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Clinton says no intention of dropping out

Defying mounting pressure from some party leaders to bow out, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton told The Washington Post she will stick it out through the remaining primaries and the contested Florida and Michigan results are resolved.

New York Senator and democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton smiles as she is introduced during a campaign stop in Hammond, Indiana March 28, 2008. (REUTERS/Frank Polich)

"I know there are some people who want to shut this down, and I think they are wrong," Clinton said in an interview in Sunday's editions.

"I have no intention of stopping until we finish what we started, and until we see what happens in the next 10 contests, and until we resolve Florida and Michigan. And if we don't resolve it, we'll resolve it at the convention."

Democrats in Florida and Michigan broke party rules and held primaries in January but the results were invalidated. Clinton won both primaries, but her rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, was not on the ballot in Michigan.

Clinton trails Obama in the race for 2,024 Democratic nominating delegates. But she says she can still beat the Illinois senator and that all Democrats should get a chance to vote. She has tried and failed to schedule a revote or have the votes in Florida and Michigan count.

"We cannot got forward until Florida and Michigan are taken care of, otherwise the eventual nominee will not have the legitimacy that I think will haunt us," the New York senator and former first lady told the Post.

Some Democratic leaders want the Clinton-Obama battle resolved as soon as possible so the party's presidential nominee can focus on defeating the presumptive Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, in the November general election.

Campaigning Pennsylvania on Saturday, Obama said Clinton can stay in the race as long as she wants. He also expressed confidence that Democrats will coalesce around the winner, despite the often bitter contest.

"My attitude is that Senator Clinton can run as long as she wants. Her name is on the ballot and she is a fierce and formidable competitor," said Obama, adding that the notion that Democrats have been split by the prolonged nominating contest "is somewhat overstated."


Holding out an olive branch to her supporters, Obama said Clinton "obviously believes that she would make the best nominee and the best president, and I think that she should be able to compete and her supporters should be able to support her for as long as they are willing or able."

Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, was on a six-day bus tour through Pennsylvania where Clinton is running well ahead in polls in advance of that state's April 22 primary.

At rallies in Indiana and Kentucky, crowds objected loudly when Clinton mentioned calls for the Democratic primary contest to conclude.

Obama said the Democratic Party will need to move quickly and decisively to pick its nominee in early June when the state-by-state nominating contests are winding down, and turn its attention to taking on McCain.

"I think it is important to pivot as quickly as possible for the super-delegates or others to make a decision as quickly as possible," to give the nominee time to choose a running mate and plan for the party's convention in August, Obama said.

Super-delegates are elected officeholders and other party leaders who also weigh in on the nominating contest. Obama and Clinton are avidly courting them to try to lock down the nomination.

Obama also downplayed fears that the contest will continue to divide Democrats in the election against McCain.

"You can't tell me that some of my supporters are going to say 'Well, we'd rather have the guy who may want to stay in Iraq for 100 years because we are mad that Senator Clinton ran a negative ad about Senator Obama. And I think the converse is true as well," he said.

Obama and Clinton support pulling U.S. combat troops out of Iraq. McCain has argued they could be needed there for years.

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Clinton says China holdings threaten U.S. security

The Bush administration has jeopardized national security and the ability to intervene in world crises because of the huge U.S. debt held partly by China, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said on Saturday.

US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) speaks during a campaign event at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, March 24, 2008. (REUTERS/Tim Shaffer)

The New York senator, who argues she is better prepared to deal with economic and foreign policy problems than rival Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, told a rally in Indiana that the United States' $9 trillion in gross national debt puts it at the mercy of other nations.

She said President George W. Bush's policies contributed to rising U.S. debt and also have hamstrung Washington's ability to lead.

"That is what George Bush's policies mean in real world terms -- that we have put our nation's security and our leadership of the world at risk because of this indebtedness," Clinton said.

Clinton made China the focus of her criticism, which she has repeated throughout Indiana, a state that has suffered from manufacturing job losses that many blame on unfair trade practices and companies outsourcing jobs to China.

Clinton hopes to win Indiana's Democratic nominating contest on May 6 in a bid to close the gap with Obama who leads in amassing delegates who determine the party's nominee.

In her campaign remarks, she lamented China's hold over the U.S. economy.

"We are so dependent upon decisions made in other countries' capitals," Clinton said, singling out China's potential power over U.S. foreign policy decisions because of its financial leverage.

Clinton cited a discussion she had with a retired general who raised a "nightmare scenario" in which China threatened Taiwan and the U.S. president wanted to send ships toward the island to ward off Beijing.

"He said, 'You know, suppose the Chinese decide that they're going to go after Taiwan the way we see them, you know, with Tibet,'" Clinton said, describing the general's remarks and referring to the recent unrest in Tibet.

"'We start to move the fleet, and the Chinese say, 'Fine. You do that, we will dump your dollars. We will flood the market. We will not buy any more of your debt.'"

China currently holds about $490 billion in U.S. Treasury securities and has foreign exchanges reserves totaling more than $1.5 trillion dollars.

Clinton accused Beijing of manipulating its currency and of not holding its exporters to the same health and environmental standards that U.S. companies must meet.

The U.S. trade deficit with China soared last year to a record $252 billion even as the U.S. trade gap with the rest of the world decreased.

Many U.S. lawmakers complain that China deliberately undervalues its currency to boost exports and limit imports and have pressed Bush to be more aggressive in addressing the issue.

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Judge wraps up Diana inquest after 250 witnesses

After almost six months and more than 250 witnesses, the judge presiding over the inquest into Princess Diana's death wraps up the case on Monday with his summary to the jury.

Pictures of Dodi Al Fayed and Princess Diana are displayed in the window of Harrods in London, August 31, 2007. (REUTERS/Chris Radburn/Pool)

Few areas of the private life of the "People's Princess" were spared before Lord Justice Scott Baker and a string of sensational allegations were explored in court.

Did security services kill Diana on the orders of Britain's Royal Family? Was she pregnant? Did the 36-year-old plan to get engaged? Was her phone bugged?

To some the inquest was an unnecessary 10 million-pound ($20 million) soap opera. To others it was a chance to bring closure in a tragedy of lives unfulfilled.

Friends, family, faith healers, spies, bodyguards, police chiefs and butlers -- everyone had an opinion on Diana.

The jury was flown to Paris to see the crash scene in a road tunnel and the hospital where she died in August 1997.

Mohamed al-Fayed, whose son Dodi died alongside Diana in a high-speed car crash after a brief summer romance, pointed the finger of blame at the royals.

On a day of high drama in London's High Court, the owner of the luxury London store Harrods accused Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth's husband and Diana's former father-in-law, of being a "Nazi" and a "racist".

His voice cracking with emotion, he said Diana, divorced from heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, had "suffered for 20 years from this Dracula family".

"It was slaughter, not murder," said al-Fayed who believed Diana and Dodi had been planning to announce their engagement.

Diana's confidante Annabel Goldsmith was convinced the affair was a summer fling. Just days before she died, Diana told Goldsmith she needed marriage "like a rash on the face".

"Affairs of the heart are impossible to fathom," said Diana's stepmother Raine Spencer, resplendent in black hat and veil, talking like a character from the pages of a romantic novel by her own mother, author Barbara Cartland.

Paul Burrell, Diana's former butler, told the inquest her mother had called her a whore for dating Muslim men.

Al-Fayed fought a long legal battle to have the inquest heard by a judge and jury. Under British law, an inquest is needed to determine the cause of death when someone dies unnaturally.

It was delayed for a decade because Britain had to wait for the French legal process and then a British police investigation to run their course before the inquest could begin.

Both police probes concluded it was a tragic accident because chauffeur Henri Paul was drunk and driving too fast.

The jury, expected to retire on Wednesday to consider their verdict, will have to decide if it was an accident or if there is any evidence of a plot.

The judge will at first be seeking a unanimous decision and, failing that, will settle for a majority verdict, court officials said.

For full coverage of the inquest visit

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Berlin Zoo chief threatened over kitten killings

German police are investigating an anonymous threat against Berlin Zoo's director after he confessed he once killed four kittens by breaking their necks.

Zoo Director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz said he had killed the wild kittens in 1991, saying they posed a threat to the zoo's animals as they can carry disease.

"I can tell you that the zoo reported a threat and we are investigating," a Berlin police spokesman said. He declined to give more details.

Blaszkiewitz defended his decision to kill the kittens in a newspaper interview published on Saturday.

"I still think it was the right thing to do," he told daily Die Welt. "Wild house cats are a big danger for people and animals and therefore they cannot be tolerated in (the zoo)."

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Inquest jury near deliberations on death of Princess Diana and her lover

Flashing lights, swarming paparazzi, a mysterious Fiat Uno, a swiftly aborted proposal to assassinate a Balkan leader - what will jurors make of it all in reaching a judgment on the deaths of Princess Diana and her lover Dodi Fayed?

Testimony has ranged far and wide in an extraordinary coroner's inquest, without shedding much light on claims that they were victims of a plot directed by Prince Philip. The coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, is expected to begin his summation Monday, which may take several days before it goes to the jury.

The key question for the jurors is whether the car crash in a Paris road tunnel on Aug. 31, 1997, was an accident or something more sinister.

Mohamed Al Fayed has not budged from his belief that his son and the princess died at the hands of British security agents, acting at the prince's behest.

French police concluded that the couple died in an accident, caused in part by excessive speed and by the high blood-alcohol level of the driver, Henri Paul. A British police investigation reached the same conclusion.

More than 240 witnesses have given evidence since the inquest began on Oct. 2. Al Fayed's late bid to force the coroner to summon Prince Philip to testify, and for written questions to be put to Queen Elizabeth II, was summarily rejected by a higher court.

The inquest was in part an exploration of how the couple's speeding Mercedes came to slam into a concrete pillar, after apparently having a glancing collision with a white Fiat Uno; and in part an examination of Al Fayed's belief that he knew who drove the Uno, who employed him and why.

Diana's close friends, Prince Philip's private secretary, a former head of the Secret Intelligence Service and Diana's former butler, Paul Burrell, are among those who have been in the witness box.

There has been evidence that Diana feared dying in a car crash, but also had speculated about death in a helicopter or airplane crash; there was testimony that she feared Prince Philip, her former father-in-law.

The basic scene is familiar: the couple's car crashed as they were pursued from the Ritz Hotel by a pack of paparazzi photographers.

Some witnesses near the Alma tunnel said they saw flashes of light in the instant before the crash, other witnesses didn't notice any. Al Fayed's claim is that flashing lights disoriented the driver and sent the couple's car skidding into a crash.

But there was precious little evidence to back up Al Fayed's claims that his son and Diana were engaged, that she was pregnant and that Philip was at the head of a murder plot.

As the inquest progressed, some distance opened between Fayed and the lawyers working for him.

Michael Mansfield, Al Fayed's main advocate, steered away from accusing Philip or of claiming that MI6 assassinated the couple. He did suggest that rogue agents might have been involved.

"Mr. Al Fayed ... has certain beliefs which he has made clear. He is plainly not a member of MI6 or, certainly, the establishment either,'' Mansfield told the coroner on Feb. 20.

"He has certain beliefs and I have never at any stage withdrawn any of his beliefs but you will see I have focused very carefully on elements of what he is suggesting that may be true; in other words, for which there is, forensically, evidence to support his beliefs.''

Mansfield has suggested that Diana's campaign against land mines was the motive for the conspiracy, and that elements of the government and the arms industry were frightened that Diana was assembling a dossier about land mines; a dossier, he said, that was "capable of exposing historically British involvement in Angola because of who manufactured the weaponry, how it was got in there.''

Al Fayed believes the "establishment'' simply didn't want Diana to marry his son. When he testified on Feb. 18, Al Fayed affirmed his belief that the conspirators included Prince Philip; Prince Charles; former Prime Minister Tony Blair; Diana's sister, Sarah McCorquodale; her brother-in-law Robert Fellowes; two former chiefs of London police; driver Henri Paul; the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency; Diana's attorney, the late Lord Mishcon; two French toxicologists; Britain's ambassador to France; members of the French medical service; and three bodyguards he once employed.

Al Fayed has claimed that Diana's brother-in-law, Fellowes, was in Paris on the night of the crash sending messages to agents back in Britain. But none of Al Fayed's lawyers put that allegation to Fellowes when he testified.

Al Fayed was the only witness to claim that he knew that Diana was engaged to marry Dodi Fayed. He was told of the engagement, Al Fayed said, in a telephone call hours before the crash.

Likewise, Al Fayed was the only witness to definitely assert that Diana was pregnant.

The pathologist who examined her body said he saw no evidence, her former lover Hasnat Khan said Diana was conscientious about taking her birth control pills, and staff aboard Al Fayed's yacht, Jonikal, said they found opened contraceptive packages in her cabin.

Former MI6 agent Richard Tomlinson, who disclosed that a colleague had once proposed assassinating a Serb leader, has also claimed that flashing lights were part of the plan. When he testified, however, Tomlinson acknowledged that he was wrong in claiming the proposal was aimed at former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, and probably wrong about the lights too.

Richard Dearlove, a former head of MI6, testified that the assassination proposal was swiftly dismissed.

Al Fayed said he had been thwarted in attempts to prove his theory. "How can you want me to get the proof?'' Al Fayed said. "I am facing a steel wall of the security service, Official Secrets Act.''

The coroner asked Al Fayed if he could possibly be wrong.

"No way, 100 percent,'' Al Fayed said. "I am certain. I am the father who lost his son. And I know exactly the situations. I know exactly the facts.''

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Olympic Beijing faces big challenge kicking a smoking habit

Cui Dalin, China's deputy sports minister, told legislators that the Beijing Olympics would inspire to Chinese to live healthier lives.

Then he stepped out into a nonsmoking hallway - and lit a cigarette.

The recent incident illustrates the uphill battle China faces as it prepares to take what health advocates hope will be a big step against smoking in what is the world's biggest tobacco market. A ban on smoking in most Beijing public places, similar to efforts in major North American, European and Asian cities, is expected to take effect in May, aimed at meeting China's pledge of a smoke-free Olympics.

China is home to 350 million smokers - a third of the global total. More than 150 Chinese cities already have limited restrictions, but the capital would be the first to ban smoking in all restaurants, offices and schools, said health expert Cui Xiaobo, who helped draft the regulations.

The restaurant ban may be limited at first.

"There's no way it will work!'' said Jin Xianchun, a co-owner of Little Jin's Seafood Restaurant, where diners were smoking up a storm as they chose live fish and shrimp from tanks. "Of course it will affect my business. ... We will try our best to enforce, it but really... .'' She shook her head.

Cigarettes are woven into Chinese daily life. They're an icebreaker, a way of greeting a friend, and a means of bribery.

A night out typically means a good meal and cigarettes paired with baijiu, a clear sorghum liquor with a vicious kick.

Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the late communist founding fathers, were heavy smokers, and their favorite brands are as well known as they are: Panda for Deng and Zhonghua (China) for Mao.

Almost 2 trillion cigarettes are sold every year, at prices as low as 1.50 yuan ($0.20; euro0.13) for a pack of 20, complete with a discreet warning on the side of the box that says "Smoking is harmful to your health.'' The government estimates 1 million Chinese die smoking-related deaths annually - projected to double by 2020.

Beijing has had some smoking restrictions since 1995, when the municipal government prohibited lighting up in large public venues such as schools, sports arenas and movie theaters.

The new rules, which were announced in state media Saturday, expand the scope to include restaurants, bars, hotels, offices, vacation resorts and all indoor areas of medical facilities, according to a draft released earlier this year.

"The whole world will be watching Beijing, because its success means a big step toward the success of the whole world, given the large smoking population of China,'' said Cui, an associate professor at the Capital University of Medical Sciences in Beijing.

Organizers of the Aug. 8-24 Olympics have said they want smoking bans in all hotels serving athletes and all competition venues and restaurants in the Olympic Village by June.

Last October, Beijing banned smoking in the city's 66,000 taxis, threatening drivers with a 200 yuan (US$28; euro17.75) fine if they are caught.

After a branch of the Meizhou Dongpo restaurant chain went smoke-free, revenues dropped by 5 to 8 percent in the first two months, but picked up as word got out to nonsmokers, said deputy manager Guo Xiaodong.

"Smoke-free restaurant: A mountain forest in the city,'' say posters in the restaurant. A man with a pack of cigarettes by his plate grumpily relents when his friend reminds him he can't light up.

"Some customers didn't understand why there was a ban in a restaurant, a public place.

They think cigarettes and liquor can't be separated,'' Guo said.

In 2005 China ratified World Health Organization rules that urge it, within three years, to restrict tobacco advertising and sponsorship, put tougher health warnings on cigarettes, raise tobacco prices and taxes, curb secondhand smoke, prohibit cigarette sales to minors and clamp down on smuggling.

"The problem is that there are commercial interests that make it hard,'' said Sarah England, who heads the tobacco control department of the WHO's Beijing office. She means the state-run tobacco industry, which made 388 billion yuan (US$53.6 billion; euro34 billion) last year, up 25 percent from a year earlier.

Meng Qiliang, a vice governor in the tobacco-rich southern province of Guizhou, is willing to try kicking his pack-a-day habit.

"I've been smoking since I was 26. It's hard to give up,'' said Meng, 50, taking a deep drag from the metallic blue filter of his cigarette.

But if push comes to shove? "I'll just eat some chocolate instead.''

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World governments start talks on climate change agreement

Governments from nearly 200 countries will launch discussions Monday on forging a global warming agreement, a process that is expected to be fraught with disagreements over how much to reduce greenhouse gases and which nations should adhere to binding targets.

The weeklong, United Nations climate meeting in Bangkok comes on the heels of a historic agreement reached in December to draft a new accord on global warming by 2009.

Without a pact to rein in rising greenhouse gases in the next two decades, scientist say warming weather will lead to widespread drought, floods, higher sea levels and worsening storms that could put billions of people at risk.

"The challenge is to design a future agreement that will significantly step up action on adaptation, successfully halt the increase in global emissions within the next 10 to 15 years, dramatically cut back emissions by 2050, and do so in a way that is economically viable and politically equitable worldwide,'' said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is hosting the meeting.

All governments, including the United States, agree emissions need to be reduced to avert an environmental catastrophe. But the major polluters remain far apart over how best to achieve these goals.

Adding to the complexity of negotiations will be disputes over how best to help poor countries adapt to environmental changes by speeding up the transfer of technology and financial assistance from rich nations.

The European Union has proposed that industrialized countries slash emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The U.S., which is one of the world's top polluters, has repeatedly rejected mandatory national reduction targets of the kind agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol a decade ago.

Japan, which is struggling to meet its emissions-cut obligations under the Kyoto pact, is looking for less stringent conditions this time around. It has talked of using 2005 rather than 1990 as the baseline for reductions and is campaigning for industry-based emission caps.

Under its plan, global industries such as steel or cement would set international guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions.

Proponents, including the United States, say that would help set a level playing field for competitive industries.

Critics, however, worry sectoral caps could be used to favor industries in richer countries with access to more advanced technology, while those in less developed nations would suffer.

Another contentious issue will be which countries will be required to make cuts under the new pact and how best to determine the level of reductions.

While the EU says the West has to take the lead in reducing emissions, the United States argued it should not have to make cuts that would hurt the U.S. economy unless China and India agreed to the same.

"We're willing to take on international binding targets as long as other major economies -- both developed and developing -- do so,'' U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson told The Associated Press.

"The primary concern is the so-called leakage issue,'' Watson said. "If you take commitments and you have energy intensive industries, they might want to move to other countries which don't have commitments.''

China has argued that developed countries should be required to take the lead in reducing pollution because their unrestrained emissions over the past century contributed significantly to global warming.

De Boer has said that requiring China and other developing countries like India and Brazil to take on binding targets "is not realistic.''

"Developing countries see that as problematic,'' he said. "The problem of climate change as we see it today is a result of rich countries' emissions, not the result of poor countries' emissions. The historic responsibility of this problem lies with industrial nations.''

Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said a compromise might be building on the agreement reached in Bali where developing countries for the first time agreed to take voluntary actions that were "measurable, reportable and verifiable.''

Meyer said the West could provide the technology that would allow poor nations to reduce their emissions in certain sectors like steel and cement.

"Now you have this new animal agreed to in Bali. That is a big deal,'' he said. "You're opening negotiating space for new tools and mechanisms that will help developing countries bend down their emission curves while achieving sustainable development strategies.''

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Cities worldwide switch off lights to raise awareness of global warming

From the Sydney Opera House to Rome's Colosseum to the Sears Tower's famous antennas in Chicago and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, floodlit icons of civilization went dark for Earth Hour, a worldwide campaign to highlight the threat of climate change.

The environmental group WWF urged governments, businesses and households to turn back to candle power for at least 60 minutes starting at 8 p.m. Saturday wherever they were.

The campaign began last year in Australia, and traveled this year from the South Pacific to Europe to North America in cadence with the setting of the sun.

"What's amazing is that it's transcending political boundaries and happening in places like China, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea,'' said Andy Ridley, executive director of Earth Hour. "It really seems to have resonated with anybody and everybody.''

Earth Hour officials hoped 100 million people would turn off their nonessential lights and electronic goods for the hour. Electricity plants produce greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

In Chicago, lights on more than 200 downtown buildings were dimmed Saturday night, including the stripe of white light around the top of the John Hancock Center. The red-and-white marquee outside Wrigley Field also went dark.

"There's a widespread belief that somehow people in the United States don't understand that this is a problem that we're lazy and wedded to our lifestyles. (Earth Hour) demonstrates that that is wrong,'' Richard Moss, a member of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the climate change vice president for WWF, said in Chicago on Saturday.

Workers in Phoenix, Arizona, America's fifth-largest city, turned out the lights in all downtown city-owned buildings for one hour. San Francisco concluded the display as the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower and other landmarks extinguished lights for an hour.

New Zealand and Fiji were first out of the starting blocks this year. And in Sydney, Australia -- where an estimated 2.2 million observed the blackout last year -- the city's two architectural icons, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, faded to black against a dramatic backdrop of a lightning storm.

Lights also went out at the famed Wat Arun Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Thailand; shopping and cultural centers in Manila, Philippines; several castles in Sweden and Denmark; the parliament building in Budapest, Hungary; a string of landmarks in Warsaw, Poland; and both London City Hall and Canterbury Cathedral in England.

Greece, an hour ahead of most of Europe, was the first on the continent to mark Earth Hour. On the isle of Aegina, near Athens, much of its population marched by candlelight to the port. Parts of Athens itself, including the floodlit city hall, also turned to black.

In Ireland, where environmentalists are part of the coalition government, lights-out orders went out for scores of government buildings, bridges and monuments in more than a dozen cities and towns.

But the international banks and brokerages of Dublin's financial district blazed away with light, illuminating floor after empty floor of desks and idling computers.

"The banks should have embraced this wholeheartedly and they didn't. But it's a start. Maybe next year,'' said Cathy Flanagan, an Earth Hour organizer in Dublin.

Ireland's more than 7,000 pubs elected not to take part -- in part because of the risk that Saturday night revelers could end up smashing glasses, falling down stairs, or setting themselves on fire with candles. Likewise, much of Europe -- including France, Germany, Spain and European Union institutions -- planned nothing to mark Earth Hour.

Internet search engine Google lent its support to Earth Hour by blackening its normally white home page and challenging visitors: "We've turned the lights out. Now it's your turn.''

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Gerakan deputy sec-gen quits all posts

Gerakan deputy secretary-general Datuk Lee Kah Choon has resigned from all his seven party posts, effective Sunday.

The former Jelutong MP was also the party’s assistant secretary and Jelutong division chairman.

In the March 8 polls, Gerakan contested 12 parliamentary constituencies and 31 state seats, but won only two parliamentary and four state seats.

Lee’s father recently passed away at his home in Taman Robina in Butterworth.

Lee Ah Yong, 101, died of natural causes and left behind two sons and five grandchildren.

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MIC branch dissolved, members become PAS supporters

The Kampung Jebong MIC branch in Simpang here was officially dissolved when 110 of its members quit the party to become members of "Kelab Penyokong PAS" (PAS Supporters Club).

Branch chairman M. Muninathan, accompanied by committee members, submitted their application forms to Bukit Gantang MP Roslan Shaharom at a village temple here on Saturday night.

Roslan said the welfare of the former MIC branch members and members of the Indian community would be taken care of.

"We will take care of you because any problems affecting the Indian community will also affect members of the other communities," he said.

Roslan said he was indebted to the Indian community here as more than 95% of Indian voters within the Bukit Gantang parliamentary constituency had voted for him in the recently-concluded general election.

He said members of the community had every reason to rejoice as two of the three state seats in the constituency had been won by Barisan Rakyat, and the victors -- Mohd Osman Mohd Jailu (Changkat Jering) and Tai Sing Ng (Kuala Sepetang) -- had been appointed exco members of the new Perak state government.

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German police-bomber video may radicalise Islamists

The head of Germany's Federal Crime Office (BKA) said on Friday a video which appears to show Germany's first Muslim suicide bomber in Afghanistan might radicalise Islamists in Germany.

Spiegel Online has published a video allegedly from the Taliban showing a man of Turkish origin who grew up in the state of Bavaria. He is suspected of involvement in a suicide attack this month on a compound used by NATO and Afghan forces which caused several casualties.

The recording showed 28-year-old Cuneyt Ciftci and several other men planning the attack, studying plans, carrying chemicals and constructing an improvised bomb.

"We think the video could produce an imitation effect," BKA President Joerg Ziercke told a conference in the western city of Wiesbaden. "We share the concern that it will have a stimulating effect on fanatics, also in Germany."

He added, however, that it was not yet clear whether the man was in fact the perpetrator and the BKA was still trying to identify the body of the killer.

The video showed the man in question, but did not picture him directly carrying out the attack at the beginning of March in eastern Afghanistan.

One picture in the video obtained by Spiegel Online shows Ciftci at the wheel of the car with the bomb and at the end of the video he is seen praying next to the car.

A few frames later, the attack on the Sabari District Centre in the province of Khost is shown.

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Hamas urges Arabs to back reconciliation push

Hamas wants this weekend's Arab summit to back a Yemen-sponsored reconciliation agreement between the group and its Palestinian rival Fatah, a pro-Hamas Web site quoted the group's leader as saying on Friday.

A Palestinian boy wearing a Hamas headband cries during a Hamas rally in Gaza March 28, 2008. Hamas wants this weekend's Arab summit to back a Yemen-sponsored reconciliation agreement between the group and its Palestinian rival Fatah, a pro-Hamas Web site quoted the group's leader as saying on Friday. (REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, in exile in Syria, was also quoted as urging Arab leaders at their Damascus summit to support its fight with Israel. But he reiterated the Islamist group was open to a conditional truce with the Jewish state.

The Gaza-based Web site said Meshaal wrote to Arab leaders requesting support for Hamas-Fatah dialogue, after a Yemen-brokered agreement to revive talks between the rival factions appeared to falter this week.

Meshaal called on Arab leaders to "shoulder your national and brotherly responsibility to foster a Palestinian-Palestinian dialogue", according to the report, which was also carried by London-based pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat.

Hamas seized control of Gaza last June after routing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah forces. Abbas then sacked a Hamas-led unity government and pursued U.S.-backed peace talks with Israel.

After months of hostilities, the factions agreed this week to restart direct talks to "return the Palestinian situation to what it was before the Gaza incidents." But an apparent dispute quickly broke out.

Hamas has said talks will start on April 5, while Abbas's office insisted the Islamist group must first relinquish control of the Gaza Strip -- a condition Hamas has rejected.

According to the Web site, Meshaal also urged Arab leaders to support the group's fight against Israel and to protest against an Israeli-led blockade of Gaza, defending militant cross-border rocket attacks from Gaza as self defence.

But he also reiterated Hamas was ready to discuss a "comprehensive" ceasefire with Israel, which regularly launches raids in the territory it says are targeted at militants.

Several thousand Hamas supporters rallied in northern Gaza to press Arab leaders to do more to end the blockade.

"We need a practical decision to end the siege," senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya told the rally.

Hamas has said any ceasefire would depend on an end to Israeli acts of "aggression" in Gaza and the West Bank and the reopening of Gaza border crossings.

Egypt, with U.S. blessing, has been trying to broker a cessation of hostilities between Israel and militants in Gaza.

Israel, denying it is involved in ceasefire negotiations but saying it would have no reason to strike Hamas if salvoes ceased, has stopped targeting the group's Gaza militants in what appears to be a de facto truce between the two enemies.

Hamas has suspended rocket fire, although other militant groups have kept up sporadic attacks.

"All Palestinian factions of resistance have expressed full readiness to deal with the issue of calm, on condition that it be comprehensive, reciprocal and simultaneous," Meshaal was quoted as saying.

The two-day Arab summit opens in Damascus on Saturday.

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BA cancels flights in continuing Heathrow T5 chaos

British Airways Plc cancelled a fifth of flights from its new $8.6 billion terminal at London's Heathrow airport on Friday as chaos from its shambolic opening spilled into a second day.

Baggage remains at a closed check-in desk at the new Terminal 5 building at Heathrow Airport in London March 27, 2008. British Airways Plc cancelled a fifth of flights from its new $8.6 billion terminal at Heathrow airport on Friday as chaos from its shambolic opening spilled into a second day. (REUTERS/Luke MacGregor)

BA said it dropped the short-haul flights to "create more capacity" as it attempted to recover from the mess left by Thursday's opening when nearly 70 flights were cancelled, leaving passengers distraught.

Chief Executive Willie Walsh warned travellers that problems could persist into the weekend.

"I would expect some disruption tomorrow (Saturday), but I think it will get better every day as we become accustomed to the building and the quirks of the systems," he said.

"Yesterday was definitely not British Airways' finest hour," he said. "There were problems in the car parks, airport areas, computer glitches and the baggage system."

Baggage-handling and check-in problems at Heathrow's much-vaunted fifth terminal (T5) provoked a public relations disaster for the carrier that once styled itself the "world's favourite airline" -- and weighed on its shares.

BA fell more than 3 percent on Friday, hit by the T5 chaos and jitters ahead of Sunday's start of the "open skies" deal to create greater competition on trans-Atlantic routes.

"I don't think it will be material, but it's certainly bad for sentiment and not good for the BA brand," BlueOar Securities analyst Douglas McNeill said. "You'd need several days of severe disruption to really impinge on BA's financial performance."


BA's rivals, which resent Spanish-owned airport operator BAA gifting BA its own dedicated terminal, were quick to capitalise.

"Terminal 1, which now has 40 percent less passengers to accommodate following BA's move to Terminal 5, is running like clockwork," said bmi, BA's main competitor at Heathrow.

Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic said 200 BA passengers had already switched across to longhaul Virgin flights because of the problems.

"Our daily Dubai and Hong Kong services have seen the largest switch, with many more BA passengers expected to move across in the next few days," said spokesman Paul Charles.

The open-plan T5 is Britain's largest enclosed space, equivalent to the size of about 50 soccer pitches. It was touted as the answer to the delays passengers can face at the other four terminals at the world's third-busiest airport.

As opposed to Thursday, when some passengers were told they could only check in hand luggage and some flights left with no luggage in the hold at all, British Airways said customers could now check in both hand and hold luggage.

Some stranded passengers -- many of whom publicly denounced the airline -- spent the night in the gleaming terminal, reluctant to pay for nearby hotels even though BA, which is using T5 exclusively, had promised to reimburse them.

"I am very sorry that the problems have meant that some of our customers did not experience the true potential of this amazing new building," Walsh said.

British Airways spent months promoting the gleaming Richard Rogers-designed terminal, packed with high-end shops and restaurants, bringing photographers and journalists from all over the world to London to show off the complex.

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Libby Trickett breaks women's world 50 freestyle mark

Libby Trickett broke the world record in the women's 50-meter freestyle at the Australian swim championships and Olympic trials Saturday.

Trickett, formerly Libby Lenton and competing under her married name for the first time at this event, finished in a time of 23.97 seconds to lower Marleen Veldhuis's 50 mark of 24.09 by .12 seconds.

Dutch swimmer Veldhuis set the mark last Monday at the European championships.

Trickett now has both the 50 and 100-meter freestyle world records after setting a new mark in the 100 on Thursday when she beat the 53.30 mark set by Germany's Britta Steffen in Budapest, Hungary, on Aug. 2, 2006.

Trickett's 50 record was the eighth world record set at the Australian titles at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre, site of the 2000 Olympics swimming.

On Saturday, Trickett lowered her own personal best time by over half a second in the 50.

"I never really thought I could go this quick before,'' said Trickett. "I have not been able to put together a good 50 meters before. But after the 100 I was just so excited for this race.'

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Tennessee zoo breeds endangered frogs through in-vitro fertilization

A new breeding program at the Memphis Zoo could nearly double the known population of an endangered frog species.

Biologists estimate there are only about 100 adult Mississippi gopher frogs left in the wild, but zoo officials say they have successfully produced 94 tadpoles through in-vitro fertilization.

The reclusive, stocky frog measures about three inches (7.6 centimeters) long as an adult and has large hind feet made for digging through holes and burrows made by other animals. They have a pointed snout and large eyes, which they cover with their front feet when threatened.

The species once lived in Louisiana's lower coastal plain, parts of Mississippi and the Mobile River delta in Alabama, but now is only found in two locations in Mississippi.

Named by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species in 2001, the frog's habitat in longleaf pine forests and breeding sites in isolated ponds has been threatened by natural processes and residential development.

Linda LaClaire, a biologist for the wildlife service, oversees the frog's habitats in Mississippi and says the agency hopes to use the new tadpoles to grow the population in the wild.

"They are endemic to the longleaf pine forest, which is almost gone in the south,'' LaClaire said. "We also have a disease problem that creates tremendous mortality in tadpoles.''

The zoo, which has been successful at in-vitro fertilization of another amphibian, says this is the first ever captive breeding of the Mississippi gopher frog.

"We can now replicate this on a regular basis and hopefully can apply what we have learned to other endangered amphibians,'' said Dr. Andy Kouba, the zoo's director of research and conservation.

Kouba said the tadpoles are currently about the size of a half dollar and just started sprouting legs. While the adult frogs that were used in the breeding are not on display, Kouba said the zoo might consider putting the new frogs in a public exhibit.

"They like to hide, so we have to figure out a way to display them appropriately,'' he said.

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Poison drummer arrested on rape warrant

Poison drummer Rikki Rockett was arrested on a rape warrant and his case was turned over to the district attorney's office, which will consider whether to pursue charges, officials said Friday.

Rockett, 46, was arrested Monday at or near Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles police said. He was booked and released, and was awaiting an extradition decision by Mississippi prosecutors.

A woman in Mississippi filed a complaint that she was raped on Sept. 23, 2007, at the Silver Star Casino, Neshoba County sheriff's investigator Ralph Sciple said.

"The subject, Rikki Rockett, forcibly had sex with an adult in one of the hotel rooms,'' according to a complaint.

Sciple said the woman contacted authorities several days after the alleged attack. He did not discuss details of the case, but said his office believed the woman's complaint warranted review by the district attorney.

The casino-hotel complex in Philadelphia, about an hour northeast of Jackson, is owned by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Rockett, whose real name is Richard Ream, did not have a listed number in the Los Angeles area and could not be reached Friday for comment.

Rockett was booked into the Los Angeles County jail under his stage name and released early Tuesday, according to jail inmate information on the county sheriff's Web site. Sciple said there was no immediate attempt to bring Rockett back to Mississippi and a decision on extradition would await action by the district attorney.

Rockett and singer Bret Michaels founded Poison, the glam-metal band with a string of hits in the 1980s, including "Talk Dirty to Me.''

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Piers Morgan triumphs on finale of Trump's `The Celebrity Apprentice'

Piers Morgan is hired. The former British tabloid editor was crowned the winner on NBC's "The Celebrity Apprentice,'' triumphing over Trace Adkins.

The final task on Thursday's finale was to hold a charity event. Adkins was in charge of taking care of the talent, The Backstreet Boys. Morgan was responsible for the auction and food.

Adkins sold more tickets, but Morgan - who has been a judge on NBC's "America's Got Talent'' - raised the most money, earning an additional $250,000 prize for his charity.

"Apprentice'' host Donald Trump said Morgan "did an amazing job'' and showed up his celebrity competitors, who included Gene Simmons.

Trump called Adkins, whose single "You're Gonna Miss This'' has climbed the country charts, a "special human being. A beautiful guy.''

Morgan's charity is the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which provides help for families of U.S. military personnel who died in the line of duty. Morgan's brother has served two tours of duty in Iraq, and his brother-in-law has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

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Mexican bull thrown in jail for allegedly devouring corn fields

A prisoner is behind bars in southern Mexico for acting beastly.

Residents of the town of Canalumtic say the bull devoured their corn crops and destroyed two wooden shops, so they had it thrown in the slammer.

The bull will not be released until the owner pays damages, to be determined by a local judge, police commander Felipe Gomez said Friday.

The owner, Moises Santiz, said he'll pay a maximum of US$400 (euro250) - the same price he forked over for the bull four months ago.

Santiz said he bought the animal on Nov. 4 and let him out to graze. The bull disappeared on March 1 and was later found tied up in the patio of a private home in Canalumtic, held prisoner by an angry resident.

It's not the first time an animal has been jailed in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas. Last year, a dog was locked up for 12 days after biting someone. His owners were ordered to pay a US$18 (euro11) fine.

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Scrap nomination quota: Dr M

The nomination quota to contest top posts in Umno should be abolished, as it is being abused to prevent members from nominating candidates, said former party president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

He pointed out that when he was president, anyone was free to challenge him, and although at that time there was already the quota in place, “those days it was easy to get 60 divisions (nominations)”.

However, he added, when Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah wanted to challenge Umno president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2004, he only managed to get one nomination from his own division.

“(This is) because other divisions were told not to nominate him. There was no freedom. I think it’s about time they revised this provision because of the tendency of the people with the power to stifle any move to criticise or oppose them,” he said after launching the Perkim annual general meeting on Saturday.

Dr Mahathir, who is Perkim president, said there was nothing wrong with having a contest for the presidency in the upcoming December party election, adding that other Umno presidents including him were also previously challenged.

On who was likely to challenge Abdullah, Dr Mahathir said it could be Razaleigh (who had offered himself) or others.

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Top U.S. Democrat wants party contest decided by July 1

The Democratic Party chairman said on Friday he hopes the increasingly contentious rivalry between presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can be decided by July 1 to avoid a fight at the party's convention.

U.S. Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean speaks in Vienna, Virginia, in this November 30, 2007 file photo. Dean said on Friday he hopes the increasingly contentious rivalry between presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can be decided by July 1 to avoid a fight at the party's convention. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/Files)

Howard Dean, former Vermont governor and a presidential candidate in 2004, urged the two candidates to focus on the November general election battle against Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the likely Republican presidential nominee.

"I think it would be nice to have this all done by July 1," Dean said on ABC's "Good Morning America" program. "If we can do it sooner than that, that's all the better.

"There has been some personal criticism," he said. "We don't want this to degenerate into a big fight at the convention."

Dean told CNN he believes Democratic delegates from Michigan and Florida will eventually be seated at the party's August nominating convention in Denver.

The Democratic primary elections in Michigan and Florida were invalidated after both states disobeyed party rules and held their balloting earlier in the year to hold greater sway over the selection of candidates.

Efforts to rerun the two primaries have failed.

"I think the delegates are eventually going to be seated in Florida and Michigan as soon as we get an agreement between the candidates on how to do that," Dean said.

Obama, an Illinois senator, has captured more state primaries, more votes and thus more of the pledged convention delegates who will help decide which Democrat faces McCain in November's presidential election.

But Clinton, a New York senator, has won contests in several large states and hopes to persuade the party's superdelegates that she will be the stronger general election candidate.

Superdelegates -- party officials not pledged to a particular candidate -- have emerged as likely kingmakers in the fight between Clinton and Obama.

Dean said he wants superdelegates to speak publicly about whom they support so that the loser would feel fairly treated.

"The candidates have got to understand that they have an obligation to our country to unify," Dean said in another interview on CBS' "Early Show." "Somebody is going to lose this race with 49.8 percent of the vote and that person has got to pull their supporters in behind the nominee."

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Obama to gain endorsement in key upcoming primary state

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey plans to endorse Democrat Barack Obama on Friday, a move that could help the presidential candidate make inroads with the state's white working-class voters dubbed "Casey Democrats.''

Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the endorsement will come as Obama begins a six-day campaign swing through Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania's April 22 primary is the next big prize in the drawn-out nomination battle between Obama, the Illinois senator, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. Clinton, who holds a double-digit lead in Pennsylvania polls, needs a victory in the state to keep her nomination fight alive.

Casey is a first-term senator and the son of a popular former governor of the state.

Casey is Catholic and, like his father, is known for his opposition to abortion and support of gun rights. His support could help Obama make inroads among Catholic voters.

Pennsylvania has an estimated 3.8 million Catholics, or just over 30 percent of the state's population, and the percentage among Democrats is estimated to be slightly higher.

Obama's team hopes that Casey will help narrow Clinton's huge lead among white working-class voters - men in particular.

Clinton routed Obama among that demographic in Ohio and Texas on March 4, raising questions about his electability in November. In recent weeks, Obama has stressed economic issues important to the middle class, and he is outspending Clinton on television advertising that features blue-collar imagery.

Clinton and her supporters have been making their own direct appeals: backers Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., both members of the Kennedy political dynasty, last week wrote a letter to Pennsylvania Catholics emphasizing her plans on health care, mortgage foreclosures and fuel costs. Clinton has been endorsed by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, giving her access to his potent political operation.

Obama has lacked a major endorsement by a statewide Pennsylvania politician, and Casey's could help jump-start his Pennsylvania campaign. Casey has close ties to organized labor, which has been divided in Pennsylvania between the two candidates.

Casey had a 62 percent approval rating among Democrats in a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

Casey's move could also be seen as a political jab at the Clintons. Bill Clinton was the Democrats' presidential nominee in 1992 when Casey's father was not given a prime-time speaking position at the party's convention, which outraged many of the state's conservative Democrats.

Casey is scheduled to join Obama in Pittsburgh Friday and campaign with him as Obama travels by across Pennsylvania by bus.

The bus tour will feature "listening sessions,'' a technique Clinton used in her 2000 Senate campaign to convince skeptical New Yorkers that she was not just a carpetbagger looking for a plum post after leaving the White House.

Though trailing in the state, Obama hopes to prevent Clinton from racking up a large win in the state which could eat away at his delegate advantage and give her new life in the final primaries running to June.

It may be a tough sell for some in the state, which has a sizable elderly population. In the previous primaries, older Democrats have favored Clinton, while younger voters tend toward Obama.

Casey served two four-year terms as state auditor general. He lost a 2002 gubernatorial bid in the Democratic primary to Rendell.

Casey was elected to the Senate in 2006, defeating conservative Republican incumbent Rick Santorum. Obama campaigned for Casey, but so did Clinton and her husband.

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21 die in Indonesia after drinking herbal remedy

Indonesian police are investigating the deaths of 21 people after they drank a concoction labeled as a herbal remedy, a spokesman said Friday.

Lt. Col. Yatim Suyatmo said officers had yet to determine whether the brew was deliberately poisoned or inadvertently contaminated during production.

The victims in the town of Jambi on Sumatra island all died over the last two weeks, he said, adding that the drink was made in a local factory.

Scores of companies in Indonesia produce pills and drinks labeled as herbal remedies or tonics. The government, which is seeking to regulate the sector, say many contain unspecified chemicals.

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Cuba ends restriction on cellular phones

Cuba said on Friday it will allow all Cubans to buy and use mobile telephones for the first time in the latest step by new President Raul Castro to improve access to consumer goods.

A man uses a mobile phone in Havana March 28, 2008. Cuba said on Friday it will allow all Cubans to buy and use mobile telephones for the first time in the latest step by new President Raul Castro to improve access to consumer goods. (REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa)

Cuba has the lowest rate of cellular telephone use in Latin America and the service has been restricted until now to foreigners or government officials and employees.

Cuban telecommunications monopoly ETECSA, a joint venture with Telecom Italia, said it would begin selling the service to the general public within days in hard currency.

"ETECSA is able to offer mobile phone service to the public," it said in a statement published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

Many Cubans have for long wanted access to cellular phones and hoped it would be among the first steps taken by Raul Castro, who succeed his ailing brother Fidel Castro as Cuba's first new leader in almost half a century on Feb. 24.

"This shows there is a change in mentality at the top and recognition that Cuba has to move into the 21st century," a young computer technician said, asking not to be named.

Raul Castro has begun lifting some of the many restrictions on the daily life of Cubans as he tries to meet popular demands for better living standards in the socialist state.

Taking office last month, he promised to start lifting "excessive regulations and prohibitions" within weeks.

Some Cubans already have mobile phones registered in the name of foreigners or their work places. They will now be able to put the contracts in their own names, ETECSA said.

Cubans will be able to buy computers and DVD players next month for the first time, if they have the hard currency to pay for them. Just two years ago, banned DVD players were being confiscated by airport customs officials on arrival in Cuba.

Raul Castro, 76, has also launched a restructuring of agriculture to reduce bureaucratic bottlenecks and boost food production.

A major public complaint that his government will have to deal with is that wages paid in Cuban pesos are too low, while consumer goods have to be paid for in convertible pesos, or CUCs, worth 24 times more than pesos.

Cubans will pay for their mobile telephones with prepaid cards bought in CUCs that will allow them to receive and make international calls.

ETECSA, in which Telecom Italia has a 27 percent stake, said the hard currency income would be invested in the expansion of land lines, where Cuba has the sixth lowest density in Latin American.

About 60 percent of Cubans have access to hard currency from cash remittances sent by relatives living abroad, mainly in the United States, or through factory and farm bonuses and tips from foreign tourists.

In the streets of Havana, the freeing of cellular phones services came as welcome news to all.

"It was an obvious measure. There will have to be more like it to get rid of the thousand and one obstacles that make life bitter in Cuba," said university student Jofre Valdes, 23.

"This was an anachronism. They have to end all unnecessary restrictions," said state employee Humberto Vega.

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Italians wary of mozzarella scare but eat on

Carefully selecting a lump of fine buffalo mozzarella, a Milan cheesemonger points to a certificate stuck to the glass-fronted fridge which is meant to appease cautious customers about its origins and quality.

Balls of freshly made buffalo mozzarella cheese float in brine at a dairy in Caianello March 27, 2008. (REUTERS/Stefano Renna/Agnfoto)

Ever since news broke that some of Italy's best mozzarella was being made with milk contaminated with cancer-causing dioxin, Alfredo says customers have been hesitant to buy the cheese until they know where it comes from.

"People see what is happening and they are scared," said the cheesemonger, who asked to be identified by his first name only.

"There has been a small impact. We put up the certificate to show where our product comes from and that helps."

Buffalo mozzarella is one of Italy's best known culinary specialities and a byword for fresh and natural Italian produce. It is known abroad for its use on pizza, but purists eat it on its own or with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

The cheese costs at least twice as much as mozzarella made with cow's milk, and Italy makes 33,000 tonnes of it a year, 16 percent of which is sold abroad.

Seeking to avert a major food scare, Italy has sealed off 83 dairy farms in the southern Campania region around Naples after finding nearly one in five buffalo mozzarella producers were making cheese with higher-than-permitted levels of dioxin.

Italy has told the European Commission it has not exported any contaminated mozzarella but it took the precaution on Friday of ordering a recall of cheese from 25 affected producers from Campania, where Italy's best buffalo mozzarella is produced.

"Seeing what is happening to a symbol of Italian produce makes you want to cry," said Lino Stoppani of upmarket Milan food shop Peck. "We have seen caution. Customers are sensitive. Certainly, there has been a fall in mozzarella consumption."


Officials believe the dioxin levels are linked to a recent garbage crisis in Naples and nearby Campania area, where locals burned rubbish in streets and open fields as dumps were full.

Police have also been investigating whether feed given to buffalo herds was tainted, possibly by gangsters linked to illegal waste disposal.

Italian officials are playing down health risks for the public and say special checks are being made to guarantee the safety of the cheese.

A consumer group has advised Italians not to eat it until the final results of tests and the names of the producers concerned are made public. A leading group of producers said sales were down 30 percent in the first two months of the year, with a revenue loss of 30 million euros ($47.29 million).

On Friday, France briefly prohibited sales of some Italian mozzarella, but later lifted the order after winning assurances from Rome that none of the suspect cheese was exported there.

Japan and South Korea have stopped imports of buffalo mozzarella over contamination concerns.

But some consumers in Italy say they are not fearful.

"My first reaction was not to eat it as this is scary," said Milanese pensioner Mario Rossi as he shopped in a supermarket, where rows of mozzarella cheese were stacked, untouched. "But I will continue eating it, though with caution."

At Milan's Obika Mozzarella Bar, a restaurant specialising in quality mozzarella, diners happily munched on the cheese. The restaurant, which has branches in Rome and London as well, says it has not felt any impact from the scare so far.

"Our clients trust us. ... This is something that has scared a lot of people but it is a case of counterfeit," founder Silvio Ursini said by phone, underlining that all cheese used by his restaurants undergoes thorough checks.

Pizzeria owner Pino Malastrana was not worried either.

"I buy four kilograms of it a day," he said, tucking into a plate of buffalo mozzarella. "And I've been using it all up."

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Muslim nations condemn Dutch Koran film

Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia on Friday condemned a film by a Dutch lawmaker that accuses the Koran of inciting violence, as Dutch Muslim leaders urged restraint.

Islam critic Geert Wilders launched his short video on the Internet on Thursday evening. Titled "Fitna", an Arabic term sometimes translated as "strife", it intersperses images of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and Islamist bombings with quotations from the Koran, Islam's holy book.

The film urges Muslims to tear out "hate-filled" verses from the Koran and starts and finishes with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb under his turban, accompanied by the sound of ticking.

The cartoon, first published in Danish newspapers, ignited violent protests around the world and a boycott of Danish products in 2006. Many Muslims regard any depiction of the Prophet as offensive.

Iran called the film heinous, blasphemous and anti-Islamic and called on European governments to block any further showing. Pakistan's Foreign Office summoned the Dutch ambassador to lodge a protest.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and a former Dutch colony, also condemned the film.

"We are of the view that the film has a racist flavour and is an insult to Islam, hidden under the cover of freedom of expression," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. "We call on Indonesian people not to be incited."

Dutch Muslim leaders appealed for calm and called on Muslims worldwide not to target Dutch interests. The Netherlands is home to about 1 million Muslims out of a population of 16 million.

"Our call to Muslims abroad is follow our strategy and don't frustrate it with any violent incidents," Mohammed Rabbae, a Dutch Moroccan leader, told journalists in an Amsterdam mosque.

"Looking for conflict there is looking for conflict with us," he said before an imam made a similar appeal in Arabic.

The Dutch Islamic Federation went to court on Friday to try to stop Wilders from comparing Islam to fascism, saying he incited hatred of Muslims.


Dutch authorities reported a calm night in contrast to the unrest that swept the country after the murder by a militant Islamist in 2004 of Dutch director Theo van Gogh, who made a film accusing Islam of condoning violence against women.

Dutch security officials raised the national risk level to "substantial" this month because of the Wilders film and perceptions of an increased al Qaeda threat.

In a poll conducted on Friday, pollster Maurice de Hond found that only 12 percent of 1,200 people surveyed thought the film represented Islam accurately, while 72 percent said it showed the extremism of a certain group.

However, 43 percent agreed that Islam was a serious threat to the Netherlands over the long term. Some 53 percent said this wasn't the case.

Wilders has been under heavy guard because of Islamist death threats since the murder of director van Gogh. Support for his anti-immigration Freedom Party rose in anticipation of the film to about 10 percent of the vote.

The Dutch government has distanced itself from Wilders and tried to prevent the kind of backlash Denmark suffered over the Prophet cartoons.

Dutch exporters association Fenedex said it did not expect a negative impact on Dutch companies in Muslim countries.

There was a small protest by dozens of Islamists in Karachi on Friday, demanding that Pakistan sever diplomatic ties with Denmark and the Netherlands.

NATO has expressed concern the film could worsen security for foreign forces in Afghanistan, including 1,650 Dutch troops.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said in a televised speech on Thursday he rejected Wilders' views and was pleased by the initial restrained reactions of Dutch Muslim organisations.

The European Union supports the Dutch government's approach and believes the film serves no purpose other than "inflaming hatred", the Slovenian EU presidency said in a statement:

"The European Union and its member states apply the principle of the freedom of speech which is part of our values and traditions. However, it should be exercised in a spirit of respect for religious and other beliefs and convictions."

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BA cancels flights in continuing Heathrow T5 chaos

British Airways Plc cancelled a fifth of flights from its new $8.6 billion terminal at London's Heathrow airport on Friday as chaos from its shambolic opening spilled into a second day.

Baggage remains at a closed check-in desk at the new Terminal 5 building at Heathrow Airport in London March 27, 2008. British Airways Plc cancelled a fifth of flights from its new $8.6 billion terminal at Heathrow airport on Friday as chaos from its shambolic opening spilled into a second day. (REUTERS/Luke MacGregor)

BA said it dropped the short-haul flights to "create more capacity" as it attempted to recover from the mess left by Thursday's opening when nearly 70 flights were cancelled, leaving passengers distraught.

Chief Executive Willie Walsh warned travellers that problems could persist into the weekend.

"I would expect some disruption tomorrow (Saturday), but I think it will get better every day as we become accustomed to the building and the quirks of the systems," he said.

"Yesterday was definitely not British Airways' finest hour," he said. "There were problems in the car parks, airport areas, computer glitches and the baggage system."

Baggage-handling and check-in problems at Heathrow's much-vaunted fifth terminal (T5) provoked a public relations disaster for the carrier that once styled itself the "world's favourite airline" -- and weighed on its shares.

BA fell more than 3 percent on Friday, hit by the T5 chaos and jitters ahead of Sunday's start of the "open skies" deal to create greater competition on trans-Atlantic routes.

"I don't think it will be material, but it's certainly bad for sentiment and not good for the BA brand," BlueOar Securities analyst Douglas McNeill said. "You'd need several days of severe disruption to really impinge on BA's financial performance."


BA's rivals, which resent Spanish-owned airport operator BAA gifting BA its own dedicated terminal, were quick to capitalise.

"Terminal 1, which now has 40 percent less passengers to accommodate following BA's move to Terminal 5, is running like clockwork," said bmi, BA's main competitor at Heathrow.

Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic said 200 BA passengers had already switched across to longhaul Virgin flights because of the problems.

"Our daily Dubai and Hong Kong services have seen the largest switch, with many more BA passengers expected to move across in the next few days," said spokesman Paul Charles.

The open-plan T5 is Britain's largest enclosed space, equivalent to the size of about 50 soccer pitches. It was touted as the answer to the delays passengers can face at the other four terminals at the world's third-busiest airport.

As opposed to Thursday, when some passengers were told they could only check in hand luggage and some flights left with no luggage in the hold at all, British Airways said customers could now check in both hand and hold luggage.

Some stranded passengers -- many of whom publicly denounced the airline -- spent the night in the gleaming terminal, reluctant to pay for nearby hotels even though BA, which is using T5 exclusively, had promised to reimburse them.

"I am very sorry that the problems have meant that some of our customers did not experience the true potential of this amazing new building," Walsh said.

British Airways spent months promoting the gleaming Richard Rogers-designed terminal, packed with high-end shops and restaurants, bringing photographers and journalists from all over the world to London to show off the complex.

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U.N. climate talks to test U.S. shifts

Up to 190 nations will start work on a new U.N. climate treaty in Bangkok on Monday, in a test of how far the world has progressed after years of deadlock highlighted by a U.S. outburst about a duck in 2005.

A man walks through a parched field in Laguna province south of Manila in this July 29, 2007 file photo. (REUTERS/Stringer/Files)

"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck," chief U.S. climate negotiator Harlan Watson said in Montreal, denouncing what he called a veiled bid to launch negotiations on a pact to combat global warming.

Opposed to the start of any negotiations, he gathered up his papers and walked out of a late-night United Nations meeting, leaving the other, stunned delegates around the table. He returned only the next day after concessions were made.

Less than three years later, Watson will sit down for the March 31-April 4 meeting in Bangkok with many of the same officials who were in Canada to start negotiations due to end in late 2009 with a tough global treaty to fight climate change.

But questions remain over whether the United States, the only rich country opposed to caps on emissions of greenhouse gases under the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, has really changed or is merely being dragged into negotiations.

Bangkok may also give signs about how far developing nations led by China and India are willing to go in rein in their rising emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels. They worry that any curbs could slow their economic growth.

"I think the U.S. really has changed," Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat in Bonn, told Reuters. He also praised willingness by developing nations to act.

He said U.S. President George W. Bush had come to office in 2001 saying scientists disagreed about whether climate change was a threat but now saw it as a serious problem.

A main spur for urgency has been the U.N. Climate Panel, which said last year it was at least 90 percent sure human activities were to blame for a warming that will bring more floods, heatwaves, droughts and rising seas.


"I think we have demonstrated a lot of flexibility," Watson told Reuters. "We never think we get enough credit -- nor enough credit for what we have been doing all along."

Washington has made big investments in technologies such as hydrogen even though it opposes Kyoto, which obliges 37 rich nations to cut emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. A new treaty would seek to involve all countries.

Watson said he did not remember his exact words about the duck in Montreal but said they were along the lines of the quote above. In a joking protest, environmentalists bought yellow plastic ducks and handed them to delegates.

Montreal ended with agreement to start an informal "dialogue" on actions to fight climate change, specifying at U.S. insistence that it was not a prelude to negotiations.

The WWF environmental group said the United States, long the top emitter of greenhouse gases but being caught by China, had been forced into a corner by rising worries about climate change and a more assertive approach by poorer nations such as China.

The United States was the last to drop objections to the launch of negotiations at U.N. talks in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2007 -- and only after its delegates were booed.

"They were totally isolated and they couldn't stomp out of the room any more," said Martin Hiller of the WWF.

"The United States has been dragged kicking and screaming all the way," said John Lanchbery, principal climate advisor to the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

"All that will change at the end of the year," he said, noting that Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton favoured tougher action.

Still, Watson predicted the next president would face demands by Congress for tougher action by nations such as China and India in return for any U.S. curbs on greenhouse gases. "I think that's going to be a bottom-line requirement," he said.

De Boer also said many developing nations were making concessions. "China and India have not been reluctant to act on climate change, but they have objected to having commitments imposed on them that would hurt their economic growth," he said.

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Zimbabwe army on alert for crucial election

Zimbabwe's security forces went on full alert on Friday to quash violence during the most crucial election since independence, with President Robert Mugabe facing the biggest challenge of his 28-year rule.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe greets supporters after arriving for his final election rally at Highfields in Harare March 28, 2008. (REUTERS/Howard Burditt)

In one of his last rallies before Saturday's poll, Mugabe struck a familiar theme, mocking the opposition MDC and attacking former colonial power Britain.

"This is a vote against the British. The fight is not against the MDC ... the MDC is just a puppet, a mouthpiece of the British," he told 6,000 people on the outskirts of Harare.

Mugabe blames sanctions by Britain and other Western nations for the collapse of the economy in his once-prosperous nation, now suffering the world's highest inflation, at 100,000 percent, a virtually worthless currency, and food and fuel shortages.

Opponents blame his policies for ruining Zimbabwe.

Army and police chiefs say they will not accept an opposition victory, stoking accusations that Mugabe will use his incumbent power to rig the election.

Police chief Augustine Chihuri said on Friday security and defence forces had been put on full alert and would not allow declarations of victory before official results were announced -- expected to take several days.

"May we remind everyone that those who think and do evil must fear, for the defence and security forces are up to the task in thwarting all threats to national security," he told a news conference, flanked by army and security chiefs.


Mugabe faces his most formidable challenge in Saturday's presidential, parliamentary and council elections, with a two- pronged assault from ruling party defector Simba Makoni and Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the biggest MDC faction.

Both hope to exploit widespread misery caused by an catastrophic economic crisis they blame on the veteran leader, who took power at independence in 1980 after leading a guerrilla war against white rule.

If no candidate wins more than 51 percent of the vote on Saturday, the election will go into a second round, when the two opposition parties would likely unite. Analysts say Mugabe will do his utmost, including rigging, to avoid this happening.

Analysts would also expect a violent crackdown against MDC supporters in the three-week hiatus between the two votes.

Tsvangirai, widely seen as the strongest challenger to Mugabe, said in an interview on Friday that he would invite moderate members of Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party into a national unity government if he wins the election.

"There has to be consultation with the leadership of the reform elements, not the rabid elements, those who want to see the government moving forward," he told the Financial Times.

Tsvangirai, like most observers, downplayed the possibility of Kenya-style bloodshed if Mugabe rigged victory.

"I am not calling for a demonstration," he said.

Tsvangirai wound up his campaign with a rally at Domboshava, a semi-rural area 30 kilometres north of Harare, telling a crowd of about 2,000 people that security forces who served under Mugabe would not face retribution if he wins the election.

Tsvangirai mocked Mugabe for blaming Western sanctions, which include travel bans on ZANU-PF leaders, for Zimbabwe's crisis.

"If someone says 'Mugabe and your wife, you've stolen too much money to go and shop at Harrods in England... are those sanctions?'," he asked.

Tsvangirai and Makoni accuse Mugabe of planning to rig the vote. "We believe there is a very well thought-out, sophisticated and premeditated plan to steal this election from us," Makoni said.

Most international election observers have been banned from Zimbabwe, except for a team from the regional SADC grouping, which critics accuse of taking too soft a line with Mugabe.

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CAP: Kids viewing porn, drinking beer in cybercafes

Schoolchildren are being allowed into local cybercafes to view pornographic anime and play sex-based computer games such as Nasty Anime Game and The Sexy Empire, according to the Consumers Association of Penang.

Its president S.M. Mohamed Idris said a parent handed them 11 CD-ROM games depicting naked women in various poses after catching his son playing such a game at a cybercafe.

“The parent conducted her own investigations and found that the games could easily be bought for only RM5 each from shops in shopping malls on the island.

“We also conducted random checks on about 15 cycbercafes two days ago and found that these children, aged between 13 and 15, were being allowed into the premises without any adult supervision.

“A few of these children who were questioned, admitted to visiting cybercafes to play the sex-based computer games and also to watch hentai which is pornographic Japanese anime,” he said Friday.

Mohamed Idris said they also visited pornographic websites on the cybercafes’ computers, which did not have filtering programmes. The cybercafes charged between RM3 and RM7 for an hour’s use of their computers.

“We also found these schoolchildren openly smoking and drinking beer which were sold in these premises.

“The Education Ministry and local government authorities should act immediately to halt such unhealthy activities,” he said.

Copies of the pornographic computer games were later handed over to George Town OCPD Asst Comm Azam Abd Hamid at his office in Patani Road.

ACP Azam said the police were aware of the problem and had raided several cybercafes, which were popular haunts for teenagers.

“A few operators were arrested. Students caught playing truant were handed over to their parents.”

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Obama says Rezko had bigger role in fundraising

U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama said on Friday an indicted Chicago businessman raised up to $250,000 for his previous political campaigns, a higher figure than he previously reported, according to two Chicago newspapers.

The Illinois Democratic senator's campaign has previously said it donated to charity more than $150,000 in contributions traced to Antoin "Tony" Rezko. The property developer and restaurant entrepreneur is on trial, accused by federal prosecutors of extorting bribes and campaign donations as well as money laundering.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama speaks in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, March 11, 2008. Obama said on Friday an indicted Chicago businessman raised up to $250,000 for his previous political campaigns, a higher figure than he previously reported, according to two Chicago newspapers. (REUTERS/Keith Bedford)

Obama has long denied there was anything in his relationship with Rezko that relates to the corruption trial and there is no evidence he did anything wrong.

Obama, a former Illinois state senator, told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview that "Rezko was not my largest fundraiser but a significant fundraiser" in his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign.

Saying the contributions could be as high as $250,000, he said, "It's hard for me to know precisely."

Besides Rezko's fundraising, a 2005 real estate deal with Obama has drawn scrutiny.

Obama told the Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune it was a mistake to deal with Rezko who was under grand jury investigation at the time of their property dealings.

"He never once asked me for any favors, or ever did any favors for me," Obama told the Sun-Times. "He never gave me any gifts or gave me any indication he was setting me up to ask for any favors in the future."

On the same day in 2005 that Obama purchased a Georgian mansion for $1.65 million, $300,000 less than the original asking price, Rezko's wife, Rita, purchased the adjoining lot from the same seller at the full $625,000 asking price. The sellers have said Obama was the highest bidder.

Later, Obama expanded his side yard by purchasing a sliver of Rezko's lot for $104,000.

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Obama renounces fiery pastor's comments

U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama on Friday repudiated what he called "inflammatory and appalling remarks" made by his Chicago pastor, seeking to quell another campaign controversy tinged with race.

Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) delivers a speech at the Chicago History Museum in Chicago, Illinois, March 12, 2008. (REUTERS/Frank Polich)

The Democrat from Illinois, who would be the first black president, used stronger words than he has in the past to distance himself from widely circulated sermons by his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side.

In Wright's sermons over the years, which have been circulated in the media and on the YouTube Web site, he has called the Sept. 2001 attacks retribution for U.S. foreign policy, cited the U.S. government as the source of the AIDS virus, and railed against a racist America.

"I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy," Obama said in statement, responding to persistent media coverage of Wright's sermons.

"I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country ... I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it's on the campaign stump or in the pulpit," he said.

Obama, who is locked a close race with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he had not been present during the sermons in question. Obama joined Wright's church 20 years ago, before starting his political career.

"Had I heard them in church I would have expressed that concern directly to Rev. Wright," Obama told MSNBC, adding that Wright was no longer on the campaign's spiritual advisory council, the African American Leadership Committee.

At the time he learned of the sermons, he said did not leave the church where he was married and his daughters were baptized because Wright was retiring.


Previously, Obama has sought to distance himself from Wright's comments by chiding him as "an uncle you don't always agree with." But Friday's repudiation was reminiscent of one he made after Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, known for making anti-Semitic and racist comments, declared his support.

Earlier this week, 1984 vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro resigned from Clinton's campaign after saying that Obama's success was due to his race. Obama refused to condemn those comments as racist because he said they were not meant that way.

In a sermon late last year, Wright, who is black, talked about why he believed voters would support Clinton over Obama.

"Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people," Wright said. "Hillary! Hillary can never know that. Hillary has never been called a nigger."

Several commentators, including one in the Wall Street Journal, said Wright's sermons were alarming as they come from the man Obama has referred to as his spiritual confidant and the source of one his books' titles, "The Audacity of Hope."

But others said it was unlikely to be a serious problem for Obama's campaign ahead of the next state nominating contest against Clinton in Pennsylvania on April 22.

"There may well be Clinton and (presumed Republican nominee John) McCain supporters who'll try to push the issue but I don't think it will settle in because too many Americans are churchgoers of one sort or another and have heard their pastor say something about 'hellfire' or whatever, and they don't agree with it," said political analyst Dick Simpson of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Obama praised Wright, a former U.S. Marine, as a "respected biblical scholar" who has "preached the gospel of Jesus, a gospel on which I base my life. In other words, he has never been my political advisor; he's been my pastor."

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