News & Current Affairs

March 7, 2010

Australia charges a man over Indian boy’s death

Filed under: Latest, Politics News, Travel — Tags: , , , , — expressyoureself @ 3:41 pm

Australia charges a man over Indian boy’s death

Undated police handout of Gurshan Singh

Gurshan Singh disappeared from a house in Melbourne

Police in Australia’s south-eastern state of Victoria have charged a man with manslaughter in relation to the death of a three-year-old Indian boy.

Dhillon Gursewak, 23, lived in the same house in the Melbourne area where the boy was staying during his holiday. He is not said to be a relative.

He is accused of criminal negligence, Australian media reported.

Gurshan Singh’s body was found on Thursday by the side of a road about 30km (19 miles) away from the house.

His parents had reported him missing.

There have been a number of racist attacks on Indians in the past year.

Australian officials have warned against jumping to conclusions.

Police have been treating the incident as a possible homicide. No cause of death has yet been established and the boy’s body is said to have shown no signs of injury.

Racism charges

Gurshan Singh, who was visiting from Punjab in northern India, disappeared from a house in the north of Melbourne early on Thursday afternoon.

About six hours after his disappearance, a council worker found a body at the side of a road which police said matched the boy’s description.

Indian students rally in Melbourne, Australia, 31 May 2009

Attacks on the Indian community have provoked street protests

The boy, whose mother was studying in Australia, had been in the country for about six weeks.

His death came as Australia was making efforts to improve relations with India, a major export market, after a series of alleged race attacks.

The latest known attack was in January when Nitin Garg, 21, was stabbed to death as he walked to work at a burger restaurant.

Australia’s foreign minister had earlier acknowledged that some of the attacks, which prompted street protests last year, were racially motivated.

Earlier, senior officials and police had denied this.

Last month, thousands of Australians visited Indian restaurants for a Vindaloos Against Violence campaign, aimed at showing solidarity with the 450,000-strong community.

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July 12, 2009

Overcoming MS to scale Everest

Filed under: Latest, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:00 am

Overcoming MS to scale Everest

Ten years after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), Lori Schneider decided she wanted to scale the highest peak on every continent.

She achieved this last month by making it to the summit of the world’s most famous mountain, Mount Everest.

Climbing Mt Everest is a challenge for anyone – even if they are young and in the peak of health – but the 53-year-old from Wisconsin is the first person with MS ever to reach the summit.

Ms Schneider, an avid climber, first dreamed of climbing Everest 16 years ago.

But a diagnosis of MS in 1999 was a blow for the former school teacher.

When she first got the news, her initial reaction was to run, rather than climb.

“I ran away, I was fearful of what I thought I was losing in my life,” she said.

“I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me. I was doing plenty of that for myself at that point, I was feeling like my physical life was over.”

Diagnosis

Ms Schneider first noticed something was wrong when she woke up one morning with numbness in the leg and arm on one side of her body.

Lori Schneider on Everest
I think the real hardship on Everest is maintaining a positive attitude for two months
Lori Schneider

The condition progressed to the side of her face, and eventually both sides of her body.

Doctors initial thought she might have had a stroke or be suffering from brain cancer.

It took several months before she was correctly diagnosed.

After overcoming her initial fear and panic, she says the diagnosis actually empowered her to reach for her dreams.

“For 20 years I taught children: ‘Don’t be afraid, take a chance, try’, and when I was doing these climbs trying to climb the highest peak on each continent, I thought I’ll do them all but Everest, because that’s too hard for me.”

“When I got diagnosed I thought: ‘Just don’t be afraid to try, do the things in your life that maybe you dreamed about’.”

Her aspiration has not been without its costs. Following her dreams meant leaving behind a 20-year teaching career and a 22-year marriage.

Three years ago she climbed the highest peak in North America – Mount McKinley (also known by its native American name of Denali) in Alaska.

For those in the mountaineering know, it is considered the coldest mountain in the world with temperatures overnight capable of dropping to -50C.

After Everest, Asia’s highest peak, and Aconcagua, South America’s highest peak, it is the third highest of the so-called “Seven Summits”.

After coming back down she started to lose some of her vision, another symptom of MS. But that did not deter her.

To climb Everest, the cost was financial, rather than physical – she used all her savings, sold her home and took out a loan.

“I’ve been very, very fortunate the last several years. My MS has been pretty stable and quiet in my system,” she said.

“I think the real hardship on Everest is maintaining a positive attitude for two months.”

The summit

Climbers of Everest face some of the most treacherous conditions imaginable; along with battling hypothermia, there is also altitude sickness, physical exhaustion, and the isolation of being up the mountain for so long.

The Seven Summits
Mt Everest
Asia – Everest, 8848m
South America – Aconcagua, 6959m
North America – McKinley, 6194m
Africa – Kilimanjaro, 5895m
Europe – Elbrus, 5642m
Antarctica – Mt Vinson, 4897m
Australasia – Carstensz Pyramid, 4884m

But with the help of letters and photos of friends, family and supporters, she kept herself positive and after more than eight weeks, fighting through a blizzard, she made it to the top.

In achieving her goal, she has joined some of the world’s most accomplished climbers and bested many others.

“It was very surreal, you couldn’t see anything [because of the blizzard], so I couldn’t see the beauty that surrounded me.”

“We had to rush down so fast, but I did get a chance to give my father a call and yell: ‘I made it, I made it’.”

“It wasn’t until the next morning when I woke up in my tent after climbing for 17 hours the day before, and then all of the sudden I thought: ‘Oh my gosh, I just climbed Mt Everest yesterday!’.”

But she says making it to the summit is just a bonus.

The real achievement, she says, is that in coming to terms with MS and the possibility that she may one day lose her mobility, she has been able to face down her fears.

“Who you are inside… that’s what’s important. That will always be there,” she said.

“Whether my legs carry me up a mountain or not, I’m still who I am deep inside.”

A return to the heart of Mumbai

Filed under: Latest, Politics News, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:58 am

A return to the heart of Mumbai

Despite India’s economic success, it is still home to millions of the world’s poorest people. Martin Buckley lived in Bombay, as it was known, in the 1980s. He recently went back and found, as he walked about after sunset, that the essential character of the city remains unchanged.

Mumbai at night

Mumbai: Twenty million people live in India’s most populated city

Bombay by night. It is hard to think of three words more expressive of history, exoticism, and empire.

And I do not begrudge the “new” name, Mumbai (the city was renamed in 1995).

The city’s presiding goddess is Mumba-Ai, and I spent a chunk of the 1980s living close to her temple in the heart of the city.

It was my first job after university, working on a magazine called Business India. Very few foreigners worked in Bombay then.

Pre-boom India was still locked into its Soviet-style command economy.

Paid local rates, I lived in a succession of seedy rooms in downtown Bombay.

We sometimes put the magazine to bed at 0300 local time, and I would walk home.

On the pavements were string beds, where men lay, totally abandoned in sleep.

I never felt threatened for an instant.

Slum living

We have heard a lot lately about Mumbai’s slums, so I thought it would be interesting to revisit my old haunts.

Dharavi slum

Dharavi is Asia’s largest slum spanning more than 500 acres

Mumbai is a long, thin city, and on its northern fringes, residential suburbs are mushrooming.

I went to visit Dharavi, the slum made famous by the film Slumdog Millionaire, which is nearer the city centre on land the developers would love to get their hands on.

This “slum” has electricity, workplaces, temples and mosques.

I asked a street trader selling school exercise books if he had heard of Slumdog Millionaire.

“Of course,” he said, adding that tourists had been turning up in droves to see where the film was shot.

But he said they should go home, as no-one wanted them there.

I felt no danger in Dharavi, at least, not from people.

Stepping on a sleeping dog – an actual “slum-dog” – was far more of a worry.

‘Light beatings’

The next night, a hot, sticky evening, my first stop was at a downtown police station in central Mumbai, to interview a police inspector.

Child actor Azharuddin Ismail in his Mumbai slum

The Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire highlighted the city’s slums

He was a sleek character, with manicured nails, dyed hair and an expensive-looking Swiss watch.

Sipping sweet tea from an improbably refined china cup, I sheepishly asked about the brutal police torture shown in Slumdog Millionaire.

“Ridiculous,” he replied, though he did admit that what he called “light beatings” were routine. And no, I could not visit the cells.

He moved hastily on to more comfortable territory, showing me his CCTV screens, and declaring how modern forensics had transformed criminal investigation.

His biggest task, he stressed, was managing tensions between Hindus and Muslims.

Doggedly, I asked about police corruption and drugs mafia, but received peremptory replies.

Prostitution he claimed, was sharply down, but not through policing. Rather, he claimed it was because people were terrified of catching Aids.

Decomposing facades

Physically, central Mumbai has changed far less than I expected.

There are some elevated highways from which, I am told, motorcyclists periodically plunge.

A market in Mumbai

The markets and dockyards of Mumbai are still thriving

But the great tenements still rise in terraces draped with washing, their Victorian or art deco facades slowly decomposing.

Few of the 1960s-style Fiat taxis have been replaced by newer cars.

There are bullock carts toting jute bales, tiny shops with colonial interiors, hawkers selling fruit from trolleys, men sitting cross-legged in the street selling shoes, basket-weavers working and living on the pavements.

Markets sell everything from metal ware to fresh fish, and as 2200 approached, I could still see live mullet writhing in baskets.

Nearby were the entrepots of Mumbai’s thriving dockyards, with the seedy, raffish air of a Conrad novel. And it is much easier to buy a beer in contemporary Mumbai than it was in my day.

Religious tensions have worsened, but I passed Hindu and Muslim traders working side by side.

Decay and ambition

In Bhuleshwar, in the old heart of Mumbai, I visited the city’s presiding Hindu goddess.

The pillars of Mumba-Ai’s tiny temple were entwined with flowers to resemble an indoor forest, and people urgently jostled for a glimpse of the deity.

By midnight I had reached Falkland Road, Mumbai’s infamous red light district.

Women stood around gloomily, their faces showing none of the flirtation that is supposed to be their profession’s stock in trade.

Mumbai’s sex industry caters to millions of poor men, and its squalor and joylessness are all too evident.

A pimp was hanging onto my arm. I asked him if it was true that client numbers were down. He became aggressive. Was I there to spend money or ask nosy questions?

I flagged down a taxi, and slid on to the back seat. Through the open window, the air was now pleasantly cool.

The essential character of the great city I had known and loved 25 years ago, seemed to me unchanged, and it was still a Dickensian canvas of decay, ambition, and exploitation.

But Mumbai is pragmatic. It looks chaotic, but it works.

June 21, 2009

Greece urges return of sculptures

Greece urges return of sculptures

Greek President Karolos Papoulias has renewed his country’s call for Britain to return sculptures removed from the Parthenon in Athens 200 years ago.

At the opening of the Acropolis Museum, Mr Papoulias said it was “time to heal the wounds” of the ancient temple.

The new museum, opened five years behind schedule, houses sculptures from the golden age of Athens.

Britain has repeatedly refused to return dozens of 2,500-year-old marble friezes housed in the British Museum.

“Today the whole world can see the most important sculptures of the Parthenon assembled, but some are missing,” said Mr Papoulias.

“It’s time to heal the wounds of the monument with the return of the marbles which belong to it.”

‘International context’

The sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, originally decorated the Parthenon temple and have been in London since they were sold to the museum in 1817 by Lord Elgin.

He had them removed from the temple when he was visiting Greece, then under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

After several adventures, obstructions and criticism, the new Acropolis Museum is ready
Antonis Samaras

The British Museum long argued that Greece had no proper place to put them – an argument the Greek government hopes the Acropolis Museum addresses.

The opening ceremony was attended by heads of state and government and cultural envoys from about 30 countries, the UN and the EU.

There were no government officials from Britain, but the most senior British guest, Bonnie Greer, the deputy head of the board of trustees of the British Museum, said she believed more strongly than ever that the marbles should remain in London.

She argued that in London they are displayed in an international cultural context.

She said a loan was possible, but that would require Greece to acknowledge British ownership, something Greece refuses.

The British Museum holds 75m of the original 160m of the frieze that ran round the inner core of the building.

‘Act of barbarism’

Their reconstruction in the Acropolis Museum is based on several elements that remain in Athens, as well as copies of the marbles in London.

The modern glass and concrete building, at the foot of the Acropolis, holds about 350 artefacts and sculptures from the golden age of Athens that were previously held in a small museum on top of the Acropolis.

The structure is Greece’s answer to the British argument that there is nowhere in their country to house the Elgin marbles
Razia Iqbal, BBC arts correspondent

The £110m ($182m; 130m euros) structure, set out over three levels, also offers panoramic views of the stone citadel where they came from.

The third floor features the reconstruction of the Parthenon Marbles.

The copies are differentiated by their white colour – because they are plaster casts, contrasting with the weathered marble of the originals.

Museum director Prof Dimitris Pandermalis said the opening of the museum provides an opportunity to correct “an act of barbarism” in the sculptures’ removal.

“Tragic fate has forced them apart but their creators meant them to be together,” he said.

Bernard Tschumi, the building’s US-based architect, said: “It is a beautiful space that shows the frieze itself as a narrative – even with the plaster copies of what is in the British Museum – in the context of the Parthenon itself.”

Stonehenge crowds cause gridlock

Filed under: Latest, Reviews, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:17 am

Stonehenge crowds cause gridlock

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

A huge crowd gathered to witness the dawn of the longest day

Thousands of people have flocked to Stonehenge in Wiltshire to celebrate the Summer Solstice, causing roads in the area to become gridlocked.

English Heritage, which manages the ancient monument, said the car parks were full hours before sunrise.

Crowds who made it through the traffic saw Druid ceremonies at the stones as the sun rose on the longest day.

Earlier, Wiltshire Police said they expected numbers for the event to exceed last year’s figure of 30,000.

The event to mark the dawn of the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere has grown in popularity since a four-mile exclusion zone around the site was lifted nine years ago.

Police for the most part are wishing people a happy Solstice and so are the security guards
Druid King Arthur Pendragon

Police drafted in extra officers and warned warmer weather and the fact that the event falls on a weekend would increase numbers further.

They also said there would be a zero tolerance approach to drugs and drunkenness, with an alcohol limit of four cans of beer or a bottle of wine per person imposed by English Heritage.

Druid King Arthur Pendragon told the news shortly before sunrise: “It’s a very nice atmosphere and everything’s fine at the moment.

“There have been more police present this year, more security, but everything’s passed off very jovially and everyone’s in a good mood.

“And the police for the most part are wishing people a happy Solstice and so are the security guards.”

English Heritage issued an advisory note to visitors which warned: “The police will be on site during the access period and will take immediate action against anyone flouting the law.

“Summer Solstice is not a good time to experiment with drugs – the crowd, the noise and the sheer size of the place are likely to make any bad reaction much, much worse.”

Meanwhile, a limit of 200 tents was set at a field near the Avebury Ring after residents complained about the number of visitors to that site in 2008.


Are you celebrating the solstice? Let us know about your experience

June 20, 2009

The value of a hobby

The value of a hobby

Balloons

Exotic hobbies are not always necessary

Perhaps wowing interviewers with your array of hobbies is not all that important after all, muses Laurie Taylor in his weekly column.

“Tell me Janice, why do you want to study sociology?”

I’d already asked five other applicants for an undergraduate place at York the same question that morning so I wasn’t exactly hanging on the answer.

FIND OUT MORE
Laurie Taylor
Hear Laurie Taylor’s Thinking Allowed on Radio 4 at 1600 on Wednesdays or 0030 on Mondays

Just as well really. For although the sixth-former now occupying the interview chair in my office at least looked as though she recognised the question, she still delivered nothing more than the sort of stock reason which had no doubt been recommended by her school careers advisor.

“Well,” she said slowly, “I’ve always been interested in people.”

My fellow interviewer, a grumpy and overweight senior lecturer who’d never shown any interest whatsoever in any other person than himself, signalled his dissatisfaction with a grunt.

But I persisted. “So, Janice what exactly interests you about people?”

The candidate clearly hadn’t been trained to expect a follow-up question. She once more found herself distracted by the tips of her sensible interview shoes.

I tried to help out. “Are you interested in their differences? Or perhaps their similarities?”

Janice looked up with a sudden show of certainty. “Their differences,” she said. “Good,” I said with an encouraging smile. “And what sort of differences?”

I hoped against hope that she’d come up with some sort of answer so that my fellow interviewer would have to credit my line of questioning. But this was clearly a step too far. The silence began to stretch.

Janice looked for all the world as though she’d been suddenly asked to pontificate on the finer points of Kantian epistemology

“Differences in clothes?” I suggested helpfully. “Differences in style? Differences in class?” In court, they’d have called it leading the witness.

“All sorts of differences,” said Janice hopefully. My co-interviewer snorted again.

And even though it was the end of a long morning’s interviewing I was suddenly overcome by the feeling that I must somehow rescue this young woman from her extreme inarticulacy, somehow find a way in which she could, if not sparkle, at least emit a faint glow of comprehension or intelligence.

I quickly scanned her application form. Perhaps there was something here which would give the lie to her present inadequacy. But it was all purely routine.

A list of O-level successes and A-level aspirations and a reference from a headmaster which spoke of Janice as a “moderate to high achiever” who “had not always lived up to her potential but who was now gaining in maturity” and “could be expected to make the most of a university opportunity”. I suspected on the basis of these cliches that even I was already more familiar with Janice than her own headmaster.

Interview

Interviews can be harrowing experiences for many

I flipped over the page. Perhaps there’d be some meat for me to gnaw on in the “Hobbies” section. What did Janice get up to in her spare time? Yes, here it was. Hobbies. And there, in her neat rounded slightly backward sloping hand, Janice had written “Brass Rubbing”.

“Right,” I said, as though I’d been totally satisfied by her analysis of social differences, “let’s move on. I see that your hobby is brass rubbing. What interests you about brass rubbing?”

Janice looked for all the world as though she’d been suddenly asked to pontificate on the finer points of Kantian epistemology. Her face, which had never shown much more than a flicker level of animation throughout the interview, now assumed a total blankness.

I checked the form again. Had I misread her hobby? No, it was as plain as a pike-staff. I tried again. “Where do you do your brass rubbing?”

Bitter confession

Janice shuffled. Was she deciding between a range of cathedral tombs? Not at all. She looked up and I could see tears forming in her eyes.

“I don’t do it anywhere,” she said sadly. And then, almost as though she knew that matters could not get any worse, she poured out her bitter confession.

“I don’t even know what it is. I don’t know what brass rubbing is. But when we were filling in the UCCA form, our teacher said that we all had to have a hobby but when she asked the other girls in the class what their hobbies were no-one, except someone who did cooking at home, had a hobby.

“So the teacher had this list of hobbies like watching birds and collecting stamps and brass rubbing and she gave us one hobby each and I got brass rubbing.”

“So you don’t have a hobby of your own?” I asked gently. Janice was now in her stride. “No. I’ve never had a hobby. My mum and dad always told me I should have a hobby. But I never wanted a hobby. I had too many other things to do to bother with a hobby. You had to do hobbies by yourself. I didn’t want to do that.”

“Why?” I almost whispered. “Because,” Janice was now leaning forward, and even my grumpy co-interviewer was paying attention, “because, because, like I told you. Because I’m interested in people.”

I’m pleased to say Janice now lectures in sociology at a North East university.


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October 3, 2008

Remains found in Fossett’s plane

Remains found in Fossett’s plane

US investigators say they have found what they believe may be human remains amid the wreckage of adventurer Steve Fossett’s plane in eastern California.

The remains, although minimal, are said to be enough to provide a DNA sample for identification testing.

The 63-year-old millionaire disappeared a year ago while on a solo flight from a ranch in neighboring Nevada.

His plane was finally located on Wednesday after a hiker handed items belonging to Mr Fossett to police.

‘Bone fragment’

The wreckage was found during a subsequent aerial search of a remote stretch of the Sierra Nevada mountains west of the town of Mammoth Lakes, at an altitude of around 10,000ft (3,048m).

A ground team flown into the area by helicopter later confirmed the identity of the plane, a single-engine Bellanca Super Decathlon, which officials said seemed to have struck the mountainside head-on.

“It was a hard-impact crash, and he would’ve died instantly,” said Jeff Page, emergency management co-ordinator for Lyon County, Nevada, who assisted in the search.

Most of the fuselage had disintegrated, with engine parts scattered over a debris field stretching about 150ft (46m) by 400ft (122m).

Search teams combing the site found more personal effects and what they described as a bone fragment, measuring 2 inches (5cm) by 1.5 inches (2.5cm).

SOME OF FOSSETT’S RECORDS
Steve Fossett climbs out of his cockpit after his record-breaking flight around the world in 2005
1998/2002: Long-distance for solo ballooning
2001/2002: Duration for solo ballooning
2002: First solo round-the-world balloon flight
First balloon crossings of Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, South Atlantic, South Pacific, Indian Oceans
Seven fastest speed sailing titles
13 World Sailing Speed Record Council titles
2001: Fastest transatlantic sailing
2004: Fastest round-the-world sailing
Round-the-world titles for medium airplanes
US transcontinental titles for non-military aircraft

“We found human remains, but there’s very little,” said Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “Given the length of time the wreckage has been out there, it’s not surprising there’s not very much.”

DNA tests would be performed on the material on a lab in California, he said.

Earlier, Madera County Sheriff John Anderson confirmed the find but injected a note of caution. “We don’t know if it’s human. It certainly could be,” he said.

Officials now plan to remove the wreckage of the plane for reassembly and examination, and search for further human remains. But snow is expected over the weekend, which could potentially hamper the investigation.

Steve Fossett became the first person to circle the globe solo in a balloon in 2002 and had about 100 other world records to his name.

He vanished in September 2007 after taking off from a Nevada ranch for a solo flight.

For more than a year there was no trace of him, despite an intensive search.

But on Monday the hiker found identification documents belonging to him in undergrowth about 0.25 miles (0.4km) from the crash site, triggering an aerial search of a new area.

“The uncertainty surrounding my husband’s death over this past year has created a very difficult situation for me,” Mr Fossett’s widow, Peggy, said in a statement. “I hope now to be able to bring to closure a very painful chapter in my life.

“I prefer to think about Steve’s life rather than his death and celebrate his many extraordinary accomplishments.”

British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson also paid tribute to his friend and fellow adventurer.

“He led an extraordinary, absolutely remarkable life, and now we can remember him for what he was and move on,” he said.

Map

September 29, 2008

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.

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.

September 19, 2008

Survey turns hill into a mountain

Survey turns hill into a mountain

Snowdonia including Mynydd Graig Goch  on the left

New mountain Mynydd Graig Goch is on the far left (Picture: ‘Envirodata-Eryri’)

A Welsh hill has been upgraded to a mountain after three walkers found its official measurement was just too low.

Mynydd Graig Goch in Snowdonia was originally put at 1,998ft (609m), just short of the magic 2,000ft (609.6m) that qualifies as a mountain.

But the walkers found its true height is six inches over 2,000ft (609.75m).

Their efforts have echoes of the 1995 film set in Wales which starred Hugh Grant as The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain.

In director Chris Monger’s quirky comedy, a Welsh community fought the attempts of two English cartographers to downgrade their local mountain to a hill.

In real-life too, Welsh pride in its rugged landscape has triumphed.

Now it is hoped that Ordnance Survey will alter its maps after the discovery by John Barnard, Myrddyn Phillips and Graham Jackson.

Welsh peaks have attracted tourists for generations, and its latest mountain takes the total number at or above 2,000ft to 190.

Before the survey, however, the country only had three hills at 1,998ft: Mynydd Graig Goch and Craig Fach, both in Snowdonia, Gwynedd, and Mynydd Troed near Crickhowell, Powys.

It’s fantastic… nothing like this had happened before
Myrddyn Phillips

The three were confident Mynydd Troed was a hill, but suspected at least one of the peaks under scrutiny in Snowdonia was a mountain.

Using “state-of-the art” equipment supplied by Swiss firm Leica Geosystems, the trio used satellite positioning to gauge the height of the hills in Snowdonia.

Their survey confirmed that Craig Fach was a hill, standing at 1,997ft (608.75m), but further research showed Mynydd Graig Goch, at 609.75m, was slightly above the 2,000ft minimum for a mountain.

Rough weather

“It’s fantastic. Nothing like this had happened before,” said Mr Phillips, from Welshpool, Powys.

“We’re very pleased our survey has proved Mynydd Graig Goch is a mountain and not a hill.

“Ordnance Survey has agreed to update its maps (on the internet) straight away, but it might take a bit longer to correct the paper maps.”

Mr Phillips said the trio took on the task because they wanted to check the facts.

But he said Ordnance Survey spot height measurements had a margin of error of plus or minus 3m (9ft 8.8in) so it was hard to argue that its original measurement was wrong.

The three spent two hours taking 7,000 readings on Mynydd Graig Goch as part of the survey on 11 August, and the rough weather played its part too, said Mr Phillips.

“Winds between 40 – 50 mph (64-80kph) made things quite difficult for us and it rained, but it was worth it.”

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