EU to look at how biofuels affect food output
BRUSSELS, Belgium: European Union leaders planned Friday to call for study on how Europe's use of more biofuels might affect global food production.
Food crops such as wheat are being increasingly used to make biofuels as Europe and the United States turn to cleaner transport fuel to cut greenhouse gas emissions and their growing dependence on imported oil. But this trend has helped bread and tortilla prices soar around the world.
The EU's 27 nations said in a draft statement they will approve Friday that they needed to assess "the environmental and social consequences of the production and consumption of biofuels both within the Union and outside." The draft was obtained by The Associated Press.
"There is also a need to rapidly assess possible impacts on agricultural products for food and to take action, if necessary, to address shortcomings," they said.
Development campaigners warn that the biofuel boom may encourage farmers in poorer nations to use their land for more lucrative energy crops instead of producing food.
Chevron CEO on drilling, speculators and a bubble
Before heading to Saudi Arabia for an emergency energy summit this weekend in Saudi Arabia, David O'Reilly, the chairman and chief executive of Chevron, spoke about why the U.S. Congress should allow more access to offshore drilling in the United States and offered his explanation of why oil prices have jumped to record levels in recent months.
President Bush this week called for lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling. What impact will this have on future U.S. oil supplies?
It is a good thing. The president is going in the right direction here. But I would have gone even further and lifted the moratorium with a presidential order. But you also have to remember that the lag time between exploration and first production is still in the range of 8 to 10 years. Still, it would send a very strong message to the world that U.S. energy policy is shifting and is going toward a little more supply.
How much more oil can be produced in these regions?
That's really impossible to know until we have more exploration. But I know the chances are pretty good it would expand our supply. Let's suppose that we expanded production by one million barrels a day 15 years from now. At over $100 a barrel - remember this is a hypothesis - that would still mean $3 billion a month less in oil imports. That would have a demonstrable impact.
But there is strong opposition to offshore drilling.
I realize there is a discomfort. This has to be done very carefully. But we've demonstrated, in the face of very powerful hurricanes, that even under extreme weather conditions our offshore systems are pretty robust and environmentally sound. The Europeans have a strong environmental record but the Norwegians and the British have been able to safely encourage offshore developments. Brazil was a recent example of success offshore.
Democrats say oil companies are sitting on unused leases and they should drill there first before more regions are opened up to production.
What I would encourage the Democrats to do is to look at the facts. We should not be making these crass statements without facts. There are already existing limitations on leases. Already you have to use them or lose them. It takes time for geological exploration to occur. In our case, over 80 percent of our leases are being actively worked.
Oil prices are headed for their seventh straight year of gains, something that has not happened since the Civil War. Why such a sustained run-up in prices?
This is a case of demand-driven increases. The time we could count on cheap oil and cheap gas is ending. In prior periods, you've had price spikes because of big disruptions in supplies. But in this decade, the new phenomenon is that demand has been the main driver.
But hasn't the oil industry failed to anticipate the surge in consumption growth that we're seeing now by under-investing in the 1990s?
It is very easy to say that looking backwards. But you have to remember that oil was at $10 a barrel in 1998 and a lot of people were getting out of the business. It was a tough time back then. But those that were tough enough to continue investing then survived.
Oil prices have jumped from around $25 in 2002 to about $140 a barrel recently. Are we in a bubble?
I am a believer that most of this is related to fundamentals. Those are concerns about supplies. Last year, oil supplies did not grow in total. What the market is looking for is more visibility in future oil supplies. That is one of the main drivers for the difference of between the prices five years ago and the prices we're seeing now.
What has been the impact of financial investors or "speculators?"
I am not quite sure that I know that. It is quite possible that they have added some volatility. But the bulk of the price of oil that we see today relates to concerns about the outlook for physical supplies in the long term.
Why have these higher prices not spurred more meaningful supplies?
The supplies are coming. But remember there is always a big lag. These are massive developments we're talking about. They are $4 billion or $5 billion investments. It just doesn't turn on overnight.
French court blocks annulling marriage over virginity
DOUAI, France: A French appeals court blocked the decision of a lower court to annul a marriage because the bride was not a virgin as she had claimed.
The ruling Friday in a case that has reflected the tension between Muslim social codes and French values effectively freezes the matter, leaving the marriage in force, until Sept. 22, when the same court will hear arguments on the substance of the case, an appeals court official said.
The case has brought together the governing party, the Union for a Popular Movement, and the opposition Socialist Party, both of which criticized the original court ruling, saying that it had given too much weight to the religious sensitivities of the couple.
The bride and groom both came from "moderate Muslim families," the groom's lawyer, Xavier Labbée, has said in newspaper interviews, although he said the ruling had not been based on any religious criteria.
A judge in the northern town of Lille annulled the marriage in April at the request of both parties after the bride disclosed after their wedding that she had had sexual relations with other men.
Article 180 of the Civil Code says a marriage can be annulled at the request of one or both parties if one of them has misrepresented "essential qualities" about themselves. It does not define those qualities.
That ruling was greeted with outrage by feminists and human rights activists shocked that virginity could be considered an "essential quality." Some politicians said they were worried that conservative Muslim values were creeping into French law.
Justice Minister Rachida Dati initially defended the original ruling, noting that the annulment had been requested by both parties. After facing criticism in Parliament this month, however, she asked prosecutors to appeal the original ruling, leading to the Friday decision.
In a poll made public June 5 in the daily Le Figaro, 73 percent of the French who responded said they had been "shocked" by the original ruling. The poll involved 968 people; no margin of error was specified.
In 2004, the most recent year for which data were available, 737 marriages were annulled in France and 250 requests were rejected, the Justice Ministry said. The most common reasons were lying about previous marriages and nationality.
Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the military's capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran's nuclear program.
More than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighters participated in the maneuvers, which were carried out over the eastern Mediterranean and over Greece during the first week of June, American officials said.
The exercise also included Israeli helicopters that could be used to rescue downed pilots. The helicopters and refueling tankers flew more than 900 miles, which is about the same distance between Israel and Iran's uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, American officials said.
Israeli officials declined to discuss the details of the exercise. A spokesman for the Israeli military would say only that the country's air force "regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel."
One Israeli goal, the Pentagon official said, was to practice flight tactics, aerial refueling and all other details of a possible strike against Iran's nuclear installations and its long-range conventional missiles.
A second, the official said, was to send a clear message to the United States and other countries that Israel was prepared to act militarily if diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from producing bomb-grade uranium continued to falter.
"They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know," the Pentagon official said. "There's a lot of signaling going on at different levels."
"Based on reliable intelligence, our enemies had plans to kidnap and kill your servant (Ahmadinejad). But we intentionally made last minute changes in our schedule," the radio quoted Ahmadinejad telling a meeting of clerics in the Shi'ite holy city of Qom on Thursday.
"It's an illusion," said Meir Kroytoro, 46, a factory worker. "Calm for how long?"
The Israeli government has proved itself "a coward," he said. "It would have been better for the army to go into Gaza and finish the story once and for all."
Russia also warned against military threats on Friday, after The New York Times quoted U.S. officials as saying Israel had carried out a large military exercise, apparently a rehearsal for a potential bombing of Iran's nuclear facilities.
Adnan al-Selawi, head of the Sadr movement's office in Amara, 300 km (185 miles) southeast of Baghdad, said the Shi'ite cleric's supporters had hoped the security sweep in the city, which began on Thursday, would be professional.
"But unfortunately we found many breaches and violations," he told Reuters, accusing security forces of insulting and harassing civilians, random shooting and beating people.
The crackdown by the Iraqi army and police, backed by U.S. forces, is the latest phase in Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's drive to impose law and order throughout Iraq.
Stopping smuggling is a central Israeli demand in an Egyptian-brokered Gaza ceasefire agreed between Israel and Hamas that came into force on Thursday.
Teen "pregnancy pact" shocks U.S. city
BOSTON: A Massachusetts city is investigating an apparent teenage "pregnancy pact" that has at least 17 high-school girls expecting babies, four times more than last year, including many aged 16 or younger.
A high school health clinic in the city of Gloucester became suspicious after seeing a surge in girls seeking pregnancy tests. Local officials said on Thursday nearly half of those who became pregnant appear to have entered into a pact to have their babies together over the year.
"Some girls seemed more upset when they weren't pregnant than when they were," Gloucester High School principal Joseph Sullivan told Time magazine, which broke news of the pact on its Web site.
Sullivan was not immediately available to comment. But local officials said at least some of the men involved in the pregnancies were in their mid-20s, including one man who appeared to be homeless. Others were boys in the school.
Carolyn Kirk, mayor of the port city 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Boston, said authorities are looking at whether to pursue statutory rape charges. "We're at the very early stages of wrestling with the complexities of this problem," she said.
'What's wrong with selling kidneys?'
British court rules that radical Muslim preacher should be extradited to U.S.
LONDON: Britain's High Court ruled Friday that a radical Muslim preacher accused of helping to set up a terrorist training camp in rural Oregon should be extradited to face terrorism charges in the United States.
The preacher, Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is serving a seven-year sentence in Britain for inciting his Muslim followers to murder nonbelievers, has been indicted in the United States on 11 charges, including sending cash and volunteers to support Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Justices Igor Judge and Jeremy Sullivan of the British Hight Court rejected an appeal by Masri after a lower court ruled that he should be sent to the United States.
The judges said that the earlier decision had been "properly made" and that the government extradition order that followed it was "unassailable." They gave Masri's lawyers two weeks to apply to the House of Lords, the highest court in the country, for a further appeal.
As head of the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, Masri became one of the highest-profile Islamic radicals in Britain. The Egyptian-born preacher, 51, is blind in one eye and has hooks in place of the hands he says he lost when fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Masri, who appears on court documents under his real name, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, was arrested in London on a U.S. extradition warrant in 2004, but the process was put on hold while he stood trial in Britain.
He was convicted in a London court in 2006 of inciting racial hatred and encouraging followers to kill non-Muslims. If convicted in the United States, Masri would first serve out his sentence in Britain.
U.S. officials say that Masri conspired to establish a training camp in Bly, Oregon, where followers received combat and weapons training.
They also say Masri facilitated terrorist training in Afghanistan and that he assisted extremists who kidnapped 16 foreign tourists in Yemen in 1998.
Three British tourists and one Australian visitor were killed in a shootout between Yemeni security forces and the captors.
The two judges rejected all three grounds of Masri's appeal: that too much time had passed since the alleged offenses to guarantee a fair trial; that some evidence could have been obtained by torture; and that Masri might be tortured or mistreated in the United States.
They said that while there was "reasonable grounds to suspect" that at least one person known to Masri had been tortured at Guantánamo Bay, no victims of alleged torture were part of the case against him.
The judges ruled that none of the material relied on by the U.S. authorities "carries anything of the smell of the torture chamber sufficient to require its exclusion in a trial in this country."
Lawyers for Masri had questioned U.S. assurances that he would not be mistreated or face the death penalty if convicted. Under European law, Britain cannot extradite suspects to countries where they might be executed.
The judges said Masri's lawyers had argued "that the diplomatic assurances given by the U.S.A. cannot be relied on, or more tactfully, cannot be wholly relied on."
But the judges concluded: "We are satisfied that these diplomatic assurances will be honored."
Four England players are under investigation for an alleged sexual assault after the 37-20 first test loss in Auckland last week.
Auckland police officers have flown to Christchurch to interview the players, but they have declined until a formal complaint is made.
Andrew, however, would only discuss Saturday's match at Lancaster Park.
"They have trained well this week and trained well at the stadium this morning," Andrew told a news conference when asked whether the team's preparation had been affected by the allegations. "The focus has been really good, I haven't got any complaints about that.
Andrew said he had not been distracted by the allegations.
"I have focused very hard on the playing side with the coaches," he said.
"That is what we have to do. We have trained well, we have planned well and we think we have a side that can challenge New Zealand, which is what we're here for."
All Blacks coach Graham Henry said he had sympathy for Andrew and the England team, though he had not really paid much attention to the controversy.
"I don't know what the details are, I know there is a bit going on," Henry told reporters.
"You don't want any sporting team to be going through those situations.
"You live that sort of life yourselves in a sporting international environment and you have a lot of sympathy for people who go through that situation."
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia , the company founded by Stewart, said the 66-year-old businesswoman had been planning to travel to Britain for business meetings.
"She has engagements with English companies and business leaders and hopes this can be resolved so that she will be able to visit soon," Charles Koppelman, chairman of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Home Office, which runs the UK Border Agency, said it does not comment on individual cases.
"We continue to oppose the entry to the UK of individuals where we believe their presence in the United Kingdom is not conducive to the public good or where they have been found guilty of serious criminal offences abroad," he said.