The NewsFuror

Friday, November 23, 2007

Liquidation of Yukos is completed

Former Yukos site in Siberia
Yukos was once Russia's biggest oil company
Yukos, once Russia's biggest oil company, has now ceased to exist.

A simple entry on Russia's State Companies Register on Thursday marked the company's liquidation.

The final move in the firm's history, it comes four years after its founder and former owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested on tax evasion charges.

It's been one of the most controversial stories to have emerged from Vladimir Putin's Russia, and is seen by many as a key turning point in his rule.


Russia's Federal Tax Service confirmed on Thursday that it had completed Yukos' bankruptcy procedure, and that the company has ceased to exist as a legal entity.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Mikhail Khodorkovsky remains behind bars

Its major assets have been transferred to Rosneft, Russia's state oil company, through a series of auctions involving what Mr Khodorkovsky's supporters allege were ghost companies.

The saga has been one of the defining stories of the Putin era.

To the company's defenders, it was a process of expropriation, part of an unannounced policy of re-nationalisation of the oil industry.

The Yukos story was also deeply personal, with the treatment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which his lawyers said at times resembled a show-trial, drawing a chorus of criticism from human rights activists in Russia and abroad.

Their argument remains that Mr Khodorkovsky was punished for openly pledging to finance the Russian liberal opposition and civil society.

This is strongly denied by the Russian leadership, who allege Mr Khodorkovsky and the other oligarchs effectively robbed Russia during the 1990s.

However, Russian justice appears to have been selective, with the oligarchs who either kept out of politics, or who chose to support Vladimir Putin, left alone.

Legal moves

Both Mr Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, remain in a Siberian prison camp.

Elsewhere, the legal wrangling continues.

Over recent weeks, the European Court of Human Rights has ordered Russia to pay Mr Lebedev compensation for illegal detention.

And a court in the Netherlands ruled that the sale of Yukos' foreign assets was illegal, and the result of a politically motivated process.

China takes action on toy safety

Sarge from Pixar's Cars
Millions of Chinese-made toys have been recalled this year
China has made "considerable progress" in improving the safety of the toys it exports, a European Commission report has found.

Millions of Chinese-made toys were recalled this year, amid concerns about lead levels and loose magnets.

Chinese authorities investigated twice as many as dangerous goods in the three months to the end of September than it did in two previous investigations.

In nearly half the investigated cases, action was taken to improve safety.

Taking action

China fully investigated 184 cases of dangerous products in the three-month period, compared with 84 cases in two previous reports, carried out in July this year and December last year.

In 43% of cases, "corrective measures" were taken, in some cases stopping the export of the unsafe products.

In Guangdong province alone - where most Chinese toys are made - more than 750 toy manufacturers have had their export certificates suspended or revoked.

A further 690 firms have been ordered to improve their factories and product quality within a set time.

However, in about one quarter of all cases, there was not enough information about the manufacturer to successfully carry out an investigation, the Commission said.

Dangerous magnets

Many toys have been recalled because of dangerous magnets, which are increasingly strong and detach more easily from toys than in the past.

Mattel handout picture of Polly Pocket toy - undated
There are fears young children could swallow some toys' magnets

New warnings are needed on toys, said the Commission, which will draft "appropriate warnings about the dangers of magnets in toys".

The Commission also promised to agree a "safety pact" - between manufacturers, retailers and importers - in 2008 to rebuild consumer confidence.

Results of an audit of safety measures in the toy sector are expected in the first quarter of next year.

Brand China fears

The toy recall earlier this year rattled confidence in the "Made in China" brand.

Roughly 80% of the toys sold in Europe come from China and analysts feared that China's economy has grown so rapidly over the past two decades that addressing safety would take a long time.

But while progress still needs to be made, the news may help to reassure European consumers and importers that China takes product safety seriously.

"China has made important efforts to improve the quality of its exported toys," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said on Thursday.

"I believe Chinese products, including toys, will continue to be liked by consumers around the world. I wish children around the world a safe and happy Christmas and I hope Chinese-made toys can bring them joy," he said.

France urged to cut its spending

Jean-Claude Trichet (file photo)
Trichet says the French labour market is too inflexible
The President of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, has urged France to reduce its public spending.

Giving evidence to a commission in Paris set up to boost economic growth, Mr Trichet said France was "not in the right frame in terms of efficiency".

He said that in 2007, public spending in France would be the heaviest as proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) within the European Union.

Mr Trichet said France had the highest unemployment level in the eurozone.

For older people, he said the jobless rate was "ridiculously low" and he called for greater flexibility in the labour market, along the lines of Denmark and the Irish Republic.

Number one spender

He told the commission he could see no substantial reason why France should have higher spending than Germany, relative to its GDP.

Mr Trichet was governor of the Bank of France during the 1990s. Two months ago, he warned that France was well on the way to becoming Europe's "number one spender" in 2007.

He was due to hold talks with President Sarkozy later on Thursday evening.

Mr Sarkozy established the commission under the leadership of Jacques Attali, a close ally of the late Socialist President, Francois Mitterrand.

Qinetiq deal 'cost UK taxpayers'

Qinetiq at Portsdown Hill near Portsmouth
Qinetiq's makes a number of military products
UK taxpayers could have gained "more money" from the privatisation of defence research firm Qinetiq, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said.

While saying taxpayers could have gained "tens of millions" more, the NAO also condemned an incentive scheme that netted fortunes for Qinetiq's bosses.

And the minister behind the sale of a Qinetiq stake to a US buyout firm said that he had sought to delay the sale.

But Lord Moonie told the BBC he was unable to resist Treasury pressure.

He was a defence minister in 2003 when a third of Qinetiq was sold to the US private equity group, Carlyle.

Stock markets had slumped and Lord Moonie felt that the MoD would not receive a decent price for its shareholding, says BBC business editor Robert Peston.


However, says Mr Peston, the Treasury urged that the sale should go ahead because the proceeds were already built into budgets.

Lord Moonie said: "We were reluctant to proceed with the sale, but a combination of the Treasury and the fact we needed the money for items in our budget persuaded us to go on with it."

The MoD backed themselves into a corner before they had even started
Edward Leigh MP

In the event, Carlyle bought a third of Qinetiq for £42m - and over the next three years it turned that into £372m - a nine-fold return on its money.

Qinetiq's 10 most senior managers gained £107.5m after the move, a return of 19,990% for their total £540,000 investment in shares.

That has been labelled "excessive" by the NAO.

Qinetiq's two most senior executives, chairman Sir John Chisholm and chief executive Graham Love, made spectacular gains.

Sir John invested £129,000 in the company and now has shares worth £23m. Graham Love turned £106,000 into £20m.

The increase in value of Qinetiq as it moved into the private sector has actually generated very good returns for the taxpayer
Robert Peston, BBC business editor

Conservative MP Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the taxpayer had been "short-changed" and that top Qinetiq managers had "won the jackpot".

But the Ministry of Defence says the taxpayer has benefited by nearly £600m to date from the privatisation of Qinetiq, "the majority of which has been retained for reinvestment in the defence programme".

The government still owns approximately 19% of Qinetiq; the MoD says "this shareholding is currently worth around £250m".

The NAO also criticises the MoD for appointing a preferred bidder while price-sensitive issues were unresolved.

Mr Leigh said: "The MoD backed themselves into a corner before they had even started... and the department went on to sell a larger share of the business for less money than they initially agreed."

The NAO said Qinetiq's bosses were allowed to negotiate the terms of the incentive scheme with Carlyle while the private equity firm was bidding for the business.

Our business editor says criticism of the deal will infuriate many business people.

"Although they acknowledge that Carlyle secured the stake at a great price, they point out that the MoD kept more than half of Qinetiq," he said.

"So the increase in value of Qinetiq as it moved into the private sector has actually generated very good returns for the taxpayer."

US shops expect weak Black Friday

US shoppers
US shoppers appear less willing to spend their money
As US retailers prepare for Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that marks the start of the Christmas season, festive cheer seems limited.

With US economic growth hit by the downturn in the housing market, and the knock-on credit crisis, recent data has shown a sharp fall in retail spending.

And as US consumers seem less willing or able to spend, most retail analysts expect this downturn to continue.

"The holiday season will be terrible," said economist Ian Shepherdson.

'Further deterioration'

Higher petrol prices and volatile financial markets have also hit US consumers.

The most recent official data from the Commerce Department showed that retail sales rose by just 0.2% in October, compared with September's 0.7% gain.

At the same time, some of America's largest retail firms, such as Macy's, Limited Brands, JC Penny and Nordstrom, have all seen same-store sales fall last month.

"We expect a further deterioration as consumers cut back in the face of soaring petrol prices, falling stock prices and the continued disaster in housing," said Mr Shepherdson, who works for research group High Frequency Economics.

The downturn in the housing market has centred on record levels of mortgage defaults in the so-called sub-prime sector, which specialises in higher risk loans to people with poor credit histories, or those on lower incomes.

Most of the main US banks have subsequently lost millions of dollars after having to write-off their exposure to this bad debt.

The crisis has made the banks much less willing to lend among themselves or to other borrowers, both reducing and pushing up the price of available credit.

America's central bank, the Federal Reserve, has confirmed that US economic growth is now slowing.

Earlier this week it cut its forecast for 2008's economic growth to a range of 1.8% to 2.5%.

Previously it has predicted growth of between 2.5% and 2.75% for next year.

Springer show judgement reserved

David Soul in Jerry Springer - The Opera
David Soul played Jerry Springer in the BBC Two broadcast
The BBC will have to wait to see if it will be prosecuted for screening Jerry Springer - The Opera in 2005.

The High Court reserved judgement on whether Christian activist Stephen Green should be allowed to bring a private prosecution for blasphemy.

The Christian Voice director had hoped to overturn a court ruling forbidding him from suing BBC director general Mark Thompson and producer Jon Thoday.

He had argued the musical contained images that "vilify God and the Bible".

Judges said the court would take time to consider the case and deliver a written verdict at a later date.


The BBC received a record 63,000 complaints when the musical - a satire based on US TV host Jerry Springer's controversial talk show - was broadcast on BBC Two in January 2005.

The corporation also received many messages of support for screening the musical, which includes scenes set in Hell with Jesus and Satan.

Mr Green launched the action in January only to have it refused by the City of Westminster magistrates court.

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

Jerry Springer himself was in London last weekend to accept an award from the Variety Club of Great Britain.

Cult show Survivors to be remade

The original starred Ian McCulloch, Lucy Fleming and Carolyn Seymour  in Survivors
The original starred Ian McCulloch, Lucy Fleming and Carolyn Seymour
The BBC is to remake cult 1970s series Survivors, it has announced.

The original series centred on a post- apocalyptic world in the aftermath of a plague which killed more than 99% of the global population.

The remake will be set in the present day and follow a group of individuals as they fight for day-to-day survival.

Sci-fi writer Terry Nation created the original series. He also wrote Blakes 7, and created the Daleks - Doctor Who's arch enemy.

The BBC secured the rights to The Survivors after months of negotiations with Nation's estate.

Launched in April 1975 on BBC One, Survivors ran for 38 episodes over three series.

'Brave' programme

Kate Harwood, head of series and serials at BBC Drama Production, said: "The opportunity to remake Survivors for a modern generation proved irresistible.

"After months of negotiations, I am delighted that one of British television's great cult series will return with original stories packed with adventure and spirit set against the backdrop of our own recognisable world."

The new series will be written by Adrian Hodges, who also wrote Ruby In The Smoke, Shadow In The North, Charles II and Primeval, and will be broadcast on BBC One.

He said: "Survivors was one of the bravest and most exciting programmes of its time and I'm thrilled to be involved with re-imagining it for a new audience.

"I remember its original impact vividly and I hope we can make a similar impression with the new version.

"Its themes remain as relevant as ever and while we will be staying faithful to many aspects of the original, we will also be bringing the story into the 21st Century and making it accessible to contemporary audiences."

Choreographer Bejart dies at 80

Maurice Bejart
Bejart was born in France in 1927
Renowned French choreographer Maurice Bejart has died at the age of 80, a spokeswoman for his dance company, Bejart Ballet Lausanne, has said.

Bejart, a former dancer, had been in and out of hospital in recent months, suffering from exhaustion as well as kidney and heart problems.

He died in hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Thursday.

His last work, Around the World in Eighty Minutes, is due to make its debut in Lausanne on 20 December.

Versace ballet

Bejart - born Maurice Berger in Marseilles, France in 1927 - studied dance in London and Paris before becoming a leading avant-garde choreographer in the 1950s.

His physical and sensual style met with resistance in traditional Paris circles, leading him to relocate to Brussels where his version of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was rapturously received in 1959.

In 1960 he formed his own company, the Ballet du XXe Siecle, and later relocated to Lausanne, Switzerland, where the troupe was renamed Bejart Ballet Lausanne.

Bejart's recent works included a specially-written ballet to mark the 10th anniversary of fashion designer Gianni Versace's death, which was performed in Milan in July.

He also choreographed Ballet for Life - a work danced to a soundtrack of Queen's greatest hits - but is better known for his avant-garde interpretations of classical works.

Film role prize for Potter fans

JK Rowling with a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Half-Blood Prince is Rowling's penultimate book in the series
Fans of Harry Potter are being offered the chance to win a walk-on part in the teenage wizard's next film.

The winner of a competition run by MSN will appear in forthcoming blockbuster Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, which is due for release next year.

Questions about JK Rowling's best- selling book will be posted on the MSN website every week until 20 December.

MSN's Mike Lok said: "We're so excited about being able to offer this amazing prize to one Harry Potter fan."

"Needless to say, we expect this to be a highly contested competition," he added.

The contest is open to the site's UK users.

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is the sixth instalment in Rowling's hugely popular series.

Daniel Radcliffe will star once again as the schoolboy wizard, alongside Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who play Hermione and Ron.

The film is due for release in November 2008.

Show goes on for Grinch musical

Dr Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
The musical is very popular with children
The show will go on for Broadway musical Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! after a New York judge ordered it to re-open.

Jujamcyn Theatres decided to shut The Grinch at its St James' theatre until a new labour agreement was reached with striking Broadway stagehands.

But this was despite the fact that stagehands employed on The Grinch had agreed to continue working.

State Supreme Court Justice Helen Freedman said the show should resume.

She granted an injunction sought by the show's producers against the shutdown, saying her decision was "for the sake of this city".

'Busy period'

"I think that one Grinch in this city is enough," she added.

"We got our miracle on 44th Street," said producer James Sanna.

Broadway stagehands in front of Les Miserables at the Broadhurst Theatre, New York, 10 November
Broadway is considered one of New York's main tourist attractions

Mr Sanna is not a member of The League of American Theatres and Producers, which the stagehands' union Local One are in dispute with.

A union spokesman said the stagehands wanted The Grinch to continue so Mr Sanna could avoid financial ruin.

Jujamcyn Theatres owns four other theatres which have been affected by the strike.

The judge's decision means that 11 Grinch shows over the Thanksgiving weekend - one of Broadway's busiest periods - are going ahead.

The show will then continue until the end of its run on 6 January.

Stagehands work with lighting, sound, scenery and special effects.

The strike began earlier this month after three months of negotiations between producers and a union about pay and working conditions failed to produce an agreement.

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

The League of American Theatres and Producers wants more flexibility in those rules so as to avoid paying for workers who have nothing to do.

Boy George case trial date is set

Boy George leaves Thames Magistrates' Court on 22.11.08
Boy George was released on conditional bail
Boy George has been sent for trial charged with falsely imprisoning a male escort by chaining him to a wall.

The offence is alleged to have taken place at the 46-year-old's home in Ravey Street, Hackney, east London on 28 April this year.

The singer and DJ, whose real name is George O'Dowd, spoke at Thames Magistrates' Court on Thursday only to confirm his name and date of birth.

He will stand trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court on 25 February 2008.

The former Culture Club frontman was released on conditional bail.

Pitt leaves State of Play movie

Brad Pitt
Pitt was going to play journalist Cal McCaffrey
Actor Brad Pitt has pulled out of political thriller State of Play because of script concerns, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Universal confirmed the actor had left but it remained "committed to this project", the trade paper reported.

Pitt was due to appear alongside Dame Helen Mirren and Ed Norton as an investigative journalist in the movie, based on a BBC drama series.

The script cannot be worked on because of the writers' strike.

The film will be directed by Kevin Macdonald, who also directed The Last King of Scotland.

State of Play is about a team of journalists investigating the mysterious death of a political researcher.

The BBC TV original won a best actor Bafta for Bill Nighy, who played newspaper editor Cameron Foster, and further editing and sound honours.

Pitt was set to play Cal McCaffrey, portrayed by John Simm in the TV version.

Shameless writer Paul Abbott penned the original TV script but it has been adapted for the big screen by Matthew Michael Carnahan, who wrote Lions for Lambs, starring Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep.

Mourinho 'rules out' England post

Jose Mourinho
Mourinho won two Premier League titles with Chelsea
Former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho does not want to succeed Steve McClaren as England manager, BBC Sport understands.

Mourinho, 44, has been out of football since leaving Stamford Bridge in September but is believed to be waiting for a club rather than a national post.

Newcastle boss Sam Allardyce has also said he does not want the England job.

But ex-Real Madrid coach Fabio Capello says he is interested and Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp and Reading's Steve Coppell have not ruled themselves out.

Radio 5 Live's football correspondent Jonathan Legard said: "Mourinho is apparently champing at the bit to return to football management.

"But not for a job, however lucrative and high profile, that only allows him to do what he does so well - working with players - a couple of times every few months.

"He's like a lion in a cage, I was told, but a national job, even such a special post like England, would only appeal at a later stage in his career and the chances are even then that would only be the Portugal job.

I've got a massive job at Reading, as far as I'm concerned, and I'm very happy with that
Reading manager Steve Coppell

"Far more attractive for the former Chelsea title winner at the moment is a top European club vacancy and as he waits for that, so the FA must come to terms with the size of their task."

The Football Association's chief executive Brian Barwick has begun his search for a replacement for McClaren, who was sacked on Thursday after England failed to reach Euro 2008.

And Capello, 61, who has won league titles with Real, AC Milan and Roma, said: "It would be a beautiful challenge. I am the right age."

Allardyce was Bolton manager when he was touted for the England job which McClaren got 18 months ago.

He has since become Newcastle manager and says he wants to honour the new contract he recently signed.

"I am not in a position like I was at my old club where the chairman openly extended the invitation for me to go for the position," Allardyce said.

I wouldn't look any further than Hoddle
Former England captain Paul Ince

Redknapp said: "Anybody would love to manage their country but I don't see it coming my way.

"It's a great job for somebody. It's an opportunity to work with the best players in this country and for me still, despite what anyone might think, a group of some of the best players in the world."

Coppell did not rule himself out of the running although he said he was still under contract at Reading.

"It's a non-issue, I have a contract here," he said. "I'm English so people link me.

"I've got a massive job at Reading, as far as I'm concerned, and I'm very happy with that."

While Capello has attracted support from punters, Mourinho's lack of interest leaves Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill as the bookies' favourites for the job.

O'Neill was rejected by the Football Association after interviewing for the role before McClaren's appointment and may be reluctant to put himself in the frame again.

Meanwhile, former England captain Paul Ince believes the FA should re-appoint Glenn Hoddle.

The 50-year-old was England boss for three years before being sacked in February 1999 after suggesting that disabled people were being punished for sins in a previous life.

Ince told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I wouldn't look any further than Hoddle. He did a very good job and he wasn't sacked for footballing reasons.

"The FA has got to forget about what happened years ago, they've got to be bold and brave.

"Hoddle is sharp, bright, meticulous and he's English, but whether the FA is prepared to go back is not my decision."

Capello was sacked by Real at the end of last season despite winning the Spanish title and he is available as he is now working as a commentator for Italian television.

Pakistan rally after poor start

FIRST TEST, Delhi (day one, close): Pakistan 210-8 v India

India celebrate after Sourav Ganguly (far left) removes Mohammad Yousuf
Ganguly (far left) took a key wicket when he had Yousuf trapped lbw
India were held up by a rearguard action from Pakistan's Misbah-ul-Haq after taking control on the opening afternoon of the first Test in Delhi.

After Pakistan had won the toss and batted, paceman Zaheer Khan took 2-36 and skipper Anil Kumble claimed 3-38.

India had their arch rivals reeling at 142-8 at the tea interval.

But Misbah (71 not out) and Mohammad Sami (20 not out) then added an unbeaten 68 as Pakistan reached 210-8 before bad light curtailed play.

India went into the series knowing they will move up to third place in the ICC Test rankings if they win the series 2-0 - and will overtake second-placed England if they win all three Tests.

Pakistan handed a Test debut to left-arm seamer Sohail Tanvir after paceman Umar Gul was ruled out with a back injury, while India recalled spinner Harbhajan Singh after a year out of the Test side.

The visitors have struggled to find a consistent opening partnership in recent months, and Salman Butt had made just one before he was bowled by an inswinger from left-armer Zaheer.

Younus Khan followed Butt back to the pavilion when he was caught at fine leg by Munaf Patel as Zaheer claimed his second wicket, recording impressive figures of 2-25 from his first eight overs.

Pakistan were then in trouble at 59-3 when Butt's opening partner Yasir Hameed became Kumble's first victim as India captain.

The new skipper marked his elevation to captaincy with a superb display of leg-spin, and all his three wickets were clean bowled.

It did not get much better for the visitors in the afternoon session as Sourav Ganguly's gentle medium pace had the dangerous Mohammad Yousuf trapped lbw, while captain Shoaib Malik was caught behind for a duck to leave his side struggling at 83-5.

Pakistan batsman Misbah-ul-Haq
Misbah led a rearguard action during the evening session
Misbah and keeper Kamran Akmal staged a partial recovery, adding 39 for the sixth wicket, but when Akmal was bowled by a quick one from Kumble that kept low, it left Misbah batting with the tail.

Debutant Tanvir was adjudged lbw to Harbhajan, while paceman Shoaib Akhtar was completely deceived as Kumble claimed his third wicket.

But in the evening session, Sami helped Misbah with a doughty display of crease occupation as Kumble rotated his bowlers and took the second new ball late on but could not make the breakthrough.

Misbah took 204 deliveries in his unbeaten 71, although he nearly departed two overs before the close when he smashed Patel hard to Harbhajan at square leg, and the spinner got a hand to it but was unable to hold on to a fierce chance.

Sami was content to play a supporting role, though he did cut loose when he hoisted Ganguly for a huge straight six.

  • India pace bowler Zaheer Khan:

    "The wicket is getting slower and slower, so it's hard work and obviously we were bowling with an old ball. So it's not easy.

    "Anil Kumble's first day in office has been good - in the first two sessions we got eight wickets.

    "What else can a captain expect on the first day of a Test match when you know that the wicket is going to play really well?

    "We'll look to get them out as early as possible and then put runs on the board."

  • Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson:

    "The pitch showed variable bounce but some of the batsmen played shots they would surely reconsider. "Misbah was at his fighting best and he and Sami played according to instructions."

    Steep rise in Europe cocaine use

    cocaine seizure, Belgium
    Cocaine seizures were up more than 45% in 2005
    An annual report on drug use says around 4.5 million Europeans are likely to have used cocaine in the past year - a million more than in 2006.

    The EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) says the increase in cocaine seizures and quantities also confirms its status as "Europe's stimulant drug of choice".

    Prevalence of the drug is highest in Spain and the UK but the biggest increases are in Denmark and Italy.

    About two million Europeans are said to have used cocaine in the past month.

    The drugs agency bases its figures on information covering 2005. In that year, it says that seizures of cocaine reached record levels. A total of 107 tons of the drug was recovered - up more than 45% on the previous year.

    Spain and Portugal are the main points of entry into Europe.

    Impact on health

    The EU drugs agency says the rise in demand for treatment is an indication of how cocaine use is affecting public health.

    Graph: Drug offences in Europe, 2000-05
    EU countries' data on recorded drugs offences indexed to a base of 100 in the year 2000, then weighted to reflect varying population sizes

    It says that in 2005, 22% of all new requests for help were cocaine-related, almost three times the figure for 1999.

    Spain and the Netherlands had the majority of reports of treatment. About 400 deaths relating to cocaine were reported in 2005.

    The agency says current systems make it difficult to detect the health consequences.

    There has also been a steep rise in the offences linked to cocaine. Across the EU, the agency reports an average 62% increase with Germany the only exception.

    The majority of crime is concerned with drug use or possession.

    Cannabis is still the most commonly used illicit drug in Europe, but the agency says there are signs of its popularity waning among the young.

    In Spain, 20% of 15-34 year-olds are estimated to have used the drug in the past year, with similarly high rates in the Czech Republic (19.3%), France (16.7%), Italy (16.5%) and the UK (16.3%).

    Drug related crime has fallen by a fifth since 2003, reducing harm to communities, while drug use is at its lowest level in 11 years
    Vernon Coaker
    UK Home Office minister

    In the UK, France and the Czech Republic, that represents a fall of three to four percentage points.

    The UK Home Office Minister, Vernon Coaker, welcomed the report.

    He said that drug use as a whole was "at its lowest level in 11 years" and that drug-related crime had "fallen by a fifth since 2003, reducing harm to communities".

    Nevertheless, the agency warns that some 7% (23 million) Europeans have taken cannabis in the past year and about three million people may be using it on a daily, or almost-daily, basis.

    Airbus fears 'weak-dollar death'

    Aerial shot of Airbus A380 plane
    Airbus's savings plan was drawn up when the dollar was stronger
    The weak dollar is threatening the survival of European planemaker Airbus, chief executive Tom Enders told workers in Hamburg on Thursday.

    And the firm once again warned that its cost saving plan would have to cut deeper to counter the impact of the weakening US currency.

    Airbus is owned by European aerospace and defence group EADS.

    "The dollar's rapid decline is life-threatening for Airbus," Mr Enders said in the speech to employees.

    "The dollar exchange rate has gone beyond the pain barrier," Mr Enders added.

    And he said that Airbus's entire business model needed reviewing as "reasonable processes of adjustment" were hardly possible now, he said.

    'Break even'

    Airbus is already shedding about 10,000 jobs and selling plants as part of its Power8 restructuring plan after delays to its A380 superjumbo drove the planemaker into a loss last year.

    The dollar has hit new record lows against the euro this week, something which Airbus says favours its US rival Boeing.

    Earlier this month Airbus warned it may have to deepen its planned restructuring after steeper than expected third-quarter losses.

    It said a net loss of 776m euros ($1.14 bn; £541m) - as against a loss of 189m euros in 2006 - was down to delays with its A400M military transport aircraft.

    And it said full-year earnings would only "roughly break even".

    EADS said it might have to make more savings, as cost-cutting plans were drawn up when the euro was weaker.

    And back in September, Airbus chief operating officer Fabrice Bregier said a further 1bn euros might have to be added to a savings plan which was originally based on a $1.35 euro.

    Pakistan barred from Commonwealth

    President Pervez Musharraf
    Musharraf has faced international fire over the state of emergency
    Pakistan has been suspended from the Commonwealth because of its imposition of emergency rule, the organisation has announced after a meeting in Uganda.

    Secretary General Don McKinnon said Pakistan was being suspended "pending restoration of democracy and the rule of law".

    Earlier Pakistan's Supreme Court dismissed a legal challenge to Pervez Musharraf's re-election as president.

    The president has said that would allow him to step down as head of the army.

    In recent days Gen Musharraf's regime has also released more than 3,400 people who had been detained under the emergency rule which the president imposed earlier this month.

    And following a visit by US envoy John Negroponte, opposition leader Imran Khan was freed.

    But the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the group reviewing the status of Pakistan's membership, decided that despite these changes, not enough had been done.

    We're all clear that the choice is for Pakistan now, to make the changes that are in its interest nationally and internationally, and then to re-enter the Commonwealth as a proud and valued member
    UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband

    The BBC's Peter Biles in Kampala says that some Asian nations had reportedly resisted the suspension.

    The decision was not put to a vote, our correspondent says, but after a day of fraught negotiations an agreement was eventually reached.

    Mr McKinnon said the 53-member Commonwealth had reached the decision by consensus.

    "CMAG agreed that notwithstanding some progress by the Pakistan government since its last meeting, the situation in Pakistan continued to represent a serious violation of the Commonwealth's fundamental values," Mr McKinnon said, reading from a statement.

    Review planned

    It is the second time that Pakistan has been expelled from the Commonwealth. The country was suspended in 1999, after Gen Musharraf seized power in a coup.

    It was reinstated in 2004.

    As in 1999, Pakistan will now be banned from attending the organisation's meetings and taking part in the Commonwealth Games.

    Though in diplomatic terms being suspended has little impact, our correspondent in Kampala says that being a member does open doors, and as Mr McKinnon was keen to point out, just a year after its last suspension Pakistan was voicing a desire to return.

    Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the "decision was taken in sorrow, not in anger", and that he hoped the group would be able to welcome Pakistan back soon.

    "We're all clear that the choice is for Pakistan now, to make the changes that are in its interest nationally and internationally, and then to re-enter the Commonwealth as a proud and valued member," Mr Miliband added.

    Progress will now be reviewed after parliamentary elections which Gen Musharraf has promised will take place in January.

    Militant violence

    Ten days ago Commonwealth foreign ministers from the bloc gave Pakistan 10 days to lift its emergency rule or face suspension.

    Former Supreme Court Judge Wajihuddin Ahmed, centre, at Islamabad rally 21 November
    Judges and lawyers have held a series of protests in Islamabad
    They also said Gen Musharraf had to step down as army chief, release political detainees and restore press freedoms.

    Gen Musharraf imposed the state of emergency and suspended Pakistan's constitution on 3 November. He later defended his decision, saying that he had taken the "in the national interest".

    He said Pakistan was in a crisis caused by militant violence and a judiciary which had paralysed the government.

    Pakistan has been engulfed in political upheaval in recent months, and the security forces have suffered a series of blows from pro-Taleban militants opposed to Gen Musharraf's support for the US-led "war on terror".

    In a lengthy televised speech on the night of 3 November, Mr Musharraf said the situation was threatening Pakistan's sovereignty and had forced him into making "some very painful decisions".