News & Current Affairs

October 2, 2008

World’s heaviest man set to marry

World’s heaviest man set to marry

The world’s heaviest man says he is to marry his girlfriend later this month after losing nearly half his original body weight.

Mexican Manuel Uribe said he and Claudia Solis would wed in his home town of Monterrey on 26 October.

The 43-year-old entered the Guinness Book of Records in 2006 after tipping the scales at 560kg (88 stones).

Manuel, who has lost around 250kg (39 stones), said he would be steering clear of the wedding cake.

He would have just one bite for the cameras, but no more, he was quoted as saying.

“It will be a hefty wedding, on a large scale, but with a low-calorie banquet,” he told the AFP news agency.

Proud fiance

Manuel Uribe has attributed his weight loss to the love and encouragement he has received from Claudia, whom he has known for four years. The couple have been engaged for two years.

He is currently only able to leave his house by being towed through the streets on his specially-made bed – and dreams of being able to walk again.

Manuel has been following something called the Zone Diet – eating carbohydrates, proteins and fats in a ratio of 40:30:30, supervised by a team of scientists and nutritionists.

However, some experts warn that not enough is known about the long-term effects of diets high in proteins.

Claudia is nevertheless proud of the progress her husband-to-be has made.

“Sometimes he is sad and cries because he cannot get off his bed,” she told the BBC in July.

“But he is an example for other obese people to move forward. As he says: ‘If I can, you can’.”

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September 3, 2008

Bush backs McCain for president

Bush backs McCain for president

President George W Bush has praised John McCain’s service and leadership in a speech to the Republican convention.

Speaking via video-link from the White House, he told delegates in St Paul, Minnesota, that Mr McCain was “a great American and the next president”.

Mr McCain is due to be nominated on Thursday as the party’s presidential candidate for November’s election.

The main talking point so far has been the news that the teenage daughter of Mr McCain’s running mate is pregnant.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, chosen as the vice-presidential nominee last week, announced on Monday that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, would have the baby and marry her boyfriend.

In his eight-minute address, Mr Bush described Mr McCain as a president ready to make the tough decisions needed “in a dangerous world”.

John McCain’s life is a story of service above self
President George W Bush

“John McCain’s life has prepared him to make those choices. He is ready to lead this nation,” Mr Bush said.

He also spoke of Mr McCain’s life as “a story of service above self” and emphasized the “independence and character” he showed in backing the administration’s “surge” strategy of pouring more forces into Iraq.

Former Senator Fred Thompson, who ran against Mr McCain in the party’s primaries, opened a lively speech with criticism of the Democrats and the media for their scrutiny of Mrs Palin and her family.

He also spoke of Mr McCain’s military service, his courage while a prisoner of war in Vietnam and his commitment to reform in Washington.

Mr Thompson went on to attack the Democrats and their record since taking control of Congress in the 2006 mid-term elections.

Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat who was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, spoke of Mr McCain as “the best choice to bring our country together and lead our country forward”.

Gustav appeal

Most of the first day’s political events were suspended out of respect for communities affected by Hurricane Gustav.

Instead, Mr McCain’s wife, Cindy, and First Lady Laura Bush made calls to support those under threat.

Mrs Bush told delegates that such events transcended party politics and reminded people that they were Americans first.

Gustav was downgraded to a tropical storm after making landfall on Monday west of New Orleans, where hundreds of thousands of people had been evacuated.

The storm came three years after Hurricane Katrina struck, killing more than 1,800 people and resulting in huge damage to the city and its surrounding area. President Bush was strongly criticised over his handling of the crisis.

Palin talking point

The Republican Party convention is now getting down to work after the uncertainty brought on by Hurricane Gustav.

Tuesday’s events are focusing on Mr McCain, a concentrated piece of political image building with a keynote speech from Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-independent senator, who has decided to support the party’s candidate, our correspondent says.

John McCain and Sarah Palin (31 August 2008)
Sarah Palin’s announcement has so far overshadowed the convention

President Bush cancelled his planned opening night speech amid concerns that overt political campaigning would play badly with voters at a time of potential crisis.

But many Republicans will be glad he is not here in St Paul in person, our correspondent says, and much of this week will be about defining Mr McCain as very different to his unpopular predecessor.

Meanwhile, media attention has continued to focus on Mrs Palin, who is facing an ethics investigation in her home state and whose daughter’s pregnancy made headlines on Monday.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Bristol’s boyfriend, named as 18-year-old Levi Johnston, would be joining the Palin family at the convention in Minnesota.

The AP quotes Mr Johnston’s mother, Sherry, as saying he had been put under no pressure to marry and that the pair had been planning to wed before they knew she was pregnant.

Our correspondent says Mrs Palin’s selection as vice-presidential candidate has caused great excitement among social conservatives and evangelical Christians here.

But across the broader Republican Party there seems to be some unease – she is an unknown quantity, and when she is finally brought out on to the convention stage on Wednesday, many McCain supporters will be crossing their fingers and hoping she performs, he adds.

The 72-year-old Arizona senator is expected to formally accept his candidacy in a prime-time speech on Thursday evening.


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August 12, 2008

Spotlight on Egypt’s marriage crisis

Spotlight on Egypt’s marriage crisis

Ghada Abdelaal with her book Ayza-Tgawwiz

Abdelaal’s story started as an online log – now she’s working on a sitcom

“I want to get married” is a perfectly normal thing to say for a young Egyptian man. But when a girl says it in such a conservative society – let alone writes a book with that title – she is making a political statement.

“Girls are not supposed to be actively seeking something, a girl simply exists for someone to marry or divorce her,” says the author of the top-selling book, Ghada Abdelaal. “To say she wants something is seen as impolite.”

The book started as a blog, before it was spotted by an Egyptian publisher and printed as a series of comic sketches in which flawed and failed suitors knocking at her parents’ door.

A paranoid policeman, a hirsute fundamentalist, a pathological liar and other hilarious caricatures portrayed in sparkling Egyptian vernacular.

Marriage anxiety

The veiled, softly-spoken Abdelaal is a sharp and witty observer of social incongruity in Egypt, a feisty spirit trying to tear up stifling tradition.

They ask young girls here when they are three or four, who would you marry… they implant the idea your only purpose in life is to get married
Ghada Abdelaal

She says her target is not Egyptian men but a tradition known as “gawwaz el-salonat” (living room marriage), where a stranger is brought to the family home and the daughter must decide whether to marry him on the basis of this brief encounter.

“People who go for a picnic need to know each other a little longer than that – let alone make a lifelong commitment.”

The book’s popularity – it is in its third print run with a sitcom in the offing – reflects a widespread anxiety in Egyptian society. More and more young people cannot afford to get married.

Although the book focuses on finding Mr Right, she acknowledges finding an affordable flat remains an almost insurmountable obstacle. Many young people stay engaged for years before they can save up enough money.

“By the time they actually get to live together, they are already tired of each other,” says women’s rights activist Nihad Abou El Qoumsan. This causes the unusually high rate of divorce among the newlyweds in Egypt, she says.

Such is the impact of property prices on the marriage crisis, a popular talk show has invited engaged couples to join a draw to win a flat.

A new apartment will be given away by a wealthy businessman every day of the fasting and holiday month of Ramadan, in September. Huge numbers have registered.

Sexual frustration

Some describe it as a social time bomb. Religious customs mean there is no sex before marriage. So how do young people react to this situation?

I don’t think people who harass women on the street are necessarily single, or necessarily sexually frustrated
Anthropologist Hania Sholkamy

Sociologist Madeeha al-Safty of the American University in Cairo believes one consequence is sexual harassment of women and rape reaching unprecedented levels in Egypt.

“If you are frustrated, there is the possibility that you take it out [through] violence.

“Some people choose the safer way in moving towards a more religious attitude – not necessarily extremism, but it might reach the point of extremism,” she adds.

But anthropologist Hania Sholkamy hesitates to link the problems of sexual harassment and rape to the marriage crisis.

“I don’t think people who harass women on the street are necessarily single, or necessarily sexually frustrated. There are many millions of people who are extremely frustrated, but they do not harass women.

“I think the issue is one of violence and gender disparities, pure and simple.”

Gender disparities is a theme running throughout Abdelaal’s book, from the provocative title questioning the woman’s passive role in a traditional society to the way children are brought up.

“They ask young girls here when they are three or four, who would you marry… they implant the idea your only purpose in life is to get married.

“Even after she goes to school they tell her that a girl’s only future is in her husband’s home. So what happens when a girl for any reason cannot get married. Should she set fire to herself?”

August 8, 2008

Nigerian advises against 86 wives

Nigerian advises against 86 wives

Baba Mohammed Bello Abubakar

Mr Bello Abubakar says he does not go and find women, they come to him

Nigerian Mohammed Bello Abubakar, 84, has advised other men not to follow his example and marry 86 women.

The former teacher and Muslim preacher, who lives in Niger State with his wives and at least 170 children, says he is able to cope only with the help of God.

“A man with 10 wives would collapse and die, but my own power is given by Allah. That is why I have been able to control 86 of them,” he told the BBC.

He says his wives have sought him out because of his reputation as a healer.

“I don’t go looking for them, they come to me. I will consider the fact that God has asked me to do it and I will just marry them.”

But such claims have alienated the Islamic authorities in Nigeria, who have branded his family a cult.

Ganiat Bello Abubakar
When you marry a man with 86 wives you know he knows how to look after them
Wife Ganiat Bello Abubakar

Most Muslim scholars agree that a man is allowed to have four wives, as long as he can treat them equally.

But Mr Bello Abubakar says there is no punishment stated in the Koran for having more than four wives.

“To my understanding the Koran does not place a limit and it is up to what your own power, your own endowment and ability allows,” he says.

“God did not say what the punishment should be for a man who has more than four wives, but he was specific about the punishment for fornication and adultery.”

‘Order from God’

As Mr Bello Abubakar emerged from his compound to speak to the BBC, his wives and children broke out into a praise song.

Mohammed Bello Abubakar of Bida and some of his wives

Some of Mr Bello Abubakar’s wives are younger than some of his children

Most of his wives are less than a quarter of his age – and many are younger than some of his own children.

The wives the BBC spoke to say they met Mr Bello Abubakar when they went to him to seek help for various illnesses, which they say he cured.

“As soon as I met him the headache was gone,” says Sharifat Bello Abubakar, who was 25 at the time and Mr Bello Abubakar 74.

“God told me it was time to be his wife. Praise be to God I am his wife now.”

Ganiat Mohammed Bello has been married to the man everyone calls “Baba” for 20 years.

When she was in secondary school her mother took her for a consultation with Mr Bello Abubakar and he proposed afterwards.

“I said I couldn’t marry an older man, but he said it was directly an order from God,” she says.

She married another man but they divorced and she returned to Mr Bello Abubakar.

“I am now the happiest woman on earth. When you marry a man with 86 wives you know he knows how to look after them,” she said.

No work

Mr Bello Abubakar and his wives do not work and he has no visible means of supporting such a large family.

Inside "Baba's" house

Many of the wives live three to a room, some have seven children

He refuses to say how he makes enough money to pay for the huge cost of feeding and clothing so many people.

Every mealtime they cook three 12kg bags of rice which all adds up to $915 (£457) every day.

“It’s all from God,” he says.

Other residents of Bida, the village where he lives in the northern Nigerian state, say they do not know how he supports the family.

According to one of his wives, Mr Bello Abubakar sometimes asks his children to go and beg for 200 naira ($1.69, £0.87), which if they all did so would bring in about $290 (£149).

Most of his wives live in a squalid, unfinished house in Bida; others live in his house in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

He refuses to allow any of his family or other devotees to take medicine and says he does not believe that malaria exists.

Hafsat Bello Abubakar
They were sick and we told God and God said their time has come
Wife Hafsat Bello Abubakar

“As you sit here if you have any illness I can see it and just remove it,” he says.

But not everyone can be cured and one of his wives, Hafsat Bello Mohammed, says two of her children have died.

“They were sick and we told God and God said their time has come.”

She says that most of the wives see Mr Bello Abubakar as next in line from the Prophet Muhammad.

Indeed, he claims the Prophet Muhammad speaks to him personally and gives detailed descriptions of his experiences.

It is a serious claim for a Muslim to make.

“This is heresy, he is a heretic,” says Ustaz Abubakar Siddique, an imam of Abuja’s Central Mosque.

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