The NewsFuror

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Carphone misleading over iPhone

People using the iPhone
Staff at the UK's biggest mobile phone retailer, Carphone Warehouse, have been caught misleading customers about Apple's popular iPhone handset.

Undercover researchers from BBC One's Watchdog found staff made false claims about what would happen if a phone was stolen and hadn't been insured.

This was in the hope customers would take out the store's own insurance.

The firm said there could be "some element of confusion among an isolated number of sales consultants".

But Carphone Warehouse added it did not believe that the "small number of complaints" were "a fair reflection of the experience of thousands of iPhone customers who have received insurance advice in our stores".

The findings come just a year after Carphone Warehouse was fined £245,000 by the Financial Services Authority for breaking the rules on selling insurance.


Viewers complained to Watchdog that they'd been told if they lost their iPhone, they'd have to buy an entirely new 18 month contract - at a minimum cost of £630.

But that is not true. Customers would have to buy a new handset but the contract itself would continue.

In three out of five stores visited by Watchdog, researchers were told the same.

And at one store, they were also told insurance offered by O2 - the only other UK mobile retailer authorised to sell the iPhone - would not offer as much cover as much, which again was untrue.

Staff at the stores receive commission on all insurance and phones they sell.

Amy Winehouse scraps all concerts

Amy Winehouse
Winehouse's current album Back to Black contains hits such as Rehab
Singer Amy Winehouse has called off all gigs and other public appearances for the remainder of 2007, after her doctor advised her to take complete rest.

The troubled performer was reportedly treated in rehab this year and UK fans booed her during one shambolic concert.

She had been due to play at the BIC in Bournemouth later and the Cardiff International Arena on Wednesday.

Gigs were also planned in December in Dublin, Belfast, Manchester and London, and all tickets will now be refunded.

A statement issued by concert promoter Live Nation blamed "the rigours involved in touring and the intense emotional strain that Amy has been under in recent weeks" for the decision.

Blake Fielder-Civil and Amy Winehouse
My husband is everything to me and without him it's just not the same
Amy Winehouse

"In the interests of her health and wellbeing, Amy has been ordered to take complete rest and deal with her health issues," the statement added.

A spokeswoman for the company said there were no plans to reschedule the concerts and fans should return their tickets to the outlet where they purchased them.

Winehouse, 24, was quoted as saying: "I can't give it my all on stage without my Blake. I'm so sorry but I don't want to do the shows half-heartedly; I love singing.

"My husband is everything to me and without him it's just not the same."

This was a reference to Blake Fielder-Civil, who has been remanded in custody until 18 January, accused of assaulting a pub landlord last June.

He also faces a charge of perverting the course of justice.

Critical acclaim

Winehouse's behaviour has been in the headlines throughout this year.

Last month she was fined after being found with cannabis in a hotel in the Norwegian city of Bergen.

Amy Winehouse in 2004
The singer shot to fame after the release of her debut, Frank, in 2003
She called off a series of concerts and appearances after reportedly being treated for drug addiction.

The US leg of her tour in September was shelved while she continued to address problems with her health, and there had been hopes that this would be rearranged for 2008.

But the singer has also received critical acclaim for her current album Back to Black, containing hits such as Rehab and You Know I'm No Good.

This year she was named best female singer at the Brit Awards, and she received two prizes at the Music of Black Origin (Mobo) Awards in London.

Stars at Golden Compass premiere

Nicole Kidman
Nicole Kidman plays the evil Mrs Coulter in the film
Hundreds of film fans greeted Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig at the premiere of fantasy film The Golden Compass in London's Leicester Square.

The movie is based on the first book in Philip Pullman's best-selling His Dark Materials trilogy.

Speaking on the red carpet, Daniel Craig said that as a fan of the novels he was keen to be in the film version.

"When the opportunity came along I grabbed it," he said. "I think Philip Pullman is a genius writer."

Kidman, who attended the premiere with her husband, country music star Keith Urban, said co-starring in the film as the villainous Mrs Coulter was "a great opportunity".

"It's rare that I bring such a dark, dramatic character to the screen," she added.

Special effects

Thirteen-year-old Dakota Blue Richards, who beat 10,000 girls to play heroine Lyra Belacqua, was also at the premiere, and explained how much she picked up from her famous co-stars on set.

"Daniel jumped up and down to get energised before his lines while Nicole told me to not stop if I messed up a line because it might turn out to be brilliant," she said.

Daniel Craig
Bond actor Daniel Craig plays adventurer Lord Asriel

The Golden Compass sees Lyra travel through an alternative universe as she tries to rescue her kidnapped friend.

Asked about the film's fantasy appeal, Craig said: "It's a bit of escapism... and the special effects have come such a long way that it's now possible to go to places that you wouldn't have been able to even five years ago."

And quizzed about what it was like to have Pullam on the film set, Craig, who plays adventurer Lord Asriel in the film, added: "It was great but I preferred to go out with him for a glass of red wine."

Richards said getting the role was a dream come true for her.

"I really, really wanted to play the role. My mum had read the books to me and I had seen the play at the National Theatre. I loved the character so much I wanted to be just like her," she explained.

The movie has already come under attack for toning down Pullman's rejection of organised religion, in particular the Roman Catholic Church.

The Golden Compass
Dakota Blue Richards (left) beat 10,000 girls to the role of Lyra

The UK's National Secular Society has condemned a decision to remove anti-religious references, but the Catholic League in the US has urged parents to ban their children from watching the movie.

At the premiere, Craig said the controversy had been "a bit blown out of proportion".

"That's the joke isn't it? Over here we're diluting it and in the States we're going too far. I think if you see the film there's nothing to worry about," he said.

The His Dark Materials trilogy of books became best-sellers around the world, attracting fans of all ages.

The film, which also stars Eva Green, Sam Elliott, Jack Shepherd and Freddie Highmore, will be released in the UK on 5 December.

Kanye and Knievel settle wrangle

Kanye West at Grammy Awards
Kanye West has won six Grammy Awards in two years
Rapper Kanye West and stuntman Evel Knievel have settled a copyright dispute following a private meeting at the motorbike legend's Florida home.

Both sides said they had resolved the disagreement over West's use of the name "Evel Kanyevel" in a music video.

The 69-year-old daredevil had claimed his image was tarnished by the clip's "vulgar, sexual nature", but said the settlement satisfied both parties.

A spokesman for West confirmed that the two sides had reached an agreement.

The video, for the 2006 single Touch The Sky, showed the rap star cavorting with Pamela Anderson and trying to jump a rocket-powered motorcycle over a canyon.

It appeared to be a parody of Knievel's attempt to jump Snake River Canyon in Idaho in 1974 - which failed after a parachute on his rocket-powered "Skycycle" opened too early.


Evel Knievel
The video had similarities to Knievel's 1974 rocket stunt
The stuntman sued West and his record label last December, claiming the rapper had damaged his reputation by using the Knievel image to "promote his filth to the world."

But Knievel, whose real name is Robert Craig Knievel Jr, changed his mind about the West after meeting him in person.

"I thought he was a wonderful guy and quite a gentleman," he said.

"We settled the lawsuit amicably. I was very satisfied and so was he."

The pair agreed not to discuss the terms of the settlement in public, he added.

Knievel also expressed concern for West, who is grieving the sudden death of his mother on 10 November.

"I know he's had some tough times the past few weeks, and I hope things work out," he said.

Mel B loses out in US dance show

Mel B and dance partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Mel B and her dance partner received a perfect score
Spice Girl Mel B has come second in US TV show Dancing with the Stars.

She earned top marks from judges with her final performance of the mambo, but lost the viewer's vote to Brazilian racing driver Helio Castroneves.

Mel B had said winning the US version of Strictly Come Dancing would have meant "everything", but she "enjoyed all of it" anyway.

She and professional partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy narrowly won on judges' points, but lost out on audience votes.

'Complete dancer'

No details of the viewer's votes, which counted for 50%, were revealed.

The pop star added: "To be embraced by America would be... I would actually be speechless."

But she admitted that losing out "was a horrible feeling. I'm not going to deny it."

Mel B was lauded by judge Bruno Tonioli - who also appears on the UK's Strictly Come Dancing - who said: "You've proven that you're a complete dancer."

Helio Castroneves and his dance partner Julianne Hough
Winner Helio Castroneves said he was 'shocked' by his victory

Her professional dance partner called her "one of my prize students" who had "improved 100%" during their 10-week partnership.

On Monday night's penultimate show, in which she finished top, the singer was supported by her four fellow Spice Girls, who were in the audience in Los Angeles.

In the final, US singer Marie Osmond came third.

She was eliminated at the start of the show, leaving Mel B and Castrovenes to slug it out for the mirrorball trophy.

The series began with 12 pairings of celebrities and professional dancers.

The programme has proved a ratings hit, regularly capturing in excess of 20 million viewers.

Viewers in the UK can see the final dance-off on UKTV Gold this Friday.

Dylan biopic leads Spirit awards

Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There
Cate Blanchett won best actress at Venice for her portrayal of Dylan
Bob Dylan film I'm Not There has picked up four nominations for the Independent Spirit Awards, including a supporting actress nod for Cate Blanchett.

The movie, which charts the musician's life, is also in the running for best feature, director and supporting actor for child star Carl Franklin.

Angelina Jolie is also up for best actress as the wife of slain reporter Daniel Pearl in A Mighty Heart.

The awards will be presented on 23 February, a day before the Oscars.


British star Sienna Miller has also been recognised in the best actress category for her role in Interview, along with Ellen Page for Juno, Parker Posey for Broken English and Tang Wei for Lust, Caution.

Among the contenders for best actor are Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Truman Capote and Tony Leung, another star of Lust, Caution.

They are joined by Oscar nominee Don Cheadle for Talk To Me, Pedro Castaneda for August Evening, and Frank Langella for Starting Out in the Evening.

Other contenders for best film are Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park, which has also gained a best director nomination.

I'm Not There, which depicts Bob Dylan at various stages of his life with a series of actors, was also chosen to receive the first Robert Altman Award, given for films which break convention.

Actress Adrienne Shelly, who was found murdered in her New York home earlier this year, has earned a posthumous nomination for the screenplay of her indie hit, Waitress.

Mourinho 'invites England offer'

Jose Mourinho
Mourinho has been out of work since leaving Chelsea in September
Former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has reportedly expressed an interest in becoming the new England manager.

Mourinho, who left Chelsea in September, said he would be prepared to talk to the Football Association.

"You will have to speak to the FA to see if they are interested in offering me the job," he told the Sun newspaper.

"I cannot say what I think until they say they are interested. Tell the FA to come and get me. We will have to wait and see, but I rule nothing out."

Mourinho would be a popular choice to replace Steve McClaren at the helm with England because of his hugely impressive record with Chelsea and Porto.

He won two Portuguese championships, the Uefa Cup and the Champions League with Porto, before leaving to win two Premier League titles, two League Cups and the FA Cup with the Blues.

The 44-year-old had been tipped to stay in club management in Europe, having previously suggested that he would only be interested in coaching his native Portugal at international level.

FA chief executive Brian Barwick has said that nationality "would not be an issue" when it came to appointing the next England coach.

England, who have dropped down to the second pot of seeds in qualification for the major tournaments, avoided Portugal in Sunday's draw for the World Cup.

Barwick will lead the FA's search for a new coach after they missed out on a place at Euro 2008, alongside the organisation's development director Sir Trevor Brooking.

The FA has already had to listen to several potential candidates rule themselves out of contention for the position with Aston Villa's Martin O'Neill, West Ham's Alan Curbishley and Newcastle's Sam Allardyce all distancing themselves from speculation.

Sudan 'blocking' Darfur mission

Jean-Marie Guehenno, Head of UN Peacekeeping Operations speaking at the UN headquarters (01/10/2007)
Mr Guehenno said the UN has to ask whether a mission would work
Sudanese obstacles could mean the UN mission in Darfur is not viable, the head of UN peacekeeping has said.

Jean-Marie Guehenno told the United Nations Security Council that excessive demands from Khartoum "would make it impossible for the mission to operate".

Among other demands, Sudan wants advance notice of troop movements and to be able to shut down communications.

Mr Guehenno said the UN would have to consider whether a deployment would be worthwhile under such conditions.

The 26,000-strong United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force, Unamid, is due to take over protecting the people of Darfur in a month's time.

But Sudan has raised a series of objections which Mr Guehenno said threaten the success of the mission.

Sudan has still not agreed to the presence of non-African personnel and has not yet given the UN the land it needs to operate nor authorised night flights.

'Hard choices'

Mr Guehenno said it would be impossible to operate in Darfur under such conditions.

Members of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) stand in front of an armoured personnel car in Darfur (8/11/2007)
The Unamid force is due to start its mission in a month

"Should the anticipated discussions fail to clear the path to the deployment of an effective force, the international community will be confronted with hard choices," Mr Guehenno said.

"Do we move ahead with the deployment of a force that will not make a difference, that will not have the capability to defend itself, and that carries the risk of humiliation of the Security Council and the United Nations, and tragic failure for the people of Darfur?"

Mr Guehenno added that Sudan's demands "create serious uncertainty with regard to the government's commitment to the deployment of Unamid."

The Sudanese ambassador responded by saying that the issues were only 'administrative problems' which should not be exaggerated.

The Unamid mission is aiming to bring security to the Darfur region after more than four years of conflict.

But it has been plagued by problems blamed on a shortfall in resources and lack of cooperation from Western and African states.

Mid-East leaders in fresh talks

An Israeli shopper at an electronics shop in Jerusalem on Tuesday
There has been scepticism over the drive in the region in question
Israeli and Palestinian leaders are set formally to begin a new round of peace talks at the White House.

US President George W Bush will meet with Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas alone before a rare three-way meeting.

It follows a conference on Tuesday when both sides agreed to engage in "vigorous" efforts to reach a peace deal by the end of 2008.

But the Palestinian group Hamas said the conference - from which it was excluded - had been a "failure".

Expectations had been low as representatives of more than 40 countries and international agencies gathered in Annapolis, Maryland, ahead of Tuesday's conference.

But in a joint statement concluded with only minutes to spare before the conference formally opened, the two sides agreed to launch negotiations for a treaty "resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception".

Both sides have said those "core issues" will include the thorny so-called "final-status issues" - the future of Jerusalem, borders, water, refugees and settlements - which have scuppered previous attempts at a peace deal.

'The beginning'

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and the Palestinian President Abbas will formally inaugurate the new peace drive in meetings in the White House on Wednesday, said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a closing news conference on Tuesday.

According to the agreement, they will go on to meet every other week.

In addition, teams of negotiators will be led by a joint steering committee which will meet for the first time on 12 December.

In Tuesday's conference, Mr Bush committed himself to spending the rest of his presidency - until January 2009 - working towards "an independent democratic viable Palestinian state".

"Such a state will provide Palestinians with the chance to lead lives of freedom, purpose and dignity," Mr Bush said.

"And such a state will help provide Israelis with something they have been seeking for generations: to live in peace with their neighbours.

"This is the beginning of the process, not the end of it," he said.

Peace hopes

Mr Abbas repeated demands including that Israel stop building settlements, and release some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

"Neither we nor you must beg for peace from the other," he said.

"It is a joint interest for you and us."

Mr Olmert said he had come to Annapolis despite the obstacles posed by continuing violence against the people of Israel.

"We want peace. We demand an end to terror, an end to hatred. We are prepared to make a painful compromise rife with risks, in order to realise these aspirations," he said.

In a closing news conference, Ms Rice said the event had demonstrated "unambiguously" that the new initiative had international support.

Nations will be asked to provide financial support for Palestinian aid programmes at a donors' conference in Paris in mid-December.

Caution urged

Observers say the fact that the summit is being hosted by the US and has attracted the participation of Saudi Arabia and Syria, two Arab states that do not recognise Israel, is critical to its chances for success.

Anti-Annapolis rally in Ramallah, West Bank - 27/11/2007
In Ramallah, Palestinians protested against the conference

But following the main speeches, both countries cautioned that a "comprehensive peace" which saw relations normalised between Israel and Arab countries was dependent on Israel first meeting demands to withdraw from occupied land.

Expectations going into Annapolis have been low because every other attempt at negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians has failed, says the BBC's Jeremy Bowen at the conference.

However, there are grounds for optimism, says our correspondent: the Americans are behind the talks, there is no plan B and the consequences of failure could be bloody.

Hamas dismissal

The absence of the Palestinian faction Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the US, the EU and Israel, could also make negotiating a deal problematic.

Hamas controls the internal affairs of the Gaza Strip and says it will not be bound by anything decided in Annapolis.

Following the conference, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri said it had only achieved "a declaration of the beginning of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis and not a declaration of an agreement between them.

"This by itself is a sharp proof of the failure of the Annapolis meeting," he said.

In Gaza on Tuesday, tens of thousands of Hamas supporters demonstrated against the talks.

In the West Bank - a Fatah stronghold - police violently broke up some demonstrations, with one person killed in clashes in Hebron.

Musharraf gives up army uniform

Pervez Musharraf (right) hands over command to Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiani
Gen Musharraf said the army was the saviour of Pakistan
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has handed over the command of the military in a ceremony in Rawalpindi.

Gen Musharraf passed a ceremonial baton to Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiani at the army's headquarters.

In his farewell address, Gen Musharraf said the army was his "life" and he was proud to have been the commander of this "great force".

He had been under huge pressure to quit as army chief and is due to be sworn in as civilian president on Thursday.

The move will mean an end to nine years of military rule in Pakistan.

'Half a century'

Dressed in full military uniform, Gen Musharraf arrived at the ceremony with a baton under his left arm.

On his arrival, he was greeted by Gen Kiani and inspected a guard of honour.

A military band played Pakistan's national anthem and the ceremony began with a recitation from the Koran.

The colourful ceremony was shown live on PTV, Pakistan's national channel.

"I am bidding farewell to the army after having been in uniform for 46 years," Gen Musharraf said in his address.

Pakistani soldiers storm the Pakistan Television headquarters to stop transmission during the coup in October 1999
Gen Musharraf's army seized power in a 1999 coup

"This army is my life, my passion. I love this army, and this relationship will continue, although I will not be in uniform," he said.

Gen Musharraf said it was difficult to describe his emotions.

"When one has lived half a century with a family, a family like the army, united, and fully loyal... then leaving it is bound to bring on emotions. But such is the system of life. People come, and they have to go. Good things also come to an end. Everything is mortal," he said.

"I am fortunate to have commanded the best army in the world. This army is an integrating force, the saviour of Pakistan," Gen Musharraf said.

"Without this army, the entity of Pakistan cannot exist".

'Excellent soldier'

Gen Musharraf expressed full faith in the ability of his successor, Gen Kiani, to lead the force.

Anti-Musharraf rally
President Musharraf's unpopularity has caused Western concern

"He's an excellent soldier and I can say with full confidence that under his command, the armed forces will achieve great heights," Gen Musharraf said.

He had designated Gen Kiani, a former head of the intelligence services, as his successor in October.

The most serious pressure on the president to give up his uniform had come from the United States, his main international backer.

Washington has grown concerned in recent months at the army's inability to rein in pro-Taleban militants and by Gen Musharraf's growing unpopularity.

As a civilian leader, Gen Musharraf will still have considerable powers, including the ability to sack a civilian government.

He imposed emergency rule on 3 November in order, he said, to control an unruly judiciary and deal with the growing threat from Islamist militants.

General elections are to be held on 8 January, but Gen Musharraf has yet to say when the emergency will be lifted.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Virgin's Rock bid may be blocked

Northern Rock sign
Northern Rock's future is looking less bright, analysts say.
A main investor in troubled lender Northern Rock says that it will oppose Richard Branson's Virgin Group's bid for the bank because it is too low.

Virgin was earlier named as Northern Rock's preferred buyer, a move that had been backed by the Treasury.

However, Rab Capital, which is the second-largest shareholder in Northern Rock, said it would oppose the move.

Should a takeover fall through, then the bank could be nationalised or put into administration.

Rab, which owns about 6.7% of the bank, told the BBC that Virgin's offer was "cheeky" and that the value it put on Northern Rock was "too low".

BBC business editor Robert Peston said that opposition represented "a major obstacle for Virgin and an embarrassment for the Rock board".

Northern Rock's shares rose 29% to 110.1 pence, and had climbed as much as 48% during earlier trading.

This stock is not for the faint hearted and the range of outcomes for shareholders is very wide
Nic Clarke of Charles Stanley

Despite the big rise in Northern Rock's share price, some analysts cautioned that it was not yet certain whether it represented a good buy for investors.

"This stock is not for the faint hearted and the range of outcomes for shareholders is very wide," said Nic Clarke, an analyst at Charles Stanley.

New name

Newcastle-based Northern Rock hit funding difficulties in September after world credit markets dried up, and it was required to go to the Bank of England for emergency loans to cover its day-to-day funding requirements.

Northern Rock market capitalisation
1 Jan Northern Rock starts the year in apparently good order
14 Sept Markets react to the news of the Bank of England's support for Northern Rock
23 Nov Northern Rock's market value stands at £362m
26 Nov Virgin values Northern Rock at £200m

The Virgin offer proposes an injection of £1.3bn of new cash into the Rock, with half of that money coming from the consortium.

The remainder would be raised through an offer to existing Rock shareholders to buy new shares for 25 pence each.

On that basis, Virgin values Northern Rock at £200m, considerably less than its current market value of £362m.

Virgin would end up with 55% of the new company, leaving current shareholders with 45%.

The new business would be rebranded Virgin Money, though it would keep its existing stock market listing.

Under the terms of the deal, Virgin's would immediately repay £11bn out of the £25bn Northern Rock owes the Bank of England.

Virgin will then repay the remaining £14bn of Treasury loans over the next three years.

'Difficult times'

The Virgin-led consortium has also informed the Rock that it has no current intention of making "any material reduction" in employment in Northern Rock.

It also says that it intends to continue operating the business from Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

BBC business editor Robert Peston
Branson could not profit from our misery, even though some will doubtless accuse the Treasury of using our money to help him make spectacular potential long-term gains

Northern Rock chairman Bryan Sanderson, described the proposed deal as "very good news" for the bank.

"Over the last few weeks and months we have looked at the issues from the perspective of all stakeholders," he said.

"I am grateful for the support that we have had from customers and employees who have stayed loyal to us during these difficult times - and pleased that a solution that firmly restores the company's prospects has been identified.

"Furthermore our retail depositors can be fully reassured that the government has said it will ensure savers' money is safe whatever the outcome."

Of the ten expressions of interest from financial institutions in taking control of Northern Rock, Virgin's was said to be preferable because it offered the best deal to the beleaguered lender's shareholders.

Not happy

A number of other shareholders also could create problems for the Virgin bid. The biggest shareholder is a hedge fund SRM Global, while at the other end of the scale is a group representing individuals with small holdings.

"If we feel that we are being entirely ripped off, ripped out, kicked out of the long term, then shareholders may not be happy to just to roll over and go along with these people who it has been reported are preferred bidders," said Robin Ashby of the Northern Rock Small Shareholders Group.

BBC business editor Robert Peston said Virgin has agreed it will only pay itself "normal" dividends from Northern Rock until all public money is repaid - thus avoiding the potential embarrassment for the Treasury of the group making spectacular profits with the help of the taxpayer-backed loan.

Yet our correspondent warned that if there was a severe housing market recession over the next two or three years, taxpayers may not get all of their £25bn back.

"The equity Sir Richard is putting into the business - including more than £200m of his own money - would be wiped out in those circumstances," Mr Peston said.

"In other words, he could not profit from our misery, even though some will doubtless accuse the Treasury of using our money to help him make spectacular potential long-term gains."

Oxfam calls for drug firm action

Nigerian children wearing T-shirts with the Aids symbol
Many Africans do not get Aids treatment because of lack of funds
Drug firms are missing out on a huge potential market by failing to make drugs affordable for the world's poor, a report by charity Oxfam suggests.

Drug firms have made "halting progress" in increasing access to medicine, but much more needs to be done, Oxfam said.

The world's biggest drug firms have done little research into diseases that affect poor people, the report said.

And their overzealous protection of patents means many poor people cannot afford the drugs they need.

Priced out

Currently 85% of the world's population is priced out of the industry's market, the report said.

Those who cannot afford drugs often pay with their lives.

Malaria claims the lives of one million people every year, while two million people die annually from TB.

Tanzanian pharmaceuticals factory, TPI
Production of HIV/Aids drugs is already under way in Tanzania

Anti-poverty charity Oxfam says prices for essential medicines need to be tiered, in line with people's ability to pay.

Some companies do offer different prices but often "solely as a reflection of the publicity that surrounds the disease or the country", the report said.

Drug firms rely over heavily on donations to deliver affordable drugs and do little research into the drugs developing countries need, it added.

Between 1999 and 2004, there were only three new drugs targeted at diseases affecting the developing world out of 163 drugs brought to market, the report said.

Justify the cost

Leading pharmaceutical companies argue that they need to charge higher prices to justify the billions of dollars they spend on research and development.

High taxes and mark-ups by pharmacists and dispensing doctors also push medicine prices higher, they point out.

In addition, their drugs and brands are often ripped off in countries with poor copyright protection.

But, by refusing to offer prices that suit the pocket of its poorer consumers, drug firms are losing out, Oxfam argues.

These economies offer huge market potential but industry needs a "vastly different approach: one which reflects the significance of massive income disparities", the report said.

"The industry is operating in a short-sighted way because it could gain enormous benefits from emerging markets, including lower development costs and cheaper manufacturing. Yet instead it continues to blindly use the same strategies in poor countries," Oxfam's head of research Sumi Dhanarajan said.

South African miners eye strike

South African miners
Nearly 200 workers die in South African mines every year
South African mine workers are planning a one-day nationwide strike in protest at poor safety in the country's mines.

About 240,000 workers may take part in the strike, scheduled for 4 December, the first countrywide strike by miners.

More than 180 workers have been killed this year in the country's mines, slightly fewer than 200 deaths in 2006.

Unions and miners will meet with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Tuesday ahead of a final decision on the strike.

"We expect a final decision today," the National Union of Mineworkers' general secretary Frans Baleni said.

The CCMA has the power to permit a strike.

South Africa is Africa's biggest gold exporter and the strike would stop work at global firms such as AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony.

The world's top platinum producers Anglo Platinum and Impala Platinum also have operations in South Africa.

A miner was killed at Gold Field's Driefontein mine on Saturday, while another worker died at the firm's Kloof mine on Friday.

New twist in Airbus share probe

Aerial shot of Airbus A380 plane
Delays to the Airbus A380 have cost the firm billions
Managers at defence and aerospace firm EADS were aware of problems affecting A380 planes before they sold their shares, a businessman has claimed.

The BBC's Dominic Laurie has learned that the new allegations will be given to an investigation of insider trading at EADS, the parent firm of Airbus.

The trading in shares occurred shortly before news about delays to the A380 superjumbo were made public last June.

EADS denies it knew about delays when millions of euros of shares were sold.

The announcement wiped 26% off the value of Franco-German EADS.

New evidence

German investigators are investigating the extensive sale of stock options by certain senior managers and key shareholders before the problems with the plane were revealed.

Key French politicians in power at the time have been called in front of parliament to give evidence of what they knew about the dealings, and when.

"EADS says it has not been accused of any insider trading, that investigations are still continuing, and that it is cooperating fully with stock market authorities," said Dominic Laurie, the BBC's correspondent in Brussels. "And executives who did sell shares at that time have also always said the timing was merely unfortunate - and that they had no privileged information," he added.

However, French businessman Jean Galli-Douani told the BBC that this was not the case.

Mr Galli-Douani claims that senior executives at the firm knew about serious problems with the A380 project long before they made that information public.

His allegations stem from March last year, when Mr Galli-Douani was trying to solve a contractual dispute and he claims he could not get hold of any senior management at EADS to sort it out.

Mr Galli-Douani alleges that recently a senior executive admitted to him that at the time they could not take his calls because they were busy trying to resolve problems to do with the A380.

This followed a previous conversation in November last year when another executive had suggested that management had been caught up with "general problems at Airbus".

African nations in EU trade deal

Textile factory in Nairobi
African nations are looking to boost their exports to key markets
The five countries that make up the East African Community will open their markets to the European Union (EU).

An EU official said the deal will create a stepping stone to open trading relations between Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and the EU.

The new agreement will replace preferential trade obligations, which are due to expire in December.

A number of other nations in Western Africa, and some Pacific nations, have yet to accept the new arrangements.

EU preferential market access deals with many of its former colonies have been heavily criticised by other nations, particularly in Latin America.

These have been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organisation and the 27 member bloc has until the end of the year to establish new arrangements.

But concerns have been raised that the Economic Partnership Agreements could damage poor African countries by cutting their customs revenue.

EU to pressure China on currency

A bank worker counts Chinese yuan
Europe is calling for the yuan to be strengthened
The European Union (EU) is expected to pressure China to allow its currency to strengthen more quickly at a bilateral summit in China this week.

The weak yuan has buoyed exports to Europe, which has seen its trade deficit with China soar.

"We will have a large tour d'horizon on all matters, including of course the currency question," European Central Bank boss Jean-Claude Trichet said.

But China wants to loosen control of its currency at its own pace.

On Tuesday, Mr Trichet will meet with central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan.

And on Wednesday, the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao will meet Mr Trichet, Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU's monetary affairs commissioner Joaquin Almunia.

Holding its ground

In talks earlier this week with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Premier Wen Jiabao reiterated the Chinese view of a slow and carefully-handled currency reform.

"China will unswervingly follow the principles of initiative, controllability and gradualism to promote foreign exchange reform in an orderly manner and to increase continuously the flexibility of the yuan's exchange rate," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao quoted the premier as saying on Xinhua news agency.

But the Chinese view will fall on stony ground.

Earlier this month, Luxembourg's Mr Juncker said the yuan was undervalued by 20% to 25%, a level that gave China an unfair trade advantage.

Advantage China?

The yuan has risen 9.8% against the dollar since a revaluation in July 2005.

But critics of China's monetary policy say, that when measured against currencies of its main trading partners, its value has barely changed.

The weak Chinese currency has contributed to the boom in Chinese exports to Europe.

The 13 countries in the eurozone area saw their trade deficit with China rise by 25% in the first eight months of the year to 70bn euros (£50.23bn; $103.9bn)

A stronger yuan may help China as much as it helps Europe, argued EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson.

"Even if revaluation would not, in itself, solve our trade deficit, it would cool an overheating heavy industry sector that is swollen with overcapacity and artificially cheap capital," he wrote in Tuesday's China Daily.

Full agenda

China's record on food and product safety as well as its weak protection of intellectual property rights are also likely to be discussed.

Millions of Chinese-made toys were recalled earlier this year amid concerns about high levels of lead and loose magnets.

Last week, a European Commission report found that China had made "considerable progress" in improving the safety of the toys it exports.

The booming Chinese economy has presented opportunities to European businesses as well.

French industrialists visiting China with President Nicolas Sarkozy this week finalised trade deals worth almost 20bn euros ($30bn; £14.5bn).

Abu Dhabi lifeline for Citigroup

Citigroup tower (far right)
Citigroup is in the process of assessing the impact of the credit crunch
US bank Citigroup has agreed to sell shares worth $7.5bn (£3.6bn) to an Abu Dhabi-owned investment company.

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority will become the largest shareholder in Citigroup with a stake of up to 4.9%.

Citigroup has been hit hard by US mortgage-market problems and needs a fresh injection of capital to expand its business, the bank explained.

The problems led to the resignation of Citigroup's chief executive this month, and a slump in the bank's share price.

Citigroup's cash reserve has suffered after it had to write down the value of its loans made in the US sub-prime market by $7bn, and the potential for between $8bn and $11bn of further losses.

This investment reflects our confidence in Citi's potential to build shareholder value
ADIA's managing director Sheikh Ahmed Bin Zayed Al Nahayan

"This investment, from one of the world's leading and most sophisticated equity investors, provides further capital to allow Citigroup to pursue attractive opportunities to grow its business," said Win Bischoff, Citigroup's acting chief executive officer.

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) has agreed not to own more than a 4.9% stake, and will have no special rights of ownership and no role in the management or governance of the bank, Citigroup said.

Worst affected

Citigroup is one of the financial companies that have been worst affected by a crisis in global credit markets, which stemmed from a meltdown in the US sub-prime mortgage market.

The sub-prime sector lends money to people on low incomes or with poor credit ratings, and has suffered record defaults as a result of successive interest rate rises.

Banks had been heavily issuing these loans over the past few years when interest rates in many of the world's main economies were at historic lows.

But the current higher borrowing costs and increased loan defaults have brought this lending to a sudden halt, and banks have been left with billions of dollars of debt that has lost most of its value.

Citigroup's boss Charles Prince was forced to quit his post shortly after the bank revealed a 57% drop in profits during its third quarter because of massive write-downs.

The company's share price dropped below $30 in New York on Monday, almost half the value of their 12-month peak of $57 set on 28 December last year.

Gulf saviour

ADIA will buy securities in Citigroup, which will offer an annual yield of 11%.

The bonds will eventually be converted into shares between March 2010 to September 2011, at a price of between $31.83 and $37.24 each.

This suggests Abu Dhabi is enthusiastic about the bank's long-term future prospects, expecting the share price to climb back to its previous heights, analysts said.

ADIA's managing director Sheikh Ahmed Bin Zayed Al Nahayan said: "This investment reflects our confidence in Citigroup's potential to build shareholder value."

Abu Dhabi's move is the latest example of the financial muscle of the oil-rich Gulf states, which have benefited enormously from booming energy prices and are now looking for new homes for their wealth.

Earlier this week, Dubai's investment arm took a "substantial stake" in Japanese electrical giant Sony, which is nearing the end of a three-year restructuring process.