Thursday, 11 September 2008

A Place in the Auvergne, Wednesday, 10th September 2008


India farmers threaten new protests at Nano car site

CALCUTTA: Indian farmers have threatened to resume protests that have blocked construction of a factory to build Tata Motors' low-cost Nano car unless talks aimed at resolving a dispute over land bring results soon.

"We have not given up the protests," said Partha Chattopdhayay, a senior leader of the Trinamool Congress, which has halted its demonstrations for seven days. "We have only suspended our agitation."

The West Bengal government has agreed to a land-based solution for the farmers but ruled out major concessions within the Tata Motors site. The factory and its ancillary units were being built on about 1,000 acres, or 400 hectares, of land. About 400 acres, earmarked for ancillary units, are under dispute.
After the first meeting of the committee Tuesday, a member representing the farmers said they wanted to regain land that had been designated for the project area.
"We have demanded 300 acres," said Rabindranath Bhattacharya, a Trinamool Congress leader.
Tata Motors said that separating the ancillary units from the main plant would increase the project's cost.


For shoppers in a hurry, U.S. grocery stores shrink

HARMAR TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania: Like cars and homes, grocery stores in the United States are beginning to shrink.
After years of building bigger stores - many larger than a soccer field and carrying 60,000 items - retailers are experimenting with radically smaller grocery stores that emphasize prepared meals, fresh produce and grab-and-go drinks. The idea is to lure time-starved shoppers who want to pick up fast meals without paying restaurant prices or wandering down long grocery aisles.
Safeway has opened a smaller-format store in Southern California, and Jewel-Osco is building one in Chicago. Wal-Mart plans to open four Marketside stores in the Phoenix area this autumn, and Whole Foods Market is considering opening smaller stores.
And here in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, the grocery chain Giant Eagle opened a Giant Eagle Express last year that is about one-sixth the size of its regular stores. It offers gasoline pumps, wireless Internet and flat-screen televisions in a small café, a drive-through pharmacy and an expansive delicatessen that offers sushi, rotisserie chickens and ready-to-heat dinners.
"It's perfect," said Dusty McDonald, a 29-year-old bank teller who was buying breakfast sandwiches recently for her co-workers at the Giant Eagle Express. "It's on my way to work. It only takes me 10 minutes to get in and out."

The opening of smaller stores upends a long-running trend in the grocery business: building ever larger stores in the belief that consumers want choice above all. While the largest traditional grocery stores tend to be about 85,000 square feet, or 7,900 square meters, some cavernous warehouse-style stores and supercenters are two or three times that size.
Statistics compiled by the Food Marketing Institute show that the average size of a grocery store dipped slightly in 2007 - to a median of 47,500 square feet - after 20 years of steady growth.
The biggest push toward these new stores is coming from the British retailer Tesco, which made a splashy entry into the United States last autumn by opening a 10,000-square-foot Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in Las Vegas.
Since then, Tesco has opened 72 more stores in Nevada, Arizona and Southern California.
Gary Smith, founder of Encore Associates, which advises the food and consumer goods industry, said the smaller stores opened by other chains were "a loud message to Tesco that they are not going to be able to walk in and grab market share."
"It's also a way for them to do some testing for if and when Tesco comes to their market," Smith added. "They are better able to counter it."
Grocery retailers face competition other than Tesco on multiple fronts. Chains ranging from Target to dollar stores are selling more groceries, and some small convenience stores are offering higher-quality food.
The big grocery chains are not thinking about closing their larger stores, which have been a success. But they hope to capture new business with the smaller stores, appealing to consumers on days when they do not have time for a long shopping trip.
"The average person goes shopping for 22 minutes," said Phil Lempert, who edits, a Web site that tracks retail trends. "You can't see 30,000 or 40,000 products. We are moving into an era when people want less assortment."
Of course, small grocery stores have been around for eons, and some old-time neighborhood markets still exist. Meanwhile, a handful of specialty retailers have proved that shoppers will flock to smaller stores if they are offered a novel experience.
Trader Joe's, for one, has thrived by offering a limited selection of high-quality, relatively inexpensive products in quirky stores that are 15,000 square feet or smaller. Aldi and Save-A-Lot are drawing customers in droves by selling a limited assortment of aggressively discounted products.
What distinguishes the new stores is that they are being built by more traditional retailers, and they emphasize fresh, prepared foods for busy consumers.
Kevin Srigley, a senior vice president at Giant Eagle, whose stores are spread across western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland, said that the express store sought to provide customers with a "smart stop to save you time on the things you need most," in addition to offering fresh foods.
Will customers come to the smaller stores? Analysts said Tesco's initial sales had fallen short of expectations, and the company had stopped opening stores for several months this year to assess customer feedback and make adjustments. The company has not released figures detailing the Fresh & Easy stores' performance.

Physicists run first particles through CERN collider

BATAVIA, Illinois: Science rode a beam of subatomic particles and a river of Champagne into the future Wednesday.
After 14 years of labor, scientists at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva successfully activated the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest, most powerful particle collider and, at $8 billion, the most expensive scientific experiment to date.
At 10:27 a.m. in Geneva, scientists sent the beam of protons around the collider's racetrack, which is 17 miles, or 27 kilometers, long and runs deep beneath the Swiss-French border, and then sent another beam through again.
"It's a fantastic moment," said Lyn Evans, who has been the project director of the collider since its inception. "We can now look forward to a new era of understanding about the origins and evolution of the universe."
Eventually, the collider is expected to accelerate protons to energies of seven trillion electron volts and then smash them together, recreating conditions in the primordial fireball only a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Scientists hope the machine will be a sort of Hubble Space Telescope of inner space, allowing them to detect new subatomic particles and forces of nature.



A mad scramble for the shrinking Arctic

Climate change is changing all the rules in the Arctic. The polar ice cap is smaller by some 700,000 square miles than it was in the two decades before 2000. The annual melting of northern ice this year may well surpass last year's - the furthest retreat of Arctic ice in a single year since it was first measured.
The Northwest Passage - the route through the Arctic Ocean at the northern edge of the American continent - is likely to be open and navigable again before summer's end for the second time in two years.
And, according to new satellite images, the eastern sea ice blocking a northeastern passage above Siberia has melted too, turning the Arctic into an island surrounded by open water for the first time ever.
What was once solidly frozen is now, increasingly, accessible, leading to fierce disputes over territory and natural resources.
Perhaps the biggest of these disputes is whom do the waters in the Northwest Passage belong to: Canada, or are they international?

Canada has already staked its claim, requiring foreign ships to report when entering waters within 200 miles of its northern shores.
The previous limit was 100 miles. Canada is also backing a new search to find the Erebus and Terror - Sir John Franklin's ships, which were lost during a 19th-century British expedition to the Arctic - in order to "take ownership of the history of this place," as one historian put it.
Meanwhile, the United States, Canada and Russia are all busily mapping the underwater continental shelf in order to bolster claims to what are believed to be vast mineral deposits, including oil and gas.
The two poles of this planet could hardly be more different. In the Antarctic, a scientific truce of sorts remains in effect. But the Arctic is increasingly a scene of commercial and territorial conflict.
The only tolerable way to shape the future of the Arctic is through international cooperation, not a sovereignty battle.
There is more to protect than access to valuable resources and shortened shipping routes. There is a desperately endangered and fragile ecosystem as well, which is threatened both by global warming and by the commercial development warming allows.

Saudis to ignore OPEC decision to cut production

VIENNA: Hours after suffering a rare setback at OPEC headquarters, where the oil cartel said its members needed to lower production to keep prices from sinking below $100 a barrel, Saudi officials assured world markets Wednesday that they would ignore the decision and continue to pump as much oil as needed.
The marathon late-night session illustrated the new pressures and power politics at play in the group that controls 40 percent of world oil production - and how ineffective it can be. The meeting might be a harbinger of things to come, as OPEC faces its most difficult challenge in years: how to respond to falling prices in a weakening and uncertain global environment.
The Saudis made their strategy clear in informal talks and briefings with some oil industry analysts and reporters, but as is their custom they would not speak for attribution because they did not want to appear to undermine a collective decision by OPEC that they endorsed publicly.


Wide-ranging ethics scandal emerges at Interior Dept.

WASHINGTON: As Congress prepares to debate expansion of drilling in taxpayer-owned coastal waters, the Interior Department agency that collects oil and gas royalties has been caught up in a wide-ranging ethics scandal — including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct.
In three reports delivered to Congress on Wednesday, the department's inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, found wrongdoing by a dozen current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service, which collects about $10 billion in royalties annually and is one of the government's largest sources of revenue other than taxes.
"A culture of ethical failure" besets the agency, Devaney wrote in a cover memo.
The reports portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration's watch.
The highest-ranking official criticized in the reports was Lucy Denett, the former associate director of minerals revenue management, who retired earlier this year as the inquiry was progressing.


BP holding back Caspian pipeline expansion

MOSCOW: The head of Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft said oil major BP is against expanding the Caspian pipeline until more funding is secured.
Led by U.S. oil major Chevron , the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), in which Russia, Kazakhstan, BP and others have stakes, resolved a protracted struggle in the summer over expansion of the pipeline, which pumps Kazakh crude to Russia.
"We all decided, we all agreed (to expand the pipeline) and then suddenly BP says 'I don't agree. I think we need to get more money'", Transneft President Nikolai Tokarev said in an interview on Wednesday at the Reuters Russia Investment Summit.
Over the summer the partners in CPC finally agreed to double the capacity of the pipeline to 60 million tonnes per year (1.2 million barrels per day), following months of delays over funding issues.
CPC has been shipping oil since 2001 and pumps up to 750,000 barrels per day from Kazakh oilfields to Novorossiisk, Russia's largest Black Sea port, for re-export to the Mediterranean.

Russia had initially rejected expansion, saying it would put additional pressure on the congested Turkish straits. Debt redemption schedules and interest were also the key disagreement points between Russia and Western partners.
The partners agreed to raise the shipping tariff to $38 per tonne from $30.24 last year and private investors agreed to halve interest rates on the $5 billion (2.8 billion pounds) loan to CPC to 6 percent, easing worries over funding.
"BP's position is the only thing putting the brakes on this," Tokarev said at the event, held at the Reuters office in Moscow.
He also said BP is insisting on taking out more loans to finance expansion.
A BP spokesman in Moscow said he was not ready to comment immediately.
Russia has a 24 percent stake in the consortium as a host state, while Kazakhstan owns 19 percent. Both have expressed an interest in buying Middle East state Oman's 7 percent stake.
The Gulf Arab state said last month it wanted to sell out as it had become frustrated with other consortium members as the expansion struggle dragged on.
"We are most definitely interested in buying Oman's stake. Whether Oman will sell or not is not known, but we've spent the last couple of months in active talks with them," Tokarev said.
Besides BP, private sector shareholders include Royal Dutch Shell , ExxonMobil , LUKOIL , Rosneft and Chevron, which holds 15 percent.
"But there's hope. Our American partners support it, as do the Kazakhs and our Russian partners. As a collective we hope to change BP's mind," Tokarev said.
Apart from Kazakh crude, CPC also uses flows of Russian crude, which travel a short distance between the Transneft network and CPC by rail.


Shareholder says TNK-BP still worth $60 bln

MOSCOW: Russia's TNK-BP, due for a public share sale in the next few years as part of a peace deal between BP and its local partners, is still worth $60 billion (34.1 billion pounds), one of the billionaire shareholders said on Wednesday.
Viktor Vekselberg, part of the Alfa-Access-Renova consortium which owns 50 percent of TNK-BP, left his longstanding estimate of the company's value unchanged despite plunging Russian asset prices.
"This is my estimate. I always said that the company is worth no less than $60 billion, and it is worth that much now," Vekselberg told reporters.
But another member of the AAR consortium suggested the initial public offering (IPO) was not the only way forward for the company.
"This is one of the options," Fridman told reporters separately. Vekselberg said he was not aware of other options.


Bolivia asks U.S. ambassador to leave as protests mount

LA PAZ: Leftist President Evo Morales on Wednesday asked the U.S. ambassador to leave Bolivia, blaming him for intensified opposition protests that shut down a key natural gas pipeline to Brazil.
"The ambassador of the United States is conspiring against democracy and wants Bolivia to break apart," Morales said during a speech at the presidential palace in La Paz.
Morales, an ally of anti-Washington leftist leader Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, said he had asked his foreign affairs minister to send a letter to the U.S. Embassy asking Ambassador Philip Goldberg to "urgently return to his country."
The U.S. Embassy said it had no comment and had not been formally informed of Morales' decision.
Anti-Morales protesters continued an occupation of government buildings in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, an opposition stronghold, for a second day on Wednesday and also attacked energy facilities, forcing the country to reduce natural gas exports.

Bolivia's state energy company YPFB said it had to reduce overall natural gas exports to neighbouring Brazil by about 10 percent after anti-government protesters attacked a pipeline in what the government described as a "terrorist act," forcing the closure of the pipeline.
"(Natural gas) exports to Brazil have been reduced by 3 million cubic meters," the head of YPFB Santos Ramirez told reporters in La Paz.
Brazil's energy ministry, however, said shipments of Bolivian natural gas were steady at 31 million cubic meters a day.
The protests stem from a power struggle between Morales and the governors of five of the country's nine provinces, who are demanding more autonomy and a larger share of the country's booming energy revenues.
Protesters also stormed the Vuelta Grande natural gas field in central Chuquisaca province forcing gas producer Chaco, a unit of Bolivian state energy company YPFB, to halt production on Tuesday night.
"Some 100 people occupied the field and we had to stop operations for security reasons," said Juan Callau, head of Chaco's institutional relations. The plant will not be able to restart production until the protesters withdraw, he said.
Vuelta Grande produces about 2.5 million cubic meters of natural gas a day to domestic and export markets, but the company could not immediately say how exports have been affected.
Morales, who nationalized the energy industry two years ago, had sent troops to protect energy facilities after opposition protesters threatened to attack natural gas fields and pipelines.

King of kitsch rules at Versailles

VERSAILLES, France: An aluminum red lobster hangs from the ceiling alongside a crystal chandelier in the Mars Salon. A Plexiglas-encased display of vacuum cleaners and floor polishers sits in front of the official portrait of Marie Antoinette. And an open-mouthed, bare-breasted blonde holding a pink panther seems to be laughing at a 1729 painting of King Louis XV giving peace to Europe.
America has invaded the gilded chambers and sculpted gardens of the Château de Versailles in the form of an exhibition by the artist Jeff Koons.
Versailles in recent years has displayed only a few select works of contemporary artists, and even then, they were shown ever so briefly. The exhibition of 17 of Koons's sculptures marks the first time that the château built by Louis XIV has organized such an ambitious retrospective of one contemporary artist. The exhibit, which opened Wednesday, will continue until Dec. 14.
Koons expressed delight that the first retrospective ever of his work in France was at Versailles. After all, nearly five million people visit the château and between eight and ten million stroll the gardens every year, according to Versailles' official figures.
"I'm thrilled with the totality of the whole experience," he said as he posed for photographers in the palace gardens in front of "Split-Rocker," his 11-ton stainless-steel sculpture covered in 90,000 live flowers and plants. "It's so profound; a high point of my artistic life."

Later, at a news conference, he noted that France had honored him with two of the three levels of the Legion of Honor and that a work of the 18th-century French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard hangs on a wall in his home.
He praised the "openness" of France for its decision to exhibit an American artist at Versailles. And he said that he drew his inspiration for his floral sculptures from the "fantasy and control" shown by the Sun King himself.
"It comes from just thinking about what it would be like, I mean, what Louis would kind of have the fantasy to see when he would wake up in the morning, and that he could walk to the window and look out in the gardens and think, you know, 'I would like to see a sculpture made out of 90,000 live, growing plants and I'd like to see it by the time I get back this evening,"' Koons said. "And voilà, there it would be."

Storm-struck Haiti: From misery to the abyss
GONAÏVES, Haiti: Their cupboards were virtually bare before the winds started whipping, the skies opened up and this seaside city filled like a cauldron with thick brown smelly muck.
Suffering long ago became normal here, passed down through the generations, picked up by children who learn that crying does no good.
But the enduring spirit of the people of Gonaïves is being tested by a string of recent hurricanes - Faye, Gustav, Hanna and Ike are the names Haitians now spit out like curses - that made a bad situation all the worse.
After four fierce storms in less than a month, the little that many people had has turned to nothing at all. Their humble homes are under water, forcing them onto the roofs. School is canceled. Hunger is intense. Difficult lives have become untenable ones and, on top of all that, hurricane season just reached the traditional halfway mark.
One can see the misery in the eyes of Edith Pierre, who takes care of six children on her roof in the center of Gonaïves. She has strung a sheet up to shield them a little from the piercing sun. The few scraps of clothing she could salvage sit in heaps off to a side. "Now I have nothing," she said before pausing a minute, staring down from the roof at the river of floodwater around and then saying again in an even more forlorn way: "Nothing."
At the home of Daniel Dupliton, who heads the local Red Cross, displaced relatives, friends and complete strangers have moved in, more than 100 of them in all, taking up every inch of floor space as well as the surrounding yard. "There are official shelters and then there are unofficial ones, like my house," he said.
More misery in Haiti is an almost unfathomable thing. Already the poorest place in the Western Hemisphere, it has become even more destitute. Haitians were struggling to feed themselves before the hurricanes battered their agricultural lands, killed their livestock and washed away their tiny stores of rice. Now, the country will be even more dependent on imports, and the rising food prices across the globe will only increase their sting.
"Life was very, very difficult even before this," said Raphael Chuinard, who is organizing the distribution of emergency aid in Gonaïves for the United Nation's World Food Program. "The malnutrition rate was too high. People were resigned to suffer."
Now that suffering has deepened. The hurricanes have struck all 10 of Haiti's regions, and by knocking out bridges and washing away roads, they have created isolated pockets of misery across the countryside. Relief workers and Haitian authorities have reported more than 500 deaths, most from Hanna, and they are just beginning to reach all the trouble spots.
In Gonaïves, still largely cut off from the rest of Haiti, sunny skies have helped bring the water levels down in recent days but that still means that residents have to move around through the streets with their ankles, their knees and sometimes even their hips submerged in effluent. The hospital is covered with floodwater. So are thousands of homes.
At the main cathedral, the water rushed in the front door, toppling pews and leaving the place stained with mud and smelling of sewage. Upstairs, dozens of people have taken refuge, huddled together on the concrete floor. When a visitor arrived, they rubbed their bellies and pleaded for nourishment.
Getting food to the hungry is no easy task, dependent on planes, ships and helicopters - including a nearby U.S. Navy vessel - since trucks are getting stuck in the mud. Once food reaches a place like Gonaïves, the crush of desperate people turns handouts into melées. As a solution, food trucks, protected by heavily armed Argentine soldiers serving with the UN peacekeeping mission, have begun setting out before dawn to distribute high-energy biscuits while most of the city still sleeps.

Lehman under pressure as it faces mounting losses
NEW YORK: The trouble at Lehman Brothers is rapidly becoming a race against time for the struggling Wall Street bank.
Lehman's fortunes dwindled further on Wednesday as the firm, staggered by the biggest loss in its 158-year history, fought to regain confidence among investors.
Even as Lehman pledged to shrink its operations in its most drastic step yet to shore up its financial position, its stock price continued to fall, closing down 7 percent, to $7.25.
With each passing day, the pressure is growing for Lehman to secure a financial lifeline or at least arrest the precipitous decline in its stock, which has lost 55 percent of its value over the last three days.
While Lehman has few options, it has some advantages that Bear Stearns did not have before its collapse, mainly the special loan program subsequently created by the U.S. government for Wall Street banks. The risk for Lehman is that employees and money might quickly drain away if confidence in the bank continues to erode.
The decline came on a day when another big financial institution, the giant savings and loan Washington Mutual, also came under assault. Shares of Washington Mutual plunged by nearly 30 percent, underscoring the worries about the broader financial industry.
At Lehman, the bank's embattled chief executive, Richard Fuld, announced his plans in a conference call with analysts and investors. Inside Lehman's Midtown headquarters, anxious employees huddled around trading screens to watch the reaction in the stock market.
Lehman, one of the nation's largest investment banks, said it expected to report a $3.9 billion loss for the third quarter, an even bigger deficit than analysts had forecast, and cut its dividend to shareholders. It also announced long-expected plans to sell most of its prized investment management division and, more radically, to split itself into a "good" bank and a "bad" one.

Reduced exit packages urged for ousted executives at Fannie and Freddie
Senator Barack Obama and two other prominent Democrats urged U.S. housing regulators on Tuesday to cut the golden parachutes of the ousted leaders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, another sign that the government bailout of those mortgage giants could reverberate through the presidential campaign.
Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, asked that any "inappropriate windfall payments" to the chief executives and senior managers of those agencies be voided, in a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. and the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the new regulator for Fannie and Freddie.
Together, Daniel Mudd of Fannie Mae and Richard Syron of Freddie Mac are eligible for as much as $24 million in severance, retirement benefits and deferred compensation.
"Under no circumstances should the executives of these institutions earn a windfall at a time when the U.S. Treasury has taken unprecedented steps to rescue these companies with taxpayer resources," Obama wrote.

Lehman licks wounds on UK home loans
LONDON: Lehman Brothers' plan to sell $4 billion (2.3 billion pounds) of British mortgages as part of a survival strategy follows an aggressive bet on riskier UK mortgages in the last three years that has misfired.
Lehman plans to sell the UK mortgages to investment firm BlackRock as part of a far-reaching restructuring to raise much-needed capital to survive the credit crisis, it said on Wednesday.
In 2006 and early 2007, Lehman led a pack of investment banks who expanded from securitising mortgages to offering their own UK mortgages during the housing boom.
By originating their own mortgages they could provide a steady stream of loans that could then be packaged into bonds, issued and traded. They typically targeted non-conforming mortgages that mainstream lenders were more wary of, selling them through brokers and entering partnerships to take on loans from Alliance & Leicester and Northern Rock.
But such plans backfired as the UK housing market has followed the U.S. market into reverse and wholesale funding has become more costly as the credit crunch deepened.
Lehman stopped offering mortgages in April. The $4 billion of loans being sold to BlackRock doesn't represent all its UK book, but is over half of its $7.6 billion European residential mortgage book, a spokeswoman said. The deal will help cut its total residential mortgage exposure to $13.2 billion.
The fourth largest U.S. investment bank and BlackRock declined to comment on financial details of the sale, which is expected to complete in the next few weeks.
Lehman moved into the UK market before many rivals, and remained more aggressive than most through brands including Preferred and SPML.
By the end of 2007 it was the 20th biggest home lender, with 9.3 billion pounds ($16.4 billion) of outstanding mortgages and a 0.8 percent market share.
Ray Boulger, analyst at independent mortgage expert John Charcol, said competition to provide sub-prime loans drove margins below a level that reflected the risk of the business.
"The fact property prices fell so sharply and so quickly clearly means the losses were greater than expected and has compounded the problem," he said.

'Disgrace': A disquieting lens on South African brutality
TORONTO: Once dedicated to discovering small gems from faraway places, the Toronto Film Festival, now in its 33rd year, has evolved into something so big that old friends and even its founders must scramble to find the original spirit. Toronto today is a launching pad for big films, such as the Coen brothers' "Burn After Reading." Anything less may get lost in the shuffle.
And so, John Malkovich, in town to promote the Coen brothers' new film, had flown off by the time Steve Jacobs's "Disgrace" was shown.
Luckily, the actor had left his imprint on one of his most engrossing roles in a fine adaptation of J.M. Coetzee's prize-winning novel of the same name. He plays David Lurie, a Capetown professor who has lost his sense of self-preservation. With lidded eyes and a lazy slouch, he crawls under the skin of this complex, disturbing character.
"John is not afraid of going there and tackling the issues that are in the book - and he doesn't apologize on the screen either," said Jacobs.
Lurie, who is accused of taking advantage sexually of one of his colored students and is fired, is too disillusioned - and too arrogant - to defend himself. This is a witch hunt and he can't possibly play the game.
He takes off to stay with his daughter Lucy, played by the South African actress Jessica Haines, in the mountainous countryside, a world that is alien to him. She runs a small farm, selling her produce in the village market. He tries to write an opera on Byron in Italy, but the dogs, the changing land, intrude.
"He is at a time of his life where he knows that it's just not going to happen," said Jacobs.
Haines is quietly compelling as Lucy, and Malkovich's performance turns almost mute - but you can see him ticking away as his disgrace deepens. Suddenly, three black boys intrude; his daughter is raped; he is attacked and knocked unconscious, helpless to defend her.
"John is an actor who can also show that he is thinking," said Anna Maria Monticelli, who wrote the screenplay.
Born in Morocco, she said that she always wanted to make a film in Africa. "It was a dream. Africa is so beautiful; the people are beautiful. We went three times before we shot and we saw how beautiful - and how sad and disturbing - the story is," she added.
The film opens with short scenes; the race issue comes into play as Lurie has sex with a colored prostitute, and then turns to his student, also métisse, a young woman who is living between color boundaries. When he leaves Capetown for the country, he becomes aware of more radical boundaries, black and white.
Coetzee has praised the film, saying, "Steve Jacobs has succeeded beautifully in integrating the story into the grand landscape of South Africa. The leading actors give strong and thoughtful performances."
"Disgrace" is a collaboration between Jacobs, who produced and directed, and Monticelli, his wife. It is true to the novel, not just in the detail, which could be numbing, but in the disturbing spirit, the cool eye on the savage state of man.
It is a disquieting film that does not have the sweeping beauty of "Out of Africa," and bears no resemblance to the lush film that Fernando Meirelles made from José Saramago's novel "Blindness" (the disappointing opening film at Cannes, which was also launched here).
The film treads on taboos - sexual, racial - and on our notions of civilized behavior, as well as on family values. Dogs play a big part in the movie, but they are not treated as pets.
Lurie tells his daughter an illuminating story about a dog who is trained not to run after bitches, adding that the dog might as well be dead if he can't follow his instincts; next, we see a scene where men follow their instincts and rape.
"And we see Lurie get the complexity of what he has been saying about desire: one minute he's with the dogs - and the next minute helpless," Jacobs pointed out.
"When we were raising money, some people said we had to get rid of the killing of the dogs," said Monticelli. "But it's in the book and the point is to show this parallel between being an animal and being a human."
Jacobs's Australian company, Wild Strawberries, produced the film: "We believe in creative control otherwise there's no use, you subvert the issues," he said.
Monticelli was also interested in the difficult father-daughter relationship. "When children leave home, they become something else. So Lucy had lived under her father's image, which was not allowing her to be who she was. She's very smart and this extends to the fact that she understands what is happening around her - and he doesn't.
"She knows that in order for life to go on and for there to be some kind of solution for this country, she has to adapt and accept. By leaving home she got a sense of what her country is about," he added.
"Disgrace" was shot in South Africa, in rainy Capetown and in a radiant mountain area where the designers built a farm from scratch. "Everything was built with the camera in mind," Jacobs said.
The camera is mostly on Lurie, the man with the mad heart, and on his stubborn way of resisting change until the bitter end.
"And that's what's appealing about the character, he doesn't give in, he keeps his arrogance," Jacobs said. "That's where John was great."
Jacobs and Monticelli had made only one other film: "La Spagnola," a comedy with some dark streaks about migrant workers. The film was set to have its international launch in Toronto on Sept. 11, 2001, but the festival was canceled following the terror attacks in the United States. "La Spagnola" was sold by Fortissimo, a sales company based in Amsterdam and Hong Kong, and was the Australian nomination for the Academy Awards in 2002. Fortissimo is also handling "Disgrace," which had a budget of $6 million.
"We went for the script because it was so much in the spirit of the novel," said Wouter Barendrecht of Fortissimo. "And this film is a challenge precisely because of the fame of the novel - it's an advantage but also a disadvantage. People all over the world feel so strongly about the book that their reaction may be, 'How dare you adapt my book?' And it's a very tough story about a man who is not that likeable."
Monticelli and Jacobs know that they do not have an easy film. "We've shown the film to people who felt it wasn't entertaining," Monticelli said. "When I first read the book I wasn't thinking of adapting at all, but I loved it so much that I told Steve, who agreed we had to do it. We hadn't anticipated how difficult it could be."
She feels that "Disgrace" shows a brutality and a truth that is very South African, but that apply to other countries as well. "This is a terrible story. Lucy finds herself pregnant after being raped, and feels that keeping the child is accepting of the future - the only solution. Maybe there is hope if everybody accepts, if there is intermarriage."
Jacobs and Monticelli met while acting on a television series in Australia. But they find Sydney a bit too comfortable: "The sun is always shining and not much happens politically," Monticelli said.
Jacobs is thinking of doing a Kafka kind of comedy, set in the United States. "It depends on what happens with 'Disgrace,"' he added.
The film has just been sold to distributors in many countries in Europe as well as in Turkey, Israel, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico, but not yet in the United States, an essential market.

Book review:
I Don't A Contrarian History of Marriage

By Susan Squire
258 pages. $25.99. Bloomsbury.

If you've spent any part of the past year watching the spectacular train wrecks of celebrity marriages, you will know that recent public displays of carnage include the spattered bits of Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Sheen, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Murray, Sir and Mrs. Paul McCartney, and Mr. and Mrs. Christie Brinkley. Watching the wealthy and famous bicker over children, vacation homes and Tupperware invariably leads one to the same question: Why bother? At a time when more than 40 percent of all marriages end in divorce, why not simply move to a system of short-term leases?
Various state supreme courts in the United States have been grappling with this conundrum as they try to determine whether to expand the definition of marriage to include gay couples, a question California voters are poised to answer in November. This has forced groups on both sides of the issue to struggle to define the essential purpose of marriage. Is it a religious sacrament or merely a civil allocation of property rights? Is marriage a way of optimizing the rearing of children or an ancient way of enforcing female chastity?
In legalizing gay marriage in 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts insisted that marriage encourages "stable relationships over transient ones," "provides for the orderly distribution of property" and promotes "a stable setting for child rearing." The Washington Supreme Court, in refusing to strike down that state's ban on gay marriage in 2006, rooted its logic in a view of marriage as an institution that exists to "promote procreation and to encourage stable families."
It's a testament to America's confusion about the purpose of marriage that the courts can toggle this way between four or five rationales for such a union in a single judicial opinion, with little regard for any one coherent principle. In "I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage," Susan Squire explains that this is because there is no single coherent principle behind modern marriage. As currently practiced, the institution is a hodgepodge of biblical, classical, courtly and Christian rules and mores. What Americans know as "marriage" is rooted in warring historical efforts at regulating procreation; tamping down sexual lust (especially female lust); and - only relatively recently - celebrating companionship and romantic love. Those who speak reverently about the sanctity of marriage must also acknowledge that modern matrimony is less a sacred vessel than a crazy quilt.
Squire begins quite literally In the Beginning, reminding us that the book of Genesis contains not one but two versions of the creation story. Yes, it's true. While Genesis 3:16 got us off on the wrong foot for centuries with the fateful words "your husband ... shall rule over you," Genesis 1 in fact had already offered a less dramatic, ribless version of creation in which God creates man and woman simultaneously and commands them to "fill the earth and master it," together. The second version of creation, the one with the serpent and the apple and the betrayal of all mankind by womankind, makes for better theater. But according to Squire, it also gained cultural and literary dominance because it highlighted the earliest rationale for marriage: control your women, or they will rule over you. It's all downhill from there.
"I Don't" leads us through the many twists and turns of marital history, starting with the biblical Israelites' tradition of matrilineal descent and polygamy (and of squabbling wives) and the ancient Athenian system of something akin to gold, silver and bronze wives (for the aristocracy, at least). The Greek orator Demosthenes put it this way: "We keep hetaerae" - mistresses - "for our delight, concubines for the daily needs of our bodies, wives so that we may breed legitimate children and have faithful house-keepers."
Squire links the fall of the Roman Empire, at least in part, with the spread of a form of trial marriage called usus that required no solemnization, no transfer of authority or property, and that seems to have given Roman women considerable sexual freedom (even if they remained under the control of their fathers). She distances herself from the naysayers who blamed loose sexual morality for the fall of the Roman Empire but traces the ways in which Christianity would come to stand as a corrective to the fast-and-loose ways of the ancient Romans.
The author is at her wickedly funniest in her descriptions of what would soon become (in the words of Heinrich Heine) "the starvation diet of Christianity." For centuries, the church characterized marriage as a highly distasteful "lust containment facility," as Squire puts it, for those who could not achieve the ideal of childless celibacy, putting love of God ahead of love of family. In Squire's version, from Paul's admonition that "women should be silent in the churches" (although in general Paul favored mutually respectful marriage) to the 2d-century theologian Tertullian's declaration that "woman is the gateway through which the devil comes," Christian marriage becomes one necessary evil that constrains yet another necessary evil: women.
Throughout the Dark Ages, the church closely regulated every aspect of sex and marriage, meting out punishment for, among other transgressions, seeing one's wife naked, slipping one's husband an aphrodisiac or having intercourse on a Wednesday, Friday or Sunday. According to Squire, the church was so fanatically in favor of joyless, loveless, sexless marriage (while doling out all manner of indulgences for the deep-pocketed unmarried celibates who strayed) that it would take a noisy revolution to shake its control.
That revolution began with the rise of the cult of courtly love among the aristocracy, which was resentful of the church's meddling in their mating habits. It picked up steam during the Black Death, which shook ordinary believers' faith in church doctrine by killing off the righteous alongside the wicked. And it achieved perfection in the miraculously happy marriage of a 42-year-old virgin named Martin Luther. Luther, a monk, had long railed against the evils of celibacy, believing that church doctrine had resulted in corruption and fornication. But he became his own best advertisement when he was dragged out of his monastic solitude by a 26-year-old runaway nun named Katherine von Bora.
When his Katy bears and raises six children and four foster children, hauls them to the Holy Land on pilgrimage, tends his garden and makes his homegrown medicines, exterminates the mice in his barn and makes him wine and beer, all while playing hostess to a houseful of reverent disciples and acolytes, Luther is the happiest of spokesmen. And so, as part of his war on the corrupt church, he ushers in a new era of marriage, shunning celibacy and exalting companionship, procreation and fidelity. The 1,500-year-old idea of marriage as a necessary repository for the filth of human desire comes to an end. We will finally begin to marry for love.
It's not always easy to follow the hops and skips of Squire's logical structure. But "I Don't" is a charming book and a wonderful resource for those who think they have a bead on why the church and everyone purporting to speak for the church got themselves so firmly entrenched in the marriage business in the first place.
Marriage is one of the last manifestations of human optimism. And whether we aspire to perfect holiness or romance, the reality is almost certain to disappoint.
As Oscar Wilde put it, "The only charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception necessary for both parties." "I Don't" reminds us we've been aspiring to such deceptions for thousands of years. That alone is reason to hope.

Flaunting impunity in Russia's 'security zone'

Lawrence Sheets is Caucasus Project Director at the International Crisis Group.

DZEVERA, Russian-occupied Georgia:
In the Russian-declared "security zone" in Georgia, the last thing anyone feels is secure. The 20-kilometer-wide strip around South Ossetia is a no man's land of lawlessness. The first thing that strikes you inside the zone - if you can talk your way past the Russian military checkpoint north of the Georgian city of Gori - is the almost total lack of people. Some towns and villages look 90 percent empty. The ethnic Georgian residents have fled.
The Russians have allowed their Ossetian allies to loot and burn down homes in the area. Along the 15 kilometers, or 9 miles, of one stretch of road, I did not see a single business - mostly grocery shops, pharmacies and other small enterprises - that had not been ransacked. Much of the damage seems gratuitous. Some buildings have been rammed with large military vehicles in order to make it easier to steal their contents.
In the village of Tkviavi, one of the few residents remaining showed me what was left of his house, which he said had been torched by a group of Ossetian militia fighters. He said the men calmly came to the entrance of the house, poured a flammable liquid near the doorway and set it ablaze. He and a neighbor said these "militias" were coming in every day to loot what was left behind.
As if to flaunt their impunity, for 10 days the Russians flatly refused to let the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conduct observation patrols in the "security zone," though the group has a mandate to undertake them. Clearly the Russians have not been eager for witnesses to view the results of the destruction they have promoted. Russian troops have refused altogether to let workers from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees enter the area, even though their mission is purely humanitarian.
The driving away of civilians from the "security zone" has added a new crisis of displaced persons that Georgia is ill-equipped to cope with. At least 65,000 people are newly displaced, according to the UNHCR, in a small country where more than 200,000 people were already internally displaced from wars in the 1990s.
And all of this is occurring in an area well outside the territory of South Ossetia, which Moscow (alone) recognizes as an independent state. This is land even Russia supposedly accepts as sovereign Georgian territory.
Russian forces have resorted to the most disturbing tactics to shield themselves from blame. They are using an ethnic Chechen battalion of 300 to 500 fighters, a feared unit called "Vostok" with a reputation for cruelty and looting. Paradoxically, these forces fought against the Russian Army in the wars in Chechnya not too far north of here. If the intent is to make it appear these quasi-official units are autonomous or random looters, it won't wash. They are Russian Army units under full Russian command.
With its scorched-earth occupation of Georgian territory, Moscow is openly flouting the cease-fire agreement it signed last month with Tbilisi, which called for the withdrawal of its forces. Although Russia has pulled many of its troops out of Georgia, it has left hundreds of others behind, not just around South Ossetia but also outside of Abkhazia and in Georgia's key port city of Poti. Thus far, there have not been Georgian resistance attacks on the occupying forces. But the longer Russian troops stay in Georgia, the greater the chances new fighting will break out. Perhaps this is what Moscow is hoping for, to justify its continued destabilizing presence on Georgian soil.
Much of the talk in Western capitals has shifted to worries over a new Cold War. Of course, the strategic implications of Russia's military actions are staggering, along with its "recognition" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. Yet while world leaders debate how to handle a newly aggressive Moscow, the situation on the ground in Georgia remains potentially explosive. The world must insist on full deployment of an international monitoring mission, return of displaced persons and Russian withdrawal.
European Union leaders have stated plainly that there can be no business as usual with Russia until its troops have withdrawn to the positions held prior to Aug. 7, when this crisis began. The EU-brokered agreement on Monday was welcome, but it will represent a victory for EU diplomacy only if Russian forces actually pull back, as Moscow has now promised to do within a month. If this central issue remains a focus of a united international community, then the chances of Russia pulling out of the "security zones" completely are strong, and people can get back to rebuilding their homes and their lives.

EU and Russia wrangle over Georgia monitors
MOSCOW: Just two days after President Nicolas Sarkozy of France celebrated the closure of another hard-fought peace agreement in Georgia, Russia and Europe were at odds over whether 200 European monitors would be allowed within Russian-held territory.
Meanwhile, a Georgian policeman was shot and killed near a Russian checkpoint in Russian-occupied Georgia, threatening to undercut the already fragile peace deal.
The disagreement over monitors called into question a key point of the accord. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said the monitoring mission "will be deployed with the spirit that it can deploy everywhere," including, eventually, the enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, according to news agency reports.
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, responded angrily when asked about plans to monitor the disputed areas, which he said were attempts to appease the President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia.
"This is an absolutely unscrupulous attempt to do Mr. Saakashvili's bidding instead of honestly explaining to him" what the agreement allowed, Lavrov said, Interfax reported. "We will also demand that the European Union strictly comply with its obligations to us."
A senior German official in Berlin said European leaders understood that the agreement forged Monday did not allow them access to the disputed areas, but hoped to persuade the Russians to ease the restriction. "We have no military or diplomatic tool to force the Russians out of the enclaves," he said.
But Giga Bokeria, Georgia's deputy foreign minister, said the Russians could not legally keep the EU monitors out of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, because they are Georgian territory.
For his part, Lavrov said all future international monitoring efforts inside the regions would require approval by the Abkhaz and South Ossetian governments - which have been recognized as nations only by Russia and Nicaragua.
The policeman was shot twice, in the head and throat, as he stood guard at a position several hundred meters from a Russian checkpoint in Karaleti, a Georgian village inside the security zone, said Shota Utiashvili, a spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry. Utiashvili said the officer had been shot from the direction of the Russian checkpoint.
The Russians refused to allow Georgians into the area, Utiashivili said. "They said no, this is our territory and you can't enter here. They said the policeman had been shot by Ossetians and they promised to investigate the incident themselves."
Alexei Pavlov, a spokesman for President Dmitri Medvedev, said Russian forces were not responsible. He said the Georgians approached the checkpoint on Wednesday to report the death of one of their policemen, but had not shown the Russians the man's body.
He said the commander of the Russian forces was planning an investigation. "We still don't know what happened or who is to blame for the situation," Pavlov said. He added that with Russian forces preparing for withdrawal from the area, "I don't think it's worth shooting Georgian policemen."
Medvedev announced Monday that the Kremlin would remove its troops by mid-October from all its positions outside the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
George Mazmishvili, the head of Georgian intelligence, said Russia continued to defy the truce brokered by France by retaining a troop presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, even though the agreement called both sides to retreat to the positions they held before hostilities began.

Separatists in Russia see hope in South Ossetia and Abkhazia
MOSCOW: Tatarstan is a long way from South Ossetia. Where South Ossetia is a poor border region of Georgia battered by war, Tatarstan is an economic powerhouse in the heart of Russia, boasting both oil reserves and the political stability that is catnip to investors.
But the two places have one thing in common: Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, both have given rise to separatist movements. And when President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia formally recognized the breakaway areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations two weeks ago, activists in Kazan, the Tatar capital, took notice.
An association of nationalist groups, the All-Tatar Civic Center, swiftly published an appeal that "for the first time in recent history, Russia has recognized the state independence of its own citizens" and expressed the devout wish that Tatarstan would be next.
The declaration was far-fetched, its authors knew: One of Vladimir Putin's signal achievements as Medvedev's predecessor was to suppress separatism. The Tatar movement was at its lowest ebb in 20 years.
But Moscow's decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia made Tatarstan's cause seem, as Rashit Akhmetov put it, "not hopeless."
Akhmetov, editor in chief of Zvezda Povolzhya, an opposition newspaper in Kazan, said, "Russia has lost the moral right not to recognize us."

Dutch court rejects Srebrenica compensation claim

THE HAGUE, Netherlands: The Netherlands does not owe compensation to relatives of two Bosnian Muslims who were handed to Serb forces by Dutch peacekeepers and slain in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, a court ruled Wednesday.
The Hague District Court said the government cannot be held responsible because the Dutch peacekeepers were operating in Bosnia under a United Nations mandate.
The plaintiffs claimed their relatives should have been protected because they were working for the Dutch peacekeepers.
The case was brought by Hasan Nuhanovic, an interpreter who lost his brother, mother and father; and relatives of Rizo Mustafic, an electrician who was killed. They claimed their relatives should have been protected because they worked for the Dutch peacekeepers.
"The nightmare continues," Nuhanovic said after the verdict. He said he would appeal the decision.

Nuhanovic, 40, was calm after the verdict was read out by presiding Judge Hans Hofhuis. "I have been betrayed so many times before in my life," he said.


Pentagon Sept 11 memorial revives painful memories

WASHINGTON: On the morning of September 11, 2001, Patrick Smith was walking toward a television set in a Pentagon office to get news of the attacks on New York's World Trade Centre when he heard a loud boom.
"The wall in front of me kind of buckled inward," he recalled. "The ceiling tiles and wires all started coming down, then it went black and then ... a giant fireball just came over the wall."
Such scenes will pass through the minds of many survivors on Thursday, when the first major permanent U.S. memorial to commemorate the September 11 attacks will be dedicated to the 184 victims of the assault on the Pentagon.
The ceremony at the fortress-like headquarters of the U.S. military, attended by President George W. Bush, will take place exactly seven years after al Qaeda militants hijacked four airliners and killed almost 3,000 people.
Smith, a civilian who works for the U.S. Army, will be in the audience. He knows he is lucky to have that opportunity.

"I could hear and feel the hairs on my head and on my arms just starting to singe, just from the intense heat of the flame," he said. "If I'd walked six feet further, then the chances are I wouldn't be sitting here talking today."
Smith saw a colleague in the flames but she was unable to get out and he was unable to help her. A male colleague came running out of the flames, his clothes on fire.
Smith dived to the floor and crawled away from the inferno. He took the hand of a wounded colleague and together they found their way to safety.
"She had second-degree burns and the skin was actually starting to peel off her face," he said.
The memories have become less intense over time but will never fade completely, Smith said.
He believes the memorial park at the Pentagon created by New York-based designers Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman, which features maple trees, light pools and a bench to commemorate each victim, is a fitting tribute to those who died.
"They did a great job with it," said Smith, who was working in the Army's personnel department at the time of the attack.
Smith said there was a thought in the back of his mind that the Pentagon, a major symbol of U.S. military power, could be targeted after two planes slammed into the World Trade Centre.
That idea came to the front of Army Sgt. Jessica Walker's mind after watching the scenes from New York on television.
Walker recalled telling a colonel in her Pentagon office: "You know what, ma'am? We're just as vulnerable."
Right at that time, Walker said, two other colonels came running out of a neighbouring office and one exclaimed: "Oh my God, a plane is going to hit the building."
The colonels must have seen the plane through a window, Walker said.
She jumped over her desk and heard a loud bang as American Airlines Flight 77 from Washington's Dulles Airport crashed into the building at 9:37 a.m.
The attack killed 125 people in the Pentagon, along with the plane's 59 passengers and crew and the five hijackers.
Walker and her colleagues ran down a hallway to evacuate.
"During the whole process, it was kind of like an eerie, strange quietness," said Walker, who was working in the Army's logistics department.
"I know we were probably running as fast as we could but it just seemed like everything was going in slow motion."
Tom Van Leunen, a Navy public affairs officer at the time of the attack, also recalled the strange calmness.
"It was dead silent," he said. "It was such an eerie day."
After evacuating his office, Van Leunen spent the day helping television crews set up operations near the Pentagon.
When he went to take the underground railway home at night, he realized his wallet was still back in his Pentagon office.
"I had to ask, literally, this little old lady if I could borrow five dollars to get a metro ticket to go home," said Van Leunen, who retired from the Navy this year as a captain.
"I was covered in soot, in a Navy uniform and sunburned as heck from having been outside all day. And she looked at me and she just assumed that I'd come out of the building and she started crying and gave me five dollars."


UN forum hears from victims of terrorism

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations convened an unusual forum of 18 victims of terrorist attacks around the world - their often wrenching testimony intended to highlight the human toll that organizers said got lost amid most counterterrorism measures.
Naomi Kerongo, a Kenyan survivor of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi, described the breakdown that landed her in a mental hospital and led to the loss of both her government job and her home.
Her voice cracking, she said, "This forum brought hope to most of us that at last somebody in this world is putting the emphasis on the bomb survivors and not on the terrorists."
The conference on Tuesday, which also included 10 terrorism experts, was not deliberately scheduled near the anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, although the daughter of one victim who was a 9/11 airplane passenger was among the panelists. It coincided with a review of counterterrorism efforts member states agreed on two years ago.
Testimony came from wounded survivors or the relatives of those killed by terrorists. The most famous to testify was Ingrid Betancourt, the Colombian-French politician rescued in July after six years as the hostage of Colombian rebels. She advocated dialogue with terrorists without excusing their crimes.

Robert Orr, the UN assistant secretary general who organized the conference, said the testimony should spur member nations to fight terrorism and help victims. Many victims suggested that the UN organize an international compensation fund. But it remained unclear how that might proceed, given the members' lack of consensus on a definition of terrorism.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has been the fault line along which consensus has foundered. Although that division was not a major focus on Tuesday, a Palestinian mental health counselor from the Gaza Strip and the father of a teenager killed in a Jerusalem suicide attack spoke at the conference.
"It might be that the only thing the UN can do on this issue is give people a platform, but that is not a bad thing," said Eric Rosand, of the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation.

China's big earthquake doubles chances of more
WASHINGTON: China's giant earthquake in May near Chengdu caused so much geologic stress in the Tibetan Plateau that it doubled the chance of more big quakes along three neighbouring faults, scientists reported.
"The magnitude 7.9 quake on 12 May has brought several nearby faults closer to failure and could trigger another major earthquake in the region," the American Geophysical Union said in a statement.
This happens because of a domino-like effect where the movement of one piece of Earth's crust forces another piece to move up, down and away, geophysicists reported.
"One great earthquake seems to make the next one more likely, not less," said Ross Stein of the U.S. Geological Survey. "We tend to think of earthquakes as relieving stress on a fault. That may be true for the one that ruptured, but not for the adjacent faults."
The May quake that killed nearly 70,000 people and made 5 million homeless occurred along the Longmen Shan fault. This rupture in the Earth doubled the probability of future earthquakes along the Xianshuihe, Kunlun, and Min Jiang faults, which lie about 90 miles to 280 miles (150 km to 450 km) from the Longmen Shan fault, the scientists said.
Writing in Tuesday's edition of Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists estimated a 57 percent to 71 percent chance of another earthquake of magnitude 6 or greater in the region in the next decade.
There is an 8 percent to 12 percent chance of a quake of magnitude 7 or higher in the next decade; over the next 30 years, the chance of a magnitude 7 quake in this region rises to 23 percent to 30 percent.
Asia's Tibetan Plateau in central Asia is one of the most seismically active regions in the world. Large aftershocks in the Sichuan area of China on August 1 and August 5 may fit the geophysicists' predictions, said the researchers, led by Shinji Toda of the Geological Survey of Japan.
More information and maps of the area showing geological stress on the three nearby faults are available online at 08/todaetal.html.

Earthquake in Iran kills at least 4, sends tremors over Gulf
TEHRAN, Iran: A strong earthquake rocked southern Iran on Wednesday, sending tremors across the Persian Gulf and shaking the skyscrapers of Dubai. Iranian state television reported that seven people were killed and 40 others were injured.
The country's seismological center said the magnitude-6 quake struck at 3:30 p.m. (1100GMT) and was centered about 850 miles (1,350 kilometers) south of the capital, Tehran, in the region of Bandar Abbas.
Bandar Abbas is one of Iran's main ports and is home to a large oil refinery that primarily serves the domestic market. The city's residents, reached by telephone, said the quake caused panic and prompted many to run to parks.
"When the quake struck, it was like a snake bite," said Hani Shokouhi, a resident of Bandar Abbas. "Then, the chandeliers and drawers were moving from one side to the other in the house."
Shokouhi said many residents remained in the streets, too afraid to return to their homes.
Qeshm island in the Persian Gulf was hit hardest, according to the state TV report, which quoted Yasser Hazbavi, a local disaster management official. Hazbavi said the shaking lasted 30 seconds, but he gave no details on the extent of the damage there.
The quake caused a power outage and minor damage on the island, the report said.
Ten aftershocks were registered, each with a magnitude of 4.7 or less, state TV said, quoting an official at the seismological center whom it identified only by a last name, Rezapour.
Abdolkarim Setareh, a local official in the town of Bandar-e-Khamir, also near the quake's epicenter, said extensive damage was unlikely.
"Houses in this region have been built in recent years and are resistant to earthquakes. Only minor damage has been reported from a dozen villages so far," he told The Associated Press by phone.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimated the quake's strength at magnitude 6.1.
Across the Persian Gulf waters, residents in Dubai and neighboring emirates reported feeling shaking that lasted less than a minute.
The tremors sent office workers rushing out of some of the high-rise towers that dot the skyline in the city-state's commercial center.
All buildings in the Dubai International Financial Center were evacuated, the DIFC said. More than 700 companies are registered at the DIFC, located in the city's commercial district.
Dubai Civil Defense officials said they received several calls from panicked residents, saying their beds were shaking and their furniture was collapsing.
"My bed was hitting against the wall," said Rheanne Anderson, a Canadian teacher living in the nearby emirate of Ras al-Khaimah. "There was definitely some shaking."
There were no reports of damage or casualties in the Emirates.
Iran is located on seismic fault lines and experiences at least one slight earthquake every day on average.
In February 2005, a magnitude-6.4 quake rocked the town of Zarand in southern Iran, killing 612 people and injuring more than 1,400.
A magnitude-6.6 quake flattened the historic city of Bam in the same region in December 2003, killing 26,000 people.

Pentagon admits Afghan strategy not succeeding
WASHINGTON: The U.S. military conceded it was not winning the fight against an increasingly deadly insurgency in Afghanistan and said on Wednesday it would revise its strategy to combat militant safe havens in Pakistan.
U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee success in Afghanistan would require more civilian effort beyond the military fight.
"Frankly, we're running out of time," Mullen said.
"I'm not convinced we are winning it in Afghanistan. I am convinced we can," he said, offering a sober assessment nearly seven years since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Violence in Afghanistan has soared over two years as al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have regrouped in the remote region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
While the Bush administration has said it would send more troops, some critics say the plan is inadequate and any strategy must also focus on Pakistan's side of the border, where U.S. officials say Osama bin Laden is likely hiding.
Mullen said he was "looking at a new, more comprehensive strategy for the region" that would cover both sides of the border, including Pakistan's tribal areas.
"These two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them," Mullen said.
"We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan ... but until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming."
The United States has stepped up attacks against militant targets inside Pakistan this year with a series of missile strikes from unmanned drones and a raid by helicopter-borne U.S. commandos in recent days.
The attacks have sparked an outcry from Pakistani leaders and may have complicated the challenges facing newly elected Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have requested three more combat brigades, or about 10,000 more soldiers, to help cope with insurgent activity. Some 33,000 U.S. troops are already there including 14,000 who are part of a 53,000-strong NATO military command.
The officials said the West should do more to help Afghans with new investments in roads and other infrastructure, education and crop assistance.
"These are the keys to success in Afghanistan," said Mullen. "We cannot kill our way to victory."
He said Afghanistan badly needed a national security force supported by local leaders. Gates supports an Afghan government proposal to double the size of the country's army by creating an active-duty force of 122,000 troops by 2014.
However U.S. reinforcements depend on Washington's ability to reduce forces now deployed in Iraq, where the Bush administration has waged an unpopular war that critics say distracted attention from Afghanistan and al Qaeda.
President George W. Bush said this week he would send only one Army brigade and a Marine battalion by next February.

9 Somalis killed in attack by Islamic fighters
MOGADISHU, Somalia: Heavy fighting between Ethiopian troops and Islamist-led insurgents killed at least nine Somalis in the capital of Mogadishu on Wednesday, witnesses said. The fighting followed vows by the strengthening Islamist movement to intensify attacks over the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
Residents said nearly 100 heavily armed insurgents shouting "God is great" launched an attack on a base for Ethiopian and Somali government troops in the northeastern Mogadishu neighborhood of Huriwaa, prompting fierce gun battles and an exchange of mortar rounds.
Somali officials routinely target the area, accusing residents of supporting insurgents.
Resident Abdiwali Mohamud said he saw four civilians killed in the crossfire during the two-hour battle, which began shortly after midday.
Another resident, Abdinur Sheikh, said he saw two government soldiers and three insurgents lying dead in the middle of the road.
Nine people were also reported wounded.
Kiosk owner Salado Mahad said Ethiopian troops fired into a butcher's shopin Huriwaa Market, wounding five men and two women.
In the northern Yaqshid neighborhood, two mortars slammed into residents' homes. "The first one injured no one, but the second one wounded a mother and her 15 year-old son," said resident Mohamed Abdulle Warsame.
Also on Wednesday, the Islamic militia Al-Shabab posted a statement on an Islamic web site, Almujaahid, claiming responsibility for Tuesday's fatal shooting of Somali Member of Parliament Mohamed Osman Maye in Baidoa, where the Somali parliament sits.
Analysts say the Islamist movement appears to be regaining its strength after Ethiopian troops supporting the shaky transitional government chased them from power in December 2006. The Islamists, who had taken control of the capital and much of the south, launched an Iraq-style insurgency. Earlier this year, they launched a series of hit-and-run raids on dozens of Somali towns. Last month they captured Kismayo, Somalia's third city, the largest they have held since 2007.
Humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders announced Wednesday the bodies of 29 refugees had washed up on Yemen's shores as increasing numbers of people flee the violence in Somalia.
The U.N.-backed Somali government has been riven by infighting and has failed to deliver security or services to its impoverished people.
Somalia has been at war since clan-based militias ousted a socialist dictator in 1991, then fought each other for power. The conflict is complicated by clan loyalties, criminal gangs and the involvement of archenemies Eritrea and Ethiopia, who back opposite sides in the fighting.

Maureen Dowd: My Fair Veep

What kind of budget-cutter makes a show of getting rid of the state plane, then turns around and bills taxpayers for the travel of her husband and kids between Juneau and Wasilla and sticks the state with a per-diem tab to stay in her own home?
Why was Sarah for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against the Bridge to Nowhere, and why was she for earmarks before she was against them? And doesn't all this make her just as big a flip-flopper as John Kerry?
What kind of fiscal conservative raises taxes and increases budgets in both her jobs - as mayor and as governor?
When the phone rings at 3 a.m., will she call the Wasilla Assembly of God congregation and ask them to pray on a response, as she asked them to pray for a natural gas pipeline?
Does she really think Adam, Eve, Satan and the dinosaurs mingled on the earth 5,000 years ago?
Why put out a press release about her teenage daughter's pregnancy and then spend the next few days attacking the press for covering that press release?
As Troopergate unfolds here - an inquiry into whether Palin inappropriately fired the commissioner of public safety for refusing to fire her ex-brother-in-law - it raises this question: Who else is on her enemies list and what might she do with the FBI?
Does she want a federal ban on trans fat in restaurants as well on abortion and Harry Potter? And which books exactly would have landed on the literature bonfire if she had had her way with that Wasilla librarian?
Does she talk in tongues or just eat caribou tongues?
What does she have against polar bears?

Do Palin's credentials compare to Truman's?

NEW YORK: The word among Republicans seems to be that if Sarah Palin becomes our next vice president, she will be in the distinguished company of others who came to that office while young and relatively inexperienced, and yet, in the judgment of history, rose splendidly to the occasion when fate offered them the presidency itself.
In her rousing speech to the Republican convention last week, Palin put herself in the league of Harry Truman in this regard, declaring: "Long ago, a young haberdasher from Missouri, he followed an unlikely path to the vice presidency."
The obvious implication was that, like her, the man who coined the phrase about the buck stopping here was unknown to most of the country when he found himself a heartbeat away from the presidency. President Franklin Roosevelt's heart stopped beating just three months into the term, and Truman suddenly found himself a wartime commander in chief.
The other name mentioned in this regard, although not by Palin, is Theodore Roosevelt, the point being that he, too, served as vice president when, following William McKinley's assassination, he assumed the presidency in 1901, becoming, at 42, the youngest man ever to occupy the office.
And true enough, there are some real similarities between Palin and Roosevelt.
Both were reformist, anti-machine, Republican state governors - of New York in Roosevelt's case - and both had been in the governor's mansion for less than single terms when the calls to the vice presidency came. And, as supporters of Palin have been arguing, if the young TR proved up to the task, Palin could, too.
But is it true that Palin's record as mayor of Wassila, Alaska, and then as governor of the state is comparable to the records of Truman and Roosevelt?
The short answer is no. Indeed, read any biography of either Roosevelt or Truman, and it becomes immediately apparent that both men had more experience, much more public scrutiny, and a lot more exposure to national and global politics than Palin has had.
Before becoming New York's governor, Roosevelt served as police commissioner in New York City, cleaning up a corrupt, patronage-ridden organization. He also formed and commanded a volunteer unit that later came to be called the Rough Riders, and he led the charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. That made him a hero.
But Roosevelt already had been a major figure in the country for 20 years. He was an active and influential member of the Mugwumps, the maverick wing of the Republican Party, and a member of the New York State Assembly, where he authored more legislation than any previous member.
Along the way, he did a stint as a cattle farmer in the Dakotas, discovered his calling as a conservationist (which makes one suspect that he wouldn't agree with today's Republicans about offshore drilling), and wrote several books, including the definitive work on the naval battles of the War of 1812, the four-volume "The Winning of the West," and two political biographies.
In other words, though only 41 when he was nominated to be vice president, Roosevelt was a seasoned politician, a man who had seen war, traveled widely, studied both warfare and history deeply and successfully administered three major organizations - one city, one state and one federal.
As for Truman, he may have been, as Palin said, a humble haberdasher (actually the business went bankrupt in 1921 and Truman spent most of his life after that in public office). And, like her, he may have been a plain-talking exemplar of small-town virtues.
But his route to the vice presidency wasn't so very unusual. What Palin neglected to mention in her speech, for example, is that when he was nominated as Franklin Roosevelt's running mate in the 1944 election, Truman had already been a United States senator for a decade.
Well before that, as a young man, Truman was a captain in a field artillery unit that saw intense combat at Verdun during World War I, an experience that marked him forever.
Truman was a quiet and unspectacular figure in the Senate, until, when World War II broke out, he became a major, widely admired force in Washington. He helped to create what came to be called the Truman Committee, which investigated the staggering waste, inefficiency, profiteering and cronyism in the country's effort to prepare militarily for the war.
When the army tried to conceal some of the committee's findings by claiming a need for secrecy, Truman blasted the maneuver as "the desperate assertions of an embarrassed incompetence."
Truman's work, in the judgment of the historian David McCullough, saved the government an "enormous and unprecedented" sum; equally important, it put a fear of public exposure into the minds of "countless people in industry, government and the military," and in that way, too, "saved thousands of lives."
It was his pivotal role on the Truman Committee, and not his experience as a haberdasher, that led to Truman's selection as Roosevelt's running mate. Before anybody thought of him for the vice presidency, he had been on the cover of Time magazine. In a poll taken by Look magazine, he was named one of the 10 men in Washington most important to the war effort - the only figure in Congress to be so recognized.
True, he was an unassuming man and, compared with the patrician, larger-than-life Roosevelt, he didn't seem all that presidential. But Democratic power brokers and Roosevelt's inner circle knew when they pressed Truman to accept the vice-presidential nomination that the president was very sick and would probably die in office.
Would they, with the nation then at war, have chosen the equivalent of Sarah Palin?
Palin's supporters seem to think she is already a kind of Truman in the making. Given that the country is again at war, and given that Senator John McCain, if he wins the election, will be the oldest person ever inaugurated for a first term as president, we better hope that she is.

Fresh intrigue surrounds a Cold War murder
SOFIA: It was one of the legends of the Cold War: a Bulgarian dissident writer, Georgi Markov, dying in a London hospital of a mysterious fever after being injected with a poison pellet from a specially adapted umbrella as he walked to work across Waterloo Bridge.
A prominent novelist in his native land when he defected to the West in 1969, Markov had become a journalist at the BBC's Bulgarian service and an unflinching critic of communist rule and Bulgaria's longtime leader Todor Zhivkov.
His death received lurid coverage in the West, offered up as further proof of the nefarious acts of Soviet bloc secret services. Markov had told a colleague four days before he died that he felt a sharp pain in his leg as he walked to work, then turned around to see a stranger picking up an umbrella from the sidewalk.
Now, exactly 30 years later, fresh mystery swirls around the death, Markov's suspected assassin (a Dane of Italian origin) and the prospect of ever bringing clarity and closure to the alleged crimes of communism.
A Bulgarian journalist, Hristo Hristov, is releasing a book - "The Double Life of Agent Piccadilly" - that he says demonstrates how the communist regime eliminated one of its most eloquent opponents.
Based on the first outside look at previously classified state security documents, Hristov concludes that Markov was killed by one Francesco Gullino, a sometime smuggler arrested twice in Bulgaria and given the choice of jail or becoming an agent.
Based in Copenhagen with cover as an art dealer, Gullino was active until 1990 and received two Bulgarian state medals "for services to security and public order," Hristov says. In 1993, Gullino was briefly detained and questioned by the British and Danish police in Copenhagen, and has not been seen or heard of since.
Case sort of closed, the reader might think. But now the chief Bulgarian investigator, Andrei Tsvetanov, says that the authorities here will, surprisingly, keep the files open after the Bulgarian statute of limitations expires on the 30th anniversary of Markov's death Thursday.
"We need more time to find the perpetrator and organizer," Tsvetanov, chief investigator since 1999, said in an interview.
In addition, he said, the Bulgarian authorities have officially broadened the inquiry to include a suspected assassination attempt on Vladimir Kostov, a Bulgarian defector in Paris who suffered a poison pellet attack two weeks before Markov - and survived.
The murder investigation by Scotland Yard also remains active, with British police officers traveling abroad to make several known inquiries this year.
That 30 years of British investigation and 18 years of Bulgarian inquiry following Zhivkov's removal in November 1989 have failed to yield answers stirs deep skepticism in Bulgaria. The judicial system is often criticized as corrupt and ineffective, particularly by the standards of the European Union, of which the country is now a member.
"I have absolutely no faith in these people," says Lyuben Markov, a first cousin of Georgi, referring to the investigators and the decision to keep the case alive.
"I don't think they are doing it out of any desire to find the truth, but rather to buy time and drag out the investigation until there is no public interest left," he said.
Tsvetanov has long espoused the theory that Georgi Markov may have died because of a medical misdiagnosis. He and other officials say that the poison pellet found in his body may have been too small to hold a lethal dose of ricin.
Such interpretations are "politicized" and "absurd," according to Bogdan Karayotov, who headed the first Bulgarian investigation begun in 1990.
Critics in Bulgaria and abroad note that the country still has many people interested in a cleaner image of the communist past.
Hristov's new book is based on 97 volumes of documents from the foreign intelligence division of the Bulgarian State Security Service. A journalist at the Bulgarian newspaper Dnevnik, Hristov got access only after a six-year court battle.
"Is it normal to keep the Communist-era archives closed for so many years in a country in NATO and the EU?" asked Hristov. "This situation is totally absurd."
Among the myths his book tries to dispel is that of the "Bulgarian umbrella" itself. Hristov says the umbrella Markov saw was not a weapon, but simply a diversion to distract the writer.
Hristov quotes from a 1972 document showing that the Soviet KGB had given Bulgaria a high-tech injection device shaped like a pen and capable of delivering a tiny metal pellet through clothing and skin into the bloodstream. A forensic doctor who examined Markov told Hristov that the pellet was so small it left no visible mark on Markov's pant leg after he was injected.
Britons curtail spending amid economic turndown
LONDON: Short on cash, Britons are cutting back on kitchen appliances, fashion and sportswear and appear to be seeking solace in chocolate, according to sales figures released Wednesday by four of the biggest British retailers.

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