flareneld's oven: September 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Al-Jazeera shows images of al-Qaeda hostages in Niger

BBC News

Screen grab from video showing seven hostages being held by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (30 September 2010) The hostages were last seen heading for Niger's border with Mali
Al-Jazeera has broadcast the images of the seven workers from a uranium mine in Niger who were kidnapped two weeks ago by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The stills were taken from a short video that features them sitting in an unknown desert location, surrounded by armed men, responding to questions.

Five of the hostages are French. The other two are from Togo and Madagascar.
The French foreign ministry has confirmed the images are authentic and called them "an encouraging sign".
Two of the French nationals were employees of the French nuclear energy firm, Areva, which operates the mine near Arlit.
The other five hostages worked for a subsidiary of the French construction company, Vinci, which was a subcontractor there.
The hostages and their captors were last seen heading towards Inabangaret, an important well and stopping point in north-western Niger.
It is believed they are being held in the mountains of northern Mali.
Military search
In the images broadcast by al-Jazeera, the seven hostages are shown sitting cross-legged on sand with seven armed men standing behind them. The captors' faces are obscured by the turbans they are wearing.
Map of Niger
The video featured them being asked in French about their names, ages, marital status, al-Jazeera said. When asked if they know the identity of their kidnappers, the hostages said they were members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
It is not clear when the footage, which has now been posted online, was filmed.
The French foreign ministry said the group photograph had been authenticated.
"Even if we don't know when it was taken, it's an encouraging sign in as much as it shows all the hostages alive," a statement said, according to the AFP news agency.
An audio statement by AQIM broadcast by al-Jazeera last week said a group led by Sheikh Abou Zaid - its leader in northern Mali - had managed to evade the tight security in place at Arlit and kidnapped "five French nuclear experts" on 16 September.
Niger is the world's sixth biggest producer of uranium, and the radioactive heavy metal is its main export. Areva gets much of its uranium from the two mines it operates in the country, Arlit and Imouraren.
A French Mirage F1 fighter at Entebbe airport The French military is using reconnaissance planes to scour the desert for the hostages
France has sent 80 military personnel, as well as aircraft equipped with sophisticated monitoring equipment to Niger's capital, Niamey, to help search for them.
AQIM, a North African offshoot of al-Qaeda, is active in the region and has kidnapped French and other European nationals in the past.
In July, the group announced that it had executed a 78-year-old retired French engineer it was holding hostage in Mali, after a raid by the French and Mauritanian armed forces failed to free him.
The following month, the Spanish government is believed to have paid millions of euros to free two of its nationals seized by AQIM in Mauritania.

Islamic veil ban in Dutch coalition deal

BBC News

From left, Geert Wilders, Mark Rutte and Maxime Verhagen in The Hague. 30 Sept 2010 Party leaders, from left, Geert Wilders, Mark Rutte and Maxime Verhagen, have reached agreement
A ban on wearing the full Islamic veil in the Netherlands will be part of the government's programme under a pact to form a coalition, party leaders say.
The Liberals and Christian Democrats have had to make concessions to anti-Islamist Geert Wilders to gain his support for their minority coalition.
The deal ends months of deadlock but still needs to be ratified by Christian Democrats in a meeting on Saturday.
The pact includes plans for budget cuts of 18bn euros ($24bn; £15bn) by 2015.
It also tightens rules on immigration and boosts the number of police officers.

Start Quote

I am convinced that it is an agreement that every Christian Democrat will be able to identify with”
End Quote Maxime Verhagen CDA leader
"Important reforms will be carried out in the Netherlands," Liberal party leader Mark Rutte said in presenting the pact, titled Freedom and Responsibility.
"We want to give the country back to the working Dutch citizen."
The Liberal party (VVD) and the Christian Democrats (CDA) have 52 seats between them in the 150-seat parliament and propose to form a minority government. They would rely on the Freedom Party's 24 seats to pass legislation by a tiny margin.
Under the deal, VVD leader Mr Rutte would become prime minister, forming a cabinet with the CDA, led by Maxime Verhagen.
Mr Verhagen described the deal as a "very good governing agreement".
"I am convinced that it is an agreement that every Christian Democrat will be able to identify with," he said.
Marathon talks
The deal has angered some CDA MPs who do not want to work with Mr Wilders.
CDA MPs decided after marathon talks on Wednesday to leave the final decision on joining the coalition to a special conference on Saturday.
Mr Wilders is well known for his controversial far-right views.
He has campaigned to stop the "Islamisation of the Netherlands" and is due to stand trial next week on hate speech charges for allegedly insulting Islam.
The Netherlands has been run by a caretaker government since February when a coalition led by the CDA's former leader, Jan Peter Balkenende, collapsed after a row over military involvement in Afghanistan.
June's general election delivered a surge of support for the Freedom Party, which won the third biggest share of the seats.

bank teller counting Chinese currency 100 yuan notes in Beijing China is accused of unfairly keeping its currency low to help its exporters
China has warned that a US bill aimed at penalising it for currency manipulation could "harm relations" between the two economic giants.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said China was "resolutely opposed" to the bill, which treats undervalued currencies as illegal export subsidies.
China is accused of keeping the yuan artificially low to help its exporters.
The bill has been voted through by the US House of Representatives, but still needs Senate and presidential approval.

Related stories

"Using the [yuan] exchange rate issue as an excuse to engage in trade protectionism against China can only harm China-US trade and economic relations, and will have a negative effect on both countries' economies and the world economy," warned spokeswoman Jiang Yu, speaking at a regular press briefing.
Trade rules
If it becomes law, the bill will allow the US Commerce Department to impose tariffs on Chinese imports, if it deems the yuan to be "fundamentally undervalued".
Those tariffs would also need the approval of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
But speaking to China's state-run news agency, Yao Jian, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Commerce, said US attempts to use the exchange rate to justify trade restrictions would violate WTO rules.
He also warned that the US had as much to lose from a trade war as China, with China is now the US's fastest-growing export market.
The Chinese government also argues that its trade surplus with the US does not demonstrate that the current yuan-dollar exchange rate gives it an unfair advantage, pointing out that it has similar trade surpluses with other Asian countries.

Plan to end energy bill loophole

BBC News

Oven Various changes to consumers' bills have been introduced by Ofgem
Customers could be told in advance about energy price rises rather than notification up to two months after the event.
Current rules mean suppliers can wait for 65 working days after prices have been put up to tell their customers.
But under plans published by regulator Ofgem, companies would have to give customers 30 calendar days' warning before putting prices up.
It said the timescale would allow people to shop around for deals.
If the proposals are accepted by the energy companies, they could come into effect by January 2011.
An Ofgem inquiry into the domestic energy market found that the 65-day statutory deadline was supposed to be a backstop.
After notice was given, customers had 20 days to switch supplier if they wanted to avoid paying the increased price. Under the new plans, they could now do this before the rise came into effect.
"A month's notice of price increases, along with annual energy statements and better information on bills, will empower consumers by giving them the facts about how much their energy costs," said Andrew Wright, Ofgem's senior partner for markets.

Start Quote

We will not hesitate to bring forward further measures to protect consumers if the evidence shows them to be necessary”
End Quote Andrew Wright Ofgem
"This information makes it easier to shop around for a better energy deal and to evaluate the benefits energy efficiency measures can deliver.
"We will continue to keep the effectiveness of the energy market under review and will not hesitate to bring forward further measures to protect consumers if the evidence shows them to be necessary."
The Liberal Democrats first raised the issue of the 65-day rule in January, and the Labour government then vowed to reduce the delay to 10 days.
The coalition government has since said it will change the rules, with the issue raised again at the Liberal Democrat conference last week.
Now Ofgem has gone further by proposing that consumers are told of price rises in advance.
Industry watchdog Consumer Focus welcomed the plans.
"If people's energy bills are going to go up, of course they [customers] should be told in advance, not up to two months later," said Audrey Gallacher, the watchdog's head of energy policy.
"By knowing about price rises, people can budget for them and look to switch to a cheaper deal. The next step is for Ofgem to tackle the confusing array of energy tariffs consumers have to battle with. It should also address problems with rollover contracts, where people can be unwittingly tied into long deals with expensive get out clauses."
Other changes to bills made recently by Ofgem included the introduction of annual energy statements, allowing people to compare tariffs more confidently, and stricter rules on doorstep sales.

French MEP Rachida Dati makes oral sex slip-up

BBC News

Rachida Dati Rachida Dati left the cabinet last year amid criticism of her glamorous lifestyle
France's ex-justice minister Rachida Dati mixed up the words "fellatio" and "inflation" - which sound similar in French - during a TV interview.
She told Canal Plus: "I see some [foreign investment funds] looking for returns of 20 or 25% at a time when fellatio is close to zero."
Within hours, the video was an internet hit on websites such as YouTube.
Ms Dati, now a Euro MP, later laughed off the whole episode saying she had spoken too quickly.
Ms Dati also said she was happy to have provided some entertainment.
The French word for fellatio is "fellation", which sounds similar to the word "inflation".
Ms Dati left the government last year amid criticism of her management style, and gossip about her clothes and love life.
She is now an MEP and serves as mayor of Paris's seventh arrondissement.

L/Cpl Katrina Hodge (left) with Jessica Linley (right) L/Cpl Katrina Hodge, left, will return to Army life on Thursday
A soldier who served in Iraq and was crowned Miss England has announced she will swap her evening gowns for combat fatigues and return to Army life.
L/Cpl Katrina Hodge, 23, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, who handed over her crown to new winner Jessica Linley, will return to Army duties on Thursday.
She was drafted in after the winner of the 2009 national contest stepped down.
The part-time model was nicknamed Combat Barbie after being commended for bravery in Iraq.
L/Cpl Hodge said: "Obviously I'm a little bit nervous because I've lived a different life for a year, but I'm looking forward to it because I have missed my job.
"I am a bit apprehensive but excited too.
"I'm going to a new place with new people so they didn't know me before.
"I don't think I've changed at all though, I think I've stayed quite grounded."
'Glitz and glamour'
She added: "Everyone has an opinion initially but people will realise I'm just a normal Army girl.
"I've always said I was going to go back, I really enjoyed my job in the Army before I became Miss England.
Katrina Hodge Ms Hodge was given leave from her duties to take part in the Miss World final
"I've had a year of glitz and glamour but that sort of stuff doesn't last - the Army is a career for me."
She was first runner-up in the 2009 national contest, but was promoted after Rachel Christie, athlete Linford Christie's niece, stepped down to clear her name.
Miss Christie, was accused of punching Miss Manchester, Sara Beverley Jones, at a nightclub in Manchester in November 2009.
The case was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in April because of a lack of evidence.
L/Cpl Hodge was given leave from her duties as a soldier in the British Army to represent England in the Miss World final in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The international title was won by Kaiane Aldorino, Miss Gibraltar.

Afghan opium production 'halved'

BBC News

Police officers destroy poppy crops in Badakhshan province, Afghanistan, July 2009 Afghanistan produces 90% of the world's opium, the main ingredient in heroin
Opium production in Afghanistan has almost halved in the past year, a United Nations report says.
The sharp drop is largely due to a plant infection which has drastically reduced yields, says the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
But it warns that production is unlikely to stay low, with rising prices tempting farmers to cultivate more opium poppies.
Afghanistan produces 90% of the world's opium, the main ingredient in heroin.

The UNODC's 2010 Afghan Opium Survey showed production in 2010 was at its lowest level since 2003, estimated at 3,600 tonnes - a 48% decrease from 6,900 tonnes in 2009.
"This is good news but there is no room for false optimism; the market may again become lucrative for poppy-crop growers so we have to monitor the situation closely," said Yury Fedotov, executive director of UNODC.
But with opium prices rising again after years of steady decline, the UNODC has warned that production is unlikely to stay low.
The total area of the country used for poppy cultivation remains unchanged despite government eradication programmes, and Mr Fedotov has called for a comprehensive strategy to counter the opium threat.
Most of the poppies are grown in the restive southern and western provinces, the report says, underscoring the link between the insurgency and the opium trade.
Last year Helmand accounted for nearly 60% of the country's total production of the drug, the UNODC said.

Troops in Ayodhya on 29 Sept 2010 The authorities fear a violent reaction to the ruling

Nearly 200,000 security personnel are being deployed in northern India ahead of a court ruling on the long-running Ayodhya religious dispute.
Helicopters are keeping watch overhead and authorities have urged calm amid fears the ruling could spark unrest.
The Allahabad High Court will decide who owns land where Hindu mobs tore down a 16th Century mosque in 1992.
Hindus claim the site of the Babri Masjid is the birthplace of their God, Rama, and want to build a temple there.

The destruction of the mosque led to widespread rioting between Hindus and Muslims in which some 2,000 people died.
It was some of the worst religious violence since the partition of India in 1947.
Peace appeal
The high court ruling in the Ayodhya case is due to be announced in the city of Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh state, on Thursday at 1530 local time (1000 GMT).
Of the three judges who will give the verdict, two are Hindu and one is Muslim.
The BBC's Soutik Biswas in Delhi says whichever way the ruling goes, it will be a test for India's secular identity.
Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said on Wednesday that there would be 190,000 security personnel on duty in the state for the ruling.
Group mobile phone text messages have been blocked in an attempt to prevent anyone from inciting violence, and a media watchdog has appealed to broadcasters to avoid showing inflammatory images.
"The central government has taken adequate measures and has deployed adequate forces to assist state governments in maintaining peace," Mr Chidambaram told a press conference in Delhi.
"I once again appeal to the people to maintain peace."


The Babri mosque
  • Ayodhya dispute centres around land 130ft (40m) x 90ft (27m) where the mosque stood
  • Court cases over the issue date back to 1949 - so far 18 judges have heard the case
  • A 1992 report blamed top Hindu nationalist politicians for a role in the demolition
  • A key issue is whether the temple was demolished on the orders of Mughal emperor Babar in 1528
  • Other questions are whether the mosque was built according to Islamic law and whether idols were put inside it by Hindus in 1949
Mr Chidambaram said all state governments had been "advised to be firm and maintain public peace and order and I'm sure they will do it".
Correspondents say the authorities are anxious as the legal decision could have potentially explosive consequences.
An appeal for peace, signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has appeared in several Indian newspapers urging people to respect the rule of law and abide by the court order.
Correspondents say the Ayodhya ruling could not have come at a worse time for the authorities - they already have their hands full dealing with security preparations for the Delhi Commonwealth Games which begin on Sunday.
Moreover, many troops are engaged in fighting Maoist rebels across vast tracts of India and the worsening situation in Indian-administered Kashmir has added to security problems.
The court ruling was due last Friday but the Supreme Court deferred the decision, saying it wanted to give Hindus and Muslims more time to resolve the dispute amicably. On Tuesday it said the high court could proceed.
Correspondents say Thursday's ruling is unlikely to be final and it is expected that the judgement will be appealed.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Israel commited to Peace

In meeting with U.S. envoy, Netanyahu pledges commitment to peace

By the CNN Wire Staff
September 29, 2010 -- Updated 1628 GMT (0028 HKT)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, told U.S. envoy George Mitchell he is committed to peace.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, told U.S. envoy George Mitchell he is committed to peace.

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.S. special Mideast envoy Wednesday that he is committed to reaching a peace agreement with Palestinians, according to a statement released by Netanyahu's office.

"There are many doubts and obstacles on the road to peace. Everyone understands that, but there is only one way to assure that we don't reach peace, and that is if we don't try and achieve peace," Netanyahu said. "I am committed and the government is committed to reaching a peace deal."

The statement from Netanyahu's office did not specify whether the end of Israel's 10-month settlement construction moratorium in the West Bank had come up in his conversation with George Mitchell, special Mideast envoy for the United States.
Mitchell is visiting the region as part of a diplomatic push to help keep face-to-face peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians on track.
The building freeze's Sunday expiration has sparked concern that the controversial issue could become a sticking point that would stall face-to-face talks between Palestinians and Israelis, which resumed earlier this month after an 18-month hiatus.
Before their meeting, Mitchell told Netanyahu that the Obama administration remains "totally committed to comprehensive peace" despite challenges. He did not mention the settlement issue, but acknowledged the "complexities" in the talks.
"We knew this would be a road with many bumps -- and there have been many bumps -- and that continues to this day. But we are not deterred," said Mitchell, who plans to sit down with Palestinian leaders on Thursday in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The U.S. Embassy in Israel provided Mitchell's remarks in a transcript of brief comments from the envoy and Netanyahu.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy representative, said she will be traveling to the Middle East on Thursday to bolster the EU's support "for direct talks to continue between Israel and Palestine after the Israeli decision not to extend the moratorium on settlements."
"The EU regrets the Israeli decision not to extend the moratorium on settlements. During my visit I will reiterate the call for both parties to act responsibly and choose the path of peace," said Ashton, who plans to meet with Netanyahu, Mitchell, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Video: Everything 'relative' in talks

On Tuesday U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the end of the settlement moratorium -- and what happens next -- would be key topics of conversation during Mitchell's trip.
"We want the Palestinians to stay in the direct negotiations, and we want the Israelis to demonstrate that it is in the Palestinian interest to stay in these negotiations," he said. "And obviously, on the other side of the coin, the moratorium has expired and it is important for both the United States and the Palestinians and others to understand what the Israeli policy is going to be."

"We're in an intense period of time, where we need to find a way to help both sides resolve the immediate situation and continue in the negotiations, and that will be what George Mitchell is working with both sides on this week," Crowley said Tuesday.
Netanyahu said Tuesday that he would meet with Abbas in Paris, France, next month at French President Nicolas Sarkozy's invitation.
"I believe with my whole heart that it is in our power to reach a framework agreement within a year and change the history of the Middle East," he said.
On Tuesday, Abbas told French radio station Europe 1 that he was "worried" about negotiations.
"Of course I am worried -- the reason being that I see the peace process being stalled," he said. "It is a historic opportunity for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people. If we let slip this opportunity, I don't know if we will ever have a chance like this again."

Palestinian officials have previously said that if building resumes on territory they consider part of a future Palestinian state, they will walk away from the negotiations.
On Monday, Abbas called on Israel to extend the moratorium for three or four months while talks continue.
"If the colonization stops, we will continue negotiations. If it doesn't, we will stop talks," Abbas told Europe 1.
Yet Abbas has not yet pulled out, indicating that he wants to discuss the issue first with his Fatah party and the Arab League, which is meeting next week.

Mitchell is scheduled to meet with Palestinian leaders on Thursday, Crowley said.
While the moratorium issue is controversial, Crowley said it did not come as a surprise to negotiators, who knew it was scheduled to end Sunday.
"These are highly complex issues. We knew that going in. We understood what was confronting us immediately on the calendar," he said. "We're aggressively trying to work through this situation, but we're also keeping both sides focused on the long-term goal."

China readies to launch 2nd lunar probe

By the CNN Wire Staff
September 29, 2010 -- Updated 1203 GMT (2003 HKT)

Beijing, China (CNN) -- China will evacuate more than 2,000 residents, as it prepares to launch the nation's second lunar probe, state-run media said Wednesday.

The Chang'e-2 lunar probe is to be launched on or around China's National Day, which falls on October 1, China Daily said.

Residents within 2.5 kilometers of the launch pad at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwest province of Sichuan will be evacuated as a precaution.

The lunar probe will test key landing technology for Chang'e-3, and provide high-resolution photographs of the landing area, China Daily said, citing space officials. Chang'e-2 is expected to reach lunar orbit within five days.
Video: Inside China's space program
Video: China eyes space

China launched its first lunar probe in 2007. Chang'e-1 hit the moon in a controlled crash in March 2009 after a 16-month mission.

In the third phase of China's lunar exploration program, Chang'e-3 is to land on the moon in 2013, to collect rock samples and bring them to Earth in 2017.

The series of Chang'e probes is named after China's mythical Moon Goddess.
The country's space program has made significant steps this decade.

In 2003, China became the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to put a person in orbit. That year, Yang Liwei was celebrated as a national hero when he became the first Chinese in space.
Five years later, Zhai Zhigang became the first Chinese to make a spacewalk.

Thousands of Nigerian women 'found in Mali slave camps'

BBC news

A Nigerian woman (file image) Nigerian women are often told they will find good jobs abroad to escape poverty

Nigerian girls are being forced to work as prostitutes in Mali "slave camps", say officials in Nigeria.

The girls, many of them under age, have often been promised jobs in Europe but ended up in brothels, said the government's anti-trafficking agency.

The brothels are run by older Nigerian women who prevent them from leaving and take all their earnings.
The agency said it was working with Malian police to free the girls and help them return to Nigeria.

There has been no official comment from the Mali authorities.
Nigeria's National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (Naptip) said officials visited Mali this month to follow up "horrendous reports" from victims, aid workers and clergy in Mali.

They said there were hundreds of brothels, each housing up to 200 girls, run by Nigerian "madams" who force them to work against their will and take their earnings.
"We are talking of thousands and thousands of girls," Simon Egede, Executive Secretary of Naptip, told a news conference in Abuja.

"We are talking of certainly between 20,000 and about 40,000," he said, but did not give details of how the figure had been reached.
In a statement, Mr Egede said girls were "held in bondage for the purposes of forced sexual exploitation and servitude or slavery-like practices".
"The madams control their freedom of movement, where they work, when they work and what they receive," he said.
Abortion clinics

The trade is centred around the capital Bamako and large cities, but the most notorious brothels are in the mining towns of Kayes and Mopti, where the sex workers live in "near slavery condition", said Naptip.
Many of the brothels there also had abortion clinics where foetuses were removed by traditional healers for use in rituals, said Mr Egede.

Most of the girls were reported to have come from Delta and Edo States in Nigeria.
Many were lured with the promise of work in Europe, given fake travel documents and made to swear an oath that they would not tell anyone where they were going.

On arrival in Mali they were told they would have to work as prostitutes to pay off their debts. Prostitution is legal in Mali but not if it involves minors.
Naptip said it had also uncovered two major trafficking routes used to transport the women from Nigeria through Benin, Niger or Bukina Faso to Mali.
Mr Egede said Naptip was working with the police in Mali to return the girls to Nigeria safely, shut down the trade and prosecute the traffickers.

The BBC's Caroline Duffield in Lagos said the Edo State region of Nigeria in particular had become notorious for prostitution, with thousands of women and girls leaving every year to make money as sex workers.
But the suggestion that there was an organised ring of older women operating as traffickers - and that they were tricking younger women into leaving - was new, said our correspondent.

Water map shows billions at risk of 'water insecurity'

Upturned boat by river The study maps water availability and quality down to the regional level

About 80% of the world's population lives in areas where the fresh water supply is not secure, according to a new global analysis.

Researchers compiled a composite index of "water threats" that includes issues such as scarcity and pollution.
The most severe threat category encompasses 3.4 billion people.
Writing in the journal Nature, they say that in western countries, conserving water for people through reservoirs and dams works for people, but not nature.
They urge developing countries not to follow the same path.

"What we're able to outline is a planet-wide pattern of threat"
                       Charles Vorosmarty City College of New York

Instead, they say governments should to invest in water management strategies that combine infrastructure with "natural" options such as safeguarding watersheds, wetlands and flood plains.
The analysis is a global snapshot, and the research team suggests more people are likely to encounter more severe stress on their water supply in the coming decades, as the climate changes and the human population continues to grow.

They have taken data on a variety of different threats, used models of threats where data is scarce, and used expert assessment to combine the various individual threats into a composite index.
The result is a map that plots the composite threat to human water security and to biodiversity in squares 50km by 50km (30 miles by 30 miles) across the world.
Changing pictures

"What we've done is to take a very dispassionate look at the facts on the ground - what is going on with respect to humanity's water security and what the infrastructure that's been thrown at this problem does to the natural world," said study leader Charles Vorosmarty from the City College of New York.
"What we're able to outline is a planet-wide pattern of threat, despite the trillions of dollars worth of engineering palliatives that have totally reconfigured the threat landscape."

Those "trillions of dollars" are represented by the dams, canals, aqueducts, and pipelines that have been used throughout the developed world to safeguard drinking water supplies.
Their impact on the global picture is striking.
Looking at the "raw threats" to people's water security - the "natural" picture - much of western Europe and North America appears to be under high stress.

However, when the impact of the infrastructure that distributes and conserves water is added in - the "managed" picture - most of the serious threat disappears from these regions.
Africa, however, moves in the opposite direction.

"The problem is, we know that a large proportion of the world's population cannot afford these investments," said Peter McIntyre from the University of Wisconsin, another of the researchers involved.
"In fact we show them benefiting less than a billion people, so we're already excluding a large majority of the world's population," he told BBC News.

"But even in rich parts of the world, it's not a sensible way to proceed. We could continue to build more dams and exploit deeper and deeper aquifers; but even if you can afford it, it's not a cost-effective way of doing things."
According to this analysis, and others, the way water has been managed in the west has left a significant legacy of issues for nature.
Whereas Western Europe and the US emerge from this analysis with good scores on water stress facing their citizens, wildlife there that depends on water is much less secure, it concludes.
Concrete realities

One concept advocated by development organisations nowadays is integrated water management, where the needs of all users are taken into account and where natural features are integrated with human engineering.
One widely-cited example concerns the watersheds that supply New York, in the Catskill Mountains and elsewhere around the city.

"We would argue people should be even more worried if you start to account for climate change and population growth” Peter McIntyre University of Wisconsin
Water from these areas historically needed no filtering.

That threatened to change in the 1990s, due to agricultural pollution and other issues.
The city invested in a programme of land protection and conservation; this has maintained quality, and is calculated to have been cheaper than the alternative of building treatment works.
Mark Smith, head of the water programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) who was not involved in the current study, said this sort of approach was beginning to take hold in the developing world, though "the concrete and steel model remains the default".
"One example is the Barotse Floodplain in Zambia, where there was a proposal for draining the wetland and developing an irrigation scheme to replace the wetlands," he related.
"Some analysis was then done that showed the economic benefits of the irrigation scheme would have been less than the benefits currently delivered by the wetland in terms of fisheries, agriculture around the flood plain, water supply, water quality and so on.
"So it's not a question of saying 'No we don't need any concrete infrastructure' - what we need are portfolios of built infrastructure and natural environment that can address the needs of development, and the ecosystem needs of people and biodiversity."
Dollars short

This analysis is likely to come in for some scrutiny, not least because it does contain an element of subjectivity in terms of how the various threats to water security are weighted and combined.
Dam in Zambia Developing countries are urged to think carefully about "concrete and steel" solutions

Nevertheless, Mark Smith hailed it as a "potentially powerful synthesis" of existing knowledge; while Gary Jones, chief executive of the eWater Co-operative Research Centre in Canberra, commented: "It's a very important and timely global analysis of the joint threats of declining water security for humans and biodiversity loss for rivers.
"This study, for the first time, brings all our knowledge together under one global model of water security and aquatic biodiversity loss."
For the team itself, it is a first attempt - a "placeholder", or baseline - and they anticipate improvements as more accurate data emerges, not least from regions such as Africa that are traditionally data-scarce.
Already, they say, it provides a powerful indicator that governments and international institutions need to take water issues more seriously.
For developed countries and the Bric group - Brazil, Russia, India and China - alone, "$800bn per year will be required by 2015 to cover investments in water infrastructure, a target likely to go unmet," they conclude.
For poorer countries, the outlook is considerably more bleak, they say.
"In reality this is a snapshot of the world about five or 10 years ago, because that's the data that's coming on line now," said Dr McIntyre.
"It's not about the future, but we would argue people should be even more worried if you start to account for climate change and population growth.
"Climate change is going to affect the amount of water that comes in as precipitation; and if you overlay that on an already stressed population, we're rolling the dice."

Deadly Tropical Storm Nicole hits Jamaica

BBC news

A satellite image of Tropical Storm Nicole. Photo: 29 September 2010 Nicole still poses a flooding threat to the Cayman Islands, Cuba and Jamaica, US forecasters say

At least two people have been killed and about 12 others are missing after Tropical Storm Nicole triggered flash flooding in Jamaica, officials say.

In one incident, a boy died after the house he was staying collapsed into a raging torrent outside Kingston. Six members of his family are missing.

Separately, an elderly man drowned near the island nation's capital. Power was also cut to many areas of Jamaica.

Nicole later dissipated over the Florida straits, US forecasters said.

However, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Nicole, with winds of up to 65kmh (40mph) and moving north-east, still posed a flooding threat to the Cayman Islands, Cuba and Jamaica.

The NHC also warned that rains were expected in the US state of Florida and the Bahamas.
Nicole is the latest storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Thousands of LA residents lose power in heat wave

BBC news
A boy cools down in a Los Angeles fountain Los Angeles residents cooled off in the city's public fountains during the heat wave

More than 11,000 Los Angeles residents remain without electricity a day after 45C (113F) temperatures caused a record surge in demand, causing power cuts.

Temperatures were above 38C on Tuesday in parts of the city, after sending thermometers soaring the day before.

The heat has been blamed in the death of Oscar-nominated film editor Sally Menke, a longtime collaborator of director Quentin Tarantino.

Officials believe Menke died from hyperthermia during a hike on Monday.
Hot nights

The temperature was so high that the National Weather Service said on Tuesday its thermometer in Los Angeles had stopped functioning for a time.

Record demand for electric power there may have contributed to an explosion in an electrical closet in an office tower, officials said.

"Because we've had such hot nights, people are still running their air conditioners," Vanessa McGrady, spokeswoman for Southern California Edison, told the Associated Press news agency.

"The equipment really doesn't get a break."

India launches ambitious national identity scheme

BBC news
Children in India The government says better ID will mean benefits are delivered more fairly

India has launched a huge national identity scheme aimed at cutting fraud and improving access to state benefits.

Using biometric methods, including an iris scan, the system will log details of India's population of more than one billion people on a central database.

It was launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi in western India.

The biometric evidence will be stored online in what will be the biggest such national database in the world.

The unique identification (UID) programme will help those in poor, marginalised communities who find it difficult to access public services and benefits because they do not have official records, officials say.

The government expects to give a UID number to every Indian citizen within five years.
Birth registration is not universal and it is hoped that the database will give an accurate picture of Indian society, correspondents say.

Al-Qaeda terror plot targeting Europe uncovered

French police near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Photo: 20 September 2010 France has recently visibly beefed up police patrols outside its national landmarks.

Western intelligence agencies are tracking a significant al-Qaeda plot to carry out commando-style raids on cities in Britain, France and Germany.

It is thought teams of jihadists plan to seize Western hostages and murder them - in a manner similar to the siege of two Indian hotels in Mumbai.
The plot is believed to be in its early stages.

No imminent arrests in the UK are expected, and the national threat level remains at its current level of severe.

Details leaked

Intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic are tracking one of the most serious al-Qaeda attack plans in recent years.

Inspired by al-Qaeda's fugitive core leadership in Pakistan's tribal areas, the plan is understood to include small well-armed commando-style teams of jihadist militants.
The idea is thought to have moved from the aspirational stage to actual planning.

Western security agencies may have been hoping to keep their knowledge of it out of the public spotlight for longer so criminal evidence could be gathered, but initial details were leaked to the US press.
In the UK, the national threat remains at severe, where it has been since January, meaning a terrorist attack is thought highly likely.

But government officials say there are no plans to raise it to the highest level of critical, and they do not expect to see an imminent wave of arrests.
France and Germany are both on a heightened state of security alert.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chile mine rescue makes rapid advance

BBC news

Chilean miners relatives celebrating, 28 September The miners' relatives celebrated the news of the drill's rapid advance

Thirty-three miners trapped underground in Chile for nearly two months could be out sooner than thought.

Rescuers digging to reach the men say one of their drills has cut through 50m (164ft) of rock in 24 hours.
At that rate they could be ready to bring the men to the surface by the middle of October.
But they have warned that they could yet run into problems, and the government still says it could take until early November to get them out.

One of the three drills digging rescue shafts - the T-130 - has now penetrated 300m (984ft) of the 630m (2,066ft) of rock separating the miners from the surface.
"This headway is some of the best we have had and it is due to the better continuity we have had with this drill," Andrew Sougarret, the head of the rescue operation, said.
"We have reached 300m, which is the area where we have had the most unfavourable geological conditions, so hopefully we can think about maintaining this rhythm of drilling."
Relatives of the miners, who have been camped out at the San Jose mine since the men were trapped by a rock fall on 5 August, cheered when the progress was announced.
Excavators building a platform for journalists expected to cover the rescue of the trapped Chilean miners, 28 September Excavators are building a huge platform to accommodate the world's press
Detailed preparations

A steel capsule designed to pull the miners up through the narrow rescue shaft when it is completed is standing by on the surface.
A field hospital to give the men medical attention as and when they get out is being set up.
Construction work has even started on a huge platform to accommodate up to 1000 journalists from around the world who are expected to descend on the mine to report on the rescue.
The interior ministry cabinet chief, Cristian Barra, said all the elements for the rescue operation were being put in place.

"We are preparing to be ready in 15 days to complete the rescue at any time. This does not mean this will happen in 15 days, but all the installations - the hospital, the medical team, the meeting point - everything required will be prepared," Mr Barra said.

Stonehenge boy 'was from the Med'

Burial of Bronze Age male teenager from Boscombe Down (Wessex Archaeology) The boy was buried with around 90 amber beads

Chemical tests on teeth from an ancient burial near Stonehenge indicate that the person in the grave grew up around the Mediterranean Sea.

The bones belong to a teenager who died 3,550 years ago and was buried with a distinctive amber necklace.

"The position of his burial, the fact he's near Stonehenge, and the necklace all suggest he's of significant status”  Professor Jane Evans British Geological Survey
The conclusions come from analysis of different forms of the elements oxygen and strontium in his tooth enamel.
Analysis on a previous skeleton found near Stonehenge showed that that person was also a migrant to the area.
The findings will be discussed at a science symposium in London to mark the 175th anniversary of the British Geological Survey (BGS).
The "Boy with the Amber Necklace", as he is known to archaeologists, was found in 2005, about 5km south-east of Stonehenge on Boscombe Down.
The remains of the teenager were discovered next to a Bronze Age burial mound, during roadworks for military housing.
"He's around 14 or 15 years old and he's buried with this beautiful necklace," said Professor Jane Evans, head of archaeological science for the BGS.
"The position of his burial, the fact he's near Stonehenge, and the necklace all suggest he's of significant status."
Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, backed this interpretation: "Amber necklaces are not common finds," he told BBC News.
"Most archaeologists would say that when you find burials like this... people who can get these rare and exotic materials are people of some importance."
Chemical record

Professor Evans likened Stonehenge in the Bronze Age to Westminster Abbey today - a place where the "great and the good" were buried.
Tooth enamel forms in a child's first few years, so it stores a chemical record of the environment in which the individual grew up.

Amber beads (BGS) The amber to make the beads almost certainly came from the Baltic Sea

Two chemical elements found in enamel - oxygen and strontium - exist in different forms, or isotopes. The ratios of these isotopes found in enamel are particularly informative to archaeologists.
Most oxygen in teeth and bone comes from drinking water - which is itself derived from rain or snow.
In warm climates, drinking water contains a higher ratio of heavy oxygen (O-18) to light oxygen (O-16) than in cold climates. So comparing the oxygen isotope ratio in teeth with that of drinking water from different regions can provide information about the climate in which a person was raised.
Most rocks carry a small amount of the element strontium (Sr), and the ratio of strontium 87 and strontium 86 isotopes varies according to local geology.
The isotope ratio of strontium in a person's teeth can provide information on the geological setting where that individual lived in childhood.
By combining the techniques, archaeologists can gather data pointing to regions where a person may have been raised.
Tests carried out several years ago on another burial known as the "Amesbury Archer" show that he was raised in a colder climate than that found in Britain.
Analysis of the strontium and oxygen isotopes in his teeth showed that his most likely childhood origin was in the Alpine foothills of Germany.
Stonehenge People were visiting Stonehenge from afar during the Bronze Age

"Isotope analysis of tooth enamel from both these people shows that the two individuals provide a contrast in origin, which highlights the diversity of people who came to Stonehenge from across Europe," said Professor Evans.

The Amesbury Archer was discovered around 5km from Stonehenge. His is a rich Copper Age or early Bronze Age burial, and contains some of the earliest gold and copper objects found in Britain. He lived about 4,300 years ago, some 800 years earlier than the Boscombe Down boy.
The archer arrived at a time when metallurgy was becoming established in Britain; he was a metal worker, which meant he possessed rare skills.
"We see the beginning of the Bronze Age as a period of great mobility across Europe. People, ideas, objects are all moving very fast for a century or two," said Dr Fitzpatrick.
"At the time when the boy with the amber necklace was buried, there are really no new technologies coming in [to Britain]... We need to turn to look at why groups of people - because this is a youngster - are making long journeys."

He speculated: "They may be travelling within family groups... They may be coming to visit Stonehenge because it was an incredibly famous and important place, as it is today. But we don't know the answer."
Other people who visited Stonehenge from afar were the Boscombe Bowmen, individuals from a collective Bronze Age grave. Isotope analysis suggests these people could have come from Wales or Brittany, if not further afield.
The research is being prepared for publication in a collection of research papers on Stonehenge.

Australia's Next Top Model show crowns wrong winner

BBC news

Australia's Next Top Model contestants Kelsey Martinovich and Amanda Ware Kelsey Martinovich (left) was crowned winner when Amanda Ware (right) had actually won

TV show Australia's Next Top Model has announced the wrong winner during the live final of its sixth series.

Kelsey Martinovich had been crowned champion by public vote and was making an acceptance speech when presenter Sarah Murdoch interrupted her.
Shaking her head and listening to her earpiece, Murdoch said: "I'm feeling sick about this. I'm so sorry, this was a complete accident."

She then announced the real winner was 18-year-old Amanda Ware.
"This is what happens when you have live TV, folks," she said. "This is insane, insane, insane."
Martinovich, who had been under the impression she was a winner for about a minute, appeared to take the news well, saying, "It's OK, it's an honest mistake," as Murdoch asked: "How could this happen?"
Sarah Murdoch Host Sarah Murdoch appeared to be distressed by the mix-up

She attempted to explain the gaffe, saying: "The lead kept changing. It was literally down to a couple of votes. It kept going back and forwards... and we ended up with Amanda as a winner."
The two contestants embraced, before Ware gave a shocked "Thanks" to her supporters and walked the catwalk for the final time.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Martinovich was awarded AUS$25,000 (£15,162) by way of apology.

Ware won an eight-page spread in women's magazine Harpers Bazaar, a contract with Priscilla's modelling agency, an AUS$25,000 Levi's campaign, an AUS$20,000 (£12,130) cash prize, a new car and a trip to New York.


Amanda Ware Amanda Ware had found herself in the "bottom two" contestants in the show's penultimate week

The show, shown in Australia on Tuesday evening, was broadcast with a live studio audience on the Fox8 pay TV channel, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
Sarah Murdoch, a fashion model and TV presenter, is married to Rupert's son Lachlan.
She replaced Jodhi Meares as host of Australia's Next Top Model last year, after Meares blundered her way through the show's 2007 final, and pulled out of the 2008 broadcast with just 48 hours' notice.
Meares later told Grazia magazine she had never agreed to present a live show, adding: "I don't aspire to handle crowds of that level."

The hugely popular Next Top Model shows, created by supermodel Tyra Banks in the US, pit aspiring models against each other.
Each week, they compete for judges in a variety of photo shoots to stay in the competition, with the eventual winner receiving a cash prize and modelling contract.
There are several dozen spin-offs, including series in the UK, Brazil, China, Finland and Israel.

China tycoon pledges fortune to charity

BBC news

US billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are hosting a dinner in Beijing for some of China's richest individuals.

They are hoping to learn about philanthropy in China - and perhaps persuade some of their guests to give more to charity. The BBC's Michael Bristow spoke to one of those invited to dine.
Chen Guangbiao Mr Chen says he learned about charity mainly from the example set by his mother

Businessman Chen Guangbiao has been inspired by the two US billionaires.
The 42-year-old is a well-known philanthropist, but decided to go one step further when he got a call from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
 Mr Chen sat down and wrote them a letter declaring that all his money will go to charity after he dies.
Perhaps surprisingly, the news was not greeted with universal approval in China, where giving to charity is not as established as in other countries.
There was particular criticism when people found out that Mr Chen does not even give money to his own siblings.
His sister earns 1,800 yuan ($270, £170) a month washing dishes in a hotel; his brother earns only slightly more working as a security guard.
On that issue, Mr Chen is unrepentant. He said he had helped them in the past, but they had squandered his money.
He said his brother gambled and his sister began a loan business that eventually failed.
"I'm determined never to help them again," he told the BBC in an interview at his plush Beijing apartment.

Entrepreneurial spirit

Chen Guangbiao's story is a classic tale of rags to riches.
He was born into a poor family in Anhui Province, where it was a constant battle to survive. He said two of his siblings died of starvation.
Chen Guangbiao publicising a charity event Mr Chen is not shy about telling people about his charity work

But from an early age Mr Chen began to understand two things that have guided him throughout his adult life: business and charity.
As a schoolboy he soon amassed what was to him a small fortune by selling anything he could - water, ice-cream - and doing odd jobs.
He has worked hard ever since, claiming never to have had a day off since he founded his company, Huangpu Renewable Resources, in 1998.
His firm recycles waste material from the construction industry, and has allowed Mr Chen to amass a fortune estimated at $440m.
Charity was the second idea that the businessman learned about early, mainly from the example set by his mother.
"When other people's kids had no milk, my mother would breastfeed them herself," said the businessman.
She also invited beggars into their home to share their meagre meals.
Mr Chen's first experience of helping others came as a youngster when he handed over his hard-earned money to pay for a neighbour's school fees.
The father of two said giving was a habit he has maintained over the years.


A report on philanthropy in China published by the Shanghai-based Huran Research Institute earlier this year listed Mr Chen as the country's fourth-most-generous giver.
It said he had donated $130m over the last five years to projects involved in health-care, disaster relief and education.
But the Giving Pledge campaign started by Mr Gates and Mr Buffett has pushed Mr Chen to donate even more money.

This campaign urges US billionaires to give away more than half their wealth to charitable causes.
Mr Chen said this inspired him to announce he would give all his money away when he died.
His philosophy can be summed up in a passage from the letter he wrote to the American philanthropists telling them of his intention.
"If you have only a glass of water then one person can drink. If you have a bucket a whole family can benefit."
He added: "If you have a river, then you should share it with everyone."
Mr Chen is not shy about telling people about his charity work.
"Society needs hundreds of hundreds of thousands of Chen Guangbiaos," he wrote in another letter published on his company's website.

He admits that he is brash - but he believes that is the only way to encourage more people to give to charity.

Ex-US President Jimmy Carter resting after falling ill

BBC news

Former US President Jimmy Carter Mr Carter was taken to the Metro Health Hospital in Cleveland

Former US President Jimmy Carter is resting after being taken to hospital for an upset stomach after a flight to Cleveland.

"He is resting comfortably and is expected to resume his book tour this week," the Carter Center said.
The 86-year-old was travelling to promote his new book White House Diary, which was released last week.
Mr Carter was elected as the 39th US president in 1976 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
According to the website for Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Mr Carter was planning to attend a book signing in Cleveland in the US state of Ohio.

The former president was taken to Metro Health Hospital around 1130 local time (1530 GMT).
Mr Carter has recently called for the US to develop stronger ties with Iran and North Korea.
Last month, Mr Carter secured the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a 31-year-old American citizen detained in North Korea.

He founded the Carter Center a year after leaving the White House to promote elections and mediate conflicts around the globe.

Jordan's king sees war if Mideast talks fail

By the CNN Wire Staff
September 24, 2010 -- Updated 1146 GMT (1946 HKT)
Click to play
Jordan: Palestinian state offers peace
(CNN) -- Jordan's King Abdullah II warned that the Middle East may see another war if the issue of settlements is not resolved as part of the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Abdullah made his remarks Thursday night during an appearance on the "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

"If we fail on the 30th [of September], expect another war by the end of the year. And more wars in the region over the coming years," Abdullah said.

Abdullah was referring to the next round of peace talks that could start around the same time the moratorium on building Israeli settlements in the disputed West Bank territory is due to expire.
Tensions have been growing over the issue of possible new Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
If we fail on the 30th [of September], expect another war by the end of the year.
--Jordan's King Abdullah II
Israel has been under pressure from the Palestinians and the Obama administration to extend a 10-month moratorium on building Israeli settlements in the disputed West Bank territory.
That moratorium is set to expire Sunday.
Palestinians have said the construction would torpedo the talks, but Israel says some construction is likely.
Abdullah said he hoped this issue of settlements could be solved.
"If the issue of settlements are still at the table on 30th, then everybody walks away. If they do, how are we going to get people back in the near future. I don't see that happening," Abdullah told Stewart. "We are at a defining crossroads of whether we are going to go down in the abyss or not."

U.S. soldier suspected in fatal shooting of 2 fellow soldiers

By the CNN Wire Staff
September 28, 2010 -- Updated 1154 GMT (1954 HKT)
Spc. John Carrillo, 20, of Stockton, California, died on Friday, the Defense Department said.
Spc. John Carrillo, 20, of Stockton, California, died on Friday, the Defense Department said.
Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- A U.S. soldier is in custody in connection with the shooting deaths of two fellow soldiers and the wounding of a third in Iraq, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
Spc. Neftaly Platero is in pre-trial confinement, a U.S. military statement said.
Platero is suspected in the deaths of Spc. John Carrillo Jr., 20, of Stockton, California, and Pfc. Gebrah P. Noonan, 26, of Watertown, Connecticut, the military said.
Carrillo and Noonan died Friday of injuries sustained in a "non-combat" incident that occurred a day earlier, the U.S. Department of Defense said.
They were assigned to 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Video: Soldier mourned after death
The incident remains under investigation.
"Our condolences go out to the families of those service members whose lives were lost," Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan said in a statement. "We are saddened by this tragic incident."
Carrillo's mother, Desiree Carrillo, told CNN affiliate KCRA that her son was a good son and a good father.
"He joined the Army to better his family," Desiree Carrillo said. "He was a young father, and he wanted to support his kids."
The Carrillo family said the military made notification of Spc. Carrillo's death on Friday but did not say that he may have been killed by another service member. The Carrillos heard about that possibility after being contacted by local media and after an internet search.
"It was very devastating. To find out he was shot by a fellow soldier is unbelievable," Desiree Carrillo told KCRA. "The military should be embarrassed."
Dane Street, Noonan's former track coach, told WFSB that Noonan was loved by nearly everyone.
"His big hair matched his big personality," Street said. "He loved experiencing life, and it was great."
Several people posted rest-in-peace messages on what appears to be Noonan's Facebook page. The page of "Gebrah Noonan" also lists "Neftaly Platero" -- the same name as the suspect -- as a Facebook friend.
The Platero Facebook page features a photo of a group in military attire.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov sacked by President Medvedev

BBC news

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov (right), in a file photo from September 2008 Yuri Luzhkov (right): once tipped as future president

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has fired Moscow's powerful mayor, Yuri Luzhkov.

Mr Luzhkov, 74, was being removed because he had lost "the trust of the president of the Russian Federation", a presidential decree said.
In recent weeks Mr Luzhkov - who has been in office since 1992 - had faced harsh criticism from the Kremlin.

The move follows weeks of speculation that Mr Luzhkov would be be forced out after disagreements with the president.
Russia's constitution allows the president to fire the Moscow mayor and regional governors, and appoint successors without elections.

'Constant barrage'

Mr Luzhkov is one of Russia's most powerful politicians and is a senior member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.
Before the emergence of Vladimir Putin a decade ago, he was even tipped as a possible future president.

However the mayor has recently been the subject of a constant barrage from state-run TV, which criticised him for gridlock on the capital's roads and bulldozing historic buildings. He and his billionaire wife, Yelena Baturina, have been also accused of corruption.

Mr Luzhkov has denounced all the claims as "total rubbish", designed to make him "lose his balance". He has threatened to sue the TV channels concerned.

Commentators believe this battle at the highest level of Russian politics was sparked by a newspaper article written by the mayor in which he appeared to criticise the president and call for a return to stronger national leadership, says the BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow.
The Kremlin clearly decided Mr Luzhkov had to be pressurised to resign voluntarily or be pushed out, our correspondent says.

On Monday, after returning from a week's holiday in Austria, Mr Luzhkov said he would not stand down voluntarily.

He has not publicly responded to Mr Medvedev's move.

China police investigate 'black jails' for protesters

BBC news

Two women talk in an alleyway in the imperial palace in Beijing In a practice derived from imperial times, some Chinese take complaints directly to Beijing

Chinese police are investigating claims that a security firm colluded with officials to detain protesters in secret prisons, known as "black jails".

State media said police had arrested the chairman and general manager of the company, Anyuanding Security Services.
It is alleged they took money from local governments to abduct and imprison people who travelled to the capital, Beijing, to complain about local injustices.
The company denies this.
Human rights groups say China has hundreds of such jails, and detainees are often subject to abuse - but the Chinese government has repeatedly denied they exist.
Petitioners 'beaten'

Anyuanding chairman Zhang Jun, and general manager Zhang Jie, were detained for "illegally detaining people and illegal business operations", reported the official China Daily, quoting other media outlets.
It did not say when the detentions took place.
The firm is accused of assisting the Beijing-based liaison offices for local governments to detain petitioners trying to come to the capital to report local injustices - a practice which dates back to imperial times.
Reports say the company charged local and provincial governments up to 300 yuan ($45; £28) per person per day for apprehending and detaining them, in a business said to have earned the firm some $3.1m in revenue in 2008.

Petitioners claim to have been locked up for weeks or months - stripped of mobile phones and identification - until being sent home. Some say they were physically abused while in detention.
In a report released in November last year, Human Rights Watch interviewed 38 people who said they had been victims of forced detention when attempting to lodge complaints with central authorities. Some said they were beaten.
Local officials are penalised according to the number of grievances lodged from their locality, the report said, thus providing an incentive for them to prevent petitioners pursuing their complaints.
'Beyond one company'

Phelim Kine, Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told AFP news agency that the police investigation into Anyuanding Security Services was an "encouraging development".
But he said the case was only the tip of the iceberg.

"The fact is that the problem of black jails goes far beyond one company. It involves a web of government officials, security forces, huge numbers of plainclothes thugs and dozens of facilities in Beijing alone.
"Meaningful action against black jails will require the political will to locate and close all of them, freeing their detainees and prosecuting their captors."