The NewsFuror

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Everton facing Uefa ticket chaos

Everton fans
Everton fans with the wrong tickets will be denied entry
About 1,500 Everton supporters face being turned away from Thursday's Uefa Cup game in Nuremberg because of fears over crowd trouble.

Uefa classified the match as high-risk after it emerged that the German club had sold a number of tickets in their home section direct to Everton fans.

"We would never recommend that supporters get tickets through the host club," said Everton spokesman Ian Ross.

"Those who bought them are being told now they can't use them."

European football's governing body has advised that the tickets be withdrawn because of fears over the potential for hooliganism.

Everton were allocated fewer than 3,000 tickets for the Franken-Stadion ground, which holds 47,000.

A large police presence is expected in the southern German city, and Nuremberg were forced to cancel the tickets to ensure Everton's fans are segregated in the stadium.

Everton said they received requests for five times the number of tickets they were allocated.

"However, we will never endorse our supporters buying tickets from the opposing team," said Ross.

"There are regulations in place for a reason and tickets bought from Nuremberg will not be valid on Thursday."

Merseyside Police have urged fans without a ticket to avoid turning up to the ground and watch the match at local venues in Nuremberg instead.

Liverpool's stadium move granted

An artist's impression of Liverpool's new stadium.
Tom Hicks says he is excited about the new stadium plans
Liverpool Football Club's plans for a new £400m stadium have been passed.

The 60,000 capacity ground at Stanley Park has been unanimously approved by Liverpool City Council planning committee after a five-hour meeting.

The Premier League club's new stadium will hold 15,000 more fans than the existing site, but that could increase to 75,000 in the future.

The plans were resubmitted because American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks were unhappy with the originals.

It's a fantastic job to be involved with, a fantastic city and fantastic club
Paul Hyett, HKS Architects Chairman

The new stadium will house 114 executive boxes, twice the number in the original design, and will regenerate public land which stands between Anfield and Everton's ground, Goodison Park.

Paul Hyett, chairman of HKS Architects in charge of the stadium project, said: "You don't often get one like this to deal with. Most people never get to work on one like this.

"It's a fantastic job to be involved with, a fantastic city and fantastic club."

A spokesman for Liverpool FC said work on the new stadium could begin almost immediately and was expected to be finished by August 2011.

Construction of the new ground means the Stanley Park area will benefit from £14m of Government funding.

'Monstrous sized'

Despite celebration over the approval, the club's application has been widely opposed by residents living near to the new development and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.

Local councillor Steve Radford called it a "monstrous sized development" that should not have been passed.

He said: "I believe the officers of the council have acted as agents of the club, not agents of the people."

The Reds' current home will be redeveloped as a car park, sports centre and hotel.

Talks are under way with families of Hillsborough victims about moving the 1989 memorial.

Skinstad hangs up boots for good

Bobby Skinstad
Skinstad captained South Africa 12 times
South African forward Bobby Skinstad has announced he has retired from rugby for good after helping the Springboks win the 2007 World Cup.

Former Boks captain Skinstad, 31, came out of retirement in June 2007, having played his last Test in 2003.

"I leave the game on my terms and with the most wonderful memory of experiencing the thrill of a winning World Cup campaign," said Skinstad.

His last game was as a reserve in the 37-13 semi-final win over Argentina.

Skinstad, who could play as both a flanker and number eight, helped South Africa reach the World Cup semi-finals in 1999, but missed the 2003 tournament after breaking his forearm.

He came to Britain and played briefly for Newport-Gwent Dragons and then for Richmond in London South-East Division 1 as well as also working as a TV analyst.

But Skinstad was lured back to South Africa by former coach Jake White. He helped the Sharks make this year's Super 14 final and was back in the Springboks side in June.

Skinstad added: "I never doubted my desire to want to play for the Springboks again, but knew it was a privilege that had to be earned.

"I want to say a special thanks to the coaches, conditioning staff and players at the Sharks who embraced my presence and reaffirmed my belief that nothing is impossible."

Zimbabwe-born Skinstad made his debut as a reserve against England in 1997 - a 29-11 win at Twickenham - and went on to captain South Africa 12 times, scoring 11 tries.

He captained the team in the 2007 World Cup first-round match against Tonga, but was not a regular in the starting line-up during the tournament and failed to make the bench for the final against England.

In all, Skinstad played in 42 tests for South Africa, captaining the Springboks on 12 occasions.

Tendulkar rejects India captaincy

Sachin Tendulkar's decision to reject the captaincy opens the door for Mahendra Dhoni (right)
Tendulkar's decision to reject the captaincy opens the door for Dhoni
Sachin Tendulkar has turned down the chance to become India's Test captain.

The legendary batsman, 34, was skipper for two spells from 1996-2000 but stood down after only four wins in 25 Tests.

He was offered a third stint to succeed Rahul Dravid, who quit in September, but told TV channel CNN-IBN: "I don't feel right about it at the moment."

India's selectors, who will name their choice on Thursday, are now likely to go for Mahendra Dhoni, 26, who is captain of the one-day team.

Dhoni led India during their World Twenty20 triumph in South Africa in September.

If appointed, his first Test series as skipper will be against Pakistan, which begins after the ongoing one-day series between the teams finishes.

The wicket-keeper/batsman is seen in some quarters as too inexperienced for the job in the longer format, having featured in only 20 Tests.

Former India coach Greg Chappell said: "He is doing his apprenticeship in the limited-overs forms of the game. It won't be long before I think he is ready. Probably another 12 months or more."

But Niranjan Shah, secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, hinted that Dhoni would be handed the reins following advice from Tendulkar.

"He was of the view that the Indian team was doing extremely well and the board must think of appointing a younger person as the captain looking at the future of the team," Shah said.

Liverpool 8-0 Besiktas

Liverpool striker Peter Crouch (back) celebrates his goal as he towers above Steve Gerrard (left) and Andriy Voronin
Crouch (back) was the catalyst for Liverpool's win
Yossi Benayoun grabbed a hat-trick as a rampant Liverpool beat Besiktas to keep their Champions League campaign alive.

Peter Crouch slotted in after his first shot was saved to open the scoring.

Benayoun took down a cross and lashed home before twice side-footing in after John Arne Riise and Steven Gerrard had strikes parried into his path.

Gerrard powered in a shot, Ryan Babel backheeled in a deft goal and then deflected in a Besiktas clearance before Crouch nodded in for an eighth.

Liverpool came into the game with their backs against the wall as they needed victory to keep alive any realistic hopes of progressing in the competition.

The Reds started with the urgency their predicament merited but saw Mehmet Sedef shoot wide at the near post after a cross from Matias Delgado.

The home side heeded the warning as a sign to swarm forward in greater numbers.

Crouch nodded a ball into the path of Andriy Voronin, who shot disappointingly wide, and then got the power on a header from Riise's cross only to see his effort go wide.

Right-back Alvaro Arbeloa was consistently marauding forward and he crossed for Benayoun to guide a shot against the outside of near post.

The inevitability of the Reds goal finally came when Edouard Cisse inadvertently played Crouch through on goal with a tackle towards his own goal.

Crouch netted the rebound as he scored the goal Liverpool craved to settle nerves before Riise had a header cleared off the line.

Voronin then found Benayoun at the far post and the Israeli took two touches to control and then lash in a shot to add a second.

Yossi Benayoun slots ho9me in the 8-0 win over Besiktas as he helps Liverpool to a record Champions League win
Benayoun was instrumental in Liverpool's win

Liverpool continued to scythe through Besiktas after the break and Benayoun had a simple tap-in for a third after keeper Hakan Arikan could only parry a Riise shot into his path.

The fourth from the Reds came much the same way when Arikan failed to gather a fiercely driven Gerrard free-kick and Benayoun poached a another goal for his hat-trick.

The stunned Turkish visitors had little answer to Liverpool's play as the Anfield side refused to let up.

And another goal soon followed as a superb backheel from Voronin put Gerrard through on goal as the two players produced a neat one-two, which the Reds skipper finished with a stinging shot.

Benayoun turned provider late on when he crossed low for Babel and he audaciously back-heeled in at the near post.

Dutch forward Babel chased down a long ball and was rewarded when a clearance struck him and looped into the net.

Babel even had time to head against the crossbar, while Crouch glanced in a header from a Benayoun cross to complete the rout and the biggest win in the Champions League.

Liverpool: Reina, Aurelio (Babel 63), Hyypia, Carragher, Arbeloa, Riise, Mascherano, Gerrard (Lucas 72), Benayoun, Voronin (Kewell 72), Crouch.
Subs Not Used: Martin, Finnan, Torres, Kuyt.

Goals: Crouch 19, Benayoun 32, 53, 56, Gerrard 69, Babel 79, 81, Crouch 89.

Besiktas: Arikan, Uzulmez, Toraman, Diatta, Kurtulus (Higuain 62), Sedef (Ricardinho 78), Cisse, Avci, Ozcan (Tandogan 46), Delgado, Bobo.
Subs Not Used: Rustu, Yozgatli, Kas, Karadeniz.

Booked: Ozcan.

Att: 41,143

Ref: Markus Merk (Germany).

Deer kills 2 Pakistani caretakers in Greece

ATHENS, Nov 6: A male red deer in a farm in central Greece killed its two Pakistani caretakers in an apparent mating frenzy when they ventured into the pen it shared with two females, Greek media said on Tuesday.

The deer fatally gored one of the men during feeding time last Wednesday, and also killed the second caretaker when he went looking for his missing colleague two days later, the reports said.

“The deer may have gone mad,” said Aristeidis Lambrou, owner of the farm outside the town of Platea, who found the bodies on Saturday. “It will be put down and examined. We don’t want it in our farm anymore,” he told Ethnos daily.

Police said they found traces of blood on the deer’s horns, and an autopsy confirmed that it had killed the Pakistanis.

The deer may have attacked the caretakers for intruding on the mating process, a veterinary expert said.—AFP

Emergency to be lifted in three weeks: Shujaat

ISLAMABAD: Ruling Pakistan Muslim League president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has said that the state of emergency should not last more than three weeks.

“I’m sure it will end in two to three weeks as President Pervez Musharraf is aware of the consequences of long emergency rule,” he told Dawn here on Tuesday.

“Nobody is in favour of emergency. It was promulgated reluctantly by the chief of the army staff,” the PML chief said, rejecting some politicians’ view that it was a “virtual martial law”.

Asked if general elections would be held as planned earlier, he said that “postponing the elections may favour some individuals or parties but not us”. He did not elaborate.

Chaudhry Shujaat ruled out any possibility of a pre-poll arrangement with the Pakistan People’s Party. “This could be considered after the general elections in which we will be rivals,” he added.

“But we are ready to meet PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto and her aides to discuss steps which may help improve the political climate and ensure transition to full democracy,” he said.

Answering a question, he said the PML was fully geared to contest elections on the basis of its government’s performance.

Chaudhry Shujaat rejected opposition’s allegation that polls would not be held in a free, fair and transparent manner under President Gen Musharraf and that the ruling party would be allowed to rig them.

“Gone are the days when elections could be easily manipulated,” he said, adding that after the lifting of the state of emergency, political parties would start a fully-fledged election campaign.

Asked about Monday’s rumours relating to President Musharraf, the PML chief said the army was fully behind the president and, therefore, there was no question of his ouster. “This could be a wishful thinking of some people but I can assure you that Musharraf is not going anywhere”.

He said that the rumours had been spread by speculators and as a result people lost Rs186 billion in the stock market.

He said political parties, members of the civil society and print and electronic media should join hands for restoration of full democracy in Pakistan as early as possible.

APP adds: Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said that the PML and allied parties fully supported President Musharraf’s decision to impose emergency in national interest.

He was talking to PML president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, National Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain, Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao, Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, Religious Affairs Minister Ijaz-ul-Haq, Law Minister Zahid Hamid, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Dr. Sher Afgan, State Minister for Information Tariq Azim and National Assembly chief whip Sardar Nasrullah Dareshak at the Prime Minister’s House.

Union agrees pay deal with Ford

UAW member works on a Ford Focus at a Ford factory in Michigan
Ford is struggling to recover from severe losses last year
The main US car union has agreed to allow Ford to cut the wages of a fifth of its staff in half in exchange for greater job and benefits security.

Ford will freeze outsourcing and pay $15.4bn (£7.4bn) toward medical benefits for its retired workers.

These conditions are the focus of a new four-year contract favoured by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

The deal is similar to those already agreed with GM and Chrysler, and will be put to Ford's UAW members this week.

UAW president Ron Gettelfinger called the contract a "great agreement" and said he hoped to wrap up a ratification vote on the proposed four-year deal with Ford by next Monday after local union officials gave unanimous support.

They're in a very rocky position right now
David Cole, Center for Automotive Research

The talks had centred on health care and pension benefits for retired workers and protecting US jobs.

The agreement caps an historic round of talks between the main US auto industry's union and three US car giants.

But analysts are sceptical whether the approved cost savings will help Ford embark on the speedy recovery it needs to reverse the $12.7bn loss it posted last year.

"They're in a very rocky position right now," said David Cole, chairman of the Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research. "They need to cut down their immediate cashflow problem."

Outsourcing freeze

As part of the agreement, Ford has committed to pay $13.2bn to set up an independent fund, known as a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA), to help secure healthcare for retired workers, the union said.

Until the VEBA becomes operational in 2010, Ford will continue to pay for retiree health care benefits, at a projected cost of $2.2bn.

The UAW also said it won guarantees that no further US factories would be closed, besides three which have already been identified, and a promise that millions of dollars would be invested in expanding Ford's North American manufacturing base.

In addition, Ford has committed to a freeze on outsourcing over the lifetime of the agreement, which would help stem thousands of job losses in the struggling auto giant's home market.

These provisions helped Ford to broker a reduction in the hourly pay of entry-level employees to $14.20 an hour, half the current level of $28.88, which it will be able to pay to 20% of its workforce.

The two-tier wage structure is similar to provisions in the deals agreed by Ford's domestic rivals General Motors and Chrysler, where staff that do not work on the assembly lines will be paid lower wages.

US banks tighten loan standards

A foreclosed home in California
Tighter standards will make it harder to refinance home loans
Large US banks have tightened up their requirements for all types of loans during the past three months, according to a Federal Reserve survey.

Tighter standards and more expensive loans will make it more difficult for homeowners to refinance their loans.

Federal Reserve board member Randall Kroszner predicted that foreclosures and delinquencies were likely to rise in coming months.

Record defaults on home loans were responsible for the credit crunch.

The US central bank's October survey showed that 40% of domestic banks had tightened standards on traditional prime mortgages, compared with 15% in July.

Traditional prime mortgages are mainly long-term fixed-rate loans.

For non-traditional mortgages, 60% tightened standards, compared with 40% in July.

More than half of the nine banks surveyed that issue sub-prime mortgages had tightened standards, which was the same as in July.

Sub-prime loans are offered to people with inferior credit records or unpredictable incomes.

"Conditions for sub-prime borrowers have the potential to get worse before they get better," said Mr Kroszner.

Euro climbs to fresh dollar peak

Woman holding dollar bills and euro notes
A rise in eurozone rates would further support the euro's strength
The euro has hit a fresh high against the dollar, as negative views of the US economic outlook continue to take their toll on the US currency.

A steady sell-off of the dollar meant that one euro was worth $1.4571 at one point, while the pound hit $2.09 for the first time since the 1980s.

A steady stream of bad news coming from the US mortgage sector has sparked fears for the health of the economy.

These fears have prompted investors to sell dollars and buy euros or pounds.

The Bank of England is widely tipped to leave interest rates on hold at 5.75% when it meets later this week, while the recovery in the eurozone economy is still robust enough for analysts to expect rates to increase further in the region.

Any additional corporate earnings write-downs from the sub-prime crisis during the summer would be expected to weigh on the dollar
James Hughes, CMC Markets

These factors have leant support to the pound and euro, which are currently offering a better rate of return than the dollar.

But the euro's strength could be bad news for European exporters, as it makes sales abroad more expensive and therefore less competitive.

A 10% gain in the euro bloc's currency this year contributed to a worse-than-expected fall in German manufacturing orders for September and a worsening outlook for Europe's biggest economy, analysts said.

"The stronger euro, higher oil prices, the credit crunch and weaker global growth fears are all compounding a weaker outlook for orders, output and jobs," said David Brown, an economist at Bear Stearns.

No silver lining

The dollar has been sliding since the US Federal Reserve chopped interest rates from 5.25% to 4.75% in September.

Rates were reduced further in October to 4.5% in an effort to kickstart the faltering housing and credit markets, as well as making borrowing cheaper to encourage consumer spending in the run-up to the key Christmas shopping period.

The Fed signalled that it would adopt a wait-and-see approach to the future direction of interest rates.

But the continued dollar sell-off suggests that the market believes the Fed will be forced to intervene and cut rates further to prevent the US economy from tipping into a recession.

This reaction stems from the recent emergence of hefty losses at global banking giants, such as Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and UBS, linked to investments backed by US home loans which have gone sour, analysts observe.

This has led to worries that banks may be sitting on even bigger losses, which ultimately could constrain their ability to lend to individuals or businesses and thus hamper economic growth.

"Any additional corporate earnings write-downs from the sub-prime crisis during the summer would be expected to weigh on the dollar," said James Hughes at CMC Markets.

Graph showing the dollar's decline against the euro

US rebukes Yahoo over China case

Yahoo's Michael Callahan and Jerry Yang at the House committee hearing
Yahoo's senior officers say the firm has to comply with local laws
A US congressional panel has criticised internet firm Yahoo for not giving full details to a probe into the jailing of a reporter by Chinese authorities.

Yahoo had been "at best inexcusably negligent" and at worst "deceptive" in evidence given to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last year, it said.

Yahoo's Michael Callahan originally told Congress he did not know why China wanted the reporter's details.

Shi Tao was jailed after Yahoo helped Chinese officials identify him.

Chief executive Jerry Yang said his firm had always been open with Congress and that it was "fully committed to protecting human rights".

Yahoo has previously said it had to comply with Chinese laws to operate in the country.

'State secrets'

Democratic Representative Tom Lantos, chairman of the House committee, issued a stinging rebuke to the US-based internet giant at Tuesday's hearing.

This was inexcusably negligent behaviour at best, and deliberately deceptive behaviour at worst
Tom Lantos
House Foreign Affairs Committee

At issue is whether Michael Callahan, Yahoo's executive vice-president and general counsel, gave false information to the panel during an investigation in February 2006.

Mr Callahan said then that he did not know why the Chinese authorities wanted to trace Shi Tao - who was jailed for 10 years - but it has since emerged that other Yahoo employees had a document stating it was to do with the "suspected illegal provision of state secrets".

Mr Callahan wrote a letter to Congress last week to apologise and stating that the pertinent information only came to his attention months after he gave testimony.

Mr Lantos said any big company operating in China should have been aware of the authorities' repression of free speech.

He also questioned how Mr Callahan could not have known of the document referring to "state secrets" - a charge commonly used to prosecute dissidents and pro-democracy activists.

Chinese computer users
Chinese computer users are barred from accessing some websites

"Yahoo claims that this is just one big misunderstanding," Mr Lantos said.

"Let me be clear - this was no misunderstanding. This was inexcusably negligent behaviour at best, and deliberately deceptive behaviour at worst."

Mr Callahan responded that there had been confusion over the information Yahoo had about the demand made by Chinese authorities.

He apologised for the "misunderstanding" and for not letting the House committee know when the additional information came to his attention.

Urged by Mr Lantos to "beg the forgiveness" of Shi Tao's mother, who was present at the hearing, both Mr Callahan and Mr Yang turned and nodded silently to her.

Mr Lantos added: "I do not believe America's brightest and best companies should be playing integral roles in China's notorious and brutal political repression apparatus."

Shi Tao was jailed for sending on to foreign websites an e-mail from the ruling Communist Party warning journalists not to cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 2004.

Blocked content

Last month, the House committee backed legislation which would prevent internet companies such as Yahoo from co-operating with authorities in China and elsewhere.

Under the legislation, companies would also have to reveal terms and phrases they filtered in certain countries.

The bill, introduced by Republican representative Chris Smith, still needs approval from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Chinese government enforces strict laws on internet use, blocking content it considers a threat, including references to the Tiananmen Square massacre and notable dissidents.

Arrests made in Brazil tax probe

Brazilian real notes
Investigators say the fraud may have totalled more than $500m
Brazilian police have arrested 19 people, including an employee of the Swiss bank UBS, in an investigation into alleged money laundering.

The arrests, following raids at 44 sites, are part of a probe into claims that Brazilian firms avoided tax by laundering money though foreign banks.

A Brazilian judge said UBS, Credit Suisse and US insurance giant AIG were among those under investigation.

Investigators said the alleged fraud had cost the country more than $500m.

'Cash transfers'

They said they had tracked illegal monthly cash transfers by Brazilian companies into Swiss bank accounts of up to $4m over the past 18 months.

It is alleged the companies concerned used the money secreted overseas to buy goods from US and China for export to Brazil.

UBS confirmed that an unnamed employee had been detained, adding that it was trying to establish the reason for the arrest.

AIG said it was "not aware of any wrongdoing by any private bank employee" while Credit Suisse has not commented on the allegations.

None of those detained has been charged. The authorities are seeking the arrest of another foreign national currently outside the country.

Last month, police raided offices of the US IT firm Cisco Systems in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro in connection with the same investigation.

Four employees were arrested and subsequently released. Cisco has denied any wrongdoing.

Oil races to fresh high above $97

Oil platform in the North Sea
Opec insists there is no oil shortage
Oil prices have risen to a record high above $97 a barrel, amid concerns over tight fuel stocks and a weak US dollar.

US crude oil rose $3 to a high of $97.10 before closing at $96.70, while the price of London Brent crude climbed to a record level of $93.26 a barrel.

The price of gold also surged to a record peak of $826.40 an ounce on the weak dollar and fears of inflation spurred by the record high oil prices.

Gold is seen as a haven for investors in times of stock market uncertainty.

Gold prices later eased slightly to close at $823.40.

'Bullish sentiment'

Oil prices fell $2 a barrel on Monday as investors worried that economic growth could slow in the US and curb demand for fuel, but soon resumed their seemingly remorseless climb towards the $100 mark.

If we have a combination of a drawdown in inventories and a cold spell in the US, that could cause a surge in pricing
Victor Shum, Purvin and Gertz

The latest rise was triggered by a combination of the weak dollar, an attack on a oil pipeline in the Yemen and fears of fresh volatility in the Middle East after a series of deadly bombings in Afghanistan.

"We seem to be seeing a tug of war between people taking profits and those coming into buy into dips, and they are effectively saying we can go past $100," said Mike Wittner at Societe Generale.

The focus now is on the latest snapshot of US crude oil reserves expected on Wednesday.

Analysts expect the stocks to have fallen by more than 1.5 million barrels in the past week, because of disruptions to short-haul Mexican shipments.

Oil drums
Oil stockpiles are expected to fall in the US next year

In remarks released ahead of the weekly inventory figures, the US Energy Information Administration said it expected US crude consumption to rise next year despite higher prices.

On the other hand, it expects inventories to have been depleted by about 11 million barrels by the end of the first quarter.

The agency also raised its price forecast for 2008 to $79.92 from $73.50 a barrel.

"Rising oil consumption and the realization that additional Opec production may not be sufficient to arrest the inventory decline are keeping markets firm," it noted.

Analysts said they expected the market to remain febrile as prices neared $100.

"But the overall market sentiment is still bullish and prices appear to be on an uptrend towards the $100 mark," said Victor Shum, from energy consultancy Purvin and Gertz.

"If we have a combination of a drawdown in inventories and a cold spell in the US, that could cause a surge in pricing."

Hotels group gets profits boost

Intercontinental Hotel in Zurich
The group operates more than 3,800 hotels around the world
Intercontinental Hotels has reported a 22% rise in quarterly profit, saying its business remains unaffected by financial market turmoil.

The British-based group said its continuing operating profit went up to £66m ($137.4m) in the third quarter, meeting analysts' expectations.

The group operates seven hotel chains, including the Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn brands.

More than 70% of its profits come from its US business.

'Cautiously optimistic'

The group said revenue per available room - a key measure of hotel performance - rose 5.6% in the US.

"The mood is cautiously optimistic and our business remains unaffected by any wider economic issues," chief executive Andrew Cosslett told reporters.

"This is good progress, more than half way to top our target and we remain on track to exceed that target by the end of 2008."

The group operates more than 3,800 hotels around the world. It has sold 179 hotel assets worth £3bn since April 2003.

Intercontinental Hotels now owns 20 hotels and plans to sell a further three.

The hotelier is now largely a manager or franchiser, like its three big US rivals - Hilton, Starwood and Marriott.

Singer Doherty 'mourning' drugs

Pete Doherty
Babyshambles plan to play some new material on their UK tour
Babyshambles frontman Pete Doherty has spoken of his struggle to stay off drugs after a court ordered him to complete a stint in rehab.

Speaking to NME magazine he said: "After years of entrenched drug abuse you have a mourning period. I know it's a bit sad, but I'm in mourning."

The 28-year-old also admitted staying sober was "hard work".

But a spokesman refused to comment on newspaper photographs of the singer apparently injecting heroin.

Tuesday's edition of the Sun claimed the series of images were taken from a mobile phone film shot on Friday.

Sleeping and wrestling

Doherty, who starts a UK arena tour with his band on 22 November, told NME he would "embrace" his new way.

Asked by the magazine why he had managed to stay sober after his most recent stay in a rehab centre, he said: "I don't know what it is. I can't really put my finger on it, it's just the way it is, I'm afraid."

The singer, who performed at the MTV Europe Music Awards last week, jokingly revealed he spends most of his time sleeping and wrestling with his friends.

Doherty also said that Babyshambles had been working hard on new material.

"They're coming thick and fast at the moment - some real belters. Mostly I'm proud of the new album. I just want to get on the road and play those songs," he told the magazine in the interview, which is published on Wednesday.

Doherty, who was recently handed a suspended prison term for drugs and motoring offences, said he does not think it will be easy to stay out of trouble.

"The chances of me not getting arrested once in the next 18 months are quite slim really," he said.

Brain operation for country star

Rosanne Cash
Cash had been promoting her album Black Cadillac
Country music singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash has announced she is to undergo brain surgery for a "rare but benign condition".

The 52-year-old Grammy-winning musician, the eldest of Johnny Cash's five children, said she expects to recover fully from the operation.

The star, who has not revealed exactly what she is suffering from, plans to resume her tour next spring.

The condition forced her to cancel four November concert dates.

She had been promoting her album, Black Cadillac, a collection inspired in part by her father's death four years ago.

Cash, who will be treated at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, topped the country singles charts 11 times, and won a Grammy in 1985.

Talk shows hit by writers' strike

Picket line
Picket lines have formed outside New York and Los Angeles studios
US TV's two top late-night talk shows have become the first casualties of the writers' strike which is threatening to bring Hollywood to a halt.

The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno both aired re-runs after their scriptwriters walked off the job.

The strike has been prompted by a disagreement over royalty payments.

Top-rated prime-time show Dancing With The Stars aired as usual, but its hosts had to improvise without scripts.

No new negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have been scheduled after last-minute talks broke down on Sunday.

'Hunkered down'

Writers want higher fees, or "residuals", derived from work released on DVD or online.

The producers' chief negotiator, Nick Counter, said they were "hunkered down for a long one".

"From our standpoint, we made every good faith effort to negotiate a deal, and they went on strike," he said.

"At some point, conversations will take place. But not now."

The writers say the next move is up to the studios.

Masi Oka, who plays Hiro Nakamura in Heroes
Heroes' audience "won't be left in the lurch" said its producer

"My hope is that it won't be too long," said writers' negotiator John Bowman, who told Associated Press that the two sides were talking behind the scenes about arranging further meetings.

"We have more reason to get together than not."

While topical series have been affected by the dispute, most studios have stockpiles of movie and TV scripts to see them through into early 2008.

But some producers have said they are not comfortable about working with these finished scripts during a dispute.

Tim Kring, a producer and writer on Heroes, said he had to revise the ending of the show's 11th episode, in case it became the last to air this series.

"Fortunately, we were able to hustle back," he told AP from a picket line.

"The audience won't be left in a lurch."

Mills slates 'skinflint' Sir Paul

Heather Mills
Mills gave a series of emotional interviews last week
Heather Mills has hit out at her estranged husband Sir Paul McCartney, calling him a "skinflint" in an interview with Hello! magazine.

She said of Sir Paul, who reportedly has an estimated £825m: "When I left, I said 'I don't want a penny, all I want is for you to protect me'."

The couple, who married in 2002 and have a daughter, Bea, aged four, are in the middle of divorce negotiations.

Sir Paul's spokesman declined to comment on Mills' views.

Mills' latest interview follows a series of TV and radio appearances last week in which she accused the media of "pushing her to the edge", blaming a "certain corner" for feeding them "spin".

'Exploding' volcano

She described herself to Hello! as a "dormant volcano" that was now exploding.

"I want the freedom to be able to tell my story should I need to defend myself," she said.

"I offered to Paul that if he protects me from the inevitable hatred I'll receive because I am a wife of a Beatle, I'll never say anything derogatory about him.

"He wants me to be gagged and they won't give me a divorce until I'm gagged. So I'm waiting for the two-year separation.

"I've been this dormant volcano for 18 months and now I've had the explosion of my feelings."

Mills compared herself to Paula Yates, the former wife of Bob Geldof, who died of a heroin overdose in 2000.

"They abused her and then suddenly turned it around when she was dead. Well, I'm not going to have that," she added.

Calling Sir Paul a "skinflint," Mills said: "This is a man that hangs on to his money. He wouldn't be rich if he didn't. Who needs that kind of money?"

Ill Meat Loaf scraps Europe tour

Meat Loaf
Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell III album was released in 2006
Rock singer Meat Loaf has cancelled his European tour after being diagnosed with a cyst on his vocal cords.

The 60-year-old scrapped two gigs this week on doctor's orders, and was due to perform at Wembley Arena later.

Meat Loaf said: "It really breaks my heart not to be able to perform these shows." He added: "I will be back."

Speculation has surrounded the tour since Meat Loaf cut short a gig in Newcastle last week, calling it "the last show I may ever do in my life".

He added: "I can no longer continue. I take my coat off and thank you for 30 years."

6 November - London
8 November - Nottingham
11 November - Cardiff
13 November - Horsens, Denmark
15 November - Bergen, Norway
17 November - Stockholm
20 November - Rotterdam
22 November - Belfast
24 November - Killarney
27 November - Manchester
29 November - Birmingham

Meat Loaf's promoters played down the 60-year-old's remarks, saying he was suffering from "exhaustion and stress".

His management later issued a statement to say he was suffering from laryngitis and had been ordered to rest by doctors.

After cancelling gigs in Manchester and Birmingham, it was announced on Tuesday that Meat Loaf - born Marvin Lee Aday - had been diagnosed with an "inter-vocal cord cyst".

While most cysts of this type require surgery, voice therapy is usually conducted first to determine if it is necessary.

Doctors will determine in about four to six weeks what further course of action may be required.

In a statement, Meat Loaf said: "I was really looking forward to capping off a great year and celebrating the start of the holidays with the fans.

"But I have to do what the doctors tell me so I can look forward to healing and coming back strong in 2008.

"Let me dispel any rumours before they start - I will be back."

Is India the new China?

Indian and Chinese flags
The two countries are becoming Asian and world superpowers

Until a few years ago, the suggestion that India could grow as fast as China belonged to the same category as other incredible pronouncements by 'fact-proof' politicians.

There was little by way of hard data to back up such a claim. But now no longer.

The phenomenal rise of the Indian corporations, the unexpected rise in India's savings and investment rates and the sustained high growth rate of the last five years mean that the comparison with China is no longer ridiculous.

Which of the two countries will be economically ahead in the long run is not clear and is in any case unimportant.

What seems evident now and is good news is that both these nations seem firmly on course to joining the band of nations considered to be developed.

As a first cut, take the current annual per capita income of these two nations.

Correcting for purchasing power parity, India's is $4,100 and China's is a little more than double that.

Indian boy
Even a few years ago, (India) being an industrialised nation seemed a hopeless dream

Using the growth rates of income that these nations have achieved in recent years (around 9% for India and 11% for China) and the current population growth rates, we can make a projection of how the incomes of India and China will grow over the next years.

Using this simple calculation and treating an income of $20,000 for each person every year as the cut-off income of an industrialised nation, it can be shown that China will be an industrialised, developed nation by 2016 and India by 2028.

China has had a track record of high and sustained growth for so long (certainly since 1978) that the Chinese projection does not come as a surprise.

If you made exactly this kind of calculation 20 years ago, you would still reach a prediction in the vicinity of 2016.

Political turmoil

The big surprise is India. Even a few years ago, being an industrialised nation seemed a hopeless dream. The fact that it can happen in 21 years from now is an extraordinary achievement.

But one must not get carried away. What I have just done is a mechanical projection of the current situation into the future.

Sonia Gandhi on the campaign trail
Sonia Gandhi - taking part in top-level talks in China

And there can be many a slip between the cup and the lip.

The increasing strain on the global environment will make this high growth harder to maintain especially for late developers.

China, being ahead of the pack, will probably escape this trap. India will certainly feel the heat. There can be political turmoil, and both China and India are at risk.

Even with all these caveats it is true that what has been happening in India is a fundamental transformation.

CSM Worldwide - an organisation based in Lansing, Michigan, and one of the best-known forecasters of the automobile sector - predicts that next year India will overtake China as the fastest growing car market in the world.

Between 2007 and 2013 the annual growth in automobile sales is projected to be 8.05% for China and 14.47% for India.

One of the reasons for this is that for the first time India seems to be innovating in this sector.

Steep climb

Thanks to major initiatives by groups like Tata Motors, India could become a leading global player for very cheap cars, the "ultra-affordables", that is, vehicles that are priced below $3,000.

As for savings and investment, the nation is now firmly among the East-Asian super-performers with around 34% of national income being invested each year.

India sense touches 15000
India's stock market continues to grow rapidly

And again the corporate sector has played a big role in this steep climb.

One reason why India can step up its growth rate even further - so as to equal or even surpass the Chinese figure - is that the economy still has a lot of slack.

The nation's labour laws are arcane and in need of change (which could help workers even more than the aggregate economy).

The bureaucracy is still huge and obstructive. To clean this up needs nothing other than determination at the top.

There are energy and environmental worries.

If the nuclear deal with the US goes through, this will ease the nation's energy strains to a considerable extent.

India has a lot of unutilised human capital, since over 30% of the adult population is illiterate.

Finally, regional trade between South and East Asia, which was always low, is growing - and mainly between India and China.

Total India-China trade was $1.6bn in 1997-98 and this year it is expected to be anywhere between $15bn to $20bn. Over the last few years, trade between the two nations has been growing at over 40% per annum.

There is scope for further large increases on this count, which will not only contribute to the growth of both nations but also to intertwined economic interests and, through that, greater regional harmony.

The simple arithmetic calculation does not have to be a pipe dream.

Pakistan crisis tests US policy

President Musharraf and President Bush
The US has been measured in its criticism of President Musharraf

This is a dilemma that US President George W Bush would rather have avoided.

But events in Pakistan have forced the president to weigh up his two key foreign policy commitments: fighting the "global war on terror" and his promise to spread democracy and freedom.

As far as Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is concerned the US cannot have both - at least not yet.

Gen Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency is a key test of US priorities.

And at the moment it appears that stability and having an ally in the fight against extremism is just as important as pressing ahead with elections.

So the criticisms of Pakistan's leader from the White House have been measured and careful.

Rather than picking up the phone himself President Bush got Condoleezza Rice to call President Musharraf to express his "deep disappointment".

Military assistance

In his only public comments President Bush talked of the need for elections to be held "as soon as possible" and for the general to discard his uniform as he had long promised.

But there was no warning from President Bush that America might pull the plug on the $1bn (£0.5bn) that it gives to Pakistan each year in mostly military assistance (the figure is probably much higher - but Washington does not talk about covert assistance).

A police officer kicks a tear gas canister towards lawyers protesting against President Musharraf in Lahore on 5 November 2007
Lawyers have been protesting against President Musharraf

Ms Rice has said that aid is now being reviewed - but at the moment it sounds more like an empty threat.

President Bush emphasised that he would continue to work with President Musharraf in the fight against Islamic extremism.

But many in Washington will hope that events in Pakistan will now force a reassessment on US policy towards Pakistan.

There are plenty who doubt not just President Musharraf's commitment to democracy - but also his efforts to tackle extremism.

Al-Qaeda's leaders have found a hideout in Pakistan, the Taleban are still entrenched in the north-west of the country.

On democracy President Musharraf appears to have confirmed the critics' worst fears.

Despite his countless promises of moving towards democracy he has kept his uniform and made life as difficult as possible for his political opponents.

Few alternatives

What is more, he snubbed the Bush administration's direct pleas not to declare a state of emergency.

Surely this is a man who cannot be trusted, critics would say.

But for the Bush administration there appear to be few alternatives.

Yes, they have encouraged President Musharraf to enter a political pact with Benazir Bhutto.

But there is no sense in the state department or the White House that they have backed the wrong horse.

Few could predict what would happen if President Musharraf were ousted from power.

The Bush administration has been far more cautious in lecturing allies about democracy after the Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to power.

Daniel Markey, who until recently served on the state department's policy planning staff, says that delaying democracy weakens the Pakistani government's capacity to fight extremism in the short term - and sows the seeds of more extremism in the long run.

In an article for the journal Foreign Affairs Mr Markey argues that the choice between supporting Pakistan's army and promoting democracy is false.

He says the US will only succeed in prosecuting the long war against extremism both by empowering Pakistan's civilians and by earning the trust of the army.

President Bush still needs both.