The NewsFuror

Monday, November 19, 2007

China may let multinationals list

Chinese stock investor
Under the plan, Chinese may be able to invest in overseas firms
Shanghai's stock exchange says it is considering allowing big multinational companies to list shares.

China's largest exchange may permit companies such as HSBC, Coca-Cola and Siemens - which have large business operations in the country - to trade.

Que Bo, assistant general manager of Shanghai's exchange said it was doing market research on the plan and expected to "get some results soon".

He said the plan would make Shanghai's market more competitive.

Analysts said such a move would accelerate government efforts to ease restrictions on investment in and out of China.

HSBC has invested more than $5bn in China, buying stakes in Bank of Communications and Ping An Insurance.

Coca-Cola has invested $1.25bn in China since entering the country in 1979 and German engineering firm Siemens helped build the world's first commercial magnetic levitation - or maglev - rail service in Shanghai.

"To strengthen the blue-chip market, we have been planning to list such multinationals as HSBC, Coca-Cola and Siemens, which have developed very well in China," China's official Xinhua news agency quoted Que as saying.

Companies tend to list shares in their home markets although secondary listings in countries where firms have significant business interests are not uncommon.

A number of Chinese companies are listed in the United States.

G20 in warning on world economy

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson
Mr Paulson says the crisis in the US housing market poses risks
Finance chiefs from the world's 20 biggest economies have warned of rising risks to economic growth and inflation, at a meeting in South Africa.

China's reluctance to revalue its currency and the sliding dollar had also come under the spotlight at two-day summit of G20 members.

The group agreed volatile and erratic currency movements were unwelcome.

But the summit's final communique stopped short of labelling specific currencies as being problematic.

The G20 called for greater exchange rate flexibility from countries with large current account surpluses in an apparent reference to China.

China has been under mounting pressure from the United States and other trading partners to allow its tightly controlled yuan to strengthen to correct global trade imbalances.

No finger pointing

France's Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, said group discussions did not specifically point a finger at any particular currency.

"We all concurred that the currency situation is one that needs a joint approach, concerted approach. Clearly we don't want to point the finger at anyone and we want to operate by consensus," Lagarde said.

I view the US housing market as the most significant current risk to our economy
US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson

The G20 warned of a likely slowdown in global economic growth but said it was expected to be modest.

"Its extent and duration remains difficult to predict," said the communique ending the summit.

"We also agreed that an orderly unwinding of global imbalances, while sustaining global growth, is a shared responsibility," the communiqué said.

It also said that G20 members would need to assess the inflation outlook in light rising commodity prices and the prospect of slower growth.

US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the wider economy faced risks from problems in global credit markets and the sub-prime crisis in the US housing market.

"In discussions on the decline in the US housing market, I noted it is still unfolding and I view it as the most significant current risk to our economy," Mr Paulson said, adding he was confident that the US economy would keep growing despite the housing strains.

IMF reform

Meanwhile, the new managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, promised to make substantial progress on developing countries' demands for a bigger voice in the institution.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn
Mr Strauss-Kahn has vowed to reform the IMF

Mr Strauss-Kahn said the G20 agreed that developing nations should have a bigger voice in the IMF, where, under a system devised 63 years ago, richer countries have more power.

The weight of each nation's vote is tied to its quota, which is determined by the size of their economy, currency reserves and openness to trade and capital flows.

"The fund needs to be reshaped," Mr Strauss-Kahn said.

"Times have changed. Some emerging countries have much more economic influence than they had."

What could not be agreed was which nations would give up quotas and votes, he said.

"The result must be a shift in quotas from developing countries to emerging ones. The question is how big is this shift going to be - who is going to lose [some quotas], who's going to win."

The G20 brings together developed and emerging economies that together represent two-thirds of the world's population, 90% of gross domestic product and more than 80% of world trade.

Rock offers 'undervalue the bank'

People walking past a branch of Northern Rock bank
More bids for Northern Rock are expected
Northern Rock has said the proposals it has received so far from potential investors are "materially below" the stricken bank's share price.

Two suitors, Virgin Group and Olivant Advisers, have both submitted their proposals to rescue the bank.

The bank said that it expected further expressions of interest to emerge.

Separately, the government has said there is no certainty that any bidder for the Rock will have access to £24bn of emergency loans after February.

But it added that it was "willing to discuss" any proposals that envisaged a continuing role for the Bank of England, the Treasury and the Financial Services Authority.

The Treasury has also warned that the support it has provided to the Rock represents state aid under EU rules and may therefore turn out to be illegal.

The comments came as Chancellor Alistair Darling outlined the government's stance on the possible sale of Northern Rock.

Northern Rock, whose chief executive Adam Applegarth resigned on Friday, said that while it would still analyse and discuss proposals it had received, "the value to shareholders from any of the proposals remains highly uncertain".

They would depend on factors including an improvement in market conditions such as access to liquidity, it said.

Northern Rock shares fell 2% in early trading to 129p. They had hit a high of £12.58 in February.

The bank was forced to seek emergency funding from the Bank of England in September after the jamming up of world credit markets wrecked its business model.

Steel firms oppose BHP-Rio deal

Rio Tinto plant in Australia
Record metal prices are boosting mergers in the mining sector
The proposed merger between Anglo-Australian mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto has been criticised by Japanese steelmakers.

Hajime Bada, chairman of the trade group Japan Iron and Steel Federation, said the merger could "impede a healthy market price mechanism" for iron ore.

Mr Bada, who also heads JFE Steel, the world's third-largest steelmaker, said he would meet BHP Billiton later.

Rio Tinto has so far rejected BHP Billiton's $140bn (£68bn) approach.

Mr Bada said he would express his opposition to the merger at a meeting with BHP Billiton's chief executive, Marius Kloppers.

Global giants

The Japan Iron and Steel Federation estimates that a merged BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto would control 60% of Japan's iron ore imports.

A combination of BHP and Rio Tinto would create a firm worth about $350bn.

While BHP Billiton is the world's largest mining company, Rio Tinto is the third biggest.

JFE Steel is the world's third largest steelmaker. The world's largest is ArcelorMittal, and Japanese firm Nippon Steel is in second place.

Dollar continues near record lows

Woman holding dollar bills and euro notes
Dollar weakness centres on US economy concerns
The US dollar has remained weak against both the euro and the yen in Monday trading as worries about the strength of the US economy continue.

The dollar fell to $1.4687 against the euro in Asian trade, and dropped to 110.59 yen.

At the start of November, the dollar hit a record low of $1.4752 against the single European currency.

The strength of the dollar had been undermined further by weak US economic data released on Friday.

Interest rate cuts

As a growing number of US banks reveal their exposure to bad US mortgage debt, data on Friday showed the biggest drop in American industrial production since January.

Taken together, analysts say this suggests further cuts in US interest rates.

"There are no fundamental reasons to buy the dollar," said Tsutomu Soma, senior manager of foreign securities at Okasan Securities.

The US Federal Reserve last cut interest rates in October to 4.5%, in an effort to kick-start 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.

It has signalled that it will adopt a wait-and-see approach to the future direction of interest rates.

Swiss Re hit by sub-prime losses

Swiss Re building in London
Swiss Re's UK office is based in the distinctive building of the same name
Swiss Re expects to lose 1.2bn Swiss francs ($1.07bn; £525m) on insurance cover a client took out against any fall in the value of its mortgage debt.

Such investments have fallen sharply in value since the summer, due to the crisis in the US mortgage industry, centred on the sub-prime sector.

Swiss Re did not give the name of the client company which may be a bank.

Record levels of home loan defaults in the US sub-prime sector has hit the value of all mortgage debt.

This is because much of the sub-prime debt has been repacked into wider debt offerings, called collateralised debt obligations, which were then resold on the global market.

Swiss Re, the world's largest reinsurance company, said it was now working to improve its financial risk-taking.

A growing number of global banks have now revealed over $60bn in potential losses due to exposure to bad US mortgage debt, and some estimates suggest that the total losses in the financial sector could exceed $400bn.

Several other insurance companies which have specialised in covering such debts are now facing questions about potential losses.

Opec pledges reliable oil supply

Chavez (2nd L) at the Opec summit 17 Nov
The summit is Opec's third in 47 years
Opec leaders have pledged to provide the world with reliable supplies of oil and fight global warming, at the end of a rare summit meeting.

The group's final statement made no mention of calls by oil-consuming countries such as the US to raise production to ease sky-high prices.

The sliding dollar was not mentioned in the communique.

Venezuela's president had opened the summit with a warning that oil prices could double if the US attacked Iran.

Oil has been hitting record peaks of well over $90 a barrel as markets believe the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries will not boost production.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the price of crude could reach $150 or even $200 a barrel.

The fall of the dollar, which has weakened considerably against the euro and other currencies in the past 12 months, has affected the revenues of Opec members because most of them price and sell their oil exports in the US currency.

The issue is also political, with Iran keen to undermine the US currency.

The summit in Saudi Arabia is only Opec's third in 47 years.

Political agenda

The summit saw differences about the future direction of the exporters' group.

President Chavez and his Ecuadorean counterpart, Rafael Correa, whose country rejoined Opec at the summit, had both pleaded for a more political agenda for the group, but ran into opposition from US ally Saudi Arabia.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) with Hugo Chavez
Chavez (r) and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are staunch US critics

King Abdullah, the head of state of the host nation, Saudi Arabia said: "Those who want Opec to take advantage of its position are forgetting that Opec has always acted moderately and wisely.

"Oil shouldn't be a tool for conflict, it should be a tool for development."

The final declaration stressed the importance of world peace for the stability of oil prices.

A division had also emerged during the summit between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Iranian officials wanted the final statement to express concern about the weakness of the dollar.

In a post-summit news conference, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that all Opec countries showed interest in converting their cash reserves into other currencies.

But Saudi officials were against including any such remarks in the declaration. One is reported to have warned that it could add to the pressure on the dollar.

Green credentials

In the statement, Opec leaders insisted on the importance of technology to enable the use of cleaner oil to help fight global warming.

They also recognised the importance of energy in fighting poverty.

"We associate our countries with all global efforts aimed at bridging the development gap and making energy available to the world's poor while protecting the environment," Opec Secretary General Abdalla Salem el-Badri said.

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, said it would donate $300m to a green technology fund to help combat global warming.

Kuwait said it would donate $150m.

Give Scott an Oscar, says Crowe

Six years ago Russell Crowe won an Academy Award for his role in Sir Ridley Scott's epic Gladiator.

As their latest collaboration, American Gangster, is released in the UK, the New Zealand-born actor says it is time his director won one himself.

Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe
Washington and Crowe previously co-starred in 1995 thriller Virtuosity
In a career spanning five decades, veteran British filmmaker Sir Ridley Scott has received countless accolades.

He has been named best director at the Baftas (for Thelma and Louise) and the Golden Globes (for Gladiator).

But, despite three nominations, Sir Ridley - who celebrates his 70th birthday this month - has yet to win his industry's biggest prize: An Oscar.

Having taken home an Academy Award for his career-defining role in Gladiator, Russell Crowe is ideally placed to offer his thoughts on what many consider a serious oversight.

"If there's any director I know who deserves an Oscar, it's Ridley Scott," he said during a recent visit to London.

"He is one of the greatest visual artists of our time and deserving of any honour that comes his way."

With Crowe joined on screen by two-time Oscar recipient Denzel Washington, and a script by Schindler's List writer Steve Zaillian, many predict American Gangster will be the film that breaks Scott's duck.

'Cadaver Connection'

It certainly boasts a fascinating story - that of Frank Lucas, a real-life gangster from Harlem, New York who revolutionised the drug trade in the early 1970s.

Lucas, a former gang lieutenant, hit on a scheme to smuggle pure heroin from south-east Asia inside the coffins of US servicemen being flown back from war-torn Vietnam.

Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in American Gangster
In American Gangster they play adversaries on either side of the law
This daring scam - nicknamed "The Cadaver Connection" - turned him into one of the most wealthy, feared and influential criminals of his era.

"This is a guy who had $250 million (£120 million) in the bank when he was arrested in 1974, which would be a couple of billion today," says Crowe.

"The brilliance and genius which he applied to his particular thing was equivalent to what Bill Gates brought to his."

The Microsoft founder might not welcome the comparison, but it is clear Lucas - played by Washington in Sir Ridley's film - caught Crowe's imagination.

Indeed, the actor reveals, it was the Lucas part he wanted to play when he read Zaillian's script.

'Glamorous and compelling'

Instead Crowe was cast as Richie Roberts, the New York detective who played a key role in bringing Lucas to justice.

American Gangster follows both their trajectories, juxtaposing Lucas's rise to power with the policeman's dogged attempts to take him down.

Sir Ridley Scott
Scott says he hopes the film will leave audiences "fully engaged"
"You can't have such a glamorous and compelling bad guy without bringing him to task," the actor explains.

"As much as audiences enjoy watching a villain do his thing, once the body count starts to rise they want to know justice will prevail."

The film marks Crowe's third collaboration with Scott after Gladiator and the 2006 comedy A Good Year.

They have since made another film together - political thriller Body of Lies, set for release in 2008 - and are to team up again on Nottingham, a revisionist take on the Robin Hood myth.

"We knew when we did Gladiator that we communicated really well, and that gets stronger each time we work together," says the actor.

"He has no problem throwing responsibility my way, and I enjoy that. I feel privileged that he wants to work with me."

American Gangster is out in the UK on 16 November.

Late Pope becomes a singing star

Pope John Paul II
John Paul II died in April 2005

Former Pope John Paul II was known for many things, but until now, not for being the star of a music video.

That's set to change as the Vatican launches a DVD designed to hasten his path to sainthood.

And if you were expecting the sounds of traditional Catholic music, think again. The Church employed Simon Boswell, a non-Catholic British composer, to write the music.

His work normally features in Hollywood blockbusters, and he says this was a project like no other.

"It's very difficult to describe because it's not a documentary - it is a celebration of the life of John Paul II, in images which have been artistically manipulated."

Boswell has added his own music to these images, using traditional orchestral and choral sounds as well as a few contemporary idioms that are likely to raise eyebrows.

Trip-hop and "jazz trance" styles feature in the music, which also includes recordings of speeches made by John Paul II - and even some archive of the late pope singing.

'Very nervous'

St Peter's in the Vatican City
The Vatican made "one slight complaint" about the voice alteration

Boswell was given unique access to Vatican recordings of Gregorian chant and other historical material, which he has woven into his own compositions.

He says the biggest challenge surrounded the recordings of John Paul II's singing, and admits to being "very nervous about interfering with the pontiff's voice".

But he confirms he did use computer technology to improve the pope's vocal delivery.

There was "one slight complaint from the Vatican" about the extent to which the papal voice had been altered but Boswell says the Church was happy with the final product.

The process of composing material to complement images of the late pope became a surprising spiritual journey for the agnostic composer.

"I have felt very moved by doing the thing, and I've almost felt guided or watched over in a way I haven't felt before.

"I've felt privileged and an empathy towards the subject that I very often don't."

John Paul II
Many Catholics would like to see John Paul II made a saint

Asked whether he felt there were other forces at work influencing his composing, Boswell's was an enigmatic "that's quite possible".

Web poll

The DVD is titled Santo Subito - a reference to the Latin proclamation, "Make him a saint now!" which crowds chanted at John Paul II's funeral in 2005.

A website accompanies the DVD, where members of the public can vote on whether they believe John Paul II should be made a saint - and, if so, which cause he should be the patron saint for.

It is thought to be the first time internet technology has been harnessed by the Church to enable web users to express their views about a potential future saint.

The British composer whose music is central to the campaign is relaxed about his role in what some might see as Catholic propaganda - and he says that studying John Paul II's life gave him a "window into faith" that he appreciated.

"Seeing the power of his speech, and the millions and millions of people over the world mesmerised by him, I actually felt quite moved. He was saying things that any nice human being couldn't refuse."

So the non-Catholic composer Boswell offers a perhaps surprising conclusion: "I can't think of a better person to be made a saint. Why not have saints in the world?"

CSI 'does not reflect forensics'

A scene from CSI
Marg Helgenberger and William Petersen star in CSI
Hit TV crime shows like CSI and Law and Order do not give a true depiction of the real work carried out by forensic experts, a leading scientist has said.

Dr Sheila Willis, director of Ireland's Forensic Science Laboratory, said TV gave unrealistic expectations of how quickly crimes could be solved.

In a lecture in Dublin, Dr Willis said the shows wrongly suggested they could be cracked within the space of an episode.

She said all partners in the criminal justice system needed to reach a shared level of understanding with regard to the role of forensic science.

Dr Willis was speaking as part of Ireland's Science Week.

A clear appreciation of the potential and limitations of forensic science was made difficult by the popularity of shows like CSI.

CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) is one of the United States' most popular programmes and the Emmy award-winning franchise has produced the spin-offs CSI: Miami and CSI: New York.

Pattern evidence

However, Dr Willis said such shows lead people to mistakenly believe only one forensic investigator handled evidence on a specific case.

They also wrongly suggested the forensic scientist always comes to a conclusive determination which would make or break a case by the end of the episode.

The leading scientist said such representations fostered a presumption that "the answers we supply are black and white, but of course there's a grey area".

Gary Sinise and Melina Kanakaredes star in CSI:NY
Gary Sinise and Melina Kanakaredes star in CSI:NY

In reality, "we don't fit it in (in) 47 minutes, and the roles are not all rolled into one", she said.

Many forensic scientists specialised in chemistry, biology, DNA, drugs or pattern evidence, she told delegates.

Dr Willis also said that a lack of a DNA database in Ireland "means we're not getting the maximum value from science in this country".

Last year, a senior policeman in Malaysia said US crime drama CSI was helping criminals escape justice.

"CSI and a few other series teach how to remove traces of crime," said Deputy Inspector General Musa Hassan.

He told the country's Bernama News Agency such television programmes provided insights into how police work and made them more efficient.

Coppola mourns Godfather editor

Peter Zinner
Peter Zinner with his daughter, Katina, in the 1970s
Film editor Peter Zinner, who worked on the first two Godfather movies with director Francis Ford Coppola, has died in California aged 88.

Zinner, who died of complications from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, was jointly nominated for an Oscar for his work on the first Godfather film in 1972.

Coppola paid tribute to Zinner's "great contribution" to his mob drama.

Zinner went on to win an Academy Award for his work on The Deer Hunter in 1978, which also won best picture.

Coppola told the Associated Press that the music which accompanied the film's final baptism sequence was Zinner's idea.


"Peter had the inspiration to add the organ music that pulled the sequence together," he explained.

Zinner's nomination for his work on The Godfather was shared with co-editor William Reynolds.

He received a further nomination for his work on An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982.

Born in Vienna in 1919, Zinner fled the Nazis with his Jewish family and moved to the Philippines in 1930. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1940 and "always wanted to be in film", daughter Katina Zinner, also a film editor, said.

He worked as a taxi driver and piano player in silent movie cinemas, until he landed a job as an apprentice film editor with 20th Century Fox in the late 1940s.

Zinner's other work included 1967's In Cold Blood and 1976's A Star Is Born.

He also directed 1981 political thriller The Salamander, and played an admiral in The Hunt For Red October.

More recently, he worked on a documentary about California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Running With Arnold.

MTV launches new Arabic service

File photo of soul star Akon
Soul singer Akon was one of the stars at MTV Arabia's Dubai launch

The music and youth lifestyle channel MTV has launched an Arabic service it hopes can tap into a booming appetite for Western-influenced culture.

MTV says it hopes to respect local culture without diluting its brand.

The MTV Arabia service will screen Arab music videos, talent shows, and international programmes like Pimp My Ride adapted for Arab audiences.

It says it hopes the channel can act as a cultural unifying force in a region known for political tension.

Stiff competition

With around two thirds of the Arab world's population under 30 years of age, MTV Arabia launches into a competitive market, up against more than 50 other Arab music channels.

The station aims to address local issues and tap into local talent.

At the launch of the channel in Dubai, singers said they hoped it would help Middle Eastern artists gain recognition.

"I think it's going to help the exposure, for all the music in the Middle East," said soul star Akon.

Abdul Latif al-Sayegh, the head of MTV's partner in the venture, Arab Media Group, said he hoped the channel might help persuade Arabs living in Western countries to return home.

The service says on its website that since its launch in 1981, MTV has "influenced how young people all over the world dress, think, and talk."

It also claims the channel has "given artists a forum for airing their political views and pushed society's boundaries."

NBC to air web drama Quarterlife

Bitsie Tulloch
Bitsie Tulloch plays Dylan Krieger in Quarterlife
A drama that made its debut on social networking website MySpace is to be screened by US network NBC next year.

Quarterlife, created by the team behind 1990s hits Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, appears weekly in eight-minute episodes on the website.

The 36 episodes will be combined into shows that can air on TV for an hour.

The deal comes nearly two weeks after TV and film writers walked off the job in a row over payments for material which is also used on the internet.

Material created independently for the internet is not subject to the strike, but NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman said it was not a motivation for him buying the show.

'Creative vision'

Quarterlife, a drama about a group of recent graduates in Chicago, started as a pilot for ABC in 2005, but the network declined to make a full series, so creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick took it to MySpace, where it launched this month.

Mr Silverman praised Herskovitz and Zwick for having the courage to launch their show only on the web.

"If there were more people who are willing to bet on their own creative vision and finance themselves, then the business model becomes something they define," he told Reuters.

The deal means NBC has the rights to air already-written shows on TV, the web and on DVD.

But if it wanted to order more programmes while the strike is on, it could be a problem for Herskovitz, who is a member of the Writers Guild of America.

"If we get a pickup for more episodes, we have every expectation we will be able to work out a deal so we could continue writing," he said.

Herskovitz added that user traffic to Quarterlife's own website had been "really fantastic", but did not give further details.

Singer Lewis grabs record debut

Leona Lewis
Leona Lewis won ITV1 talent contest The X Factor last year
Singer Leona Lewis has set a British record for the fastest-selling debut album with Spirit.

Spirit sold more than 375,000 copies in seven days, some 12,000 more than the Arctic Monkeys' 2006 release Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not.

But Oasis still have the overall record for the fastest selling British album, selling 813,000 copies in 1997.

As well as having the top album, the 22-year-old X Factor winner's track Bleeding Love is still the No 1 single.

Spirit is now the fourth fastest-selling album of all time, beneath Be Here Now, Coldplay's X&Y, and Dido's Life For Rent.

In a week of new entries in the album chart, the Spice Girls' Greatest Hits compilation made its debut at number two, while Led Zeppelin collection Mothership entered at number four.

1. Be Here Now
Oasis (1997)
2. X&Y
Coldplay (2005)
3. Life For Rent
Dido (2003)
4. Spirit
Leona Lewis (2007)
5. Intensive Care
Robbie Williams (2005)
6. Whatever People Say...
Arctic Monkeys (2006)
7. Rattle & Hum
U2 (1988)
8. Bad
Michael Jackson (1987)
9. (What's The Story) Morning Glory
Oasis (1995)
10. The Immaculate Collection
Madonna (1990)
Official UK Charts Company

Celine Dion's Taking Chances came into the chart at number five, and US band Killers made their entrance at number seven with Sawdust.

Opera star Andrea Bocelli's "best of" collection, Vivere, was a new entry at number eight.

The top 10 singles saw two new entries, with Bloc Party's Flux coming into the chart at number eight.

And folk-rock veterans Runrig are enjoying their first ever top 10 single, after a new version of Loch Lomond, released for Children in Need, entered at number nine.

It features the sound of over 50,000 Scottish football fans singing along to the track at Hampden Park last month, before the national side's victory over Ukraine.

Strike hits Da Vinci Code prequel

Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou
Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou starred in the first movie
A follow-up to The Da Vinci Code has become the first big-screen casualty of the Hollywood writers' strike.

Angels & Demons, a prequel to the movie adaptation of Dan Brown's novel, is being delayed by Columbia Pictures because its script needs more work.

It had been due for release around Christmas 2008, but has now been pencilled in for May 2009.

Writers walked off the job nearly two weeks ago in a row over royalties for their work on DVDs and the internet.

They are due to reopen negotiations with their studios on 26 November.

'Ambitious project'

Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldman has been working on the project, but Writers Guild of America rules forbid members from editing and polishing scripts during strike action.

His other credits include A Beautiful Mind, for which he won the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.

Writers striking outside NBC in Burbank, California
Writers have been demonstrating outside studios across the US
"With the strike nearing its third week, Columbia Pictures has postponed production of Angels & Demons," a statement from the studio said.

"While the film-makers and the studio feel the screenplay is very strong, we do not believe it is the fully realised production draft required of this ambitious project.

"At this time, there is no new start date, but we are setting a release date of 15 May 2009."

Columbia said it did not expect any other of its 2008 releases - which include the next James Bond film and the Will Smith action drama Hancock - to be affected by the strike.

Benefit gigs

So far, it has mainly been topical TV shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Late Show with David Letterman that have been hit by the writers' action.

Performers from Saturday Night Live and fellow NBC show 30 Rock, whose shows have been forced off the air, have been hosting benefit gigs in New York for staff affected by the walkout.

Tom Hanks is due to reprise his role as crime-solving professor Robert Langdon in Angels & Demons, also based on a Dan Brown novel. Like its predecessor, it will be directed by Ron Howard.

The plot sees Langdon attempt to thwart a plot by an ancient group to blow up the Vatican.

The first Da Vinci Code film took $753m (£368m) at the box office worldwide after its release in 2006.

India v Pakistan 5th ODI

Shoaib Malik
All of the fringe players came in and did very well... we maintained our intensity despite the fact the series was gone

Shoaib Malik

Pakistan skipper Shoaib Malik admitted his side's 31-run consolation win over India was the perfect way for them to warm up for the upcoming Test series.

The win in Jaipur salvaged some pride for the visitors despite their ultimate 3-2 one-day series defeat and Malik said: "It was a very pleasing victory.

"We played a great game and it is what we needed with the Tests coming up.

"I have to pay credit to my players who have continued to put the effort in and we hope to keep the momentum going."

Malik was named man-of-the-match after scoring 89 with the bat and then taking three wickets to help curb the Indian reply.

But the captain was keen to pay tribute to all his players, in particular wicket-keeper Sarfraz Ahmed, who performed ably in place of Kamran Akmal.

"All of the fringe players came in and did very well," he said. "We didn't play Shoaib (Akhtar), Younus (Khan) or Shahid (Afridi), but we maintained our intensity despite the fact the series was gone.

"Sarfraz in particular did well, I thought, and it is pleasing to see we have wicket-keepers coming through in Pakistan.

"As for me, my form is fine now. I just hope myself and the team can take this performance into the Test series."

India captain Mahendra Dhoni admitted his side lost too many wickets early on as they fell to 62-4 chasing Pakistan's 306-6.

"I have always said the early overs are crucial and we lost too many wickets," he said. "That put extra pressure on our middle-order batsmen and so it was always going to be difficult.

"However, all the team did what they had to before today so it has been a very pleasing series overall."

Dhoni revealed that he expects to be fit for the Test series after twisting his ankle attempting a run.

"Nothing is broken so it should be fine," he said. "I'm already feeling a lot better, there is no swelling and hopefully it should be fine."

Pakistan had an injury concern of their own when prolific batsman Mohammad Yousuf left the field with an elbow problem.

Skipper Malik played down the injury, however, and said: "It is nothing major. The doctor advised him to rest and it will improve."

Meanwhile, India all-rounder Yuvraj Singh was fined 20% of his match fee after being charged under clause 2.1 of the ICC Code of Conduct for showing dissent at an umpire's decision.

Yuvraj was incensed by umpire Suresh Shastri's decision to give him out caught behind as he attempted to hook Umar Gul, and stood his ground, indicating that he felt the ball had hit his shoulder rather than the bat or glove.

The first Test of the three-match series starts in Delhi on Thursday.

India Vs Pakistan 5th ODI

Pakistan 306-6 bt India 275 by 31 runs

Shoaib Malik (left) starred with bat and ball to fire Pakistan to victory
Shoaib Malik (left) starred with bat and ball to fire Pakistan to victory
Shoaib Malik produced a fine all-round display to inspire his side to a 31-run win as Pakistan salvaged some pride from their 3-2 series defeat in India.

Malik fired 89 off just 82 balls as he and Mohammad Yousuf shared a record fourth-wicket stand against India of 168 in helping Pakistan to 306-6.

India always looked like struggling after Sohail Tanvir took 3-42 early on.

Yuvraj Singh (50) and Rohit Sharma (52) provided some hope, but skipper Malik (3-61) helped bowl them out for 275.

It brought muted celebrations from the visitors, who will not be happy despite their victorious finale following their first one-day series defeat in India for 24 years.

That result had already been secured by the hosts' six-wicket win in Gwalior on Thursday.

And, with that in mind, the hosts took the opportunity to give their fringe players a match, with debutant Praneev Kumar joined by Sharma, Murali Kartik and Sree Santh in the starting XI.

That meant Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, RP Singh and Zaheer Khan could watch from the sidelines, alongside Pakistan stars Shoaib Akhtar, Younus Khan and Shahid Afridi.

However, the Jaipur crowd attempted to dampen any sense of anti-climax in a thriving atmosphere as the sun set in the north of India.

And Pakistan's new opening pair of Salman Butt and Imran Nazir settled quickly after negotiating a decent spell from Kumar, who found seam and swing in the dewy afternoon conditions.

Butt, in particular, looked in fine form, crashing a series of boundaries through square on his way to 36 as he and Nazir put on 65 - the visitors' highest opening stand of the series.

Sree Santh
Santh was wayward other than a fine spell in which he took three wickets

However, Santh returned after an indifferent first spell with renewed vigour and a fierce bouncer saw Butt top-edge to mid-on, before he found a jaffa to have Yasir Hameed caught behind.

And when a slower Santh delivery prompted Nazir to slap a simple return catch, Pakistan were struggling on 77-3 in the 17th over.

That brought Yousuf and Malik to the crease, though, and the experienced pair mixed the occasional boundary with a series of ones and twos to rebuild Pakistan's innings.

Yousuf was twice lucky to remain at the crease, firstly when he was trapped in front by Yuvraj only for the appeals to be waved away by umpire Billy Doctrove, and then when his top-edged sweep fell between the fielders at square leg.

But, almost under the radar, he and Malik - who heaved two wonderful sixes over mid-wicket and six fours in an aggressive knock - had soon moved Pakistan to 245-3 with eight overs remaining.

Kartik returned to the attack to have Malik cleverly stumped, and Yousuf fell in similar fashion to Yuvraj two overs later, but Misbah-ul-haq (22) and Fawad Alam (31no) took up the baton.

The pair put on 38 in 4.5 overs, sharing two sixes and three fours, and even after Misbah fell to a brilliant caught-and-bowled to Irfan Pathan, Alam saw Pakistan past 300.

It was always going to be a tough total - despite the batsman-friendly surface in Jaipur - but Pakistan got off to a fabulous start with four wickets in the first 12 overs.

Sohail Tanvir (left) celebrates the key wicket of Sachin Tendulkar
Sohail Tanvir (left) celebrates the key wicket of Sachin Tendulkar

Tanvir was the hosts' main tormentor, the seamer trapping Gautam Gambhir plumb in front in the fourth over, and inducing a rash swipe from Virender Sehwag in the 12th.

That came after the seamer had snared the prize wicket of Sachin Tendulkar, the Little Master edging to slip just as he looked like getting into his stride.

Rao Iftikhar was the other early wicket-taker, Robin Uthappa falling to a simple catch at first slip two balls after he had been dropped by the same fielder, but Sharma and Yuvraj built something of a recovery.

With the dewy conditions playing havoc with the spinners' grip and the seamers increasingly ineffectual under the lights, the pair milked the ones and twos in putting on 81.

However, minutes after reaching his maiden half-century, Sharma fell for 52 when he dollied Malik to long-on - and Yuvraj followed suit when he was given out caught behind off Umar Gul on 50 despite the ball appearing to come off his shoulder.

While Mahendra Dhoni remained even the asking rate of over nine an over did not seem totally out of India's reach, but the wicket-keeper soon took one liberty too many when he skied Malik to mid-wicket.

The hosts were never in the race thereafter and Malik took his third wicket with his off-spinners when Kumar holed out at mid-wicket, before Kartik skewed Iftikhar to backward point to end his enterprising knock of 16.

Pathan (44 off 39 balls) produced some late fireworks, but he was left with far too much to do and home resistance was finally ended with a ball to spare when Tanvir clean bowled the left-hander to finish with figures of 9.5-0-53-4.

Harmison returns to England squad

Steve Harmison bowls for Highveld Lions
Harmison is currently in action against the Nashua Dolphins
Fast bowler Steve Harmison will join the England Test party for the tour of Sri Lanka.

He will arrive in Sri Lanka on Tuesday and could play some part in a three-day warm-up match starting in Colombo on the same day.

The 29-year-old stepped up his recuperation from hernia surgery by taking 13 wickets in two matches for South African team Highveld Lions.

The Durham ace had been put on standby but now becomes the 16th squad member.

He was left out of England's initial squad for Sri Lanka, but the selectors left the door open for a return - providing he was able to fully recover from his injury.

And after talks between Harmison, chairman of selectors David Graveney, coach Peter Moores and bowling coach Ottis Gibson, it was decided he was fit to join up with the squad for the three-Test series, starting 1 December.

Harmison's form in South Africa had been closely monitored by Gibson, who was impressed with his performances.

The paceman took 6-91 and 3-78 against Cape Cobras in his first match in Paarl, before adding 2-67 and 2-26 against the Dolphins at Potchefstroom.

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have named a strong Board President's XI squad to face England in their opening tour game.

The team will be captained by batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan, one of half a dozen players with Test experience included in the 12-man squad.

"England are a very good side and will be very tough opponents," said Dilshan.

"The team comprises some experienced players who are on the fringe and this is a good opportunity to display their talent and ability."

Matthew Hoggard broke down in the first international match of last summer, against West Indies, and made only one of the remaining six Tests of the season.

You need to prove yourself every time you bowl, you can't just rest on your laurels
Matthew Hoggard

But he is 100% fit again, and has been out to impress coach Peter Moores and captain Michael Vaughan in the Colombo nets.

Despite holding central contracts, Hoggard and Harmison are no longer guaranteed their spots in the Test side.

Ryan Sidebottom, in particular, has impressed in all forms of cricket since being drafted in by Peter Moores.

Hoggard said the bowlers selected for the matches can expect a tough workout in south Asia.

"The heat and humidity is one of the biggest things, it drains and saturates you more than it does in a dry, hot country or even in England," said the Yorkshire player.

"The pitches are obviously going to be suited to Muttiah Muralitharan rather than quick bowlers, so I think they will be slow and low."

Sangakkara offers Sri Lanka hope

SECOND TEST MATCH, Hobart (day four, stumps):
Australia 542-5d & 210-2 v Sri Lanka 246 & 247-3

Kumar Sangakkara sweeps on day four in Hobart
Sri Lanka's hopes rest on the shoulders of Kumar Sangakkara

Kumar Sangakkara hit an unbeaten century as Sri Lanka reached 247-3 chasing a record 507 for victory in the second Test against Australia.

The hosts declared at 210-2 late on the morning of the fourth day in Hobart.

Sri Lanka rapidly lost their first wicket, Mitchell Johnson removing Michael Vandrort for four.

But Marvan Atapattu (80) and Sangakkara (109no) put on 143 for the second wicket, before Mahela Jayawardene fell first ball to a fired up Brett Lee.

Australia ensured Muttiah Muralitharan would have to wait until the home series against England to have the chance to overhaul Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne as the leading wicket-taker in Test history.

The Sri Lanka off-spinner took 1-90 in the second innings and will leave Australia still five wickets short of breaking Warne's record of 708 wickets.

During the series the 35-year-old spinner took four wickets for 400 runs, a sharp contrast to his career average of 21.77.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting, who said before the series he wanted Muralitharan to leave Australia without Warne's record, was unbeaten on 53 when he declared.

The 507 target would be a record by some distance - the West Indies' 418 against Australia at Antigua in 2003 is the highest winning chase for a team batting last in a Test.

And the mammoth target looked even larger when Vandort could only sky a simple catch to substitute fielder Rhett Lockyear at point as Sri Lanka slipped to 15-1.

The visitors were 23-1 lunch but they dominated the middle session, adding 116 runs without loss.

However, after tea Lee began to work Atapattu over and he eventually hooked a short ball to Phil Jaques at deep square leg.

And the next ball Lee produced a viciously swinging yorker to new batsman Jayawardene and the captain could only look on in horror as he failed to offer a shot and the ball swerved in to rattle his stumps.

Veteran left-hander Sanath Jayasuriya (33 not out) joined Sangakkara and the pair saw the visitors to the close.

Sangakkara played some typically classy shots as he reached his first century against Australia, and Sri Lanka will resume on the fifth and final day needing a further 260 for victory.

No excuses for failure - McClaren

Steve McClaren
McClaren has warned England against complacency
England v Croatia

Wembley, London
Wednesday 21 November
Kick-off: 2000 GMT

Steve McClaren says there can be no excuses if England fail to reach Euro 2008 - after being thrown a lifeline by Israel's 2-1 win over Russia.

England face Croatia on Wednesday and need a point to clinch qualification.

"Qualification is key. We're back in control and in the driving seat and it's up to us," said the England coach.

"There are no excuses. We've got to make sure we qualify. Croatia have nothing to play for but are a very good side and capable of winning this game."

McClaren has vowed England will try to beat Croatia rather than play safe and seek the draw which would see them qualify for Euro 2008.

It would be a great boost to get the media, fans and people on the street behind us
England boss Steve McClaren

"All we need to do is draw, but we've got to be positive," said McClaren.

"We've got to attack, be up-tempo and really go to win the game. We've got to make sure that we're not negative.

"We have got to make sure that complacency does not set in and make sure we are focused."

McClaren, who has come in from some heavy criticism during England's rollercoaster qualifying campaign for next summer's finals in Austria and Switzerland, feels the supporters need to be as positive as the players.

"Expectations I know are great, but you can't do it without the fans," he said. "It's about sticking together, being positive and getting behind the team.

"It can be a fantastic atmosphere at Wembley and it can be intimidating for the opposition, while boosting our own players and we need that.

"We have to perform, and it would be a great boost to get the media, fans and people on the street behind us."

Russia would have qualified with a win in Israel, after placing themselves in the driving seat after a 2-1 victory over England last month, but their fate is now out of their hands.

And McClaren admitted England have nowhere to hide after they were handed the unexpected reprieve.

He added: "The players are all buoyed with the Israel-Russia result, and the opportunity they have.

"I think the feeling is we've got a great chance now, it's up to us, there are no excuses."

Iran leader dismisses US currency

US dollars
The value of the US dollar has fallen steadily in recent times
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has suggested an end to the trading of oil in US dollars, calling the currency "a worthless piece of paper".

The call came at the end of a rare Opec summit, and was opposed by US ally Saudi Arabia.

The Iranian president had wanted to include the attack on the dollar in the summit's closing statement.

The communique made little mention of the dollar, however, focusing instead on energy security and the environment.

The summit in Saudi Arabia was only Opec's third in 47 years.

During the talks, Opec members revealed differences about the future direction of the exporters' group.

But Opec leaders ended with a pledge to provide the world with reliable supplies of oil.

Unfair trade?

Speaking after the end of the summit, Mr Ahmadinejad said all leaders at the meeting were unhappy with recent falls in the value of the dollar.

Oil drums
Oil reached a record high of $98.62 a barrel earlier this month
The dollar has weakened considerably against the euro and other currencies in the past 12 months.

Its decline has affected the revenues of Opec members because most of them price and sell their oil exports in the US currency.

Mr Ahmadinejad said that all Opec countries had showed interest in converting their cash reserves into other currencies.

"They [the US] get our oil and give us a worthless piece of paper," he told reporters.

But Saudi officials were against including any such language in the declaration. One is reported to have warned that it could add to the pressure on the dollar.

However, in the communique Opec did make a reference to the debate, by committing itself to studying "ways and means of enhancing financial co-operation".

Iran's oil minister said that this would allow the formation of a committee to study the dollar's affect on oil prices and investigate the possibility of alternative trading currencies.

Political agenda

The summit was also marked by divisions over the role of Opec in the world oil market.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) with Hugo Chavez
Chavez (r) and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are staunch US critics
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his Ecuadorean counterpart, Rafael Correa, whose country rejoined Opec at the summit, both argued for a more political agenda for the group, but ran into opposition from US ally Saudi Arabia.

King Abdullah, the head of state of the host nation, Saudi Arabia said: "Those who want Opec to take advantage of its position are forgetting that Opec has always acted moderately and wisely.

"Oil shouldn't be a tool for conflict, it should be a tool for development."

President Chavez had opened the meeting with a warning that oil prices could double if the US attacked Iran.

Oil has been hitting record peaks of well over $90 a barrel as markets believe the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries will not boost production, despite calls from oil-consuming countries such as the US to do so.

Venezuela's president said the price of crude could reach $150 or even $200 a barrel.