The NewsFuror

Thursday, November 15, 2007

German rail strike extends action

Train carriages on a holding track near Frankfurt station
Services have been sporadic in many major cities
A long-running rail dispute in Germany has escalated into what train operator Deutsche Bahn has called the biggest strike in its history.

Train drivers protesting about pay launched a 48-hour strike overnight, joining freight drivers who had walked out on a 62-hour strike on Wednesday.

Regional and suburban services have been affected, with severe disruptions in Berlin, Stuttgart and Frankfurt.

Deutsche Bahn said its 10% pay offer, which unions have rejected, was fair.

Widespread disruption

The GDL union is seeking a 31% pay rise for its 34,000 workers, saying they are significantly underpaid compared to their counterparts in other leading European countries.

Thursday's stoppage - the sixth in the past three months - is the most serious yet in a dispute which German ministers have warned could do serious damage to its economy.

Deutsche Bahn, which has drafted in temporary workers to keep some services running, has said that each day of strike action would cost it 50m euros ($73m; £36m).

Union leader Manfred Schell
We want a negotiable offer
Manfred Schell, GDL union

Only half of normal regional services were running in the west of the country while in the east, this figure was down as low as 10%.

Only a third of suburban trains were operating in Frankfurt, Germany's financial capital, and Stuttgart, while commuters in Berlin faced severe delays as only 20% of trains departed.

Traffic on city centre roads quickly built up to much-higher than normal levels.

But mainline inter-city services were less badly affected, with more than 70% of services running normally.

'No surrender'

In a series of newspaper advertisements, Deutsche Bahn called on GDL union officials to "stop this madness".

"If we were to cave in now, the damage to the economy would ultimately be far greater," Deutsche Bahn executive Karl-Friedrich Rausch said.

"They are trying to force us to an unconditional surrender. That is not going to happen."

But union officials said management had failed to put forward an improved offer which could persuade them to return to the negotiating table.

"The Bahn management board must once and for all stop provoking strikes," GDL chairman Manfred Schell said in a statement. "We want a negotiable offer."

Train drivers are holding out for a much better deal than other Deutsche Bahn employees have received, arguing they merit a separate settlement on pay and working conditions.

In July, two other rail unions representing 195,000 workers agreed a 4.5% pay deal.

Oil prices steady after new surge

A fuel storage tank in the US
The focus is on US crude supply figures released on Thursday
Oil prices have paused for breath after jumping by nearly $3 a barrel on Wednesday following signs that Opec would not be increasing production.

A barrel of US light, sweet crude was worth $94.02 in electronic trading in Asia, down 7 cents from Wednesday's $94.09 closing mark in the US.

Opec's secretary-general rejected US calls for an early increase in oil output to try to hold prices in check.

Many analysts believe prices will ultimately rise above $100 a barrel.

In London, Brent crude fell 6 cents to $91.30 on Thursday morning.

'No shortage'

At this time, frankly we don't see that we need to add more oil in the market
Abdallah al-Badri, Opec Secretary-General

A record high of $98.62 a barrel - unadjusted for inflation - was reached earlier this month on the back of a weak dollar, market speculation and concerns about tight supplies.

Prices eased slightly after the International Energy Agency lowered its global demand forecast for crude but concerns remain about future supplies and how responsive Opec will be to calls for increasing quotas.

Opec's secretary-general Abdallah al-Badri said on Wednesday that the global market was well supplied with oil.

"At this time, frankly we don't see that we need to add more oil in the market," he said ahead of an Opec summit this weekend to discuss long-term oil supplies.

"There is no shortage of oil."

The focus will now turn to Thursday's figures from the US government, which are expected to show that weekly crude oil stockpiles have fallen by up to 800,000 barrels.

The amount of fuel kept in reserve in the US is particularly important as the high-demand winter season begins.

Tensions at heart of French labour strife

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's controversial economic reforms certainly struck a chord with the country's voters in this year's election.

People at the strike-bound Saint-Charles railway station in Marseille
The latest strike has brought French transport to a standstill

But although he can claim a mandate for change after his victory in May, his plans to shake up the public sector pension system have provoked an all-out response from transport unions.

This level of militancy comes as little surprise to long-time observers of the French industrial scene.

But even they may be shocked at the full extent of the country's simmering workplace tensions.

In the run-up to this year's voting, analysts at the World Economic Forum (WEF) gave France the worst possible rating in the category of "co-operation in labour-employer relations" - that is, how workers get on with their bosses.

Last year's WEF Global Competitiveness Report found that in this respect, France was bottom of the league out of 125 countries surveyed, giving it the most confrontational workplace environment in the world.

In recent weeks, the new 2007-2008 edition of the report has been published. So have French labour relations become any more harmonious?

In a word, no. The latest WEF survey covers 131 nations, not 125. But France is still languishing on the lowest rung, in 131st place.

Regulation, regulation

Does this matter? Well, it certainly helps to drag down the country's overall rating. France is ranked as the 18th most competitive nation in the world, the same as last year.

But that still leaves it trailing behind the US (1st) and Japan (8th), not to mention other big European Union economies such as Germany (5th) and the UK (9th).

Campaign poster of Nicolas Sarkozy
Mr Sarkozy says he has a mandate for change

What's more, French executives who submitted their views to the survey rated "restrictive labour regulations" as by far the biggest problem in doing business.

Mr Sarkozy's reforms are broadly aimed at sweeping away some of those restrictions, which work well to protect those who are already employed, but do little to encourage firms to take on more staff.

Economists describe the system as a two-tier labour market, with a high level of employment protection and very little turnover.

That offers little hope to the 8.4% of the population who do not have a job - a figure that rises to 22% among the under-25s.

Mr Sarkozy has already given ground on some of his campaign pledges. For instance, his promise to replace no more than 50% of retiring bureaucrats has been softened, so he will now replace 66% of those who retire.

But he insists he will not budge on the reform of the "special regimes", which cover 1.6 million public sector workers' pensions - and which the transport workers are fighting so hard to retain.

Hard labour

The original idea of these schemes was to compensate people whose jobs were unusually dangerous or arduous, allowing them to retire on a full pension as early as 50.

But they were drawn up in an industrial age when rail workers would have been expected to shovel coal to power their locomotives.

Mr Sarkozy says it is unfair to maintain those privileges in an era when much of the heavy lifting has disappeared from such jobs.

He wants those workers to pay 40 years' worth of contributions before they can draw their pensions, as against 37.5 years now.

But in the context of France's highly polarised labour relations, employees see any threat to their lifestyle as the thin end of the wedge.

World's sixth-largest economy
EU's biggest producer of agricultural products
World's biggest wine producer
GDP: 1,779bn euros ($2,233bn) (2006)
Growth: 2.1% (2006)
Inflation: 1.9% (2006)
Trade deficit: 29.2bn euros ($39bn) (2006)
Source: Reuters

In some ways, the high level of French workers' job security has actually served to magnify their feelings of insecurity, since they can see how difficult it is to find another job if you lose the one you have.

That helps to explain their determination in facing down previous governments' attempts at economic reform.

In 1995, strikes and demonstrations forced Prime Minister Alain Juppe to abandon changes to the pension system and other austerity measures imposed in the run-up to European monetary union.

Last year, it was the turn of Dominique de Villepin's government to suffer humiliation, after protesting unions scuppered a law that would have allowed employers to sack anyone under 26 within the first two years of their employment.

This time, Mr Sarkozy points out that he campaigned on precisely these issues - and he sees his victory as strong backing for these changes.

"The French people approved these reforms," he says. "I told them all about it before the elections, so that I would be able to do what was necessary afterwards."

That seems to be backed up by opinion polls - but the trade unions know that in this battle, their prestige is on the line just as much as Mr Sarkozy's.

Iran faces up to tighter sanctions

Iranian woman shopping at Tehran's main bazaar in Iran (25/10/2007)
Economic sanctions could have an impact on domestic prices

Iran is bracing itself for a new round of sanctions after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for more restrictions on trade.

Mr Brown called for a ban on investment in the oil and gas industries if Iran does not agree to end the production of enriched uranium, which the West fears could be used to make a nuclear bomb.

The issue will return to the UN Security Council this month.

The official response from the Iranian government is one of defiance. Officials speak of a campaign of "psychological warfare" against Iran, and point out that the country has been the subject of sanctions since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

It is certainly the case that the new UN sanctions have been hard to agree, despite pressure from Washington. But Gordon Brown's call could damage the Iranian economy regardless.

Chinese hopes

According to businessmen here, several German companies have decided to pull out of Iran - or at least dramatically reduce operations - following Mr Brown's speech on Monday.

Because of US unilateral sanctions - and the political climate - it is already very difficult to finance major projects in Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi during a meeting in Tehran (13/11/2007)
China wants to invest in Iran but could lack essential technical skills

For example the energy company Shell is looking at a big project in the gas sector, but there is almost no chance of raising the billions of dollars of international investment necessary.

Recently the Russian oil company Lukoil announced it was pulling out of a major project here because of US pressure. Lukoil feared its trading links with the US could be damaged.

China is keen to step into the breach. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi has been in Tehran this week. But experts say Chinese energy companies do not necessarily have the skills Iran needs.

To take one sector, Iran has the world's second largest gas reserves, but storing and freezing gas for transport requires technical expertise only available in the West.

'Virus effect'

What have particularly damaged the Iranian economy are the unilateral financial sanctions imposed by the United States.

The financial sanctions only apply to three banks - Bank Melli, Bank Mellat and Bank Saderat - as well as to companies associated with the Revolutionary Guards. But they have a "virus" effect, spreading throughout the economy.

Even Iranian banks, let alone foreign ones, are wary of dealing with the sanctioned entities, for fear of retaliation by the US.

That means it is very difficult to raise letters of credit - the financial instruments used by big importers and exporters. Investment is even harder to finance overseas.

Barrels of oil
The Iranian economy benefits from high global oil prices

In the long term, that is likely to be very damaging to the Iranian economy, particularly the energy sector.

One recent report suggests that in the coming decades, Iran would actually cease being a net oil exporter.

That, despite the fact that this country has the world's largest combined reserves of oil and gas.

But with oil prices nudging up towards $100 (£48.50) a barrel, Iran still has plenty of cash to spend at the moment.

Even if individual German companies are pulling out, official figures show that German exports to Iran increased in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in the previous year.

The United Arab Emirates has become the largest exporter to Iran - even though the UAE is hardly a major industrial power.

Those figures suggest that a lot of Iranian exports are being diverted through the Emirates, re-labelled or re-flagged. One economist estimates that is adding 15% to the value of commodities being bought by Iran.

And even Britain is still doing good business with Iran. One Iranian bank still has a branch in London, through which most European financial transactions are funnelled.

So, it is difficult to isolate a country with tens of billions in cash to spend. But each new twist makes life more complicated and more expensive for the Iranian government.

Barclays reveals sub-prime losses

Barclays Bank sign

Barclays has confirmed that it did not escape the woes from investments in risky US home loans, taking a hit of £800m ($1.64bn) in October.

Sub-prime write-downs at its Barclays Capital investment bank arm now total £1.3bn, taking into account a £500m write-down in the third quarter.

The write-down was less than feared, and the bank said Barclays Capital profits were higher than last year.

Rumours had circulated that the bank was hiding big mortgage-backed losses.

"Today's extensive disclosure demonstrates the strength and resilience of our performance during the year and in particular during the turbulent month of October," said Barclays chief executive John Varley.

The bank also said Barclays Capital still had more than £5bn worth of exposure to investments in packages of debt, which includes exposure to US sub-prime mortgages.

However, despite the problems the bank said it still managed to make a pre-tax profit of £1.9bn in the first 10 months of 2007 even after it wrote down the losses.

Tougher times

"The scale of the losses are certainly not in line with the worst case scenario which some had been factoring in," said Richard Hunter, head of UK equities at Hargreaves Lansdown.

"Barclays Capital as a whole improved on its 2006 performance - quite an achievement given the wider global trading concerns," he added.

Shares in Barclays jumped almost 6% after the announcement, which was made two weeks before the bank was scheduled to give a trading update.

In recent trading they were little changed, up 4.5 pence at 537.5p, after the FTSE 100 stock index fell.

Barclays shares have taken a beating in recent weeks as rumours persisted that the bank may have to write down as much as $10bn of losses related to investments linked to the US sub-prime mortgage market.

A combination of higher interest rates and a slowdown in house price growth has had a serious impact on the sub-prime market, which focuses on people with poor or non-existent credit histories.

In recent months, the higher borrowing costs have made it harder for many borrowers on low incomes to meet their mortgage repayments, and repossessions have soared.

Far reaching

UBS, HSBC, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup are some of the banking giants that have recently disclosed billions of dollars in losses after being caught out by the sub-prime fallout.

Charles Prince at Citigroup and Merrill Lynch's Stan O' Neal were forced to step down as chief executives after their banks' admitted far-reaching problems as a result of heavy investments in mortgage-related securities.

The BBC's business editor Robert Peston said that: "The performance of Barclays Capital, through the wild storms in credit markets of the past few months, has been incomparably better than that of Citigroup and Merrill."

Mr Peston said that this was "no small achievement" because Barclays Capital was a market leader in reprocessing low-quality US sub-prime loans into the allegedly high-grade bonds of collateralised debt obligations.

He explained that Barclays managed to avoid the worst of the crisis by offsetting their risk in other markets and with other investments, and by reducing their exposure as the problems in the sub-prime sector emerged.

In the UK, Royal Bank of Scotland is scheduled to deliver a trading statement on 6 December, which will be closely watched for bad news.

East Asia's 2008 growth 'robust'

Beijing skyline
Domestic demand in China is seen as the driver behind regional growth
East Asia is set for robust growth in 2008 as domestic demand helps offset global finanical problems and high crude oil prices, the World Bank says.

China's economy will grow by 10.8% this year, down from 11.3% in 2007, the bank said. East Asia, minus Japan, is seen growing 8.2% in 2008 from 8.4% in 2007.

The bank allayed fears that China, the region's biggest economy, could be hard hit by recent financial market turmoil.

According to the World Bank, any fallout would be limited.

'High volatility'

China holds about $260bn in US mortgage-backed securities, largely as part of its reserves and stakes in foreign commercial banks.

But while many major international banks have seen large writedowns in the wake of rising defaults among the sub-prime mortgage market, the majority of China's US mortgage-backed securities were underwritten by US government agencies such as Fannie Mae.

This has made them less risky and allowed them to keep their value.

Milan Brahmbhatt, the World Bank's regional economist, said that while profits at Chinese banks have been growing very quickly, the credit market problems "will not have a huge impact on either profitability or on balance sheets".

Instead, the main impact on Asia of the US sub-prime crisis has been a growth in uncertainty, the World Bank said in its six monthly regional assessment.

"Frequent and large reassessments of risk and high volatility in asset prices are likely to remain a part of the scene for some time," it explained said.

Analysts said that this may lead to a investors being less willing to buy emerging market assets.

US impact

At the same time, the bank also played down the impact on East Asia of a slowdown in US economic growth.

"If one looks over the history, it's quite striking that the correlation between US recessions and Chinese economic growth is very little," the World Bank said.

When East Asia suffered from the US recession of 2001, it was mainly caused by a dramatic shrinking of global demand for goods, including electronic items.

However, the bank does not foresee a repetition of that scenario in 2008.

One point of concern highlighted by the World Bank was that while growth in the region can been seen to be reducing poverty, the gap between rich and poor has become more extreme, Mr Brahmbhatt said.

Merrill Lynch appoints new boss

John Thain
Initial reaction to Mr Thain's appointment has been positive
Merrill Lynch has appointed the boss of the New York Stock Exchange, John Thain, to be its new chief executive.

He replaces Stan O'Neal, who left after the bank was forced to admit a $7.9bn exposure to bad mortgage debt.

Merrill Lynch shares rose by as much as 7% as newspapers reported the likely appointment and closed up nearly 2%.

Before confirmation of his appointment, the bank said it had not offered the job to Larry Fink, chief executive of the investment bank BlackRock.

Mr Fink had previously been thought to be the frontrunner for the job, but he was reported to have only been prepared to take the job if the bank could give him full accounting for its exposure to sub-prime mortgage debt.


He understands both the company's challenges and, as his track record shows, he appreciates the value of the Merrill global brand
Alberto Cribiore, Merrill Lynch interim chairman

Merrill Lynch said that 52-year old Mr Thain - who becomes the first chief executive to be appointed from outside the business in its 93-year history - was the "right person" for the job.

"John will be adept at balancing the focus on risk management and controls while taking the steps necessary to ensure the company evolves and grows," said Alberto Cribiore, the Merrill Lynch director who headed the search.

"He understands both the company's challenges and, as his track record shows, he appreciates the value of the Merrill global brand."

In accepting the job, Mr Thain did not comment on the firm's recent problems, only saying that he was "excited and honoured" to be taking the helm of the business.

But the share price rise suggested that investors supported Mr Thain's appointment.

'Good operator'

Merrill Lynch's shares have been weak since the firm disclosed larger-than-anticipated losses from mortgage-backed investments, a revelation which effectively led to Mr O'Neal's departure.

2004-2007: New York Stock Exchange chief executive
1999-2004: President, chief operating officer, Goldman Sachs
1994-1999: Chief financial officer, Goldman Sachs
1995-1997: Chief executive, Goldman Sachs Europe

"We believe he would be a very good team builder and unifier, as well as operator," David Katz, from Matrix Asset Advisors, in New York, said of the appointment.

"We look at this as a home run for Merrill," he added.

A Harvard graduate, Mr Thain was co-president of Goldman Sachs until 2004 when he left to become chief executive of NYSE Euronext.

The NYSE has announced that Duncan Niederauer will replace Mr Thain as its chief executive.

Potter hopefuls lose out on role

Jessie Cave
Jessie Cave will play Ron Weasley's girlfriend Lavender Brown
Thousands who attended an open audition for a role in the new Harry Potter film have been left disappointed after the part went to an established actress.

Producers held a casting in July for girls aged 15 to 18 to play Lavender Brown in The Half Blood Prince.

But the part went to Jessie Cave, 20, star of new CBBC drama Summerhill and movie Inkheart with Dame Helen Mirren.

The casting stated no acting experience was necessary and attracted 7,000 hopefuls. Cave's agent did not comment.

Lavender Brown is Ron Weasley's girlfriend in the Harry Potter series, and a fellow pupil at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Producers described the character as "a pretty and lively girl who loves to be the centre of attention".

She features in the sixth movie based on the book series, due to be released in November 2008.

'Absolutely credible'

Announcing the auditions in July, director David Yates said: "These auditions are open to everybody and we can't wait to see who comes in the door.

"Normally I have all these casting agents sending me kids who have been to stage school and who come in tap-dancing and singing.

"What we are looking for is someone natural and absolutely credible in their own right."

Tap-dancing is listed among the skills on Cave's CV, published by her agent A&J Management.

Director David Yates was not available for comment.

Open auditions were also held for the character of Tom Riddle, who goes on to become the evil Voldemort. The winner of that role has yet to be announced.

The last Harry Potter film, The Order of the Phoenix, did feature an unknown actress found through a casting call.

Evanna Lynch, 14, from Co Louth, Ireland, beat 15,000 hopefuls to the role of eccentric Hogwarts pupil Luna Lovegood.

Warhol's Liz Taylor sold for $23m

Liz is a classic example of Warhol's work.

An Andy Warhol painting of actress Dame Elizabeth Taylor has been sold for $23.7m (£11.4m) at a New York auction.

An anonymous bidder bought the 1963 portrait, called Liz, which had been expected to fetch more than $25m (£11.9m) at Christie's.

The auction house refused to confirm reports that it was British actor Hugh Grant who sold the portrait after he bought it in 2001 for $15m (£7.2m).

Warhol created 12 portraits of the actress as she recovered from illness.

"I started those a long time ago when she was so sick and everybody said she was going to die," the artist said at the time.

"Now I am doing them all over, putting bright colours on her lips and eyes."

Warhol also produced similar works of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy.

In May a painting of a car crash sold for $71.7m (£36.3m), a record for a Warhol piece. The 1963 painting, Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), depicted an overturned car on fire.

Jeff Koons' Diamond (Blue) sold for $11.8m (£5.7m).

American artist Warhol was leading figure in the Pop Art movement, and he experimented by creating artworks from mass-produced images from American popular culture.

Born in 1928, he died unexpectedly in 1987 in a New York hospital following a gall bladder operation.

London-born Dame Elizabeth, 75, first achieved stardom aged 12 in National Velvet. She went on to win Oscars for her roles in the 1960 film Butterfield 8, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Her last screen appearance was in the 2001 television movie These Old Broads, co-starring Debbie Reynolds.

The centerpiece of Christie's post-war and contemporary art auction was Jeff Koons' Diamond (Blue) sculpture.

Made of stainless steel and standing at seven-foot high, the sculpture sold for $11.8m (£5.7m).

Bacon portrait sells for £14.3m

Self Portrait, Francis Bacon
Bacon's work is among the most popular modern art at auction
Two works by Francis Bacon have sold for more than $70.5m (£34.2m) at an auction in New York.

The artist's Self Portrait and his Study for Bullfight No 1, second version, were highlights of Sotheby's evening sale of contemporary art.

His Self Portrait sold for a hammer price of $29.5m (£14.3m) - almost twice the estimate - while his second work in the sale went for $41m (£19.9m).

US artist Jeff Koons' Hanging Heart sculpture was sold for $23.5m (£11.4m).

It established a new record for any living artist's work sold at auction.

Round of applause

The sale gave Sotheby's its highest ever total for an auction of contemporary and postwar art.

Along with a successful contemporary art evening at rival auction house Christie's on Tuesday night, it helped ease fears that the fallout from US credit-market losses had hit the art world.

The concerns were prompted last week when shares in Sotheby's plummeted after a Vincent van Gogh failed to sell.

Bacon's Self Portrait attracted three bidders while five interested parties battled for his Study for Bullfight No 1, second version, which comes from a series of three paintings depicting the subject.

Both sold to a round of applause from the crowded auction room.

Their total value is likely to exceed $80m (£38.9m) once taxes and buyer's fees are added to the hammer price.

Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art, said: "Study for Bullfight No 1 is an extraordinary painting symbolising Bacon wrestling with artistic desire.

"Here, he is battling the demons that occupy his violent subconscious, and in Self Portrait he struggles with these same issues of identity.

"Both masterpieces explore the same conflicts but with different outcomes."

Talking Shop: Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe is best known for playing the lead role in the five Harry Potter film series. The most recent, Order of the Phoenix, was released this summer. He is also signed up for the final two films.

The 18-year-old actor talks about his reaction to the final Potter novel, Deathly Hallows, and how filming is going for the next movie, Half-Blood Prince.

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter

How does it feel to be part of such a successful film franchise?

In a way I don't think of it as a franchise, it's just what I've been doing for the last seven years.

It's been amazing for me in terms of the people I've met, and the friends I've made - some of whom I hope I'll know for the rest of my life.

What are you favourite scenes in the Order of the Phoenix?

The one I love is the one that takes place in the tapestry room in Sirius Black's house, where he discusses the nature of good and bad...

But essentially any scene with Gary Oldman or Imelda Staunton would be the ones I would watch again - and I'd just close my eyes when they cut to me.

You're one of the most recognised faces in the world. How do you keep your feet on the ground when other young stars - like Britney Spears - are having such a tough time of it?

I think there's a big difference between the way you grow up in America and in England if you're in this kind of position.

In America, they'll treat you as an actor first and a child second. In England they treat you as a child first and that's the way it should be.

Any 11-year-old who suddenly realises that that they can have anything they want is going to abuse that power, and you just need people around them to be honest and say "don't behave like that".

I'm not sure that happens to the same extent in America.

You just started filming on the sixth Harry Potter film, the Half-Blood Prince. How's it going so far?

Really well. I've just been doing a bit of work with Jim Broadbent who plays Maurice Slughorn, who's just fantastic. And we've been doing a bit of stuff with me and Rupert [Grint, who plays Ron Weasley].

We haven't done any scenes with all the kids yet in the Great Hall - that's all to look forward to just after Christmas. It's glorious to be working with [director] David Yates again.

Is the next film going to have a different feel to Order of the Phoenix?

I think it will. In some places it will be quite a lot lighter, which is hard in a way for me because my natural instincts and personality tend towards the darker side.

It's also nice to let people see Harry's sense of humour... but toward the end of the film it gets as dark as the fifth ever was.

The final book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out in July. What was going through your mind as you read it?

I didn't read it until about four days after it had come out, by which time most of the world knew what had happened, so I was going round with my fingers in my ears.

I did manage to read it without anyone else spoiling it for me. And I was thrilled.

I'm glad I'm having a bit of a break between this film and number seven, but I'm very much looking forward to doing it.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released on DVD on Monday 12 November. Daniel Radcliffe was talking to BBC Entertainment reporter Tim Masters.

Broadway strike talks to resume

Broadway stagehands strike
Broadway is considered one of New York's main tourist attractions
Stagehands and Broadway producers are to resume talks in New York to try and resolve a contract dispute.

Stagehands, who work with lighting, sound and scenery, walked out on Saturday in a disagreement over pay and working conditions.

More than 25 plays and musicals have been cancelled, including The Lion King, The Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia and Chicago.

Talks will resume this weekend, both parties announced in a joint statement.

The dispute has largely been over work rules that govern how many stagehands must be called for work, how long they work, and what kind of tasks they can perform.


The existing contract requires theatres to use at least four stagehands for both musicals and plays.

The League of American Theatres and Producers wants more flexibility in those rules to avoid paying for workers who are not needed.

The strike comes at one of Broadway's busiest times of the year, and analysts say there is pressure to resolve the dispute before the Thanksgiving holiday next weekend.

The theatre league says the strike is costing about $17m (£8.3m) every day.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the forthcoming talks were "a very important step forward," and reiterated his willingness "to help resolve these disagreements and let the shows go on".

The last strike to hit Broadway was in 2003 when musicians walked out for four days.

Broadway strike talks to resume
Broadway stagehands strike
Broadway is considered one of New York's main tourist attractions
Stagehands and Broadway producers are to resume talks in New York to try and resolve a contract dispute.

Stagehands, who work with lighting, sound and scenery, walked out on Saturday in a disagreement over pay and working conditions.

More than 25 plays and musicals have been cancelled, including The Lion King, The Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia and Chicago.

Talks will resume this weekend, both parties announced in a joint statement.

The dispute has largely been over work rules that govern how many stagehands must be called for work, how long they work, and what kind of tasks they can perform.


The existing contract requires theatres to use at least four stagehands for both musicals and plays.

The League of American Theatres and Producers wants more flexibility in those rules to avoid paying for workers who are not needed.

The strike comes at one of Broadway's busiest times of the year, and analysts say there is pressure to resolve the dispute before the Thanksgiving holiday next weekend.

The theatre league says the strike is costing about $17m (£8.3m) every day.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the forthcoming talks were "a very important step forward," and reiterated his willingness "to help resolve these disagreements and let the shows go on".

The last strike to hit Broadway was in 2003 when musicians walked out for four days.

Jay-Z scores tenth US number one

Jay-Z was named hip-hop's highest earner earlier this year
Jay-Z has scored his tenth number one album on the US pop charts, tying him with Elvis Presley for the solo artist with the most trips to the top.

Only the Beatles are ahead of Jay-Z and Presley with 19 number ones, according to Billboard magazine.

American Gangster sold 425,000 copies last week, according to chart compilers Nielsen SoundScan.

Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, first topped the charts in 1998 with Vol 2... Hard Knock Life.

His previous release, Kingdom Come, sold 680,000 copies in its opening week in November 2006.

Since 1998, all eight of Jay-Z's solo studio albums have hit number one, in addition to his collaborations with Linkin Park (Collision Course) and R Kelly (Unfinished Business).

The Eagles' Long Road Out of Eden slipped to number two in the chart in its second week with 359,000 albums sold.

Garth Brooks' The Ultimate Hits debuted at three with sales of 352,000 units, while teenage R&B heartthrob Chris Brown started at four with his second album Exclusive, which sold 294,000 copies.

Carrie Underwood's Carnival Ride fell two places to number five.

Winehouse booed as tour kicks off

Amy Winehouse
At one point, Winehouse walked off the stage mid-song
Amy Winehouse was booed by fans as she delivered a shambolic set on the first night of her UK tour in Birmingham.

The singer also dedicated a song to her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, who is being held on remand pending charges including GBH.

During the show, the 24-year-old told the crowd: "To them people booing, wait 'til my husband gets out of incarceration. And I mean that."

In the summer, she had pulled out of a string of gigs citing "health issues".


The singer performed hits including Back To Black, Tears Dry On Their Own and Rehab.

Before the song Wake Up Alone, she told the audience at the National Indoor Arena: "This is for my husband."

But during an encore cover of The Zutons' Valerie she stopped singing, dropped her microphone and walked off the stage.

Mr Fielder-Civil has been remanded in custody at Pentonville Prison, accused of perverting the course of justice and assaulting a pub landlord.

Ms Winehouse's support act, Remi Nicole, said: "She's professional and she knows what she's got to do.

"I'll be there to support her. If it was my husband, I'd be a bit upset.

"I have learnt all the songs on the Back to Black album so if she does need me to stand in, I can don a beehive and go ahead," she added.

The singer also had support from Jamie Cullum, who toured with her four years ago.

"I don't think she'd want to miss a tour because she likes playing too much," he said.

When she did sing she sounded phenomenal but she was not ready to be up on that stage
Audience member Zoe Giorgio

She earned a mixed reaction from the audience.

Afterwards one fan, Zoe Giorgio, said: "When she did sing she sounded phenomenal but she was not ready to be up on that stage. She was so weak, so vulnerable."

Her 15-year-old daughter Nicola Giorgio added: "I felt sorry for her because she kept crying.

"Every time she did a song she put 'Blakey' or 'I love my Blakey' into it, and she changed the song Me and Mr Jones into Mr Blakey."

Gary Atwell, from Rugby, said "streams" of people left during the concert.

"I went out for a sneaky cigarette half way through and at least 40 people left, just in that five minutes," he said.

However Kelly and Sam from Birmingham were impressed by her performance.

"If my husband was in prison I wouldn't have the bottle to stand up on stage and do that, so I think fair play to her I really do," said Kelly. "Her fans should support her."

Canadian stun gun death on video

Video grab courtesy of the CBC
The video shows Mr Dziekanski being pinned down by police. Credit: CBC
Video footage has been released in Canada showing the last moments of an immigrant who died after being stunned with a Taser by police.

Robert Dziekanski, 40, of Pieszyce, Poland, was restrained by police after becoming agitated at Vancouver International Airport on 14 October.

Mr Dziekanski, who spoke no English, was declared dead at the scene by an emergency medical team.

The incident is being investigated by police, the airport and the coroner.

Police spokesman Cpl Dale Carr said the video was just one piece of evidence, and urged people to wait for the results of the inquest.

Mr Dziekanski, a construction worker, was emigrating to Canada to join his mother, who lived in the western province of British Colombia.

The incident has prompted a debate about police use of Taser stun guns by police in Canada.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says up to 18 people have died after being stunned by a Taser in Canada since 2003.


The video was shot by a 15-year-old Canadian traveller and handed over to police, and has only just been returned to the teenager, Paul Pritchard.

It starts before the police arrive, with Mr Dziekanski seen through a glass wall in a customs area. He appears agitated, sweating and breathing heavily. Airport security officials and passengers watch from the other side.

Video grab from CBC
Mr Dziekanski was agitated and sweating. Credit: CBC

Having landed 10 hours earlier, he is seen pacing back and forth through an automatic door, standing briefly in the doorway with a small folding table, and then later with a chair.

At one point, he takes what looks like a laptop computer off a counter and throws it to the ground, and then throws the small table against the glass wall.

Four policemen then walk into view. They walk through the glass doors towards Mr Dziekanski, who turns his back on them. Witnesses say he appeared to pick up a stapler.

Seconds later, Mr Dziekanski is stunned by a Taser and falls down screaming and convulsing.

He is stunned a second time again, and then the police officers restrain him on the floor. Mr Dziekanski's screams die down, and he is seen lying still.

A voice is heard saying "code red", which is code for a medical emergency.

An autopsy found no sign of drugs or alcohol in Mr Dziekanski's system, and failed to pinpoint the cause of death.

Airport mix-up

Walter Kosteckyj, the victim's family lawyer, said Mr Dziekanski's mother had seen portions of the video and had approved its release to the public.

"She had a son in distress, he was looking for help, he was frightened, and he didn't get that help," Mr Kosteckyj said.

He said he was disturbed by the video because Mr Dziekanski was not violent.

"I was expecting to see a confrontation, a discussion and things go sideways, then the tasering... That's not what you see," he said.

Zofia Cisowski
Mr Dziekanski was coming to Canada to be with his mother, Zofia

Mr Dziekanski had boarded a plane for the first time a day earlier in Germany, and the pair had arranged to meet at the baggage carousel in the international terminal.

Neither of them knew the baggage carousel was inside a secure area, with no view of the public arrivals hall area, except for a short distance through sliding glass doors, Mr Kosteckyj said.

No airport, customs or security employees at the airport apparently tried to help either of them, he added.

Eventually Mr Dziekanski emerged into the public area, but his mother had left after six hours and Mr Dziekanski apparently panicked, the lawyer said.

taser diagram

Bangladesh put on cyclone alert

Rain hit locals on the banks of the River Jamuna, 15 November 2007
The cyclone is expected to bring torrential rain
Tens of thousands of people have left coastal districts of Bangladesh as a severe cyclone heads in across the Bay of Bengal, officials say.

Operations have been suspended at the main ports of Mongla and Chittagong, and people are being moved away from high-risk areas.

More than 40,000 policemen, soldiers, coastguards and health workers have been deployed along the coast.

The cyclone is expected to make landfall in the next few hours.

With winds of 200km (120 miles) an hour, the cyclone - expected to make landfall around 1200 GMT - may also affect eastern Indian and the west coast of Burma.

Thousands of families have been evacuated from their homes in over a dozen coastal districts of Bangladesh, officials said.


The BBC's Alastair Lawson on board a boat chartered by the BBC to assess the impact of climate change says that the weather is now taking a marked turn for the worse.

Our correspondent - located on the Jamuna river north-west of Dhaka - says that the weather is overcast and the wind has picked up significantly.

Officials say that the level of casualties from cyclones in Bangladesh has been significantly reduced in recent years because of a better early-warning system and the construction of cyclone shelters.

Bangladesh map

Bangladesh's southern seaside resort town of Cox's Bazar appeared to be deserted after the cyclone warning was issued on Wednesday evening, reports said.

Bangladesh meteorological department officials said they feared the cyclone may also trigger tidal surges up to 10ft (over three metres) in some areas.

Southern Bangladesh is often hit by cyclones, but experts say the latest one is a category four storm, the largest so far in the season.

"This is going to be a highly damaging cyclone," Samarendra Karmakar, director of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department told the.

Bangladesh is frequently hit by cyclones and monsoon floods.

Q&A: Sudan's Darfur conflict

Darfur refugees in Chad
Many thousands of displaced people are in need of relief supplies
The United Nations Security Council has approved a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force to replace the 7,000 African Union (AU) observer mission struggling to protect civilians in Sudan's western province of Darfur.

But the exact make-up and deployment date for this beefed up force is still to be determined.

In the meantime, more than 2m people are living in camps after fleeing more than four years of fighting in the region and they are vulnerable without peacekeepers.

Sudan's government and the pro-government Arab militias are accused of war crimes against the region's black African population, although the UN has stopped short of calling it genocide.

Peace talks involving the government and most of the myriad rebel groups have recently resumed, but until the new UN-AU force deploys in Darfur the prospects for an end to violence look remote.

How did the conflict start?

The conflict began in the arid and impoverished region early in 2003 after a rebel group began attacking government targets, saying the region was being neglected by Khartoum.

The rebels say the government is oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs.

Darfur, which means land of the Fur, has faced many years of tension over land and grazing rights between the mostly nomadic Arabs, and farmers from the Fur, Massaleet and Zagawa communities.

There are two main rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), although both groups have split, some along ethnic lines.

More than a dozen rebel groups are now believed to exist. Most will attend the talks in Libya, but one key leader, Abdul Wahid el-Nur, is boycotting the talks until the conflict ends.

What is the government doing?

It admits mobilising "self-defence militias" following rebel attacks but denies any links to the Janjaweed, accused of trying to "cleanse" black Africans from large swathes of territory.

Refugees from Darfur say that following air raids by government aircraft, the Janjaweed ride into villages on horses and camels, slaughtering men, raping women and stealing whatever they can find.

Many women report being abducted by the Janjaweed and held as sex slaves for more than a week before being released.

The US and some human rights groups say that genocide is taking place - though a UN investigation team sent to Sudan said that while war crimes had been committed, there had been no intent to commit genocide.

Sudan's government denies being in control of the Janjaweed and President Omar al-Bashir has called them "thieves and gangsters".

After strong international pressure and the threat of sanctions, the government promised to disarm the Janjaweed. But so far there is little evidence this has happened.

Trials have been announced in Khartoum of some members of the security forces suspected of abuses - but this is viewed as part of a campaign against UN-backed attempts to get some 50 key suspects tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

What has happened to Darfur's civilians?

Millions have fled their destroyed villages, with some 2m in camps near Darfur's main towns. But there is not enough food, water or medicine.

The Janjaweed patrol outside the camps and Darfuris say the men are killed and the women raped if they venture too far in search of firewood or water.

Janjaweed fighter on horseback in Darfur region, 25 April
The Janjaweed are accused of 'ethnic cleansing'
Some 200,000 have also sought safety in neighbouring Chad, but many of these are camped along a 600km stretch of the border and remain vulnerable to attacks from Sudan.

The refugees are also threatened by the diplomatic fallout between Chad and Sudan as the neighbours accuse one another of supporting each other's rebel groups.

Chad's eastern areas have a similar ethnic make-up to Darfur.

Many aid agencies are working in Darfur but they are unable to get access to vast areas because of the fighting.

How many have died?

With much of Darfur inaccessible to aid workers and researchers, calculating how many deaths there have been in the past three years is impossible.

What researchers have done is to estimate the deaths based on surveys in areas they can reach.

The latest research published in September 2006 in the journal Science puts the numbers of deaths above and beyond those that would normally die in this inhospitable area at "no fewer than 200,000".

The US researchers say that their figures are the most compelling and persuasive estimate to date. They have made no distinction between those dying as a result of violence and those dying as a result of starvation or disease in refugee camps.

Accurate figures are crucial in determining whether the deaths in Darfur are genocide or - as the Sudanese government says - the situation is being exaggerated.

Have there been previous peace talks?


SLM: Minni Minnawi's faction signed 2006 peace deal
SLM: Abdul Wahid Mohammad Ahmed al-Nur's faction rejected peace deal
Jem: Khalil Ibrahim, one of the first rebel groups, rejected deal
Rebel negotiator: Suleiman Jamous
SLM Unity: Abdallah Yehia
UFLD: recently formed umbrella group including SLM commanders
Other breakaway SLM commanders: Mahjoub Hussein, Jar el-Neby and Suleiman Marajan
There are estimated to be more than 13 rebel factions in Darfur

The leader of one SLA faction, Minni Minawi, who signed a peace deal in 2006 after long-running talks in Nigeria, was given a large budget, but his fighters have already been accused by Amnesty International of abuses against people in areas opposed to the peace deal.

The other rebel factions did not sign the deal.

There has been a dramatic increase in violence and displacement since the deal was signed.

Amid international threats of sanctions for those refusing to attend, many rebel groups briefly attended preliminary talks with the government in Libya in October 2007 - but there is little hope of a quick breakthrough.

Is anyone trying to stop the fighting?

About 7,000 African Union troops are deployed in Darfur on a very limited mandate.

Experts say the soldiers are too few to cover an area the size of France, and the African Union says it does not have the money to fund the operation for much longer.

The recent killing of 10 AU soldiers by a rebel group in northern Darfur has highlighted the need for the new force to be deployed - but at the same time makes it harder for the AU and UN to secure pledges of troops.

The new, larger joint UN-AU force should be in place by early 2008 - if international support is forthcoming - and be better equipped and with a stronger mandate to protect civilians and aid workers.

But until recently, Sudan resisted strong Western diplomatic pressure for the UN to take control of the peacekeeping mission and their attitude to the deployment and its mandate remains ambiguous at best.

Some say even this new 26,000 force will not be enough to cover such a large, remote area.

Others point out that peacekeepers cannot do much unless there is a peace to keep.

They say the fighting can only end through a deal agreed by all sides, which has yet to materialise.