News & Current Affairs

September 13, 2008

Details of Zimbabwe deal emerge

Details of Zimbabwe deal emerge

Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe, file images

Both Mr Tsvangirai (l) and Mr Mugabe claim to have won this year’s elections

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is to retain control of the army and chair cabinet meetings, according to leaks of Thursday’s power-sharing deal.

South African President Thabo Mbeki said Mr Mugabe had agreed to share power with Morgan Tsvangirai but said details would be released on Monday.

Mr Tsvangirai will control the police force and chair a new council of ministers, the sources say.

The deal followed seven weeks of talks and this year’s election violence.

Mr Mugabe has yet to comment on the agreement, brokered by South Africa’s leader.

Fair division?

BBC News is banned in Zimbabwe, but a correspondent inside the country says MDC supporters are not rejoicing on the streets, nor are Zanu-PF backers protesting.

Instead a silent optimism prevails – and after so many false dawns, Zimbabwe is holding its breath, our correspondent says.

REPORTED DEAL
Robert Mugabe:
President
Heads armed forces
Chairs cabinet
Zanu-PF has 15 ministers
Morgan Tsvangirai:
Prime minister
Chairs council of ministers
Controls police force
MDC has 16 ministers – 3 from smaller faction

International donors have said they would resume financial aid for Zimbabwe’s collapsing economy if Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is given a genuine share of power.

The EU said it would “evaluate the situation” at a foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday.

The agreement appears to give Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai roughly equal shares of power.

In cabinet, Mr Tsvangirai’s MDC and another MDC faction will together have 16 seats, while Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF will have the remaining 15.

Mr Mugabe will control the armed forces, while Mr Tsvangirai will be in charge of the police.

Our correspondent says the devil will lie in the detail and in the ability of the two men and the power blocks under them to wield genuine authority.

Mbeki hails deal

Work on finalizing the agreement will continue over the weekend. Some opposition MDC voices have already called the deal a climb-down, although others have said it is the best available.

MDC chairman and Zimbabwe’s parliamentary speaker Lovemore Moyo told that although his party was pleased with the deal, it had been a compromise.

“We wanted a titular head of state with an executive prime minister but that did not happen,” he said.

“So what we got at the end of the day perhaps was probably nearly a sister-sister power-sharing, so I’m saying it’s not exactly initially what we wanted.”

Negotiations started at the end of July, but stalled over the allocation of executive power between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai – bitter rivals for a decade.

The breakthrough came after the last four days of talks in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

Mr Tsvangirai was first to announce the breakthrough, telling reporters on Thursday simply: “We’ve got a deal.”

Later, Mr Mbeki told a news conference the two sides had agreed to form an inclusive government.

He said: “I am absolutely certain that the leadership of Zimbabwe is committed to implementing these agreements.”

The deal would be signed at a ceremony in Harare attended by African leaders, he said.

British concern

Zimbabwe’s envoy to the UN, Boniface Chidyausiku, told the BBC that the deal was a “triumph for African diplomacy”.

The UN special representative on Zimbabwe, Haile Menkerios, said the announcement marked a way forward that all sides could live with.

HAVE YOUR SAY

This deal will work if outsiders stop prescribing to Zimbabweans what is good or not good for them

Dzvinyangoma, Zimbabwe

Britain’s Foreign Office said it was following the situation closely, adding that “our concern is the welfare of the Zimbabwean people”.

Zimbabwe has the fastest shrinking economy in the world with annual inflation of more than 11,000,000%.

Mr Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, won a controversial presidential run-off election in June.

He ran unopposed after Mr Tsvangirai withdrew, claiming the MDC was the target of state-sponsored violence.

In the first round of the presidential election in March, Mr Tsvangirai gained more votes than Mr Mugabe, but official results say he did not pass the 50% threshold for outright victory.

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September 7, 2008

Belgian Grand Prix

Belgian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton was handed a 25-second penalty after the race

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton was stripped of a dramatic victory in the Belgian Grand Prix after stewards handed him a 25-second post-race penalty.

The Englishman was demoted to third place behind Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld.

The move came after an investigation into a late-race battle between Hamilton and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Hamilton’s lead over Massa in the title chase has been cut by two points.

Massa’s team-mate Raikkonen 19 points adrift off the lead

Before the penalty, he had extended his lead over the Brazilian to eight points, with Raikkonen effectively out of the running on 23.

More to follow.

September 4, 2008

Thai PM plans crisis referendum

Thai PM plans crisis referendum

Anti-government protesters react as they watch a TV report about Mr Samak's address

Protesters listened to Mr Samak’s address, hoping he would resign

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has announced plans to hold a national referendum in an effort to defuse the ongoing political crisis.

An exact date has not been decided, but a referendum can be held 30 days after being approved by the Senate.

In an earlier radio address, Mr Samak said he would not resign or bow to the demands of protesters who have been occupying his offices since last week.

A state of emergency has been in place in Bangkok since Tuesday.

The anti-government protesters – from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) – say Mr Samak is merely a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and is now in exile.

‘Threat of anarchy’

“I am not resigning, I will not dissolve parliament. I have to protect the democracy of this country,” Mr Samak said in his radio address on Thursday morning.

He said he was a defender of democracy against a movement that threatened to bring “anarchy” to Thailand.

“The PAD is an illegal group who have seized the Government House and declared their victory. How can that be correct?” he said.

After his address, Mr Samak summoned his cabinet for an emergency meeting, and they agreed to hold a referendum to try to resolve the crisis.

BANGKOK PROTESTS
26 Aug: Protesters occupy government buildings, demand the government step down
27 Aug: Authorities issue arrest warrants for nine protest leaders
28 Aug: PM Samak promises no use of force against the protesters
29 Aug: Police try to evict protesters but pull back; crowds blockade two regional airports
30 Aug: PM Samak rules out resignation, following a meeting with Thailand’s king
31 Aug: Parliament meets for a special session on the protests
1 Sep: A late-night clash between pro- and anti-government groups leaves one person dead
2 Sep: PM Samak declares a state of emergency
3 Sept: Thai FM Tej Bunnag resigns

A government spokesman said the referendum could take place by early October if the Senate quickly endorsed a bill to organize the vote.

Culture Minister Somsak Kietsuranond said the referendum would ask a range of questions including whether the government should resign, whether it should dissolve parliament and what people think about the ongoing protests.

After hearing Mr Samak’s radio broadcast, one of the PAD’s leaders, Sondhi Limthongkul, told the French news agency AFP: “His speech only increased my confidence that what we are doing is not wrong. We will not go anywhere as long as he stays.”

The PAD has a passionate following in various parts of the country, especially Bangkok, and some powerful backers among the elite.

But it has little support in most of rural Thailand, which voted strongly for Mr Samak, and Mr Thaksin before him. Thai society remains deeply divided over the issue.

As the standoff has developed, some unions have begun supporting the protesters. However, a strike called by an umbrella group of 43 unions on Wednesday appeared to have failed – one piece of good news for the government.

But the prime minister’s attempt to contain the PAD protests with a state of emergency seem to have fallen flat.

The army has refused to exercise the extra powers he gave them, arguing that the conflict is a political one that cannot be solved by military intervention.


Are you in Thailand? Do you believe a referendum will diffuse the political crisis? Send us your comments

August 26, 2008

Huge statue of Roman ruler found

Huge statue of Roman ruler found


Marcus Aurelius ruled over the empire for 19 years

Parts of a giant, exquisitely carved marble sculpture depicting the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius have been found at an archaeological site in Turkey.

Fragments of the statue were unearthed at the ancient city of Sagalassos.

So far the statue’s head, right arm and lower legs have been discovered, high in the mountains of southern Turkey.

Marcus Aurelius was portrayed by Richard Harris in the Oscar-winning 2000 film Gladiator and was one of the so-called “Five Good Emperors”.

He reigned from 161AD until his death in 180AD.

In addition to his deeds as emperor, Marcus Aurelius is remembered for his writings, and is considered one of the foremost Stoic philosophers.

The partial statue was unearthed in the largest room at Sagalassos’s Roman baths.

The cross-shaped room measures 1,250 sq m (13,500 sq ft), is covered in mosaics and was probably used as a frigidarium – a room with a cold pool which Romans could sink into after a hot bath.

It was partially destroyed in an earthquake between 540AD and 620AD, filling the room with rubble. Archaeologists have been excavating the frigidarium for the past 12 years.

The dig is part of wider excavations at the ruined city, which was once an important regional center.

Imperial gallery

Last year, the team led by Prof Marc Waelkens, from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, uncovered fragments of a colossal marble statue of the emperor Hadrian in the rubble.

This month, the researchers found a huge head and arm belonging to Faustina the Elder – wife of the emperor Antoninus Pius.

Archaeologists now think the room hosted a gallery of sculptures depicting the “Antonine dynasty” – rulers of Spanish origin who presided over the Roman Empire during the second century AD.

Foot of Marcus Aurelius statue (Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)

The emperor wore army boots decorated with lion skins

Early on 20 August, a huge pair of marble lower legs, broken just above the knee, turned up in the debris.

They also found a 1.5m-long (5ft-long) right arm and hand holding a globe which was probably once crowned by a gilded bronze “Victory” figure.

But it was the giant marble head which identified this statue as the young Marcus Aurelius. The colossal head, which is just under 1m (3ft) in height, is said to bear his characteristic bulging eyes and beard.

Prof Waelkens said the pupils were gazing upwards “as if in deep contemplation, perfectly fitting of an emperor who was more of a philosopher than a soldier”.

He added that this was one of the finest depictions of the Roman ruler.

The emperor wore exquisitely carved army boots decorated with a lion skin, tendrils and Amazon shields.

The torso was probably covered in bronze Armour filled inside with terracotta or wood. When the niche’s vault collapsed in the earthquake, the torso would have exploded.

Bath complex

The statue of Hadrian was found lying halfway down in the frigidarium‘s rubble.

This initially led archaeologists to think it had been hauled in there from another part of the huge bath complex, perhaps to remove its gilded bronze armour, or to burn the huge marble pieces to make cement in a nearby lime kiln.

However, they now think sculptures of Hadrian, his wife Vibia Sabina, another Roman emperor Antoninus Pius, his wife Faustina the Elder, and Marcus Aurelius all once adorned niches situated around the room.

There were three large niches on both the western and eastern sides. The fragments of Hadrian’s statue were found near the south-west niche.

The front parts of two female feet were discovered in the opposite niche, on the room’s south-eastern side.

Arm and hand of Marcus Aurelius (Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)

The remains of a globe can still be seen, cupped in the right hand

The archaeologists now think these belonged to a colossal figure of Vibia Sabina, who was forced into marriage with the homosexual Hadrian at the age of 14.

Remains of the statue depicting Faustina the Elder were found further along, on the eastern side.

In the opposite niche, they found the front parts of a pair of male feet in sandals, which could belong to her husband, Antoninus Pius – who succeeded Hadrian as emperor.

The experts suggest Antonine emperors occupied niches on the western side of the room, while their spouses stood opposite, on the east side.

Five good emperors

After the discovery of Faustina and her male counterpart, the archaeologists guessed the north-western niche would contain a colossal statue of Marcus Aurelius – the longest-surviving successor of Antoninus Pius.

The discovery on Wednesday confirmed this prediction, and suggests the north-eastern niche may contain remains of a statue depicting Faustina the Younger, Marcus Aurelius’s wife.

Archaeologists will get the opportunity to excavate this part of the room next year.

Lower legs of Marcus Aurelius statue (Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)

The statue of Marcus Aurelius stood in the north-western niche

Despite his philosophical leanings, Marcus Aurelius had to spend much of his reign fighting Germanic tribes along the Austrian Danube where, inĀ  180AD, he died in nearby Carnuntum.

The part of Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator was one of Richard Harri’s last roles (the actor died in 2002). Although much of the storyline is fictional, it is set against an historical backdrop of the imperial succession from Marcus Aurelius to his son Commodus.

While Marcus Aurelius is considered, along with Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, as one of Rome’s Five Good Emperors, Commodus’s reign was marked by internal strife, cruelty and conspiracies.

Commodus took part, naked, in gladiatorial battles – which he always won. Opponents, whose lives were apparently spared, would eventually submit to the emperor.

He was murdered in 192AD – not by a general called Maximus, but by an athlete named Narcissus, sent by conspirators to strangle the megalomaniac emperor in his bath.

August 17, 2008

Phelps wins historic eighth gold

Phelps wins historic eighth gold

Michael Phelps won his eighth Olympic gold medal of the Beijing Games to beat Mark Spitz’s 1972 record of seven, with victory in the 4x100m medley.

The 23-year-old teamed up with Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen and Jason Lezak to claim the historic gold in a new world record time.

They held off Australia and Japan to win in a world record time of three minutes 29.34 seconds.

Britain finished in sixth, but the race was all about Phelps’ place in history.

Phelps, who swam 17 times over nine days and set world records in seven finals, had already won the 400m medley, 200m freestyle, 200m butterfly, 4x100m free relay, 4x200m free relay, 200m medley and the 100m butterfly.

With so many people saying it couldn’t be done, all it takes is an imagination
Michael Phelps

Victory in the 4x100m relay rounded off a remarkable Olympics for Phelps, who has dominated the action in the Water Cube.

However, his final triumph was far from straightforward.

Phelps dived into the water for the third leg butterfly with his team in third position but he powered them into the lead.

Australian Eamon Sullivan tried to chase the Americans down but Lezak held on to clinch Phelps’ record win.

It also took Phelps’ Olympic medal haul to 14 golds, and 16 overall.

Phelps admitted to being overwhelmed after achieving his feat, and was quick to pay tribute to his team-mates.

“I don’t even know what to feel right now,” Phelps said.

“There are so many emotions going through my head and so much excitement. I kind of just want to see my mom.

“Without the help of my team-mates this isn’t possible.

“I was able to be a part of three relays and we were able to put up a solid team effort and we came together as one unit.

“For the three Olympics I’ve been a part of, this is by far the closest men’s team that we’ve ever had.

“I didn’t know everybody coming into this Olympics, but I feel going out I know every single person very well. The team that we had is the difference.

“Nothing is impossible.

“With so many people saying it couldn’t be done, all it takes is an imagination, and that’s something I learned and something that helped me.

“It’s been nothing but an upwards roller-coaster and it’s been nothing but fun.”

His team-mate Peirsol added: “It’s a beautiful thing, I am so proud to be a part of this relay team.

“It wasn’t like we were doing this for Michael, but it’s an honor to be part of it. It would have been something if we hadn’t done it.”

Australian swimmer Grant Hackett said: “Michael Phelps – you can’t put it in words what he has done here, his level of achievement is phenomenal and I don’t think it will ever be seen again.”

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 13, 2008

Phelps breaks Olympic gold record

Phelps breaks Olympic gold record

US swimmer Michael Phelps broke the record for Olympic gold medals won by taking his 10th and 11th in a double victory on Wednesday.

Phelps, 23, won his fourth gold of the Beijing Olympics and 10th of all time with victory in the 200m butterfly.

And he claimed yet another gold as part of the US 4x200m freestyle team.

Phelps has now surpassed the nine golds won by Paavo Nurmi, Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz and Larysa Latynina to cement his place in Olympic history.

606: DEBATE
Rafa fan

He is also bidding to beat Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in a single Olympic games and has moved to within three of that achievement.

The US star swims in the individual medley, 100m butterfly and finally the 4x100m medley relay later in the week.

“There is still something left in the tank,” he said. “I’ve got three races left, so there had better be something left in the tank.”

Phelps began proceedings in the Water Cube on Wednesday in typical fashion, beating Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh and Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda in a world record time of 1:52.03 to claim 200m butterfly gold.

He looked slightly underwhelmed following the victory, despite the magnitude of his achievement, and revealed that a pair of leaky goggles almost scuppered his chances of glory.

Cannot play media. Sorry, this media is not available in your territory.

Video – Phelps bags fifth gold in relay

But he battled on despite the fault to shave 0.06secs of his own 200m butterfly world record.

“My goggles kept filling up with water during the race,” he said.

“I wanted a world record, I wanted 1:51 or better, but in the circumstances it’s not too bad I guess.”

And along with US team-mates Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens and Peter Vanderkaay, Phelps later claimed relay gold in the 4x200m freestlyle in another world record time of 6:58.56secs.

Russia took the silver and Australia the bronze, while Great Britain’s four came in sixth.

“I’m pumped about our relay,” said Phelps. “It’s the most fun thing to be in a team environment and be part of a relay.

“It’s cool when you get four Americans who all swim well together. Everyone has to play their part or it’s just not going to happen.

“We’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to do that.”

Georgia and Russia agree on truce

Georgia and Russia agree on truce

Russian military convoy in Abkhazia, 12/08

Russian troops have pulled back through Abkhazia

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has agreed an outline plan with Russia and Georgia to try to resolve their crisis.

A key element calls for all forces to return to the areas where they were before fighting broke out last week.

EU foreign ministers in Brussels are discussing the plan at an emergency meeting on the crisis.

Some 100,000 people are estimated to have been displaced by the conflict, which has created huge tensions in international relations.

Fighting in the South Ossetia region does now seem to have ended.

On Tuesday, Russia announced its military activity in the area was completed and witnesses saw troops pulling out.

However on Wednesday, journalists and eyewitnesses reported seeing Russian tanks patrolling the streets of Gori, the nearest major Georgian town to the South Ossetian border.

Russia has held all the cards in this conflict and looks set to end up with both a diplomatic and a military victory.

It has shown its power within the region and the weakness of the West, which has been unable and unwilling to come to Georgia’s aid with anything other than words of support, our correspondent adds.

Fiery rhetoric

Despite the diplomacy and apparent withdrawal, rhetoric on both sides remained fiery and analysts were predicting a long road to peace.

On Wednesday, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russia of violating the ceasefire with troop movements around the country, while asserting that the ceasefire on the Georgian side was always in force.

FIVE-POINT PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops return to pre-conflict positions

“They went through our towns and they are rampaging and they are also shooting,” he said at a news conference in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

He also said he had been getting reports of large-scale violations of human rights by Russian forces: “What we are seeing is classic Balkan-type and WWII-type ethnic cleansing and purification campaigns,” he said, speaking of a Russian “rampage” through Georgian-controlled villages in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia.

A BBC correspondent in Tbilisi says there have been reports of extensive looting and kidnappings by gunmen around the town of Gori.

Shortly after the Georgian president spoke, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned the actions of the Georgian leadership in South Ossetia.

“Georgia – of course, not Georgia, but the Georgian leadership – gave an order which led to an act of genocide, which resulted in war crimes, ethnic cleansing. And this, of course, cannot go unanswered.”

Russian troop reinforcements would be withdrawn from South Ossetia, depending on the extent to which Georgian troops did the same, he added. Mr Lavrov also said that Russian peacekeepers would remain in South Ossetia.

Aid agencies on the ground say they have not come across any evidence of human rights violations.

“It is clear that both sides are exaggerating, and that figures are inflated,” Giorgi Gogia of Human Rights Watch told the BBC News website from Tbilisi.

EU meeting

France – which currently holds the EU presidency – wants Wednesday’s meeting to endorse its peace initiative before it is submitted to the UN Security Council.

The ministers are to consider sending peacekeepers to secure a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia, and protect humanitarian supplies.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has said Russian troops in Georgia should withdraw to pre-7 August positions and criticised the country’s “19th-Century way” of doing politics.

Mr Sarkozy, in his current role as EU president, held talks with President Medvedev in Moscow for most of Tuesday before flying to Tbilisi, where his arrival was greeted by emotional displays.

He held news conferences with both Mr Medvedev and Mr Saakashvili – with all three leaders saying they had agreed in principle to a five-point plan.

A sixth point in the plan, about holding international discussions on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, had been deleted with the agreement of Mr Medvedev, Mr Sarkozy and Mr Saakashvili said.

“The territorial integrity and belonging of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgia can never be put under doubt,” the Georgian leader said.

On Wednesday, the Russian army said 74 of its soldiers were killed, 171 were wounded and 19 were missing, the AFP news agency reports.

In Abkhazia, Georgia said its troops had withdrawn from the only area of the breakaway province they still occupied following a Russian offensive there, the Kodori Gorge.

The self-styled president of Abkhazia said it was in control of the disputed upper reaches of the gorge and that its forces had pushed Georgian troops out of the area a day earlier.

National mourning

The US has meanwhile said it is cancelling an annual joint naval exercise with Russia, scheduled for the end of this week in the Sea of Japan.

A US official told news agencies there was no way Washington could “proceed with this joint exercise at this time”.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned that Russia was “frankly… doing great damage” to its prospects for integrating into international organisations.

In a reference to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, she said Moscow’s behaviour belonged to “another time”.

“We are not in 1968 and the message has been very clear to Russia that it cannot operate that way,” she told the US channel ABC News.

Making Wednesday a day of national mourning in Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev accused Georgia of mounting a “genocide of the South Ossetian people”.

In his decree on national mourning, Mr Medvedev, who on Tuesday called Georgian troops “thugs” [Russian: otmorozki], did not give figures for civilian casualties in South Ossetia, but said they were “numerous”.

Russia moved in forcefully, sending troops into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway province. Georgian towns away from the two regions were also bombed.

Fighting flared last Thursday night when Georgia sent its army to regain control of South Ossetia – a region nominally part of Georgia, but with de facto independence and where a majority of people hold Russian passports.

Map of region


Are you in one of the affected areas of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Tell us what is happening Send us your experiences

August 4, 2008

Superb Murray wins Masters title

Andy Murray won his first title at the elite Masters Series level with a stunning victory over world number three Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati.

Courtesy BBC

Murray repeated his defeat of the Serb at last week’s Toronto Masters, beating his fellow 21-year-old 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5) in two hours and 23 minutes.

He needed six match points to seal victory after failing to serve out the match at the first attempt.

The win will see Murray ranked at a career high six in the world on Monday.

“It’s huge because to win these tournaments is tough nowadays,” said Murray afterwards.

“I’ve played five days in these conditions and had eight or nine matches in the last couple of weeks. But I’ve put in the physical work and it’s paid off.”

Djokovic enjoyed a fantastic win over world number one in waiting Rafael Nadal in the semis and went into the final with a 4-1 record against Murray.

I got very nervous and he was hitting the ball really big but I hung in well
Andy Murray

But that solitary win for the Scot came only nine days ago and was evidence of the significant leap he has made in recent months.

It was the Briton who started the better and he cranked up the pressure in game five, forcing a break point, before earning another chance two games later.

The Serb held him off but as the set progressed it seemed a matter of when, rather than if, Murray would force the break, all the while holding his own serve with ease.

Despite not being taken past 30 on serve the Scot still required a tie-break but he remained ice cool, breaking immediately and consolidating with a huge ace.

A couple of wild Djokovic forehand errors saw Murray reach the changeover at 5-1 and he wrapped up a commanding set when the Serb sent a backhand long.

Murray finally let his level slip at 1-1 in the second set and, after two crunching forehand winners saw off the immediate danger, he went long with a backhand on the third break point to hand Djokovic the lead.

It did not last long.

The Australian Open champion double-faulted on the first point of the following game and immediately handed back the break, looking suitably disgusted with himself.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport’s Piers Newbery

Murray stepped up a gear in game eight, moving to break point with a forehand winner and taking it when Djokovic netted a smash after some breathtaking scrambling from the Scot.

But with the title in his sights, Murray played his first edgy game of the day, throwing in two double-faults and missing four match points before Djokovic broke back.

It could have been a shattering blow for the Briton but he held on as the confidence flowed through Djokovic and managed to force a second tie-break.

Murray led 4-2 at the changeover after Djokovic double-faulted but was pegged back to 4-4, at which point the Scot won an epic rally with a fizzing backhand winner.

He finally earned a fifth match point with following another Djokovic double-fault but failed to make a return.

The sixth chance to seal victory came on his own serve and, finally, Murray secured a landmark win with a thumping volley.

“I got very nervous and he was hitting the ball really big but I hung in well,” said Murray.

“It was tough for both of us and there were a lot of long rallies. Your legs really burn out there and they were some of the hardest conditions of the year.

“But I stayed calm throughout and didn’t waste any energy – especially when I went behind in a couple of matches.

“In the past maybe I’d have let that get to me but now I’m playing top players on a regular basis and I’m better equipped.”

The Scot now heads to Beijing to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games before moving on to the US Open.

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