News & Current Affairs

September 9, 2008

Serbian MPs endorse key EU deal

Serbian MPs endorse key EU deal

Serbian President Boris Tadic, with Serbian and EU flags

Serbian President Boris Tadic is pushing for EU membership

Serbia’s parliament has ratified a key EU document, in a major step on the path to joining the bloc.

The Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) was backed by 139 deputies, with 26 voting against.

However, it still has to be backed by all 27 EU countries, some of whom are still not fully satisfied with Serbia’s co-operation on war crimes issues.

The EU has been a divisive issue in Serbia, partly causing the collapse of the last government.

In subsequent elections, however, pro-EU parties were voted in with a substantial majority.

The issue has also caused a split in the opposition Serbian Radical Party (SRS), leading to the resignation of its leader Tomislav Nikolic.

Last week, in a historic U-turn, he committed the nationalist party to backing the SAA.

But that provoked a backlash by many members, forcing him to step down and form his own breakaway faction, while hardliner Dragan Todorovic took charge of the main SRS parliamentary group.


September 7, 2008

Serb opposition leader resigns

Serb opposition leader resigns

Tomislav Nikolic

Tomislav Nikolic went too far for party hardliners

The head of the main opposition party in Serbia has resigned after senior colleagues refused to back the country’s efforts to join the EU.

Tomislav Nikolic had recently persuaded his Serbian Radical Party to approve the ratification of an important agreement with the European Union.

But there was a party revolt over the issue, with critics saying it meant abandoning Serbia’s claim to Kosovo.

Kosovo unilaterally declared itself independent from Serbia this year.

Mr Nikolic had steered his party towards the centre of Serbian politics, focusing on social issues such as unemployment and poverty, rather than the militant nationalism of the past.

Mr Nikolic is officially the deputy president of the party as its leader, Vojislav Seselj is facing charges at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

His endorsement of the Stability and Association Agreement, signed earlier this year but still awaiting ratification by the Serbian Parliament, was a bridge too far for many of his party colleagues, our correspondent says.

A meeting of the party leadership on Friday night reversed the decision to endorse the agreement with Brussels.

Mr Nikolic resigned in protest, both from his position as de facto leader of the party, and as the head of its group in parliament.

The parliamentary vote on the agreement with the European Union is expected next week.

September 3, 2008

Federer edges through in thriller

Federer edges through in thriller

Roger Federer

Federer last lost at the US Open against David Nalbandian in 2003

Roger Federer came through a desperately tense five-set encounter with Igor Andreev to keep his bid for a fifth straight US Open title alive.

The champion showed the frailty that has dogged him all year as he was taken to a fifth set but raised his game to win 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 3-6 6-3.

Andreev took the first set and had seven break points at the start of the second but Federer managed to hang on.

He will face Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in the quarter-finals.

Muller, a qualifier, stunned Russian fifth seed Nikolay Davydenko 6-4 4-6 6-3 7-6 (12-10) in a dramatic match.

Federer had looked superb in his third-round win over Radek Stepanek, but his recent frailties were in evidence throughout against Andreev on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

He broke me so easily at the beginning and I was struggling to get in a groove from the baseline
Roger Federer

He made 60 unforced errors and faced 15 break points, and his survival was largely due to the fact that Andreev converted just two of them.The Russian broke at the first attempt and should have taken the set from there, but he allowed Federer back in at 5-5 before edging the tie-break.

A nervous Federer then framed a smash to slip 15-40 down early in the second but Andreev failed to capitalize on five break points, and a further two in the next game.

Still the world number two struggled with his form, missing two set points in the second set tie-break before Andreev handed him the set with a wayward forehand.

That gave Federer a temporary boost and when he cracked away a cross-court forehand to break for 3-1 in the third, the game appeared up for Andreev.

But at the same stage in the fourth set Andreev benefited from a hugely fortuitous net cord and confidently served out to take it to a decider.

At last, Federer reminded everyone of why he has won 12 Grand Slams as he stepped up a gear, moving 3-0 clear after winning an epic rally to break.It was hardly downhill all the way after that as the Swiss fought off four break-back points at 4-2, but his fighting spirit saw him through to a meeting with Muller,the world number 130.

“He was playing well,” Federer said of Andreev. “He broke me so easily at the beginning and I was struggling to get in a groove from the baseline.

“The second set was key for me to get back in the match. I served well but it was a tough match.”

Davydenko could not cope with Muller’s serve-volleying and a barrage of 20 aces on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Muller pulled out his best shots when it mattered, serving an ace to save a set point at 4-5 in the fourth set and saving another with a big serve at 6-7 down in the tie-break before getting a net-cord on match point.

“I think it’s not about that last point,” said Davydenko. “It’s about many points. I had so many chances.”

In the same half of the draw, third seed Novak Djokovic edged out Tommy Robredo 4-6 6-2 6-3 5-7 6-3.

The Serbian will play American Andy Roddick in the last eight after the 2003 champion thrashed Fernando Gonzalez 6-2 6-4 6-1.


August 16, 2008

Phelps equals Spitz’s seven golds

Phelps equals Spitz’s seven golds

Swimming superstar Michael Phelps matched Mark Spitz’s 1972 Munich Games record of seven gold medals by winning a thrilling 100m butterfly final.

Phelps, 23, was seventh at the turn but stormed back to edge out Serbia’s Milorad Cavic by just one hundredth of a second in a time of 50.58 seconds.

Serbia lodged a complaint against the result but the American’s win was subsequently confirmed by officials.

Phelps is seeking a record eighth gold medal in Sunday’s 4x100m medley final.

He had already won the 400m medley, 200m freestyle, 200m butterfly, 4x100m free relay, 4x200m free relay and the 200m medley, all in world record time.

I feel a little bit of everything – relief, excitement, everything
Michael Phelps

And while his victory in the 100m fly was not a world record, it was a new Olympic record after making up a deficit of more than half a second in the final length.

Like a pair of heavyweights before a title bout, Cavic and Phelps tried to stare each other out on the starting blocks.

And Cavic’s self-belief and ferocious effort meant Phelps trailed his rival with just 10m to go.

It looked as if Phelps’s incredible bid to equal Spitz’s record was over but the American turned on the power and, as Cavic reached for the wall, gambled with one more stroke.

“I actually thought I had lost the race right there, but I guess that was the difference in the end,” said Phelps, who pounded the water in triumph and screamed with delight after checking the result on the scoreboard.

“When I saw the 50.58 and the 50.59 and I saw the ‘1’ next to my name, that’s when I let my roar out.

“I really don’t know what to say. I guess I’ve had the perfect situations all week.

“I was shocked at the end, it was kind of a little bit of a delayed reaction.

“I feel a little bit of everything – relief, excitement, everything. I had to take my goggles off to make sure the ‘1’ was next to my name.

“I just have one race left, the relay, and then it’s done.

“Tying Spitz’s record is pretty cool. It’s great to be a part of all of this.”

Spitz himself, now 58, had nothing but praise for Phelps’s achievement.

“Not only is this guy the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, he’s maybe the greatest athlete of all time,” said Spitz.

Cavic lost out on the final stroke but there was a feeling around the Water Cube that officials had been too quick to award the gold to the American.

But race referee Ben Ekumbo said: “Under our rules we do listen to protests. We looked at video footage and it was very clear the Serbian swimmer touched second, after Phelps. One was stroking and one was gliding.

“Two independent timing systems showed exactly the same on the time. Phelps was 50.58, Cavic was 50.59.

“The automatic timing systems are in perfect order and there are no doubts.”

Ekumbo added: “Although the rules don’t allow for team leaders to watch the video footage I had a meeting with the Serbia team leaders to afford them the opportunity to see the video themselves because we don’t want them to go away feeling something is lost.

“The Serbian team were very satisfied and agreed with the comments of the referee.”

Ekumbo also stressed there was never any danger of Phelps losing his gold medal.

“Michael Phelps is the greatest ever and he would have been first in this race any how. The question was whether to share (the gold medal) or not to share,” he said.

Michael Phelps and Milorad Cavic surge for the wall at the end of the race

Phelps (left) needed a desperate late surge to pip Cavic

“But what the referee saw was very clear. There was no doubt whatsoever, the first arrival was Michael Phelps.”

Cavic himself said he was happy with the result despite the controversy surrounding the finish.

“I’m stoked with what happened,” Cavic said.

“I don’t want to fight this. People will be bringing this up for years and saying you won that race. If we got to do this again, I would win it.

“I am not angry. I knew it would be a fast race, and I knew Michael would be fast.

“I knew he would be coming at me, there was no need to look over to try and see him, I saw his shadow coming in my goggles.”

Cavic watched the replay adding: “It’s kind of hard to see.

“I know I had a long finish and Michael Phelps had a short finish.”


August 5, 2008

Dutch climbers airlifted from K2

Pakistani helicopters have rescued two Dutch climbers from a group that lost 11 members over the weekend on the world’s second-highest mountain, K2.

Rescue climbers have reached an Italian mountaineer and are helping him to an advance camp high on the mountain slopes, Reuters news agency said.

About 25 climbers reached the summit on Friday but nine died on descent after an avalanche swept away their ropes.

Earlier, on the ascent, two climbers fell to their deaths.

Many regard the 8,611m (28,251ft) peak as the world’s most difficult to climb.

In the deadliest day in K2’s history, the avalanche occurred when a chunk from an ice pillar snapped away on a feature called the Bottleneck.

Several climbers were swept to their deaths; others froze to death after they were stranded high on the mountain.

Cpt Azeemullah Baig said a Pakistani army helicopter had already picked up the two Dutch climbers.

“Thanks to Almighty Allah, the rescue operation has started this morning,” he told Reuters news agency.

Four rescue climbers reached Italian mountaineer Marco Confortola after attempts to reach him by helicopter were called off in bad weather, Pakistani guide Sultan Alam told Reuters news agency from the K2 base camp.

The rescuers were guiding Mr Confortola to the advanced base camp 6,000 metres up the slopes of K2.

The head of an Italian mountaineering group who spoke to Mr Confortola by satellite phone said his feet were in “very bad” shape from frostbite but that he could still walk and that his hands were in good condition.

Mr Confortola’s brother also spoke to the stranded climber.

“Up there it was hell,” Ansa news agency quoted Mr Confortola telling his brother Luigi.

“During the descent, beyond 8,000 metres (26,000 feet), due to the altitude and the exhaustion I even fell asleep in the snow and when I woke up I could not figure out where I was”.

The Death Zone

The two rescued Dutchmen are being treated for frostbite in a Pakistani military hospital.

“Everything was going well to Camp Four and on [the] summit attempt everything went wrong,” one of the Dutchmen, Wilco Van Rooijen, told Associated Press news agency.

He said some ropes had been laid in the wrong position – a mistake which took several valuable hours to correct, delaying the summit push until just before darkness.

As climbers descended from the peak in the dark, the ice pillar collapsed, sweeping away climbers and stranding others in the high-altitude level known as the Death Zone – where there is not enough oxygen to support life.

Pakistani authorities said three South Koreans, two Nepalis, two Pakistani porters, and French, Serbian, Norwegian and Irish climbers had died on the mountain.

Expedition organisers only learned of the avalanche after a group of climbers arrived back at the mountain’s base camp on Saturday evening.

Reports from the mountain’s base camp say two separate parties of Serbian and Norwegian climbers were able to make it back to base camp.

The Serbians said they buried their team member as it was impossible to bring his body back. The Norwegians said their companion was lost in the avalanche.

Only a few hundred people have climbed K2 and dozens have died in the attempt.

The fatality rate for those who reach the summit at 27% is about three times higher than that for Mount Everest.

One of the worst single-day death tolls was on Everest on 11 May 1996, when eight people died in summit attempts.

Six people fell to their deaths or disappeared during a storm on K2 on 13 August 1995.

The summit of K2 was first reached by two Italians, Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni, on 31 July 1954.

Do you know anyone involved in any of the expeditions or have any information about them? Have you ever attempted to climb K2?

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