday's agreement.

In opting to pay the fines, the US Government had ended the probes regarding price manipulation. In addition the firm will not face additional criminal charges for the fatal Texas accident.

However, BP could still pay further compensation under unresolved civil lawsuits.

Prior to Thursday's announcement, BP had already spent $1.6b in compensation to victims of the Texas disaster, and has settled more than 1,600 personal injury claims.

"BP has committed serious environmental crimes in our two largest states, with terrible consequences for people and the environment," the Environment Protection Agency said.


Earlier in the week the oil giant announced that quarterly profits slumped by 45% after problems at its production and refinery businesses. Profits at BP fell to $3.88bn (£1.89bn) for the three months to the end of September from $6.98bn a year earlier.

Oil and gas production for the period was 4% lower after temporary shutdowns at its Whiting and Texas City refineries.

News of the fine comes after BP, under chief executive Tony Hayward, announced restructuring plans to overhaul the firm earlier this month in a bid to improve the firm's standing.

Mr Hayward assumed the leadership of the firm in May after former boss Lord John Browne resigned following a personal scandal.