Thursday, December 17, 2009

Club promotes polygamy in Indonesia


By Karishma Vaswani
BBC News, Jakarta

It is a scene of peaceful serenity. Rows of men kneel in deep prayer inside a large hall on the outskirts of Jakarta. The women sit just behind them, their heads bowed in quiet contemplation.

It could be afternoon prayers anywhere in Indonesia, a vast Muslim-majority archipelago, but this scene happens to be inside the sprawling headquarters of Jakarta's newest club - the "Global Ikhlwan" polygamy club.

Tucked away in a leafy suburb a few hours out of Jakarta, the club was set up in Indonesia earlier this year, but has its origins in Malaysia.

It says it has more than 1,000 members worldwide - as far away as Australia and the United States.

In Indonesia, the law allows men to marry more than one woman - but only under strict conditions, which makes the practice of polygamy less common here than in other Muslim nations.

But that could change if the controversial new polygamy club is a success.

Peaceful environment

The club has garnered a great deal of criticism since its inception.

Children being taught Islamic scripture in Jakarta
Children are taught Islamic scripture at the polygamy club

But in the hall, the only sounds you can hear that disrupt the quiet are the voices of young children filling the corridors. They are being taught to read Islamic scriptures, so that they can become pious Muslims from a young age.

There is also a small shop that sells Islamic and Halal food - even a production house which makes Islamic films.

But the main aim of the club is to promote the virtues of polygamy, as well as to support those who are struggling with their choices.

In one of the club's rooms, the director of the organisation, Dr Gina Puspita, speaks to a group of young women trying to help them get over their jealousies and insecurities.

She admits she found it hard when her husband Rizdam took on a second wife.

"It was difficult for me in the beginning, but I knew it was because of my emotions, my desires," she told me. "But polygamy is a way for us to find happiness and love in this world.

"There are a lot of advantages for women in polygamous marriages - we learn how to control our desires and jealousies, and this brings us closer to Allah."

Tight controls

But Dr Puspita's stance on polygamy is firmly opposed by some groups in Indonesia.

This country has strict rules about who is allowed to take on multiple wives.

Activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana is incensed by the polygamy club
Nursyahbani Katjasungkana is firmly against polygamy

The guiding principle of Indonesia's marriage law is monogamy. Polygamy is tolerated - but tightly controlled.

You have to go through a number of steps to take more than one wife.

First, you have to get your first wife's permission. Second, if she does not give you her consent, you must prove that she is either infertile, terminally ill, or not performing her wifely duties. And finally you have to get the permission of a religious adviser.

Although there are no official statistics for how many people in Indonesia are polygamous - because so many of the marriages go unregistered - women's groups say organisations like the polygamy club could prompt more Indonesian men to take on multiple wives.

Activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana is incensed by the polygamy club, and she uses the Koran to try to refute claims that polygamy is an acceptable, even desirable Islamic practice.

"When the scripture revealed to the Prophet Muhammad its direction on polygamy, it was during the time of war," she says.

"I believe it was a direction to the Muslims of that time that all the victims of war or widows and children who lost a father or a husband have to be protected. That's the message of the scriptures - it wasn't really a command to men to have a second or third or fourth wife."

But that is not an interpretation Dr Gina Puspita or her family accepts.

Back at her house, she's frying up some rice and chicken for her family for lunch.

She cooks while Salwa, wife number three, chops up the vegetables. It is a picture of domestic harmony, an unusual family tableau.

Her husband Rizdam tells me this system works for them.

"I think polygamy is better than monogamy," he says to me as we share the lunch his wives have cooked for us.

"There are so many advantages - for men, it teaches us leadership. If it difficult to manage one wife in a marriage - but four? It is much more difficult and it is a good educational practice."

Sign of the times

Indonesian women's groups are calling on officials to shut the club down.

But so far the Indonesian government has said it will only monitor the club's activities - it won't curtail it.

Indonesia prides itself on its reputation as a tolerant Islamic nation, but many of its people are pitted against each other in an ongoing ideological battle.

The current controversy over Indonesia's polygamy club is a sign of the struggle this country is going through - how to be Muslim and modern at the same time.

Chinese man sets himself on fire in Beijing


By BBC Bureau:

A Chinese man is being treated in hospital after setting himself on fire in the capital, Beijing, to protest against the demolition of his home.

The man, named by local media as Xi Xinzhu, set himself alight when a demolition crew arrived to move him out and start tearing down his home.

Analysts say the incident will add to already intense pressure to reform China's rules on forced eviction.

Last month a woman died after setting herself alight in a similar protest.

Growing anger

Xi Xinzhu suffered burns to 10% of his body, officials told the Chinese Communist Party-controlled People's Daily newspaper.

"We tried everything to raise legal questions about this demolition through normal channels, but nobody would do anything, although there are plainly problems," Xi's brother, Xi Xinqiang, told Reuters news agency.

The protest is just one of a series in a country where land is effectively controlled by the state.

The law currently allows local governments to claim land and confiscate homes for urban development projects - a system which critics say is open to abuse.

Residents often complain that the amount of compensation offered is far below the real value of their homes.

Chinese legal experts have called for major changes, and in a sign that the government may be seeking to ease public anger, officials met nine of them on Wednesday to discuss the issue.

Lugo agrees DNA test in third Paraguay love-child case


By BBC Bureau:

The Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has agreed to take a DNA test in the third paternity lawsuit he has faced.

It is the latest in a series of scandals to hit Mr Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop.

Hortensia Moran is the third woman to say she had a child by the president. She says she had a relationship with him while he was running for office.

President Lugo shocked the country in April when he acknowledged a two-year-old boy as his son.

The Pope released him from his vows of chastity in July 2008, two years after he renounced the priesthood.

But Mr Lugo faces claims that he fathered at least one child while still a priest.

One woman claims he is the father of her six-year-old son and also wants the president to take a DNA test.

Iraq insurgents 'hack into video feeds from US drones'


By BBC Bureau

Insurgents in Iraq have hacked into live video feeds from unmanned American drone aircraft, US media reports say.

Shia fighters are said to have used off-the-shelf software programs such as SkyGrabber to capture the footage.

The hacking was possible because the remotely flown planes have an unprotected communications link.

Obtaining such video feeds could provide insurgents with information about sites the military might be planning to target.


ANALYSIS
Mark Ward, technology correspondent, BBC News
As its name implies, SkyGrabber is a program that grabs data being broadcast by satellites - it acts as a radio for data feeds and lets people tune into different data streams as they might radio stations.

Anyone downloading via a wire only shares that net link with a few neighbours. By contrast, anyone using a satellite net connection effectively shares all the data they are getting with everyone in the area covered by a satellite.

Those other people do not see that data because their PC is only watching for what they want. However, SkyGrabber eavesdrops on all the data being downloaded over a link and turns it back into whole files.

The way that data is sent over the net makes it very easy for anyone to reconstruct files. SkyGrabber has proved popular because it has good filters that let people sort the types of files, mp3, wmv, jpg they want to get.

It also knows about many different satellites and can be re-tuned to look at other data streams - such as those coming from drones.

The downside is that SkyGrabber users only get what other people want.

The breach of the Pentagon surveillance system's security is said to have come to light when footage shot by a Predator drone was found on the laptop of an apprehended Iraqi insurgent.

A senior Pentagon official is quoted as saying that although militants were able to view the video, there was no evidence that they were able to jam electronic signals from the aircraft or take control of them.

The unnamed official said the US defence department had addressed the issue by working to encrypt all video feeds provided by drones in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Predator drones can fly for several hours, remotely controlled by pilots thousands of miles away. The aircraft can carry out surveillance and attack targets with on-board missiles.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the US military continually evaluated the technologies it used and quickly corrected any potential problems it discovered.

"There's potential vulnerabilities in all of our systems," he said.

Churchill's unpaid India bill on show


By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Bangalore

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill still owes the exclusive Bangalore Club in southern India 13 rupees in unpaid bills.

An entry in the ledger book of the club from June 1899 has "Lt WLS Churchill" named as one of 17 defaulters.

Churchill arrived in Bangalore in 1896 as a young army officer and left three years later to fight in the North-West Frontier - now in Pakistan.

The Bangalore club was formed in 1868 by a group of British officers.

Today, it is one of India's most elite clubs, retaining much of its late 19th- and early 20th-Century splendour.

'Rarest of the rare'

"He was just another young officer, no-one thought he would one day become the prime minister of Britain," club Secretary Col Krishnan Dakshina Murthy told the BBC.


Bangalore Club Secretary Col Krishnan Dakshina Murthy
It is seldom that the prime minister of a country would be owing something to a club in another country
Col Krishnan Dakshina Murthy

"It is seldom that the prime minister of a country would be owing something to a club in another country. It's the rarest of the rare case," he says.

The ledger book with handwritten entries of bill defaulters is displayed in the main club building which is more than 150 years old.

A framed photograph of a strapping young Churchill with fellow officers adorns the wall above the display.

The entry in the ledger is clear and concise. It is dated 1 June 1899.

"The sub committee approved the following unrecovered sums being written off," it reads.

Churchill's is the 12th name from the top in a list of 17 names.

His debt to the club was discovered posthumously and, after it became public, many visiting British citizens have offered to clear the dues.

Col Murthy says in the last three years that he has been the club secretary, many Britons have approached him.

"We tell them that history is history, it can't be rewritten," he says.

Sleepy cantonment

The club has no historical records of Churchill in Bangalore.

Photograph of Churchill and his contemporaries in Banglalore
Churchill (standing on extreme left) did not enjoy his time in Bangalore

"We have only the old ledgers and the minutes of club meetings documented there," Col Murthy says.

In the days Churchill made Bangalore his home, it was not a bustling city with bright lights.

Historians say it was then a sleepy cantonment town with little to offer in the way of amusement to young soldiers.

And Churchill, by his own account, found the city boring. He spent most of his time reading and collecting butterflies.

In his memoir, My Early Life, he describes Bangalore as a "third rate watering place" with "lots of routine work" to do and "without society or good sport".

In such circumstances, it is assumed that Churchill spent many an evening in the Bangalore club, drinking whisky which cost seven annas (less than 50 paise, or half a rupee) for a large drink and four annas (25 paise) for a small peg.

And perhaps that is how he accumulated the debt of 13 rupees - a considerable sum in those days.

Colombia's ELN rebels show new vigour


By Jeremy McDermott
BBC News, Medellin

With precise intelligence, apparently impeccable timing and serious firepower, rebels from Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) were able to spring one of their top leaders from prison last month.

The 7 October rescue freed Carlos Marin Guarin, who also goes by the name of Gustavo Anibal Giraldo, but is better known by his alias of "Pablo" or "Pablito".

It took place as he was about to be moved from the prison in the region of Arauca, near the Venezuelan border, to the capital, Bogota.

Four ELN rebels entered the prison, led by a woman, who threw her boss a pistol. The rebels blasted their way out of the jail, killing one guard, wounding another and sending a further six scurrying for cover.

Waiting outside were two motorcycles and a van with more heavily armed rebels giving covering fire. "Pablo" jumped on the back of a motorcycle and was believed to be in Venezuela less than an hour later.

Pablo was the highest-ranking ELN rebel to have been captured in the five decades the guerrillas have been trying to overthrow the government. So his escape was an embarrassment for the government, leading President Alvaro Uribe to suggest there had been inside help.

"We gain nothing from increased security if there is corruption in that security," said Mr Uribe, a day after the break-out.

Forgotten force

Pablo, captured in Bogota in January 2008, never admitted he was a member of the ELN, saying he was a simple farmer from Arauca.

Scene of an ELN bomb attack from 2001
The ELN - responsible for attacks like this 2001 bombing - has been in decline in recent years

But after his escape, the ELN published a communique on its website saying that what it called "Operation Che Guevara" had been the result of two years of planning and was carried out by the rebels' "special commandos".

An investigation has been launched into the escape. All prison personnel in Arauca have been moved to other installations across the country and a reward of $900,000 (£550,000) has been offered for information leading to Pablo's recapture.

In any other country, a 1,500-strong Marxist rebel force would be the top threat to national security.

But in Colombia, the ELN is an almost-forgotten force, the headlines taken by the more powerful Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and an array of drugs cartels and right wing-paramilitary groups.

The ELN has been in gradual decline since its peak in 1999 when it numbered 4,000 fighters and was able to kidnap people from airplanes, boats, vehicles and homes, across Colombia.

While the Farc concentrated on building up its war machine and in the 1980s turned to the drugs trade for finance, the ELN focused more on political work.

Its leader until 1998, a former Spanish priest Manuel Perez, forbade his troops to have anything to do with the drugs trade on ideological grounds.

Military intelligence

But Pablo appears to have a very different outlook.

"Pablo is a committed Marxist Leninist, but has no problems with making tactical alliances with drug-trafficking groups. The ends justify the means and the ELN needs money," said Gerson Arias, an expert on the guerrilla group at the Bogota-based think-tank Fundacion Ideas para La Paz.


Pablo's area of operations in Arauca is a zone where the rebels have deep roots in the local communities
Armando Borrero
Security analyst

There have been talks in the past between the government and the ELN to find a negotiated settlement to the conflict, the most recent being between 2005 and 2007 in Havana, Cuba.

But there are elements within the ELN high command vehemently opposed to any form of talks, including Pablo.

"The failure of the last round of talks between the government and the ELN was in no small part thanks to Pablito and those within the ELN who think like him," said Mr Arias.

Pablo is, according the military intelligence, in command of three of the ELN's five "War Fronts", all close to the Venezuelan border.

"Pablo is an important figure in the ELN and his area of operations in Arauca is a zone where the rebels have deep roots in the local communities, where they still enjoy a level of support," said Armando Borrero, an academic and security analyst.

In Arauca, a bitter war is under way between the Farc and the ELN for control of the strategic routes into Venezuela, the drugs crops in the area and a multimillion dollar narcotics smuggling operation there.

And with Pablo in the field again, it seems likely that the ELN will regain vigour, particularly given his longstanding ties to Arauca.

Colombia rebel groups Farc and ELN agree 'to unite'


By BBC Bureau:

Two of Colombia's biggest rebel groups have announced they intend to unite to fight the country's security forces.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) said they were "on our way towards working for unity".

Farc and the smaller ELN have deep ideological differences and have fought each other in some regions.

Together they could be a significantly greater danger to the state, says the BBC's Jeremy McDermott.

The surprise announcement was made on a website known for its links with the Farc.

"Our only enemy is North American Imperialism and its oligarchic lackeys," the statement said, a reference to the US which supplies aid and training to the Colombian security forces.

The head of the Colombian armed forces, Gen Freddy Padilla, was dismissive of the news.

"This alliance is impossible," he said. "They dispute territory to control drug-trafficking and have killed one another in the south (of the departments of) Bolivar and Arauca."

Farc has in the past tried to absorb ELN, although the smaller group proved to be stronger than expected, beating back the Farc in several areas.

New path

The Farc is Colombia's oldest and largest left-wing rebel group. It was once thought to have some 16,000 fighters, but reports suggest it now has about 9,000. The group is rurally-based and finances itself through drug trafficking.

The ELN was formed in 1965 by intellectuals inspired by the Cuban revolution and liberation theology. It is regarded as being more ideological than the Farc and has succeeded in recruiting in urban areas. It is thought to have some 1,500 fighters.

It is not clear to what extent the two groups can put aside their differences.

"Now they have something in common, that they have been seriously diminished by Uribe," Mauricio Romero, a political analyst, told Reuters.

But he sees their union as largely symbolic.

The Farc has suffered several defeats at the hands of conservative President Alvaro Uribe's security forces.

Now under new leadership, it is steering a new path, and allying itself with former enemies to try to recover lost ground, our correspondent says.

Student loans delays continue over Christmas


By Angela Harrison
Education reporter, BBC News

The latest figures from the Student Loans Company suggest 28,000 people from England are still waiting to receive their loans and grants.

Another 38,000 still have applications in the pipeline, although nearly half of these have had most of their money.

The body, which runs the student support system for England, has been criticised in a report for the delays.

It is drawing up an action plan to tackle the problems, which will include a management shake-up.

The latest statistics from the Student Loans Company show more than a million applications for loans were made for this year - up in line with a 10% increase in applications to universities.

Of these, 907,000 have been approved and 82,000 were withdrawn or not completed.

Applications are still coming in, as people can apply for a loan up to nine months after their courses start.


WHAT IS AVAILABLE, 2009-10
Tuition fee loan: up to £3,225
Maintenance loan: up to £3,564 non-means tested
+ up to £1,386 means tested
Maintenance grant: £2,906 on household income below £25,000 tapers up to household income of £50,020
Maintenance loan reduced by 50p for every £1 of grant
Bursaries: determined locally
Special Support Grant instead of maintenance grant of up to £2,906 for those eligible for means tested benefits (loan not reduced)

When the problems came to wider public attention in October, the SLC made the decision to focus on giving all students who had applied by late August their basic entitlement to a loan - and to deal with the extra means-tested elements afterwards.

Among the 28,000 people still waiting for loans to be approved, the SLC says 5,000 are being processed but in the remaining 23,000 cases, "further information is required from sponsors".

Among the 38,000 who have yet to receive all of their funds are 18,000 who have been given an "interim assessment" which means they will have had their basic loan paid, but not the means-tested element.

This is why students with disabilities and those applying for childcare support have been particularly affected.

The other 20,000 people in this category, the SLC says, are those whose applications have been approved but who still need to "make an online declaration", before payment can be triggered.

Many of the thousands of people who have e-mailed the BBC News website since September have complained their documents were lost or mislaid by the loans agency.

The report into the delays, by Professor Sir Deian Hopkin, confirmed that technical problems with new equipment brought in this year to scan people's documents had been partly to blame.

Next year's applications had been postponed while the SLC looked at the lessons learned from this year's problems but they have just been re-opened.

A statement from the SLC said: "The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and the Student Loans Company are now satisfied that arrangements have been made to ensure that the processes are sufficiently robust so as to avoid a repeat of this situation next year and therefore the application cycle has now launched two months earlier than last year".

New students can now begin applications for funding for 2010/11 as they apply for a place at university through Ucas.

'Coldest place' found on the Moon


By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News, San Francisco

The Moon has the coldest place in the Solar System measured by a spacecraft.

Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has used its Diviner instrument to probe the insides of permanently shadowed craters on Earth's satellite.

It found mid-winter, night-time surface temperatures inside the coldest craters in the northern polar region can dip as low as minus 249C (26 Kelvin).

"The Moon has one of the most extreme thermal environments of any body in the Solar System," said Prof David Paige.

"During the middle of the day, temperatures can get up to about 400K (127C) at the equator; and at the poles at night, they can get very cold," the Diviner principal investigator at the University of California, Los Angeles, added.

Prof Paige has been describing his instrument's latest findings here at the American Geophysical Union's (AGU) Fall Meeting, the world's largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.

Diviner was part of the suite of instruments launched on LRO in June this year and has been operating continuously since it was switched on in July.

In October, the spacecraft found itself in the perfect position to witness summer solstice in the Moon's southern hemisphere and winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.

The Moon does have seasons - just about. The tilt of the lunar axis is 1.54 degrees. For most places, this makes no difference, but as Prof Paige explained, at the poles, this gives rise to a small, three-degree change in the elevation of the Sun on the horizon through the course of a year.
Artist's impression of LRO (Nasa)
LRO was launched in June

"This results in a significant variation in the extent of shadows and temperatures," he said.

Diviner observed the lowest summer temperatures in the darkest craters at the southern pole to be about 35K (-238C); but in the north, close to the winter solstice the instrument recorded a temperature of just 26K on the south-western edge of the floor of Hermite Crater.

There were also areas on the southern edges of the floors of Peary and Bosch Craters that got almost as cold.

Calculations suggest one would have to travel to a distance beyond the Kuiper Belt - well beyond the orbit of Neptune - to find objects with surfaces this cold.

"The way you can make something cold is to eliminate all possible other heat sources, and in these craters at the lunar poles they receive no direct sunlight and the coldest places don't even receive any indirect sunlight," Prof Paige said.

"In other words, only what little radiation may be scattered from some distant cliff gets down into these areas; and they just cool off. Finally, they reach an equilibrium temperature down at those low values."

The discovery adds further weight to the idea that some craters on the Moon could harbour water-ices for extended periods, and also more volatile substances that require even colder storage temperatures.

Sarkozy backs calls to keep Kyoto


By BBC Buraeu:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has backed calls by developing nations to keep the Kyoto Protocol, which only requires rich nations to cut emissions.

Speaking in Copenhagen, he broke away from the EU position of favouring a new deal that saw all nations commit to measures to curb climate change.

Elsewhere, the US and China are at loggerheads over binding targets.

With one day remaining, observers say the climate summit is unlikely to deliver a meaningful deal.

The Danish presidency of the climate summit in Copenhagen has sought to play down expectations of a comprehensive deal emerging from the meeting.

The hosts had to drop plans to propose new draft texts on Thursday after opposition from many developing nations, which saw the talks grind to a halt on Wednesday.

Officials said progress could be made, but an international agreement may have to wait until a 2010 meeting in Mexico.

In his address to delegates, Mr Nicolas Sarkozy called on nations to "stop posturing".

"A failure in Copenhagen would a catastrophe for each and everyone of us," he said. "If we keep on heading where we're going we are heading for failure."

"So people want to keep Kyoto, OK let's keep Kyoto. But let us agree on an overall political umbrella," he stated.

The French president went on to urge ministers and leaders to adopt a full climate treaty in June 2010.

"Let's give ourselves six months after the Copenhagen conference to transform political commitments into a legal text."

Money on offer

Eariler, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the meeting her country was prepared to work towards mobilising $100bn a year for developing countries.

She told delegates: "In the context of a strong accord in which all major economies pledge meaningful mitigation actions and provide full transparency as to those actions, the US is prepared to work with other countries towards a goal of mobilising $100bn a year to address the needs of developing countries."

She made it clear - as did Japan on Wednesday when announcing a specific figure for assistance - that the money was contingent on reaching a global deal here that met its criteria.

BBC environment correspondent Richard Black said developing countries are likely to point out that there is no figure for what the US is prepared to provide itself, either from public or private finance.

The sum is also less than the amount that UN agencies such as the World Bank and International Energy Agency calculates is necessary to help mitigation and adaptation in the developing world.

But transparency is emerging as a major sticking point for the US. It wants some developing countries to open their emissions controls to scrutiny.

China and India say they are willing to take voluntary measures to slow their emissions, but they are reluctant to accept tight international oversight.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration believed there was still a chance of deal, but China needed to give ground on the US demand for transparency. He told Reuters news agency that if reports were true that China was balking at a climate deal, the US hoped it would reconsider.

There has been no immediate response from the Chinese delegation.

New alliance?

Addressing the summit on Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he feared "a triumph of form over substance" at the outcome of the UN climate summit.

In his speech, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, meanwhile, urged the summit to "summon up the greatest level of ambition".

"The success of our endeavours depends on us forging a new alliance," he told delegates.

He added: "In these few days in Copenhagen which will be blessed or blamed for generations to come, we cannot permit the politics of narrow self-interest to prevent a policy for human survival."

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN's climate body, told reporters that negotiators would consider two negotiating texts; one looking at further emission cuts by developed nations (except the US) by 2020, and another that looks at committing all nations to curbing climate change.

Mr de Boer added that the texts would be considered by two working groups, which were expected to report back to the main conference on Thursday evening.

Saleemul Huq, senior fellow in climate change at the International Institute for Environment and Development, told BBC News: "The negotiation process is in a high state of confusion."

"On the other hand, heads of state are arriving and talking to each other, and within hours every important decision-maker on the planet will be in the same town at the same time.

"If they can't do it, no-one can - and I think that they will."

India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh said a "blame game" had already begun because of the slow progress towards a deal.

Containing emissions to a level associated with a temperature rise of no more than 2C is the stated aim of the big nations here.

As things are going they will miss that target by a considerable margin, our correspondent says.

The poorest and most vulnerable nations say emissions should be contained to a level associated with a temperature rise of 1 or 1.5C.

Netbooks boost end of year PC sales


By BBC Bureau:

Sales of personal computers have increased for the first time in almost a year, report market analysts IDC.

Sales of PCs climbed 2.3% in the third quarter of 2009 according to figures compiled by the firm. Sales of mobile computers were particularly strong.

The upward swing is a marked change from the previous three quarters when sales were down during every period.

The firm said strong demand as students returned to school helped to push the uptick in sales.

Demand for desktop computers was sluggish, said IDC, but sales of mobile computers continued to boom. Figures gathered by IDC suggest that sales of portable machines were up 33.5% on the same period in 2008. Also likely to be contributing to the uptick was the release of Windows 7 in October 2009.

In particular, said IDC, sales of small portable computers or netbooks were up sharply, rising by 37% over the total in the second quarter of 2009. Netbooks are cut-down laptops that typically sport small screens and keyboards but excel at letting people connect to the net while on the move.

IDC estimates that sales of netbooks now account for about 28% of the consumer market. At the same time in 2008, their market share was 14%.

However, it said competition for buyers looking for a netbook could come from manufacturers launching ultra-thin machines, said IDC.

It also expected growth to continue in 2010 when sales would largely be driven by buyers in developing nations where growth will exceed 10%.

Portable computers will continue their popularity during 2010, said IDC, although desktop sales were likely to remain flat.

IDC said it expected growth to be persistent until 2013.

"An aging installed base of PCs to replace, along with government aid and declining average selling prices are key ingredients in a recipe for resurgence of PC shipments into the commercial market segment," said Richard Shim, research manager for PCs at IDC, in a statement.

UK community groups win free wi-fi


By BBC Bureau:

Mother and toddler groups, youth clubs and unemployment centres are among the winners of a competition offering free wi-fi to remote areas.

From the Orkney Islands to southern Cornwall, 46 communities have been chosen to receive free wi-fi for a minimum of three years.

The competition was launched by wi-fi hotspot firm Freerunner.

The firm uses a combination of broadband, satellite and 3G to connect remote communities.

The connections will be paid for by a combination of advertisements and corporate sponsorship.

Rural town Stromness in Orkney is a typical winner.

The pier is a gathering point for both tourists and locals and having wi-fi installed will benefit a range of groups including local artists, the Ladies Lifeboat Guild and the Fisherman's Co-operative.

Other winners include a church in the Midlands which is working with refugees and asylum seekers, a community centre in Stirling running a group for mothers and toddlers and a youth club in Devon.

"The Freerunner mission is to give everyone free access to fast wi-fi whether you are in a coffee shop in the West End of London or a community centre in the suburbs of Newcastle," said chief executive Owen Geddes.

"It is incredible to think that a small piece of relatively low cost technology is going to fundamentally change nearly 50 communities across the UK," he said.

Broadband supplier BE is the first sponsor to the scheme and will roll out free broadband to those with no connection.

"We agree that wi-fi should be more widely available," said Tom Williams, head of operations at BE Broadband.

Ian Johnson is a project leader for the Black Country Learning Academy which is among the winners.

"Many people in our area have never been online and know little about IT. Wi-fi means we can set up new internet-enabled computers allowing us to run more ...courses, improving the employment prospects of people across the region."

The UK government has pledged to provide broadband running at a minimum speed of 2Mbps (megabits per second) to all homes by 2012.

Credit Suisse 'broke curbs on Iran'


By Al Jazeera:



Credit Suisse has agreed to pay a record $536m and admit it violated US sanctions by hiding business it was doing with Iranian banks, settling an investigation by the US justice department.

The deal, announced on Wednesday, allows the bank to avoid further penalties as long as it co-operates with the authorities.

Eric Holder, the US attorney general, said that the settlement sent a "strong message" that the US would take action over such violations.

"Credit Suisse's decades-long scheme to flout the rules that govern our financial institutions robbed our system of the legitimacy that is fundamental to its success," he said.

"We cannot let this stand, and today's settlement sends a strong message that we will not let it stand."

Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general who heads the Justice Department's criminal division, said: "I hope that other financial institutions are watching and learning from Credit Suisse's experience."

Bank investigated

The $536m will be split between the US government and the district attorney's office in Manhattan, which also participated in the settlement talks with the bank along with the federal reserve and the treasury department.

The Swiss bank has been under investigation for years over business it did with countries subject to US economic sanctions, including Libya, Myanmar, Sudan and Cuba, between 2002 and 2007.

Investigators said that Credit Suisse hid the identities of Iranian customers in transactions that went through the US.

Prosecutors said more than $1.6bn was moved through the US financial system through these transactions.

High standards

Court documents suggest the bank may have begun evading US sanctions as early as 1986, when sanctions on Libya were first imposed.

Credit Suisse said it had reviewed its US dollar payments that involved countries, people or entities subject to sanctions.

In a statement on Wednesday the bank said: "Credit Suisse is committed to the highest standards of integrity and regulatory compliance in all its businesses and takes this matter extremely seriously".

Earlier this year, Lloyds TSB agreed to forfeit $350m for helping customers evade US sanctions on business transactions with Sudan, Iran and Libya.

The court papers filed on Wednesday say that when Lloyds decided in 2003 to stop doing such business, the Iranian banks moved their business over to Credit Suisse.

Mexican drug lord shot dead


By Al Jazeera:

CUERNAVACA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican security forces tracked down and killed drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva, one of the most wanted traffickers in Mexico and the United States, in a victory for President Felipe Calderon's drug war.

World

Beltran Leyva, a cartel chief dubbed "The Boss of Bosses," was shot dead on Wednesday evening by Navy forces in a gated luxury residential complex in the southern city of Cuernavaca, a weekend getaway for wealthy city dwellers.

The strike, five days after Beltran Leyva escaped another army operation targeting him, is a major coup for Calderon at the end of a year when drug gang violence has exploded to unprecedented levels and cartel arrests have been flagging.

"We started following up our intelligence on Friday. It seems that that day he got away, but the proof of what we had is what we have delivered to the Mexican people today," Rear Admiral Jose Luis Vergara told Mexican television.

Beltran Leyva, 58, who ran a cartel based in northwestern Mexico bearing his family name, was an ally turned foe of Mexico's No.1 most wanted man, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, who has been on the run since escaping from prison in 2001.

Sometimes dubbed "White Boots" for the color of his leather cowboy boots, he enjoyed protection from corrupt police in Mexico City and surrounding states and moved between luxurious mansions and apartments, including in the Pacific beach resort of Acapulco.

Navy forces arrived by helicopter and television images showed them surrounding the residence in the dark amid the sound of gunshots and grenades. Security forces laid spikes on the road to stop anyone escaping by car.

Six bodyguards died with Beltran Leyva, one of whom shot himself rather than be taken and interrogated. One of the six was his brother Mario, Mexican media said.

His cartel is one of half a dozen whose turf wars have slain more than 16,000 people since Calderon came to power in late 2006 and set the army on drug traffickers.

Despite a 49,000-troop presence across Mexico, drug gang killings have skyrocketed this year to an unprecedented 7,000 and atrocities including torture and decapitations are common.

GOVERNMENT GOAL

Navy forces, who analysts say have stronger intelligence and are less prone to corruption, have increasingly joined federal police and army troops in Calderon's drug war.

Beltran Leyva has several lieutenants likely to step up and fill his shoes, such as Sergio Villa Real, whose nicknames include "King Kong" and "Child Eater".

"This is a victory for Calderon in the short term, but his position will be filled very quickly," Alberto Islas, a Mexico City-based security analyst, said of Beltran Leyva.

He predicted more violence as rival drug gangs try to take back territory lost to the Beltran Leyvas in recent years in southern Mexico and Mexico City.

The Beltran Leyvas have been engaged in a gruesome fight over smuggling routes into the United States with Guzman.

Mexican anti-drug officials say Beltran Leyva laundered profits through a professional indoor Sinaloan soccer team, luxury hotels in Acapulco and real estate outside Mexico City.

Last year, police found a weapons arsenal in a house in an upscale district of Mexico City linked to Beltran Leyva. At another mansion near the capital, police stormed a party where a Colombian-led gang working for him kept two adult African lions, two tigers and two black panthers in cages.

Beltran Leyva had a $2.4 million tag on his head in Mexico, where he was wanted for organized crime and kidnapping.

In the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder had announced an indictment against Beltran Leyva and other top Mexican smugglers for moving billions of dollars of cocaine across the U.S. border. Washington also froze the U.S. assets of 22 individuals and 10 companies linked to the cartel.

(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott and Robert Campbell; writing by Catherine Bremer and Robert Campbell; editing by Todd Eastham)

Mexican raid kills drug cartel ‘Boss of Bosses’


By AP:

CUERNAVACA, Mexico - Two hundred sailors raided an upscale apartment complex and killed a reputed Mexican drug cartel chief in a two-hour gunbattle, one of the biggest victories yet in President Felipe Calderon's drug war.

Arturo Beltran Leyva, who has been dubbed "The Boss of Bosses," and three members of his cartel were slain in the shootout Wednesday in Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City, according to a navy statement. A fifth cartel member committed suicide during the shootout.

Cartel gunmen hurled grenades that injured three sailors, the navy said. An Associated Press reporter at the scene heard at least 10 explosions.

During the gunbattle, sailors went door-to-door to evacuate residents of the apartment complex to the gym, according to a woman who said she was speaking by cellphone to her husband inside. She would not give her name out of fear for her safety.

Beltran Levya is the highest-ranking figure taken down under Calderon, who has deployed more than 45,000 troops across Mexico to crush the cartels since taking office in December 2006. The offensive has earned Calderon praise from Washington even as 14,000 people have been killed in a wave of drug-related violence.

The last time Mexican authorities killed a major drug lord was in 2002, when Ramon Arellano Felix of the Tijuana Cartel was shot by a police officer in the Sinaloa resort of Mazatlan.

Bloodshed
Image: Arturo Beltran Leyva
AFP - Getty Images file
Arturo Beltran Leyva, who has been dubbed "The Boss of Bosses," and three members of his cartel were slain in the shootout Wednesday in Cuernavaca.
Beltran Levya was one of five brothers who split from the Sinaloa Cartel several years ago and aligned themselves with Los Zetas, a group of former soldiers hired by the rival Gulf Cartel as hit men. The split is believed to have fueled much of the bloodshed of recent years.

One of the brothers, Alfredo Beltran Leyva, was arrested in January 2008.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says the Beltran Leyva cartel is key in the importation and distribution of tons of cocaine in the United States, as well as large quantities of heroin. Mexico considers the group one of its six major cartels.

The Mexican government had listed Arturo Beltran Leyva as one its 24 most-wanted drug lords and had offered a $2.1 million reward for his capture.

Born in the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, the Beltran Leyva brothers worked side by side with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, before they broke away after Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cardenas was arrested in 2003. They soon seized the lucrative drug routes in northeastern Mexico.

Beheadings
U.S. officials say the Beltran Leyva Cartel has carried out heinous killings, including numerous beheadings. The gang also has had great success in buying off public officials, police and others to protect their business and get tips on planned military raids.

The U.S government added Beltran Leyva and his cartel to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act last year, a movement that denied him access to the U.S. financial system.

The state of Morelos, where Cuernavaca is located, and neighboring Guerrero have seen a spike in violence in recent months, with dozens of people killed. Some of the mutilated bodies have appeared with pieces of paper signed "Boss of Bosses," Beltran Leyva's nickname.

Mexican authorities have been steadily closing in on the Beltran Levya over the past year, raising lavish parties thrown by cartel leaders even while they were on the run.

In one of the biggest blows to the gang, several top federal law enforcement officials were arrested in late 2008 for allegedly protecting and leaking confidential information to the cartel. They included former Mexican drug czar Noe Ramirez.

Party raided
On Friday, sailors raided a party at mansion in the mountain down of Tepotzlan, near Cuernavaca, where they killed three alleged Beltran Leyva cartel members and detained 11.

They also detained Ramon Ayala, a Texas-based norteno singer whose band was playing at the party, on suspicion of ties to organized crime. His lawyer, Adolfo Vega, denied Ayala had ties to the Beltran Leyva gang, saying the singer didn't know his clients were drug traffickers.

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Mexico leader proposes major political reforms

In May, soldiers arrested one of Beltran Leyva's lieutenants, Rodolfo Lopez Ibarra, as he stepped off a plane in the northern city of Monterrey — fresh from a baptism party hosted by Beltran Leyva himself in Acapulco.

Months earlier, soldiers had arrested the deputy police chief of the resort town of Zihuatenejo who was allegedly protecting 14 Beltran Leyva members at a cock fight.

Mexico's drug gangs have fought against Calderon's crackdown with brutal attacks against security forces.

On Wednesday, the severed heads of six state police investigators were found on a public plaza in the northern Mexican state of Durango.

UN to end DR Congo operation

By Al Jazeera:

A controversial United Nations-backed operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo that is reported to have claimed hundreds of civilian lives will be wrapped up by year's end, a senior UN envoy has said.

Speaking to the Security Council on Wednesday, Alan Doss, the UN special envoy to the Congo said the objective of the Kimia II operation against Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Congo "has been largely achieved, although we do recognise that there have been very serious humanitarian consequences".

Doss' briefing took place as the Security Council discusses renewing of the mandate for the UN peacekeeping force, known as MONUC, which has been in Congo since 1999.

Addressing the council, Doss said the Rwandan Hutu militia, known as the FDLR, remained a "potent threat".

"They will seek to return to their former strongholds and punish the population for collaboration with government forces, if they are allowed to do so," he said.

Many FDLR rebels fled to eastern Congo after participating in the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda that killed more than 500,000 people.

Subsequent fighting ballooned into back-to-back civil wars from 1996 to 2002 that drew in other neighbouring countries in a rush to plunder the DR Congo's massive mineral wealth.

The UN maintains the world's largest peacekeeping force in the DR Congo with some 19,000 so-called blue helmets deployed in the country.

But amid mounting allegations of war crimes by the Congoloese army in the country's east, the Security Council is reconsidering its mandate in the country.

On Monday a report by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the offensive had led to more than 1,400 civilians murdered this year by both Congolese troops and rebels.

According to the report Congolese soldiers, supported and fed by the UN, gang-raped girls and cut the heads off some young men accused of being rebels or supporting the enemy.

Anneke van Woudenberg, HRW's senior researcher in the DR Congo told Al Jazeera the group had documented widespread attacks on civilians, including an increase in sexual violence.

"As long as the Congolese Army is continuing to commit war crimes then UN peacekeepers, through their support of these soldiers – are themselves violating the laws of war," she said.