Archive for May 1st, 2009
Bolivia takes over BP subsidiary
Bolivian President Evo Morales has announced the takeover of a subsidiary of British oil company BP, as part of his nationalisation campaign.
Mr Morales told May Day crowds that he had ordered troops and the state oil company to take over Air BP, which supplies jet fuel across the country.
He has already nationalised oil and gas reserves to redistribute wealth to Bolivia’s indigenous majority.
A BP spokesman said the company “had agreed a handover of our operations”.
“We were surprised by today’s takeover process. But we will continue to support the handover,” the spokesman said in London.
Bolivian Energy Minister Oscar Coca said Air BP would be compensated for the nationalisation. A valuation would be carried out within 120 days, he said.
Air BP owns 12 jet fuel stations at airstrips and airports in Bolivia. Its 90 local employees would keep their jobs, the energy minister said.
Since he took office in 2006, Mr Morales has taken control of several foreign-owned energy, mining and telecommunications companies.
Iraq cleric attends Turkey talks
The Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has made his first public appearance in nearly two years, attending talks in Turkey on the future of Iraq.
Officials said he met both Turkey’s president and the prime minister.
The powerful cleric had fiercely opposed the foreign presence in Iraq and his Mehdi army fought troops until he suspended the movement last year.
He last spoke in public at a mosque in Iraq in June 2007 and has since issued statements through his aides.
An unnamed Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said that in light of the “increasingly normalised” situation in Iraq, Moqtada Sadr was in the country for “political consultations with the Turkish authorities”.
Reports from Ankara said he met both President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but there was no official comment after the talks.
Haidar al-Turfi, a senior aide to Moqtada Sadr, confirmed the visit and said the cleric had travelled to Turkey from Iran, where the US had previously believed he was living.
He said the visit was to meet a delegation from the Iraqi city of Najaf and to “hold discussions with the Turkish side about the situation in Iraq and its future”.
Moqtada Sadr has a significant following among Iraq’s Shia Muslims but stopped appearing in public after a speech at a mosque in Iraq in June 2007.
His Mehdi army militia, which once numbered tens of thousands of fighters, has observed a ceasefire since August 2007 that is widely credited with reducing sectarian tensions and contributing significantly to a fall in violence.
In August 2008, Moqtada Sadr gave order for the militia to suspend its activities, giving up the strongholds of Baghdad and southern Iraq.
Turkish media said he was expected to continue his visit in Istanbul over the weekend.
YouTube helps man deliver baby
An engineer in Cornwall delivered his baby son after watching a instructional video on YouTube.
Marc Stephens watched the videos as a precaution when his wife Jo started to feel some discomfort.
Four hours later, his wife went into labour and started giving birth before an ambulance could arrive at their home in Redruth.
“I Googled how to deliver a baby, watched a few videos and basically swotted up,” Mr Stephens told the BBC.
Jo Stephens said they had planned a home birth, but not quite in this manner.
“I woke up and realised I was having contractions every five minutes,” Mrs Stephens said.
“I woke Marc up and we phoned the midwife, but they were all so busy they couldn’t come round to our house and told us to call an ambulance. But before it arrived, it all started.”
A few hours earlier, Mr Stephens has been reading up on home births and how to cope with anything unexpected.
“The videos gave me peace of mind. I think I would have coped, but watching videos made things much easier.”
Mr Stephens said his wife was on all fours when he saw the head starting to come out.
“This is our fourth child now and while for our first I spent most of the time at my wife’s head, now I’m not afraid to go down to the business end.
“I was still on the phone to the midwife and told her that ‘this is it’,” he said.
Mr Stephens said he felt no panic, putting his ability to stay calm down to his Royal Navy training.
After delivering the 5lbs 5oz boy, Gabriel, the Stephens went to the Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske, where both mother and baby got a clean bill of health.
Bridge deaths dad faces execution
A man who threw four children to their deaths from a bridge has been sentenced to death in the US state of Alabama.
The judge ordered that Lam Luong be shown pictures of the children every day he is on death row.
Luong, a Vietnamese refugee, looked towards his common-law wife as he was sentenced and apologised to her through an interpreter.
A jury in Mobile convicted him in March of murdering the children by throwing them 80ft (24m) into the sea.
The three youngest children – Hannah, two, Lindsey, one, and four-month-old Danny – were Luong’s with his common-law wife, Kieu Phan.
The eldest, three-year-old Ryan, was Ms Phan’s child from an earlier relationship.
They died when Luong, an unemployed shrimper, dropped them from the Dauphin Island Bridge near Mobile after an argument with their mother in January 2008.
His defence had urged Circuit Judge Charles Graddick to sentence Luong to life in prison without parole, saying he was addicted to drugs and depressed.
But the judge said the aggravating circumstances were too great.
He said the children must have felt “sheer terror” during their fall from the bridge, and were alive when they hit the water.
An appeal is automatic under the death penalty law in Alabama.
Djokovic sets up Federer meeting
Reigning champion Novak Djokovic will play Roger Federer in the semi-final of the Rome Masters after they won their quarter-final matches in straight sets.
Serbia’s Djokovic needs to retain the title or he will lose his world number three spot to Britain’s Andy Murray.
And he saw off Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro 6-3 6-4, breaking the fifth seed three times in the first set.
Second seed Federer faced a stiffer challenge before beating German qualifier Mischa Zverev 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.
Switzerland’s Federer missed two set points in game 10 of the first set and then lost the first point of the tie-break on serve.
But he bounced back quickly and took a 4-2 lead with a mini-break of his own from a trademark backhand cross-court pass.
Federer wrapped up the first set with a forehand pass as Zverev continued with his gameplan of attacking the net.
And having broken the German’s resistance, Federer romped away with the second set.
Federer’s victory sets up an intriguing semi-final with Djokovic.
The 21-year-old Serbian is yet to drop a set in three matches in Rome and produced a commanding display to win in just under 100 minutes.
“I tried to change the pace a lot because I know that Del Potro likes more or less the same pace and he moves really well for his height,” said Djokovic.
“That’s what I did, I think I played well, it’s a good win for me. I’m ready for the next challenge (against Federer).
“It’s a challenge for both of us. I think we’ve only played twice on clay and he won both times in Monte Carlo (in 2006 and 2008).
Three breaks in the opening set and an ace on set point underlined Djokovic’s supremacy.
Del Potro increased his first-serve accuracy in the second set, but he sent a backhand long at 15-40 in the fifth game to hand his opponent a decisive break.
The Argentine saved three match points before finally succumbing on the fourth, hitting a cramped forehand into the net.
World number one Rafael Nadal takes on Spanish compatriot Fernando Verdasco in the third quarter-final.
The winner will play either Argentina’s Juan Monaco, who knocked out Murray, or Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez.
Lukashenko spurns EU invitation
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko will not attend an EU summit in Prague next Thursday, despite an invitation from the Czech Republic.
“Mr Lukashenko is not on the list of participants – the deadline has already gone,” the Czech prime minister’s spokesman told the BBC on Friday.
The Czechs, who hold the EU presidency, will host an “Eastern Partnership” summit with six former Soviet states.
The EU’s relations with Mr Lukashenko have been frosty until recently.
For years, EU member states and the United States have criticised him for authoritarian methods, such as muzzling the press and jailing dissidents.
But the EU has stepped up diplomatic contacts with Belarus since the authorities in Minsk released political prisoners last year. The EU also suspended a travel ban it had imposed on Mr Lukashenko and other top Belarussian officials.
The Czech government spokesman, Jiri Potuznik, said it was “up to the Belarus government to decide who would represent it” in Prague and that the participating countries were “supposed to send their number one or two”.
He said he could not confirm who Belarus would send, but made it clear that it would not be Mr Lukashenko.
The EU wants to develop closer energy and trade links with Belarus and five other ex-Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Mr Lukashenko received a personal invitation last month from Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg in Minsk.
On Monday, the Belarus leader met Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican on his first official visit to Western Europe since 1995.
US judges throw out ‘Nazi’ appeal
A US appeals court has denied a stay of deportation to alleged Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, who is wanted in Germany on war crimes charges.
The ruling allows for the 89-year-old Ohio resident to be deported – although the appeals process is not exhausted.
A stay of deportation was granted earlier in April after federal agents briefly removed him from his home.
His family said he was too ill to be moved but the government has filed video showing him walking unassisted.
Mr Demjanjuk denies charges of being a guard at the Sobibor death camp in World War II.
He claims he was captured by the Germans in his native Ukraine during the war and kept as a prisoner of war.
US factory output continues fall
US manufacturing activity fell further in April – but at a slower pace – figures from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) have suggested.
Its index of national factory activity rose to 40.1 in April from 36.3 in March, with any figure below 50 indicating a contraction.
The easing of the slowdown was greater than most analysts had predicted.
However separate Commerce Department data said US factories orders dropped by 0.9% in March – more than expected.
Factory shipments fell for a record eighth consecutive month, it added.
Analysts said that both sets of data were further evidence of the severity of the recession.
The data came as a court hearing began as part of US car giant Chrysler’s application for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Earlier this week, official data showed that the US economy continued to contract in the first quarter of 2009, led by the biggest fall in exports for 40 years.
US GDP contracted at an annualised rate of 6.1% during the quarter, little improvement on the 6.3% fall in the last three months of 2008.
Wenger backs Almunia England bid
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has lent his backing to keeper Manuel Almunia’s potential claim to play for England.
The Spaniard joined the Gunners in July 2004, and under residency laws, will be eligible to apply for British citizenship this summer.
And that would enable the 31-year-old, who has never represented Spain, to play for England under Fabio Capello.
“If it is possible legally, why not? I believe he is not only good enough, but he is the best,” said Wenger.
“There are international rules which have to be respected and then it is more a choice left to the English Football Association or to Manuel Almunia’s desire.”
Arsenal number one Almunia produced a fantastic display in goal against Manchester United in Wednesday’s 1-0 Champions League defeat at Old Trafford.
And that was just one of a number of fine displays this campaign from the Spaniard, who overtook Jens Lehmann as the club’s first-choice keeper last term.
It has raised questions of him possibly being called up by England, especially with Capello apparently yet to settle on a firm long-term fixture in goal.
David James is the current number one but, at 38, is arguably approaching the twilight years of his career, while the likes of Paul Robinson, Chris Kirkland, Robert Green and Ben Foster are also in contention.
But Wenger believes turning to a naturalised replacement such as Almunia is a viable option.
“It is down to what you expect morally and mentally from a national team,” said the Frenchman. “I believe at some stage you have to observe just the rules and decide what you want.
“On the English side, for the national team, it is not so much a problem because if the guy decides to become English, he has had to observe and respect the rules like anybody else.
“Why should he then not be qualified to play for the national team?
“It is more a moral problem maybe for Manuel Almunia, because does he consider he has a chance to play in the Spanish national team or not?”
Iraq’s quiet healthcare crisis
By Natalia Antelava
BBC News, Amman
The boy looked like an old man. His lips moved slowly, trying to stretch against his inflexible, badly scarred skin, and bandages covered his eyes.
But the voice that came out of his disfigured face was loud and cheerful and it filled the hospital room.
“I want to go back to Iraq, I miss my dad,” Hussein said.
Six years ago, when Hussein was 11 months old, his grandmother took him along to a market near their house in Baghdad.
That day the market was ripped apart by a car bomb explosion, hours later Hussein was found, badly injured, next to his grandmother’s body.
After several failed operations, his family became certain that he’d stay disfigured for the rest of his life.
But a few months ago his mother heard about a free clinic in Jordan where doctors could restore the damaged tissue on Hussein’s head.
It was only on the operating table in Amman, as Hussein was put under anaesthetic, that surgeons discovered that something else was wrong – the boy could not close his eyes.
“Because his skin is so stretched, he could not shut his eyes. That is very dangerous and could lead to blindness. So we operated on his eyes instead,” Hussein’s doctor says.
Dr Nagham Hussein, who is Iraqi herself, says she is not surprised that despite multiple surgeries no-one in Baghdad noticed Hussein’s serious chronic condition.
“Doctors in Iraq are too busy saving lives. This kind of surgery is a luxury,” she says.
Tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to have died in Iraq in the recent years of war and violence, and many more have been injured.
Those injuries from explosions and car bombs often cause long lasting damage and demand subsequent treatment. But its not available in Iraq.
The UN estimates that more than 400 specialised doctors have left Iraq since hostilities began in 2003, hundreds of others have been killed. Understaffed hospitals lack staff, basic infrastructure and security.
Since 2006, a team of Iraqi surgeons in Amman have been trying to finish the work started by their colleagues in Iraq.
The reconstructive surgery programme is funded jointly by the non-governmental organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and the Red Crescent of Jordan.
“What we do is not available in Iraq not because of the lack of skill, but lack of resources and security,” says the programme’s head surgeon.
“The doctors in Iraq are the real heroes, we are just picking up the pieces, we are completing their work,” he says.
The surgeon does not want to be named, for fear that doing even this kind of work under the umbrella of a Western organisation could put his relatives in Iraq in danger.
Also, as a result a result of security concerns the programme does not have a representative in Iraq. Instead it relies on an undercover network of doctors in Iraqi hospitals, who refer patients to Amman.
Over the last two years, 660 people went through the clinic, currently another 100 are on a waiting list back in Iraq.
“Word of mouth has made us relatively well known in Iraq. But there is a great deal of demand, and unfortunately we are probably not reaching people in rural areas who badly need the procedures we offer,” the head surgeon says.
These procedures are sophisticated and surgeries often last many hours.
“These may not be TV-style emergency operations, but indirectly we are saving lives,” says Dr Annick Antierens, MSF medical director at the Amman project.
“Some of our patients cannot have a life because they are so handicapped, others cannot eat because their face is so disfigured. And without these surgeries many can and will die”
In one of the clinic’s two operating theatres, a heart monitor beeps steadily as a surgeon leans over a young man and cuts open his face. Across from him another doctor cuts into the patient’s leg.
“They are taking bone from his hip and using it to reconstruct his face,” the nurse explains in whisper.
Downstairs, back in his hospital room, Hussein and three other children are recovering from their surgery. The three girls are too ill and too weak to speak but Hussein chats away.
“I want to be a doctor when I grow up so that I can have a lot of money and buy chicken and fruit any time I want,” he says.
Hussein still needs another operation – a tissue transplant on his head.
Eventually, once his bandages are off, he will be sent home. But the Iraq that he will be going back to is still violent, and dangerous and his hospital bed wont stay empty for long.
UN images show Sri Lanka damage
UN satellite pictures obtained by the BBC appear to show shelling damage in a government-designated safe zone for civilians in north-eastern Sri Lanka.
The images show many crater marks in an area where tens of thousands of civilians have been trapped owing to fighting between the army and rebels.
The rebels have long accused the army of shelling the zone.
The government said there was no indication of army responsibility or when the shells had fallen.
There has been no comment so far from the rebels.
The army says it on the verge of completely defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels, who are now cornered in the small stretch of land.
The BBC’s Anbarasan Ethirajan says that the pictures – taken in recent weeks – show damage caused by explosions in and around the government-designated safe zone.
One photograph taken by Unosat – the UN’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme – and dated 19 April shows what it says is “the suspected site of multiple shelling craters within the CSZ (Civilian Safety Zone)”.
The government has consistently denied targeting civilians and this week said it would not use heavy weapons in the safe zone.
Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona said: “This area has witnessed heavy fighting between the two sides in the last 15 years.
“Since then it has been a Sea Tiger (Tamil rebel) base as well. There is nothing to indicate when those shells fell into the region. There is nothing to indicate that the government forces were responsible for these explosions.”
Military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara told the BBC: “We don’t fire into the safe zone with heavy weapons. There have been so many explosions inside the safe zone, for example there have been a number of suicide attacks by the Tamil Tigers there.
“We completely deny that the security forces have shelled the safe zone.”
Other UN pictures show shelling and bombing damage in and around the village of Vadduvakallu – located immediately south of the safe zone.
Unosat says that they show how the area looked before it was attacked and how it looked afterwards, with “major building destruction”.
The majority of the damage occurred between 5 February and 19 April 2009,” a UN spokesman said. “We estimate over 150 buildings have been destroyed here.”
The UN has repeatedly expressed concern for the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the zone or in government-run camps outside.
Airline sorry for omitting Israel
British airline BMI has apologised after in-flight maps on its London-Tel Aviv service did not identify Israel.
The moving maps marked Islamic holy sites but showed only the city of Haifa in Israel, identified by its Arabic name, Khefa.
Israeli officials accused BMI of trying to “hide the existence of Israel”.
But BMI said it was a technical error – the maps had not been changed since the planes were taken over from a former airline which flew to the Middle East.
“If BMI had any political agenda in order not to anger neighbouring countries, it would not have invested so much in the Tel Aviv line,” AFP news agency quoted a spokesman as saying.
BMED, which was taken over by BMI in 2007, had flown from the UK to many Muslim countries in the Middle East and so the maps had pointed out sites which were relevant to passengers.
A BMI spokesman told the BBC the maps should have been deactivated before the planes were deployed on the new route but “due to a technical error this did not take place”.
Israeli transport ministry Director General Gideon Sitterman, said it was “unacceptable” that Israel had been “wiped off the map”.
“Doing business with Israel has its advantages and disadvantages, but we will not agree to a situation where they hide the existence of Israel but want to do business with Israel,” he told Israeli army radio.
BMI has withdrawn the two planes from service while new maps are installed, but said larger planes had been scheduled to take over the route last Sunday anyway.
The spokesman told the BBC there had been “quite a bit of upset” from customers but that it had been a genuine error and the airline was sorry for any offence caused.
Man convicted of stalking Banks
A US man who told police he and model-turned-TV presenter Tyra Banks “had a thing together” has been convicted of stalking her by a judge in Manhattan.
Judge James Burke ruled Brady Green, 39, of Dublin, Georgia, had been “hounding” the star.
Judge Burke said he would not send Green to jail, but told defence lawyer Jeffrey Berman to help his client get psychiatric counselling.
Mr Berman said he was disappointed with the verdict and was planning an appeal.
His client had faced up to 90 days in jail.
Green, who was arrested in March, was accused of repeatedly calling her TV studio, sending her flowers and threatening her assistant.
The America’s Next Top Model presenter had been frightened.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she told the judge.
“How do I live my life when I leave this building? I had never experienced anything like this before.”
Banks revealed security had “changed significantly” around her.
UN: Freeze Jerusalem demolitions
The UN has asked Israel to freeze all pending demolition orders in East Jerusalem and to do more to provide for the housing needs of Palestinians.
Almost a third of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem have been built without a permit, says a UN report.
This puts 60,000 Palestinians at risk of having their houses demolished by Israeli authorities.
The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, has acknowledged a planning crisis for all of Jerusalem.
The report, produced by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says the root of the problem in a lack of adequate urban planning by the Jerusalem municipality which controls East Jerusalem.
Palestinians wanting to build a home can only seek permission to do so in a small area. It comprises about 13% of East Jerusalem and is already densely populated.
As a result at least 28% of all homes have been constructed illegally.
Out of the quarter of a million Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, the UN says, 60,000 are at risk of having their homes demolished by the Israeli authorities.
Israeli officials reacted to the UN report by saying that building codes are enforced even-handedly across the city.
Jerusalem’s municipality has said all Jerusalem residents are treated equally whether built to house Jewish or Palestinian families it says, all illegal buildings must be pulled down.
The office of the mayor of Jerusalem, Mayor Nir Barkat, disputed the figures given in the UN report.
But Mr Barkat admitted that there was a planning crisis in all of Jerusalem that “affects Jews, Christians and Muslims alike”.
A spokesman said, a master plan for the city would be announced in the coming weeks.
The UN report says that approximately 1,500 demolition orders have been issued and are pending. If carried out they would make 9000 people homeless, half of them children.
Overall the UN estimates a gap of about 1,100 housing units per year in the Palestinian community in east Jerusalem.
Those who build illegally not only risk losing their home, but also “face heavy fines imposed by the Jerusalem municipality and, in some cases prison sentences”.
Hardest hit are the children, says the report.
“In the immediate aftermath of demolitions, children often face gaps in education and limited access to basic services such as health care and clean water. Longer-term impacts include symptoms of psychological distress.”
Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since 1967. It has annexed the city and declared its east and west Israel’s eternal capital.
This is not recognised by the international community, with the east of the city considered occupied territory.
Palestinians hope to establish their capital in East Jerusalem. They say Israel uses demolition orders to try to force them out of their homes.
Protests in divided Kosovo town
Disturbances have continued in the divided Kosovan town of Mitrovica, over the rebuilding of five houses owned by ethnic Albanians in a Serb district.
The Albanians were forced out of the northern, exclusively Serb part of the town, during fighting a decade ago.
Demonstrators opposed to their return have staged protests since last Friday, many of which have turned violent.
On Thursday evening, a European Union police convoy was attacked with petrol bombs and stones while on patrol.
No-one was injured in the incident, a spokesman for the force said.
Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008, something which Belgrade has refused to recognise.
The Serb minority and their religious sites are currently protected by a Nato-led force. Also helping to keep order is the EU’s largest ever police and justice mission, Eulex, which deployed in December.
Despite the often violent protests from ethnic Serb residents of Mitrovica, building work continued on Friday on five homes that were destroyed in 1999, when Serbian security forces fought against ethnic Albanians who wanted independence for their province.
At one point, demonstrators broke through a security barricade, prompting members of Eulex to fire tear gas back at them.
On Thursday, the deputy head of the Eulex, Roy Reeve, told the BBC that its personnel, who were there to protect the builders, had been repeatedly attacked in recent days.
“During the course of this week, our policemen have had hand grenades thrown at them, exploding within 20 metres of their position. We have had shots fired in our direction as protesters have broken through Kosovo-Serb police lines and have moved towards the workers on the building site,” he said.
“In response we’ve used tear gas and we’ve used a few stun grenades in order to deter them from coming closer. We’re trying just to prevent them from getting in and interfering with legitimate work which is being undertaken.”
But Mr Reeve said it was unsurprising that there had been opposition.
“For over a year there has been no rule of law in the north, there has been no effective policing, there’s been no effective delivery of justice, the customs gates have been left empty,” he said.
“I think any attempt to establish a system of rule of law in the north will be opposed,” he added.
Afghan diary II: Call of Duty
In the second entry of his diary from Afghanistan’s Wardak province, the BBC’s Ian Pannell joins US troops as they try to clear Taleban fighters from a remote district, in operation Call of Duty.
Jaghato does appear on the map but only just. It is a district on the southern edge of Wardak province; a hotch-potch of sunbaked mud compounds dotted around arid scrubland high in the mountains.
The people here are poor even by Afghan standards. There are few real jobs, only one school, no electricity, running water or proper roads.
But the reason we are here is because Jaghato has no law and order either.
What it does have is the Taleban. No one knows how many but they have effectively laid siege to the local governor and the district police station for the last two years.
Operation Call of Duty is about bringing law and order to Jaghato. “Bringing” rather than “restoring” because this rather wild district has never really seen any kind of rule by central government.
The deputy governor has been pleading with the new US troops deployed to Wardak province to come to the rescue. The last time the 2nd battalion, 87th infantry came here, in March, they were attacked.
The response is operation Call of Duty, rather aptly named after the video game.
Chasing the enemy
It is an integral part of America’s new strategy. The troops of the 10th Mountain Division are the first to have been deployed as part of the US-led “surge”. Their mission is to push the Taleban away from Kabul, which neighbours Wardak.
Capt Ryan Sunderman says Jaghato is “nothing but potential”. It is a polite way of saying it has nothing.
There have been attempts by the international community to develop the district. There is a new school, police station and district council offices. But the lack of security has left local people wary of international efforts.
Hundreds of sacks of much-needed wheat donated by America have been left untouched. The governor says people have been warned by the Taleban not to accept the food. And the new school stands empty because it is simply too dangerous for children to attend.
The essence of American’s counter-insurgency strategy is “clear, hold, build”. Operation Call of Duty is a recognition that to try to build without first clearing and making areas safe is probably a waste of large amounts of money.
Step one is to secure the district centre. For the last two days American soldiers and airmen have been chasing their elusive enemy. So far they have captured some weapons and been shot at.
It is an expensive, resource-intensive operation. But the choice in Jaghato is stark; either cede ground to the Taleban or sacrifice the time, money and men needed to make Call of Duty a success.
Tiny bride wows Sierra Leone
By Umaru Fofana
BBC News, Freetown
Thousands of people have thronged the streets of the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, to see one of the country’s shortest people get married.
Masire Kamara is well known in the city where she sells tea in a market.
When word spread that she was getting wed, many people did not believe it was true and went to see for themselves.
Street parties were held in the happy couple’s honour. The event was covered live on state television and was on the front page of many newspapers.
Thousands packed the church and hundreds more climbed onto rooftops to see Sierra Leone’s celebrity wedding – the local equivalent of David and Victoria Beckham.
When it came to the first kiss, Ms Kamara had to stand on a chair to reach.
She is a Christian but her husband, Mohammed Basiru Alghali, is a Muslim so another ceremony was held in a mosque.
Their motorcade was mobbed by people trying to shake their hands, as they drove through town to a reception at a community centre.
Several MPs and a former Freetown mayor also attended the event.
One of Sierra Leone’s best known celebrity journalists told the BBC: “I have been a show-business reporter for six years and I have never seen such a turn-out before.”
Ms Kamara said they met when her future husband called out to her on the street.
“I was not sure of his intentions, since we looked so different,” she said.
“He told me he loved me… A few months later, he proposed to marry me and of course I accepted,” she said.
Tests are due to reveal whether a man has become the first person in the UK to contract swine flu without having visited Mexico.
NHS clerical worker Graeme Pacitti is expected to receive confirmation that he picked up the virus following contact with Iain and Dawn Askham.
The newly-weds, of Polmont, near Falkirk, were the first of the UK’s eight confirmed cases.
They have spoken of how they feared they might die from the virus.
Mr Askham, of Polmont, near Falkirk, told the Daily Mail: “You try to stay calm but at the back of your mind there is the possibility that you might die.”
The couple believe they caught the virus on a flight back from Mexico.
Mr Pacitti is a friend of Mr Askham and they play in the same six-a-side football team.
He has been referred to as a “probable” case by Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.
If confirmed, it would represent the first case of onward transmission of the virus within the UK. It has already happened in the US, Canada, Spain and Germany
Ms Sturgeon said: “Obviously the circumstances around this individual do give us cause for concern – the symptoms don’t give us cause for concern, but the circumstances give us cause for concern.”
Mr and Mrs Askham returned to their home on Thursday having been treated for five nights in separate isolation rooms at Monklands Hospital, Airdrie.
“It was particularly hard to bear, because I knew that Dawn was next door and that she wasn’t well,” Mr Askham told the Daily Mail.
“She was so close and yet I could not reach her. I just wanted to give her a cuddle and reassure her.”
The couple said they believed they contracted the virus on their flight back from Cancun, during which several passengers were coughing and sneezing.
The latest Britons to return from Mexico, about 300 people on a scheduled Thomas Cook flight, arrived at Gatwick on Friday morning.
Passengers told the BBC no one’s temperature was taken – which differed from the screening process in the Mexican resort of Cancun.
However, government action plans for dealing with possible pandemics make clear there would be no screening at borders because it would not pick up people without symptoms who might develop them later.
Of the eight cases confirmed in the UK so far, three are in London. There has been one each in Newcastle upon Tyne and Redditch, Worcestershire, and a 12-year-old girl has tested positive in Paignton, Devon.
Iain and Dawn Askham tested positive after their honeymoon in Mexico
All of those diagnosed are thought to have responded well to treatment.
A total of 230 possible cases are being investigated in the UK.
Dr Alan McNally, senior lecturer and influenza diagnostics researcher at Nottingham Trent University, downplayed the significance of the suspected case linked to the Askhams.
“We know that [the flu] is transmitted from human to human, it has happened in other parts of the world and we know it will happen here.
“I know that there will be interest in it because members of the public will see that they don’t need to have been to Mexico to get it.”
Cases of swine flu have been confirmed in 12 countries across three continents.
In cases outside Mexico, where 168 deaths are being linked to swine flu, the virus does not appear to be severe, although one death has been confirmed in the US.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has set its pandemic alert level at five – but says it has no immediate plans to move to the highest level of six.
A phase five alert means human-to-human transmission has occurred in at least two countries..
Prime Minster Gordon Brown said the UK was in a good position to cope with swine flu as he visited an NHS Direct centre in Beckenham, south-east London.
He echoed the comments of the Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, who said the country was well prepared.
“What we will see is many, many more cases, and inevitably some serious cases – but on the whole people make a good recovery from flu,” Sir Liam added.
It was impossible to predict how many deaths there could be in the UK until more was known about the strain of the swine flu virus, he said.
BBC News health correspondent Jane Hughes says the spread of the virus might not take off until the autumn and the winter when people’s resistance is lower.
Some 28 suspected cases are being investigated in Scotland.
The Welsh Assembly government said 16 possible cases of swine flu had been ruled out. Another 20 patients, all with mild symptoms and travel links to Mexico or the US, were being investigated.
Six people in Northern Ireland have also been given anti-viral drugs as a precaution, but none of them has tested positive either.
On Thursday, health chiefs in the Irish Republic said one man had tested positive for swine flu – its first case.
Precautions being taken in the UK include enhanced airport checks, an expansion of anti-viral stocks from 35 million to 50 million by the end of May, the ordering of extra face masks and delivery of information leaflets for every family.
Supplies of antibiotics are to be increased to deal with any complications arising as a result of flu infections.
An advertising campaign to help prevent the spread of the virus has also been launched.
The Department of Health’s Catch it, Bin it, Kill it! adverts urge people to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues, throw them away and wash their hands.
Meanwhile, the WHO has announced it will call the virus influenza A (H1N1), rather than swine flu, which it says is misleading as pork meat is safe and the virus is being transmitted from human to human.
Members of the public can call 0800 1513513 for recorded information about swine flu. In Scotland, anyone with concerns about the virus can call 08454 24 24 24.
Sell in May and stay away?
By Jamie Robertson
Business presenter, BBC World News
I hate to put a dampener on the generally celebratory mood of the markets but there is an old aphorism about selling in May and generally making oneself scarce.
If you do, there should be some profits to take with you – assuming you had missed out on the 18-month bear market that preceded this spring.
Since early March there has been a 26% gain the in the Dow, a 21% gain in the FTSE and a 25% rise in the Nikkei.
Some of the emerging markets have done even better: Brazil is up 31%, Russia 36%.
Primarily the markets are reacting to a set of corporate results that really weren’t that bad at all: Citigroup, for instance, had a first quarter loss almost half as bad as most analysts had feared.
JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo also impressed investors.
In the UK, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland are the best performers on the FTSE over the last month.
No one expected the oil companies to continue with their run of ever-increasing quarterly profits and this month the falling oil price finally hit them for six.
BP’s profits fell 62%, while Shell and Exxon’s both dropped 58%.
But bearing in mind they are working through the worst recession in living memory, they are not doing badly at all. Investors have not deserted them and their share prices held steady for April.
The macro-economic news continues to be depressing, although the markets seized upon the only positive set of industrial production figures to come out of Japan in six months as an excuse to push the Nikkei up 4% in a single session.
So too in the US: while the GDP numbers showed the economy was shrinking at almost exactly the same pace as before Christmas, investors were inspired by a small, 2% increase in consumer spending.
In Germany a GfK survey found consumer confidence remarkably resilient, and there have been some hopeful – but inconclusive – signs of life in the UK and US housing markets.
Japanese stocks, which have been hammered by the collapse in world trade, are seeing something of a rebound which seems independent of the economic climate.
“It’s as if investors are suddenly getting to grips with reality,” said Sejeiro Takeshita, a strategist and director at Mizuho International. “Full year earnings are showing some surprisingly good figures.
“For instance, Honda said this month that it would be back in the black [in profit] in 2010, and the car parts companies are also forecasting good figures,” he added.
Underlying this optimism in Asia is a surge of interest in the Chinese economy.
Japanese stocks have been buoyed by a rebound in optimism
The Shanghai market had only a modest month, rising just over 4%, but the economists have been waxing lyrical over its fortunes.
Goldman Sachs said mid-month: “China is already on its path towards a growth recovery,” and Moody’s added “China reaches end of tunnel.”
Mr Takeshita believes that its recovery will spur on Japanese growth. “This is the most important factor for Japan. China is its biggest direct trading partner and a revival in chemicals, steel and other basic materials will be a huge benefit to Japanese exporters.”
There is a lot that can still go wrong.
The full shock of the mounting unemployment has not yet been felt. Few economists expect those numbers to start levelling out before next year.
Shares in cities like Prague do not reflect the IMF’s concerns
The banks in the US have still got to get through the government stress tests, and credit is still flowing like cold treacle.
Indeed there seems to be a mismatch between what the markets are saying and the economists are forecasting.
For an example look no further than Eastern Europe.
According to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) latest report, the best performing country will be Poland with GDP falling by 0.7% this year. The Czech Republic will contract by 3.5% in 2009. Hungary will contract this year and next, Bulgaria’s GDP will fall by 2%.
So, how have their respective stock markets been faring in April, the month the report came out?
Poland is up 20.7%, the Czech Republic up 17.5%, Hungary up 16.3%, and to cap them all Bulgaria is up 28%.
Maybe the IMF has got it all wrong. Maybe the markets are taking the long view. Or maybe May really would be a good month to go away.
Hatton camp struck by ‘problems’
RICKY HATTON V MANNY PACQUIAO
MGM Grand, Las Vegas, USA
Sunday 3 May
Approx 0400 BST Coverage:
Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, reports and photos on BBC Sport website, TV coverage on Sky Sports (pay-per-view)
Floyd Mayweather Sr has revealed Ricky Hatton’s training camp ahead of his title fight against Manny Pacquiao has been marred by personality clashes.
Hatton defends his unbeaten record at light-welterweight against the pound-for-pound best boxer in the world, Pacquiao, at the MGM Grand on Saturday.
But Mayweather admits problems have overshawdowed the preparations.
“Was there a problem (in the camp)? Yes. I saw a problem and addressed it. Nobody is jerking me around,” he said.
It is just the second fight Hatton and Mayweather Sr have worked together, with Hatton seeking to get back on top of the boxing world after suffering the only defeat of his career in a welterweight showdown with Mayweather’s son in December 2007.
Following that fight, when a knockout saw Hatton fall to the first defeat of his 46-fight career, Hatton took on Mayweather Sr as a trainer ahead of his return to the light-welterweight division.
Mayweather Sr had just seven weeks to prepare Hatton for last November’s victory over Paulie Malignaggi, but the lead in to the fight with Pacquiao, who has a record of 48 wins, three draws and two losses, has been a lot longer – leading to divisions in the camp.
But the American insists he is happy with Hatton’s lead-up to the fight, despite admitting to a spot of in-fighting.
“It doesn’t mean a camp is not a good camp because there are problems,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you’ve had a bad camp. I think he had a good camp.
“It was a problem that could be addressed and taken care of without being in the media. We straightened it out.”
When asked if there was a clash between himself and Hatton’s assistant trainer Lee Beard, Mayweather said: “Why wouldn’t Lee and I be friends? Why would you pick Lee out of everybody?
“There are a lot of people there (in camp), not just me and Lee. But you could be on the right track.
“I’m a no-nonsense trainer. We have a very clear understanding. I respect them and I want them to do the same with me.”
And trainer Brendan Ingles, who famously mentored Prince Naseem Hamed and trained the likes of Herol Graham, Clinton Woods and Junior Witter, believes such conflicts are natural ahead of a big fight.
“The relationship between a trainer and a fighter is clearly very important,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live, “but there is always going to be tension ahead of such a big fight. It’s run of the mill.
“The pressure is up on everybody involved because of the publicity, press coverage, the weight of expectation and so on, and I can imagine Mayweather is very strict which, in itself, causes tension too.
“But this is a big, big fight and Ricky will be unaffected. He’ll be focused, as always.”
And Mayweather Sr believes his no-nonsense approach will pay dividends when Hatton, 30, takes on Pacquiao.
The Mancunian has been learning the hard way about keeping his head moving in training, with Mayweather going as far as hitting Hatton on the head with his pads during training sessions to drill into him the importance of the exercise.
“If someone’s fighting you is he going to play-fight?” Mayweather asked. “So are you going to play-train? “What are you going to do? Are you going to move your head or are you going to stay there?
“I don’t play games, if you leave your head there I’m going to take it off. I said to Ricky, ‘You need to move your head, man, you want to be able to see your kids. You don’t want to be hit in the head, that’s your brain in there. When you get hit in the head your brain rattles’.
“So I don’t want him to get hit upsides the head and I want him to use the jab more as an offensive and a defensive weapon.
“You can beat him up with the jab and keep him off you with it.”
Fertilisers ‘reducing diversity’
By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News
Scientists have identified why excessive fertilisation of soils is resulting in a loss of plant diversity.
Extra nutrients allow fast growing plants to dominate a habitat, blocking smaller species’ access to vital sunlight, researchers have found.
As a result, many species are disappearing from affected areas.
A team from the University of Zurich, writing in Science, warned that tighter controls were needed in order to prevent widespread biodiversity loss.
Estimates suggest that the global level of nitrogen and phosphorous available to plants has doubled in the past 50 years.
Looking at grasslands, the researchers said it was widely recognised that an increase of chemical nutrients in an ecosystem led to a loss of diversity, but the mechanism of how it was occurring had been difficult to determine.
“You would think that more [nutrients] would lead to more biodiversity,” said co-author Andrew Hector, a researcher at the University of Zurich’s Institute of Environmental Sciences.
“Yet it is considered to be one of the main threats to biodiversity this century.”
‘Winner takes all’
Professor Hector explained that there were two main hypotheses: “One is that the presence of more resources led to a general increase in the strength of competition among plants.
“The other is a little bit more mechanistic,” he told BBC News.
“When you get an increase in fertilisation, you get an increase in productivity, leading to increased plant biomass and increased shading.
“This shifts the idea to light being the critical resource, with shorter species being shaded out by taller species, resulting in a loss in diversity.”
Professor Hector’s team, led by PhD student Yann Hautier, fitted lights to the understory of grass in boxes containing fertilised soil.
“Additional understory light compensated for the increased shading caused by the greater above-ground biomass production,” they explained.
The supplementary light “prevented the loss of species and maintained… levels of diversity”.
The findings led the team to conclude that it was the lack of access to light that affects diversity, not an increase in the strength of competition.
“We have done the critical experiment that has been asking to be done for the past 35 years,” said Professor Hector.
“If it all depends on light levels, then if you put the light back then you should prevent a loss of biodiversity.”
However, he added that their findings did not offer a “magic bullet” for conservationists.
“What our research shows is that competition for light is very asymmetric.
“So if a plant can get between the sun and its competitors, not only can it get all the light it needs but it can also block its competitors’ access to light.
“Because this competition for light is such a ‘winner takes all’, it emphasises how important it is that we control nutrient enrichment.”
Abducted Pakistan troops ‘freed’
Ten paramilitary soldiers kidnapped by suspected Taleban militants in north-west Pakistan have been freed, authorities say.
More than 50 militants had stormed the military headquarters in the town of Dir and abducted the soldiers.
There are few details of the release, though the authorities say the move followed talks with local leaders.
The military this week launched an operation against militants in the Dir and Buner regions.
The soldiers had been abducted at 0200 on Friday (2200 GMT Thursday) after the insurgents surrounded their checkpoint, police said.
They said the militants took a large quantity of arms and ammunition.
LA man linked to serial killings
Los Angeles police believe a 72-year-old man now in custody could be the city’s most prolific serial killer.
Detectives suspect John Floyd Thomas Jr may be responsible for a spate of rapes and murders in the 1970s and 1980s.
He has been linked by DNA evidence to five murders, two of which he has been charged with, and is now a suspect in as many as 25 more, officials said.
Police believe he may be the notorious Westside Rapist, who terrorised Los Angeles suburbs in the 1970s.
Thomas spent time in prison between 1957 and 1983 for sexual crimes, and it was because of those convictions that his DNA was taken in 2008 as part of a process to collect samples from sex offenders.
He was arrested on 31 March and charged a few days later with the murder of a 68-year-old woman in 1972 and a 67-year-old woman in 1976, both of whom were sexually assaulted and strangled.
Police Capt Denis Cremins said on Thursday that DNA matching Thomas’s was found at three other crime scenes in the 1970s and 1980s.
Capt Cremins said that Thomas, a former state insurance claims adjuster, is now a suspect in at least 25 other killings, and the number could grow as detectives re-investigate unsolved cases going back to the 1950s.
“If he turns out to be the guy, he probably would be the largest ever (serial killer) in the city of Los Angeles,” he said.
In the first wave of killings in the mid-1970s, a man dubbed the Westside Rapist entered the Los Angeles homes of dozens of elderly women, raped them and choked them. Seventeen of the victims died.
During that time, Thomas worked as a social worker, a hospital employee and a salesman.
Police say the attacks stopped in 1978 – the year Thomas went back to prison for the rape of a woman in Pasadena.
He was released in 1983, the year that another series of attacks on elderly women began, detectives say.
Africa’s genetic secrets unlocked
By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News
A genetic map of Africa – the continent from which all modern humans originate – has provided information about its huge diversity of language and culture.
It is the result of the largest African genetic study ever undertaken.
The work revealed the continent to be the most genetically diverse place on Earth, and identified descendents of our earliest human ancestors.
The international team of scientists describe their 10-year study in the journal Science.
The team, led by Sarah Tishkoff from the University of Pennsylvania, studied genetic material from 121 African populations.
They collected over 3,000 samples, and identified 14 “ancestral population clusters”. These are groups of populations with common genetic ancestry, who share ethnicity and similarities in both their culture and the properties of their languages.
“This is a spectacular insight into the history of African populations and therefore the history of mankind,” said Muntaser Ibrahim, a researcher from the University of Khartoum, who was also involved in the study.
The team looked at individual ancestry, or genetic similarities in their samples, by comparing the frequencies of more than 1,000 DNA markers – sections of the DNA code that are known to reveal common genetic heritage.
“In the past, [geneticists] studied just a few Africans, and suggested they were representative of the continent, but we’ve found that no population is representative of all of this diversity,” said Dr Tishkoff.
“Our goal has been to do research that will benefit Africans,” she said. “I hope this will set the stage for future genomics research there, and future biomedical research.”
The completion of the study could enable such research, allowing the link between genes and disease to be properly studied.
“The genetic variants we’ve identified may play a role in disease susceptibility and the different ways in which people respond to drugs,” Dr Tishkoff explained.
Her team had to gather genetic samples from some of the continent’s most remote communities.
To extract the important information from blood samples, they have to be “spun down”, using a centrifuge to produce a pellet containing the DNA.
“In the most remote areas, we used a centrifuge that plugged into a car battery,” Dr Tishkoff recalled.
Largely as a result of these difficulties, a large amount of the group’s data comes from populations that have never previously been studied genetically.
This allows the map to provide an entirely new link between biology, and existing anthropology and linguistic information.
The research also located the origin of modern human migration in south-western Africa, near the coastal border of Namibia and Angola.
This is based on the widely-accepted theory that the highest level of genetic diversity is in the oldest population – the one that has had the longest to evolve.
The site is the homeland of the indigenous San communities, Dr Tishkoff explained.
“It’s not surprising but it’s a very neat finding because the San have already been shown to have the oldest genetic lineages, suggesting they may be descendents of a population ancestral to all modern humans.”
The data has revealed a great deal about the history of the continent. “This is the first time we have had the genetic data to reconstruct migration events,” Dr Tishkoff commented.
Her team, which represented an variety of academic disciplines, showed how genetic and linguistic diversity have co-evolved. This analysis revealed some surprises.
“The Masai people [in Kenya], for example, have maintained their traditional language and pastoral lifestyle, but genetically they’ve mixed a lot with populations from Ethiopia [who speak a different language],” said Dr Tishkoff.
The researchers also took samples from four African American populations, and traced their African ancestry. This was, as expected, mostly pinned down to West Africa.
Mark Thomas from the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at UCL praised the study, and said that the level of diversity discovered was “broadly what we would expect”.
He added that because the origins of African American ancestry can be seen “all the way from Senegal down to Angola, it will be a long time before a DNA test will be able to identify someone’s ancestral origin.
“That’s despite the ridiculous claims of some of these DNA testing companies.”