The NewsFuror

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Firefox 3.0 hits beta

New security features have been included in the just-released Firefox 3.0 beta, although Mozilla has warned that most users should stick to Version 2.0 for the moment.

"We do not recommend that anyone other than developers and testers download the Firefox 3 Beta 1 milestone release,"

Mike Beltzner, the company's interface designer, said on Mozilla's website.

"It is intended for testing purposes only."

But while the official word was for users to stand clear, Beltzner's personal recommendation was a lot less intimidating.

"It's a preview release, so use with caution and don't expect your add-ons to work without some magic; but between you and me, I've been running on this 'developer preview' for at least three months, and have never looked back,"

he said on his own blog.

Beltzner touted several improvements in Firefox 3.0, including new security features, a redesign of bookmarking and history, but said they all require more testing and user feedback. The company has posted a more complete list of new features in the release notes on its website.

On the security side, Firefox 3.0 adds malware checking, an anti-phishing feature that warns users of suspicious URLs; one-click site information that displays site ownership; fixes for vulnerabilities in plug-in updating; and integration with anti-virus software and Windows Vista's parental control settings.

Mozilla also claimed that it has fixed more than 300 individual memory leaks and added a new cycle collector to eliminate other memory issues. Firefox has a reputation for consuming large quantities of memory the longer it's left running, and ultimately slowing down the computer, even though some of its developers have contested the claims, and even pegged the problem as one of perception.

Most current Firefox plug-ins will not work with Firefox 3.0, a stumbling block for some who might otherwise want to test the preview.

"Users of the latest released version of Firefox should not expect their add-ons to work properly with this beta,"

the beta's release notes read.

Firefox 3.0 Beta 1 can be downloaded for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux in 21 language versions from Mozilla's site.

Mozilla has not set a deadline for delivering the final edition, and apparently does not intend to.

"The final version of Firefox 3 will be released when we qualify the product as fully ready for our users,"

its release notes said. Mozilla is more than three months behind it own schedule schedule, in part because it extended the alpha-testing stage to encompass eight versions.

This summer, Mozilla pegged Beta 1's release for late July with a second beta in September, both to precede a final release by the end of the year. The company is now shooting to deliver a second beta before the end of the year, with more betas possible before producing one or more release candidates in a run-up to the final code.

Fed cuts US 2008 growth forecast

US homes
The US housing market is experiencing a slowdown
The US Federal Reserve has cut its forecast for 2008 economic growth to a range of 1.8% to 2.5% - due to tight credit markets and weakness in housing.

In July it had predicted annual growth of between 2.5% and 2.75%.

The forecast was the first quarterly update delivered under a new policy implement by Fed boss Ben Bernanke.

The Fed's comments came as it also revealed that a decision to cut interest rates at its last meeting had been "a close call".

In recent weeks a number of big banks have reported heavy losses on the back of exposure to sub-prime mortgage loans while government data has shown that demand for hosing continued to be weak.

Analysts had been widely expecting the growth forecast to be trimmed, though some thought the prediction may have been less optimistic.

"A growth of 1.8% or even 2.5% at the high side, I thought was still really pretty high," said Mary Ann Hurley of D A Davidson & Co.

"I'm not an economist, I'm just a trader, but 2.5% seems high to me for everything that's going on in the economy."

'Valuable assurance'

Interest rates were trimmed by 25 basis points to 4.5% in late October in an effort to revitalise the economy which has been hit by crisis in the housing market.

Meanwhile the virtual jamming up of world credit markets over the summer has seen merger and acquisitions activity drying up.

There were concerns that the rate cut, and the 50 basis points cut seen in September would fuel inflation.

But the Fed said that while it expected growth to slow and to see a slight rise in unemployment, it expected that inflation would remain moderate.

The minutes showed that most members of the rate-setting committee thought a second rate cut, after the half-point in September "would provide valuable additional insurance against an unexpectedly severe weakening in economic activity".

Only Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank president Thomas Hoenig voted for no change in the rate, saying he thought monetary policy should be "slightly firm to better hold inflation in check".


The minutes showed policymakers felt that overall inflation would edge down in the next few years.

However they noted that the rising price of energy and other commodities, as well as the dropping value of the dollar could "exert upward pressure on prices of some core goods and services".

The successive interest rate cuts have seen the value of the dollar fall as investors look to other currencies for greater returns. "The rate-cut decision was a close call and that's going to be dollar-supportive," said Ron Simpson of Florida-based Action Economics.

Most analysts agreed that the minutes suggested there were no plans to cut rates again next month.

"They may do, but they are not laying the ground work in these minutes that they plan to do it," said Westpac strategist Richard Franulovich.

Oil reaches new record above $99

Oil platform in the North Sea
Oil prices are creeping closer to $100 a barrel
Oil prices kept climbing on Wednesday, as the dollar remained weak, and closed near $100 a barrel.

US light, sweet crude hit a record of $99.29 in Asian trading. London Brent crude rose 50 cents to $95.99 a barrel.

Tight supplies, winter demand and continuing geopolitical concerns have contributed to oil prices climbing by about 45% since August.

Federal Reserve predictions of slower than expected growth in the US next year have also boosted prices.

'Speculative money'

Analysts examining minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest rate-setting meeting, released on Tuesday, said there was a good chance that there would be another interest rate cut in December.

This would be expected to weaken the dollar further as commodities and other currencies and became more attractive to investors, forcing up oil prices, they said.

"Oil prices have every reason to rise," said Koo Ja-kown, crude analyst at Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC).

"Speculative money is coming into the market as the dollar is weakening. On top of that, there are supply concerns for winter fuel."

Oil prices had already risen on Monday and Tuesday, after leaders of producers' cartel Opec decided not to increase production at their latest meeting.

Traders will be carefully watching Wednesday's weekly crude inventory data, released in the US by the Energy Information Administration.

Adjusting for inflation, US light crude's record peak of $101.70 came in 1980 against a backdrop of war between Iraq and Iran.

French trains 'hit by sabotage'

Railway workers block a TGV train in Toulouse. File photo
Rail workers have been striking for eight days
France's high-speed TGV rail network has been damaged by a "concerted campaign of sabotage", the SNCF state rail-owned operator has said.

It said acts of sabotage overnight, including fires, caused huge delays to TGV services already hit by a long transport union strike over reforms.

The SNCF blamed union militants for damaging the TGV network, describing the attacks as "acts of vandalism".

The rail unions and the government are due to hold talks to end the strike.

In a statement, the SNCF said there had been "several acts" occurring "at the same time" on the TGV network.

It said these included a "very large" fire on the TGV's Atlantic branch that damaged about 30km (18 miles) of the signal network.

Guillaume Pepy, a senior SNCF official, told RTL radio that the acts of sabotage severely disrupted TGV services.

The open-ended rail strike is over planned changes to the pension system by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But Mr Sarkozy has vowed to press on with the reforms.

Yorke paid nothing for own album

Thom Yorke (l), Steve Lamacq (c) and Ed O'Brien
No-one was given copies of the album for fear of it being leaked

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke has admitted he was among the thousands of people who paid nothing to download the band's latest album.

Last month the group released In Rainbows online and invited fans to set their own price.

Speaking to BBC 6 Music's Steve Lamacq, Yorke said: "There wasn't any point. I just move some money from one pocket to the other."

According to one survey, three in five people paid nothing at all for it.

The project, which in October one of the band's managers Bryce Edge admitted was a "risk", was shrouded in secrecy.

"We had to literally tell no-one. I didn't tell my wife we were going to release it like this," said guitarist Ed O'Brien.

Yorke added that no-one was allowed to have copies of the master recording in case it was leaked beforehand.

"Every record that we've done for ages has been leaked. And why not leak the bloody thing yourself?" he said.

Thom Yorke
Every record that we've done for ages has been leaked. And why not leak the bloody thing yourself?
Radiohead's Thom Yorke

Internet monitoring company Comscore found the average price paid for the album was $6 (£2.90).

American fans were the most generous, paying on average $8.05 (£3.85), compared with the $4.64 (£2.22) paid by those outside the US.

Of those who were willing to pay, the largest percentage (17%) paid less than $4 (£1.90).

However 12% were willing to pay between $8-$12, (£3.80 - £5.71).

Comscore said an estimated 1.2 million people visited the In Rainbows site in the first 29 days of October, but it is not clear how many downloads were made.

Radiohead have disputed Comscore's figures, calling them "wholly inaccurate".

A press release from the band's representatives said it was "impossible for outside organisations to have accurate figures".

CD and vinyl versions of In Rainbows will be released in shops on 31 December.

Writers' strike delays Depp film

Johnny Depp
Depp was due to play an Australian heroin addict in Shantaram
Production for Johnny Depp's latest film has been postponed because of the Hollywood writers' strike, according to trade magazine Variety.

Depp was due to start filming prison escape drama Shantaram in February, but it has been delayed because scripts were not ready when the strike began.

Directors Ron Howard and Oliver Stone have also been forced to put their next films on hold for the same reason.

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

Weinstein collaboration

Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) began their industrial action on 5 November in a bid to get more money from DVD and internet sales.

Several high profile television shows have been forced to shut down production as a result, with daily talk shows the hardest hit.

Depp had planned to spend the winter in India, playing an Australian heroin addict who escapes from prison and reinvents himself as a doctor.

Musical Nine, which was to be the first collaboration between director Rob Marshall and producer Harvey Weinstein since the Oscar-winning Chicago, has also been delayed.

Production on the movie, set to star Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Sophia Loren, was due to start in March.

Oliver Stone
Stone's film about the Vietnam War's My Lai Massacre is delayed

Tom Hanks had been lined up to star in Howard's movie, Angels and Demons, based on the novel by Dan Brown.

Stone's Pinkville, about Vietnam War's My Lai Massacre, was due to star Bruce Willis and Woody Harrelson.

Meanwhile, WGA union leaders representing news writers at TV network CBS have also agreed to take strike action over an unrelated issue.

About 500 TV and radio news writers, who work in New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Chicago, have been working under an expired contract since April 2005.

Broadway stagehands, represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, are in the second week of a walkout that has cancelled most Broadway productions through the Thanksgiving weekend.

Gangster movie tops UK box office

Denzel Washington (l) and Russell Crowe
American Gangster also topped the US box office earlier this month
Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe have topped the UK and Ireland film chart with the real-life crime drama American Gangster.

During its opening weekend the film, which was directed by Sir Ridley Scott, made £2.5m at the box office.

Washington plays 1970s Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas in the movie, while Crowe stars as a New Jersey cop on his trail.

Computer-animated fantasy epic Beowulf, with Ray Winstone and Angelina Jolie, entered the chart at two, taking £2.1m.

Pixar's latest cartoon adventure, Ratatouille, remained in third place with takings of £937,667.

1. American Gangster - £2.5m
2. Beowulf - £2.1m
3. Ratatouille - £937,667
4. Stardust - £902, 701
5. Good Luck Chuck £737,423
Source: Screen International

Fantasy film Stardust, starring Claire Danes and Robert De Niro, fell from second place to fourth, followed by last week's number one, Good Luck Chuck.

Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth: The Golden Age was next on the chart in sixth place, with 30 Days of Night, starring Josh Hartnett, at number seven.

Bollywood blockbuster Om Shanti Om reached number eight in its second week of release, while Robert Redford's political drama Lion for Lambs was ninth.

Rounding off the top 10 was new release, Brick Lane, which took £194,745.

Hitman comedy to launch Sundance

Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes
Farrell (left) plays a hitman sent to Belgium by Fiennes (right)
A comedy about hitmen set in Bruges will launch the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, organisers have announced.

In Bruges stars Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as two Irish assassins sent to the Belgian city by employer Ralph Fiennes after bungling a job.

The film is the first feature from the playwright Martin McDonagh, who won an Academy Award in 2006 for short film Six Shooter, also starring Gleeson.

Next year's Sundance festival runs from 17 to 27 January in Park City, Utah.

Run by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, the annual event is America's leading showcase for low-budget, independent and speciality movies.

'Totally original'

"In many ways In Bruges is a quintessential Sundance film," said festival director Geoffrey Gilmore.

"It's brutal, philosophical, funny, and totally original, he continued, describing 37-year-old McDonagh as "a masterful storyteller."

The offbeat comedy is one of around 120 features screening at this year's event, one of the highlights on the film festival calendar.

The full programme will announced at the end of the month.

Fiennes is currently in Bath filming period drama The Duchess with Keira Knightley.

Court battle over Springer show

Jerry Springer - The Opera
The show's star David Soul defended the broadcast on BBC Two
A Christian activist has launched a High Court battle to bring a private prosecution for blasphemy over Jerry Springer - The Opera.

Stephen Green wants to overturn a court ruling to sue BBC director general Mark Thompson, who allowed the show to be screened on BBC Two in 2005.

He also wants to prosecute the show's producer, who staged it in London's West End and then on a nationwide tour.

Mr Green argues the musical contains images that "vilify God and the Bible".

The director of Christian Voice, launched the action in January but the case was refused by the City of Westminster magistrates court.


Michael Gledhill QC, appearing for Mr Green, argued the district judge had made a mistake in refusing to issue the summonses as the show had clearly "crossed the blasphemy threshold".

He said the show was "an offensive, spiteful, systematic mockery and wilful denigration of Christian belief", and one that would never have been staged or aired in Britain had it been a satire about Islam, not Christianity.

"No theatre would have produced it. Neither would the BBC have broadcast it," he said.

Human rights group Liberty, allowed to make a written submission in the case, has called the blasphemy law outdated and argued that the offence of blasphemy violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

"These blasphemy laws should be shelved in dusty archives, not used as a tool to bring mischievous prosecutions against the arts," Liberty's legal officer Anna Fairclough said.

The show, based on American television host Jerry Springer's brash talk show, includes scenes such as the portrayal of Eve as a pole dancer and Adam as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

The West End production of the musical, starring David Soul, was seen by 425,000 people and was watched by an audience of 2.4m when it was broadcast on BBC Two.

The BBC received a record 63,000 complaints as well as many messages of support in response to its content.

The case is expected to last for two days.

Chili Peppers sue US TV network

Anthony Kiedis
The Chili Peppers single Californication was released in 2000
Rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers are suing a US network over the name of its TV show, Californication.

The band says the title is "immediately associated in the mind of the consumer" with its 1999 album and single release.

It has filed a lawsuit against Showtime Network - the makers of the TV show, which stars David Duchovny as a writer going through a mid-life crisis.

"For some TV show to come along and steal our identity is not right," said the band's singer, Anthony Kiedis.

He described Californication as "the signature CD, video and song of the band's career".

'Dani California'

David Duchovny
The TV show is a dark comedy featuring graphic sex scenes
The legal action seeks a permanent injunction barring Showtime from using the title of the show and "disgorgement of all profits derived by the defendants".

It says the programme also features the character, Dani California, which is also the title of a Red Hot Chili Peppers song which was released in 2006.

Tom Kapinos, the show's creator and executive producer, was unavailable for comment.

In July, he told reporters that he first heard the term "Californication" in the state of Oregon.

"Apparently in the 70s there were bumper stickers that said 'Don't Californicate Oregon', because Californians were coming up there, and I just thought it was a great, great title for this show," he said.

'Nuts' Gest to tread the boards

David Gest
Gest was Liza Minnelli's husband for less than 18 months
Theatre impresario David Gest will tour the UK next year with a musical stage show featuring guest appearances from Shalamar, Gloria Gaynor and others.

The show, entitled David Gest Is Nuts - My Life as a Musical, opens in London's Hammersmith Apollo next February before travelling around the country.

"Considering I have no real talent this is quite a feat," said the 54-year-old.

The former I'm a Celebrity contestant remains best known for his short-lived marriage to singer Liza Minnelli.

But he has since reinvented himself as a TV personality thanks to his judging role on ITV1 talent search Grease is the Word.


The musical tells the story of Gest's life with comedy and music and will feature 20 top five records performed by the original artists.

"We never thought we would see the day David Gest would sing and dance in public," said Gest's friend Michael Jackson in a statement.

"Considering David can't sing and can't dance it will be amazing to see just how nuts he gets on stage."

Jackson's brother Tito echoed his sibling's sentiments, saying the production was sure to be "an entertaining show".

"The fact that David will be singing with so many legendary artists is scaring Michael and I to death," he continued.

The first two shows, will raise funds for the Caudwell Children charity for terminally ill children, of which Gest is an ambassador.

British shows scoop Emmy awards

David Walliams, Ronnie Corbett and Matt Lucas in Little Britain Abroad
Little Britain Abroad was one of the British successes in New York

British TV shows have dominated the 35th annual International Emmy Awards in New York.

They won seven out of their eight nominations, and all but one of the British winners were BBC productions.

They included best actor for Jim Broadbent in The Street, which also won best drama series, and best comedy for Little Britain Abroad.

Former US vice-president Al Gore also received an honorary award to recognise his work in broadcasting.

'Lucky evening'

Other British winners included Simon Schama's Power of Art: Bernini, about the Baroque sculptor, for best arts programming.

"I wanted to prove that art actually isn't some sort of cultural luxury, it's our food and drink, it's our necessity," said Schama.

Stephen Fry's The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive won best documentary, and How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? took the award for best non-scripted entertainment.

Al Gore and Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro presented Al Gore with his honorary award

The one non-BBC British winner was More4's Death of a President, which begins with the fictional assassination of George W. Bush.

Fry said: "It's a lucky evening for us. We're lucky to have this institution, the BBC, and that's helped generations of people."

'Planetary emergency'

Broadbent shared his award with Dutch actor Pierre Bokma. Victoria Wood was nominated for her role in drama Housewife, 49 - but the award went to Muriel Robin from France.

In the acceptance speech for his honorary award, former US vice-president Al Gore said humanity faced "a true planetary emergency".

"The climate crisis is by far the most serious challenge human civilization has ever faced," he said.

"But this great powerful medium of television can be part of that solution because networks and channels all around the world represented here can help to get the word out while there is still time."

The awards ceremony, held at the Hilton New York hotel, honours TV programmes produced outside the US.

Sri Lanka stalwart Atapattu quits

Former Sri Lanka captain Marvan Atapattu
Only Lara, Hammond and Bradman scored more Test double centuries
Former Sri Lanka captain Marvan Atapattu has announced his retirement from international cricket.

The opener, 36, scored 5,502 runs in 90 Tests at an average of 39.02, including six double centuries and 16 hundreds.

Atapattu returned to the Test team after almost two years out to hit fifties in both games in Australia.

Current skipper Mahela Jayawardene said: "Marvan made a strong comeback after not playing for some time. The work ethic he had was incredible."

A dour and dogged batsman, Atapattu overcame a poor start to his Test career in 1990 to become one of Sri Lanka's finest accumulators of runs.

He scored a total of one run in his first six innings and didn't go above 29 in his next 11 and finished with a world-record 22 Test ducks.

Atapattu hit his first Test century in his 10th match, seven years after his debut, and compiled his highest score of 249 against Zimbabwe in 2004.

Only three batsmen have scored more Test double centuries - England's Wally Hammond with seven, West Indies' Brian Lara (8) and Australia's Don Bradman (12).

He also amassed 8,529 runs in 268 one-day internationals but was a peripheral figure at this year's World Cup, and fell out with the Sri Lankan cricket board in the latter stages of his career.

Atapattu was not well treated in the last year or so
Sri Lanka's first Test skipper Bandula Warnapura

Jayawardene replaced him as skipper in March 2006 when he suffered a back problem and he turned down recalls to the team for Tests against Bangladesh in June 2007 and the Australia tour.

The right-hander was drafted in after Sri Lanka's sports minister intervened but Atapattu then called the selectors "muppets headed by a joker" during the first Test in Brisbane.

Bandula Warnapura, Sri Lanka's first Test captain and Sri Lanka Cricket's director of operations, added: "As an international cricketer he had a poor start with so many ducks.

"But his determination was clearly visible in the way he fought back - there was a clear difference in Marvan once he started opening for Sri Lanka and since then he hasn't looked back.

"However I am disappointed that the send-off given to him wasn't in keeping with his status. I strongly believe that he was not well treated in the last year or so."

England drop Beckham and Robinson

Scott Carson (left) and Steve McClaren.
Carson (left) was given his first cap by McClaren against Austria
England v Croatia

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

Steve McClaren looks set to gamble on goalkeeper Scott Carson and drop David Beckham for England's vital Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia on Wednesday.

The England boss is believed to have opted for the inexperienced Carson, with Paul Robinson on the bench.

Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips is tipped to replace Beckham at Wembley.

Gareth Barry and Owen Hargreaves are pushing for recalls in what is expected to be a five-man midfield, with Peter Crouch on his own up front.

England need a point to seal qualification for next summer's finals in Austria and Switzerland, and a big win could see them overhaul group leaders Croatia.

McClaren said he would tell the players his starting line-up on Tuesday at 1830 GMT.

"I know my team and I have done since the weekend but I am not going to reveal it and I am not giving any clues," he said.

McClaren did say he valued experience - but not necessarily in the starting line-up.

"Experience is key in big games - not just playing but on the bench and around the team," he said.

McClaren has stuck by Spurs keeper Robinson throughout a rocky Euro 2008 campaign, but gave Carson his first start against Austria last Friday and may keep faith with the 22-year-old.

BBC Radio 5 Live football correspondent Mike Ingham believes McClaren will drop both Beckham and Robinson to the bench.

He said: "In the past McClaren has indicated early on that Robinson will be his number one choice. He hasn't done it this time and I have a hunch it will be Carson.

"I think Beckham will be seen as an impact player from the bench.

"England will play 4-5-1 when they're defending and 4-3-3 when they have the ball and Beckham cannot play in a 4-3-3 because he doesn't play high enough up the pitch."

However, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger believes Robinson should start and Beckham will also get the nod in a five-man midfield.

"He'll pick experienced players, who know what it means not to make a mistake," said the Frenchman.

"I still think he will go with continuity in goal and the whole country must be behind that because Robinson has delivered good games for England.

"I believe in this kind of game when you are manager, you are always tempted to play with a bit of security. That is why he will go with Lampard, Barry, Gerrard and Beckham."

One player who will definitely not feature is John Terry, although the England captain did take part in training on Tuesday.

"There has been a great uplift with the players coming in on Sunday and especially with John Terry coming in and training with the boys," said McClaren.

"It's always important to have all the players together. We'll have John, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney with us on Wednesday.

"We've started together and we'll finish together."

Ex-Rhodesia leader Ian Smith dies

Former Prime Minister of Rhodesia Ian Smith (Archive: 1976)

The former prime minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith, has died aged 88.

The cause of his death is unknown but he had been ill for some time at a residential home in South Africa.

He illegally declared independence from Britain in 1965 and his white minority government led the country for 14 years amid international scorn and sanctions.

Following a bitter bush war with black nationalists, his government was overthrown by Robert Mugabe in 1979, leading to the creation of Zimbabwe.

Ian Smith's supporters continued to laud him as a political visionary and a man who understood the uncomfortable truths of Africa.

To his detractors, however, he was an unrepentant racist.

We offered him the hand of reconciliation which he never accepted - good riddance
Zimbabwe deputy information minister, Bright Matonga

Mr Mugabe's deputy information minister, Bright Matonga, described Ian Smith as a man who brought untold suffering to millions of Zimbabweans.

"We offered him the hand of reconciliation which he never accepted. Good riddance," Mr Matonga was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

The BBC's James Robbins says that to the end of his days Ian Smith was convinced that Rhodesians, black and white, would have fared better under his leadership than that of Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party.

He died believing he had been vindicated by Zimbabwe's current crisis, with its massive inflation and unemployment.


Steeped in the colonial values of his Scottish immigrant father, our correspondent says Mr Smith was a born leader with a distinguished war record as an RAF fighter pilot.

He helped to found the right-wing Rhodesian Front, which came to power in 1962, and when the-then prime minister, Winston Field, baulked at the prospect of seizing independence, the party turned to Mr Smith, who gave them what they wanted.

He became prime minister of the then self-governing British colony of Rhodesia in 1964. The following year he made his Unilateral Declaration of Independence and years of civil war ensued.

Ian Smith denied this was caused by the actions of his regime and insisted there was nothing wrong with five million blacks being ruled by 200,000 whites.

In the end, Mr Smith maintained, it was not his enemies who beat him, but apartheid South Africa's threat to cut Rhodesia's lifeline.

Margaret Thatcher's UK government brokered a peace deal in the Lancaster House talks in 1979 and a black-majority government took over Zimbabwe.

Ian Smith remained a key player in Zimbabwean politics until seats reserved for whites were abolished in 1987.

When in retirement he failed to create a united opposition to Robert Mugabe, Mr Smith was finally relegated to the sidelines.

US Supreme Court ponders gun law

Browning pistol
Handguns are used in most US assaults and robberies
The US Supreme Court is to consider an American's right to bear arms for the first time in nearly 70 years.

It has agreed to rule on whether a ban on handguns by the city of Washington, DC complies with the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

The US capital has banned handguns since 1976.

The case is expected to be heard next spring, with a ruling in summer, and therefore could influence the presidential election in November.

The Supreme Court will consider a case brought by a Washington resident, Dick Heller, against his city council, arguing that he should be allowed to keep a handgun for his own protection.

The case was initially rejected, but a federal appeals court later overturned that judgement.

The city of Washington asked the Supreme Court to rule on the case, and on Tuesday it said it would - the first time it will have ruled on the divisive Second Amendment since 1939.

High murder rate

The Second Amendment states: "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The powerful gun lobby says this guarantees that citizens may bear arms, and is vehemently imposed to restrictions on that right.

But states which wish to impose gun control measures argue that it only means a "militia", ie a modern-day police force, is entitled to be armed.

A lawyer for Mr Heller and other Washington residents said: "We believe the Supreme Court will acknowledge that, while the use of guns can be regulated, a complete prohibition on all functional firearms is too extreme.

"It's time to restore a basic freedom to all Washington residents."

Washington council maintained: "Whatever right the Second Amendment guarantees, it does not require the district to stand by while its citizens die."

With gun crime endemic in the US, the issue provokes heated argument. Some blame guns for the problem, while others say they are the best way to protect themselves against violence.

Handguns are used in two-thirds of robberies and assaults and in half of murders in the US, according to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

But supporters of gun rights point out that having one of the toughest laws in the US has not stopped Washington being one of its most murder-ridden cities - with 169 killings in 2006.

US confirms Mid-East peace talks

The future of Jerusalem is a key dividing issue
The US has confirmed it will host a conference on Middle East peace next week aimed at relaunching negotiations to create a Palestinian state.

Invitations have been issued to Israel, the Palestinians, the UN and key Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Syria.

But Washington is still trying to persuade Arab states to send delegates.

The 27 November meeting, at a US naval academy in Annapolis, Maryland, will be the first fully-fledged talks on Middle East peace since 2000.

State department spokesman Sean McCormack said 49 countries and institutions had been invited.

Ahead of the conference, US President George W Bush is to hold bilateral discussions with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Washington on 26 November, it was announced.

The main talks will then be held in Annapolis the following day.

Arab reluctance

Earlier on Tuesday Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held a rare meeting to co-ordinate preparations for the Annapolis meeting.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert
Ehud Olmert has warned Israelis of the need to compromise
After their meeting, Mr Olmert said he hoped a peace deal could be completed by the end of next year.

However, key Arab neighbours of Israel have been shy about committing to sending high-level representatives to the talks.

Arab foreign ministers are meeting in Cairo on Friday to co-ordinate their positions, although each government is to decide separately whether to send a delegation.

Egyptian officials say they are convinced the US is now committed to launching a serious peace process and its foreign minister is expected to attend.

Only Egypt and Jordan, of Israel's Arab neighbours, have recognised Israel.

Analysts say other Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, believe Israel has not offered enough assurances about its seriousness to reach peace and to make the necessary sacrifices.

Syria has said it will only join the conference if the issue of the Golan Heights, also occupied by Israel in 1967, is on the agenda.

Negotiations on a joint Israeli-Palestinian document to serve as a blueprint for future talks have made little progress, casting a cloud over the conference.

Israel and the Palestinians are divided over the fate of the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since 1967, and the Palestinian refugee problem which dates back to the establishment of Israel in 1948.