News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dance festival

The Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival has been a big hit this year

Hundreds of women of all nationalities sway their hips and twirl in time to the beat of a drum in a hotel ballroom by the pyramids in Cairo.

Belly dancing is said to have been practised in Egypt since Pharaonic times and now it has caught on around the globe.

It is well-established in Europe and the US and has recently spread to Asia. This year dozens of dancers travelled from China for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dancing festival.

“Because this is the land of dance, women have to come!” declares Raqia Hassan, the festival organiser.

“When she comes she can meet famous dancers and musicians. She can see the pyramids. Anyone who comes to Egypt one time, she cannot stop coming back.”

Japanese belly dance fan

Safa Bakr’s shop attracts women from all over the world

Raqia, who has taught many belly dancing celebrities, leads her large class through the basic moves of the dance putting together a routine.

“It’s fun and you can do this at any age,” says Ewa Horsfield from London. “You can express your own personality. It’s an individual dance. You just listen and respond to the music.”

Many speak of the fitness benefits of belly dancing.

“In China all ladies like for their health,” says Angel from Shanghai.

“This kind of dance began here. Here teachers [are] very, very good so all Chinese ladies want to come.”

Contradictions

Belly dancing is big business in Egypt thanks to the global market.

Designer, Safaa Yasser Bakr, runs a belly dancing costume shop in the historic Khan el-Khalili bazaar.

She helps a Brazilian woman try on a sky-blue sequinned bra and a matching skirt with a split up one side.

“In one show big stars change costume many times,” she tells her. “You need maybe five different pieces.”

Nowadays Safaa sells most of her alluring outfits to foreigners.

Safa Yasser Bakr

Safa sells her wares in Khan el-Khalili – Cairo’s Islamic heart

“I see people coming from France, Italy, United States, Argentina, Spain, Japan,” she says.

But in Egypt at large, many experts fear the dance is losing its appeal.

Society has become more religious and conservative over the past generation and belly dancing is not considered a respectable profession.

“I don’t like belly dancing. I don’t like to see a woman half-naked dancing and moving her body like that,” says one man on the street in central Cairo.

“It has a kind of sexual movement. That’s why I don’t like to watch it,” adds his friend.

An older passer-by remembers the famous dancers of the 1960s with affection but says he would not let his wife or daughters dance in public today.

“I liked the old belly dancer because you could not see a lot of her body,” he remarks. “They were very respectable – not like the new ones now.”

Enduring art

Dance historian, Mo Geddawi, accepts belly dancing is facing a challenging time in Egypt but says this must be seen in perspective.

“Forget about different governments and religion,” he says. “When Christianity and then Islam came the dance was taboo, but people continued to dance.”

“Sometimes in public it is less but the dance never died.”

For now though international devotees help to ensure the dance goes on.

Diana Esposito from New York came to Cairo on a scholarship to study the social and economic reasons for its decline but has become an accomplished belly dancer herself.

“The first time I saw it I thought the movements were so sensual,” she says. “I decided to try something new and it became an addiction.”

“I don’t see the dance being done properly anywhere else in the world. That’s why everyone flocks here – this is the capital of belly dance.”

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July 16, 2009

Pakistan and India in terror vow

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:51 pm

Pakistan and India in terror vow

Taj Mahal hotel under attack in November

A total of 166 people died in the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008

India and Pakistan will work together to fight terrorism, the countries’ prime ministers have announced.

Meeting in Egypt, they said the fight against their “main threat” should not be linked to wider peace talks.

However, India’s Manmohan Singh later said no dialogue would start until those behind last year’s attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) were “brought to book”.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated after the attacks in which militants killed more than 160 people.

India has accused Pakistan-based fighters from the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba of carrying out the attacks.

Pakistan has admitted they were partly planned on its soil – and vowed to do all it can to bring the suspects to justice.

Climb-down ‘denied’

ANALYSIS
Jill McGivering, BBC News
Jill McGivering,Courtesy
BBC News
Broadly speaking the prime ministers emerged in positive mood. Both sides found agreement on some basic principles.

Crucially, they also agreed to separate their debate about action on terrorism from more general dialogue. That was a key demand from Pakistan – and may make it possible for the mechanism of talks to be revived, independent of India’s continuing demands for tougher action on militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group India blames for the Mumbai attacks.

That apparent concession from India was offset by some tough statements on terrorism. Mr Singh has to face an Indian public which is still angry about the Mumbai attacks and frustrated that, so far, Pakistan has done little to convict those responsible.

Prime Ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan and Manmohan Singh of India made the pledge after meeting in Egypt.

The talks on Thursday – on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement’s summit in Egypt – were the third high-level meeting between the two nuclear-armed neighbours since the Mumbai attacks last November which brought an abrupt halt to peace talks.

“Both leaders affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and co-operate with each other to this end,” the joint statement of the talks said.

“Prime Minister Singh reiterated the need to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice and Prime Minister Gilani assured that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard.”

The two prime ministers agreed to co-operate on the investigation.

Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani meeting in Egypt
Both leaders agreed that terrorism is the main threat to both countries
Joint statement

“Pakistan has provided an updated status dossier on the investigations of the Mumbai attacks,” their statement said.

The two leaders also agreed to “share real-time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threat”.

Last week Pakistan said the trial of five men suspected of involvement in the attack on Mumbai’s Taj Hotel was likely to start this week.

In a move likely to please Islamabad, the prime minister’s joint statement said action on terrorism “should not be linked to the composite dialogue process” – which includes talks on the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says many in India will see this as a major climb-down in Delhi’s stance.

And moments after the joint statement had been issued, Mr Singh appeared to contradict the joint statement.

He told a news conference dialogue “cannot begin unless and until terrorist heads which shook Mumbai are properly accounted for, (the) perpetrators of these heinous crimes are brought to book”.

July 6, 2009

Egypt mourns ‘headscarf martyr’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:01 pm

Egypt mourns ‘headscarf martyr’

Demonstration in Cairo proclaiming Marwa Sherbini the Hijab Martyr

Marwa Sherbini is being hailed as the shahida, or martyr, of the Hijab

The body of Muslim woman, killed in a German courtroom by a man convicted of insulting her religion, has been taken back to her native Egypt for burial.

Marwa Sherbini, 31, was stabbed 18 times by Axel W, who is now under arrest in Dresden for suspected murder.

Husband Elwi Okaz is also in a critical condition in hospital, after being injured as he tried to save his wife.

Ms Sherbini had sued her killer after he called her a “terrorist” because of her headscarf.

The case has attracted much attention in Egypt and the Muslim world.

German prosecutors have said the 28-year-old attacker, identified only as Axel W, was driven by a deep hatred of foreigners and Muslims.

‘Martyr’

Medics were unable to save Ms Sherbini who was three months pregnant with her second child. Her three-year-old son, was with the family in court when she was killed.

Axel W and Ms Sherbini and family were in court for him to appeal against a fine of 750 euros ($1,050) for insulting her in 2008, apparently because she was wearing the Muslim headscarf or Hijab.

Newspapers in Egypt have expressed outrage at the case, asking how it was allowed to happen and dubbing Ms Sherbini “the martyr of the Hijab”.

Senior Egyptian officials and German diplomatic staff attended the funeral in Alexandria along with hundreds of mourners.

Media reports say Mr Okaz was injured both by the attacker and when a policeman opened fire in the courtroom.

January 12, 2009

Israeli reservists sent to Gaza

Israeli reservists sent to Gaza

Soldier in APC on Israel-Gaza border

Israel says its military pressure on Hamas is proving effective

Israel has confirmed that reserve units have been sent to the Gaza Strip, as its campaign there enters a 17th day.

But military officials denied this heralded a new phase in Israel’s offensive against Hamas militants.

Earlier, PM Ehud Olmert said Israel was nearing its military goals and operations would go on.

Israel says it carried out 12 overnight airstrikes. One rocket attack was reported from Gaza on Monday morning but there were none overnight.

Previous nights have seen as many as 60 pre-dawn Israeli strikes.

I think we could sum it by saying that it’s been a living hell for the Palestinians
Dr Mads Gilbert


“We’re keeping the military pressure up on Hamas, we think our pressure has been effective and continues to be effective in taking apart their military machine,” he said. The Israeli military said some reservists were being used to refresh troops currently in action in Gaza, but that this did not yet constitute an escalation of the campaign.

Brig Gen Avi Benayahu, Israel’s chief military spokesman, said thousands more – who are to comprise a new, expanded phase in the ground operation – were still in training and had not been deployed.

On Sunday Israel dropped new leaflets into Gaza and left phone messages warning Gazans to stay away from areas used by Hamas, saying its operation would soon enter “phase three”, the Associated Press reported.

In Cairo, talks between Hamas and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman were described by an unnamed intelligence official as “positive”, the state news agency reported, without providing details.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, now Middle East envoy for the Quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – is due to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Monday morning.


On Sunday, after an Israeli cabinet meeting in Jerusalem to consider the country’s next move, Mr Olmert praised the military’s “impressive gains” in Gaza and said it was time to “translate our achievements into the goals we have set”.

“Israel is nearing the goals which it set itself, but more patience, determination and effort is still demanded.”

Referring to last week’s UN Security Council call for an immediate ceasefire, Mr Olmert said “nobody should be allowed to decide for us if we are allowed to strike”.

Both Hamas and Israel have rejected the UN resolution.

Civilian patients

In Gaza the main hospital is close to collapse, according to two Norwegian doctors who have been working there during the conflict.

They said patients at al-Shifa hospital are dying because of a lack of specialist doctors and basic medical equipment.

Doctors Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse said half of their patients were civilians, some of them young children with shrapnel and blast wounds.

They told the BBC that 12 ambulance staff had been killed in shelling, despite their clearly-marked vehicles.

Frequent power cuts mean surgeons are having to perform some operations by torchlight, they said.

“I think we could sum it by saying that it’s been a living hell for the Palestinians,” said Dr Gilbert.

Aid agencies say Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are in urgent need of food and medical aid.

Meanwhile, Israel’s army denied deploying white phosphorus bombs in Gaza, after Palestinian medics said they had treated patients for burns caused by the munitions.

Israel began Operation Cast Lead just weeks before parliamentary elections in the country, as a six-month truce with Hamas unravelled.

A Palestinian boy near a burning car hit by Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip near the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, 11 January 2009

January 9, 2009

Bombs hit Gaza as UN urges truce

Bombs hit Gaza as UN urges truce

The ruins of the Al-Noor Mosque in Gaza City, hit by an Israeli air strike on 8 January 2009

Israeli forces have been striking targets in Gaza for almost two weeks

Israeli warplanes continued to bomb Gaza on the night when the UN called for an immediate end to the fighting between Israel and Hamas militants.

The UN Security Council called for a ceasefire, access for aid workers and a lasting solution to the conflict, as Israel made at least 30 air strikes.

Six Palestinians were reportedly killed in one attack.

Almost two weeks after the conflict erupted, an estimated 770 Palestinians and 14 Israelis are dead.

Reports from the Israel-Gaza border that explosions can still be heard on Friday morning and smoke can be seen drifting over the Strip.

A prominent Egyptian cleric has called on Muslims across the world to stage rallies on Friday to demonstrate anger at the violence.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who heads the Union of Islamic Scholars, said Friday prayers should be dedicated to expressing solidarity with the Palestinians.

‘Durable ceasefire’

Early on Friday, Israeli planes launched fresh strikes on targets in Gaza. Six members of one family were killed in one attack, witnesses said.

In a report which could not be verified independently, Hamas said a bomb had flattened a five-storey apartment block in northern Gaza.

Map

Reports of new attacks came as 14 out of 15 Security Council members backed a resolution on the crisis.

The resolution called for an “immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire” leading to the “full withdrawal” of Israeli forces from Gaza.

It also called for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance”, measures to prevent arms smuggling to Palestinian militants and the opening of border crossings into Gaza.

It is the first time the Security Council has acted since the Israeli offensive in Gaza began on 27 December.

But, in a surprise move, the US chose to abstain.

America “thought it important to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation efforts, in order to see what this resolution might have been supporting”, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained.

Israeli officials visited Cairo on Thursday to hear details of a plan put forward by Egypt and France.

A Hamas delegation is also expected in the Egyptian capital at some stage for parallel “technical” talks, Egyptian diplomats said.

Israel wants to stop rocket attacks on southern Israel and to stop Hamas smuggling weapons into Gaza via Egypt, while Hamas says any ceasefire deal must include an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

The Security Council’s near-unanimous vote represents an important diplomatic punctuation mark in this crisis, correspondents say.

But the US abstention weakened the impact of the vote because Washington’s support would have placed more pressure on Israel to halt its offensive, they add.

Are you or your friends or family in the region affected by the violence? Tell us your experiences

December 30, 2008

Gaza air campaign ‘a first stage’

Gaza air campaign ‘a first stage’

Israel’s air assault on Gaza is “the first in several stages” of operations aimed at ending militant rocket fire, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said.

As bombing continued for a fourth day, another top official said Israel was ready for “long weeks of action”.

Palestinian officials say more than 360 people have been killed since Saturday. Four Israelis have died in rocket fire.

As EU officials prepared to discuss the crisis, some reports from Israel said it was considering a temporary truce.

Mr Olmert was set to discuss the idea of a 48-hour suspension, suggested by France, with his officials later in the day, the French news agency AFP said.

But Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer warned a truce would allow militant group Hamas – which controls Gaza – “to regain strength… and prepare an even stronger attack against Israel”.

US President Bush agreed in a telephone conversation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that for any ceasefire to be effective it had to respected by Hamas, the White House said.

A BBC reporter says Israeli tanks and troops are massed along Gaza’s border.

Correspondents say this could be a prelude to ground operations, but could also be intended to build pressure on Hamas.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana called for an immediate ceasefire and the opening of crossings to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, as EU foreign ministers prepared to discuss the crisis in Paris.

‘Defenseless population’

On Tuesday, Israeli jets attacked more targets linked to Hamas, hitting a number of government buildings and security installations.

At least 10 people were killed and 40 said to have been wounded in the raids.

One air strike killed two sisters, the eldest aged 11, riding in a donkey cart in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, Palestinian medical sources said.

Palestinian children search the ruins of a destroyed house following an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip, 29 December 2008

The UN has called for an investigation into the attacks, which are causing heavy civilian casualties. It says at least 62 of the Palestinians killed so far were women and children.

Richard Falk – the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories – said the international community must put more pressure on Israel to end its assault.

“Israel is committing a shocking series of atrocities by using modern weaponry against a defenceless population – attacking a population that has been enduring a severe blockade for many months,” Mr Falk said in a BBC interview.

But Israeli officials said there was more to come.

The Israeli military “has made preparations for long weeks of action”, deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai said.

Mr Olmert’s statement that the bombardment was “the first of several stages approved by the security cabinet” was quoted from a briefing he gave to President Shimon Peres on Tuesday.

Separately, Israeli naval vessels confronted pro-Palestinian activists seeking to break the Gaza blockade by boat. The activists said one vessel rammed them; their boat made port in Lebanon with heavy damage on one side.

Rocket fire

The Egyptian-Gaza border was due to be opened to permit more trucks carrying aid to enter the territory, and for wounded Palestinians to be transported to Egyptian hospitals.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, under popular pressure to open the crossing fully, said that could not happen while Hamas, rather than the Palestinian Authority, led by its rival Fatah, controlled the border.

Demonstrators in Yemen, angered by Egypt’s co-operation with the blockade on Gaza, briefly stormed the country’s consulate in Aden, where they burned an Egyptian flag and hoisted a Palestinian one.

There have been angry protests against the Israeli offensive in many other cities across the Arab world and in several European capitals.

Hamas has pressed on with rocket and mortar assaults, killing three Israeli civilians and a soldier in areas that have not previously suffered such fatalities.

Israeli military officials said rocket attacks landing more than 25 miles (40km) from Gaza put nearly 10% of Israel’s population of seven million within range.

Israeli political leaders have been under pressure to act against rocket fire with a general election looming in early February.

Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu has backed the offensive, telling the BBC that “Israel is using a fraction of its power to try to target surgically the terrorists”.

The strikes began less than a week after the expiry of a six-month-long ceasefire deal with Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007.

Correspondents say short of a full-scale invasion of Gaza, it is unlikely Israel will be able to prevent rocket fire permanently.

Israel dismantled its strategic settlements and military bases in Gaza in 2005 but has kept tight control over access in and out of the narrow coastal strip and its airspace.

GAZA VIOLENCE 27-30 DECEMBER
Map of attacks in and around Gaza

1. Ashdod: First attack so far north, Sunday. Woman killed in second rocket attack, Tuesday
2. Ashkelon: One man killed, several injured in rocket attack, Monday
3. Sderot: rocket attacks
4. Nevitot: One man killed, several injured in rocket attack, Saturday
5. Civilian family reported killed in attack on Yabna refugee camp, Sunday
6.
Israeli warplanes strike tunnels under Gaza/Egypt border, Sunday
7. Three brothers reported killed in attack on Rafah, Sunday
8. Khan Younis: Four members of Islamic Jihad and a child reported killed, Sunday. Security officer killed in air strike on Hamas police station, Tuesday
9. Deir al-Balah: Palestinians injured, houses and buildings destroyed, Sunday
10. Tel al-Hawa – Interior ministry and Islamic University badly damaged, Monday. At least three buildings in ministry compound hit, Tuesday
11. Gaza City port: naval vessels targeted, Sunday
12. Shati refugee camp: Home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniya targeted, Monday
13. Intelligence building attacked, Sunday
14. Jebaliya refugee camp: several people killed in attack on mosque, Sunday 15. Beit Hanoun – two girls killed in air strike, Tuesday
16. Israeli soldier killed at unspecified military base near Nahal Oz border crossing – five other soldiers wounded in same rocket attack, Monday night.

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.

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 18, 2008

UN admits Darfur troop shortfall

UN admits Darfur troop shortfall

A Unamid peacekeeper talks to civilians in Darfur (UN image from 2006)

Unamid had hoped to deploy 80% of 26,000 mandated troops by 2009

Only half the troops intended for a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force for the Sudanese region of Darfur will be deployed by 2009, the UN says.

Alain Le Roy, the new head of UN peacekeeping, said only 13,000 of the 26,000 troops authorized for the Unamid force would arrive by the end of 2008.

Unamid took over peacekeeping duties in the war-ravaged Darfur province last January from a 7,000-strong AU force.

It had planned to have more than 20,000 staff deployed by the start of 2009.

But by last month it had only 8,100 troops and fewer than 2,000 police on the ground.

In July, Unamid’s commander, Nigerian Gen Martin Agwai, expressed optimism that 80% of the force could be deployed by year’s end. That optimism was echoed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

But Mr Le Roy said: “I think 80% sadly has been, as far as I know so far, a bit optimistic.”

He said the arrival of Thai and Nepalese units in Darfur had been delayed, adding that he expected an additional 3,000 troops and police to be on the ground by the end of November, primarily from Ethiopia and Egypt.

In July, seven Unamid peacekeepers were killed and 22 injured when they were attacked by heavily armed militia in northern Darfur, prompting the UN to move its non-essential staff to locations outside the country.

Some 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur since 2003, while more than two million people have fled their homes, the UN estimates.

Sudan’s government denies mobilising Arab Janjaweed militias to attack black African civilians in Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003.

September 12, 2008

Obama win preferred in world poll

Obama win preferred in world poll

Sen Barack Obama in Flint, Michigan, on 8 September 2008

Most thought US relations would get better under a president Obama

People outside the US would prefer Barack Obama to become US president ahead of John McCain, a BBC World Service poll suggests.

Democrat Mr Obama was favored by a four-to-one margin across the 22,500 people polled in 22 countries.

In 17 countries, the most common view was that US relations with the rest of the world would improve under Mr Obama.

If Republican Mr McCain were elected, the most common view was that relations would remain about the same.

The poll was conducted before the Democratic and Republican parties held their conventions and before the headline-grabbing nomination of Sarah Palin as Mr McCain’s running mate.

The results could therefore be a reflection of the greater media focus on Mr Obama as he competed for the presidential candidacy against Hillary Clinton.

Pie chart

The margin of those in favor of Mr Obama winning November’s US election ranged from 9% in India to 82% in Kenya, which is the birthplace of the Illinois senator’s father.

On average 49% preferred Mr Obama to 12% in favor of Mr McCain. Nearly four in 10 of those polled did not take a view.

On average 46% thought US relations with the world would improve with Mr Obama in the White House, 22% that ties would stay the same, while seven per cent expected relations to worsen.

Only 20% thought ties would get better if Mr McCain were in the Oval Office.

The expectation that a McCain presidency would improve US relations with the world was the most common view, by a modest margin, only in China, India and Nigeria.

But across the board, the largest number – 37% – thought relations under a president McCain would stay the same, while 16% expected them to deteriorate.

In no country did most people think that a McCain presidency would worsen relations.

Sen John McCain in Sterling Heights, Michigan, on 5 September 2008

Some 30% of Americans expected relations to improve under Mr McCain

Oddly, in Turkey more people thought US relations would worsen with an Obama presidency than under Mr McCain, even though most Turks polled preferred Mr Obama to win.

In Egypt, Lebanon, Russia and Singapore, the predominant expectation was that relations would remain the same if Mr Obama won the election.

The countries most optimistic that an Obama presidency would improve ties were US Nato allies – Canada (69%), Italy (64%), France (62%), Germany (61%), and the UK (54%) – as well as Australia (62%), along with Kenya (87%) and Nigeria (71%).

When asked whether the election as president of the African-American Mr Obama would “fundamentally change” their perception of the US, 46% said it would while 27% said it would not.

The US public was polled separately and Americans also believed an Obama presidency would improve US ties with the world more than a McCain presidency.

Forty-six per cent of Americans expected relations to get better if Mr Obama were elected and 30% if Mr McCain won the White House.

A similar poll conducted for BBC World Service ahead of the 2004 US presidential election found most countries would have preferred to see Democratic nominee John Kerry beat the incumbent George W Bush.

At the time, the Philippines, Nigeria and Poland were among the few countries to favor Mr Bush’s re-election. All three now favor Mr Obama over Mr McCain.

In total 22,531 citizens were polled in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, the UAE and the UK. A parallel survey was conducted with 1,000 US adults.

Polling firm GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes carried out the survey between July and August.

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