News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

July 19, 2009

US soldier shown in Taliban video

US soldier shown in Taliban video

The Taliban have released a 28-minute video showing a US soldier captured in Afghanistan last month.

In the video, the soldier, in grey clothes and with shaved head, says being a prisoner is “unnerving”.

He says the US public has the power to bring troops home to be “back where we belong and not over here, wasting our time and our lives”.

The US military identified him as the missing soldier and named him as Pte Bowe Bergdahl, 23, from Ketchum, Idaho.

The spokesman condemned the Taliban for issuing “propaganda” footage.

‘Against international law’

Pte Bergdahl, who went missing on 30 June in Paktika province, eastern Afghanistan, says in the video the date is 14 July and that he was captured as he lagged behind while on a patrol.

Please bring us home. It is America and American people who have that power
Quote from video

It is not possible to verify the time and date the video was made.

Pte Bergdahl, interviewed in English, says he has “a very, very good family” in America.

“I miss them and I’m afraid that I might never see them again, and that I’ll never be able to tell them that I love them again, and I’ll never be able to hug them,” he says.

When asked about his condition he replies: “Well I’m scared, scared I won’t be able to go home. It is very unnerving to be a prisoner.”

A voice off camera asks if he has a message for his “people”.

“To my fellow Americans who have loved ones over here, who know what it’s like to miss them, you have the power to make our government bring them home,” he says.

Map

“Please, please bring us home so that we can be back where we belong and not over here, wasting our time and our lives and our precious life that we could be using back in our own country.

“Please bring us home. It is America and American people who have that power.”

US military spokesman in Kabul, Capt Jon Stock, condemned the use of the video.

He told Reuters news agency: “The use of the soldier for propaganda purposes we view as against international law.

“We are continuing to do whatever possible to recover the soldier safe and unharmed.”

Leaflets have been distributed and a reward offered for his safe return.

The US military said the soldier disappeared after walking off base with three Afghan colleagues.

He is believed to be the first soldier seized in either Iraq or Afghanistan for at least two years.

June 26, 2009

Tributes paid to Michael Jackson

Tributes paid to Michael Jackson

Family, friends, colleagues and admirers have been paying tribute to Michael Jackson, following the announcement of the star’s death at the age of 50.

JERMAINE JACKSON, BROTHER

“My brother, the legendary King of Pop, Michael Jackson passed away on Thursday June 25th, 2009 at 2.26pm. It is believed he suffered cardiac arrest in his home.

“Our family requests that the media please respects our privacy at this tough time.

“And may Allah be with you Michael, always. Love you.”

MADONNA, SINGER

“I can’t stop crying over the sad news. I’ve always admired Michael Jackson – the world has lost one of its greats, but his music will live on forever.

“My heart goes out to his three children and other members of his family. God bless.”

BEYONCE KNOWLES, SINGER

“The incomparable Michael Jackson has made a bigger impact on music than any other artist in the history of music. He was magic. He was what we all strive to be. … I love you Michael.”

CELINE DION, SINGER

“I am shocked. I am overwhelmed by this tragedy. Michael Jackson has been an idol for me all my life.

“He was not only a talented person, but he was unique – a genius. It’s such a loss. It feels like when Kennedy died, when Elvis died. My sympathy goes to the family. It’s a big loss and it’s not even sinking in right now.”

URI GELLER, FRIEND

“I’m just devastated, very, very sad. I pray that his soul is up there now. I’m still trying to hold on to the glimmer that it is not true. It is too surreal for me to absorb that Michael is no longer with us.

“Michael was in good shape because he was practising, he was training, he was rehearsing for the shows. Michael was careful with what he ate, he was just fine. Last time I heard of what he was doing, he was in great shape. And this is why I’m so absolutely shocked by this news.”

CHER, SINGER

“I’m having a million different reactions I didn’t expect I would feel.

“He was a great singer – God gives you certain gifts, and this child was just an extraordinary child touched by this ability. He could sing like nobody else and he was able to connect with people.”

QUINCY JONES, MUSIC PRODUCER

“I’m absolutely devastated at this news. I just don’t have the words. Divinity brought our souls together and allowed us to do what we could do through the 80s.

“To this day that music is played in every corner of the world, and the reason is because he had it all – talent, grace and professionalism. I’ve lost my little brother today and part of my soul has gone with him.”

LISA MARIE PRESLEY, JACKSON’S EX-WIFE

“I am so very sad and confused with every emotion possible.

I am heartbroken for his children, who I know were everything to him, and for his family.

This is such a massive loss on so many levels, words fail me.”

LENNY KRAVITZ, SINGER

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz has worked with Jackson

“There will never be another talent like Michael Jackson.

“He was the first live performer I ever saw. I got to see him at Madison Square Garden when I was eight. If not for him, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.

“He gave me joy as a child and showed me the way to go. He was music. Period.

May you rest in peace sweet Michael. You gave us all you had to give.”

JOHN LANDIS, THRILLER VIDEO DIRECTOR

I was lucky enough to know and work with Michael Jackson in his prime. Michael was an extraordinary talent and a truly great international star. He had a troubled and complicated life and despite his gifts, remains a tragic figure.”

REV AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER

“As a friend of Michael’s for the past 35 years, I call on people from around the world to pray for him and his family.”

P DIDDY, SINGER

“Michael Jackson showed me that you can actually see the beat. He made the music come to life. He made me believe in magic. I will miss him.”

JANE FONDA, ACTRESS

“I am stunned. My friend, Michael Jackson, is dead. He lived with me for a week on the ‘Golden Pond’ set after Thriller.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR

“He was one of the most influential and iconic figures in the music industry.

“Our hearts go out to the Jackson family, Michael’s children and to his fans worldwide.”

USHER, SINGER

“My heart goes out to the King of Pop and his family.”

PAUL GAMBACCINI, MUSIC JOURNALIST

“Definitely one of the greatest stars of recorded music. There is no doubt of that. He would be in the top 10 of all time, regardless of who the other nine people were.

“But you also have to remember that he went through different stages and owed some of his popularity to collaborators – Quincy Jones, with whom he did the great trilogy of albums: Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad.”

BRITNEY SPEARS, SINGER

“I was so excited to see his tour in London. We were going to be on tour in Europe at the same time and I was going to fly into see him.

“He’s been an inspiration throughout my entire life and I’m devastated that he’s gone.”

DIONNE WARWICK, SINGER

“We have lost an icon in our industry and my heartfelt condolences go out to his family and children in this hour of sorrow.

“He will live on in my memory, and most definitely through the music he shared with so many.”

WYCLEF JEAN, SINGER

“Michael Jackson was my musical god. He made me believe that all things are possible, through real and positive music.

“He can live forever. I love Michael Jackson. God bless him.”

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, SINGER

Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake has been compared to Michael Jackson

“We have lost a genius and a true ambassador of not only pop music, but of all music. I can’t find the words right now to express how deeply saddened I am by Michael’s passing.

“He has been an inspiration to multiple generations, and I will always cherish the moments I shared with him onstage and all of the things I learned about music from him, and the time we spent together.

“My heart goes out to his family and loved ones.”

DONNA SUMMER, SINGER

“I’ve known Michael for many years and we’ve done many different things together over the years.

“I know his family and it’s just a total shock. I don’t even have words to say. I mean I’ll miss Michael, the world will miss Michael and I’m sure the world is in a state of grief right now.

“I will personally miss him, I will miss his light, I will miss his star, I will miss who he has caused other people to become because of his greatness. He upped the standard.”

MARIAH CAREY, SINGER

“I am heart broken. My prayers go out to the Jackson family, and my heart goes out to his children. Let us remember him for his unparalleled contribution to the world of music, his generosity of spirit in his quest to heal the world, and the joy he brought to is millions of devoted fans throughout the world.

“I feel blessed to have performed with him several times and to call him my friend. No artist will ever take his place. His star will shine forever.”

NE-YO, SINGER

“Michael Jackson will live forever through the thing that he put all of his life energy into: his music.

“Long live Michael Jackson.”

MC HAMMER, RAPPER

“I will be mourning my friend, brother, mentor and inspiration. He gave me and my family hope. I would never have been me without him.”

LL COOL J, RAPPER

“He was one of my childhood idols. I salute you King of Pop. You made the whole world moonwalk together.”

RUSSELL SIMMONS, FOUNDER OF DEF-JAM RECORDS

“Michael Jackson was my generation’s most iconic cultural hero. Courageous, unique and incredibly talented. He’ll be missed greatly.”

BERRY GORDY, US RECORD PRODUCER

“I am shocked beyond words. It’s like a dream, a bad dream. This cannot be. How can Michael Jackson not be here?

“As a kid, Michael was always beyond his years. He had a knowingness about him that was incredible.

“Michael was and will remain one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived.

“He was exceptional, artistic and original. He gave the world his heart and soul through his music.

MATT FIDDES, FORMER BODYGUARD

“He’s the most misunderstood man in world. Everyone thought he was this weird freak but when you’re with him he’s as normal as everyone else. I don’t think he felt he was as famous as everyone else thought, he didn’t know any different.

“He was a very caring guy who would go out of his way to help the sick. One night in London he wanted to see some homeless people. He sent them loads of pizzas in secret. The guy had a good heart.

“We used to dress him up and sneak out of hotel room and do normal things in shops. People wouldn’t know who he was but we wanted to give him a taste of the real life.”

December 10, 2008

Intel Launches Fastest Processor on the Planet – Core i7

https://expressyoureself.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/intelcorei7-lg.jpgIntel Pakistan Corporation recently introduced its most advanced desktop processor ever, the Intel Core i7 processor at a glittering ceremony. The Core i7 processor is the first member of a new family of Nehalem processor designs and is the most sophisticated ever built, with new technologies that boost performance on demand and maximize data throughput. The Core i7 processor speeds video editing, immersive games and other popular Internet and computer activities by up to 40 percent without increasing

power consumption. Broadly heralded by the computing industry as a technical marvel, the Intel Core i7 processor holds a new world record of 117 for the SPECint_base_rate2006 benchmark test that measures the peroformance of a processor. This is the first time ever for any single processor to exceed a score of 100 points. “Intel has deliveredthe fastest desktop processor on Earth to the most demanding users, the ones who are using their PCs for video, gaming and music,” said Ashar H. Zaidi, Country Manager, Intel Corporation Pakistan. “When you couple what is Intel’s biggest leap in chip design with other incredible innovations like Intel’s solid state drives, the Core i7 processor has redefined the computer of tomorrow.”

The Core i7 also has the latest Intel power-saving technologies, allowing desktops to go into sleep states formerly reserved for intel-based notebooks. Intel Core i7– 920, Intel Core i7-940 and Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition have been launched in Pakistan. The Core i7 processor is the first member of the Intel Nehalem microarchitecture family; server and mobile product versions will be in production later. Each Core i7 processor features an 8MB level 3 cache and three channels of DDR3 1066 memory to deliver the best memory performance of any desktop platform. Intel’s top performance processor, the Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition, also removes overspeed protection, allowing Intel’s knowledgeable customers or hobbyists to further increase the chip’s speed.

November 4, 2008

No apathy as US election day looms

No apathy as US election day looms

After nearly two years of digesting speeches and slogans, of being bombarded with adverts and requests for money, of coming to terms with the possibility of the first non-white or female president, Americans are nearly there.

Pedestrians walk along a pavement that is lined with dozens of election signs

One thing is certain: Americans are ready for this election

They voted in record numbers in the primary elections and now look poised to do the same in the general election. In fact, they already have been.

In more than 30 states, early voting began several weeks ago. It has not been uncommon to see large lines snaking around entrances to libraries, community centres and other voting locations.

If there is one thing that can confidently be said, it is that Americans are ready for this election.

At a time of economic crisis, with opinion polls consistently showing that large numbers of people are unhappy with the direction their country is taking, there is little sense of apathy.

‘Mind-boggling’ costs

And, after eight years of an increasingly unpopular Republican presidency, the advantage is with the Democratic Party – and the party’s candidate, Barack Obama.

Barack Obama campaigns in Ohio

Mr Obama has mustered a record-breaking fundraising operation

He has raised mind-boggling amounts of cash – far in excess of even the most generous estimates – enabling him to compete across the country and to afford extravagant amounts of advertising in these final few weeks, culminating in the half hour “infomercial” which aired at prime time on several US networks last week.

Of course, it’s not just the money. Throughout the months that I’ve covered this election, the levels of excitement and enthusiasm at Obama rallies have consistently outstripped those of his opponents, both Democratic and Republican.

Only Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin – both historic candidates, in their differing ways, have managed to inspire crowds, in a similar fashion.

Transformational

But the question is: Will this enthusiasm, enhanced voter registration and substantial financial advantage be carried over into the polling stations?

If it is, Sen Obama has a real chance of winning many of the states, which have crossed from safe Republican territory into the “toss up” column; places like Indiana and Virginia, which last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate when the current one was just three years old.

The election could be transformational, not just in terms of bringing a non-white president to the White House, but in re-drawing the electoral map, at the same time.

John McCain campaigns in Florida

Behind in the polls, Mr McCain insists will be the comeback kid

There are plenty of potential obstacles, though. Some are visceral.

When it comes down to it, how many Americans will find it hard to put a cross next to a man with an exotic name and mixed-race background?

Will Mr Obama, for all his inspiring rhetoric and calm demeanour be seen as too aloof and professorial?

Will Americans prefer the earthier, more “familiar-looking”, Mr McCain; a feature of public life for several decades, with an inspiring story of war time heroism – and reputation for bridging partisan divides?

And what of the polls, which have shown a fairly consistent Obama lead for the past few weeks? Will that keep Democratic voters away, through a sense of complacency, or, perhaps, discourage Republicans?

Palin effect

Certainly, the McCain campaign has made much of the tightening numbers in recent days and in places, such as Pennsylvania – a must win state for the Republican candidate.

There, the Arizona senator’s argument that Mr Obama is too inexperienced in foreign affairs and too left-wing in his economic views is gaining traction.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Higher than usual number of voters leads to long queues
First-time voters are confused by the process, adding to delays
Voters are challenged over their registration or identity at the polls
Polling stations experience problems with voting machines
High turn-out leads to shortage of ballot papers
Householders with a repossession notice denied right to vote

Another big unknown is the Palin effect. Mr McCain’s running mate has inspired and disappointed in equal measure. She is likely to be a reason for many on both sides to turn out.

So, will the pro or anti forces be the most energised?

And whose get out the vote efforts will be the most successful? The Republicans have a good track record in this and the McCain camp seems to have kept cash aside for the final push, but the Obama campaign has broken new ground in its organisational powers.

The experience of the long primary campaign is likely to come in very handy.

Undecided voters

And what of those undecided voters? The sense I get, is that many are people who voted for President Bush four years ago, but are still unconvinced by Mr McCain – either for reasons of ideology or temperament.

If that’s the case, Mr Obama doesn’t need to win them over. He’d be happy if they simply stayed at home.

At this point, the odds remain in favour of an Obama win. But it’s not the bookmakers who will decide the result of the election; it’s the American people.

And after the longest, most expensive – and, according to many veteran observers – most inspiring election campaign in living memory, they are about to make that decision.

Rarely can their choice have seemed so consequential for the country, or the world.

Alaska ethics probe clears Palin

Alaska ethics probe clears Palin

Sarah Palin campaigns in Dubuque, Iowa, 3 Nov

Sarah Palin has always denied any wrongdoing over the affair

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has been cleared by a new report of abuse of power in firing Alaska’s top law enforcement official.

An independent investigator appointed by the Alaska Personnel Board said she had violated no ethics law.

Mrs Palin, governor of Alaska, was accused of sacking Walt Monegan because he failed to dismiss her ex-brother-in-law, state trooper Michael Wooten.

An earlier report for Alaska’s congress found that she had abused her office.

Mrs Palin has always denied any wrongdoing, and her supporters say the charges were motivated by her political opponents.

The Alaska Personnel Board report, led by investigator Timothy Petumenos, said there was “no probable cause to believe that the governor, or any other state official, violated the Alaska Executive Ethics Act in connection with these matters”.

Walt Monegan, pictured on 28 Jan 2008

Walter Monegan says Mr Wooten did nothing to warrant his dismissal

According to a copy of the report posted on the Anchorage Daily News website, the board concluded that there was no need to hold a hearing on “reputational harm”, as Mr Monegan had requested.

The report did say that the use of “private e-mails for government work” needed to be addressed, an apparent reference to Mrs Palin’s use at times of her personal e-mail account for state business.

Mrs Palin referred the matter to the personnel board herself.

The earlier report for the state legislature, released last month, said Mr Monegan’s refusal to fire Mr Wooten was not the sole reason for his dismissal, but a contributing factor.

However, it added that the actual sacking of Mr Monegan was a “proper and lawful” exercise of Mrs Palin’s rights as governor of Alaska.

Indian Moon probe pictures Earth

Earth (ISRO)

The terrain mapping camera will eventually help compile an atlas of the Moon

India’s Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft has sent back its first images.

The probe was launched on 22 October to embark on a two-year mission of exploration at the Moon.

Ground controllers in Bangalore instructed the probe to take pictures with its Terrain Mapping Camera as the spacecraft made a pass of the Earth.

Chandrayaan also fired its engines for three minutes to carry out an orbit raising manoeuvre which takes the probe closer to the lunar body.

That was the fourth manoeuvre of its type made by the spacecraft, extending its orbit to more than half the distance to the Moon.

Just one more like it is required to take Chandrayaan into the Moon’s vicinity, at a distance of 384,000km from Earth.

Keeping up

The first images, taken at an altitude of 9,000km, show the northern coast of Australia while others, snapped at a height of 70,000km, show Australia’s southern coast.

Earth (ISRO)

The camera takes black and white images at a resolution of 5m

The Terrain Mapping Camera is one of the eleven scientific instruments aboard Chandrayaan 1. The camera takes black and white pictures at a resolution of about 5m.

Once Chandrayaan reaches the Moon, it will slip into orbit to compile a 3D atlas of the lunar surface and map the distribution of elements and minerals.

The mission is regarded as a major step for India as it seeks to keep pace with other spacefaring nations in Asia.

The health of Chandrayaan 1 is being continuously monitored from the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) in Bangalore with support from Indian Deep Space Network antennas at Byalalu.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) – the country’s space agency – says that all systems have been performing well.

November 1, 2008

Crucial battle on Pakistan’s frontline

A tank fires at militant movement detected at the edge of the town of Loi Sam in Bajaur

A tank fires at militant movement detected at the edge of the town of Loi Sam

Entering the combat zone, we drive past mile after mile of flattened buildings, crops and trees, razed to prevent ambushes.

Even still, soldiers are on high alert, watchful for possible attacks.

They race down the road at top speed, firing occasional rounds from the guns mounted on the backs of their vehicles. Cobra attack helicopters circle overhead.

This is the tribal area of Bajaur near the Afghan border, or rather a small part of it.

The Pakistan army has wrested control of a 38km (24-mile) region from the Taleban, and it has given us rare access to the frontline.

We arrive in the town of Loi Sam, now in ruins. Militants here were targeted by the air force and artillery, followed by a ground offensive that lasted five days.

Civilians fled long ago – hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the fighting.

Key crossroads

A tank guards one of the approaches to the town, firing whenever there is movement in the distance.

Already a bulldozer has begun clearing away the blasted shells of buildings.

“You have to either occupy or remove the structures,” says one soldier, “otherwise the militants will return to them once we’ve left.”

For the army, this is a crucial victory: Loi Sam lies at a key crossroads between Afghanistan and Pakistan. From here local and Afghan insurgents could launch attacks in both countries.

“The militant activities from this tribal agency were radiating in different directions, towards Afghanistan, the rest of the border region and [Pakistan’s] settled areas,” says army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas.

“Now we have this area under control, it will affect militant activities elsewhere, and we’ll capitalise on that.”

“The worst is over,” agrees Maj Gen Tariq Khan, who is in charge of the offensive. “I think we have turned the corner.”

Guerrilla warfare

The battle has been slow and deliberate. It took six weeks for the army to secure the road from the headquarters of the local security forces, the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC), to Loi Sam, a distance of 13km.

Troops fought compound to compound in a terrain ideal for guerrilla warfare.

“There are road bends, there are depressions, there are houses located inside the depressions, trenches prepared, caves, tunnels, everything prepared,” says Col Javed Baloch, commander of one of the posts along the road, “so it was difficult to find them, to spot them, and then take the area.”

The Taleban has made extensive use of bunkers and tunnels which connected different compounds.

One commanding officer, Maj Kamal, took me 5m underground for a tour of the network.

He says his men blocked 20 or 30 passageways, including one that stretched 100m to a stream.

Many in Bajaur trace the roots of the uprising to a suspected US missile strike on an Islamic seminary, or madrassa, in November 2006, which killed around 80 people.

That radicalized local Islamists, they say, who were reinforced by militants from other Pakistani tribal areas. There was also an influx of fighters from Afghanistan.

A soldier keeps watch
Until and unless Afghanistan is made stable, you can do a million development activities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and there will be no result
Shafir Ullah
Government representative in Bajaur

The battle for Bajaur was triggered when the FC tried to re-establish a check post in Loi Sam in early August. Fierce resistance led to the siege of the FC base before the army was called in.

Like other army officers, Maj Gen Tariq Khan criticises unilateral US air strikes on suspected insurgent targets as deeply counter productive.

But, he says, during the Bajaur operation there has been improved intelligence sharing and co-ordination with coalition forces, which has reduced cross-border militant infiltration from Afghanistan. “We’ve seen practical on-ground adjustments in relevance to our operations,” he says.

“I’ve got a very positive response and I feel we’ve set up some system in which we’re in some kind of regular touch, and I think that’s the way to go.”

Hearts and minds

Now that the fighting has subsided, attention is turning to reconstruction and development: acknowledgement that winning hearts and minds in the impoverished tribal region along the border is essential to fighting the insurgency.

Map

But that won’t be enough, says Shafir Ullah, the government representative in Bajaur who deals with tribal elders.

“The reasons [for the insurgency] are poverty, backwardness and others, but the real problem is linked with Afghanistan,” he says.

“Until and unless Afghanistan is made stable, you can do a million development activities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and there will be no result.”

The Taleban have been pushed back – the army claims it has killed 1,500 – but they haven’t been defeated.

Two soldiers were killed by rocket fire in Loi Sam shortly after we left the town, bringing the army’s death toll to 75. Nearly 100 civilians have also died, says Shafir Ullah.

One hillside post is so exposed to Taleban fire that the soldiers have dug in for protection.

Forty men can fit in the massive bunker at any one time, a few are saying their prayers and reciting the Koran in a makeshift underground mosque when we visit.

This is not a popular war in Pakistan: some have criticized the military for killing fellow Muslims.

Others accuse it of fighting “America’s War”. But the army insists it is fighting to defend Pakistan, not just responding to US pressure for action against the Taleban.

Even as dusk falls artillery guns continue to pound militant positions. The war in Afghanistan has spilled over into Pakistan.

This is the other, rarely seen, side of the battle against the Taleban.

Libya compensates terror victims

People visit the Lockerbie Garden of Remembrance (image from May 2000)

Most of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing were Americans

Libya has paid $1.5bn into a US compensation fund for relatives of victims of terror attacks blamed on Tripoli, the US state department says.

The fund was agreed in August to settle remaining lawsuits in the US.

The attacks include the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people and the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco which killed three and wounded more than 200.

Under the deal, Libya did not accept responsibility for the attacks, but agreed to compensate victims.

It is the final step in a long diplomatic process, which has seen Libya come back into the international fold.

US contribution

The first $300m Libyan payment into the fund was made on 9 October, shortly after an historic visit to Tripoli by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Its second payment of $600m was received on Thursday and a final installment of $600m was made on Friday, said David Welch, the US diplomat who negotiated the settlement.

In exchange, President Bush has signed an executive order restoring the Libyan government’s immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismissing pending compensation cases in the US, the White House said.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs David Welch (l), and Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Fitouri (14.8.2008)

The US and Libya agreed to the compensation deal in August

Our correspondent says it is unclear why it took so long for the money to be paid into the fund.

She adds that there may have been contributions by American companies lured by business opportunities in Tripoli and keen to expedite the process of normalising ties.

The US State Department, however, has insisted that no money from the American taxpayer will be used for the US portion of the fund.

Libya has already paid the families of Lockerbie victims $8m (£4m) each, but it owes them $2m more.

The fund will also be used to compensate relatives of seven Americans who died in the bombing of a French UTA airliner over Chad in 1989.

In 2004, Libya agreed to pay $35m in compensation to non-US victims of the 1986 Berlin bombing.

In the same year, relatives of non-US victims of the UTA bombing accepted a payment of $1m each from the Gaddafi International Foundation for Charity Associations.

Relations between Libya and the US improved in 2003 when Tripoli stopped working on weapons of mass destruction.

The decision led to the restoration of US diplomatic ties with Libya in 2006.

In turn, it was removed from America’s list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

Regional DR Congo talks planned

Internally displaced Congolese people leave Goma, 31 October 2008

Fears are growing for thousands of people who have fled into the bush

The Rwandan and Congolese presidents have agreed to try to end fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and his Congolese counterpart Joseph Kabila agreed to attend a regional summit after talks with a senior EU official on Friday.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband are due to meet the two men and visit Goma on Saturday.

The UN refugee agency has described the situation as “a total disaster”.

Aid groups say they are struggling to reach 250,000 people fleeing fighting between government and rebel forces.

European Union Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said the only way to resolve the crisis was through a summit involving all regional leaders.

He said agreement had been reached on the prospect of a regional summit after two days of talks in the Congolese capital Kinshasa and the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

“They are both fully agreed on the idea of having this summit,” Mr Michel told.

But renegade rebel general Laurent Nkunda had not yet been asked to join the talks, Mr Michel added.

A ceasefire is holding in and around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, but aid agencies say the situation there remains highly volatile.

Gen Nkunda’s forces are positioned some 15km (nine miles) from the city, which they have threatened to take unless UN peacekeepers guarantee the ceasefire and security there.

Refugee stampede

As diplomatic efforts to end the crisis gathered pace on Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday called leaders in Africa, Europe and the US to urge them to “do all they can to bring the parties to a neutral venue for negotiations”.

Congolese soldier with refugee women in Goma - 30/10/2008

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, the current African Union chairman, and AU Commission chief Jean Ping said the summit could be held in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam or the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Food, water and medicine in the city are scarce, and many international relief workers have pulled out after reports widespread rape and looting by retreating Congolese troops.

The BBC’s Orla Guerin witnessed scenes of chaos at a refugee camp in Kibati outside Goma, as desperately hungry people surged towards aid distribution points.

Children were trampled underfoot and panicked aid staff were forced to beat back the heaving crowd.

Some who reached Kibati told the BBC they had more chance of getting food in the forests than inside Goma.

Trading accusations

The UN refugee agency said camps sheltering 50,000 refugees in Rutshuru, 90km north of Goma, had been forcibly emptied, looted and then burnt to the ground.

“There are some 50,000 people who were in those camps,” said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond. “We don’t know where they would be, we’re afraid that they may have just dispersed off into the bush.”

The UN has more than 17,000 peacekeeping troops in DR Congo – the largest UN force in the world – but correspondents say it is struggling to cope with the scale of the current crisis.

The origin of the ongoing conflict in eastern DR Congo is the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

Gen Nkunda says he is fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attack by Rwandan Hutu rebels, some of whom are accused of taking part in the genocide.

The Congolese government has often promised to stop Hutu forces from using its territory, but has not done so.

There have also been accusations of collusion between DR Congo’s army and Hutu guerrillas.

The Congolese government, for its part, has accused Rwanda of backing Gen Nkunda.

Rwanda denies this, but it has twice invaded its much larger neighbour in recent years.

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