Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Monday, 23rd June 2008

The coming population bust

Thomas Malthus has been dead for 170 years, but the Malthusian fallacy - the dread conviction that the growth of human population leads to hunger, shortages, and a ravaged environment - is unfortunately alive and well:
America's congested highways are caused by "population growth wildly out of control," the group Californians for Population Stabilization laments in an ad.
In a new documentary, Britain's Prince Philip blames the rising price of food on overpopulation. "Everyone thinks it's to do with not enough food," Queen Elizabeth II's husband declares, "but it's really that demand is too great - too many people."
Overpopulation is "very serious - very, very serious," the Dalai Lama tells a crowd of 50,000 in Seattle. Somewhat inconsistently, he also proclaims that "children are the basis of our hope," and that "our future depends on them."
Like other prejudices, the belief that more humanity means more misery resists compelling evidence to the contrary. In the past two centuries, the number of people living on earth has nearly septupled, climbing from 980 million to 6.5 billion. Yet human beings today are on the whole healthier, wealthier, longer-lived, better-fed, and better-educated than ever before.
The catastrophes foretold by Malthus and his epigones - some of them in bestsellers like "The Population Bomb," which predicted that "hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now" - have never come to pass.
That is because people are not our greatest liability. They are our greatest asset - the wellspring of every quality on which human advancement depends: ambition, intuition, perseverance, ingenuity, imagination, leadership, love.
True, fewer human beings would mean fewer mouths to feed. It would also mean fewer entrepreneurs, fewer pioneers, fewer problem-solvers. Which is why it is not an increase but the coming decrease in human population that should engender foreboding.
For as Phillip Longman, a scholar of demographics and economics at the New America Foundation, observes: "Never in history have we had economic prosperity accompanied by depopulation."
And depopulation, like it or not, is just around the corner. That is the central message of a compelling new documentary, "Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family." Longman is one of numerous experts interviewed in the film, which explores the causes and effects of one of what may be the most ominous reality of 21st-century life: the fall in human birth rates almost everywhere in the world.
Human fertility has been dropping for years and is now below replacement levels - the minimum required to prevent depopulation - in scores of countries, including China, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Turkey and all of Europe.
The world's population is still rising, largely because of longer life spans - more people live to old age than in the past. But with far fewer children being born today, there will be far fewer adults bearing children tomorrow. In some countries, the collapse has already begun. Russia, for example, is now losing 700,000 people a year.
By mid-century, the United Nations estimates, there will be 248 million fewer children than there are now. To a culture that has been endlessly hectored about the dangers of overpopulation, that might sound like welcome news. It isn't. No society gains when it loses its most precious resource, and no resource is more valuable than the human mind.
In 1965, the population of Italy was 52 million, of which 4.6 million, or just under 9 percent, were children younger than 5. A decade later, that age group had shrunk to 4.3 million - about 7.8 percent of Italians. By 1985, it was down to 3 million and 5.3 percent. Today, the figures are 2.5 million and 4.2 percent.
Young children are disappearing from Italian society, and the end isn't in sight. According to one estimate by the UN's Population Division, their numbers will drop to fewer than 1.6 million in 2020, and to 1.3 million by 2050. At that point, they will account for a mere 2.8 percent of the Italian nation.
Italy isn't alone. There are 1.7 million fewer young children in Poland today than there were in 1960, a 50 percent drop. In Spain 30 years ago, there were nearly 3.3 million young children; there are just 2.2 million today. Across Europe, there were more than 57 million children under 5 in 1960; today, that age group has plummeted to 35 million, a decline of 38 percent.
Fertility rates - the average number of children born per woman - are falling nearly everywhere. Worldwide, reports the UN, there are 6 million fewer babies and young children today than there were in 1990. By 2015, according to one calculation, there will be 83 million fewer. By 2025, 127 million fewer. By 2050, the world's supply of the youngest children may have plunged by a quarter of a billion, and will amount to less than 5 percent of the human family.
The reasons for this birth dearth are many.
As the number of women in the workforce has soared, many have delayed marriage and childbearing, or decided against them altogether. The sexual revolution, by making sex readily available without marriage, removed what for many men had been a powerful motive to marry. Skyrocketing rates of divorce have made women less likely to have as many children as in generations past. Years of indoctrination about the perils of "overpopulation" have led many couples to embrace childlessness as a virtue.
Result: a dramatic and inexorable aging of society. In the years ahead, the ranks of the elderly are going to swell to unprecedented levels, while the number of young people continues to dwindle. The working-age population will shrink, first in relation to the population of retirees, then in absolute terms.
A determined optimist might take this as good news. In theory, fewer people in the workforce should increase the demand for employees and thus keep unemployment low and the economy humming.
But the record tells a different story. In Japan, where the fall in fertility rates began early, the working-age population has been a diminishing share of the nation for 20 years. Yet for much of that period, unemployment has been up, not down
Far from boosting the economy, an aging population depresses it. As workers are taxed more heavily to support surging numbers of elders, they respond by working less, which leads to stagnation, which reduces economic opportunity still further.
"Imagine that all your taxes went for nothing but Social Security and Medicare," says Longman in "Demographic Winter," "and you still didn't have health care as a young person."
Gary Becker, a Nobel laureate in economics, emphasizes that nothing is more indispensable to growth than "human capital" - the knowledge, skills, and experience of men and women. That is why baby booms are so often harbingers of economic expansion and vigor. And why businesses and young people drain away from regions where population is waning.
A world without children will be a poorer world - grayer, lonelier, less creative, less confident. Children are a great blessing, but it may take their disappearance for the world to remember why.
Elite universities ask: Are there aims besides Wall Street?

A prominent education professor at Harvard has begun leading "reflection" seminars at three highly selective colleges, which he hopes will push undergraduates to think more deeply about the connection between their educations and aspirations.
The professor, Howard Gardner, hopes the seminars will encourage more students to consider public service and other careers beyond the consulting and financial jobs that he says are almost the automatic next step for so many graduates of top colleges.
"Is this what a Harvard education is for?" asked Gardner, who is teaching the seminars at Harvard, Amherst and Colby with colleagues. "Are Ivy League schools simply becoming selecting mechanisms for Wall Street?"
Although others have expressed similar concerns in recent years, his views have gained support on the Harvard campus with students, faculty and even the new president, Drew Gilpin Faust, who made the topic the cornerstone of her address to seniors during commencement week. Faust noted that in the past year, whenever she has met with students, their first question has always been the same: "Why are so many of us going to Wall Street?"
On other campuses as well, officials are questioning whether too many top students who might otherwise turn their talents to a broader array of fields are being lured by high-paying corporate jobs, and whether colleges should do more to encourage students to consider other careers, especially public service.
As Adam Guren, a new Harvard graduate who will be pursuing his doctorate in economics, put it, "A lot of students have been asking the question: 'We came to Harvard as freshmen to change the world, and we're leaving to become investment bankers - why is this?'"
In her speech, Faust highlighted the results of a spring survey by The Crimson, the student newspaper, which found that about 20 percent of graduates this year were heading into financial services and management consulting, down from about 22 percent last year.
She acknowledged the appeal of the jobs - the money, the promise of stimulating work, the security for students of knowing they will be working alongside their friends, a commitment of only two or three years. She urged the students to search for measures of personal success beyond financial security, despite "the all but irresistible recruiting juggernaut."
In his commencement speech last month at Wesleyan University, Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, voiced a similar theme when he sounded an impassioned call to public service and warned against the pursuit of narrow self-interest - "the big house and the nice suits and the other things that our money culture says you should buy," which he said "betrays a poverty of ambition."
Universities are so concerned about this issue that some - Amherst, Tufts, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard, for example - have expanded public service fellowships and internships.
"We're in the business of graduating people who will make the world better in some way," said Anthony Marx, Amherst's president. "That's what justifies the expense of the education."
This year, Tufts announced that it would pay off college loans for graduates who chose public service jobs. And officials at Harvard, Penn, Amherst and a number of other colleges say one reason they have begun emphasizing grants instead of loans in financial aid is so students do not feel pressured by their debts to pursue lucrative careers.
In an interview this spring, Faust held up as a model Teach for America, the nonprofit program that has recruited large numbers of students at top colleges to teach in low-income schools for two years.
With 9 percent of Harvard's senior class applying to Teach for America this year, 37 students made the cut.
One of the seniors that Faust met with in the winter was Dhaval Chadha, who wanted her support for a "diversity in careers" forum he was organizing. Chadha, 21, who grew up in India, will spend the next year on a fellowship in Brazil, working with an anti-poverty group in preparation for what he says will be his career in public service.
"I don't think a lot of people at Harvard know what a hedge fund or a consulting firm is when they start," he said. But then, he explained, juniors and seniors being recruited come back from expensive dinners out and "start throwing salaries around," and students begin to understand that "there's already a kind of prestige attached to working for those people."
"It's like applying to college all over again," he added. "'I applied to 8 to 10 Ivy League colleges, and I got in here. I applied to these 40 companies, and I got into these ones.' It's exactly the thing that appeals to the Harvard competitive spirit."
When Akshay Ganju began at Harvard four years ago, he burned with ambition to be a doctor. "You get to help people all the time," he said. But his junior year he took a summer internship with Bain & Company and loved it. "It was like going to Harvard," said Ganju, 21, a new graduate. "There were so many smart people there."
Now he is about to join Bain for a full-time job. The generous salary, Ganju said, will make it possible to pay off his college loans.
He still may end up going to medical school, he said, or maybe business school. "I don't think the point of our education is to make us rich," Ganju said. "We all feel we want to do something meaningful beyond just accumulating wealth."

More woes in Myanmar: Oxen won't plow
DEDAYE, Myanmar: Rice farmers in cyclone-shattered parts of the Irrawaddy Delta have come up against yet another problem as they try to rebound from the storm - donated oxen and water buffaloes are refusing to work because they are stressed, and planting must be done soon to take advantage of the next crop cycle."Thanks to donors and arrangements by the government, we are getting buffaloes and oxen, and in some cases small tractors and tillers, almost free of charge," said Ko Hla Soe, a farmer in Dedaye, 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, southwest of the city of Yangon."Now, to our surprise, the problem is that most of the buffaloes and oxen will not work hard. They cannot immediately be used effectively."Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar on the night of May 2, killed around 200,000 farm animals, 120,000 of which were used by farmers to plow fields in the delta, the country's fertile and economically vital rice-growing area.The military government and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization have said that replacing the draft animals is an urgent priority in the devastated areas.Unfortunately for the farmers, who mostly prefer buffaloes to mechanical tillers due to a lack of fuel and its cost, time is not on their side."Unless our rice is planted by the end of this month, it will be too late," Soe said. "And even if we get it in on time, we cannot expect as big a crop as before."The few animals that survived the storm were traumatized and reluctant to work, delta farmers say, and those brought in as replacements are taking a long time to settle in to their new surroundings."Animals can get stress too," said Ohn Kyaw, a senior official at the Ministry of Livestock Breeding and Fisheries."The change of owners and environment is having a psychological impact on them. They've had to travel for days by sea or by land, and they are bound to suffer from stress," he said, adding that the animals should be able to rebound soon.The government, he said, had provided 1,971 draft animals and was working on distributing an additional 600 donated by the FAO.



In West Bank, attack on Arabs is filmed

KHIRBET SUSIYA, West Bank: The conflict between Arabs and Jews over grazing land and water wells in the ancient, arid hills south of Hebron in the West Bank has a distinctly biblical feel, like the flimsy tent encampments and dank caves in which some local Palestinian farming families dwell.But the primeval feud took on a modern twist this month when Muna Nawajaa, one of the two wives of a Palestinian shepherd from Khirbet Susiya, used a hand-held video camera to capture footage of what appeared to be masked Jewish settlers viciously beating members of her family with clubs - images that have since been broadcast by news networks all over the world.Nawajaa, 24, the mother of a four-month-old, said it was the first scene she had ever filmed.Had it not been for the camera - one of about 100 handed out in the West Bank by the Israeli human rights group Btselem to document violent incidents - the assault June 8 might have ended up like many others that have occurred in these parts: unresolved.But the graphic images and ensuing attention by the news media seem to have spurred the Israeli police.By Friday, the Judea and Samaria branch had arrested three suspects from the nearby Jewish settlement of Susiya after what a police spokesman described as "an intensive investigation." Two of the three were under 18."The only weapon we have is the media," said Khalil Nawajaa, 61, a patriarch of the clan, which raises livestock and teases wheat, grapes and zucchini out of the sun-baked, thistle-spiked earth, while showing his scars.The Nawajaas maintain a proper home in the sprawling town of Yata, a few kilometers away, but they usually prefer to stick close to their land. The encampment has no electricity. Water is drawn from a well, milk is kept in sheepskins, bread is baked in a traditional outdoor stone oven and extra shelter is provided by an underground cave.Sitting on the floor of a tent in the family's encampment in mid-June, Imran Nawajaa, 33, Khalil's nephew, recalled the morning of the attack.He said was out tending a flock with his young sons when two masked settlers rode up on a tractor and ordered him, in Hebrew, to leave."I said, 'This is my land, this is my flock, I'm not going anywhere,"' he related. "They told me, 'If you are a man, stay here for another 10 minutes,' then they left."Imran sent for Muna, who had been taught to use the camera by her brother. She arrived on the scene with Imran's wife, Rabiha, and Khalil and his wife, Tamam.The camera captures four lean men, their heads swathed in colorful cloth, striding toward the farmers, clubs in hand. In the background are the whitewashed, red-roofed houses of the settlement.One masked man strikes Imran with a series of swift, hard blows. There is a fleeting frame of another assailant grappling with Khalil before the camera shuts down.Muna said she partly hid the camera under her scarf while filming from a nearby rise, until she got scared. "I was thinking of my baby. He was alone in the tent. I also ran away to call for help," she said, explaining why the footage ends abruptly after the first blows.Other shepherds helped the dazed and bleeding farmers down to the main road. There they flagged down an Israeli Army jeep, which called for an ambulance, and the videocassette was handed over to the police.Tamam, 60, was taken to an Israeli hospital with a broken cheekbone and a gash on her right hand. Khalil, who received a head wound, and Imran, who said he had briefly lost consciousness, were treated in Hebron.The violence was foreshadowed. Khalil said that a year ago, he tried to shoo settlers' sheep away from his newly planted wheat when two settlers grabbed him and smashed his face with a stone, knocking out a front tooth.Khalil was unable to identify his attackers from any of the photographs in the police files so they closed the case, he said.The south Hebron hills are the scene of constant tension, according to Btselem and the police. The fierce competition for sparse resources is compounded by security fears and deeply conflicting national claims.Ancient Susiya contains the ruins of a synagogue dating from the Roman period, attesting to a long and robust Jewish presence here. Jewish settlers started moving in again after Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war.In the persistent war over the land, blood has been spilled on both sides. In 2001, at the height of the second Palestinian uprising, Yair Har Sinai, a well-known Jewish shepherd from the settlement of Susiya, was murdered in the Hebron hills.



Obama's energy policy linked to ethanol interests
When VeraSun Energy inaugurated an ethanol-processing plant in Charles City, Iowa, last summer, some of that industry's most prominent boosters showed up. Leaders of the National Corn Growers' Association and the Renewable Fuels Association, for instance, came to help cut the ribbon - and so did Senator Barack Obama.Then running far behind Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in name recognition and in the polls, Obama was in the midst of a campaign swing through the state where he would eventually register his first caucus victory. And as befits a senator from Illinois, the country's second largest producer of corn, he delivered a ringing endorsement of ethanol as an alternative fuel.Obama is running as a reformer who is seeking to reduce the influence of special interests. But like any other politician, he has powerful constituencies that help shape his views. And when it comes to domestic ethanol, almost all of which is made from corn, he also has advisers and prominent supporters with close ties to the industry at a time when energy policy is a point of sharp contrast between the parties and their presidential candidates.In the heart of the Corn Belt that August day, Obama argued that embracing ethanol as a substitute for gasoline "ultimately helps our national security, because right now we're sending billions of dollars to some of the most hostile nations on earth."America's oil dependence, he added, "makes it more difficult for us to shape a foreign policy that is intelligent and is creating security for the long term."
Nowadays, when Obama travels in farm country, he is sometimes accompanied by his friend and surrogate, Tom Daschle. A former Senate majority leader from South Dakota, Daschle serves on the boards of three ethanol companies and works at a Washington law firm where, according to his online job description, "he spends a substantial amount of time providing strategic and policy advice to clients in renewable energy."Obama's lead adviser on energy and environmental issues, Jason Grumet, came to the campaign from the National Commission on Energy Policy, an initiative associated with Daschle and with Bob Dole, also a former Senate majority leader and big ethanol backer, who had close ties to the agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland, or ADM.




Kristof: The two Israels

HEBRON, West Bank: To travel through the West Bank and Gaza these days feels like traveling through Israeli colonies.
You whiz around the West Bank on new highways that in some cases are reserved for Israeli vehicles, catching glimpses of Palestinian vehicles lined up at checkpoints.
The security system that Israel is steadily establishing is nowhere more stifling than here in Hebron, the largest city in the southern part of the West Bank. In the heart of a city with 160,000 Palestinians, Israel maintains a Jewish settlement with 800 people. To protect them, the Israeli military has established a massive system of guard posts, checkpoints and road closures since 2001.
More than 1,800 Palestinian shops have closed and several thousand people have been driven from their homes. The once flourishing gold market is now blocked with barbed wire and choked with weeds.
"For years, Israel has severely oppressed Palestinians living in the center of the city," notes B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, in a recent report. The authorities, it adds, "have expropriated the city center from its Palestinian residents and destroyed it economically."

Rima Abu Aisha, a housewife in Hebron, has the misfortune of living in an area near the settlers. When she went into labor, an ambulance could not get the appropriate permissions in time and the baby died, she said.
Even if the Hebron settlement were not illegal in the eyes of much of the world, it is utterly impractical. The financial cost is mind-boggling, and the diplomatic cost is greater.
Perhaps greatest of all is the cost for any hope of a peaceful settlement: The barriers and checkpoints have undermined Palestinian moderates like President Mahmoud Abbas and have empowered Hamas. Polls show that two-thirds of Palestinians now approve of terror attacks against civilians in Israel, up from 40 percent in 2005.



Sarkozy calls on Israel to share Jerusalem with Palestinians

JERUSALEM: President Nicolas Sarkozy of France told Israel on Monday that there could be no Middle East peace unless it dropped its refusal to cede sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinians, challenging one of Israel's most emotionally held positions from the podium of its Parliament.
Speaking to a packed session of the legislature, with the spectator galleries filled to capacity, Sarkozy called on Israel to stop settlement in the West Bank. But he tempered his address by assuring Israel that it could count on France's support in halting Iran's nuclear program.
Sarkozy, whose maternal grandfather was a Greek Jew, praised Israel's democracy and quoted the biblical passage in which God promises the Holy Land to the children of Israel. The comments drew applause and broad smiles from most lawmakers but got scowls from the handful of Arab members.
But as he turned his attention to the struggling peace process, reactions by Israelis were less enthusiastic.
"There cannot be peace without an immediate and complete halt to settlement," he said. "There cannot be peace without recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of two states and the guarantee of free access to the holy places for all religions."


20 years later, climatologist who sounded global warming alarm renews warning

Twenty years ago this week, Dr. James Hansen, a climate scientist at NASA, shook Washington and the world by telling a sweating crowd at a Senate hearing during a stifling heat wave that he was "99 percent" certain that humans were already warming the climate.
"The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now," Hansen said then, referring to a recent string of warm years and the accumulating blanket of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other gases emitted mainly by burning fossil fuels and forests.
To many observers of environmental history, that was the first time global warming moved from being an arcane "someday" issue to breaking news. Hansen's statement helped propel the first pushes for legislation and an international treaty to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. A treaty was enacted, and an addendum, the Kyoto Protocol, was added.
Even as the scientific picture of a human-heated world has solidified, emissions of the gases continue to rise.
This week, Hansen, 67, plans to testify at a House committee hearing that it is almost, but not quite, too late to start defusing what he calls the "global warming time bomb." He will offer a prescription for cuts in emissions and also a warning about the risks of further inaction.

"If we don't begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next several years, and really on a very different course, then we are in trouble," Hansen said Friday at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, a NASA operation he has directed since 1981. "Then the ice sheets are in trouble. Many species on the planet are in trouble."
In his testimony on Monday, Hansen said, he would say that the next president faces a unique opportunity to galvanize the country around the need for a transformed, nonpolluting energy system. The hearing is before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Hansen said the natural skepticism and debates embedded in the scientific process have distracted the public from the confidence experts have in a future with centuries of changing climate patterns and higher sea levels under rising carbon dioxide emissions. The confusion has been amplified by industries that extract or rely on fossil fuels, he said, and this has given cover to politicians who rely on contributions from such industries.
Hansen said the United States must begin a sustained effort to exploit new energy sources and phase out unfettered burning of finite fossil fuels, starting with a moratorium on the construction of coal-burning power plants if they lack systems for capturing and burying carbon dioxide. Such systems exist but have not been tested at anywhere near the scale required to blunt emissions. Ultimately he is seeking a worldwide end to emissions from coal burning by 2030.
Another vital component, Hansen said, is a nationwide grid for distributing and storing electricity in ways that could accommodate large-scale use of renewable, but intermittent, energy sources like wind turbines and solar-powered generators.
The transformation would require new technology as well as new policies, particularly legislation promoting investments and practices that steadily reduce emissions.
The enterprise would be on the scale of past ambitious national initiatives, Hansen said, like the construction of the federal highway system and the Apollo space program.
Hansen disagrees with supporters of "cap and trade" bills to cut greenhouse emissions, like the one that foundered in the Senate earlier this month. He instead supports a "tax and dividend" approach that would raise the cost of fuels contributing to greenhouse emissions but return the revenue directly to consumers to shield them from higher energy prices.
As was the case in 1988, Hansen's peers in climatology, while concerned about the risks posed by unabated emissions, have mixed views on the probity of a scientist advocating a menu of policy choices outside his own field.
Some also do not see such high risks of imminent climatic calamity, particularly disagreeing with Hansen's projection that sea levels could rise 6 feet, or 1.8 meters, or more in this century if emissions continue unabated.
Hansen has become a favorite target of conservative commentators; one called him "alarmist in chief" on FoxNews.com.
But many climate experts say Hansen, despite some faults, has been an essential prodder of the public and scientific conscience.
Jerry Mahlman, who recently retired from a long career in climatology, said he disagreed with some of Hansen's characterizations of the climate problem and his ideas about solutions. "On the whole, though, he's been helpful," Mahlman said. "He pushes the edge, but most of the time it's pedagogically sound."
Hansen said he was making a new public push now because the coming year presents a unique opportunity, with a new administration and the world waiting for the United States to re-engage in treaty talks scheduled to culminate with a new climate pact at the end of 2009.



Baosteel agrees to a huge price increase for Australian iron ore

SHANGHAI: Rio Tinto Group said Monday that Baosteel Group, the largest steel maker in China, would pay it at least 80 percent more for iron ore.
Rio, fending off a $171 billion hostile takeover bid from BHP Billiton, and BHP have demanded for the first time in the Asian market a bigger increase than Vale do Rio Doce in Brazil, the world's largest exporter of the raw material. Rio and BHP have argued that their Australian ore costs less to ship. Chinese mills have failed to stop six years of price increases that drove up their costs.
Baosteel agreed to pay Rio $144.66 a metric ton for ore known as Pilbara blend fines for the year that began April 1, Rio said. The Chinese steel maker will also pay Rio $201.69 a ton for Pilbara blend lump, 97 percent more than a year earlier. Demand for iron ore is still very strong, said Sam Walsh, chief executive of Rio's iron ore business.
"I am happy that the market is starting to realize that" the freight differential should be reflected in the iron ore price, the BHP chief executive, Marius Kloppers, said in London.
It costs about $55 a ton less to ship ore from Australia compared than from Brazil. Chinese steel makers have argued against paying Rio and BHP a so-called freight premium. Vale said in February it received an increase of from 65 percent to 71 percent for annual contracts.



Eco-heaven or smog flight? Model city in China hits snags

SHANGHAI: Eco-heaven or just smog flight? Model city in China hits snags
On the eastern tip of Chongming in the mouth of the Yangtze River, the world's largest alluvial island, bird-watchers wait patiently to glimpse an occasional crane or plover rising from the wetlands' reeds.
A few kilometers to the southwest, in an area of fishponds, marshes and farmland, developers are plotting out a city for up to 400,000 people that they hope will be a model of ecological harmony, powered entirely by renewable energy.
Dongtan Eco-city has a lofty ambition: To become the world's first carbon-neutral city, just as recent estimates suggest that China has overtaken the United States as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, one of the culprits in global warming.
But the project has been marred by delays and faces rising doubts over whether it will be a model for China's rapid urbanization or just a posh community for wealthy commuters eager to flee the smog and traffic of Shanghai.

"'Zero-emission' city is pure commercial hype," said Dai Xingyi, a professor at the department of environmental science and engineering at Fudan University in Shanghai.
"You can't expect some technology to both offer you a luxurious and comfortable life and save energy at the same time. That's just a dream," he said.
Ten wind turbines already stand at the boundaries of the city, which will run on energy from sources including wind, solar power and biogas extracted from municipal waste.
"The idea is that China is moving from an industrial age to an ecological age," said Roger Wood, an associate director of Arup, a consulting firm with headquarters in London that was selected to design the Dongtan project.
Arup also worked on some venues for the Beijing Olympics, including the National Stadium, popularly known as the "Bird's Nest," where the opening ceremony of the Games and track and field events will be held in August.
Some dismiss the eco-city plan as too costly to be feasible.
"True 'zero-emissions' comes with a big price tag. I doubt anyone would be willing to pay for it," Dai said.
Generating electricity from wind would be at least twice as expensive as using coal. Electricity from solar power could be 10 times as expensive.
Arup has declined to disclose the cost of the eco-city project, but an official at its partner, the state-owned Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation, said the construction costs could be at least 30 or 40 percent more than those of a typical property development of the same size.
Construction of the first phase has been postponed until the beginning of 2009 from 2006. The projected population for the phase was reduced to 5,000 and the primary focus narrowed to building an environment-related research institute.
The project's supporters applaud it for combining existing energy-saving technologies.
"Dongtan is exploring a new way of urbanization," said Zheng Shiling, a professor at the architecture department of Tongji University in Shanghai. "It would not be realistic if we continued to build cities the way we've been doing."
Hailed as a new model of urbanization, Dongtan Eco-city would occupy 30 square kilometers, or about 11.5 square miles, and house 400,000 residents by the time it is completed in 2050.
Arup envisions farmers and fishermen living outside the city, providing fresh produce and seafood to city dwellers. But at the fisherman's wharf, where dozens of boats were at anchor on a windy afternoon, fishermen and shopkeepers were not enthused about the project.
"We won't move into that city, because we are not educated and we would be useless," said Pan Meiqin, 45, who runs a small grocery store with her husband.
Today a trip to Chongming takes at least 40 minutes by ferry from the outskirts of Shanghai, and storms can halt traffic entirely. A tunnel and bridge, scheduled for completion in 2009, will make trips to the island faster and more reliable.
Some experts predicted that the improved access would turn Dongtan into a community for wealthy commuters, drawn to its marinas and its clean air and water.
"It will therefore be characterized by high levels of personal consumption and large per capita eco-footprints," William Rees, a professor at the University of British Columbia, wrote in an e-mail reply to queries on the project.
Rees is a pioneer in ecological footprint analysis, which estimates how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it needs.
Arup's goal is to ensure the city's ecological footprint is 40 percent less than a typical development model.
The eco-city plan took on a high international profile after Tony Blair, when he was the prime minister of Britain, graced the signing ceremony for the Dongtan planning and development contract between SIIC and Arup at 10 Downing Street in London in 2005. Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, has hailed the project as an example of cooperation between Britain and China.


Uranium poised for a rebound as reactor construction booms

MOSCOW: The uranium industry's worst year is about to collide with a nuclear construction program in India and China that rivals the ones undertaken during the oil crises of the 1970s.
The result is likely to be a 58 percent rebound in uranium to $90 a pound from $57 now, according to Goldman Sachs JBWere and Rio Tinto, one of the world's largest mining companies. Uranium plunged 57 percent over the past year as an earthquake damaged a Japanese nuclear plant and faults shut down reactors in Britain and Germany.
Plans for India and China to end electricity shortages will have an effect from northwest Canada to the Australian outback and the flatlands of Kazakhstan, the primary sources of uranium. India will start up three reactors this year, with another six due in 2009, in India, China, Russia, Canada and Japan. Uranium demand worldwide will rise as fast as oil this year, or 0.8 percent, Deutsche Bank forecasts.
"The first wave of growth is going to come from the emerging economies," said John Wong, fund manager with CQS UK in London, which has $150 million of uranium investments. "People are starting to look at coal, at gas, at oil and seeing the energy prices go up, they wonder about uranium."
The yearlong decline in uranium contrasts with record prices for oil and coal, as Asian energy demand expands and concern mounts that carbon emissions will cause climate change to worsen.

The world needs to build 32 new nuclear plants each year as part of measures to cut emissions in half by 2050, the International Energy Agency, which is based in Paris, said.
Because malfunctions shut reactors in Japan, Britain and Germany, nuclear power production and uranium use dropped 2 percent in 2007, only the third time consumption has fallen since the 1970s, according to data compiled by BP. Prices are so low that some uranium mines are close to being unprofitable, according to Merrill Lynch.
"If you look at what is necessary to sustain increased production, to make the kind of projects that everyone is talking about fly, prices better not get much lower or those projects are going to fall over," Preston Chiaro, chief executive of Rio Tinto's energy unit, said. "I don't think that spot price is indicative of what prices will look like through the course of the year."
In India, Nuclear Power Corp.'s 220-megawatt Kaiga plant in the southern province of Karnatka and another at Rawatbhata in the northern state of Rajasthan are due to come on line this year. China started two units in 2007 and will bring on three more through 2011, said the World Nuclear Association. Iran plans to begin generation this year at its 950-megawatt Bushehr reactor, which is at the center of its conflict with the West.
"China is just on the verge of a second rapid phase of expansion," Ian Hore-Lacy, director of public communications for the WNA in London, said. "Each year China seems to raise their sights further."
Safety concerns remain the biggest risk to nuclear construction and a revival for uranium prices. Proposed reactors were canceled in the 1970s because of environmental protests, while accidents at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979 and Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986 further eroded support. In Japan, new projects face delays as utilities improve earthquake resistance to restore confidence after the closure of Tokyo Electric Power's Kashiwazaki Kariwa and revelations that companies falsified safety records.
"It is worth remembering that this is an industry that can be brought to its knees overnight by one major mishap or one well-executed terrorist action," Paul Hannon, an analyst at the London-based commodities research company VM Group, wrote in a report this month.
Uranium demand was 66,500 tons last year, according to data from TradeTech, a consulting company based in Denver. Consumption may jump 55 percent to 102,000 tons by 2020, forecasts Macquarie, the biggest securities firm in Australia.
Annual uranium use is 69 percent greater than the 39,429 tons that was mined in 2006, according to the most recent data from the WNA. The balance comes from inventories and decommissioned weapons. A Russian accord to export fuel recovered from nuclear warheads to the United States expires in 2013.
"Secondary supplies are finite and rapidly being depleted," Deutsche Bank analysts wrote in a report. "Continual supply issues and the likelihood of increased demand from utilities should drive the spot price higher during the third quarter of this year."
Demand is set to increase as existing reactors are brought back on line, while nuclear energy gains converts.



McCain suggests $300 million reward for a new car battery

PHOENIX, Arizona: John McCain hopes to solve America's energy crisis with cold hard cash.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee is proposing a $300 million government prize to anyone who can develop an automobile battery that far surpasses existing technology.
The bounty would equal $1 for every man, woman and child in the country, "a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency," McCain said in remarks prepared for delivery Monday at Fresno State University in California.
McCain said such a device should deliver power at 30 percent of current costs and have "the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars."
The Arizona senator is also proposing stiffer fines for automakers who skirt existing fuel-efficiency standards, as well as incentives to increase use of domestic and foreign alcohol-based fuels such as ethanol.




Running on vapors

Honda Motor chose a good week to introduce its new hydrogen-powered car. With gas prices rising, we could hardly be more eager for an alternative energy source, especially one that claims to have no bad effects on the environment: A car powered by a ubiquitous, inexhaustible gas that emits nothing worse than water.
Hydrogen has long been the dream of car visionaries. During the oil crisis of the late 1970s, there was a $33,000 Dodge Omni retooled to run on hydrogen. Today, Toyota and General Motors have prototype hydrogen cars. But there is still work to be done.
The FCX Clarity is meant to look like a regular car built in a regular factory. But Honda is only making 200 between now and 2010. Honda's president said that the Clarity costs several hundred thousand dollars to make. The lease of $600 a month is heavily subsidized. And to lease one, you must live in a small slice of Southern California, close to one of the few hydrogen fueling stations in the country. There's also a subsidy on that. It costs the fueling station at the University of California, Irvine, about $10 a kilogram for hydrogen that it will sell for $5, according to Scott Samuelsen, director of the university's National Fuel Cell Research Center.
There's less than meets the eye on the environment, too. Hydrogen usually needs to be peeled off other molecules, and the most common method gives the Clarity a bigger carbon footprint than the Toyota Prius, Samuelsen said. Still, skeptics once said the Toyota Prius would never become a mass-market car. The technology to produce hydrogen is advancing rapidly. The cost of making the cars is bound to come down. And hydrogen fueling stations are likely to multiply.
Government will have to push, of course. But if we got hydrogen to propel us to the moon, we should be able to use it to tool around town.



Foreigners to pay market prices for gas in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia plans to charge higher gasoline prices for foreign-registered cars near border areas so that only Malaysians benefit from the country's subsidized fuel rates, an official said Monday.
The plan requires filling stations to set up separate pumps that charge market fuel rates for the foreign registered vehicles, the national news agency Bernama quoted Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak as saying.
"The system has two benefits. Foreigners will pay for petrol at the current price, and Malaysians will know the actual market price of petrol," Bernama quoted him as saying. His aide, who declined to be named citing protocol, confirmed the comments.
Earlier this month, Malaysia raised pump price for gasoline by 41 percent and diesel by 63 percent, causing anger among people already struggling with rising food prices.
But despite the price hike, fuel in Malaysia remains subsidized — and cheaper than most neighboring countries. Gasoline now costs 2.70 ringgit (US$0.83) a liter, or US$3.20 a gallon, at pumps.



United Airlines to lay off 950 pilots as it reduces capacity

CHICAGO: UAL, the parent of United Airlines, said Monday that it planned to lay off 950 pilots as it prepares to cut domestic capacity to offset soaring fuel prices.
"As we reduce the size of our fleet and take actions companywide to enable United to compete in an environment of record fuel prices, we must take the difficult but necessary step to reduce the number of people we have to run our business," the No. 2 U.S. carrier said in a statement.
The latest layoffs involve nearly 15 percent of United's 6,518 pilots. The carrier has said it plans to cut its staff by 1,400 to 1,600 as it aims to reduce domestic capacity by 14 percent in the fourth quarter.
The airline industry has been battered by record high fuel costs, and major carriers are groping for stability through capacity cuts that enable them to run leaner operations and charge higher fares.
A spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents United pilots, was not immediately available for comment.


Iraqi PM pledges to enforce law after Amara crackdown

BAGHDAD: Iraq's prime minister pledged to maintain law and order in the southern city of Amara on Monday, days after a security crackdown that the movement of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said unfairly targeted them.
Iraqi forces have taken control of Amara and the surrounding province of Maysan, seizing heavy weapons and arresting wanted men in an operation aimed at stamping government authority on an area where Shi'ite militias had been influential.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited Amara on Monday.
"Military forces will not withdraw from (Amara) until we make sure the criminals and killers can never come back again," Maliki told local tribal leaders in a speech broadcast live on Iraqiya state television from Amara.
"We will not stop using force against those who revolt against the will of the nation."



Iraqi official opens fire, killing 2 U.S. soldiers and wounding 4

A disgruntled local official opened fire Monday on U.S. soldiers attending a municipal council meeting southeast of Baghdad, killing two of them and wounding four other Americans, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.
The assailant died in a hail of gunfire after the attack, which occurred in the town of Madain, also known as Salman Pak, 20 kilometers south of Baghdad in an area with a history of Sunni-Shiite tension.
U.S. officials confirmed that two U.S. soldiers died and four Americans, including a civilian interpreter, were wounded. However, the U.S. officials released no further details except that the assailant was killed.
The Iraqi police and witnesses said the attack occurred in front of the Madain municipal building where the Americans had come to confer with the local authorities.
However, there were conflicting reports about other details of the shooting, including whether the Americans were entering or leaving the building at the time of the attack and whether the gunman was a current or former member of the local council.



Supreme Court rejects plea to stop fence along border

WASHINGTON: The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to stop the Bush administration from using extraordinary regulatory powers to construct a fence along the border between the United States and Mexico.
Without comment, the justices declined a plea by environmental groups to put checks on the administration's power to bypass environmental reviews in building sections of the 700-mile, or 1,100-kilometer, fence. The Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, has used the environmental-waiver authority, which was granted by Congress, several times.
Under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the Homeland Security Department was authorized by Congress to build as much as 700 miles of fence along the 2,000-mile Southwest border, where most illegal immigrants coming into the United States cross over.
Environmental groups have expressed concerns, through lawsuits and public hearings, about the damage that the fencing could cause to wildlife. Property owners, particularly along the Rio Grande, have also complained about what they see as federal intrusion on their land and access to the river.
A recent statement by Chertoff summed up his position: "Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation." The secretary has said his department must bypass environmental regulations if it is to meet the goal set by Congress of completing at least 670 miles of fence by the end of 2008.



Police arrest 75 for smuggling people into EU

AMSTERDAM: Police across Europe have broken up an Iraqi-run network that smuggled illegal immigrants into the continent for fees of up to 12,000 euros (9,498 pounds) per person, European officials said on Monday.
"This was one of the largest coordinated actions against people smugglers ever, involving more than 1,300 police officers," Europol and Eurojust, the continent's Hague-based police and prosecution agencies, said in a joint statement.
They said police had arrested 75 people in joint investigations in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain.
"All suspects are said to be involved in the clandestine smuggling of a large number of illegal immigrants into and within the European Union," Europol and Eurojust said.
Codenamed "Operation Baghdad" as it targeted a network mainly involving Iraqi nationals, Eurojust coordinated the investigation at the request of French magistrates and set up a centre in Paris to liaise between involved countries.

The network is accused of transporting illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, China, Turkey and Bangladesh to EU member states. One of the main organisers in France is believed to have smuggled in around 280 people in a six-month period.
The migrants paid 10,000 to 12,000 euros, often by wire transfer, and travelled in cramped conditions in camper vans, coaches, boats or even planes from Iraq via Turkey to Europe, Europol and Eurojust said.



U.S. networks putting wars on back burner

Getting a story on the evening news isn't easy for any correspondent. And for reporters in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is especially hard, according to Lara Logan, the chief foreign correspondent for CBS News. So she has devised a solution when she is talking to the network.
"Generally what I say is, 'I'm holding the armor-piercing RPG,' " she said last week in an appearance on the satirical news program "The Daily Show," on Comedy Central, referring to the initials for rocket-propelled grenade. " 'It's aimed at the bureau chief, and if you don't put my story on the air, I'm going to pull the trigger.' "
Logan let a sly just-kidding smile sneak through as she spoke, but her point was serious. Five years into the war in Iraq and nearly seven years into the war in Afghanistan, getting news of the conflicts onto television is harder than ever.
"If I were to watch the news that you hear here in the United States, I would just blow my brains out because it would drive me nuts," Logan said.
According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been "massively scaled back this year." Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The "CBS Evening News" has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC's "World News" and 74 minutes on "NBC Nightly News." (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)
CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, where some 150,000 United States troops are deployed.
Paul Friedman, a senior vice president at CBS News, said the news division does not get reports from Iraq on television "with enough frequency to justify keeping a very, very large bureau in Baghdad." He said CBS correspondents can "get in there very quickly when a story merits it."
In a telephone interview last week, Logan said the CBS News bureau in Baghdad was "drastically downsized" in the spring. The network now keeps a producer in the country, making it less of a bureau and more of an office.
Interviews with executives and correspondents at television news networks suggested that while the CBS cutbacks are the most extensive to date in Baghdad, many journalists shared varying levels of frustration about placing war stories onto newscasts. "I've never met a journalist who hasn't been frustrated about getting his or her stories on the air," said Terry McCarthy, an ABC News correspondent in Baghdad.
By telephone from Baghdad, McCarthy said he was not as busy as he was a year ago. A decline in the relative amount of violence "is taking the urgency out" of some of the coverage, he said. Still, he gets on ABC's "World News" and other programs with stories, including one on Friday about American gains in northern Iraq.
Anita McNaught, a correspondent for the Fox News Channel, agreed. "The violence itself is not the story anymore," she said. She counted eight reports she had filed since arriving in Baghdad six weeks ago, noting that cable news channels like Fox News and CNN have considerably more time to fill with news than the networks. CNN and Fox each have two fulltime correspondents in Iraq.
Richard Engel, the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, who splits his time between Iraq and other countries, said he found his producers "very receptive to stories about Iraq." He and other journalists noted that the heated presidential primary campaign put other news stories on the back burner earlier this year.
Logan said she begged for months to be embedded with a group of Navy Seals, a special operations unit, and when she came back with the story, a CBS producer said to her, "One guy in uniform looks like any other guy in a uniform." In the follow-up phone interview, Logan said the producer no longer worked at CBS. And in both interviews, she emphasized that many journalists at CBS News are pushing for war coverage, specifically citing Jeff Fager, the executive producer of "60 Minutes." CBS News won a Peabody Award last week for a "60 Minutes" report about a Marine charged in the killings at Haditha.
On "The Daily Show," Logan echoed the comments of other journalists when she said that many Americans seem uninterested in the wars now. McCarthy said that when he is in the United States, bringing up Baghdad at a dinner party "is like a conversation killer."
Coverage of the war in Afghanistan has increased slightly this year, with 46 minutes of total coverage year-to-date compared with 83 minutes for all of 2007. NBC has spent 25 minutes covering Afghanistan, partly because the anchor Brian Williams visited the country earlier in the month. Through Wednesday, when an ABC correspondent was in the middle of a prolonged visit to the country, ABC had spent 13 minutes covering Afghanistan. CBS has spent eight minutes covering Afghanistan so far this year.
Both Logan and McCarthy noted that more coalition soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in May than in Iraq. No American television network has a full-time correspondent in Afghanistan, although CNN recently said it would open a bureau in Kabul.
"It's terrible," Logan said in the telephone interview. She called it a financial decision. "We can't afford to maintain operations in Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time," she said. "It's so expensive and the security risks are so great that it's prohibitive."
Friedman said coverage of Iraq is enormously expensive, mostly due to the security risks. He said meetings with other television networks about sharing the costs of coverage have faltered for logistical reasons.
Journalists at all three American television networks with evening newscasts expressed worries that their news organizations would withdraw from the Iraqi capital after the November presidential election. They spoke only on the condition of anonymity in order to avoid offending their employers.


Pakistan adrift without leader

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan remains in a leaderless drift four months after elections, Western diplomats and military officials have said, and Pakistani politicians and Afghan officials are increasingly worried that no one is really in charge.
The leadership vacuum is most stark in dealing with militants, Pakistani politicians and foreign diplomats have said, adding that the Pakistani government and military officials were sending mixed signals about policy in the tribal areas that have become home to the Taliban and to Al Qaeda.
That confusion, military officials and diplomats warn, is allowing the militants to consolidate their sanctuaries while spreading their tentacles all along the border area. It has also complicated policy for the administration of George W. Bush, which leaned heavily on one man, President Pervez Musharraf, to streamline its anti-terrorism efforts in Paksitan.
If anyone is in charge, Pakistani politicians and Western diplomats say, it remains the military and the country's premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, which operate with little real oversight.
While the recently elected civilian government has been criticized for dealing with militants, the military is brokering cease-fires and prisoner exchanges with minimum consultation with the government, politicians from the government coalition, diplomats and analysts said. Meanwhile, politicians in both the provincial and central government complain that they are excluded from the negotiations and did not even know of a secret deal struck in February, before the elections, let alone the details of the accord.



Troops kill 55 Taliban after Afghan ambush

KABUL: U.S.-led coalition troops killed some 55 Taliban insurgents who ambushed them in southeastern Afghanistan, close to the Pakistan border, the U.S. military said on Monday.
There has been a sharp rise in violence along Afghanistan's eastern frontier in recent months. NATO generals say de-facto ceasefires between Pakistan's new government and militants in its border region free up insurgents to infiltrate into Afghanistan.
Taliban insurgents ambushed the coalition forces with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades in the Zerok district of Paktika province on Friday, a U.S. military statement said.
Among those killed were three Taliban leaders.
"Around 55 anti-Afghan forces were killed, 25 wounded and three detained as part of the combined response of coalition ground and air forces," the statement said.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the U.S.-led coalition force in Afghanistan do not usually disclose Taliban casualties and normally use vague formulations such as saying "several" militants were killed.
In another incident, a suicide car bomber killed five civilians and wounded 11 more on Monday in an attack apparently targeting an international troop convoy in western Afghanistan, the district governor said.
The bomber struck in the Shindand district of Herat province, the district governor Lal Mohammad told Reuters. The toll from the explosion could rise, he said.
The target was an Italian troop convoy patrolling the area, regional police spokesman, Abdul Rahoof Ahmadi, said.
The NATO force was not immediately aware of the incident.
Elsewhere, coalition troops killed several insurgents in operations in Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul, and in Helmand province in the south.
More than 6,000 people were killed in Afghanistan last year and this year there are no signs of any let-up in the fighting with the Taliban unable to overwhelm Afghan and foreign forces and the government and its allies unable to quash the insurgency.



From Afghanistan, NATO shells militants in Pakistan

KABUL, Afghanistan: NATO forces in Afghanistan shelled guerrillas in Pakistan in two separate episodes on Sunday, as escalating insurgent violence appeared to be eroding the alliance's restraint along the border.
NATO officials said they had retaliated against rocket and artillery attacks launched by militants from sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan, where they operate freely. The insurgents' attacks, launched into Khost and Paktika Provinces, killed four Afghan civilians, at least two of them children, Afghan and NATO officials said. Casualty figures for Pakistan were not available.
The firing by NATO forces into Pakistani territory followed an American airstrike on a Pakistani border post earlier this month that killed 11 Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistani government denounced the strike, and the American government expressed regret, but it is still not entirely clear what happened.
Relations between the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan were already extraordinarily tense. American and Afghan officials say the surging violence in Afghanistan is in large part caused by the sanctuaries that militants enjoy in Pakistan. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, have assembled in Pakistan, most of them in the area along the remote and mountainous frontier where the government exercises no authority.
In those sanctuaries, the militants are free to train, regroup and plan new attacks in Afghanistan. American and NATO commanders have expressed frustration at the violence caused by the militants who cross from Pakistan, but they have so far been refused permission to conduct military operations there.

Last week, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan threatened to send troops across the border to attack the militants if the Pakistani government did not prevent them from crossing the border. The Pakistani government has never exercised more than nominal control over long stretches of its border with Afghanistan, and Pakistani leaders say they do not have enough troops to secure the area.
The first attack came shortly after midnight in Khost Province, where militants inside Afghanistan fired 13 rockets, apparently at a base for the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO force charged with maintaining order in Afghanistan. One rocket hit the base, causing no casualties, but another killed an Afghan civilian, officials said.
Later, in a second volley, five rockets sailed in from Pakistan, striking the village of Kundai, where a woman and her two children were killed, officials said. The security forces there located the militants' firing battery several hundred yards inside Pakistan and returned fire.
Officials from the security force gave no details of their own artillery barrage, except to say that Pakistani officials were immediately informed of the shelling. Major General Athar Abbas of the Pakistani military said he knew nothing about any incidents along the border.
"We need to defend ourselves," said General Carlos Branco, a spokesman for the security force.
In the second episode, an Afghan Army post in Paktika Province came under artillery fire from Pakistan. The international security forces located the firing battery on the other side of the border and returned fire. Officials provided no other details.
Also on Sunday, the governor of Kunar Province in Afghanistan reported that a rocket from Pakistan struck a hospital on Saturday in the town of Asadabad in Kunar. The same day, an American bomb landed on the border near a Pakistani post in North Waziristan during fighting with militants, Abbas said.


In Algeria, a tug of war for young minds

ALGIERS: First, Abdel Malek Outas's teachers taught him to write math equations in Arabic, and embrace Islam and the Arab world. Then they told him to write in Latin letters that are no longer branded unpatriotic, and open his mind to the West.
Malek is 19, and he is confused.
"When we were in middle school we studied only in Arabic," he said. "When we went to high school, they changed the program, and a lot is in French. Sometimes, we don't even understand what we are writing."
The confusion has bled off the pages of his math book and deep into his life. One moment, he is rapping; another, he recounts how he flirted with terrorism, agreeing two years ago to go with a recruiter to kill apostates in the name of jihad.
At a time of religious revival across the Muslim world, Algeria's youth are in play. The focus of this contest is the schools, where for decades Islamists controlled what children learned, and how they learned, officials and education experts here said.

Now the government is urgently trying to re-engineer Algerian identity, changing the curriculum to wrest momentum from the Islamists, provide its youth with more employable skills, and combat the terrorism it fears schools have inadvertently encouraged.
It appears to be the most ambitious attempt in the region to change a school system to make its students less vulnerable to religious extremism.
But many educators are resisting the changes, and many disenchanted young men are dropping out of schools. It is a tense time in Algiers, where city streets are crowded with police officers and security checkpoints and alive with fears that Algeria is facing a resurgence of Islamic terrorism. From 1991 to 2002, as many as 200,000 Algerians died in fighting between government forces and Islamic terrorists. Now one of the main terrorist groups, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or GSPC, has affiliated with Al Qaeda, rebranding itself as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
There is a sense this country could still go either way. Young people here in the capital appear extremely observant, filling mosques for the daily prayers, insisting that they have a place to pray in school. The strictest form of Islam, Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia, has become the gold standard for the young.
And yet, the young in Algiers also appear far more socially liberal than their peers in places like Egypt and Jordan. Young veiled women walk hand in hand, or sit leg to leg, with young men, public flirtations unthinkable in most other Muslim countries.
The two natures of the country reflect the way in which Algerian identity was cleaved in half by 132 years of French colonial rule, and then again by independence and forced Arabization. Once the French were driven out in 1962, the Algerians were determined to forge a national identity free from Western influence.
The schools were one center of that drive. French was banned as the language of education, replaced by Arabic. Islamic law and the study of the Koran were required, and math and science were shortchanged. Students were warned that sinners go to hell, and 6-year-olds were instructed in the proper way to wash a corpse for burial, education officials said.
There is a feeling among many Algerians that they went too far.



Amnesty says Tunisia fails to curb torture

LONDON: Amnesty International accused Tunisia on Monday of failing to curb torture of detainees held on suspicion of security and terrorism offences.
The north African country, a Western ally, flatly denies torture.
The human rights group issued a report, "In the Name of Security: Routine Abuses in Tunisia" alleging specific cases of torture, including beatings, hoodings, sleep deprivation and electric shocks.
"The Tunisian government has repeatedly asserted that it abides by its international human rights obligations, yet this is far from the reality," an Amnesty statement said.
"It is high time that the authorities stop paying lip service to human rights and take concrete action to end abuses. As a first step, the Tunisian authorities must acknowledge the disturbing allegations documented in this report, commit to investigating them and bring those responsible to justice."



Zimbabwe opposition leader takes refuge in Dutch Embassy

JOHANNESBURG: The leader of the opposition party in Zimbabwe has sought refuge in the Dutch Embassy in the capital, Harare, the Dutch government said Monday, while the police raided the party's headquarters and detained more than 40 people, mostly women, children and people wounded in the recent political violence.
The latest developments came a day after the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, withdrew from a presidential run-off, scheduled for June 27, saying he could neither participate in "this violent, illegitimate sham of an election process," nor ask his voters to risk their lives in the face of threats from forces backing President Robert Mugabe.
Tsvangirai told a news conference in Harare on Sunday that his party was facing a war rather than an election "and we will not be part of that war." Tsvangirai had only recently returned to Zimbabwe from self-imposed exile in South Africa where he had fled over fears for his safety.
The Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, said in a statement on the foreign ministry's Web site, that Tsvangirai had sought refuge at the embassy in Harare on Sunday evening and was now "considering further steps."
The Dutch government also released a statement calling for the international community to consider taking tougher measures against the Mugabe regime. "With the systematic intimidation and violence, the presidential contest has reached a new tragic low," Verhagen was quoted as saying. The Associated Press reported that there had been no request for political asylum.



Court overturns Pentagon on Guantánamo detainee

After the first court review of the basis for holding any Guantánamo detainee, the federal appeals court in Washington overturned the Pentagon's decision and ordered that the man be released or given a new military hearing.
The ruling involved a detainee, Huzaifa Parhat, one of 17 Guantánamo detainees who are ethnic Uighurs, members of a Muslim minority in western China. The imprisonment of the Uighur detainees has drawn wide attention, largely because of their lawyers' claim that they were never enemies of the United States and were mistakenly swept into Guantánamo.
Detainees' lawyers portrayed the ruling as the latest important court rebuke to the Bush administration over its detention policies. They suggested that the ruling concluded that the procedures used by the Pentagon in its hearings at Guantánamo were deeply flawed.
"This raises enormous questions about just who they are holding at Guantánamo," said the lead lawyer for Parhat, P. Sabin Willett.
The court did not immediately release the ruling from a unanimous three-judge panel of the Untied States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In a terse one-paragraph summary, the court clerk stated simply that, "the court directed the government to release or to transfer Parhat, or to expeditiously hold a new tribunal consistent with the court's opinion."


Town in India rocks (no use to wonder why, babe)

SHILLONG, India: Lou Majaw wore his signature skin-tight, cutoff short-shorts. His long gray hair hung like dirty threads around his face. Eyes closed in prayer, a guitar cupped in arms, he strummed the chords to "Blowin' in the Wind."
"Happy birthday, Bob Dylan, wherever you are," he began, standing on a stage in a near-empty church hall on an overcast Saturday afternoon. "God bless you, and thanks for everything that you've done."
Every May 24 for the last 35 years Majaw, 61, and one of India's original rock 'n' roll bards, has held a homespun celebration of Dylan's birth. This year's version was held in All Saints Hall, next to the church of the same name. Majaw pranced around the auditorium singing, "Everybody must get stoned." Two schoolgirls, who described their repertory as mostly Mariah Carey, sang "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," in two-part harmony, having learned it two days before. A poet, Sonny Khyriem, stood up and read a paean: "The voice bathed with protests/Mingled with human rights/Becomes an inspiration/To the toiling millions."
This annual incantation is more than one man's act of madcap devotion. It is also a peephole into the love affair with Western music that goes on every day in this pine-wooded outpost in India's northeast. Shillong, a British-era hill town that is now home to dozens of boarding schools and colleges, is its hub, especially when it comes to rock.
On Dylan's birthday weekend a visitor could drive down a narrow, rain-soaked road and hear young men with guitars serenading, or stumble upon thousands gathered under a Christian revival tent, singing modern gospel in their native Khasi. On a football field, at twilight, you might be pulled into a mosh pit of teenagers dancing to a Naga tribal blues guitarist, or on a Sunday morning find schoolchildren in a chorus of 19th-century hymns in a prim Presbyterian church.


Group says China demolishes mosque for not supporting Olympics

BEIJING: Chinese authorities in the restive far western region of Xinjiang have demolished a mosque for refusing to put up signs in support of this August's Beijing Olympics, an exiled group said on Monday.
The mosque was in Kalpin county near Aksu city in Xinjiang's rugged southwest, the World Uyghur Congress said.
The spokesman's office of the Xinjiang government said it had no immediate comment, while telephone calls to the county government went answered.
"China is forcing mosques in East Turkistan to publicise the Beijing Olympics to get the Uighur people to support the Games (but) this has been resisted by the Uighurs," World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit said in an emailed statement.
Beijing says al Qaeda is working with militants in Xinjiang to use terror to establish an independent state called East Turkistan.

Oil-rich Xinjiang is home to 8 million Turkic-speaking Uighurs, many of whom resent the growing economic and cultural influence of the Han Chinese.
Dilxat Raxit added that the mosque, which had been renovated in 1998, was accused of illegally renovating the structure, carrying out illegal religious activities and illegally storing copies of the Muslim holy book the Koran.
"All the Korans in the mosque have been seized by the government and dozens of people detained," he said. "The detained Uighurs have been tortured."
The Olympic torch relay passed through Xinjiang last week under tight security, with all but carefully vetted residents banned from watching on the streets and tight controls over foreign media covering the event.



Myanmar's new capital: Remote, lavish and off-limits

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: The bamboo forests and sugarcane fields that once covered the gently sloping hills here have been replaced by hulking government buildings, roads so long and straight they resemble runways and a vast construction site marked by a sign that could be read as a metaphor for the entire project: "Parliament zone. Do not enter."
Naypyidaw is Myanmar's new capital, built in secret by the ruling generals and announced to the public two and a half years ago, when it was a fait accompli.
A nine-hour drive north from the former capital, Yangon, it looks like nothing else in this impoverished country, where one out of three children is malnourished and travelers appreciate potholed pavement because many roads are nothing more than dirt tracks.
Workers in Naypyidaw are building multi-tiered, flower-covered traffic circles. In a country of persistent power shortages and blackouts, street lamps brightly illuminate the night, like strings of pearls running up and down scrub-covered hills. On the city's outskirts there is a modern and tidy zoo complete with an air-conditioned penguin house.
Foreigners rarely travel here, and the police tried to stop a reporter from taking pictures in the city, but the zoo is ready to receive them: admission is $10 for foreigners and a tenth that for Myanmar citizens.

It would be easy to write off the move to Naypyidaw as a caprice of the paranoid and secretive generals who have been in power for 46 years. But the transfer of the entire bureaucracy to this relatively remote location, where malaria is still endemic and cellular phones do not work, has drained the country's finances and widened the gulf between the rulers and the ruled.


Portrait of a man - and his war chest
By Suzy Menkes

MILAN: 'Fragility and power," said Miuccia Prada to encapsulate her vision of a man with his wardrobe hanging from two straps round his neck. The enigmatic soothsayer of what is new in the subtly shifting world of menswear might also have said: portrait of gentle man.


South Africa's Zuma seeks to have graft case dropped

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa's ruling party leader, Jacob Zuma, sought on Monday to have a corruption case against him dropped, the SAPA news agency reported.
Zuma's lawyer Michael Hulley filed papers in the Pietermartizburg High Court, seeking an order declaring invalid the National Prosecuting Authority's decision to prosecute the African National Congress leader.
The appeal was expected to be heard on August 4 and 5, days before the scheduled start of Zuma's corruption trial on August 14, SAPA said.
Hulley was not immediately available for comment.
Zuma, who defeated South African President Thabo Mbeki for the ANC leadership in December, is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a French arms manufacturer.


Sworn to virginity and living as men in Albania
KRUJE, Albania: Pashe Keqi recalls the day nearly sixty years ago when she decided to become a man. She chopped off her long black curls, traded in her dress for her father's baggy trousers, armed herself with a hunting rifle and vowed to forsake marriage, children and sex.
Had she been born in Albania today, says the 78-year-old sworn virgin, who made an oath of celibacy in return for the right to live and rule her family as a man, she would choose womanhood.
"Back then, it was better to be a man because, before, a woman and an animal were considered the same thing," says Keqi, who has a bellowing baritone voice, sits with her legs open wide like a man and relishes downing shots of Raki and smoking cigarettes. "Now, Albanian women have equal rights with men and are even more powerful, and I think today it would be fun to be a woman."
Sworn virgins became the patriarchs of their families, with all the trappings of male authority, by swearing to remain virgins for the rest of their lives.
The ritual was a form of self-empowerment for rural women living in a desperately poor and macho country that was cut off from mainstream Europe for decades under a Stalinist dictatorship. But in Albania today, with Internet dating and MTV, the custom is all but disappearing. Girls no longer want to become boys.

EU opens voluntary registry for lobbyists, but no great rush to sign up

BRUSSELS: The European Commission opened its voluntary registry for the thousands of lobbyists and special interest groups operating in Brussels on Monday, aiming to shed more light on the forces that seek to influence regulations on everything from computer software to greenhouse gas emissions.
But relatively few companies or associations rushed to register on the first day - although they gave an inkling of the huge amounts spent each year on lobbying efforts. Good governance activist groups, meanwhile, renewed calls for the European Union to force lobbyists to disclose more information, calling the voluntary registry weak and flawed.
The Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica was the first to register, listing its lobbying costs as €950,000, or $1.5 million, during 2007.
"By registering right away we show how strongly we support this transparency initiative," said Carlos Lopez, head of global public policy for Telefónica. "I think all companies will be happy to use these rules."
By early evening, a total of 17 groups had joined the list, including the French drinks company Pernod Ricard, which said it had budgeted €460,000 for 2008.
Other groups included the European Community Shipowners' Associations, which said it spent €942,714 during 2007.
Some consultants said it could be several months before they register.
José Lalloum, the chairman of European Public Affairs Consultancies Association, which represents 35 of the largest consultancies operating in Brussels, including Hill & Knowlton and Weber Shandwick, said his group still was trying to ascertain what activities could be excluded from the register. He said it also wanted to figure out how to avoid listing activities that already have been listed by clients like multinational companies or governments.
Siim Kallas, the vice president of the commission, hailed the register as "an important moment of cultural change." He said the introduction of register was a first step to creating a single register that also would cover the European Parliament and other EU institutions.
Kallas also said there was no need to make the system obligatory.
"We think a voluntary system can be even more efficient than a mandatory system," Kallas said, although he would not elaborate.
EU officials have said that any attempt to impose mandatory registration would require legislation, which could take years to pass and end up with numerous loopholes.
Transparency International, an anti-corruption group, nevertheless called for an obligatory system to be established next year.
"The remaining deficiencies of the commission register should be remedied to guarantee real transparency and to ensure the establishment of a strong and mandatory lobbyist register," said Jana Mittermaier, the head of the group's Brussels office.
Another group, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, called the register "weak and unbalanced" partly because names of individual lobbyists would not be available in many cases.
The group said that would make it hard to keep track of whether lobbyists had conflicts of interests or how many lobbyists in total are active in Brussels.
The group also said it would be hard to calculate how much money overall is spent by groups of companies and consultancies on a particular issue, like promoting biotechnology.
"When you compare it to other tested systems, such as in the United States, its voluntary nature and distortion in fact make it look like one of the world's weakest registers," said Craig Holman from Public Citizen, a group based in the United States.
Kallas said that the effectiveness of the system would be reviewed next year, but he did not specify how its effectiveness would be assessed.
The most sensitive part of the registry is information on the amount of money interest groups are paid for their work.
Consultancies that register must list the total amount of sales they derive from clients for lobbying all EU institutions. They also must list how much of that is represented by each client to the nearest €50,000, or as a percentage of their overall sales.
In-house lobbyists or those for trade associations that register must estimate to the nearest €50,000 their overall costs for directly lobbying all EU institutions. For nongovernmental organizations and research firms that register, the groups must give their overall budget for lobbying all EU institutions and their main sources of finance.
EU officials estimate that there are about 15,000 individuals active in lobbying in Brussels who represent about 2,600 special interest groups.
EU officials said companies that entered incorrect information could be suspended or removed from the register.
There also are options for whistle-blowers to report those that disguise the full extent of their activities.

Literature lost
By James Thomas Snyder
Monday, June 23, 2008

Americans are debating their place in the world now more than ever and as we seek understanding we confront histories and ancient narratives with remarkably limited access to international sources written in a familiar language.
That in part may be because the American community of letters has no way of recognizing outstanding foreign literature that spans those cultures, and no way to confer celebrity on such risky subject matter published in the United States. Our top literature awards, the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, do not recognize works written by foreign authors or those published in translation. It is time to change this, for the benefit of all involved: for authors, publishers, translators and, above all, a public hungry to understand a complex world we cannot ignore.
Popularizing foreign subject matter before an American audience has little to do with content. Consider "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, a perpetual hang-glider on The New York Times Best-Seller List. "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nifisi was a sensation. Jhumpa Lahiri (a Pulitzer winner herself) remains popular as does Hosseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns." Clearly there is a market for foreign-themed literature.
But in this highly competitive arena, works in translation may gain critical distinction yet fail to break out into popular consciousness. The difference between these two classes of books is obvious. Hosseini, Lahiri and Nifisi write as fluent or native English speakers while foreign authors - the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk or the Egyptian writer Naguib Mafuz, for example - publish through translators. There is a qualitative difference lost in translation that has less to do with the complexities of interpretation than with it being a sort of hearsay. But more practically speaking, foreign writers trying to publish successfully in the United States simply bear the added burden of being labelled a translation. They are relegated to academic houses and niche prints, with limited promotion budgets and restricted distribution.
For translators the work is hard and limited to academics or those with great passion for foreign cultures and languages. The outcome of their labor is uncertain, as publishing houses are often more skeptical than the public. But we can make it easier to bring more authors and translators together with their audiences by raising their profile.
There is no better way to increase the prospects of a risky venture than the imprimatur of a major prize like the Pulitzer or the National Book Award. It is clear, for example, that the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to Orhan Pamuk widened interest in him personally and made translations of his entire corpus into English viable. But the American literature awards break open a market like no other.
A high-profile American award for books in English translation would raise the quality and quantity of translations, giving translators a great goal to aim for in taking on risky projects. And it would raise respect for the hard work of cultural interpretation for those who often live and work obscurely as bridges between civilizations.
The standing obstacle is that these awards go to American authors publishing in the United States. (In fact, the National Book Award had a citation for translations from 1967 through 1983 before radically scaling back its number of awards.) Obviously this is the primary obstruction for foreign writers seeking a higher American profile.
I would propose a new prize, awarded to a foreign work published in the United States by an American translator. To the usual literary standards I would add another: the quality of the translation. This would require more bilingual journalists and authors appointed to awards panels who are able to make the aesthetic judgment necessary of a work spanning different cultures.
All of this would fortify our intellectual culture, invigorate debate, and deepen understanding of parts of the world about which Americans are desperately curious. Reading headlines, hearing speeches or scanning policy tracts will never answer the fundamental questions about history, identity and culture that only literature can pose: Who are we? What is it like to be alive here and now? How are we different? How are we the same?
To avoid any conflict, I should indicate I do not intend to publish another translation. I spent four years attending a project important to me but which nonetheless had no certain outcome and consumed time and resources only to be passed over by trades and most academic houses due to one hurdle unrelated to content: It was a translation. My wife points out that it might have been easier to write my own book. She has a point, though certainly my own challenges and those of the book's author are more than matched by unsung authors, editors and publishers every day around the world.
But the mission and the challenge of bringing quality literature from a foreign context to an American audience has never been greater. Fortunately, the established writers and editors who set our literary standards can make that mission more rewarding for everyone, by recognizing new works and understanding that need no longer be lost in translation.
James Snyder is a member of NATO's International Staff and translator of "Justice in a Time of War," a history of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal by the Swiss journalist Pierre Hazan.

Russia condemns rewriting of World War Two history
BREST, Belarus: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev condemned on Sunday what he described as attempts to rewrite wartime history -- an attack the Kremlin said was aimed at Ukraine and the three Baltic states.
In a joint declaration marking the 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Medvedev and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko denounced a "politicised approach to history".
Their countries "strongly condemn any attempt at rewriting history and revision of the results of World War Two," they said.
Ukraine and the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have challenged Moscow's view of history, saying their nationals suffered from Soviet as well as Nazi oppression, and a Kremlin spokesman said later the criticism was aimed at them.
Meeting in the Belarussian town of Brest, where Nazi forces first crossed the Soviet border on June 22, 1941, the two leaders said that "a selective, politicised approach to history should be set against honest, scientific debate."
"Only on this basis can Europe draw the lessons of history and avoid a tragic repetition of the errors of the past."
"This declaration is indeed a reaction to the actions of the countries in the Baltic and Ukraine, in which recently there has been the rehabilitation of the SS Halychyna division," the Kremlin spokesman told Reuters. "In other countries, Britain for example, Nazi criminals are arrested, not justified."
Russia has chided Ukraine for taking steps since the mid-1990s to grant some form of recognition as combatants to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), guerrillas who fought both Nazi and Soviet troops to secure an independent state.
The issue is contentious in Ukraine, where commemorations expose the country's split into the nationalist west and centre and the Russian-speaking east, more sympathetic to Moscow.
Historians say the UPA had 40,000 men in its ranks at its peak. Some Ukrainians donned Nazi uniforms in a unit known as SS Halychyna.
Russia has also complained about Baltic nationalists who resisted Soviet occupation. It became embroiled in a diplomatic row with Estonia last year over the removal of a statue of a Red Army soldier from Tallinn's city centre to a military cemetery.
Moscow also says Russian-speaking minorities in Estonia and Latvia have been denied basic rights against a background of strong anti-Russian sentiment.
Medvedev also reaffirmed Russia's support for steps to create a "union state" with Belarus -- planned since the mid-1990s but with little concrete progress so far.
Lukashenko, accused by Western countries of crushing fundamental rights, has championed the post-Soviet merger as the cornerstone of Belarus's foreign policy, but Moscow has cooled to the idea in recent years.

Learning to live with risk
In 1995, home prices in the United States rose by 1.7 percent. They kept climbing over the next 10 years at an accelerating rate. The climax was in 2005, when the increase was 15.7 percent, putting home prices at more than double their 1995 level. Except for the early years after World War II and during the great inflation of the 1970s, home prices in the United States had never doubled in the short space of 10 years.
This amazing development could not have occurred without one widely held assumption: that home prices could only go up.
If more people had recognized that, as in the past, home prices could also go down, buying a home would have appeared much riskier. Few, if any, lenders would have issued mortgages with minuscule down payments, and there would have been no outbreak of liars' loans or complex financial paper bought by institutions as a matter of faith in questionable triple-A ratings. The banking system would not be in such a mess and the world economy would be on sounder footing.
The greatest mystery in the following tumult was in two commonly used words whose value turned out to be hollow: risk management. Sophisticated investors claim that they spend a lot of time devising and executing risk management. But if they were managing risks, how could it be that leading financial institutions flirted with total ruin and that the usual flows of credit were frozen solid?
The debacle from which the system is now trying to emerge suggests that prevailing risk-management strategies were managing the wrong risks. Surely, a reversal in home prices was a risk to be reckoned with, but it appears to have played no role, or at least none that mattered.
Home sales slide as gloom deepens
LONDON: The number of homes changing hands fell nearly 40 percent on the year in May, spelling more gloom for the country's estate agents and furniture retailers as a housing downturn intensifies.
Revenue and Customs said on Monday property transactions numbered 100,000 last month, 13 percent lower than in April. Experts say activity will fall further in the months ahead as a global credit crunch makes new mortgages harder to come by.
News of the big drop in transactions followed a report by property Web site Rightmove which showed sellers outnumbering buyers in Britain's once-booming housing market by 15 to one.
"These numbers clearly highlight the very real pressure on the residential property market," said Simon Rubinsohn, chief economist at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
After years of double-digit growth, house prices are now falling at monthly rates not seen since the slump of the 1990s, raising concern the market could be headed for another crash that takes the economy down with it.
Property and retail companies are already suffering, as is Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour government. Consumer confidence and house prices seem inextricably linked in Britain where two-thirds of households own their homes.
More than 15,000 estate agents are expected to lose their jobs in the next two years, according to one research group.
British sofa retailer SCS Upholstery said on Monday it was in talks over a rescue plan for its business that would leave shareholders with almost nothing. Its shares have tumbled 90 percent in the last two months.
Its rival, Land of Leather, also said last week it needed to more funding to help it cope with plunging demand. Department stores group John Lewis reported on Friday a 9.7 annual drop electricals and home technology sales in the week to June 14.
Official retail sales figures, however, showed sales jumping by an unprecedented 3.5 percent last month, despite all the gloom about consumers suffering because of soaring supermarket and energy bills.
Many economists have dismissed the staggering rise as a rogue number, flattered by the much warmer-than-usual weather in May boosting sales of summer clothing and foodstuff.
Still, electrical goods retailers DSG International, which runs Curry's and PC World, and Kesa, which owns Comet, are set to report tough trading conditions this week.
Further bad news on the housing market is expected on Tuesday when the British Bankers' Association releases mortgage approvals data for May.
Approvals have been falling sharply in recent months as lenders, hit by a global credit crunch, have been tightening the terms on which they will make new home loans.
The cost of fixed-rate mortgages has continued to rise despite three cuts in interest rates by the Bank of England since last December as banks face higher funding costs.
Many analysts are now predicting double-digit falls in house prices this year and next, particularly as high inflation is keeping the central bank from being able to cut interest rates.
"It is very possible that the Bank of England's next move could be to raise interest rates, which would clearly be very bad news for the housing market," said Howard Archer, economist at Global Insight.
"The marked deterioration in sentiment over the housing market also heightens the risk that house prices will fall sharply over the next couple of years."


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