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 19, 2009

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta

Tributes are left for those killed in the hotel attacks

Indonesian officials say there are “strong indications” a key wanted fugitive was behind Friday’s deadly attacks on two hotels in Jakarta.

Noordin Mohamed Top is wanted for plotting the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 and other Indonesian attacks.

Nine people, including two suicide bombers, died in the attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott.

At least four of Friday’s victims are said to be foreigners but have not all been formally identified.

Police in the Indonesian capital are studying DNA and other evidence to try to identify those behind the attacks.

The anti-terror chief, Ansyaad Mbai, has told the News he believes there are strong indications that Noordin was the mastermind behind the blasts.

NOORDIN MOHAMED TOP
Noordin Top (archive image)
Born in Malaysia, fled to Indonesia after 9/11
Wanted for planning bombings on Bali in 2002 and 2005 and other attacks
Said to have split from Jemaah Islamiah over strategy disagreements and set up new group
Main accomplice Azahari Husin killed by police in 2005
Escaped police raid in 2006 and continues to evade capture

Noordin was said to be a key financier for the Jemaah Islamiah militant group but is now thought to have set up his own splinter group.

Jemaah Islamiah has links to al-Qaeda and has a long track record of bomb attacks in Indonesia including the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.

Friday’s bombs contained nails, ball bearings and bolts, identical to ones used by Jemaah Islamiah, police said.

Mr Mbai said he believed the aim of the attacks was to embarrass Indonesia’s government at a time when the country was enjoying a greater degree of stability than it had in the past.

The Indonesian people have been truly shocked by these attacks as they thought they had put events like this behind them.

Investigators on Friday recovered an unexploded bomb and other explosives material from what they said was the “control centre” for the attacks – room 1808 in the Marriott.

The attackers paid to stay at the hotel and smuggled in the explosives before detonating them in two restaurants on Friday.

CCTV footage showed one attacker wearing a cap pulling a bag on wheels into the Marriott restaurant, followed by a flash and smoke.

Security has been tightened across Indonesia in the wake of the attacks, with 500 troops put on standby to support police in the capital.

‘Shoulder to shoulder’

A New Zealander, businessman Tim Mackay, has been confirmed killed.

I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones
Barack Obama

Indonesian police say Australians Nathan Verity and Garth McEvoy also died.

Their countryman, diplomat Craig Senger, was at the same breakfast meeting. He is missing and feared dead.

A health ministry report said a Singaporean and an Indonesian were also confirmed dead.

At least 17 foreigners were among the wounded, including eight Americans.

Other foreign nationals wounded included visitors from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the UK.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the attacks as “cruel and inhuman”.

US President Barack Obama said: “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones.”

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is due to arrive in Jakarta on Saturday.

He said he wanted to stand “shoulder to shoulder with Indonesia at this terrible time”.

The Manchester United football team had been booked to stay in the Ritz-Carlton next week ahead of a game in Jakarta.

The team has cancelled the Indonesian leg of their tour.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for the series of bombings more than five years ago.

Jakarta map

Afghan helicopter crash kills 16

Afghan helicopter crash kills 16

Russian-built Mi-8. File photo

Russian media say the aircraft was an Mi-8 similar to this

A civilian helicopter has crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 16 civilians and injuring five, Nato officials have confirmed.

The helicopter crashed at Kandahar airfield apparently as it was trying to take off, though Nato has ruled out the involvement of insurgents.

Reports from Moscow say the helicopter was a Russian-built Mi-8.

The crash is the second in a week. Six passengers died when a helicopter came down in Helmand province on Tuesday.

‘Not shot down’

Russia’s Interfax agency quoted a spokesman for Russia’s Federal Air Transportation Agency (Fata) as saying the aircraft was a Russian-built Mi-8 transport helicopter.

Map

Fata said it was owned by the Russian air company Vertical-T.

The nationalities of the dead are not yet known.

A statement from Nato’s International Security Assistance Force said: “A civilian contracted helicopter crashed during take-off from Kandahar airfield.

“Emergency personnel are on the scene. There was no indication of the cause of the accident but insurgent action has been ruled out.”

Kandahar airfield is Nato’s largest air base in southern Afghanistan but the BBC’s Martin Patience in Kabul says a lot of civilian aircraft fly in and out so there is no surprise this was a civilian crash.

A Nato spokeswoman, Lt Cmdr Sam Truelove, told the AFP news agency it had been confirmed that all the dead were civilians and no military personnel were involved.

RECENT HELICOPTER CRASHES
14 Jul 2008: Six Ukrainian civilians and Afghan girl die in crash in Helmand. Suspected enemy fire
6 Jul 2008: One UK and two Canadian soldiers die in crash in Zabul province. Enemy fire not suspected
15 Jan 2008: Afghan general and 12 other soldiers die in crash in Herat province. Bad weather blamed
30 May 2007: Seven killed as Nato Chinook crashes in Helmand. Cause unclear

The condition of the injured was not known, she said.

Vertical-T was founded in 1992 and started to work abroad in 1998 in Italy. It has worked in countries including Germany, East Timor, Cyprus, Yemen and Greece, according to the company’s website.

The company’s helicopters are currently carrying out operations in the interests of the UN in Afghanistan and a number of other countries including Congo, Sudan and Pakistan.

The dead in Tuesday’s crash in Helmand were all civilians.

That helicopter crashed near the Sangin military base, with local people saying it had been shot down by insurgents.

Six Ukrainian crew members of the Mi-26 helicopter died, along with an Afghan girl on the ground.

July 17, 2009

Pope breaks right wrist in fall

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:17 pm

Pope breaks right wrist in fall

Pope Benedict XVI has suffered a fall and broken his right wrist while on holiday in northern Italy.

The Vatican said the 82-year-old pontiff had accidentally slipped during the night in his chalet.

However he was able to celebrate Mass in the morning in the alpine town of Aosta, before undergoing surgery to re-align the fractured wrist bones.

A hospital spokesman said the operation had been successful, but the Pope would have to wear a cast for about a month.

He left hospital after an operation under local anaesthetic that lasted about 20 minutes.

The Vatican said it was the first time Pope Benedict had been treated in hospital since his election in 2005.

He insisted on being treated like any other patient and waited his turn for an X-ray, Italy’s Ansa news agency says.

He has been staying at a house in the village of Les Combes in the Valle d’Aosta region. It was a favourite vacation spot of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

July 9, 2009

Ban criticises G8 climate efforts

Ban criticises G8 climate efforts

(L-R) Manmohan Singh; Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva; Felipe Calderon; Jacob Zuma; Dai Bingguo

The summit has opened up to take in the so-called G5 nations

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has criticised leaders of the G8 industrial nations for failing to make deeper commitments to combat climate change.

On Wednesday, the leaders, meeting in Italy, agreed to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, but Mr Ban said big cuts were needed sooner rather than later.

The leaders are set to meet their counterparts from emerging economies to discuss a new deal on global warming.

US President Barack Obama will chair the session, in the city of L’Aquila.

The second day of the summit has begun, opening up its discussions to take in the so-called G5 nations – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. Egypt is a special invitee.

The G8 leaders said on Wednesday they had agreed to try to limit global warming to just 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels.

That is the level above which, the United Nations says, the Earth’s climate system would become dangerously unstable.

The G8 leaders also said rich nations should cut emissions by 80% by 2050 while the world overall should reduce them 50% by 2050.

But correspondents say emerging nations appear reluctant to sign up and tough negotiations lie ahead.

‘Moral imperative’

Mr Ban said Wednesday’s agreement was welcome, but the leaders needed to establish a strong and ambitious mid-term target for emissions cuts by 2020.

“This is politically and morally imperative and a historic responsibility for the leaders… for the future of humanity, even for the future of Planet Earth,” he told the news.

Mr Ban said the leaders also had to come up with financial incentives for poorer countries to reduce pollution and aid to help them mitigate the effects of climate change.

President Obama will chair the Major Economies Forum meeting on Thursday afternoon.

The countries represented there account for some 80% of the emissions of gases that are blamed for global warming.

‘Still time’

Our diplomatic correspondent says, in L’Aquila, says the talks with India and China will be difficult.

China’s president has headed home to deal with the ethnic violence in Xinjiang, so there are now questions whether his delegation will be more cautious.

G8 KEY ISSUES/TIMETABLE
THURSDAY: Climate Change
Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, Egypt join talks
1230 GMT – Junior G8
1300 GMT – Major Economies Forum meeting
FRIDAY: Development
0630 GMT – crisis’ impact on Africa with African leaders attending
0830 GMT – food security
1100 GMT – final news conference
G8 members: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, US

Our correspondent adds that India is already complaining that the G8’s long-term targets for 2050 are too long-term and that G8 countries are ducking interim targets for 2020 which would make their 40-year ambitions more credible.

But in a meeting with Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, Mr Obama said there was still time to close the gap between developed and developing nations before UN talks on a new climate change treaty in Copenhagen in December.

The summit host, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has said a deal should be all-inclusive.

“It would not be productive if European countries, Japan, the United States and Canada accepted cuts that are economically damaging while more than five billion people in other countries carried on as before,” he said.

The G8 summit began in L’Aquila on Wednesday, with the first day largely taken up with discussion of the fragile state of the global economy.

The leaders also issued a statement reaffirming that they were “deeply concerned” by Iran’s nuclear programme and condemning North Korea’s recent nuclear test and missile launches.

African leaders will join the summit on Friday to push for a new initiative to fund farming in the developing world and tackle global hunger.

Graph shows rising global temperatures

March 29, 2009

Biden appeals to G20 protesters

Biden appeals to G20 protesters

Prime Minister Gordon Brown meets US Vice-President Joe Biden (R) in Chile on Saturday 28 March 2009

Joe Biden (right) asked protesters to give G20 leaders a fair hearing

US Vice-President Joe Biden has called for G20 protesters to give governments a chance to tackle the economic crisis.

At a G20 warm-up meeting in Chile, Mr Biden said heads of state would agree proposals to remedy the crisis at next week’s meeting in London.

As they spoke, tens of thousands of protesters marched in the UK capital and in Germany, France and Italy.

US billionaire George Soros told the news the G20 meeting was “make or break” for the world economy.

“Unless they do something for developing world there will be serious collapse in that part of the world,” Mr Soros said.

Massive security operation

At a news conference in Vina del Mar, Mr Biden said he hoped the protesters would give the politicians a chance.

“Hopefully we can make it clear to them that we’re going to walk away from this G20 meeting with some concrete proposals,” he said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he understood why people were demonstrating in the UK.

“We will respond to [the protest] at the G20 with measures that will help create jobs, stimulate business and get the economy moving,” he said.

But Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told the Chile meeting that everyone was suffering from the recklessness of those who had turned the world economy into “a gigantic casino”.

“We are rejecting blind faith in the markets,” he said.

In London on Saturday, demonstrators demanding action on poverty, jobs and climate change called on G20 leaders to pursue a new kind of global justice.

Police estimated 35,000 marchers took part in the event.

A series of rallies are planned for Wednesday and Thursday by a variety of coalitions and groups campaigning on a range of issues from poverty, inequality and jobs, to war, climate change and capitalism.

There have been reports that banks and other financial institutions could be targeted in violent protests.

British officials have put a huge security operation in place.

‘We won’t pay’

Before the London summit, Mr Brown has been visiting a number of countries trying to rally support for his economic plans.

In Chile on Friday he said people should not be “cynical” about what could be achieved at the summit, saying he was optimistic about the likely outcome.

But in an interview, German Chancellor Angela Merkel dampened expectations of a significant breakthrough.

She said one meeting would not be enough to solve the economic crisis and finish building a new structure for global markets.

In Berlin, thousands of protesters took to the streets on Saturday with a message to the G20 leaders: “We won’t pay for your crisis.”

Another march took place in the city of Frankfurt. The demonstrations attracted as many as 20,000 people.

In the Italian capital, Rome, several thousand protesters took to the streets.

In Paris, around 400 demonstrators dumped sand outside the stock exchange to mock supposed island tax havens.

December 1, 2008

Mumbai official offers to resign

Mumbai official offers to resign

A man reads a newspaper outside the Chandanwadi Crematorium in Mumbai on Sunday, November 30

Mumbai has been shaken by the attacks

The deputy chief minister of the Indian state of Maharashtra has offered to resign after criticism for failing to deal with the Mumbai attacks.

RR Patil said his decision was guided by his “conscience”.

Armed with guns and bombs, attackers targeted multiple locations on Wednesday, killing at least 172 people.

Meanwhile, on Monday Mumbai limped back to normality with markets, schools and colleges open and heavy traffic on the city’s streets.

On Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opened cross-party talks on setting up a federal agency of investigation after the attacks.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil resigned, saying he took “moral responsibility”.

Mr Patil’s resignation was accepted by the prime minister but an offer to resign from the national security adviser, MK Narayanan, was turned down.

Questions have been asked about India’s failure to pre-empt the attacks, and the time taken to eliminate the gunmen.

Two of Mumbai’s best five-star hotels – Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi-Trident – and a busy railway station were among the high-profile targets which were hit.

The violence which began on Wednesday night finally ended on Saturday morning.

I looked back to see the waiter who was serving me getting hit by a bullet
Shivaji Mukherjee
Mumbai attack survivor

The attacks have increased tensions with Pakistan after allegations that the gunmen had Pakistani links.

Islamabad denies any involvement, but India’s Deputy Home Minister Shakeel Ahmad told the news it was “very clearly established” that all the attackers had been from Pakistan.

Indian troops killed the last of the gunmen at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel on Saturday.

‘Minor incidents’

“I have gone by my conscience and put in my papers,” Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister RR Patil was quoted by news agency Press Trust of India as saying.

Public anger has been building up against Mr Patil ever since media reports that he made light of the terror attack by saying that such “minor incidents do happen in big cities”.

The minister also told a press conference that “the terrorists had ammunition to kill 5,000 people. But the brave police, security forces crushed their designs and reduced the damage to a much lesser degree”.

The claim has not been confirmed by the security forces.

Meanwhile, on Monday morning normal peak-hour traffic has been leading to jams in many places across the city.

Hotels across the city have tightened security with guests being frisked before being allowed entry.

Most hotels are not letting any vehicles enter as a precautionary measure.

Protests

On Sunday, Prime Minister Singh held a cross-party meeting in Delhi.

Mr Singh was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying he planned to increase the size and strength of the country’s anti-terrorist forces.

As few as 10 militants may have been involved in Wednesday’s assault which saw attacks in multiple locations including a hospital and a Jewish centre.

While the vast majority of victims were Indians, at least 22 foreigners are known to have died, including victims from Israel, the US, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, Italy, Singapore, Thailand and France. One Briton, Andreas Liveras, was also killed.

When coastguards boarded the vessel, they found… a satellite phone and GPS tracker that possibly belonged to the trawler’s crew.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Mumbai on Sunday to protest at the perceived government failures.

Protesters said the authorities should have been more prepared for the attacks, and also questioned whether warnings were ignored and the time it took commandos to reach the scenes of the attacks.

Police continued on Sunday to sift through the debris in the Taj hotel.

They are also questioning the one attacker who was captured alive to try to establish who masterminded the assault.

 Map of Mumbai showing location of attacks

September 16, 2008

Roma poverty a major issue for EU

Roma poverty a major issue for EU

The European Union’s freedom of movement laws mean Eastern Europe’s large population of Roma (Gypsies) is now spreading west.

Roma family in Hungary

Roma make up around 10% of the population in Eastern Europe

The effect of this influx on national economies, as well as the deep poverty of the EU’s Roma, are high on the agenda as the first summit on Roma integration within the EU begins in Brussels.

Italy and Spain have received the most Roma, mainly from Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia, where they make up more than 10% of the population.

Italy has witnessed the most serious effects – murders blamed on Roma, and revenge attacks by vigilante groups, followed by controversial government attempts to fingerprint Roma immigrants.

In Hungary, there is tension between Roma and non-Roma, after the lynching of a teacher by a Roma mob in one village, and attacks on a lorry driver and his family in another – both after road traffic accidents involving Roma children.

The creation of a “Hungarian Guard”, by far-right groups who arrive in villages after such incidents, is fueling fears of an explosion.

Integration key

“I don’t really know how the EU could help,” said Andras Ujlaky, head of the Chance for Children Foundation in Hungary.

“But perhaps they could start by pressurizing national governments to implement their own declared policies in housing, employment and education.”

Hungarian customs trainee Jozsef Nagy
There weren’t many opportunities… This was the chance for me!
Jozsef Nagy
Trainee customs officer

In Hungary, an earlier policy to give money to schools for the mentally disabled, to which a disproportionate number of Roma were sent, was abandoned when it was realized that it encouraged segregation.

Now funds are focused on mainstream schools which accept more Roma – though they impose limits of 25% Roma in a class.

There has been a wave of school closures in recent years in Hungary, as population figures fall.

That cuts both ways for the Roma. When Roma ghetto schools close, and the children are redistributed among schools with an ethnic Hungarian majority, it helps integration efforts.

The town of Hodmezovasarhely in south-eastern Hungary has been a pioneer, with five out of 11 primary schools closed last year alone.

But in far-flung villages with a majority Roma population, Roma and non-Roma parents alike are upset when local schools close and children are bussed off each day to towns.

The links between the parents and the schools are broken.

An alternative policy, supported by opposition parties, would be to improve the facilities and standard of teaching in existing schools.

Police drive

In eastern Hungary poverty is so endemic – with the Roma blamed for widespread petty theft – that the head of the Hungarian Poultry Board recently complained that people are no longer raising hens in several counties.

One new initiative for Roma integration in Budapest is being run by Gyorgy Makula, a policeman of Roma origin.

Hungarian police officer Gyorgy Makula (left) and some Roma boys

Officer Gyorgy Makula (left) hopes to help Roma boys out of the ghetto

Giant placards will be placed at strategic points around Budapest, to try to encourage more Roma to consider a police career.

Data protection laws make it impossible to measure how many Roma police there are in Hungary, but Gyorgy Makula estimates no more than 200, in a police force of 38,000.

“We should show to the Hungarian people, to the majority, among them the police staff, that there are really excellent people in this community who have been working for the police, who are not criminals of course.

“So we would like to change the mind of the people,” said Capt Makula.

At the Police High School, on Szecsenyi Hill overlooking Budapest, Jozsef Nagy, a third-year trainee customs officer, says he always wanted to join one of the law enforcement agencies.

“There weren’t many opportunities in our village to get somewhere in life. This was the chance for me!” he said.

Bending rules

One obstacle to increasing Roma numbers in the police is the fact that fewer than 10% of Roma students complete secondary school in Hungary.

A new idea is to bend the rules – to let them begin police training, and take their school-leaving exams inside the police academy.

In Csorog, a village less than an hour’s drive north of Budapest, with a large Roma population, the idea of more Roma policemen goes down well.

“I can foresee some problems,” said Zoltan Lakatos, a dustman, “if a policeman was forced to arrest one of his own relatives. But on the whole it’s a good idea. I think it would help.”

But his son, Zoli, 15, cannot imagine himself in uniform, planning a career steeped in Roma tradition.

“I’ve already decided,” he said. “I’m going to be a dancer. I’m going to teach Gypsy dance.”

September 14, 2008

Alitalia crisis meetings restart

Alitalia crisis meetings restart

Alitalia plane

Time is running out to save Alitalia

Emergency talks to prevent the collapse of Alitalia have restarted in Rome after the airline warned it may have to start canceling flights from Monday.

With the airline saying it is running out of money to buy aviation fuel, the government needs to persuade unions to back a deal that involves job cuts.

The only offer on the table is from Italian consortium CAI, which only wants Alitalia’s profitable operations.

Unions have so far rejected this deal as it would mean major job losses.

Yet with the only alternative now increasingly looking like Alitalia’s total collapse and the loss of all 20,000 jobs, the unions now appear more willing to back down.

‘Cautiously optimistic’

We are trying to get a solution to this saga and there are still many obstacles, but the climate is different and there is the awareness that there is no alternative to the deal,” said Giuseppe Caronia, head of the UILT union.

“I am moderately and cautiously optimistic.”

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pledged to do all he can to save Alitalia.

Securing the airline’s future was one of his main election pledges before he returned to power in May.

Failed French takeover

Back in April, plans for Alitalia to be bought by Air France-KLM collapsed due to union opposition to planned job cuts.

Italy’s civil aviation authority said on Saturday that Alitalia’s operating licence was at risk due to the airline’s admission that it was running out of funds to buy fuel.

Alitalia is currently being run by administrators after seeking bankruptcy protection on 29 August.

The Italian government owns a 49.9% stake in Alitalia, but it cannot simply pump public funds into the airline as there are strict European Union rules preventing state support for airlines.

Scores die in Russian plane crash

Scores die in Russian plane crash

A Russian airliner that crashed near a city in the Urals, killing all 88 people on board, caught fire and exploded in mid-air, reports say.

The Boeing-737-500, belonging to a branch of the national airline Aeroflot, was on a flight from Moscow to Perm, near the Ural mountains.

Twenty-one foreign passengers were on board the Aeroflot Nord flight.

Radio contact with the plane was lost as it was landing. One witness said it looked like a comet as it came down.

“It looked like a… burning comet. It hit the ground opposite the next house, there was a blaze, like fireworks, it lit the whole sky, the blaze,” the witness told Russian TV.

A still from Russian TV shows flames at the crash site early on 14 September

One witness said the blaze lit up the whole sky

The Boeing-737 had 82 passengers on board, including seven children, and six crew, Aeroflot said.

Those killed include Gen Gennady Troshev, a former commander of Russian forces in Chechnya and military adviser to former Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A spokesman for Russian federal prosecutors, Vladimir Markin, said a criminal inquiry had been launched to examine whether safety procedures had been violated.

Earlier, Mr Markin said the most likely cause of the crash was technical failure but Aeroflot says the plane had “a full technical inspection” early this year and was judged to be in a “proper condition”.

Aeroflot conducted its own investigation into the causes of the crash and, without giving details, announced it was stripping Aeroflot Nord of the right to use its name from Monday onwards.

‘Completely destroyed’

Contact with the plane was lost at 0521 Perm time on Sunday (2321 GMT Saturday) as the plane was coming in for landing at a height of 1,100 metres, Aeroflot said.

map

The minister for security in the region said the plane had caught fire in the air at an altitude of 1,000 meters.

It crashed on the outskirts of Perm, just a few hundred meters from residential buildings, but no one was hurt on the ground.

Part of the Trans-Siberian railway was shut down as a result of damage to the main east-west train track and the blaze took two hours to extinguish.

The 21 foreigners killed were listed as nine people from Azerbaijan, five from Ukraine and one person each from France, Switzerland, Latvia, the United States, Germany, Turkey and Italy, Aeroflot said.

Investigators have recovered two black box recorders from the crash site. There was no immediate suggestion of an attack or sabotage.

Aeroflot’s managing director, Valery Okulov, told reporters in Moscow that his company had already conducted its own, private investigation into the crash and decided to sever ties with Aeroflot Nord.

“We have paid too high a price for lending out our flag,” he added.

Scorched earth

Correspondents say the tragedy will be a setback for Russian aviation, which has been trying to shake off a chequered safety record.

A woman in Perm told Vesti-24 TV how she was thrown out of bed by the force of the blast when the plane crashed.

She said: “My daughter ran in from the next room crying: ‘What happened? Has a war begun or what?’

“My neighbors, other witnesses, told me that it was burning in the air.”

Sunday’s accident was the deadliest involving a Russian airliner since 170 people died in August 2006 when a Tupolev-154 bound for St Petersburg crashed in Ukraine.

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