News & Current Affairs

September 30, 2008

Egyptian TV show gives away homes

Egyptian TV show gives away homes

Winning couple Rabab Mahmoud and Ashraf Aboubakr

Teachers Rabab and Ashraf, the proud and happy owners of a new flat

A new quiz show in Egypt has focused attention on one of the country’s most pressing social problems: the severe shortage of affordable housing.

Every night during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan a popular television programme has been giving away a new flat to a couple who cannot marry simply because they cannot afford a home.

During rehearsals on the bright, flashy set of al-Beit Beitak (The House is Yours) nerves begin to show.

Hazem Abd Raouf, a factory worker in his late-20s reaches for the hand of his fiancee of eight years, Shaimaa Shawky, a dental assistant.

Standing opposite them behind touch-screens two English teachers, Rabab Mahmoud, 30, and Ashraf Aboubakr, 31, exchange encouraging smiles.

Both couples are about to compete for a prize that will change their lives: a new apartment.

‘My dream’

“The main pressure when you’re trying to get married is finding a flat,” Rabab explains.

“My dream is to have our wedding soon. This is our chance and we are praying for it.”

The institution of marriage is in crisis. You have serious economic problems but also you have consumer culture taking over. It’s rigid – dictating what a married couple should have. The family exerts a lot of pressure
Dr Mona Abaza
American University in Cairo

“I have been waiting for so long,” says Shaimaa. “If we win an apartment tonight we will run to get married.”

The catchy theme tune plays out as the programme goes live on-air and the contestants are introduced to its audience of millions.

Neither Hazem nor Shamaa has a privileged background. Ashraf and Rabab earn low wages in the state school system.

All four live at home with their parents. Many young Egyptians can identify with their situations.

“It is a striking problem,” says television producer, Yara Hassan. “There are a lot of people who can’t afford to have a proper home and they are suffering.

“They face a psychological problem because of the financial and social burden.”

Marriage in crisis

Marriage in Egypt is the gateway to adulthood yet it is estimated that almost half of all Egyptian men remain unmarried at the age of 30.

The main reason is the cost which typically involves buying and furnishing a home.

Cairo rock fall

A recent rock fall in the impoverished Duweika area killed more than 100

“The institution of marriage is in crisis,” says Dr Mona Abaza, a sociologist at the American University in Cairo.

“You have serious economic problems but also you have consumer culture taking over.

“It’s rigid – dictating what a married couple should have. The family exerts a lot of pressure.”

A drive on a main road out of Cairo reveals no housing shortage. In fact there are thousands of acres of new developments.

Many are gated compounds with their own swimming pools and gyms. Some have their own private schools and clinics.

Here, those who can afford it live in relative luxury.

Slum life

But head to the areas inhabited by the masses of Egyptians on lower incomes and the contrast is stark.

There has been little investment in homes for the less well-off at a time of increased urbanisation.

Millions of people live in old, overcrowded tenements and unplanned, fast-expanding slums.

Earlier this month in the impoverished Duweika district on the eastern outskirts of Cairo a section of hillside collapsed crushing dozens of homes and killing more than 100 people.

The government is now under growing pressure to show it can provide better-quality, affordable housing.

But back at the TV studio the competing couples try to take matters into their own hands.

Ashraf and Rabab quickly take the lead following the general knowledge questions.

There is a late rally from Hazem and Shaimaa but the teachers clinch their win in a final round about each other’s likes and dislikes.

“I can’t believe it I’m over the moon,” declares Rabab. “This is heaven’s gift.”

“I’m very happy because God willing I will marry soon,” says Ashraf. “This is something great in my life.

“The main problem was the apartment. Anything else could be solved.”

The pair are wasting no time. They are already planning their wedding for the first of January. In the new year they will finally start a new life together.

Scores die in India temple crush

Scores die in India temple crush

At least 147 people have been killed in a stampede at a Hindu temple in the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan, the state government says.

Scores more were injured, many seriously, in the crush at the Chamunda Devi temple in Jodhpur.

A wall near the temple is said to have collapsed, causing panic among thousands of devotees marking the start of the Hindu Navaratra festival.

There have been a number of recent deadly stampedes at Indian temples.

Suddenly, people bunched up into one another and there was shoving and pushing… We fell on the ground
Survivor Daulat Singh

This is the fourth time this year that lives had been lost – probably needlessly – during a stampede at a religious festival in India.

He says crowd control at such events is usually rudimentary and the police simply not trained in effective crowd management.

Last month 140 pilgrims were killed in a stampede at a mountain temple in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.

‘Still buried’

The Chamunda Devi temple is inside the huge 15th Century Mehrangarh Fort, high above Jodhpur’s “blue city”.

It is popular with tourists and local people – particularly at this time, the start of the nine-day festival of Navaratra.

Before dawn, thousands of people had made their way to the hill-top temple overlooking the city.

Map

It is not entirely clear why the stampede happened, but something triggered panic among men queuing in the narrow lane leading to the temple.

Hundreds rushed down the hill crushing those waiting at the bottom.

“I was at the temple in a queue of people when, suddenly, people bunched up into one another and there was shoving and pushing,” one survivor, Daulat Singh, told the BBC Hindi service.

“We fell on the ground, and on top of us, some 30 or 40 men fell. It was difficult to get people out.”

Another man, Naresh Kumar Meena, said: “In front of the temple, there was some bamboo railing which collapsed. As soon as that happened, everyone near to it fell. There were also people pushing from behind.”

Indian police and volunteers carry injured people following a stampede at a Hindu Temple in Jodhpur on September 30, 2008

Police and volunteers spent hours ferrying the injured for treatment

One official in Jodhpur said the collapse of a wall on the narrow path leading to the temple caused people to flee. There were also false rumours of a bomb, reports said.

Rajasthan’s Home Secretary SN Thanvi said: “The stampede began when people lost their footing and set off a chain reaction.”

Television footage showed dozens of injured littering the streets.

With no first aid available at the scene, people tried desperately to resuscitate the unconscious as others scooped up bodies and took them to hospital.

“When I arrived, I saw chaos, people running around the place. I was looking for my friend and after a while found him,” local student Manish said.

“He was unconscious but without serious injuries.”

The authorities have ordered an investigation into the incident.


Are you in Jodhpur? Did you witness the stampede at the Chamunda Devi temple? Send us your comments.

September 29, 2008

Statins ‘prevent artery ageing’

Statins ‘prevent artery ageing’

Pills

Statins are now very widely used by the NHS

Drugs given to heart patients to lower cholesterol may have an additional benefit – keeping their blood vessels feeling younger.

Advanced heart disease patients have arteries which have effectively aged faster than the rest of their bodies.

University of Cambridge scientists, writing in the journal Circulation Research, say statins may be able to hold back this process.

They hinted the same drugs might also prevent damage elsewhere in the body.

It’s an exciting breakthrough to find that statins not only lower cholesterol but also rev up the cells’ own DNA repair kit
Professor Martin Bennett
Cambridge University

Statins are seen as a key tool in the fight against heart disease, and in low doses have been made available “over-the-counter” at pharmacies.

While it has been known for some time that they can lower cholesterol levels, this did not fully account for the benefits experienced by some patients, and evidence is growing that they can boost the function of the cells lining the heart arteries.

The Cambridge study adds to this evidence, and may shed light on how statins do this.

Cells in the body can only divide a limited number of times, and in patients with heart disease, the rate of division in these arterial cells is greatly accelerated – dividing between seven and 13 times more often than normal.

As the cells “run out of ” divisions, they can suffer DNA damage, and do not work as well.

One of the important roles of these cells is to keep the artery clear of fatty “plaques” which can expand and block them, causing angina or heart attack.

Cancer clue

The research found that statins appear to increase levels of a protein called NBS-1, which is involved in the repair of DNA within cells. This means they may be able to hold off the effects of old age in the artery wall for a little longer.

Professor Martin Bennett, who led the research, said: “It’s an exciting breakthrough to find that statins not only lower cholesterol but also rev up the cells’ own DNA repair kit, slowing the ageing process of the diseased artery.

“If statins can do this to other cells, they may protect normal tissues from DNA damage that occurs as part of chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer, potentially reducing the side-effects.”

Professor Peter Weissberg, the British Heart Foundation’s medical director, added: “Too much cholesterol in the blood induces a repeated cycle of damage and repair in the blood vessel wall which results in a heart attack if the repair mechanism is inadequate.

“Statins protect against heart attacks by reducing cholesterol levels and subsequent damage to the vessel wall – this research has shown they may also enhance the blood vessels’ natural repair mechanisms.”

Deadly blast rocks Lebanese city

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:05 pm

Deadly blast rocks Lebanese city

At least five people have been killed in a suspected car bomb attack on a military bus carrying soldiers in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

Witnesses said the blast happened on the outskirts of the city during morning rush hour. Some 30 people are believed to be wounded.

Several soldiers as well as civilians were killed in a similar blast on a bus in the city last month.

Lebanon’s leaders said the attacks were an attempt to destabilise the country.

Efforts have been under way recently to try and reconcile Lebanon’s rival factions after a wave of violence in May pushed the country close to civil war.

Pro-government Sunni fighters and pro-Syrian gunmen, whose fighting has centred on Tripoli, agreed to a peace deal earlier this month.

Threatened deal

Lebanese officials said the blast came after a car parked by a busy roadside near the southern entrance to the city was detonated by remote control.

The explosives were believed to have been mixed with nuts and bolts, and shattered nearby windows and damaged other cars.

Lebanon

The blast appeared to target a military bus that was passing through morning traffic in the Bahsas neighborhood at the time.

Security sources said four of the dead and at least 21 of the wounded were soldiers, the rest were civilians.

TV pictures showed soldiers sealing off the area and preventing people from approaching the scene of the blast.

Government officials said an investigation into the attack was under way, but no one had yet claimed responsibility.

At least 14 people were killed in a similar attack on a bus in the city in August. Several of the victims were off-duty soldiers.

‘Terrorist act’

“Once again the hand of treachery has reached the military institution in a clear targeting of security and stability,” the Lebanese military said in a statement after Monday’s attack.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said the bombing was aimed at undermining efforts to reconcile Lebanon’s various rival factions.

Syria too denounced the bombing, calling it a “terrorist and criminal act”.

A similar bombing in the Syrian capital Damascus killed at least 17 people just two days ago.

The Syrian authorities have blamed the attack on Islamist extremists, and say the car came from a “neighbouring Arab country”.

Some analysts believe this new trend for car bombings in the region is directly linked to the changing situation in Iraq.

As the security situation improves there, analysts say, so insurgents are driving their members across the border into neighboring countries.


Are you in the area? Have you been affected by the violence in northern Lebanon? Send us your comments

Maoists’ ugly view of Miss Nepal

Maoists’ ugly view of Miss Nepal

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I feel like we are under a dictatorship more than being a republic or democratic
Pranayna KC

Would-be beauty queens in Nepal have expressed their disappointment after the postponement of the Miss Nepal contest for the sixth time this year.

It should have been held at the weekend but local authorities banned it after pressure from the Maoist party which heads the government.

Contestants due to have taken part have complained of being “victimised”.

The Maoists say that the contest discriminates against certain ethnic groups and demeans women.

It is not often that a beauty pageant is scheduled to take place at the army’s headquarters.

But that is where the organisers, event management company Hidden Treasure, had planned to hold the contest – such were the sensitivities it raised.

At the last moment they got a letter from Kathmandu’s district government. “Keeping peace and security in mind, do not let this event take place,” it said.

The event’s antagonist is the women’s wing of the Maoist party, the All Nepal Women’s Organization (Revolutionary). Last month it stormed the offices of the pageant’s Indian sponsor, Dabur Nepal, and locked out its staff.

missnepal.com)

Protesters say beauty contests are anti-women

The Maoists’ most senior woman, Pampha Bhusal, told the BBC the contest discriminated against certain ethnic groups and against shorter and darker women, and that it demeaned women by using them to advertise toothpaste and shampoo.

But the organizers say it is open to all and that the women have been helping flood victims and working in socially useful campaigns.

Different visions

One contestant, 19-year-old Pranayna KC, said the Maoists were violating young women’s rights. The women and the organizers have been in constant dialogue with the former rebels but to no avail.

“The way they talk to us, they always think they are right. Everything they say is right, every view that they say is right,” she said. “I feel like we are under a dictatorship more than being a republic or democratic.”

missnepal.com)

The Maoists’ attitude towards beauty pageants is not consistent

The organizers and contestants say that there have been anonymous and threatening telephone calls against them, some in the middle of the night.

The Miss Nepal pageant personifies the quarrel between groups of people with very different social visions.

On the one hand are those who say beauty pageants are a force for good and for the promotion of what is beautiful. On the other are those like the Maoists who say they are un-Nepalese and do nothing to improve the lot of women.

In the middle are many more. Another Nepali woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she did not like the Maoists’ attempts to control people’s lives but on the other hand felt there were better causes than Miss Nepal to fight for.

Opponents of the ban say the pageant builds up women’s skills and profile in all sorts of fields. But Amrita Thapa, head of the Maoist women’s organization, says the contest should decide whether it is about physical beauty or about professional skills and that it cannot be both.

The Maoists have not been entirely consistent about their own reasons for opposing the pageant. Until recently they based their argument on gender, saying the contest demeaned women.

But Pampha Bhusal now says they support certain such pageants including one called Miss Tamang, open to members of one populous but traditionally marginalized ethnic group. Several similar pageants have continued to take place amid the current controversy.

The row has increased the perception of the Maoists, now Nepal’s biggest elected party, as being somewhat puritanical and preoccupied with social control. But they say that just because other countries hold such contests, that is no reason for Nepal to do so.

Meanwhile 17 young women’s hopes of becoming Miss Nepal and taking part in Miss World in South Africa in December look increasingly bleak.

Abducted Western tourists freed

Abducted Western tourists freed

A group of Western tourists and their Egyptian guides, who were kidnapped 10 days ago by gunmen, have been freed.

The 11 hostages – five Italians, five Germans and a Romanian – and some eight guides are said to be in good health.

The group, abducted in a remote border region of Egypt, have now arrived at a military base in the capital, Cairo.

Egyptian officials said they were freed in a mission near Sudan’s border with Chad, and that half of the kidnappers were killed. No ransom was paid.

The freed hostages were greeted by Egyptian military and government officials on arrival in Cairo as well as foreign diplomats, and were then taken for medical checks.

Sudanese authorities had been tracking the group since early last week through a remote mountainous plateau that straddles the borders of Egypt, Libya and Sudan.

map

They were seized in an ambush at around dawn on Monday, Egyptian security sources said. Some 150 Egyptian special forces were then sent to Sudan, officials said.

German officials had been negotiating via satellite phone with the kidnappers, who were demanding a ransom of $8.8m (£4.9m). Egyptian officials said no money exchanged hands.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that Sudanese and Egyptian forces had carried out “a highly professional operation”.

He added that “Italian intelligence and experts from the special forces” in Italy and Germany had been involved.

Egypt’s defense minister said that half of hostage-takers had been “eliminated”, without giving precise figures.

Reports suggest that Egypt’s tourism minister will be relieved.

The abductees had been touring in an area well off the beaten track but a messy end to this crisis would not have been good for the health of the Egyptian economy, our correspondent says.

Suspects

The breakthrough comes a day after Sudanese troops clashed with alleged kidnappers in northern Sudan, killing six gunmen. Another two were taken into custody.

The two suspects claimed the tourists were in Chad but their exact whereabouts at the time of rescue remains unclear. Chad denied the group was within its borders.

In a statement, the military said the vehicle of the hostage-takers was full of weapons and documents detailing how the ransom should have been paid.

Other documents found inside led the army to believe a faction of the Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Army was involved in the kidnapping.

None of Darfur’s numerous rebel groups have said they were linked to the kidnappings.

Other reports said the abduction, near the Gilf al-Kebir plateau, was carried out by tribesmen or bandits operating in the area.

Viewpoint: McCain the new Sarkozy?

Viewpoint: McCain the new Sarkozy?

mccain sarkozy shake hands

Rebels with a cause: McCain and Sarkozy

In France, Nicolas Sarkozy won by successfully breaking from – and even, in a sense, running against – a president of his own party, the disgraced and out-of-touch Jacques Chirac.

In a similar way, John McCain is attempting to mount a Sarkozy-style “second-stage” succession to a Republican Party that has also come to be seen as disgraced and out-of-touch.

He has a lot to run against.

When things start to go wrong for a political party – as they did for John Major and the Tories in the 1990s – everything seems to go wrong at once.

How this has happened to the Party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is worth revisiting.

The Congressional Republicans could have opted to try to win a permanent majority by devising market-based solutions to healthcare or portable pensions that might have won the lasting allegiance of the American people.

‘Populist backlash’

Instead, the GOP leaders in the House and the Senate were content to tinker at the edges of policy.

They aped their Democratic predecessors by using earmarks and other means to reward special interests, reaping huge advantages in campaign donations as a means of holding onto power.

As a result of this change in mindset, the party of probity became the party of disgrace – with more than one leading member in prison or under investigation for various forms of graft.

That there are ample specimens of venality on the Democratic side provides no cover. Voters expect better from Republicans – especially after a series of Democratic scandals that Republicans promised to clean up.

McCain, with decades of spirited and often lonely opposition to pork, influence and back-scratching of all sorts, is the ideal candidate to pull a Sarkozy

So Republicans started with a good start under Newt Gingrich promising to bring reform and business-like efficiency. As a result, when Republicans came to resemble what they opposed, voters came down on them twice as hard when they disappointed.

The result is that Congressional Republicans have neither honour nor a majority.

Republican primary voters, disgusted by the direction their party had taken, selected John McCain in a populist backlash. McCain, with decades of spirited and often lonely opposition to pork, influence and back-scratching of all sorts, is the ideal candidate to pull a Sarkozy.

By returning to their ideals, Republicans selected the one candidate who could actually pull off such a hat-trick.

Political baggage

Two weeks ago, the race against Barack Obama was, then, following a familiar course. McCain had successfully identified himself as a reformer – shedding Republican political baggage.

Obama was set for certain loss. The reasons for this are simple to see.

For decades now, it has been virtually impossible for a liberal candidate to win an Electoral College majority.

The most liberal candidate of all, George McGovern, received 17 electoral votes against Richard Nixon’s 520 in 1972. Defeat has befallen other liberals – Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry.

The exceptions to this rule further prove the point:

  • John F Kennedy with his strident anti-communism and tax cuts, won as a conservative Democrat.
  • Bill Clinton won as the candidate of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, and won re-election after ending traditional welfare and presiding over a surplus.
  • Jimmy Carter won as a budget-conscious conservative, only to lose when he governed as a liberal. Lyndon Johnson won as a successor to JFK.

Had Obama moved to the middle – and chosen a conservative, defence-minded Southern conservative like former Senator Sam Nunn, or even an independent Republican like Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska – he would be in a much stronger position.

Instead, Obama chose a dependable, North-Eastern liberal in Joe Biden.

Obama has eschewed “third-way” politics, and stuck to defining his brand of change in terms of simple replacement of all things Bush with liberal orthodoxy on almost every issue.

‘October surprise’

If presidents were selected by popular vote, Obama might be able to drum up enough enthusiasm in California, New York and a handful of other populous blue states to win.

Two surprises gave McCain a boost in the polls – Russia’s re-emergence as a revanchist power, and the selection of Sarah Palin

The picture is much bleaker for Obama in winning an electoral college majority in which so many states are dominated by rural issues and cultural concerns (like prayer and guns) alien to the sensibilities of an urban liberal.

This was the expected state of play. However, American elections are notorious for turning on an October surprise. This time, we have prematurely had three such surprises in August and September. And they have shaken up this race and made the result suddenly unpredictable.

Two surprises gave McCain a boost in the polls.

The first was the violent re-emergence of Russia as a revanchist power, reminding the American people that we live in dangerous times. It seemed better to trust a crusty war-veteran than the untested, sleek, metrosexual Obama.

The second surprise was an artificial one – McCain’s calculated selection of Sarah Palin. McCain’s campaign enjoyed great success in baiting Obama into several days of exchanges with his running mate – a project that diminished Obama and knocked him off message.

VIEWPOINTS
Mark Davis, senior director of the White House Writers Group (image courtesy of White House Writers Group)
Mark W Davis is a long-time Republican adviser, a former speechwriter for George Bush senior, and currently senior director of the Washington-based White House Writers Group. This is one of a series of comment and opinion pieces that the BBC News website will publish before the election.

Now the third surprise has come – the near-collapse of US credit markets and an economic crisis widely termed the most serious since 1929. This crisis upsets all that had happened before and returns Obama to his preferred field of battle – the economy.

McCain took the high-risk approach of suspending his campaign and running to Washington.

Today, McCain looks less like Sarkozy and more like Sisyphus, shouldering the burden of an economic collapse seemingly without end.

Does this game-changer open the way for an explicit liberal to make history and take the White House?

Or will McCain be able to fight and win with the economy front-and-centre? McCain might do so if he – and other Republicans – are more aggressive in pointing out how Democrats coddled and protected the private-gain, public-risk model of the mortgage giants Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac that enabled this crisis.

If he can do this, McCain might still pull a Sarkozy.

Or will some new event re-orient the race with yet another sudden, stupendous domestic or foreign challenge?

After all, it is not yet October. There is still plenty of time for more surprises.

Warships surround Somali pirates

Warships surround Somali pirates

Pirates in small boats sail close to the MV Faina (Photo: US Navy)

Somali pirates aboard a ship carrying tanks and weapons that they have seized say they are surrounded by at least three foreign warships.

One is the American US destroyer USS Howard, another is from Russia but the nationality of the third is not clear.

But one of the pirates said they were not afraid and had enough food to withstand a siege.

A maritime expert said the ship was carrying “dangerous chemicals” and warned against using force.

Andrew Mwangura, of the Kenya-based Seafarers’ Programme, also told Reuters news agency that a military helicopter had flown over pirate speedboats heading to reinforce the Ukrainian-operated ship, the Faina, moored near the town of Hobyo.

“With the helicopter and the Howard watching them, the tactic is clearly to scare the pirates.”

We are not afraid of their presence, that will not make us to abandon the ship or to refrain from asking for money
Sugule Ali
Spokesman for the pirates

Pirate Sugule Ali told the AFP news agency by satellite phone that his group wanted a ransom of $20m (£11m) and were not interested in the weapons.

Earlier, the pirates had demanded $35m.

“It is true we are surrounded by three foreign military vessels and there are some others we can see in the distance,” Mr Ali said.

“We are not afraid of their presence, that will not make us to abandon the ship or to refrain from asking for money.

“There is no shortage of food supply and all the crew members are healthy and well, including ours.”

He admitted that one of the kidnapped sailors had died, but said this was from natural causes.

Meanwhile, Kenya has insisted that the shipment of 33 72-T tanks on board were destined for its military.

Various sources have suggested that they were really bound for the autonomous government of South Sudan, in possible contravention of a UN arms embargo.

‘Propaganda’

Mr Mwangura said two previous shipment of Ukrainian weapons had already passed through Kenya.

“There have been alarming propaganda by the pirates to media that the weapons are not for the Kenyan military. This is a tactic by the terrorists to try and fend off reprisals against them,” Kenya’s government spokesman Alfred Mutua said.

The former rebel SPLA which governs South Sudan has denied any links to the tanks, reports the UN-sponsored Radio Miraya FM.

Map

However, it also quoted the SPLA’s Major General Byor Ajang as saying that the army had the right to import weapons from anywhere in the world without co-ordination with the government in the north.

Earlier, a spokesman for the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, Lt Nathan Christensen, said the USS Howard was within 8km (5 miles) of the Ukrainian vessel, but refused to say whether they were preparing to attack the pirates.

He said the ship’s cargo of battle tanks made it a particularly worrying situation.

“We’re concerned that this might end up in the wrong hands, such as terrorists or violent extremists,” he said.

Islamist insurgents, not known to have links to the pirate gangs, are battling government troops, their Ethiopian allies and African Union peacekeepers in the capital, Mogadishu.

Somalia has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has suffered continual civil strife, with rival armed groups fighting for control.

The waters off the coast of Somalia are considered some of the world’s most dangerous.

Even ships carrying food aid are often targeted, hampering the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the estimated three million Somalis in need of aid.

France, which has troops in nearby Djibouti and also participates in a multi-national naval force patrol in the area, has intervened twice to release French sailors kidnapped by pirates.

Authorities in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland say they are powerless to confront the pirates, who regularly hold ships for ransom at the port of Eyl.

September 28, 2008

Tourist kidnappers ‘shot dead

Tourist kidnappers ‘shot dead

Sudanese officials say their forces have shot and killed six of the kidnappers who abducted a group of European tourists in Egypt last week.

Two other suspected kidnappers have been taken into custody, but the tourists themselves remain in captivity in Chad, officials in Sudan said.

The hostages – 11 tourists and eight Egyptian guides – were taken on 19 September and are said to be unharmed.

They include five Germans, five Italians and a Romanian.

A spokesman for Sudan’s military told The Associated Press that the kidnappers were killed following a high-speed desert chase.

Sawarmy Khaled said the missing Europeans, who were abducted in Egypt but thought to have been taken first to Sudan and are now being held in neighbouring Chad.

Leader ‘dead’

Mr Khaled said the Sudanese military forces were near the Libyan border when they encountered a white sports utility vehicle carrying eight armed men, AP reported.

Gilf al-Kebir is a popular destination for adventurous tourists

“The armed forces called for it to stop, but they did not respond and there was pursuit in which six of the armed men were killed,” he said, adding that the group’s leader, who he identified as a Chadian named Bakhit, was among the dead.

The remaining two gunmen were captured and they confessed to being involved in kidnapping the tourists and their guides, who were on desert safari in southwest Egypt.

The tourists, who were seized while near Gilf al-Kebir in Egypt, are being held by 35 other gunmen in the Tabbat Shajara region of Chad, Mr Khaled added.

The shootings come as negotiations continue for the release of the hostages.

An Egyptian official told the AFP news agency that the kidnappers and German negotiators had agreed to a deal but that “negotiations were still ongoing to work out details.”

The kidnappers have demanded that Germany take charge of payment of an $8.8m ransom.

German officials have declined comment.

‘Great progress’ in US bail-out

‘Great progress’ in US bail-out

US congressional leaders say they have reached the broad outline of a rescue plan for the American financial system.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “great progress” had been made – but details remain to be agreed.

The Bush administration wants $700bn (£380bn) to be able to buy bad debt that is freezing up financial markets.

A vote could be held in the House of Representatives as early as Sunday, with negotiators keen to reassure the markets before they reopen on Monday.

The deal proposes that the government would spend the $700bn to buy up bad mortgage-related debts from US banks, borrowing the cash from the money markets by issuing more government debt.

A White House spokesman welcomed the announcement and praised the efforts of the negotiators.

“We’re pleased with the progress tonight and appreciate the bipartisan effort to stabilise our financial markets and protect our economy,” said Tony Fratto.

The outline deal gives the treasury secretary powers to oversee the two-year plan, but critics have insisted on the inclusion of greater oversight and reporting.

The tentative agreement that appears to have been reached is thought to include a measure to limit the pay for executives of companies which seek financial assistance, which was a key demand of the Democrats.

At the request of Republicans, who have strongly criticised some elements of the administration’s proposal, the accord is believed to include the setting up an insurance program for mortgage-backed securities.

Payoff restrictions

A statement from Nancy Pelosi’s office said the new agreement would see $250bn issued immediately, and another $100bn when the president wanted to spend it.

But the the final $350bn would only be released after review and approval by Congress.

There would also be measures to protect taxpayers, who would be given an ownership stake and profit-making opportunities in relation to any assets that were sold.

It also puts new restrictions on executive compensation for participating companies, including no “golden parachute” payoffs.

Earlier on Sunday it was announced that the two-year project would be supervised by a board of officials, including the Federal Reserve chairman, and scrutinised by Congress’s investigative arm and an independent inspector general.

Finally, the government could use its power as the owner of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities to help more struggling homeowners modify the terms of their home loans.

‘All night’

US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who took part in the talks, said that Congressional leaders had been “working very hard”.

“We’ve made great progress toward a deal, which will work and will be effective in the marketplace, and effective for all Americans,” he told a news conference.

But Ms Pelosi said the deal had to be committed to paper before it could be formally agreed.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Congress hoped to be able to make an announcement on the deal later on Sunday.

“We’re committing it to paper tonight and our people will work all night long,” he said.

Congressional leaders are trying to finalise the deal in time for the opening of the Asian markets on Monday morning.

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