Coke campaign focuses on what's not in the drink
LONDON: The famous Coca-Cola secret formula is becoming just a little less secret.
For more than a century, Coke has fiercely guarded its recipe, created in 1886 by John Pemberton, a druggist in Atlanta who was trying to concoct a health drink. In recent decades the company has spun an aura of mystery around the formula - partly for competitive reasons, but also as a marketing tool.
In a campaign introduced last month in Britain, Coke divulged a few factoids about the formula. It has "no added preservatives or artificial flavors." Its mastermind, Pemberton, selected "the best spices from around the world." And the recipe has not changed in 122 years.
That final detail has cut both ways for Coca-Cola, which faced near-insurrection in the 1980s when it attempted to tinker with the formula but now must confront public perceptions that its flagship drink is unhealthy or unnatural.
"When we talked to consumers about Coke, we realized they didn't know that it has no added preservatives or artificial flavors," said Cathryn Sleight, marketing director of Coca-Cola Great Britain. "We felt it was important to reassure Coke drinkers of this fact."
Investors plow money into Russian farming, but problems remain
DOBRINKA, Russia: When Murat Shamshinurov toasted this year's harvest with a glass of vodka, he did so with confidence.
A fleet of new Dutch combine harvesters, better seeds and a mild winter promise a bumper crop at the farms he runs in Russia's fertile black-earth region. This prosperity is the result of a $175 million investment by Nastyusha, the grain-trading company that bought the land in 2006.
Shamshinurov's situation is not unique. Investors are plowing money into Russia's open lands to resuscitate the long-neglected farm sector and supply a world in ever greater need of food. The Russian wheat crop this year promises to be the best in 30 years.
"The opportunity for agriculture in Russia is remarkable," said Sid Bardwell, general manager in Russia for Deere, the U.S. agricultural equipment supplier. "It has the potential to be one of the truly key sectors of the economy."
Russian agriculture, crippled by the legacy of Josef Stalin's collectivization, is one of four sectors given priority status by the Kremlin as it seeks to reverse more than a decade of decline after the Soviet Union's collapse.
Russia, the world's fifth-largest grain grower and exporter, expects a grain crop of at least 85 million tons this year, up 4 percent from 2007. Agriculture contributed 5 percent of Russia's gross domestic product in 2007. But Russia has yet to surpass Soviet-era production levels on a sustained basis.
Only 13 percent of Russian land is used for agriculture, compared with a world average of 38 percent. A hectare of wheat, or about 2.5 acres, yields an average of 1.9 tons - much less than the U.S. average of 2.8 tons and 5.5 tons in the European Union.
"Agriculture, even with the current low level of efficiency, is still a profitable business thanks to government support," Natalya Zagvozdina, an analyst at Renaissance Capital, said. "Imagine what it would be like if efficiencies increase."
Prices for wheat, rice and corn hit records this year as droughts in grain-growing countries exacerbated a shortage at a time of high global demand. This makes Russian agriculture even more attractive as production costs are relatively low.
Still, farming accounts for about 10.5 percent of the country's work force, compared with 2.5 percent in the United States.
Fertilizer and fuel costs are rising worldwide, and investment is needed in equipment and better seeds to increase yields and offer insurance against Russia's cold winters.
Investor appetite for the sector, coupled with the need for cash to develop land, will add to the $420 million in new capital raised by Russian agribusiness companies since November.
Zagvozdina said Russian farm companies were likely to raise a further $500 million to $1.5 billion by the end of the year, either through initial public offerings or private placements.
Foreign investors want first to buy land in Russia.
"Russia was the bread basket of Europe 100 years ago," said Sergei Glaser, a manager at Vostok Nafta Investment. "The quality of land is exceptional, but the neglect of this land during communist times was astounding."
Rural life got even harder after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Land lay fallow and machinery was left to rust.
Glaser's fund, with $1 billion in assets under management in the former Soviet Union, owns a quarter of Black Earth Farming, a company listed in Sweden that is named after the fertile belt of soil.
About $3.3 billion from this year's federal budget was committed to the sector, and the same amount was supplied by regional governments, said Dmitry Rylko, general director of the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies in Moscow.
That money, plus the rising private investment, is financing a move by large agribusiness companies - whose assets include land, grain elevators, flour mills and port terminals - to establish themselves as reliable, long-term suppliers to global markets.
"Russia has come to the front line of grain exporters," said Yuri Makarov, senior economist at the International Grains Council, based in London, which forecasts that Russia could account for 11 percent of world wheat exports in the 2008-09 season.
There is also a second thrust to investment in Russian farming: the development of a livestock sector reared on homegrown crops to cut dependence on imported food products.
Despite having an exportable surplus of grains, Russia still imports more than a third of its poultry and a quarter of its beef. It spent $4.5 billion on meat and poultry imports last year.
Nastyusha's strategy in the Lipetsk region of central Russia follows this model of using high-quality wheat to produce flour and bread, while also rearing cattle and producing its own milk. Originally a trading company, it has united 29 former collective farms in Lipetsk over the past two years as the basis for an integrated farming operation.
"It's essential for the development of the agricultural sector," Shamshinurov, who runs Nastyusha's 130,000 hectares in Lipetsk, said as he stood in fields of golden wheat that will be processed at the company's flour mills in Moscow.
The authorities in Lipetsk, 450 kilometers, or 280 miles, southeast of Moscow, describe their region as the "Pearl of the Black Earth." Yields at Nastyusha's farms are expected almost to double to 6 tons per hectare this year. Similar results can be seen elsewhere.
"Learning to apply Western technology in a Russian environment has led to better crops," said Richard Willows, a former grain trader who left England six years ago to run Heartland Farms in the Penza region at the invitation of the governor.
The government's push to make agriculture a priority has not been an unqualified success, however. The area of 47.2 million hectares planted with grain in 2008 is 25 percent below the area of 1990, and the number of cattle has stagnated, rather than increased.
Sergei Mikhailov, chief executive of a meat producer, the Cherkizovo Group, said Russian meat consumption had declined to 51 kilograms, or about 112 pounds, a person a year from the Soviet-era level of 78 kilograms.
Private investment is again playing a large role. Cherkizovo is the first Russian meat producer to be listed on the London Stock Exchange and is investing $350 million this year, after the same amount last year, to develop its pork and poultry business.
"The share of imported pork and poultry will go down in future thanks to growing domestic production," Mikhailov said, "but the share of imported beef could even grow because of the lack of high-quality beef production facilities in Russia."
President Dmitri Medvedev stressed Russia's potential in addressing the global food crisis when he met fellow Group of 8 leaders in Japan last month.
"Our country's long-term input in solving this problem will mainly consist of significantly increasing our agricultural production and supplies, not only to the local market but also to world markets," he said.
Friedman: Learning to speak climate
Most people assume that the effects of climate change are going to be felt through another big disaster, like Katrina. Not necessarily, says Minik Thorleif Rosing, a top geologist at Denmark's National History Museum and one of my traveling companions. "Most people will actually feel climate change delivered to them by the postman," he explains. It will come in the form of higher water bills, because of increased droughts in some areas; higher energy bills, because the use of fossil fuels becomes prohibitive; and higher insurance and mortgage rates, because of much more violently unpredictable weather.
Remember: Climate change means "global weirding," not just global warming.
Greenland is one of the best places to observe the effects of climate change. Because the world's biggest island has just 55,000 people and no industry, the condition of its huge ice sheet - as well as its temperature, precipitation and winds - are influenced by the global atmospheric and ocean currents that converge here. Whatever happens in China or Brazil gets felt here. And because Greenlanders live close to nature, they are walking barometers of climate change.
That's how I learned a new language here: "Climate-Speak."
It's easy to learn. There are only three phrases. The first is: "Just a few years ago ..." Just a few years ago you could dogsled in winter from Greenland, across a 40-mile ice bank, to Disko Island. But for the past few years, the rising winter temperatures in Greenland have melted that link. Now Disko is cut off. Put away the dogsled.
There has been a 30 percent increase in the melting of the Greenland ice sheet between 1979 and 2007, and in 2007, the melt was 10 percent bigger than in any previous year, said Konrad Steffen, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, which monitors the ice. Greenland is now losing 200 cubic kilometers of ice per year - from melt and ice sliding into the ocean from outlet glaciers along its edges - which far exceeds the volume of all the ice in the European Alps, he added. "Everything is happening faster than anticipated."
The second phrase is: "I've never seen that before..." It rained in December and January in Ilulissat. This is well above the Arctic Circle! It's not supposed to rain here in winter. Said Steffen: "Twenty years ago, if I had told the people of Ilulissat that it would rain at Christmas 2007, they would have just laughed at me. Today it is a reality."
The third phrase is: "Well usually ... but now I don't know anymore." Traditional climate patterns that Greenland elders have known their whole lives have changed so quickly in some places that "the accumulated experience of older people is not as valuable as before," said Rosing. The river that was always there is now dry. The glacier that always covered that hill has disappeared. The reindeer that were always there when the hunting season opened Aug. 1 didn't show up.
No wonder everyone here speaks climate now - your kids will, too, and sooner than they think.
Climate protesters await coal showdown with E.ON
KINGSNORTH: Armed with compost toilets, solar panels and vegan food, around 700 activists are preparing to disrupt a coal-fired power station in England on Saturday in a protest against plans for two new units.
The new coal facilities, at Kingsnorth in Kent in southern England, will be operated by German utility E.ON , which manages the site's existing coal-fired power station, and will be Britain's first coal power plant for 30 years.
"The idea is people from this camp will head down to the power station and, using various peaceful methods, will close it down for the day," Stephen Milligan, a Climate Camp organiser and Environmental Researcher said on Tuesday.
The climate camp, which resembles a music festival but with climate change workshops and discussions replacing live musicians, wants to disrupt output at the existing coal power station to make a stand against the use of fossil fuels.
The protesters say coal emits unacceptably high levels of carbon dioxide, the gas held responsible for climate change.
Costly fuel brings dozens of airlines to their knees
PARIS: From Aloha in Hawaii to Alpi Eagles in Italy, from promising upstarts like Silverjet to legends like Aeropostal of Venezuela, more than two dozen airlines have fallen off the international radar screen this year.
Some filed for bankruptcy-law protection. Others have sharply reduced operations or limp along as charters.
While each struggled with its own set of circumstances, the toll of 25 airlines - three to four times the number that the International Air Transport Association normally registers in a year - has mounted as oil price shocks roiled the industry. Among them, 17 have ceased operations altogether.
Iraqis fail to agree on provincial election law
BAGHDAD: Iraqi lawmakers failed to come to an agreement on a provincial election law before adjourning for Parliament's monthlong summer recess on Wednesday, leaving the fate of provincial elections in doubt for this year.It was a significant setback that Iraq's leaders failed to take advantage of the lull in violence to make crucial political changes.
The disputes that have held up the law to provide for the elections center on the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by Arabs and Kurds, and heavily populated by Turkmens.The Kurds have been trying to maintain their demographic and political dominance of the city, situated in an oil-rich province in northern Iraq. The dispute, which pits the Kurds and their political allies against Turkmens and Sunni Arabs, has turned violent.Last month, a suicide bomber killed 17 Kurds who were protesting an earlier draft of the election law, setting off a riot in which 12 more people were killed and dozens were wounded.The Kurds have been insisting that the law include a clause mandating a referendum on whether Kirkuk will join the Kurdistan regional government or remain under the control of Baghdad. The Arabs and Turkmens have consistently refused to include such a clause.The United Nations proposed a solution simply to include an article calling for a resolution to the Kirkuk issue sometime before the end of October. Preparations for the elections could then proceed in the rest of the country, if Parliament passed the bill this week.
America's energy follies
It's hard not to be exasperated and even a little frightened by the U.S. Senate's selfishly partisan approach to America's energy challenge in the days leading up to its August recess. Given one last shot at taking modest but meaningful steps to deal with tightening oil supplies and climate change, the Senate instead settled for a schoolyard blame game whose main purpose was to exploit public dismay over rising gasoline prices for short-term political gain.
Senate Republicans tried to leverage voters' anguish by offering proposals that furthered their unexamined strategy to expand offshore drilling. The Democrats responded by pinning the blame for the surge in oil prices on financial speculators, and offering a bill to curb trading. The usual bogeymen appeared, with Republicans' accusing environmentalists of locking up precious oil supplies and the Democrats' blaming Wall Street.
These competing bills provided a dashing image of senators hard at work, but neither one provided any hope of relief at the pump for beleaguered constituents. The oil industry already has access to fourth-fifths of America's recoverable offshore resources, mostly off Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico, and drilling the forbidden areas - protected by a longstanding congressional moratorium that President George W. Bush is trying to lift - would make only a marginal difference in prices 15 years down the road.
As to the speculators so reviled by the Democrats, most economists believe that they have little or nothing to do with oil prices.
This political theater diverted America from the intellectually rigorous debate over energy policy it needs to have (and should have) in an election year, while sparing the Senate from developing serious policies that could help set the country on a more energy-efficient and environmentally sound course.
The most vivid symbol of the Senate's ineptitude was the Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, who tried to make the best of a terrible two weeks by asking his opposite number, Mitch McConnell, to join him in an "energy summit" in Las Vegas.
From one perspective, given the farce we have just witnessed, it makes sense to move the debate over energy policy as far from Washington as possible, even to an environment as distant from reality as Las Vegas. But Reid has to know how silly this looks and what it really says about the Senate's capacity for action.
France rejects Rwanda's charge of links to '94 genocide
PARIS: France dismissed as "unacceptable" on Wednesday a Rwandan report alleging the involvement of top-level French politicians, including former President François Mitterrand and former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, in the 1994 genocide that killed up to 800,000 people.
Mitterrand, who was president at the time of the genocide, and Villepin, then a senior adviser at the Foreign Ministry, are among 13 senior officials accused of "complicity" in the "preparation and execution of the genocide."
Rwanda has long accused France of providing training to the militias that led the mass slaughter of the Tutsi minority. But the latest report, a 500-page document issued by the Rwandan Justice Ministry on Tuesday, for the first time links specific - and very senior - officials to the allegations and hints at possible future indictments.
None of the officials responded individually. But Romain Nadal, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, called the report biased.
"One can question the objectivity of the mandate" of the commission, Nadal said in an online news conference. He said its report "contains unacceptable accusations against French politicians and military officials."
The question of a French role in the Rwandan genocide has long haunted relations between the two countries.
In 1998, a French parliamentary investigation exonerated the authorities of all responsibility for the killings. But lawmakers also acknowledged that prior to 1994, France was one of Rwanda's biggest military suppliers. In 1990, French troops were sent to repel a Tutsi rebellion organized from neighboring Uganda. They stayed until 1993, when an international peace agreement replaced them with UN peacekeepers.
Given that the crime of genocide falls under international jurisdiction, legal experts said that, theoretically, Rwanda could indict French nationals and request their extradition to Rwanda to face trial. But they also said that, in practice, the report was more about politics than the law.
It comes less than two years after a senior French judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière, sought to bring the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, before a UN tribunal for allegedly masterminding the plane crash that killed the former president and ended a fragile peace between the Hutu-dominated government and the Tutsi rebels led by Kagame, setting off the killings.
It also comes as international pressure is mounting for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to move its attention to some of the atrocities committed by Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front in the immediate aftermath of the genocide, when as many as 30,000 Hutus are believed to have been murdered.
"The timing of this report is no coincidence," said Kenneth Roth, president of Human Rights Watch. "At a moment when international pressure to pursue the RPF trials is at its height, this is an effort to change the subject and put the international community on the defensive."
Since Kagame broke diplomatic relations with France in 2006, Paris has taken several steps to improve ties. In December, President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Kagame during an EU-Africa conference, and in January Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner traveled to Kigali.
Military panel convicts Osama bin Laden's former driver
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba: A panel of six military officers Wednesday convicted a former driver for Osama bin Laden of providing material support for terrorism, but acquitted him of a conspiracy charge, arguably the more serious of the two charges he faced in the first military commission trial here.
The former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who has said he is about 40, faces a possible life term, a sentence that will be determined in a proceeding that was scheduled to begin Wednesday afternoon.
As the verdict was read, Hamdan, who has been in U.S. custody since he was seized in Afghanistan in November 2001, stood passively at the defense table in a white headscarf, his head bent slightly down.
After closing arguments Monday, Charles Swift, a former navy lawyer who has represented Hamdan for years, said the two-week proceeding had not followed the U.S. rule of law and that the defense believed American courts would eventually correct the legal errors made at Guantánamo. Swift called the military commission "a made-up tribunal to try anybody we don't like."
The not-guilty verdict on the conspiracy charge was a setback for the military prosecutors. The charge had asserted that Hamdan joined in the conspiracy that included the terrorist attacks of 2001 and other major attacks by helping transport and protect bin Laden.
But the verdict was also a vindication of sorts for the military commission system here, which critics have contended would simply rubber-stamp the charges of Pentagon prosecutors.
Michael Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel for Guantánamo, said the defense was encouraged by the verdict. "For a team that was expected to strike out at every pitch," he said, "we at least hit a triple."
The panel members rejected each of two specifications that would have supported a conviction for conspiracy. One of those asserted that Hamdan was part of the larger conspiracy with senior Al Qaeda leaders and shared responsibility for terror attacks like the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2001 terror attacks in the United States.
The second conspiracy specification asserted that Hamdan was part of a conspiracy to kill Americans in Afghanistan in 2001 with shoulder-fired missiles. When he was captured by Afghan forces on Nov. 24, 2001, there were two of the missiles in the car he was driving.
The specifications of which Hamdan was convicted included allegations that he drove bin Laden, served as his bodyguard and knew of Al Qaeda's goals. One specification said that he had acted while "knowing that by providing said services or transportation he was directly facilitating communications and planning for acts of terrorism."
Lawyers for Hamdan said this week that a conviction would certainly bring appeals, perhaps in the Supreme Court, to deal with claims that the tribunals in Guantánamo do not meet American standards of fundamental fairness.
"History and world opinion will judge whether the government proved the system to be fair," the defense said in a statement.
The case included references by both sides to the trials decades ago of Nazi leaders at Nuremberg. Prosecutors, eager to shore up the image of the commissions here, presented a video that included graphic footage of Qaeda terror attacks and their victims.
The prosecutors titled their video "The Al Qaeda Plan," the filmmaker testified, in reference to "The Nazi Plan," a film shown at Nuremberg to document the Holocaust.
The defense lawyers employed the Nuremberg references to argue that the Pentagon had overreached with its case against a bin Laden driver they described as a poorly educated worker without access to Qaeda's terror plans. The defense noted that Hitler's driver, Erich Kempka, was not prosecuted as a war criminal.
Defense lawyers argued that there was no evidence that Hamdan, a Yemeni with a fourth-grade education, was involved in planning any Qaeda operations or had advance knowledge of the specifics of any planned attacks. They asserted that his role as a driver was just a job for a father of two who "had to earn a living," as one of his lawyers, Harry Schneider Jr., said.
Military leaders topple government in Mauritania
A group of senior military officers in Mauritania staged a bloodless coup Wednesday against the country's first freely elected government in more than 20 years, arresting the country's president and prime minister in the process.
Coups have punctuated the tumultuous history of Mauritania, an important ally of the West in the fight against terrorism. Since it won its independence from France in 1960, there have been about a dozen attempts to overthrow governments, many of them successful.
In the coup Wednesday, soldiers swarmed the presidential palace and the top four military leaders seized power after President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi fired them, according to government officials in Nouakchott, the capital.
Several of the military leaders had been instrumental in a 2005 coup that led indirectly to the election of Abdellahi and had been among his strongest supporters. But in recent months, his government has been mired in infighting and disputes with parts of the legislature.
The 95-member National Assembly has been increasingly critical, accusing the government of corruption and ineptitude in handling rising food prices and oil revenues. The four military officers, who call themselves the National Council, appointed as their leader General Muhammad Ould Abdelaziz, formerly the head of the elite presidential guard.
Muhammad Mahmoud Ould Lematt, a member of the National Assembly from the main opposition party, said: "We don't like military coups, but the institutions were weak and corrupt, so something needed to be done."
Reverse brain drain as ambitious Nigerians come home
LAGOS: From cocktails with hip-hop stars to sushi with smooth-suited bankers, it's no wonder Nigerians moving back after decades in New York or London feel right at home among the high-rolling elite of Lagos.
This urban sprawl of 14 million people, the chaotic hub of Africa's most populous nation, may epitomise what many foreigners fear most about megacities in the developing world: violent crime, corrupt police and crumbling infrastructure.
Yet legions of young Nigerians, educated at English public schools and U.S. Ivy League universities, are leaving highly paid careers with Wall Street banks and City of London consultancies to return to the Lagos hustle.
Not just a pay package that approaches or matches what is on offer in the United States or Europe, but a dash of patriotism -- a chance to help fulfil an ambition of building world-class Nigerian businesses as an example to the rest of Africa.
"In the States, it's an established economy. You can't create another Apple, you can't create another Microsoft, you can't really create another Disney," said Michael Akindele, who left U.S. consultancy firm Accenture to set up his own business investing in Nigerian media and entertainment.
"I'm stepping away from that salary, that comfortable, stable environment where you have power all the time, you have water all the time. But here I can create the lifestyle I want."
Nigeria is the world's eighth biggest oil exporter but its economy has been hobbled by decades of endemic corruption and unemployment is high. A power sector crisis, which means much of the country can go without electricity for weeks or months, has closed hundreds of factories and cut thousands of jobs in sub-Saharan Africa's largest economy after South Africa.
Strike in South Africa shuts mines and businesses
JOHANNESBURG: Striking workers in South Africa protesting rising electricity, food and fuel prices forced mines and factories to shut on Wednesday, bringing major sectors of the continent's biggest economy to a standstill.
The one-day strike helped push global platinum prices up 3 percent and added to investors' worries about South Africa.
Thousands of workers assembled outside the city hall in the capital, Pretoria, and a sea of supporters gathered in Cape Town, where Parliament is situated. The police were called in to keep order in demonstrations across the country.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions, which has almost two million members and is an ally of the African National Congress, says the action was a warning to employers not to dismiss workers because of a drop in profit.
South Africa, struggling with 23 percent unemployment, has felt the global impact of rising food and oil prices, which workers say has pushed them deeper into poverty.
"We are poor, we are hungry, and our wages are no longer coping with our demands and the demands of feeding and clothing our families," Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the confederation, told the protesters outside the closed gates of Parliament. "If government is not going to move with the necessary speed, we will again hit them where we know they will feel the pain."
Zimbabwe parties call for end to violence
HARARE: Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC on Wednesday called on their supporters to end political violence in the country, the most tangible sign of progress since power-sharing talks began two weeks ago.
ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) began power-sharing talks last month following President Robert Mugabe's re-election in a widely condemned June poll boycotted by the opposition.
In a joint statement, they urged "all our supporters and members and any organs and structures under the direction and control of our respective parties to stop and desist the perpetration of violence in any form".
The appeal to stop political bloodshed came as a South African newspaper reported that a draft agreement was being circulated aimed at ending Zimbabwe's political stalemate, which sparked much of the violence.
Nic Borain, a South Africa-based political consultant at HSBC Securities, interpreted the joint statement as a sign that both sides understand they need a practical end to the crisis.
Georgian separatists "destroy govt vehicles"
MOSCOW: Georgian separatists in the breakaway region of South Ossetia have destroyed two government vehicles during a clash on Wednesday, Russia's Interfax news agency reported, quoting a separatist official.
"At present, a fight is ongoing near the village of Nul, where South Ossetian forces are trying to push out Georgian special forces," Irina Gagloyeva, official representative of the South Ossetian authorities, told Interfax.
"We have information that two Georgian military vehicles have been blown up," she was quoted as saying.
Couple reunited in North Korea after 47 years
"He asked me why I took so long to come to see him," Renate said in an interview through a translator, describing her reunion with Hong Ok Geun, 74.
Renate returned to Germany on Tuesday after a 12-day reunion with her long-lost husband in North Korea - a highly unusual episode given the Communist government's policy of keeping most of its people without mail or telephone links to the rest of the world, not to mention the Internet.
Traveling with Renate were their two sons. Peter Hyon Zol was 10 months old, and Renate was pregnant with Uwe, when the family broke up in the vortex of the Cold War.
Renate Kleinle and Hong Ok Geun met in 1955, when they attended the same freshman chemistry class at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, East Germany. Hong was a humorous exchange student from North Korea, then East Germany's Communist ally.
They fell in love. Because both governments frowned on marriages between North Korean students and East Germans, the couple married in 1960 in a rural town where the local authorities were unaware of the national government's policy. There were no guests.
The couple's happy time lasted only one year, however. In 1961, the Pyongyang government recalled all 350 of its students in East Germany, a measure believed prompted by a few North Korean students' defections to the West. Hong was given 48 hours to pack.
Holding 10-month-old Peter, Renate bid a tearful farewell to Hong at the Jena train station.
Their only communication was by letter. But even that was stopped. In his last letter from North Korea, dated Feb. 26, 1963, Hong asked whether Uwe, the son he had never seen, could walk. After that, Renate's letters were returned as undeliverable. Her appeals to the North Korean Embassy to be reunited with her husband were dismissed.
Renate never remarried.
With the help of the German government, she sent a letter to Hong in March last year. Four months later, on her July 27 birthday, Hong's letter was delivered to her, the first word from him in 46 years, with photos enclosed.
"Our international love brought us much pain," Hong wrote in the handwritten German that Renate could still recognize. "I dearly wanted to see you and my sons. I never gave up hopes that if I lived long, one day I would be able to see you again.
"I had wanted you to be my life partner," he wrote. "But politics do stupid things."
Hong had one daughter and two sons with his North Korean wife. The daughter joined the reunion. Hong's North Korean wife wanted to meet Renate but could not join the reunion because of an illness, Renate was told.
Others were Ahmed Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Abdel Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Palestinian Parliament, who is from the Islamist Hamas movement; and Said Atabeh of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who has been in prison since 1977, the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner in Israel.
Erekat made a point of noting the political range of those whose release had been requested and said Abbas was the president of all Palestinians, not just his Fatah faction. Israeli officials did not contradict Erekat. But they made clear that Barghouti would not be released; others on the list might be.
But the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision, said that the possibility of congressional action was too remote to justify a stay. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in dissent that to permit the execution would place the United States "irremediably in violation of international law and breaks our treaty promises."
Mexico opposes the death penalty and has used the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to try to block the executions of Medellín and 50 other Mexicans in the United States.
Karadzic argued that when Holbrooke realised he could not persuade the court's chief prosecutor to drop the indictment he decided to "liquidate" him instead.
He said several attempts had been made to locate and assassinate him, and that he feared "the long arm of Mr. Holbrooke or Mrs. Albright" could reach him even in jail.
"It is no more than another lie from the most evil man in Europe," Holbrooke was quoted as saying in Wednesday's Bild.
The three men -- Imam Samudra, Amrozi and Mukhlas, also known as Ali Gufron -- face a firing squad for their roles in the nightclub bombings on the island of Bali that killed 202 people.
"We believe that execution by way of a gunfire is inhumane. It is for these reasons that the defence attorneys are applying to challenge the legislation," said lawyer Wirawan Adnan, adding that a judicial review had been lodged at the Constitutional Court.
A Bali court initially sentenced the three men to death in 2003, but their lawyers have used a number of legal avenues that have delayed the executions.
"It's not a matter for us whether or not Amrozi is to be executed. Gunfire is one way, another way of doing it is by lethal injection," Adnan said, adding that it could take more than a minute for a convict to bleed to death after being shot.
"We believe that is still more humane than by a gunfire," said the lawyer.
About 20,000 new homes would be built for families on the cusp of poverty next year, Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti said. Italy is set to spend as much as €7 billion, or $11 billion, to build 100,000 units for low-income households with rents as low as €300 for about 50 square meters, or 538 square feet, of space.
The housing plan is directed as aid to consumers whose spending drives two-thirds of a $2.2 trillion economy and are struggling to cope with inflation and rising mortgage rates. Household confidence slumped this month to the lowest since 1993 as record food, housing and energy prices erode purchasing power.
Berlusconi's first act after taking office this month was to abolish a local property tax on first homes and offer to freeze mortgage payments for homeowners at risk of default. Tremonti said the government would also tax more of the profits of oil companies, dubbing it the "Robin Hood" tax, because it would use the proceeds toward social-welfare spending.
Not only are the conditions far less dire, eight economists said in interviews, but the government is also playing a heightened role in trying to cushion the impact of the housing downturn, losses at financial institutions and rising unemployment.
"The government is larger now, and it acts as an anchor," said Richard Parker, senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard.
"During the Great Depression, the government had neither the means nor the capability to serve as a backstop."
But the economists - who range from academics to policy researchers, liberals to conservatives - disagreed about just how bad this economic slowdown, led by the worst housing slump since the Depression, could be.
"This is indistinguishable from a recession for a working family," Mishel said. "They're losing jobs, and they're getting a double bite as wage growth slows down and inflation kicks up. People are losing out on both ends."
But others said the economy would probably grow in the second half of this year, although at a low 1 to 3 percent pace.
"You read the headlines, and you look around, and you think the world is coming to an end," said Charles Calomiris, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group in Washington. "But I don't think so. If you're going to tell a worst-case scenario story at this point, it's only going to be because the Fed loses control."
"The Fed isn't the whole story, but it's a big part of it," said Gerald O'Driscoll Jr., who was vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas from 1982 to 1994 and is now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian research organization in Washington.
"It allowed these absolutely insane bubbles to happen. The lesson is, you can't let these bubbles continue unabated with no policymaking."
But the economists said others were to blame, too: investors, banks and rating agencies, as well as the current chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, and the Clinton and Bush administrations.
There are many indications that David Ebershoff conducted prodigious research to write his novel about polygamy, "The 19th Wife." The main evidence: Ebershoff has fractured his narrative into texts, memoirs, depositions, letters, newspaper articles, an ersatz Wikipedia entry and even a supposed approximate transcript of conversation between wives of Brigham Young, the 19th-century Mormon patriarch. (From this transcript: "He's after another." "It was only a matter of time." "Guess who the new one is." "He never knows when his eyes are popping out of his head.")
If this is intended as Ebershoff's way of comprehensively addressing his multifaceted subject, it winds up having the opposite effect. What he has replicated just as powerfully as the turbulent history of polygamy in America is the exhaustive, arid scholarly process of looking things up. Far from bringing him closer to his characters, it muffles his novel's drama.
If falling back on the language of scholarship is one way "The 19th Wife" stifles interest, using a divided time frame is another.
This device, the blight of so much contemporary fiction, allows an author to crosscut between a present-day story and a wildly coincidental parallel one that some scholar, detective, witch or psychic has dug up. So in the case of "The 19th Wife" there are two 19th wives. One is the real historical figure Ann Eliza Young, who was decades younger than her husband, Brigham, and earned the nickname "Brigham's headache" when she became a public crusader against polygamy's woes.
An auspicious, bloodstained day
On Friday, millions of people will gather to celebrate universal values, national spirit, and the promise of progress in a country isolated for decades on the precipice of change. You might think of Aug. 8, 2008 in Beijing, but I'll be remembering Aug. 8, 1988, in Burma, the day that changed my life and that of countless compatriots.
Since eight is a lucky number in much of Asia, the Burmese people chose the auspicious 8.8.88 for their uprising, just as China decided to open the Olympic Games on 8.8.08. But while the eights still signal a celebration for many Chinese, for the Burmese they mark a massacre.
On Aug. 8, 1988, millions of Burmese marched throughout the country calling for an end to military rule, which had isolated and impoverished us since 1962. It was the culmination of months of unrest in Burma, and the army met us with merciless violence. Soldiers shot hundreds of protesters that day, and the army killed an estimated 3,000 people in the following weeks. The streets ran with blood but, back then, there were few images and no Internet to spread the news rapidly beyond our borders.
The outside world largely ignored events inside Burma, but for me there was no escape. As a student in Rangoon, I participated in many demonstrations and witnessed the brutal suppression by the riot police that killed and wounded so many. The regime also closed all schools, ending my education.
Twenty years after our rulers crushed the rebellion, their prisons and labor camps hold more than 2,000 political activists. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, having spent much of the past two decades locked in her decaying house. Others, such as Burma's oldest political prisoner, the 78-year-old U Win Tin, remain incarcerated for their political writings and steadfast refusal to bow to the regime.
We got a reminder of the vast scale of repression with the bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters and monks in September 2007. Min Ko Naing (with whom I was arrested in 1989), was detained for his role in peaceful marches in Rangoon and remains in prison.
Few of us were shocked when the military-led government underlined its mockery of democracy by conducting a sham constitutional referendum amid the cyclone devastation wrought in May. The authorities even evicted cyclone survivors so that it could turn their shelters into polling stations, and then claimed a 98 percent turnout at a time when even emergency relief workers had yet to reach great swathes of the country.
Basic freedoms are routinely denied in Burma, with strict censorship, no right to assembly, and few avenues for expressing dissent. The army continues its brutal pacification of ethnic minority areas, routinely committing atrocities.
International efforts to engage the military government have floundered because of the regime's skill in pitting the countries who wish to trade and exploit Burma's natural wealth against those that want to isolate, punish and sanction the regime. Burma's generals seek to bypass Western sanctions, including new financial sanctions, by doing business with Asia-based companies and banks.
It's no surprise to me that Beijing would ignore the 1988 anniversary: China is a key trading partner and Burma's most important diplomatic supporter. Beijing continues to sell weapons to the Burmese military and train its soldiers, and enjoys access to Burma's lucrative gas fields and trade routes to the Indian Ocean. The tight relationship has entrenched military rule and left the regime secure in its belief that its superpower sponsor will subscribe to "national interests" and oppose progressive reform in Burma.
The world will no doubt mark Aug. 8 as a sporting celebration, but many Burmese will silently remember 1988. They do not deserve to wait another 20 years for the freedoms they demanded in 1988 and in 2007, for the reforms they long for every moment they survive under military rule.
A bell tolled at 8:15 a.m. to mark the exact moment when the bomb dubbed "Little Boy" was dropped on the city, killing tens of thousands immediately and many more later from radiation sickness.
"We who seek the abolition of nuclear weapons are the majority," mayor Tadatoshi Akiba said in a speech at the Peace Memorial Park, attended by the ambassador of nuclear-armed China, as well as Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and elderly survivors of the attack.
"Last year 170 countries voted in favour of Japan's U.N. resolution calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Only three countries, the United States among them, opposed this resolution," he said.
The United States and other world powers fear Iran is developing nuclear weapons, while Tehran says its atomic programme is for power generation. Washington and others have warned of more sanctions against Tehran, which they accuse of playing for time in the dispute.
"In the absence of a positive response to the generous offer that we provided for in our extended package, we think that the allies will have no choice but to take further measures that would be punitive," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said aboard Air Force One.
Perino, with U.S. President George W. Bush who was flying from Seoul to Bangkok, said the major powers were to get together on a conference call on Iran's response.
"I think that the Iranians have long stalled on responding to the allies, so I think the most important thing we can do is let the political directors have their conference call and decide on their next steps before I get in front of them," Perino said.
Mofaz was speaking a day after he launched a campaign for a party leadership election next month that will lead to the replacement of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Opinion polls show that Mofaz, a deputy prime minister and transport minister, is a frontrunner in the contest to lead the centrist Kadima party but trails Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
The case came to the attention of a Foreign Ministry crisis unit on July 29, ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner told reporters.
He says the unit has been working since then on the case and trying to secure the man's release in coordination with Afghan authorities.
Ploetner gave no details on the circumstances of the apparent kidnapping. He said the victim was working in Afghanistan at the time he went missing, but did not elaborate.
But asked whether that army is ready as a national defense force, capable of protecting Iraqi borders without U.S. support, Mahmoud gestures toward his battalion's parking lot. A fifth of the vehicles are rotting trucks and bomb-demolished Humvees that, for some complicated bureaucratic reason, are still considered operational.
"In your opinion," Mahmoud says, "do you think I could fight an army with those trucks?"
While Americans and Iraqi civilians alike are increasingly eager to see combat operations turned over to the Iraqi Army, interviews with more than a dozen Iraqi soldiers and officers in Diyala Province, at the outset of a large-scale operation against insurgents led by Iraqis but backed by Americans, reveal a military confident of its progress but unsure of its readiness.
"I've asked them what their mission is, and they don't know," Lauer said.
If there is anyone who understands these problems, it is Colonel Ali Mahmoud, commander of the 19th Brigade's Third Battalion.
The Americans in the region consider the wry, soft-spoken Mahmoud, 41, one of the most valuable officers in Diyala. Conferring all night on his cellphone with tribal sheiks, Mahmoud believes that a battle is won as much by force as by a good relationship with the local people. A Sunni who has surrounded himself with Shiite and Kurdish officers, he believes that an effective Iraqi Army is one with a thorough sectarian mix.
Because of his successful approach, he runs one of the few battalions in Diyala that does not have its own dedicated U.S. military transition team.
But Mahmoud is more pessimistic than most about an Iraqi future without U.S. combat troops.
"Believe me," he said. "There will be a big disaster."
Sitting at his headquarters, Mahmoud sees signs of the future: continuing supply problems and the involvement of Iran in Iraqi affairs. When his troops come across insurgents' weapons caches, they sometimes find what he says are Iranian weapons that are more up to date than anything in his arsenal.
"The Iranian side will play their game," he said with a tone of resignation, "once the coalition forces pull out."
But just a few hours later, Mahmoud was on the road in the early light of day, leading a five-hour patrol south of Baquba, once swarming with insurgents. Asked why he keeps working against the militias every day, given how futile he thinks it might all be, he said he had no choice.
"I don't want those guys to continue working to give Iraq away," he said.
A car bomb exploded near a police station in the town of Tizi Ouzou, east of Algiers, on Sunday, wounding 25 people including four policemen.
The group, al Qaeda organisation in the Islamic Maghreb, identified the bomber as Makhlouf Abou-Mariam and said his truck was laden with 600 kg (1,320 pounds) of an unspecified explosive material.
The explosion destroyed a dozen cars, ripped the facade off a small block of apartments, gouged chunks of masonry from the walls of other nearby buildings and shattered windows in the town centre.
"We tell the sons of France and the slaves of America, and (we tell) their masters too, that our finger is on the trigger and the convoys of martyrs are longing to rampage your bastions in defence of our Islamic nation," the group said in the statement posted on an Islamist website.
"We are defending Islam and its sanctity. This is the country we were raised in. Why should we stand by while our men are defending the country?" said one woman, her face covered.
"What's stopping women?"
Lately, nothing is stopping them. Even as overall violence in Iraq has fallen to levels unseen since early 2004, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of attacks by women, deployed by Sunni Arab militants as suicide bombers.
There have been 23 suicide bomb attacks carried out by women in Iraq so far this year, compared to eight attacks for the whole of 2007, the U.S. military says.
In all, they killed nearly 60 people in the deadliest single day in Iraq for months. Nearly 250 people were wounded.
Analysts say many women are motivated by a thirst for revenge for family members killed or captured. Others may be determined to show that they are as committed to the cause as any man.
In parts of Iraq, there is no shortage of desperate women with a grudge against U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Outside a police station in the city of Baquba, capital of Diyala, the province where most female suicide attacks have taken place in recent months, women waited for news of detained male relatives.
"The Americans took my husband. They destroyed our home. We've got nothing. We're living by the grace of God. We will not stay silent, and everything, including bombings, we can do in response," said one enraged woman who declined to be named.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have routed al Qaeda in Baghdad and Western Iraq, and the Sunni Islamist group has since regrouped in Iraq's north, including Diyala, where a major security operation is underway to crush insurgents.
As more male members of insurgent groups are killed or captured, more women may want retribution.
"Violence by U.S. or Iraqi forces will lead in many cases to grudges and a wish to take revenge, especially when husbands are killed. I think this is one of the main reasons for female bomb attacks," said Henaa Edwar, head of Iraqi women's group Amal.
Seja Aziz, a member of the security committee of Diyala's provincial council, said some women and girls are driven into the arms of al Qaeda by families embroiled in the insurgency.
The U.S. military says many of the female suicide bombers are victims of rape, a claim that is difficult to verify.
The military calls the use of female bombers a desperate tactic by foes on the retreat, and says it shows the difficulty militants now face recruiting the young foreign Arab men they once trafficked into Iraq by the score for suicide missions.
Increased border security has made it more difficult to smuggle foreign fighters into Iraq, while a decision by Sunni Arab tribal leaders to turn on al Qaeda has helped to deprive the group of refuge and Iraqi volunteers.
Female suicide bombers offer tactical advantages for the militants. Explosives are easy to hide under the voluminous black robes worn by many Iraqi women, and Arab cultural norms mean male guards are less likely to search them thoroughly.
"Female suicide bombers cost little, provide ease of planning and are relatively free of risk to terror organisations. There is little chance that security forces will obtain sensitive information from them," said U.S. military spokesman Major John Hall.
The insurgents are not the only side seeking to take advantage of women's determination to join men in the fight. Iraq's security forces have set up the "Daughters of Iraq" programme training women to search other women at checkpoints.
"We hope that more women will join us in this work," said Rana Abid, a female guard at a checkpoint in Diyala province.
"We are helping our brothers to protect the new Iraq."
At least 10 workers were killed in mishaps and explosions on board ships while they were being dismantleds over the past year, to raise the toll to over 1,000 since 1996, police say.
About 30,000 workers, only a few wearing boots and almost none with helmets, work in some 22 shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh to dismantle around 80 giant, out-of-service ocean-going vessels and oil-tankers on average every year.
Over the decades many other workers have been maimed, and some have become ill due to the effects of carcinogenic chemicals.
However, shipbreaking officials say the death rate was much higher during the initial stage of the Bangladesh shipbreaking industry in the early 1980s, and awareness, precautions and training have subsequently reduced casualties.
The final push began in the dark hours after midnight on Aug. 1. Members of at least five expeditions — and perhaps as many as nine — began the last leg of their climb to conquer Mount Everest's slightly shorter but far more dangerous sister, K2, its peak towering, glistening and pyramidlike above them, laden with snow from recent storms.
Gerard McDonnell, 37, an Irish engineer climbing with a Dutch team, wrote on his blog when the start date was set: "Let luck and good fortune prevail!!! Fingers crossed."
But luck did not hold. On the way up the last 2,000 feet, a Serbian climber fell to his death, and a Pakistani porter died trying to recover his body. And on the way back, a chunk of glacier splintered and came crashing down, sweeping at least four climbers on ropes to their deaths and leaving a handful of others trapped in the death zone above 26,000 feet — desperately cold, starved for oxygen and without ropes.
Over the next few hours and days, some of those still left on K2 battled their way to safety, some fell to their deaths and others were simply lost forever in the cold wastes of the mountain.
On Tuesday, the climber likely to be the last of the survivors, an Italian, Marco Confortola, staggered on frostbite-blackened feet to the base camp, for a time refusing help and oxygen, preferring to make his own way down.
"I understand that many died, and that only a few made it down," he said by telephone, in a conversation reported by an Italian scientific official, as he waited for a Pakistani military rescue helicopter to pluck him from the unforgiving mountainside. "I am happy that I was one of them." He was airlifted to a nearby town Wednesday morning for medical treatment, Reuters reported.
In all, 11 lives were lost in the worst episode on K2 since 13 climbers died over a two-week span in 1986, and one of the worst disasters in mountaineering history.
In the aftermath, criticism has swirled about poor preparations and delays caused by climbers laying ropes improperly in the Bottleneck, the precipitous climb just below the summit.
There were questions, too, about whether the attempt to reclaim a fallen climber was too costly and whether some climbers failed to turn back when it was clear that they would not make it back in daylight. The presence of hired high-altitude porters on some of the teams raised questions about whether some of the expeditions might have been commercial, guided efforts with incompletely prepared climbers — reminiscent of the disastrous 1996 Everest climb that claimed eight lives.
Yet to most, the deaths were simply the latest on a notoriously dangerous mountain — known as the mountaineer's mountain — on which many climbers have lost their lives since it was first conquered in 1954.
K2 is known as the world's hardest and most dangerous mountain for climbers, more challenging even than Everest. Farther north and 1,500 miles from Everest, it collects heavy snow and storms, and climbers have only a few days each year when they can try for the peak, usually in early August. "For a professional, seasoned mountaineer it's more of the holy grail than Everest," said the veteran American climber Ed Viesturs. "There is no easy way to climb K2."
In a message sent back to friends, three South Koreans from the Flying Jump K2 Expedition expressed their awe about "the mountain of the mountains" and "the mountain that invites death."
Last Friday morning, the "weather was perfect," said Nicholas Rice, an American from Los Angeles, who would later turn back before the Bottleneck because of frostbite. He ended up recording, on blog posts, much of what is known about what went wrong, who died when, and why.
The various expeditions — with members from several countries, including South Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Serbia, Italy, the United States and France — set off from Camp 4, the last camp before the summit, between midnight and 3 a.m., Rice said. No one is certain exactly how many climbers were there, because no one coordinates the expeditions. Many other details remain unclear.
To reach the summit, it is necessary to climb the Bottleneck, then traverse left under the glacier's giant overhanging brow.
But some of those who waited to try to rescue them decided eventually to press on, despite the loss and the delay. Some of the climbers did not reach the summit until around 8 p.m. — some 16 hours after they had set off, a terrifying expanse of time in temperatures far below zero, with so little oxygen to feed minds and muscles.
Whatever triumph there might have been, it was soon swept away. Just a few hundred yards below the summit, as climbers were descending on the fixed ropes down the Bottleneck, an ice ledge above them snapped.
"They would not have seen it coming," said Pat Falvey, a mountain climber and a friend of McDonnell's who was coordinating updates of the disaster from Ireland on the Internet.
A Dutch climber, Wilco van Rooijen, described the chaos that took place then. Speaking from a hospital bed on Monday in the northern Pakistani town of Skardu, he told Reuters, "Everybody was fighting for himself and I still do not understand why everybody were leaving each other."
"People were running down, but didn't know where to go, so a lot of people were lost on the mountain on the wrong side, wrong route, and then you have a big problem," he said.
The falling ice had swept away the ropes used to navigate the Bottleneck, and as night fell and the temperature plummeted, the climbers struggled with an awful choice: wait for rescue in the death zone, or descend without fixed ropes. Temperatures at the top of K2 overnight can reach minus 40 degrees, Rice said.
Early on Saturday morning a group of five climbers were spotted by observers at a lower camp; they seemed to have made the decision to descend, Falvey said in a telephone interview. "They stepped out onto the section, and they fell," he said.
Van Rooijen made it down the mountain without ropes and, according to Falvey, he was spotted on Sunday from one of the lower camps, a lone climber wearing an orange jacket emerging from the wilderness.
He had apparently strayed from the route where the returning mountaineers were expected, called Abruzzi, and instead was descending on the Cessen Route down K2.
Mountaineering experts said some of those missing could still be alive, though it was unlikely. So on Tuesday, it seemed, Confortola, the Italian climber, was probably the last survivor to be given up by the mountain.
Seemingly still in shock from his ordeal, Confortola gave a sketchy recollection of the events, inevitably full of questions about what happened and what went wrong.
He said his own group lost time before reaching the summit at 7 p.m. on Friday, because they did not have the right equipment.
"I think we arrived late on the summit of K2 because the technical equipment was low quality," he was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA.
He said he had tried to help some of his fellow climbers but had also endangered himself. "To try to help, to save the others, I froze my feet and hands," he told the Italian news channel Sky TG24. "But instinct makes you want to save them, and for me that's a good thing."
Meanwhile, people on mountaineering Web sites were paying their respects to those climbers, like McDonnell, who were still missing and presumed dead.