Brown makes surprise Baghdad
Published: 11 June
Chancellor Gordon Brown flew into Baghdad
today for a surprise visit to the Iraqi capital.
The prime minister-in-waiting was having talks with premier
Nouri Maliki as well as meeting some of the British troops based in Baghdad.
Mr Brown was there to "look and learn" before
taking over at No 10 later this month, said his aides.
Strict security surrounded the Chancellor’s arrival and
reporters travelling with him were banned from disclosing details of his visit
During Prime Minister Tony Blair’s visit to Baghdad
and Basra last month, both
locations came under mortar attacks – with shells landing in Basra
60 to 100 yards from where Mr Blair was meeting UK
Mr Brown told reporters travelling with him: "This is
very much an assessment more than anything else, a fact-finding trip."
But when he meets some of the British troops based in the
Iraqi capital he is expected to confirm a 3.6% increase in the operational
allowance for troops deployed for six months in Iraq
taking that figure from £2,240 to £2,320 – a rise of £80.
Mr Brown said that in his talks with Mr Maliki he would want
to discuss the prospects for political reconciliation in the country and for
The Chancellor told reporters: "Only 25% of the money
allocated is actually being spent because of delays at the centre and at
"They are not short here of money to be allocated to
infrastructure, the problem is the actual spending of it."
He said he would want to hear suggestions about how to move
that process forward and would be making some of his own.
Mr Brown added: "On political reconciliation I want to
know how they are going to move forward, and on the economy I want to know that
things can move forward, and if I don’t have suggestions from them I will put
suggestions to them."
Mr Brown was also having talks in the Iraqi capital with the
senior British officer, Lt General Graham Lamb, American Ambassador Ryan
Crocker and the American Commander of the multi-national force, General David
The Chancellor was accompanied on his visit to Iraq
by Defence Secretary Des Browne, who was also with the Prime
Minister-in-waiting on his recent visit to Afghanistan.
Nine killed and 5,000 evacuated as storms flood eastern Australia
Published: 11 June
Officials urged thousands of Australians to flee their homes
as rising floodwaters from three days of wild weather threatened to wash away
Nine people have been killed since the storms began Friday
near the port city of Newcastle,
around 140 kilometers (90 miles) north of Sydney.
The unusually strong winds and sea swell were also blamed
for pushing a massive coal freighter onto a nearby sand bank, prompting fears
of a major oil and fuel spill.
New South Wales
state police yesterday recovered the body of a 45-year-old man who was swept
into a storm water drain after getting out of his flooded car on Friday night.
At the peak of Friday’s
wild weather, five members of the same family were swept to their deaths when a
section of highway collapsed under their car, plunging them into a swollen
Around 5,000 people in the towns of Maitland and Singleton
were ordered to leave their homes late Sunday, as the state’s emergency
coordinator warned the nearby Hunter River could rise more than 11 meters
(36.09 feet) above its normal height, breaching levees and flooding
Emergency shelters run by charity groups began filling up
late Sunday, as an 8:00 p.m.
(1000GMT) evacuation deadline came and went.
Hundreds of residents, including many elderly people, waited
in the evacuation centers, wrapped in blankets and watching television. Others
were lying on mattresses on the floor.
Earlier, Prime Minister John Howard offered financial
support to the storm-battered region, and expressed his sympathies to those
affected by the storms.
"I know I speak for every Australian in saying that the
country is thinking of you and we’re heart broken by the loss of lives,"
he said. "It is an immense disaster."
The storms have also created havoc for utilities. More than
100,000 homes from northern Sydney
to the Hunter Valley,
near Newcastle, were without power
Officials warned it could be days before the electricity is
"Never before has our electricity network sustained
such severe damage across such a widespread area," said Geoff Lilliss, an
executive with power supplier, Energy Australia.
"The extreme weather over the last few days has taken a heavy toll."
Robert Fisk: Lies and outrages… would you believe it?
It was Israel
which attacked Egypt
after Nasser closed the straits of Tiran
Published: 09 June
When I was a schoolboy, I loved a column which regularly
appeared in British papers called "Ripley’s Believe It or Not!". In a
single rectangular box filled with naively drawn illustrations, Ripley – Bob
Ripley – would try to astonish his readers with amazing facts:
"Believe It or Not, in California,
an entire museum is dedicated to candy dispensers … Believe It or Not, a County
Kerry man possesses an orange that
is 25 years old … Believe It or Not, a weather researcher had his ashes
scattered on the eve of Hurricane Danielle 400 miles off the coast of Miama,
Florida." Etc, etc, etc.
Incredibly, Ripley’s column lives on, and there is even a
collection of "Ripley Believe It or Not" museums in the United
The problem, of course, is that these are all extraordinary
facts which will not offend anyone. There are no suicide bombers in Ripley, no
Israeli air strikes ("Believe It or Not, 17,000 Lebanese and Palestinians,
most of them civilians, were killed in Israel’s 1982 invasion of
Lebanon"), no major casualty tolls ("Believe It or Not, up to 650,000
Iraqis died in the four years following the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of
Iraq"). See what I mean? Just a bit too close to the bone (or bones).
But I was reminded of dear old Ripley when I was prowling
through the articles marking the anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Memoirs there have been aplenty, but I think only the French press – in the
shape of Le Monde Diplomatique – was prepared to confront a bit of
"Believe It or Not".
It recalled vividly – and shamefully – how the world’s
newspapers covered the story of Egypt’s
"aggression" against Israel.
In reality – Believe It or Not – it was Israel
which attacked Egypt
after Nasser closed the straits of Tiran
and ordered UN troops out of Sinai and Gaza
following his vituperative threats to destroy Israel.
"The Egyptians attack Israel,"
France-Soir told its readers on 5 June
1967, a whopper so big that it later amended its headline to
"It’s Middle East War!".
Quite so. Next day, the socialist Le Populaire headlined its
story "Attacked on all sides, Israel
resists victoriously". On the same day, Le Figaro carried an article
announcing that "the victory of the army of David is one of the greatest
of all time". Believe It or Not, the Second World War – which might be
counted one of the greatest of all time, had ended only 22 years earlier.
Johnny Hallyday, France’s
undie-able pop star, sang for 50,000 French supporters of Israel
– for whom solidarity was expressed in the French press by Serge Gainsbourg,
Juliette Gréco, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and
François Mitterand. Believe It or Not – and you can believe it – Mitterand once
received the coveted Francisque medal from Pétain’s Vichy
Only the president of France, General de Gaulle, moved into
political isolation by telling a press conference several months later that Israel
"is organising, on the territories which it has taken, an occupation which
cannot work without oppression, repression and expulsions – and if there
appears resistance to this, it will in turn be called ‘terrorism’". This
accurate prophecy earned reproof from the Nouvel Observateur – to the effect
that "Gaullist France has no friends; it has only interests". And
Believe It or Not, with the exception of one small Christian paper, there was
in the entire French press one missing word: Palestinians.
I owe it to the academic Anicet Mobé Fansiama to remind me
this week that – Believe It or Not – Congolese troops from Belgium’s immensely
wealthy African colony scored enormous victories over Italian troops in Africa
during the Second World War, capturing 15,000 prisoners, including nine
generals. Called "the Public Force" – a name which happily excluded
the fact that these heroes were black Congolese – the army mobilised 13,000
soldiers and civilians to fight Vichy French colonies in Africa
and deployed in the Middle East – where they were
positioned to defend Palestine – as
well as in Somalia,
Vast numbers of British and American troops passed through
the Congo as
its wealth was transferred to the war chests of the United
States and Britain.
base was built at Kinshasa to move
oil to Allied troops fighting in the Middle East.
But – Believe It or Not – when Congolese trade unions, whose
members were requisitioned to perform hard labour inside Belgium’s
colony by carrying agricultural and industrial goods and military equipment,
often on their backs, demanded higher salaries, the Belgian authorities
confronted their demonstrations with rifle fire, shooting down 50 of their men.
At least 3,000 political prisoners were deported for hard
labour to a remote district of Congo. Thus were those who gave their blood for
Allied victory repaid. Or rather not repaid. The four billion Belgian francs
which was owed back to the Congo
– about £500m in today’s money – was never handed over. Believe It or Not.
So let’s relax and return to Ripley reality. "Believe
It or Not, Russell Parsons of Hurricane, West Virginia,
has his funeral and cremation instructions tattooed on his arm! … Believe It
or Not, in April 2007 (yes, these are new Ripleys) a group of animal lovers
paid nearly $3,400 to buy 300 lobsters from a Maine fish market – then set them
free back into the ocean! … Believe It or Not, in a hospital waiting room, 70
per cent of people suffer from broken bones, 75 per cent are fatigued, 80 per
cent have fevers. What percentage of people must have all four ailments?"
Believe It or Not, I don’t know. And oh yes, "Geta, Emperor of Rome
AD189-212, insisted upon alternative meals. A typical menu: partridge (perdix),
peacock (pavo), leek (porrum), beans (phaseoli), peach (persica), plum (pruna)
and melon (pepone)."
I guess after that, you just have to throw up.
The 5-Minute Interview: Norah Jones, Singer/actress
‘I’m good at reading people and finding out their
Published: 11 June
Norah Jones, 28, has sold 35 million records in five years.
She has released a new album ‘Not Too Late’ this year and made her cinema debut
with the leading role in Wong Kar Wai’s road movie, ‘My Blueberry Nights’. She
is touring the US,
with UK dates
planned for August.
If I weren’t talking to you right now, I’d be …
Swimming in the ocean off Brazil,
with my friends and boyfriend. We did shows in Brazil
and I remember how beautiful the beaches were.
A phrase I use far too often is …
"Oh my god!" Way too often, in an excited way, and
in a "What have I done?" way.
The most surprising thing that happened to me is …
Probably the success of my music. I didn’t expect so many
people to tune in. I hoped to play in clubs in New York
and to make a living playing music, but I certainly didn’t have expectations
A common misperception of me is …
That I’m tall, but actually I’m really short, 5ft 1in. It
happens a lot after shows. The audience is always looking up at the stage, so
everybody up there looks tall.
I’m not a politician, but …
It would be great if everyone was honest. It would be great
if all politicians weren’t able to skirt around things, or tell lies.
I’m good at …
Reading people. I get a good impression of what people’s
I’m very bad at …
Hiding my own intentions, or faking something. It can be an
endearing feature, but it can also be really annoying.
The ideal night out is …
Ice skating. But it’s summer, so maybe I’d go roller-skating
In moments of weakness, I …
Tend to think too much about it and make it harder on
myself. Then I realise I’m doing that and I relax a little.
The heat is on
The British are famous for making small talk and big news
out of the weather, says David Adam, but with global warming afoot, our
obsession is justified
Monday May 21, 2007
From The Times
May 2, 2007
Corruption, prostitution and Viagra: Germany’s
industrial giants have been rocked by a series of sordid scandals
Last month Heinrich von Pierer, chairman of the supervisory
board of the German electronics giant Siemens, stepped down amid the biggest
corruption scandal in the company’s history. At 66, von Pierer, an
internationally respected business figure and adviser to Helmut Kohl and Gerhard
Schröder, had put in 40 years at the company. But although profits were up,
Siemens had been racked by bribery scandals and von Pierer fell on his sword,
denying responsibility for anything that had gone on lower down the pecking
The holy fool of music
Stravinsky’s finest music, writes John Tavener, brings us to
universal truths, and from illusion to reality. He explains the debt he owes to
the great Russian composer
Friday January 19,
Since the age of 12, when I heard the world premiere of the
Canticum Sacrum, I have loved the music of Stravinsky. After hearing the Canticum
I went to every concert conducted by him in London.
I vividly remember that on one occasion I was introduced to Stravinsky by
Rufina Ampenoft of Boosey & Hawkes, for she had previously given him a
score of one of my first pieces, The Donne Sonnets. As I peered down at his
tiny but muscular form, he inscribed the score with two mysterious words:
"I know." I never found out what he meant by this, but intuitively I
felt that it was in some way tongue-in-cheek, and therefore linked to the
spiritual world of the holy fool, common to all traditions.
Out of sight
It has to be one of the toughest jobs in film: selling
Arabic films in America.
Dan Glaister reports on what the US
doesn’t want to see
Friday April 7, 2006
A funny thing happened to John Sinno on his way into the US
last month. Sinno was born in the Lebanon
but has run a film distribution company in the US
for the past 13 years, specialising in Arab films. He was returning from a
conference in Vancouver and, in the
boot of his car, as he drove back to Seattle
from Canada, he
had a box of DVDs. Not unusual for a film distributor. Some were his company’s
films, some were films given to him by film-makers and other distributors he
had met in Vancouver. The US
immigration official didn’t like what he saw, and pulled Sinno over.