The NewsFuror

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bid for S&N brewer turns hostile

Bottles of S&N's Newcastle Brown Ale
S&N's famous brands include Newcastle Brown Ale
Carlsberg and Heineken have attacked Scottish & Newcastle's rejection of an improved 750 pence per share approach for the UK brewer as "ill-informed".

On Thursday, the two firms had raised the value of their bid approach from 720p per share, but it was rejected.

Edinburgh-based S&N, whose brands include Newcastle Brown Ale, accused the two of trying to buy the business "on the cheap".

The suitors said they believed S&N had misunderstood their intentions.


Denmark's Carlsberg and Dutch brewer Heineken hit back at S&N over the "tone and speed" of its response, in a statement to the London Stock Exchange.

S&N, which also owns the Fosters brand, had called the bidders' approach "highly conditional" on full due diligence, adding it had no hesitation in rejecting the offer, which it described as "wholly inadequate".

But the two suitors said that this description of their increased offer "stems from a misunderstanding".

The two firms argued that the focus of their due diligence would be on S&N's West European assets and "our key separation assumptions".

They demanded to meet with S&N's board to clarify their "limited requirements".

Carlsberg boss Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen said: "We find the board's intransigence and ill-informed rejection very disappointing.

"The time has come for S&N shareholders to direct their board to engage with us."'

Key asset

Carlsberg and Heineken plan to split up S&N if their bid is successful.

Heineken would take control of S&N's main business in the UK and some other European markets, while Carlsberg would take over the operations in France and Greece.

Carlsberg would also gain full control of Russia-based brewer Baltic Beverages Holdings (BBH), which is currently jointly owned by it and S&N.

BBH is seen as one of S&N's key assets, as it controls more than 85% of Baltika, Russia's biggest brewer.

Matt Damon is 'sexiest man alive'

Matt Damon
Damon plays a former CIA hitman in the Bourne series
Bourne Ultimatum star Matt Damon has been named the sexiest man alive in 2007 by People magazine.

But the 37-year-old actor initially refused the title, which has previously been given to his Ocean's Thirteen co-stars George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

Damon wrote a letter to the magazine saying he didn't feel worthy of the accolade, suggesting American footballer Tom Brady be named instead.

"You've given an aging suburban dad the ego-boost of a lifetime," he added.

People said Damon's refusal "perfectly demonstrated" the reasons why he was chosen for the title.

'Heart-melting humility'

His "irresistible sense of humour, heart-melting humility" and "rock-solid family man" status made him the logical winner, it said.

Damon has a one-year-old daughter, Isabella, and a nine-year-old stepdaughter, Alexia, with wife Luciana Bozan.

Other stars in the running for the sexiest man title this year included David Beckham, Brad Pitt, Grey's Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey, Jake Gyllenhaal, Matthew McConaughey, Justin Timberlake, and Will Smith.

The award has been running since 1985, when it was given to Mel Gibson.

Last year George Clooney took the top spot for the second time. The actor joked with People that, while he was reluctant to give up the crown, he and Brad Pitt had been campaigning on Damon's behalf for years.

Spielberg to receive Globe honour

Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg has won three Oscars
Steven Spielberg is to receive an award for his "outstanding contribution to entertainment" at next year's Golden Globe Awards, organizers have said.

The director will take home the Cecil B DeMille Award in recognition of a career that has seen him make some of the highest-grossing films of all time.

Spielberg, 60, has already won six Golden Globes for films like Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List and ET.

The Golden Globe Awards ceremony will take place on 13 January 2008.

It is the latest honour for the director who has previously received lifetime achievement awards from the Directors Guild of America, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Film Institute and the Kennedy Centre.

Previous recipients of the Cecil B DeMille Award include Warren Beatty, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino and Michael Douglas.

Spielberg is currently working on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, starring Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett, to be released in May 2008.

Strike keeps Ellen in Los Angeles

Ellen Degeneres
Ellen Degeneres did not work on the first day of the writers' strike
Comedian Ellen DeGeneres has cancelled plans to tape her talk show in New York after writers there vowed to picket the programme as part of ongoing strikes.

DeGeneres has been criticised for continuing to host her California-based show despite being a member of the striking Writers Guild of America.

Her spokeswoman declined to say whether the New York trip had been called off because of the threat of protests.

Meanwhile, the strike is expected to hit US award shows from this weekend.

The American Music Awards will be broadcast live on US channel ABC on Sunday without last-minute topical content.

Hollywood TV and movie writers are seeking higher fees from their work released on DVD or online.

'Contract obligation'

DeGeneres did not work on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on the first day of the strike on 5 November but has since returned to work, attracting criticism.

She told her studio audience last week that, while she supported the writers, she was obliged under contract to continue her hosting duties.

Michael Winship, East Coast president of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), said he was "delighted" with DeGeneres' decision to continue to record her talk show in Burbank, California.

Writers on strike in Los Angeles
Many US award shows are scripted by writers who are now striking

"She knows that the Writers Guild East would have been (in New York) to protest her lack of solidarity, not only with her guild writing staff but all the striking members of the Writers Guild, of which she is a member."

The American Music Awards is the first in a series of US award shows that may be hit by the writers' strike.

While the script for Sunday's ceremony was written before the strike began, without writers to make revisions it will not include any topical jokes from host Jimmy Kimmel.

Nominations for the Grammys, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards are announced in December, when writers usually begin to script the subsequent award ceremonies.

A Writers Guild of America spokesman said: "Many of the awards shows are written under WGA contracts, and how the strike will affect those shows remains to be seen."

The Academy Award nominations will be announced on 22 January, 2008.

£83,000 paid for Zeppelin tickets

Robert Plant
Tickets for the Led Zeppelin reunion originally cost £125 each
A Led Zeppelin fan has paid £83,000 for two tickets to the rock band's reunion concert, as part of an auction for the BBC's Children in Need.

BBC Radio 2 listener Kenneth Donnell, from Glasgow, paid to see the band rehearse and perform on 10 December.

Listeners also bid £250,000 to have Aled Jones and Katie Melua perform an intimate gig, and £100,000 for VIP passes to 2008's F1 British Grand Prix.

Children in Need is raising funds for disadvantaged young people in the UK.

Led Zeppelin's three remaining members play together for the first time since 1988 in December's sold-out concert.

Pete Townshend, Bill Wyman and Paolo Nutini will also perform at the show, which is a tribute to Ahmet Ertegun, the late founder of Atlantic Records.

Tickets went on sale for £125 each in October.

Originally scheduled for 26 November, the concert was postponed for two weeks because guitarist Jimmy Page fractured a finger.

Other winners in Radio 2's Auction of Things That Money Can't Buy included Sir Tom Hunter, who paid £100,000 for two VIP passes to the 2008 Formula 1 Santander British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Earlier this week Martin Ainscough, from Wigan, bid £250,000 to have Aled Jones and Katie Melua perform at Revolution in Manchester to raise funds for the Prince's Trust.

Children in Need culminates with a fundraising TV show on BBC One from 1900 GMT on Friday.

Take That dazzle at English debut

Gary Barlow and Mark Owen of Take That
The band announced their New Year's Eve concert earlier this week
Reformed boy band Take That have begun the British leg of their European tour by playing at the NEC in Birmingham.

"It's good to be back on home soil," said singer Mark Owen as the group performed in front of 14,000 fans.

Howard Donald danced energetically on stage following his recovery from the chest injury that forced him to pull out of a performance in Vienna.

Tickets for Take That's New Year's Eve concert at the 02 Arena in London have now gone on sale.

Thursday's concert in Birmingham was the four-man band's first performance on stage in mainland Britain since their appearance at the Concert for Diana in July.

The band began their tour in Belfast last month before moving onto continental Europe.

Referring to his recent injury, Donald told the NEC audience he was "going to partake in the dancing".


"I'm going to see how it holds out," he said. "The doctor said it should be OK."

He and his fellow band members set fire to parts of their costumes as they sang Relight My Fire, while the evening ended with a rendition of recent hit Shine and an encore of Pray.

Audience member David Percival, 22, described the concert as "brilliant".

"I've loved Take That all my life," he told the BBC's Natalie Jamieson.

Nineteen-year-old Jessica Noble, meanwhile, said Gary Barlow was "so much fitter in the flesh".

Take That play four more nights in Birmingham before moving on to Glasgow, Newcastle, London and Manchester.

Beatles online soon says Sir Paul

The Beatles in 1967
Solo music by all four Beatles members is available online
The Beatles' music should be available online next year, Sir Paul McCartney has told a US music website.

"It's down to fine-tuning, but I'm pretty sure it'll be happening next year, 2008," he told Billboard.com.

The Fab Four are one of the last major acts to withhold their back catalogue from stores like iTunes and Napster.

Sir Paul said the delay was due to contractual issues and planning by all parties involved. "You've got to get these things right," he said.

"You don't want to do something that's as cool as that and in three years time you think, 'Oh God, why did we do that?'"

Sir Paul added: "There's just maybe one little sticking point left, and I think it's being cleared up as we speak, so it shouldn't be too long."

Albums by the late Beatle George Harrison were made available online last month, meaning solo music by all four band members can now be bought digitally.

EMI is believed to have been on the verge of releasing The Beatles' back catalogue as digital downloads since February, when the band's record label Apple Corps settled a long-running trademark dispute with technology giant Apple Inc.

Jolie's baby adoption was 'legal'

Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and their family
In March Angelina Jolie (r) adopted a child from Vietnam
Angelina Jolie's adoption of a baby from Ethiopia was "legal" according to the agency that approved it in 2005.

Recent news reports said a woman who claimed to be the birth mother of Zahara, two, wanted the child back.

But Dr Tsegaye Berhe, head of the Wide Horizons for Children agency, told the Reuters news agency it was "media hype by unethical journalists".

At the time of the adoption, Zahara's grandmother sent a letter to the court which said child's mother was dead.

Adoptive family

"The court in Addis Ababa approved the adoption after studying the document her grandmother wrote," said Dr Berhe.

"The grandmother brought three witnesses to court who testified that Zahara's mother had died and that her father was unknown.

"The court also investigated the social status of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt before approving the adoption," he added.

Dr Berhe said the adoption was "legal and irrevocable".

In 2002, Jolie adopted her first child, Maddox, from Cambodia and three years later Zahara was introduced to the family.

Jolie's partner Brad Pitt later applied to become their adoptive father.

Last year the couple celebrated the birth of their first biological daughter, Shiloh Nouvel, in Namibia, Africa.

In March, Jolie adopted a three-year-old boy from Vietnam, Pax Thien Jolie-Pitt.

LA debut for reunited Spice Girls

The Spice Girls appeared on stage in military-style outfits.

The Spice Girls have performed live for the first time since their reunion, at the annual Victoria's Secret fashion show in Los Angeles.

The British five-piece sang two songs at the event, which was being recorded at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood ahead of its US broadcast on 4 December.

The girls performed their new single Headlines and their 1998 track Stop.

Geri Halliwell said the appearance had been "a good warm-up" for their world tour, beginning in Canada next month.

Speaking backstage, Halliwell told GMTV the new concerts would be "full of drama".

Military caps

Emma Bunton said the band was having "the best time", adding the group's forthcoming live shows would include "all our old classics".

A star-studded audience cheered as the five - Bunton, Halliwell, Victoria Beckham, Melanie Chisholm and Melanie Brown - appeared on stage dressed in World War II-era tunics and military caps.

Earlier they had seen Black Eyed Peas member Will.i.am perform in place of hip-hop star Kanye West, who withdrew from the event following the death of his mother.

The Spice Girls are due to perform live from Los Angeles on BBC One's Children in Need night later.

US planes to use military space

Delays at US airports have worsened this year
US military airspace will be temporarily cleared for commercial airline use to help ease delays during the holiday season travel crunch.

President George W Bush said the unusual move, along with other measures, would reduce congestion.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the defence department will open coastal airspace from Florida to Maine for five days around Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is the busiest travel period of the year in the US.

Airlines expect to fly some 27 million people over a 12-day period beginning on Friday.

"Thanksgiving is a week from today, and Christmas will quickly follow. This is really a time of joy for our families. Unfortunately, this is also a season of dread for too many Americans," President Bush said.

"Airports are very crowded, travellers are being stranded and flights are being delayed, sometimes with a full load of passengers sitting on the runway for hours," the president said at the White House.

President Bush also unveiled plans, due to take effect by mid-2008, to double the compensation passengers get when forced off overbooked flights to $800 for those stranded more than two hours for another flight.

The proposals also included requiring airlines to give the US Department of Transportation a more thorough accounting of causes of flight delays, and to develop contingency plans to help stranded passengers.

Oil rebounds ahead of Opec summit

A fuel storage tank in the US
Opec is not going to discuss output levels at a summit this weekend
Oil prices have climbed on Friday after a day of losses caused by a surprise build in US crude stocks and forecast of lower demand.

US light, sweet crude gained 48 cents to $93.91 a barrel. London Brent crude was up 52 cents at $90.75.

The Opec members' leaders are set to hold a summit in Riyadh this weekend, but they are not going to discuss output levels.

The group argues that current supplies are adequate.

Opec said on Thursday oil demand in the last quarter of 2007 would rise by 1.97%, less than predicted in October.

On Friday, Venezuela's oil minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters there was no need to raise output levels at the group's policy meeting in December.

"No, there is enough oil in the market," he said in the Saudi capital.

Winter forecasts

Oil drums
Weekly US crude stocks data surprised analysts
The US government reported on Thursday that domestic stocks of crude had jumped by 2.8 million barrels.

A surprise rise in US crude stockpiles eased some analysts' concerns of a supply shortfall in the winter months, but other experts remained cautious.

"A rebound in US crude stocks, due in part to a one-off backlog of imports, was... less bearish than it appeared, focused as it was on the relatively insulated West Coast," said Antoine Halff, energy analyst at Fimat.

But Tobin Gorey, a strategist with Australia's Commonwealth Bank said forecasts for a milder than normal winter in the north eastern US would probably lead to a further fall in demand.

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.

German rail strike into third day

A largely deserted platform at Cologne station
Public support for the union's demands may be wavering
Germany's national rail strike has entered its third day, with neither side giving ground and both travellers and businesses suffering as a result.

Passenger train drivers at Deutsche Bahn began a 48-hour stoppage early on Thursday, joining freight counterparts who had walked out the day before.

Goods transportation in eastern Germany has been badly hit, while Audi had to cancel a shift due to a lack of parts.

The union, GDL, wants a 31% pay rise, while Deutsche Bahn is offering 10%.

Rising rhetoric

GDL officials maintain their 34,000 members are paid much less than drivers in other European countries.

It is about time the GDL gave ground. They are asking too much
David Fekete

Deutsche Bahn says its offer is fair and refuses to single out drivers for special treatment, having agreed a 4.5% pay deal with 195,000 of its other workers in July.

The strike - which is due to end early on Saturday - has severely curtailed suburban and regional services in most of Germany's largest cities although inter-city services are running more normally.

Freight services in eastern Germany have come to a virtual halt while the disruption has caused a knock-on effect at major ports such as Hamburg.

And the rhetoric in the three-month dispute has become increasingly trenchant.

"What I cannot understand is that the country can be raped," said GDL chairman Manfred Schell, "just because Deutsche Bahn management simply refuses to take up negotiations".

Striking drivers outside the headquarters of Deutsche Bahn
Drivers say they are massively underpaid

Deutsche Bahn has insisted it will not "cave in" to the union's demands, warning that prolonged strike action will cause serious economic damage.

There are signs that the disruption of recent days is eroding support for the workers, with one poll in Bild newspaper putting backing for the action at less than 50%.

"I am pretty fed up with this," David Fekete, an employee with a car rental firm in Berlin, told Reuters.

"It is about time the GDL gave ground. They are asking too much."

Bitter 2008 brewing for Starbucks

Starbucks coffee shop
Starbucks' profits could be hurt by a slowdown in consumer spending
Starbucks, the world's largest coffee chain, has warned of a tough 2008, saying it expects hard-up US consumers to buy fewer lattes and espressos.

The coffee chain reported a 35% jump in quarterly profits but lowered sales and earnings forecasts for next year after a drop in US customer visits.

Rising dairy costs would also dent the company's bottom line, Starbucks said.

For the three months to the end of September, Starbucks posted net earnings of $158.5m (£77.6m).

The news knocked the company's shares lower in after hours trading on fears that US consumers, concerned about higher food and energy costs, would opt to go to cheaper places for their morning cup of coffee.

It said it would open 2,500 stores in its 2008 financial year, beginning in October, 100 fewer than its original target.

Same-store sales, a key measure of a retailer's health, increased 4% in the quarter.

Business in overseas stores was healthier, with traffic rising 5% and average transaction value increasing 1%.

US backs home lending clampdown

Boarded up house in Cleveland Ohio
Default rates have reached record levels in the US
The US House of Representatives has voted to regulate mortgage brokers in an attempt to prevent a recurrence of the current housing market crisis.

The bill calls for the licensing of mortgage brokers and loan officers and also bans predatory lending practices.

Lenders would have to take steps to ensure than prospective borrowers would be able to repay their loans.

There would also be a ban on incentive schemes that encouraged brokers to steer borrowers into unsuitable loans.

Sue your bank

The bill also contains provisions that would allow borrowers to sue the bank that issued the mortgage, even if they sold it on to bondholders, if the bank had not exercised 'due diligence' in checking that the loans were made fairly.

This provision is fiercely opposed by the mortgage industry, which argues it would kill the $6 trillion mortgage bond market, and make it more difficult for poor people to get mortgages.

"What we have today is a bill that cannot undo what happened, but makes it much less likely it will happen in the future," said Congressman Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

The bill will face a rougher passage in the Senate. The Senate Banking Committee has not yet introduced its own bill to tackle the sub-prime crisis, and the two measures would have to be reconciled by a joint committee before becoming law.

"Congress does two things very well: one is nothing and two is overreact," said Repubican Congressman Tom Price.

Bipartisan Support

However, the bill passed by a wide margin in the House of Representatives, as northern Republicans joined with Democrats, who hold a slim majority, in backing the measures.

The growing wave of foreclosures across the US, which is destabilising the housing market and could lead to 2 million families losing their homes, has put pressure on Congress to do something to sort out the problem.

But the new legislation is mainly aimed at stopping sub-prime abuses from happening again, and it will not in itself stop foreclosures.

The Bush administration is hoping that lenders and borrowers will come to a voluntary agreement to renegotiate as many cases as possible before foreclosing, but so far only 1% of foreclosures have been renegotiated.

Growing crisis

The US housing bubble was created by lenders loosening their standards for mortgage lending and giving loans to people who would previously have been ineligible.

Borrowers were attracted by low initial rates of interest, but found that they were unable to make their monthly payments once the interest rates increased.

That led to record defaults, which has had knock-on effects on banks worldwide that had bought up packages of US mortgage debt.

The US Fed has provided cash to money markets, and has cut interest rates twice so far, but credit markets are still frozen.

And so far major banks around the world have revealed more than $60bn in losses from the crisis.

Baseball star Barry Bonds charged

Barry Bonds hits home run number 713
Barry Bonds is only the third man ever to hit more than 700 homers
A US federal grand jury has charged baseball record breaker Barry Bonds with perjury and obstruction of justice over an inquiry into steroids use.

The jury was investigating testimony by the San Francisco star in 2003, in which he said he had never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs.

Mr Bonds, 43, became the all-time home run record holder in August, when he beat Hank Aaron's total of 755 runs.

But his feat has been overshadowed by accusations that he used steroids.

The federal jury indictment released on Thursday stated: "During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained including positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances for Bonds and other athletes."

Mr Bonds faces four counts of perjury and one of obstructing justice, which together carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail.

White House 'sad'

His lawyer, John Burris, when informed about the charges, said: "I'm surprised, but there's been an effort to get Barry for a long time. I'm curious what evidence they have now they didn't have before."

The left-hander has never tested positive for drug use and has repeatedly denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.

A spokesman for the White House reacted promptly to news of the charges.

"The president is very disappointed to hear this," he said.

"Clearly this is a sad day for baseball."

Mr Bonds was questioned in 2003 as part of the government investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (Balco), which has been blamed for supplying performance-enhancing drugs to a number of high-profile athletes, including Olympic gold-medal winner Marion Jones.

The Major League Baseball star has been dogged by rumours since he bulked up noticeably and his home run tally took off after he turned 35.

He moved past the legendary Babe Ruth into second place in May of last year with his 715th career home run, and passed Hank Aaron in August.

He finished the season on 762 home runs.

The slugger announced in September that he would leave the San Francisco Giants at the end of the season after the club decided not to renew his contract.

However, the 43-year-old Mr Bonds said that he had no intention of retiring from the game.

Twin tons power Australia effort

SECOND TEST MATCH, Hobart (day one, stumps):
Australia 329-3 v Sri Lanka

Michael Hussey
Michael Hussey is building a quite exceptional Test record

Australia established yet another position of dominance by reaching 329-3 on day one of the second Test against Sri Lanka in Hobart.

Phil Jaques and Michael Hussey, centurions in the easy first Test win, each added another three-figure score while Sri Lanka fielded poorly.

Chaminda Vaas was denied a 100th Test cap because of worries about whether his shoulder would last the match.

And Muttiah Muralitharan managed just one wicket from 25 overs of toil.

The scalp of Australia captain Ricky Ponting, who was caught at slip for 31, took Muralitharan to 703 victims in his bid to beat the retired Shane Warne's record of 708.

But the day was all about some effortless batting from Jaques (150) and Hussey (101 not out).

Sri Lanka, who lost the toss, showed two changes from the side crushed in the first Test at Brisbane.

Fast bowler Lasith Malinga returned to the starting line-up, ousting Vaas, and their leading batsman Kumar Sangakkara returned from injury to replace Thilan Samaraweera.

The Aussies were unchanged from the side that won in Brisbane, batsman Michael Clarke recovering from a tight hamstring.

After Matthew Hayden had gone for 17, Jaques and Ricky Ponting (31) added 85 for the second wicket.

The big partnership came either side of tea - left-handers Jaques and Hussey putting on 152 in 38 overs.

Hussey, in his 18th match for Australia, went to bed with a Bradmanesque Test average of 87.19.

His seventh century in Tests came when he pulled the second ball of the final over, bowled by Farveez Maharoof, expertly through midwicket for four.

Jaques' innings was studded with some powerful shots off the back foot square of the wicket on both sides.

Marvan Atapattu and Farveez Maharoof
Marvan Atapattu and Farveez Maharoof ponder a way through

He also indulged in some delightful cover drives, hitting 18 fours and scoring at a healthy rate throughout.

Jaques found Dilhara Fernando the most generous of the Sri Lanka bowlers.

But he was watchful against Muralitharan, who troubled him in the first Test.

Spin did account for Jaques in the end. Shortly before the new ball was due he advanced to lofted Sanath Jayasruiya straight to long-on.

Hussey compiled his runs with a minimum of fuss and looked at his best when cover-driving over-pitched balls, enjoying particular success against Malinga.

He did manage a couple of boundaries against Muralitharan too, including a regulation pull forward off midwicket from the third ball he faced.

Sri Lanka messed up two decent run-out chances to remove Jaques when the Victorian was in the 20s.

When the plan doesn't work, the discipline goes away
Trevor Bayliss
Sri Lanka coach

While those missed opportunities proved extremely costly, Hayden was more charitable.

Looking out of sorts, the Queenslander had already been dropped once when slashing Fernando to the wicket-keeper.

After the day's play Hussey said: "I've convinced myself [the average] is going to come down at some stage, but I'm happy to keep it like this for as long as possible.

"I just want to enjoy it while it's lasting and keep a level keel, not get too excited when things are going well, or too low when they're not going well."

Sri Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss pleaded with his bowlers to be more persistent with their lines and lengths.

He said: "When the plan doesn't work, the discipline goes away."

Legal action to ban Kurdish party

Turkish prosecutors have reportedly moved to ban a pro-Kurdish political party in Turkey that has been accused of colluding with Kurdish rebels.

Supreme Court prosecutors asked the Constitutional Court to bar the Democratic Society Party (DTP), according to reports.

They allege the DTP, founded in 2005, is linked to the Kurdish rebel PKK.

The legal action came amid tensions with Iraq over Turkey's threat to make cross-border attacks on PKK bases.

Bhutto released from house arrest

File photo of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto
Bhutto now says she is unwilling to share power with Gen Musharraf
Benazir Bhutto has been released from house arrest in Pakistan, reports say.

The opposition leader was placed under a seven-day detention order on Tuesday in Lahore, where she had been planning a mass protest march.

Police said the order had been lifted - but there are reportedly still dozens of officers outside her residence.

A new prime minister, Mohammedmian Soomro, has been sworn to act as the head of an interim government until parliamentary elections next year.

President Pervez Musharraf says the move, which follows the dissolving of parliament at the end of its five-year term on Thursday, marks a transition to democracy.

But General Musharraf's critics say he has demonstrated no commitment to democracy in the past.

Tensions rise

"The government has withdrawn Bhutto's detention order, and from now, she is free to move wherever she likes," Aftab Cheema, police chief of the eastern city of Lahore, told the news agency Reuters.

"Police will remain [outside] for her security, but there will be no restriction on her movement," he added.

We are introducing a new culture of smooth transition which is as it should be in civilised societies
Gen Musharraf

On Thursday Ms Bhutto reportedly told Dawn TV she had conclusively ruled out the possibility of sharing power with Gen Musharraf, whom she accuses of taking Pakistan back towards military dictatorship.

"Too much water has gone under the bridge," she said.

"We have said very clearly that we cannot keep doors open when commitments are broken."

Tensions rose when the first reported deaths of the crisis came amid pro-Bhutto protests in Karachi on Thursday.

Two boys, said to be aged around 11 or 12, and an adult died when gunfire broke out during a demonstration against Ms Bhutto's detention, police said.

Several other people were reportedly wounded.

US visit

John Negroponte, the US deputy secretary of state, is due to arrive in Pakistan on Friday.

The US says it is waiting to see how events unfold in the days to come.

A protester throws a tear-gas shell in Karachi on Thursday
As protests continued in Karachi, the first deaths of the crisis came

Washington has refused to distance itself from Gen Musharraf, a long-time ally, though correspondents say it is making increasingly urgent demands that emergency powers he imposed on 3 November be lifted.

Pakistan's National Assembly dissolved at midnight after its five-year term came to an end.

Mr Soomro, a member of Gen Musharraf's ruling Pakistan Muslim League Q party, has taken over as prime minister from Shaukat Aziz, who is leaving office after three years.

Mr Musharraf confirmed the appointment at a dinner on Thursday, at which he wore a black suit instead of his military uniform, reported AFP news agency.

Court deliberates

"We are introducing a new culture of smooth transition which is as it should be in civilised societies. The assemblies are completing their five-year term in a better way than before," Mr Musharraf was quoted as saying.

The appointment came as the Supreme Court heard a challenge to emergency rule imposed earlier this month.

The court is also due to rule on whether Gen Musharraf's re-election as president last month was legal.

Correspondents say he is expected to win both cases after changing the make-up of the court when he declared the emergency on 3 November, sacking several judges who had shown judicial independence.

Scores dead in Bangladesh cyclone

Local residents look inside a damaged class room at a school in Bangladesh 16/11/07

At least 242 people have been reported dead after a powerful cyclone battered southern Bangladesh, levelling villages and uprooting trees.

Officials have warned that the death toll could rise and that the extent of the damage is still unclear.

Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated or sought safe shelter before the storm hit the coast, but some were left behind.

The storm was weakening early Friday as it passed through the capital, Dhaka.

With the worst of the storm thought to be over, attention now turns to assessing the damage and distributing aid, the BBC's Mark Dummett reports from Dhaka.

The World Food Programme is send emergency food rations for 400,000 people. The government, the Red Crescent and other NGOs are also sending teams.

However, our correspondent says that Dhaka's main airport has suspended operations, river ferries are not running, roads are blocked by uprooted trees and electricity supplies have been severely disrupted.

Communications down

The damage from Cyclone Sidr was worst on Bangladesh's southern coastal strip.

The Home Ministry in Dhaka said several districts could still not be contacted as telephones and communications were cut and reports of casualties were confused.

Nahid Sultana, an official from the Ministry of Relief and Disaster Management, confirmed the death toll and said it was likely to rise.

Many people are thought to have been killed as falling trees flattened fragile houses. In one case, an elderly man drowned when a small boat capsized, the AFP news agency reported.

Bangladeshi television said more than 100 fishing boats in the Bay of Bengal had failed to return to shore despite storm warnings, Reuters reported.

Red Crescent officials have said at least three villages were flattened by the storm.

Residents of the capital, Dhaka, told the BBC news website that buildings and roofs were shaken by fierce winds during the night, and that by morning power and water supplies had been cut.

"All night the wind has been raging so hard that I thought my window will shatter," said K Ashequl Haque.

Search under way

Most ordinary houses in rural areas are made of thatch, wood and tin, and officials and local witnesses say many were easily flattened by the wind.

Click here for a detailed map of the affected region

"We have mounted a search by civilians, army and police, and the casualty figures will rise," an official in Barisal, one of the worst hit districts, told Reuters.

"We have been virtually blacked out all over the country," a disaster management official in southern Mongla, another badly affected area, told the agency.

The cyclone had roared in from the Bay of Bengal just before dusk on Thursday, generating winds of up to 240kph (150mph) and driving rain.

The storm swept through Dhaka overnight, where it pulled up trees and cut power.

The capital's airport was closed, and river ferries stopped running.

The cyclone was also expected to affect eastern India and the west coast of Burma.

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

Coastal residents take cover at the Chila cyclone shelter near Mongla port, in Bangladesh, on Thursday
Many people are taking cover in state-provided cyclone shelters

Hundreds of thousands of coastal villagers have been evacuated, with thousands more moving into government-built cyclone shelters.

The cyclone triggered 5m (16ft) tidal surges in many of the affected districts, Reuters reported. Rivers flowing into the Bay of Bengal were said to be swollen and rising.

Authorities said they had sent food, medicine, tents and blankets to the affected areas.

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

Bangladesh developed a network of cyclone shelters and a storm early-warning system, after a cyclone killed more than 500,000 people in 1970.

Casualties from cyclones have been significantly reduced as a result, officials say.