The NewsFuror

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Top Islamabad police men 'suspended'

The two top police officials in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, and another city official have been suspended, the interior minister says.

Earlier the Supreme Court demanded their suspension following anti-government clashes on Saturday in which many people were injured.

Police used batons and tear gas against lawyers and opposition activists.

The protesters were calling on President Pervez Musharraf to be barred from standing for another term.


The three suspended officials are the police chiefs for Islamabad city and Islamabad district and the deputy head of the city administration.

Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao confirmed that they had been suspended, but gave no further details.

The government was reacting to an order from Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and two other judges.

The judges had been viewing video footage of Saturday's clashes in Islamabad.

Hospital officials told the court that they had treated more than 80 people, many of whom had head wounds, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Chief Justice Chaudhry said that Islamabad's inspector general of police, Marwat Shah was "responsible for all that happened on Saturday", the AFP news agency says.

The protesters were trying to get the Election Commission to stop Gen Musharraf from standing in Pakistan's presidential election due on Saturday.

The day before, the Supreme Court had rejected a number of petitions against Gen Musharraf's candidature in what was a major blow to the opposition.

Police said they were enforcing a law banning demonstrations in the capital.

Protesters said the demonstration had begun peacefully and turned violent because of the huge security presence.

The police have been criticised in the past for their handling of the protests against Gen Musharraf.

In March he tried to suspend Chief Justice Chaudhry. That led to street protests by lawyers that were met with force.

Images of black-suited lawyers covered with blood after being beaten by police helped galvanise opposition political parties into joining in anti-government demonstrations.

UK law on inciting religious hatred in force

LONDON, Oct 1: A new act which came into force on Monday in England and Wales makes it illegal to incite hatred against Muslims, Christians and other religious groups.

The Racial and Religious Hatred Act creates a new offence of intentionally stirring up religious hatred against people on religious grounds, closing a gap in the current legislation.

The new offence, however, is limited to threatening words or behaviour, and there is a requirement for the prosecution to prove intention to stir up religious hatred. In addition, there is a limiting statement, protecting legitimate freedom of expression, in the following terms:

“Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system”.

Existing offences in the Public Order Act 1986 legislate against inciting racial hatred. Jews and Sikhs have been deemed by the courts to be racial groups and are protected under this legislation, but other groups such as Muslims and Christians are considered to be religious rather than racial groups and have therefore not previously received any protection under the law.

The new Act will give protection to these groups by outlawing the use of threatening words or behaviour intended to incite hatred against groups of people defined by their religious beliefs or lack of belief.

This Act is said to close the small but important gap in the law against extremists who stir up hatred in communities.

The Racial and Religious Hatred Act received the Royal Assent on February 16, 2006.

Legislation against religiously and racially aggravated crimes is already in force under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The Act introduced nine racially or religiously aggravated offences, (including assaults, criminal damage, public order offences and harassment) which make higher maximum penalties available to the courts where there is evidence of racist or religious motivation or hostility in connection with an offence.

The reference to “religious belief or lack of religious belief” is a broad one, and is in line with the freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Putin to run for parliament to become PM

MOSCOW, Oct 1: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday he would run for parliament and had a “realistic” chance of becoming prime minister — a shock announcement that could herald a fundamental change in the way Russia is governed.

“I gratefully accept your proposal to head the United Russia list,” Putin told a pre-election congress of the party of power, United Russia, bringing hundreds of delegates to their feet with a roar of applause.

Mr Putin said that if the party triumphed in the Dec 2 vote and a worthy successor took his place as president in 2008, he could become prime minister.

“Heading the government is a completely realistic idea, but ... it would require at least two conditions,” he said.

The first condition, that United Russia win a majority in the State Duma, is a virtual guarantee, pollsters say. Mr Putin said the second condition was the election of an “orderly, capable and effective” president in March 2008.

His announcement stunned political observers in Moscow and came after years of speculation about what the Russian leader, who enjoys approval ratings over 80 per cent, would do after his second presidential term ends next year. Kremlin-linked political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky said that Putin’s assuming the post of prime minister would be “the most politically logical solution” to how to use his authority after he lays down the reins of the presidency.

The resulting split in power between the president and the prime minister would be “a radical advance in pluralism” for Russia, where there has been no power centre outside the Kremlin since Boris Yeltsin challenged then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s, said Pavlovsky.

“We can forget our favourite cliche that in Russia, the president is the tsar,” Pavlovsky said, speaking on the sidelines of the congress after Putin’s announcement.

Many questions remained about how Putin could become prime minister, which under current Russian law would require his successor to appoint him to the post.

Putin’s preferred successor is all but guaranteed to win the March presidential vote, though the question of whom he will choose is as hotly debated as his future role is.

The prospect of Putin heading the government was raised by party delegate Gennady Kotelnikov, rector of a regional medical university, after a series of other delegates implored Putin to somehow retain power after March 2008.

“If you agree today to head the federal party list, then in the spring you could head the government in order to complete the changes you began in the post of president,” Kotelnikov said.

Meanwhile, Putin’s decision to lead United Russia into parliamentary elections continues a relationship of mutual support that began with the party’s formation in 2001.

The Kremlin formed the party to support Putin after he took power in 2000.

It won a vast majority in 2003 State Duma elections and has unwaveringly backed him since.

United Russia has taken every opportunity to associate itself with the massively popular Russian president, titling its parliamentary election platform “Plan Putin.” A late September poll of likely voters by the respected Levada Centre put support for United Russia at 55 per cent, followed by 18 per cent for the Communist Party.

Expected to join Putin at the head of the party list are State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Pakistani creates world record in ‘ear-lifting’

VIENNA, Oct 1: A Pakistani man broke the world-record for ‘ear-lifting’ in Vienna on Sunday carrying almost 62 kg (137 pounds) from a cord attached to his right ear.

Zafar Gill’s feat earned him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, as part of a day of record-breaking attempts in the Austrian capital, organised under the slogan “Vienna – Record-breaker”.

Gill had to use a special head-grip to protect both his ear and temple as he lifted the weight for seven seconds about 10 centimetres (four inches) off the ground.

After warming up with a more modest 30-kilo weight, Gill took up the record-breaking 61.7 kg with only a brief cry of pain.

Gill, who himself only weighs 90 kilos, trains everyday but insists he has never had any hearing problems due to his peculiar hobby.

Austria’s strongest man, Franz Muellner, was planning yesterday evening to pull a 60-tonne lorry for 30 metres (98 feet) using only a harness. And although the Austrian national football team are not exactly setting the world on fire on the pitch at the moment, the answer was perhaps in sight: a total of 613 volunteers managed to successfully play ‘keep-it-up’ (keeping a ball in the air using only your feet) for more than 10 seconds -- a record.

GB and Ireland retain Seve Trophy

Britain and Ireland retained the Seve Trophy after beating Continental Europe 8-2 in the singles to win 16½-11½.

Victory was assured when Bradley Dredge went two up with two to play in Ireland but Phillip Archer's half against Markus Brier technically won the event.

Colin Montgomerie took his first point of the weekend, but by then Paul Casey and Graeme Storm had already triumphed.

Simon Dyson and Justin Rose also picked up full points while Peter Hanson was Europe's only winner on the final day.

The hosts started the final day a point behind at The Heritage, near Dublin, but Paul Casey eroded that deficit with a 3&2 win over Raphael Jacquelin.

Graeme Storm then crushed Thomas Bjorn, who missed Saturday with a stomach upset, 6&5 while Montgomerie and Marc Warren clinched victories on the final green as Britain and Ireland moved three points clear.

Nick Dougherty came from two down to halve with Soren Hansen while Simon Dyson battled back from two down after five, to beat Mikko Ilonen 2&1.

Dredge went on to complete a two-hole victory while Archer, his partner earlier in the weekend, had the distinction of sinking the winning putt against Austria's Markus Brier as the duo racked up 4½ points each out of a possible five.

I am pretty confident players will start to schedule things to include this
GB&I captain, Nick Faldo

Oliver Wilson was the one player to lose, but beaten only on the last by Swede Hanson, while Rose wrapped up proceedings with a 2&1 win over Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Britain and Ireland team captain Nick Faldo was adamant that more star names would be present at the next event in 2009.

Open champion Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter were missing from Faldo's side, while Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Niclas Fasth, Anders Hansen, Jose Maria Olazabal, Carl Pettersson and Bernhard Langer could all have played for Seve Ballesteros's European side.

"I am pretty confident players will start to schedule things to include this," said Faldo.

"They have the right to make their decision, but this event is growing in stature and with respect to Seve - he is European golf - I think more will want to be here."

However, Montgomerie was less positive about the weekend's success.

"There were far too many alternates playing and we need to get the Tour involved," he said.

"We need the top 10 from Britain and Ireland and we need the top 10 from Europe to be playing."

Archer meanwhile paid tribute to Nick Faldo's captaincy saying: "He came in with a few words of advice on 17 and it picked me up.

"He's been inspirational and I would love to be in his (Ryder Cup) team in a year's time."

Murrays defeat Argentine pairing

Andy and Jamie Murray have earned a confidence-boosting doubles win against one of their likely opponents in Great Britain's next Davis Cup tie.

The brothers beat Argentine pairing Sebastian Prieto and Martin Garcia 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 10-8 in a super tie-break in the Moselle Open in Metz, France.

The win should stand the pair in good stead for the doubles in February's Davis Cup trip to Argentina.

Prieto, ranked 38 in doubles, is likely to be one of their opponents.

Sharapova to miss Stuttgart event

Maria Sharapova has been ruled out of the Stuttgart Grand Prix after failing to recover from a shoulder injury.

Sharapova, 20, has been hampered by shoulder problems since March and has not played in a tournament since the US Open earlier this month.

She is now expected to make a comeback at the WTA event in Madrid in November.

"I was really looking forward to the Stuttgart tournament and I'm very sorry my injury hasn't cleared up in time," said the 2004 Wimbledon champion.

"I'll do everything I can to return to the tour as quickly as possible."

Sharapova, the world number four, was forced to miss Russia's recent Fed Cup final victory over Italy because of the injury.

The Stuttgart line-up still contains nine of the world's top 10 players, including defending champion Nadia Petrova.

Federer pulls out of Japan Open

World number one Roger Federer has pulled out of the Japan Open.

Federer, who beat Tim Henman to win the Tokyo title in 2006, cited fatigue after winning his fourth consecutive US Open title earlier this month.

"I have not physically recovered 100% from the US Open and Davis Cup," said Federer, who has been ordered by doctors not to play for 10 days.

Spain's David Ferrer and France's Richard Gasquet will both play in the event, which starts on 1 October.

World number eight Ferrer is the tournament's highest seed following his late entry.

American Venus Williams, currently playing in South Korea, has been added to the women's draw.

Hair 'hell' over forfeited Test

Umpire Darrell Hair claims his life has been "made hell" since the forfeited Oval Test match between England and Pakistan in August 2006.

The Australian has been barred from officiating major international matches following his actions in that game.

He faces an employment tribunal on Monday, claiming racial discrimination and racial harassment.

Hair told: "My life has been turned upside down, but I make no apologies."

Hair's position has been under debate since he and fellow umpire Billy Doctrove penalised Pakistan for ball-tampering in the controversial fourth Test at The Oval in 2006.

They awarded five penalty runs to England and offered them a replacement ball. Play continued until tea, but the Pakistani players refused to come back out on to the field in protest at the decision.

For an umpire to go into hiding for security issues after making a decision on the field is hard to take
Darrell Hair

After waiting in the centre of the field for the tourists to resume, the umpires removed the bails and declared England winners by forfeit - the first time such an action had been taken in a Test match.

Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq was subsequently cleared of ball-tampering, although he was found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute after his part in the Pakistan protest.

Hair was criticised for his role and prevented from officiating in further matches involving Test nations.

In a bid to clear his name, the 55-year-old has brought legal proceedings against cricket's world governing body, the International Cricket Council, starting on Monday at the London office of the Tribunals Service.

A statement in February from Hair's solicitors, Finers Stephens Innocent, said: "The reality in this case is that our client would not have been treated in this way if he had not been a white umpire."

Among the witnesses expected to appear on his behalf is Billy Doctrove, his fellow umpire that fateful day 13 months ago, as well as John Jameson, former assistant secretary of MCC - which upholds the laws of the game - and ex-West Indies captain Jimmy Adams.

Hair will be represented by Robert Griffiths QC, an MCC committee member, and will be opposed by Michael Beloff QC, a leading sports law barrister.

Claiming the saga has left him fearing for his own safety, Hair said: "Umpires make mistakes but they make honest decisions and make those for the good of the game.

"I didn't forfeit the Test match. The laws provide for things under certain circumstances and I think it was pretty clear that one team was refusing to play.

We believe racism was never an issue in this matter
ICC president Ray Mali

"But if you've got the courage of your convictions you have to make those decisions and I make no apologies.

"But for an umpire to actually go into hiding for various reasons, one of them for security issues, after making a decision on the field is hard to take.

"What's become of the game when you can't make a decision without being able to go out at night? It's been pretty much hell, there's no doubt about that."

In opening exchanges, Hair's legal team emphasised the decision to penalise Pakistan for ball tampering was a joint decision taken by both Hair and West Indian Doctrove, whose career has not been affected.

Hair's team argue that the ICC's decision to suspend him was effectively taken by just three men. One of them was Nasim Ashraf, the head of the Pakistan Cricket Board, who, in their words, acted as prosecutor, judge and jury.

In response, the ICC said it was was not a racially-motivated decision and that Hair was the author of his own downfall.

Aussie Jones tipped for Wales job

Eddie Jones is the perfect candidate to take over as Wales coach, according to South Africa coach Jake White.

Jones is working as a technical advisor to the Springboks at the World Cup, and is set to work as a consultant at English club Saracens next season.

And White said: "Eddie is a very special rugby coach. I don't think a country can go far wrong in getting a guy like Eddie Jones involved.

"He is one of the astute students of the game and a well-respected coach."

Wales have launched a worldwide search for a new coach after sacking Gareth Jenkins on Sunday.

Jenkins paid the price for Wales' exit at the pool stages of the World Cup, bringing a premature end to a disappointing 17-month period in charge.

Jones, who led Australia to the 2003 World Cup final, immediately emerged as one of the leading contenders to succeed Jenkins, and White believes he has all the right credentials.

"You've seen what sort of impact he's made on the Springbok team and you can see what impact he made on the ACT Brumbies and the Wallabies," said White.

"He hasn't mentioned anything to be about the Wales job so I'll speak to him when I get to the team hotel.

"Hopefully he'll take it on next year because we've got to play Wales at the end of this year."

We must have in place a clear structure and strategy that will take us forward and that will be attractive to the very best
WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis

Welsh Rugby Union group chief executive Roger Lewis has said a caretaker coach is likely to be in charge for that game in Cardiff on 24 November.

Lewis said they would take time to guarantee they make the correct appointment after conducting a full review of the Welsh rugby structure.

Whoever is appointed will become Wales' sixth coach in as many years, and Lewis admitted the short shelf-life of previous incumbents could put off perspective candidates.

"That could be a consideration," Lewis told BBC Radio Wales. "That's why it's so important for us all to behave properly, in a measured way.

"We must have in place a clear structure and strategy that will take us forward and that will be attractive to the very best."

Lewis also revealed that the search to fill the newly created post of Elite Performance Director (EPD) will be stepped up.

The WRU announced in March their intention to appoint someone whose brief would be to ensure the maximum number of top players achieve their potential and build competition for places in Wales.

Former Wales coach Kevin Bowring, currently the head of elite coach development at the Rugby Football Union, has been linked with the new post.

The WRU says the position could be filled from within rugby, from another sport, or from a business, academic or commercial background.

FIRST ONE-DAY INTERNATIONAL, DAMBULLA: Sri Lanka 269-7 (50 overs) bt England 150 (34.5 overs) by 119 runs

England slumped to a 119-run defeat by Sri Lanka in Dambulla to go 1-0 down in their five-match one-day series.

Mahela Jayawardene hit 66, Sanath Jayasuriya 41 and Upul Tharanga 40 in the home side's 269-7 on a slow pitch.

Debutant Phil Mustard made a brisk 27 in reply but he and Kevin Pietersen fell to Farveez Maharoof (4-31) as England went from 43-0 to 102-6.

Alastair Cook (46) battled for 80 balls but after he edged Maharoof behind, they folded for 150 in the 35th over.

It was England's heaviest defeat, in terms of runs, by Sri Lanka in one-day matches and took their dismal record on the island to eight defeats in nine ODIs.

They will need to improve considerably for the next two games in Dambulla.

The venue last staged a match more than two years ago and its recently relaid surface caused plenty of problems with its lack of pace and variable bounce.

Sri Lanka's openers never really came to terms with it even though Jayasuriya heaved James Anderson over wide long-on for six and to the backward square-leg boundary in an over costing 16.

He and Tharanga were caught in the deep, and Kumar Sangakkara (38) was stumped to provide a maiden international wicket for Graeme Swann, who found prodigious turn in his first appearance for England since January 2000.

Jayawardene knew patience and playing the ball late was the key in such conditions and showed his class by cutting skipper Paul Collingwood and sweeping Swann for early boundaries as he reached 50 off 61 balls.

When Chamara Silva cracked Ryan Sidebottom over the wide long-on rope and Jayawardene carved Swann over extra-cover, England were facing an even bigger total.

But the duo were among three wickets to fall for 15 runs to give the visitors hope of limiting the damage.

Jayawardene was pouched on the cover-point boundary, Silva (33) holed out to deep square-leg and Jehan Mubarak was expertly snapped up by Anderson at fine-leg to give Stuart Broad a deserved second wicket in his first spell since being smacked for six sixes by India's Yuvraj Singh at the World Twenty20.

Maharoof ensured his team finished with a flourish by clubbing three boundaries off the young seamer in his cameo of 22 off 12 balls to leave England in need of a flying start.

Mustard recovered from almost being caught first ball at slip off Chaminda Vaas to strike several lusty blows, none better than the swipe off the veteran left-armer over long-off for six.

With Cook timing the ball beautifully to drive Lasith Malinga and Dilhara Fernando elegantly through the covers, things were looking up.

But it all went horribly wrong once Mustard miscued Maharoof to a diving Malinga at wide mid-off and Ian Bell followed one that moved away a touch to edge behind.

Pietersen got an inside edge driving loosely and, although Collingwood ended a period of six overs without a four by driving Fernando down the ground, he soon guided a slower ball from the paceman to slip.

Owais Shah chipped Malinga to Mubarak at short extra-cover and when Cook failed in his attempt to guide Maharoof down to third man the game was all but up.

Swann (24) shared 42 in 39 balls with Ravi Bopara (27no) to delay the inevitable and once he was caught reverse-sweeping Tillakaratne Dilshan the end was not long in coming.

Tottenham 4-4 Aston Villa

Younes Kaboul completed an amazing comeback by Tottenham as they fought back from 4-1 down to hold Aston Villa.

Dimitar Berbatov nodded Spurs in front but Martin Laursen levelled after Paul Robinson's error, then made it 2-1 when he deflected in Zat Knight's header.

Gabriel Agbonlahor drilled home a third and Craig Gardner's low free-kick made it 4-1 before Pascal Chimbonda replied after Jermain Defoe had hit the post.

Robbie Keane's penalty made it 4-3 before Kaboul's last-gasp leveller.

Tottenham remain in the bottom three of the Premier League but their under-fire boss Martin Jol can take heart from the way his side responded when facing almost certain defeat.

But while the manner in which the home side earned their point will ease the pressure on Jol, he will know he must solve the defensive problems which meant they had to work so hard to get something from this game.

Spurs had celebrated their 125th anniversary with a parade of legends before kick-off but the party did not continue for long once the game was underway.

True, Jol's side were looking dangerous going forward but Tottenham's continuing difficulty in dealing with Villa's attacks meant that, just two minutes after Berbatov rose to nod the home side ahead, the visitors were level.

Robinson inexplicably dropped Gareth Barry's corner and the ball bounced kindly for Laursen, who smashed his shot into the unguarded net.

Villa's second goal was almost as embarrassing for the Tottenham defence, a quick free-kick catching them unawares and, from another Barry cross, Knight headed the ball against Laursen, through Robinson's legs and into the net.

Things got even worse for Spurs before the break when Gabriel Agbonlahor latched on to a clearance from Villa keeper Scott Carson, held off Michael Dawson and fired into the bottom corner.

And when Robinson failed to keep out Craig Gardner's low free-kick early in the second half, things looked ominous for Spurs and for Jol.

But Tottenham never gave up and, with Defoe brought off the bench, they belatedly began to threaten again.

The England striker hit the post before Chimbonda netted from the rebound to give his side hope, then Robbie Keane brought the score back to 4-3 from the spot after Marlon Harewood clumsily fouled substitute Darren Bent.

It still looked like Villa would hold on but Kaboul had other ideas, slamming home in stoppage time after Villa failed to clear a corner.

Tottenham: Robinson, Chimbonda, Dawson, Kaboul, Bale, Lennon (Malbranque 86), Zokora, Huddlestone, Tainio (Defoe 54), Berbatov (Bent 73), Keane.
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Rocha.

Booked: Kaboul.

Goals: Berbatov 20, Chimbonda 69, Keane 82 pen, Kaboul 90.

Aston Villa: Carson, Mellberg, Knight, Laursen, Bouma, Gardner (Petrov 73), Reo-Coker, Barry, Young, Moore (Harewood 66), Agbonlahor.
Subs Not Used: Taylor, Davies, Osbourne.

Booked: Reo-Coker, Gardner, Carson.

Goals: Laursen 22, 33, Agbonlahor 40, Gardner 59.

Att: 36,094

Ref: Mike Dean (Wirral).

Correa 'to shut' Ecuador Congress

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has said he will dissolve the national Congress after claiming victory in constituent assembly elections.

Preliminary results show Mr Correa's Alianza Pais party with a strong majority in the assembly, which is to write a new constitution.

Mr Correa says the opposition-controlled Congress is corrupt and inept.

But critics say the reforms will focus more power in the president's hands.

A final tally of votes could take days to determine given the complexity of the vote, but an early official count has given Alianza Pais 80 seats, many more than the 66 needed to control the 130-seat assembly.

The final allocation of seats may take days, if not weeks, given the complicated nature of the poll.

'Strong mandate'

More than 3,200 candidates and a complex voting system left many voters undecided or simply confused, the BBC's South America correspondent Daniel Schweimler says.

"It's very difficult to deal with Congress and I believe the Ecuadorian people's statement was resounding: Congress must go home," he said.

Earlier he told supporters: "We accept this triumph with great humility and total responsibility," he said. "We know we cannot fail."

The impoverished Andean nation has thrown out three previous presidents in the last 10 years, and successive governments have been roundly criticised.


Mr Correa says the proposed constitutional reforms will make Ecuador a more just society and tackle the endemic political instability.

The president's critics say he will use the assembly to entrench his hold on power and this will frighten off foreign investors.

The Constituent Assembly is due to start work on 31 October and is scheduled to last 180 days, with a possible extension of up to 60 days.

The constitution the assembly drafts will then be put to a national referendum for approval.

British PM considers cut in Basra troops

The British prime minister has been told by advisers the number of British troops in southern Iraq could be cut by 2,000 by spring.

Plans for a complete UK withdrawal from Basra have been rejected.

But Gordon Brown has been advised that once the focus of troops is largely on training and mentoring Iraqi forces, numbers could drop from 5,000 to 3,000.

The cut, yet to be decided on, could be announced in a statement on Iraq due when the Commons sits again next week.

It is thought British forces are likely to stay in Basra for up to two further years.

They are currently heading towards "overwatch", which involves mentoring and training the Iraqis and not actually going on patrols.

Meanwhile, Britain's consul general in Basra, Richard Jones, has told the BBC that local people are scared that all-out war could break out between rival militias once Britain has handed over security to local forces.

Handover due

News of possible cuts in troop levels will lead to more speculation that Gordon Brown is on the verge of calling a snap election.

Mr Brown has prepared for many weeks to announce that British troops will finally be able to hand over the last of four provinces to Iraqi forces to control.

The Ministry of Defence has already said the handover of Basra province is due this autumn.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said he understood that ministers had discussed a number of radical options in recent weeks.

One was to withdraw British forces from Basra altogether and move them to the relative safety of a US and an Australian base elsewhere.

Another was to withdraw troops to a base inside Kuwait.

Both would have allowed significant troop reductions and, politically, would have signalled a significant break in UK policy, our correspondent added.

But both options were rejected.

As a result, British forces are likely to stay in Basra for a significant period of time - possibly for as long as two years.

But our correspondent said a cut was being considered because fewer British troops would be required for force protection and they would be facing fewer dangerous situations.

Such a reduction would not take place immediately but in the foreseeable future, he added.

Last base

At the end of August, Mr Brown ruled out setting a timetable for withdrawing UK troops from Iraq, saying it would undermine their "important job" there.

The prime minister has always said that decisions on the future size and strength of British forces in Iraq would "continue to depend on conditions on the ground".

He was speaking ahead of the September handover by 550 soldiers of Basra Palace to Iraqi control.

Those soldiers joined 5,000 troops at the airport - the UK's last base in the city - and 500 soldiers have since been withdrawn from the country.

Meanwhile, civilians in Basra have described the city as a place of fear where assassination and intimidation are common.

They described the parties and militias now vying for control of the city as resembling "Shia Taleban".

Academics are killed or intimidated into silence and women threatened with death if they do not wear conservative Islamic dress, they say.

Mr Jones, the consul general, said "dark forces" had infiltrated the police but insisted a new security chief would be able to purge their ranks.

He said that, as residents contemplated the handing over of security this autumn, they also feared all-out war between rival militias.

Record close for New York shares

New York's leading shares have broken their record closing level after economic data made an interest rate cut more likely.

The rises came after a report showed that manufacturing grew at its slowest pace for six months in September.

The Federal Reserve's next rate-setting meeting is on 30-31 October.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 1.38% or 191.92 points at 14,087.55 - the first climb above 14,000 since mid-July.

Shares in banks were boosted by the perception that the worst of the summer's credit problems may be over.

Both Citigroup and UBS gave indications of the amount that the upheaval in credit markets had cost them in the past three months, but were confident that business was now returning to normal.

There was also a technical effect on trading from the start of the new financial quarter.

Many options expired on Friday, leaving traders free to set up new positions.

The technology-based Nasdaq rose 39.49 points or 1.46% higher at 2,740.99.

The S&P 500 index rose 20.28 points or 1.32% to 1,547.03.

Adobe challenges word on the web

Adobe has joined a growing list of firms offering web-based alternatives to conventional office programs.

The software developer has acquired the online word processor Buzzword, which allows users to create and share text documents on the web.

Similar programs are already offered as elements of other free office software suites from Google, ajax13 and Zoho.

Microsoft has also announced a new web feature for its Office suite which lets people access documents online.

Microsoft Office Live Workspace is currently being offered as free test, or "beta", software.

"Office Live Workspace will provide anywhere-access to Office documents, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint files," said Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's Business division.

"In other words, these documents will go wherever people go when they're away from their usual desktop."

People using the new feature will be able to post documents directly to an online workspace where friends or colleagues can be invited to collaborate on a document.

Web purchase

The new services from both companies are part of a wider trend to offer applications on demand and online. In addition, many companies also offer their standard applications for free.

"Companies are looking at this as a real paradigm change," said Michael Silver of analyst firm Gartner.

The market for these applications was still small, he said, particularly compared to the dominance of Microsoft Office on computer desktops. However, he said, that would start to change.

"Companies need to position themselves today to be leaders in the area as it develops."

Google has already established itself as one of the major players offering free programs that allow users to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations online.

While mainly aimed at individuals, Google also offers a business, or "enterprise", version that comes with technical support to help people use it.

Google has developed its software suite by acquiring companies such as the internet start-up Writely, which developed its word processing application.

Adobe appear to be following a similar path, having acquired Buzzword by buying its developer, Virtual Ubiquity.

The firm has offered the word processor as a limited trial since May 2007.

"We were inspired by the way today's youth spend their lives working and playing together online, and how this is influencing the way we all think about collaboration," said Rick Treitman, CEO of the firm.

Offline worlds

Although there is a move towards increasingly hosting applications online, many people still demand an ability to work with documents when there is no web connection.

In May this year, Google announced its Gears tool that allows users access to online data and applications inside a web browser even when the PC is offline.

Using Gears, online data that is usually held on web servers is stored on an individual's computer, and then synchronised when the user logs back on to the web.

The developers of the free online office package Zoho use Gears to allow users to work offline.

Adobe has said that a similar service will be available for Buzzword at a later date.

It also plans to integrate a new file-sharing feature called Adobe Share with the online word processor.

Share allows people to store up to 1GB of documents online or embed them in any web page, from which anyone can download and print a PDF.

The service is currently being offered as part of a trial.

Palm in red as iPhone grabs sales

The US handheld computer maker Palm has reported a three-month loss as the launch of Apple's iPhone hit sales of its own smartphones.

It made a net loss of $841,000 (£412,000) between June and August, compared with a profit of $16.5m in the same three months of 2006.

Palm warned on 19 September that it was likely to report a loss.

Analysts blamed it on increased competition from Apple and other manufacturers of high-end phones.

It is the first set of results since Palm sold one quarter of its shares to the private equity house Elevation Partners.

"As we move toward completing the recapitalization transaction with Elevation Partners, we are excited to strengthen our ability to accelerate Palm's growth in the future," said Palm's chief executive Ed Colligan.

Apple launched its iPhone in the US on 29 June.

Palm's Treo systems may also have been losing out to the Blackberry devices made by Research in Motion.

Palm recently withdrew its Foleo keyboard and monitor devices for its Treo smartphones.

But it has launched its Centro device, which is a lightweight, cheaper device, designed to compete with manufacturers such as Samsung.

Apple iPhone warning proves true

An Apple software update is disabling iPhones that have been unlocked by owners who wanted to choose which mobile network to use.

Earlier this week Apple said a planned update would leave the device "permanently inoperable".

Thousands of iPhone owners hacked their expensive gadget in order to unlock it for use with other mobile carriers and to run a host of unsupported programs.

There are also reports of the update causing issues with unaltered iPhones.

On Monday Apple issued a statement in which it said many of the unauthorised iPhone unlocking programs caused "irreparable damage" to the device's software.

The company said this would "likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed".

That warning has now proved correct as many owners are reporting their phones no longer work following installation of the update.

Apple requires iPhone owners to take out a lengthy contract with AT&T in the United States but there are a number of programs on the net that unlock the device for use with other networks.

Some owners are reporting on technology blogs and Apple's own forums that the update is deleting contacts information, as well as photos and music, on iPhones that have not been modified in any way.

Skype founders quit as executives

The founders of Skype, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, have resigned as executives of the web-based phone firm.

EBay has announced that it will cut up to $1.2bn (£590m) off the potential price it agreed to pay for Skype.

In September 2005 eBay agreed to pay $2.6bn for Skype and make further payments of up to $1.7bn based on Skype meeting various targets.

EBay will reduce the value of Skype on its books by $900m, a tacit recognition that it overpaid for the company.

"I think this is a testament that the Skype franchise is not worth as much as eBay originally thought," said Youssef Squali of the brokerage Jeffries & Co.

Skype generated only $90m in revenue in the three months to the end of June.

Other projects

Ebay said it might pay Skype shareholders another $195m, but only if it sells 50% or more of Skype before then end of March 2008.

Mr Zennstrom, who was chief executive of Skype, will become non-executive chairman and is expected to spend more time on other projects.

After the Skype sale, he and Mr Friis founded an online video company called Joost.com.

Joost, which had previously only been available by invitation, made its software freely available on Monday.

Mandela announces SA HIV/Aids gig

Former South African president Nelson Mandela has announced an international concert to be held for World Aids Day in Johannesburg on 1 December.

The aim is to raise awareness about HIV/Aids in a country with one of the world's highest HIV prevalence rates

More than five million people are HIV positive in South Africa.

Fifty thousand people are expected at the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg. More than 30 local and international artists will be performing.

For the past four years, Nelson Mandela has allowed his old prison number 46664 to be used as a banner in the fight against HIV/Aids.

Several 46664 concerts have been held around the world and Mr Mandela said 46664 would continue to organise major events to highlight the problem.

"I am very delighted that we are engaging the youth in schools, communities and through the media, breaking the silence and stigmas around HIV and Aids, and making them realise that the power to beat the pandemic, lies in their own hands," he said.

Since his retirement from politics, Mr Mandela has thrown himself into the struggle against Aids with determination.

In 2005, the cause took on a tragic personal dimension for him when his only surviving son, Mankato, died of Aids.

Anderson to marry Paris Hilton ex

Actress Pamela Anderson is set to marry Rick Salomon, the former boyfriend of celebrity heiress Paris Hilton.

The couple have been granted a wedding licence in Las Vegas, enabling them to marry at any time over the next year, officials in Clark County confirmed.

Salomon, 38, is best known for making an explicit video with Hilton.

Former Baywatch star Anderson, 40, divorced musician Kid Rock earlier this year, having been married to Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee until 1998.


Last month, Anderson appeared on a US television talk show hosted by Ellen de Generes and announced that she was engaged.

But she refused to identify her fiance, other than disclosing that he was a poker player.

The screen star's most recent marriage to Kid Rock ended in divorce being sought after just four months.

At the MTV Music Video Awards in Las Vegas in September, he was arrested on suspicion of assaulting Tommy Lee, the father of Anderson's two children.

Lee and Anderson also gained notoriety for recording an explicit video.

The tape involving Hilton and Salomon, recorded in infrared, was initially circulated on the internet before being released as an X-rated film entitled One Night in Paris.

Spears loses custody of children

Singer Britney Spears has been ordered to hand over her two young children to her former husband.

A judge in Los Angeles ruled that Kevin Federline be given custody of Sean Preston, two, and one-year-old Jayden James, until further notice.

Ms Spears has recently been charged over a motoring incident, and dropped by her management firm.

Representatives for Ms Spears and Mr Federline were not immediately available for comment.

The judge's order came 10 days after the 25-year-old singer was charged with leaving the scene of an accident after allegedly driving into a parked car, and driving without a valid licence.

If found guilty she could go to jail for six months.

Substance abuse

Her comeback appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards earlier this month was also panned by critics.

Last month Judge Scott Gordon said Ms Spears showed "a habitual, frequent and continuous use of controlled substances and alcohol".

She was ordered to undergo random drug and alcohol tests twice a week as part of her child custody dispute with Mr Federline.

The judge also ordered Ms Spears and Mr Federline to complete a parenting class.

However, on Monday he ruled that Mr Federline "is to retain physical custody of the minor children on Wednesday October 3, 2007 at 12pm until further order of the court", the official court documents said.

Ms Spears married the backing dancer in October 2004, but the pair filed for divorce last November.

The divorce was finalised on 30 July and since then the estranged couple have shared an equal amount of time with the two boys.

However, Mr Federline has been fighting for greater time and more money.

Korean leaders meet in Pyongyang

North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-il has welcomed South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun as he arrived in Pyongyang for a historic summit.

Live television footage showed the two men shaking hands ahead of three days of talks in the North Korean capital.

The meeting between the two leaders is only the second such meeting in more than 50 years since the Korean war.

President Roh said that he was aiming for a "peace settlement together with economic development".

The 1950-53 war between the two sides has never formally ended, but Seoul has promoted hopes for a permanent truce.

It says this summit may pave the way for that historic step

Brief reunions

President Roh left the South Korean capital, Seoul, early on Tuesday in a motorcade along with business leaders, bureaucrats, poets and clerics.

The convoy stopped at the demilitarized zone to allow the president and his wife, Kwon Yang-sook, to cross into the north on foot.

They stepped across a yellow plastic tape, printed with the words "peace" and "prosperity".

"I do hope after my crossing that more people will follow suit," said President Roh at the border. "This line will gradually be erased and the wall will fall."

The two states' only other summit was held in Pyongyang in 2000.

At the time, Kim Jong-il promised to make the return journey to Seoul, but that has never happened.

The first summit led to the former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his "sunshine policy" of rapprochement with the North.

Since then, rail and road links have been reconnected and families divided between the two countries have been granted reunions, if only briefly.

But critics say the South's attempts at friendship and large donations of aid have failed to break down the impoverished North's isolationism or improve its human rights record.

Some observers doubt whether Kim Jong-il has any appetite for reconciliation, says the BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul.

They believe he prefers to keep his military threat to coax further economic aid and other concessions from the nervous South, our correspondent says.

Nuclear progress

The conservative opposition in South Korea has warned Mr Roh against making any "naive" economic concessions just for the sake of an agreement.

"They must know that an emotional approach to the North would bring on disasters," spokeswoman Na Kyung-won said.

One item not on the agenda is North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

That is being left for ongoing multi-party talks, which made significant progress over the weekend.

A joint statement setting out the next step in the denuclearisation progress was agreed, and has been sent for approval to the six governments involved, including the two Koreas.