Iraq 'hostage Briton' video aired

Iraq hostage Peter Moore

An Arabic TV channel has aired a video claiming to show one of five Britons captured in Iraq eight months ago.

The footage showed a man making an appeal to Prime Minister Gordon Brown to help secure the hostages' freedom.

"My name is Peter Moore, I have been held here for nearly eight months now," the man said in English.

He asks Mr Brown to free nine Iraqis in exchange for the release of the Britons seized in May 2007. The Foreign Office has condemned the release of the video.

The video shows the man speaking in English with an Arabic translation played over the top.

'Simple exchange'

The man appealed for the freedom of the Iraqis prisoners - being held by the coalition authorities.

"All I want is to leave this place. I tell Gordon Brown the matter is simple: release their prisoners so we can go," he said.

The man, who is wearing a black and white tracksuit, says on the tape that he is from Lincoln and appeals to the British government to help secure the group's freedom.

"It's as simple as that. It's a simple exchange of people. That is all they want - their people and we can go home," the man said.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) criticised the footage and said: "We condemn the release of videos such as this, which are greatly distressing to the families of those involved. Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.

"We urge those holding the group to release them immediately. We are in close contact with the Iraqi authorities and doing everything we can to try and secure a swift release."

The FCO said it wanted anyone who could influence the situation to do what they could to ensure the "safety and release of the hostages".

"We again call directly on those holding these men to release them," it said.

'Absolute fear'

Security expert Sally Lievesley, a former Home Office adviser, said the man looked like he had been forced into giving the message.

She said: "We look at the message on the victim's face - the stress, the absolute fear and the utter need to do what he is being asked that tells us how involuntary that message is.

"Although he looks well kept physically, mentally, I think his family will be very upset at seeing that video."

BBC News security correspondent Frank Gardner said the kidnappers appeared to have mellowed their tone since the release of a previous tape in December 2007.

In that footage, one of the four British bodyguards seized along with IT consultant Mr Moore was flanked by gunmen and warned of an ultimatum.

Our correspondent said: "The good news is that in the extremely brutal and violent world of Iraqi abductions these men appear to be relatively moderate.

"They've got negotiable aims, although of course Britain doesn't officially negotiate with hostage-takers."

He added: "The fact that they are holding these men and appear to be keeping them alive, reasonably well fed, not chained up, and that they haven't apparently executed any of them after more than eight months is encouraging."

The five men were seized from Baghdad's Finance Ministry by gunmen wearing police uniforms on 29 May 2007 without a shot being fired.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad said little was known about the hostage-takers who call themselves the Islamic Shia Resistance in Iraq and they had not been heard of before.

He said they could be connected to the Mehdi Army militia or have possible links with Iran.

The video has not yet been authenticated but he said there was "little to doubt the veracity of it".


Queen urges caring for the needy

The Queen

The Queen has used her Christmas Day message to highlight the needs of vulnerable people in society.

She also said, during her message, growing older had given her a "heightened awareness of change".

The Queen also recognised the sacrifice and devotion to duty of the armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The first televised broadcast of the Queen's Christmas message was in 1957, but it is a tradition begun on the radio in 1932 by George V.

The Queen said: "One of the features of growing old is the heightened awareness of change.

"To remember what happened 50 years ago means that it is possible to appreciate what has changed in the meantime. It also makes you aware of what remains constant."

The Queen also said people should share responsibility to help those less fortunate than themselves.

New channel

In the 1957 live broadcast from her desk at Sandringham, she said she hoped the new medium would make her message more personal and direct.

The Queen has also launched her own channel on video-sharing website YouTube, which will feature the message.

The Queen spent Christmas morning with other members of the Royal Family at a church service near her estate in Sandringham, Norfolk.

She was accompanied by princes Edward, Andrew and Charles, as well as the Duchess of Cornwall.

Prince Andrew has said the Royal Family usually assembles to watch the Queen's speech, but that the Queen watches the broadcast on her own in another room.


UK troops to make early Iraq exit

British troops on the outskirts of Basra

Around 350 British soldiers have been told they will leave southern Iraq four months early.

The Royal Dragoon Guards Battle Group will return to their barracks in Germany in late January.

The Battle Group began its tour of duty, which had been expected to last six months, in Basra in November.

The reduction is part of the British military's plans to reduce troop numbers following the handover of the province to Iraqi control.

The return of the Battle Group, which is made up of the Royal Dragoon Guards Headquarters and C Company, plus Burma Company from the 1st Battalion the Lancashire Regiment, will leave around 4,150 British troops in Iraq.

On 16 December British troops transferred control of Basra province to the Iraqi authorities in the first stage of the handover.

The British troops still in Iraq will take a backseat role, focusing on training Iraqi forces.

Numbers will drop to around 2,500 from the spring, with a further decision about the next phase made then.


Brown belatedly signs EU treaty

Mr Brown signed the treaty flanked by Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, Jose Socrates and Hans-Gert Pottering

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has belatedly signed the EU reform treaty, having missed a ceremony attended by leaders of the 26 other member states.

Mr Brown delayed his trip to Lisbon so he could appear before a Commons select committee scrutinising his government.

He promised the committee there would be a full debate in Parliament on the 250-page text but no referendum.

The Conservatives said Mr Brown's "diary clash" did not reflect well on him, making him appear "gutless".

"If he believes this treaty is the right thing for the country then he ought to have the guts to go to the actual signing ceremony," Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC News 24.

"We had this chronic indecision in Downing Street about what the prime minister would do. I don't think that's a very good advertisement for prime ministerial decision-making."

Kenneth Clarke, the pro-European former Conservative chancellor, said Mr Brown's "stunt" proved he was "not very good at international diplomacy" and was more concerned with newspaper headlines.

It was "a foolish way of going about defending a treaty which he's taken part in the negotiations of", Mr Clarke told BBC News 24. "He's behaving rather childishly."

The Liberal Democrats said Mr Brown's absence raised "serious questions".

Lib Dem leadership contender and ex-MEP Chris Huhne criticised "inept and peevish behaviour that leaves Gordon Brown's reputation for honest dealing with our EU partners hanging by a thread".

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said he spoke to Foreign Secretary David Miliband in Lisbon just moments before he signed the treaty and repeated his demand for a referendum, receiving only "a hollow laugh" in reply.

Mr Farage said: "This is just about the most thoroughly dishonest political process I have ever been witness to.

"This is a constitutional treaty with profound, far-reaching implications and for the British Government to pretend it is something it isn't and deny us a referendum is monstrous."

Referendum rejected

Mr Miliband stood in for Mr Brown for the signing in the Portuguese capital.

Mr Brown has said there was no need for a referendum as the treaty was different from the constitution rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005.

But he told the Commons liaison committee there would be "more scope for Parliament to debate some of these issues than there has been in the past".

The UK will give up its veto in many policy areas as the EU introduces more qualified majority voting, but Mr Brown said the changes were in the country's interests.

"Some of them are minor and procedural and the other ones are in Britain's interest and if they are not we have usually got an opt-in or an opt-out to decide whether we wish to be part of it," Mr Brown told the committee.

'Ingeneous MPs'

He said MPs would have the final say over whether Britain opts out of justice and home affairs legislation, when it is taken over by the EU.

But MPs would not be able to vote on which parts of the treaty Britain wanted to opt in to as decisions on that had to be made within a "three-month window", he added.

"It will have to be a matter for the government to make that decision on the basis of what we know to be the best interest of the country but the general debate we will have in the House of Commons," Mr Brown said.

He said he was sure some "ingenuous" MPs would find ways to introduce amendments to the bill ratifying it, but he declined to go into detail about the wording of the bill, saying it would be published "very soon".

The treaty will greatly alter the way members govern themselves. It creates an EU president and a vastly more powerful foreign policy chief for the union's 27 nations.


Afghan battle being won - Brown

Taleban fighters in Musa Qala - 6/12/2007

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has told MPs that forces are "winning the battle against the insurgency" in Afghanistan.

He said Britain and its coalition partners were "isolating and eliminating the leadership of the Taleban, not negotiating with them".

But he backed Afghan leaders' moves towards "political reconciliation" with ex-insurgents who renounce violence.

The current level of 7,800 troops would be maintained, said Mr Brown, as part of the UK's "long-term commitment".

He also announced 」450m development funding and more equipment for troops.

Stopping attacks

He said British, Afghan and Nato forces had been "driving the insurgents and extremists out of their hiding places" and stopping them regrouping and attacking "areas around the provincial capitals".

He said he wanted to build on military progress and help Afghans take more responsibility for government, security and economic development.

Newspaper reports had suggested that Mr Brown would say it was "time to talk" to the Taleban.

But outlining his strategy in the House of Commons, the prime minister said: "Our aim is to isolate and eradicate the Taleban insurgency and to isolate the leadership. We are not negotiating with the leadership and we don't propose to do so."

He wanted to support Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai in his efforts towards "political reconciliation" which had already seen 5,000 fighters lay down their arms, he said.

'Dangerous places'

Mr Brown also paid tribute to the courage of military personnel doing "vital work" in "dangerous places", and said the current 7,800-strong British force in Afghanistan would be maintained.

And he announced 」450m for "development and stabilisation assistance" between 2009 and 2012, as well as 150 new protected patrol vehicles and extra Sea King helicopters.

He said the aim was for an extra 20,000 Afghan soldiers to be trained up next year, bringing the total to 70,000 and promised more police trainers to tackle "decades of failure and corruption" in building up police, courts and prisons.

He urged President Karzai to press ahead with "targeted eradication" policies against the poppy crop in Helmand.

And he urged more troop contributions from other Nato countries, along with the appointment of a "strong UN envoy" to co-ordinate international security, governance and development programmes.

Political consensus

Conservative leader David Cameron welcomed the announcements about equipment and said his party had long called for a single international figure to co-ordinate aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan - as Lord Ashdown had done in Bosnia.

He also asked Mr Brown to give quarterly updates on Afghanistan. He said: "This country is giving a tremendous amount to Afghanistan in both aid and lives.

"Those of us on this side of the House believe it is a worthwhile effort but the country wants reassurance."

The Liberal Democrats' acting leader Vincent Cable said recent surveys had suggested increasing concern among the British people and that a majority were in favour of withdrawal.

"There is a consensus among the parties in here that we continue to support the Afghan assault," he said.

"But what are you going to do to persuade British public opinion that this activity is necessary and right?"

Earlier politicians paid tribute to Sgt Lee Johnson, 33, who was serving with the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment when he was killed in an explosion during the assault on Musa Qala, which had fallen to the Taleban.

The number of UK troops killed on operations in Afghanistan since 2001 now stands at 86.


UK soldier killed in Afghanistan

British troops in Afghanistan (Crown Copyright)

A UK soldier has been killed during an assault by international forces on a Taleban stronghold in Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed the death of the solider from the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, but did not give further details.

Next of kin have been informed of the death, which raises the toll of British dead to 86 since October 2001.

Twelve insurgents and two children have also died in the battle in Musa Qala, the Afghan defence ministry says.

Iconic importance

British and Afghan ground forces have taken positions south, west and east of the town, while US troops were dropped from helicopters and fought on foot through the night.

The British and Afghan troops exchanged intense gunfire with Taleban fighters defending their position in the town - the only major town they hold.

The twelve Taleban were killed during fighting, while the two children were killed when security forces clashed with Taleban travelling in a convoy with civilians, a spokesman for the Afghan defence ministry said.

The coalition has denied Taleban claims that several armoured vehicles had been destroyed.

Defence Minister Des Browne, who is in Kabul, said Musa Qala had taken on iconic importance.

The Taleban took it over in February, in contravention of a deal brokered with tribal elders when British troops withdrew.

It has since become the main centre of drugs trading in Afghanistan.

Controversial deal

The assault is the first major operation where the new Afghan army is playing a leading role.

Mr Browne said Afghan forces would lead the re-taking of the town, and would also take the lead in holding it afterwards.

The agreement brokered over Musa Qala when British forces left was highly controversial.

It was portrayed at the time as a "win-win" situation, with the Taleban and British pull-out supposed to leave local forces to assume local government.

British officers maintained it was a redeployment rather than a withdrawal - freeing them up to take on Taleban forces in other parts of Helmand.

But the Taleban contravened the deal and took over Musa Qala.

The latest British death comes days after Trooper Jack Sadler, 21, was killed in an explosion while on patrol in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan.




MP quits union over BNP speaker

Dr Julian Lewis

A Tory MP has resigned from The Oxford Union in protest at its decision to invite two controversial figures to a free-speech event on Monday.

Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party (BNP) and David Irving - jailed for denying the Holocaust - were invited by the union debating society.

Shadow defence minister and MP for New Forest East Dr Julian Lewis said the students should be "ashamed".

The Oxford Union said it was important to give people of all views a platform.

Mr Griffin has repeatedly insisted the BNP is not a racist group.

'Couple of scoundrels'

He was convicted in 1998 for incitement to racial hatred for material denying the Holocaust.

Mr Irving was imprisoned for three years after pleading guilty to Holocaust denial in Austria.

In a letter to the union's officers and standing committee, Dr Lewis said he was resigning his life membership "with great sadness".

The MP, who studied at Balliol and St Antony's colleges, said the right to free speech should not guarantee access to privileged platforms.

"Nothing which happens in Monday's debate can possibly offset the boost you are giving to a couple of scoundrels who can put up with anything except being ignored," he said.

"It is sheer vanity on your part to imagine that any argument you deploy, or any vote you carry will succeed in causing them damage.

Nick Griffin (L) and David Irving (R)

"They have been exposed and discredited time and again by people vastly more qualified than you in arenas hugely more suited to the task than an undergraduate talking-shop, however venerable."

Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "I think it is an absolute disgrace.

"As a former president of the National Union of Students I'm ashamed that this has happened.

"This is not a question of freedom of speech, this is a juvenile provocation."

The invitation has been opposed by the Oxford Student Union and the university's Muslim and Jewish societies.

However, on Friday the debating society voted by a margin of two to one to continue to extend the invitations to Mr Griffin and Mr Irving.

Hundreds of protesters are expected to gather at the university on Monday.

Existing laws

But Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, who is billed to speak at the forum, said it was the "views of these extremists which are a disgrace" and "not their right to hold their views".

"I have spent my whole political life opposing racism and bigotry, but it is vital to demonstrate that they will be defeated within our existing laws.

"The measure of our country's respect for free expression is our willingness to allow it for the most objectionable and offensive lawful speech, not just for those with whom we agree."


BNP to speak to Oxford students

Nick Griffin (L) and David Irving (R)

The Oxford Union has voted to let the British National Party (BNP) leader and a controversial historian speak at a free speech event on Monday.

Despite opposition, the Oxford Union Debating Society members voted by a margin of 2 to 1 to continue to extend an invite to the BNP's Nick Griffin.

David Irving, who was jailed for Holocaust denial, will also be invited.

The move was opposed by the Oxford Student Union and the university's Muslim and Jewish societies.

The Oxford Union Debating Society said it was important to give people of all views a platform.

Luke Tryl, president of the society, said: "The men were not being given a platform to extol their views, but were coming to talk about the limits for free speech.

"They will be speaking in the context of a forum in which there will be other speakers to challenge and attack their views in a head to head manner."

Jailed

Mr Griffin, the leader of the far-right party, has repeatedly insisted the BNP is not a racist group.

He was convicted in 1998 for incitement to racial hatred for material denying the Holocaust.

Mr Irving was imprisoned for three years after pleading guilty to Holocaust denial in Austria.

But he denied being a Holocaust denier as he said he had no alternative but to plead guilty to the charge.

The union said all tickets for the event, which were only available to its members - who are mainly students - had gone.

A rally in protest at the invitation was held on Tuesday and among those speaking there were Holocaust survivors.

Stephen Altmann-Richer, co-president of the Oxford University Jewish Society, said that while freedom of speech was important it was "overshadowed in this instance".

"I don't think these people should be invited to the Oxford Union, by having them speak, it legitimises their views," he said.


Travel terror security stepped up

Crowds at Heathrow Airport

Security will be stepped up at railway stations, airports and ports as part of government attempts to tackle terrorism, Gordon Brown has announced.

There will be new security barriers, vehicle exclusion zones and blast resistant buildings, but air passengers will be allowed more luggage from 2008.

Rail travellers at large stations will also face having their bags screened.

The PM's statement came amid confusion over his security minister's views on detention limits for terror suspects.

In his wide-ranging Commons statement on national security, Mr Brown said that the failed bomb attacks in London and Glasgow Airport in June showed the need to ensure young people are not "radicalised" by extremists.

He outlined the creation of a new unit bringing together police and security intelligence to look not only at the "inner circle" of extremists but also at those at risk of falling under their influence.

The bulk of the statement covered security at public places such as transport hubs, which had been the subject of a review by ex-Admiral and current security minister Lord West.

Mr Brown said improved security would be installed at the country's 250 busiest railway stations, as well as airports, ports and more than 100 other sensitive locations.

"Additional screening" of baggage and passenger searches were planned at some large railway stations and other "sensitive locations", he said.

But the Department for Transport has stressed there are no plans to install permanent security scanners at railway stations - trials so far have involved portable or temporary systems, and sniffer dogs.

Mr Brown said guidance would be sent to thousands of cinemas, theatres, restaurants, hotels, sporting venues and commercial centres, as well as all hospitals, schools and places of worship to advise them on how to keep visitors safe against terrorism.

Ministers would work with architects and planners to encourage them to "design-in" better security measures in new buildings, such as blast resistant material, safe areas and traffic control measures.

Companies responsible for crowded places would be given updated advice on how they could improve resilience against attack, he said. About 160 counter-terrorism advisers will train civilian staff to watch out for suspect activity, ensure premises have adequate emergency facilities and make best use of their CCTV footage.

Improved facilities to screen baggage would allow airports to seek approval from 7 January to let passengers take more than one item of hand luggage on flights.

However, size restrictions on liquids and cabin luggage would remain.

The security budget, currently 」2.5bn this year, will rise to 」3.5bn in 2011, he said and the security service will double in size from 2001, when it had less than 2,000 staff - to more than 4,000.


Nation and troops honour war dead

Thousands of war veterans have marched past the Cenotaph memorial in London to mark Remembrance Sunday.

After the commemoration of Britain's war dead began, with a gun blast and two minutes' silence on Whitehall, the Queen laid the first wreath of poppies.

Senior Royals followed suit, including Prince William for the first time, then the PM and other leading politicians.

Other remembrance events also took place around the country and in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Royal wreaths

This year Remembrance Sunday fell exactly 89 years after the ending of World War I, Armistice Day.

Britain's oldest war veteran, 111-year-old Henry Allingham, laid a wreath in St Omer, northern France.

At the London ceremony thousands of veterans, many elderly and frail, marched past the memorial in Whitehall to pay their respects.

Their participation began after the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duke of York, the Princess Royal and the Duke of Kent, had laid her wreath.

Princes Charles and Andrew and Princess Anne also laid wreaths, as did Edward for the first time.

A Clarence House spokeswoman said Prince Harry would be attending a private remembrance service with his regiment.

Gordan Brown said people would be remembering those who died in various wars.

"The sacrifice, the courage, the dedication of our armed forces is what is uppermost in our minds this weekend," he told Sky News.

"As a nation we are remembering more than perhaps 10 years ago, 20 years ago, just how much we owe to people who give their lives - and young lives - for the service of our country."

Among many to lay wreaths around the Cenotaph were Conservative leader David Cameron, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley and the Scottish National Party's leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson.

Former prime ministers Tony Blair, Baroness Thatcher and Sir John Major, also paid their respects.

More than 40 High Commissioners of Commonwealth countries also laid wreaths at the event, and the ceremony was led by the bishop of London, Richard Chartres.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond earlier took part in a special Remembrance service in Sri Lanka.

In Afghanistan, 100 Royal Marines from 40 Commando earlier held a service overlooking the Kajaki dam in Helmand province, a site they have been fighting to protect from the Taleban.

At 1100 local time - 0630 GMT - a two-minute silence was held. This was followed by the laying of a single wreath at the foot of a wooden cross by the youngest marine present - Robert Worth, who turned 18 two days before he was deployed.

And, with 42 British soldiers having died since the last Remembrance Day, a roll of honour was read out.

Chris Simpkins, the Royal British Legion's director general, said Remembrance Sunday was one of the most important days in the nation's calendar.

He called on everyone to remember not only those who died in the two world wars, but also those currently fighting in the Middle East.

Elsewhere, 200 veterans of the Falklands War returned to the islands for a service of commemoration in Port Stanley.

British soldiers in Iraq and other countries also held services and parades.

The Chief of the Defence staff, Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup, sent a message to members of the armed forces.

"For the great many of you who have served or are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the memories of the price paid will be all too fresh," he said.

"We have lost friends and comrades. Families have lost husbands, wives, sons, daughters, parents.

"We remember those families today; they bear a heavy burden, and the nation owes them a debt that it can never fully repay."


Man Pleads Guilty In London Bomb Plot

(AP) A member of a group of conspirators who tried to detonate suicide bombs on the London transport system in 2005 pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to cause explosions.

Manfo Kwaku Asiedu, 34, had been due to stand trial for a second time next week on the more serious charge of conspiracy to murder. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge during a pretrial hearing at the Central Criminal Court.

He is due to be sentenced Nov. 19.

A jury convicted four men of murder conspiracy in July, but was unable to agree on verdicts for two other defendants - Asiedu and Adel Yahya, 24.

The charges stemmed from failed attempts to detonate explosives on London subway trains and a bus on July 21, 2005 - just two weeks after suicide bombers killed themselves and 52 commuters in the city.

At the earlier trial, Muktar Said Ibrahim, Yassin Omar, Ramzi Mohammed and Hussain Osman were sentenced to minimum terms of 40 years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to murder.

All six defendants had denied the charges, saying the devices were duds and their actions a protest against the Iraq war. But police and prosecutors said scientific tests proved the bombs, made from a volatile mix of hydrogen peroxide and four, were all viable. They do not know why they failed to explode.

Ibrahim, Omar, Mohammed and Osman attempted to set off their bombs on three subway trains and a bus, in an echo of the July 7 attacks, but the main charges did not detonate and no one was hurt.

Prosecutors said Asiedu lost his nerve and abandoned his device in a London park. It was shown to the jury as evidence.


Armed forces 'let down by public'

Soldiers

Britain's armed forces are being let down by a lack of support from the public, a think tank report claims.

Low pay and poor accommodation for service personnel are the result of a breakdown in the "contract" between military and civilians, Demos argues.

Dr Timothy Edmunds, one of its authors, said: "Men and women who put their lives at risk are being overlooked."

But the Ministry of Defence insisted: "The well-being and the safety of our people are a top priority."

Public esteem

The report, titled Out of Step, argues that UK forces are overstretched and their purpose is unclear.

Recruitment and retention has been damaged by a lack of understanding of their mission in the eyes of the public, the Demos paper argues.

It concludes that too high a proportion of MoD resources are focused on military hardware at the expense of human resources, with pay, working conditions and accommodation for personnel all falling short.

Defence spending has not kept pace with the needs of the three services, the report continues.

Starting salaries for military personnel compare badly with those for other public services, such as the police and fire brigade, it adds, while an estimated 」5bn is needed over the next decade is needed to bring the homes of service men and women up to standard.

Dr Edmunds, a politics lecturer at the University of Bristol, said that the forces remained high in the public esteem.

But he argued that the remoteness of the UK's present military deployments meant that civilians tended to prioritise other public services, such as health and education, when it came to listing their spending priorities.

He said: "If you aren't serving in the armed forces, you won't feel like we are at war.

"But if you are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan then you clearly will."

'Significant progress'

Popular sympathy for troops may not have been damaged by the unpopularity of the Iraq conflict, Dr Edmunds added.

But he said that this had affected recruitment and the willingness of parents to see their sons and daughters join the forces.

What was needed, he argued, was "a set of terms and conditions under which people will be prepared to put their lives on the line".

A spokesperson for the Royal British Legion said the charity welcomed the report's focus on "the importance of upholding the nation's Military Covenant with its service people, past and present, and their families".

An MoD spokesman admitted that there was more that could be done for its employees.

But he added: "We keep the support we provide to our personnel and their families under constant review.

"We have made significant progress recently, across a very broad range of issues including operational allowances, basic pay, medical treatment, equipment and force protection."


Police guilty over Menezes case

Jean Charles de Menezes

London's Metropolitan Police force has been found guilty of endangering the public over the fatal shooting of a man officers mistook for a suicide bomber.

The force broke health and safety laws when officers pursued Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes to a Tube station and shot him seven times, a jury found.

It was fined 」175,000 with 」385,000 costs over the 22 July 2005 shooting.

The Old Bailey jury said police chief Cressida Dick, who led the operation, bore "no personal culpability".

Ms Dick, now deputy assistant commissioner of the force, had been accused by prosecutors of failing to keep control of her officers.

Met Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said outside court that he was staying in his job - despite calls for his resignation.

Mr de Menezes's relatives said they wanted to see a "full and thorough" inquest into the electrician's death.

Harriet Wistrich, the family's solicitor, said the police had been an "unstoppable force" when they pursued him, and the defence had "descended to the gutter" to blacken his name.

'Poorly briefed'

During the trial, the jury heard that Scotland Yard commanders had made a string of errors on 22 July that culminated in an unwarranted risk to the public and ultimately the death of Mr de Menezes.

The operation began when detectives investigating the failed suicide bombings of the day before - 21 July - linked one of the suspects, Hussain Osman, to a block of flats in south London.

Mr de Menezes also lived in the block, and when he left home at 0930 BST, surveillance officers were unsure if he was their target.

Clare Montgomery QC, prosecuting, said the situation had worsened because senior officers failed to keep to their own agreed plan, while firearms teams were both poorly briefed and in the wrong locations.

This meant that it became impossible to effectively stop the suspected suicide bomber before he boarded a bus and headed for the Underground.

The Met denied this, saying its commanders and officers on the ground did all they could to apprehend the bombers and minimise the risks to the public.

'Isolated breach'

Anna Dunwoodie, who was in the same carriage as Mr Menezes when he was shot, told the BBC how she witnessed this "horrific" moment when armed police ran on board the train.

"It didn't feel to me like I was in the middle of a police operation," she recalled.

"The men who came running in seemed quite chaotic. I'd describe them as slightly hysterical.

"Jean Charles, to my knowledge, did nothing out of the ordinary.

"I didn't notice him until he had a gun pressed to him. It felt to me like he was someone who was being picked on at random because he was nearest to the door.

"We all ran to the sound of gunshots."

After the verdict was delivered, Mr Justice Henriques said: "This was very much an isolated breach brought about by quite extraordinary circumstances.

"One person died and many others were placed in potential danger."

Police officers enter the tube

In deciding on a penalty, the judge said he was aware that a heavy fine would result in a loss to the public purse and a reduction in essential policing.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it hoped to publish its full report into the case within days, but "disciplinary issues" were still to be decided.

Chairman Nick Hardwick said the body appreciated the courage of some of the officers involved, but added: "However, the Met's mission is to make London safer. On this one occasion, they failed."

Len Duvall, chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said the MPA fully supported Sir Ian and would continue to work with him.

"We ask the police to do a difficult job on our behalf and sometimes they make mistakes."

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have called for the commissioner to resign.

But Home Secretary Jacqui Smith dismissed the calls, insisting Sir Ian had her "full confidence" and support.

BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford said Sir Ian still has to face questioning from the MPA, a report into the shooting and an inquest into Mr de Menezes's death.

"The question is can he survive this drip, drip, drip effect - or whether some people are going to say to him, rather than going through all that, it's better that you go."

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said the guilty verdict made it more difficult for police to protect the capital against terrorism.

Brian Paddick, one of Sir Ian's former senior officers, told BBC1's Question Time the commissioner was wrong to say he would not resign without first taking some time for reflection.


UK 'may increase Afghan troops'

UK troops in Afghanistan

Britain may increase its military commitment in Afghanistan to help fill gaps in Nato's deployment there, a spokesman said.

James Appathurai, speaking for Nato's secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said the UK was considering "potentially increasing" its force.

The Ministry of Defence has not confirmed any plan to reinforce the 7,700 UK troops already in Afghanistan.

These are mostly in Helmand province, in the south of the country.

Mr de Hoop Scheffer will call on member states to increase their military presence in Afghanistan at a Nato summit in the Netherlands on 24 and 25 October.

He played down the prospect that Canada or the Netherlands might downscale their presence in the south of Afghanistan.

Mr Appathurai told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "In the south, we don't think the Dutch are going to leave. The Canadians are looking at exactly what they can do.

"The British are talking in the south not only about keeping what they have but potentially increasing it.

"We are not pessimistic at all. We hope the Dutch will stay, we hope the Canadians will stay and we are working to convince them to do that in one form or another."

Politicians of all parties have previously said the UK is bearing too much of the burden in Afghanistan.


William tribute to ex-commander

Major Alexis Roberts

Prince William has said he is "deeply saddened" by the death in Afghanistan of his platoon commander at Sandhurst.

Maj Alexis Roberts, 32, from Kent, died in an explosion while returning to Kandahar Airfield on Thursday.

William described Maj Roberts, who served with the 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, as "a good friend".

Maj Roberts is the most senior Army officer to die in Afghanistan since the conflict began. Some 82 UK troops have been killed in the country since 2001.

'Deeply loving father'

A statement issued by Clarence House on behalf of the prince said: "At this time, his thoughts and prayers are with Lex's wife, Susie, their two young daughters, Alice and Freya, and with all his family and friends."

Maj Roberts' wife, Susie, said in a statement: "Lex was my best friend, the most wonderful husband and deeply loving father to Alice and Freya.

"He died doing the job he loved and I had just received a letter from him saying how much good he felt he was doing for the people of Afghanistan and how proud he was to be part of the Royal Gurkha Rifles.

"I am overwhelmed by the support from our family and friends and the positive impact Lex had on people's lives."

'High regard'

Defence Secretary Des Browne said: "I was greatly saddened by the news of Major Roberts' tragic death.

"He was an extremely experienced officer and who was, quite obviously, held in high regard by his superiors, peers and those who worked for him.

"My heart goes out to his family and friends as they come to terms with their loss."

Maj Roberts was usually an Officer of 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, although he had been serving in Afghanistan with The 1st Battalion when he was killed.

Maj Roberts, and two soldiers who were injured, were taking part in an operation in Helmand Province when they were hit.

Maj Roberts' commanding officer, Lt Col Jonny Bourne, said: "In Major Lex Roberts, both battalions of the Royal Gurkha Rifles have lost a dear friend and a treasured officer.

"The British Army has lost one of its finest prospects and the nation has lost a dedicated servant, a demonstrably warm-hearted man of profound integrity and courage - quite simply, a very special human being."


PM considers cut in Basra troops

British troops in Basra

The prime minister has been told by advisers the number of British troops in southern Iraq could be cut by 2,000 by spring, the BBC has learned.

It is thought British forces are likely to stay in Basra for up to two years.

But Gordon Brown has been advised that once the focus of troops is largely on training and mentoring Iraqi forces, numbers could drop from 5,000 to 3,000.

The cut, yet to be decided on, could be announced in a statement on Iraq due when the Commons sits again next week.

British forces are heading towards "overwatch", which involves mentoring and training the Iraqis and not actually going on patrols.

Handover due

News of possible cuts in troop levels will lead to more speculation that Gordon Brown is on the verge of calling a snap election.

Mr Brown has prepared for many weeks to announce that British troops will finally be able to hand over the last of four provinces to Iraqi forces to control.

The Ministry of Defence has already said the handover of Basra province is due this autumn.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said he understood that ministers had discussed a number of radical options in recent weeks.

One was to withdraw British forces from Basra altogether and move them to the relative safety of a US and an Australian base elsewhere. Another was to withdraw troops to a base inside Kuwait.

Both would have allowed significant troop reductions and, politically, would have signalled a significant break in UK policy, our correspondent added.

But both options were rejected.

As a result, British forces are likely to stay in Basra for a significant period of time - possibly for as long as two years.

'Important job'

But our correspondent said a cut was being considered because fewer British troops would be required for force protection and they would be going out into fewer dangerous situations.

Such a reduction would not take place immediately but in the foreseeable future, he added.

Correspondent Mark Urban told BBC Two's Newsnight programme that, earlier in the year, there had been a steep increase in mortar and rocket attacks on the British base at Basra airport, from all points of the compass.

At some stages, it was running at dozens of attacks per month, he added, but during August there had been just two.

Last base

At the end of August, Mr Brown ruled out setting a timetable for withdrawing UK troops from Iraq, saying it would undermine their "important job" there.

The prime minister has always said that decisions on the future size and strength of British forces in Iraq would "continue to depend on conditions on the ground".

He was speaking ahead of the September handover by 550 soldiers of Basra Palace to Iraqi control.

Those soldiers joined 5,000 troops at the airport - the UK's last base in the city - and 500 soldiers have since been withdrawn from the country.


I won't let you down, says Brown

Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown has used his first Labour Party conference speech as leader to promise: "I will not let you down."

The prime minister said he was a "conviction politician" who wanted to "defend and extend" British values and help everyone reach their potential.

The build up to his speech was dominated by continued speculation over whether he will call a snap election.

Mr Brown, who did not mention any election in his speech, has so far refused to rule out an autumn poll.

In a BBC interview ahead of his speech he said he was "getting on with the job" of implementing Labour's manifesto from 2005, adding: "Do I need to call an election to do so? No."

Mr Brown began his speech by talking about some of the challenges he has faced since coming to power, from the failed terror attacks in London and Glasgow to foot-and-mouth.

"Britain has been tested and not found wanting. This is who we are," said Mr Brown, who had received a standing ovation as he arrived in the hall.

British jobs

Mr Brown said he was a "conviction politician" who stood for a "Britain where we all have obligations to each other and by fulfilling them, everyone has a chance to make the most of themselves".

But there was no mention of Conservative leader David Cameron or Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell - and none of the political knockabout or jibes at opponents normally found in party conference speeches.

There were few jokes, with Mr Brown admitting: "Sometimes people say I am too serious and I fight too hard and maybe that's true."

Instead he spoke of his own life-changing experience of the NHS - when he almost lost his sight after a rugby accident - and the education system.

His "pledge to the British people" was "I will not let you down. I will stand up for our schools and hospitals, I will stand up for British values. I will stand up for a strong Britain and I will always stand up for you".

He also praised the strength and stability of the British economy, which he said helped it weather a "recent wave of financial turbulence" - his only reference to the Northern Rock banking crisis.

He pledged to push for full employment and repeated his promise to create "British jobs for British workers".

On housing, which Mr Brown has said is a top priority, he said he wanted two million more home owners by 2010, compared to 1997.

He said the government would build ten new "eco-towns" - double the original number announced earlier this year.

Treated with respect

On law and order, Mr Brown said "my answer to crime and disorder - our policy - is to both punish and prevent".

He announced an extension of stop and search and dispersal powers to tackle the rise in gun crime.

He also said public services had to be more personalised, saying people needed to be treated "not as a number, but with respect".

He also confirmed plans for a deep-clean of hospitals over Christmas and the New Year in the fight against the MRSA bug.

Mr Brown also pledged to:

  • "Do our duty and discharge obligations" in Afghanistan and Iraq by working towards three objectives "security, political reconciliation and economic reconstruction".
  • Fight for "justice" for the people of Darfur.
  • Extend breast cancer screening to cover 47 to 73-year-olds
  • Create a "personal health service" with greater access to GPs and a personal health check for every adult
  • Double the number of hospital matrons to 5,000 and give them the power to sack contract cleaners, who did not "meet the highest standards of cleanliness".

Mr Brown who became prime minister by succeeding Tony Blair as Labour leader, had earlier said his policy plans included reviewing some past Labour initiatives - such as 24 hour licensing and reclassification of cannabis - if he felt they needed reform.

On binge drinking, particularly among teenagers, he said it was important not to send out the wrong message.

Opinion polls

He told the Bournemouth conference that, while great advances were made under Tony Blair - to whom he paid tribute along with Neil Kinnock - change was required to meet new challenges.

He had earlier said, in a letter to the party's ruling executive, that he wanted Labour to set ambitious long-term goals and then stay the course to meet the challenges of the decade ahead".

Much of the speculation about an early poll - Mr Brown can wait until May 2010 if he wants before holding an election - has been prompted by recent opinion polls giving Labour a lead.

And on the first day of the Bournemouth conference a poll in the Sun suggests the Tories are eight points behind Labour.

The Ipsos-Mori poll of 1,009 adults put Labour on 42%; its lead increased from 5% in a similar poll a month ago.

The poll, carried out by Ipsos-Mori on September 20-22, suggested 34% of those questioned favoured the Conservatives, with 14% for the Lib Dems.

The party is also advertising for 22 jobs - including graphic designers, policy and research officers, campaign assistants and press officers, suggesting it is gearing up for an election campaign.

Mr Brown's claim to be acting on Labour's last manifesto was not true, said the shadow Europe minister Mark Francois.

He said: "In his manifesto he promised a referendum on the EU Constitution, but he has broken that promise. Almost every EU leader agrees that the new EU Treaty is basically the EU Constitution by another name."

Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell urged Mr Brown to "stop dithering" and call an election.


Brown in Darfur peacekeeping vow

African Union soldiers in Darfur (file pic)

Gordon Brown wants Darfur's proposed peacekeeping force to be in place by the year's end, he has told the BBC.

The UK prime minister pledged technical help for the UN-African Union force and hinted at sanctions if fighting in Sudan's strife-torn region continues.

Some 200,000 people have been killed and 2m displaced in Darfur since 2003.

Human rights groups have declared Sunday a Global Day for Darfur and demonstrations are planned in 30 countries around the world.

Campaigners from groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Save Darfur Coalition plan to wear blindfolds as an appeal to world leaders not to look away from the continuing violence in Darfur.

The government in Khartoum and Arab militias allied to it have been blamed for massacres of the Darfur's black African population since 2003 - charges the government denies.

Ceasefire plea

In an interview with the BBC World Service, Mr Brown called the conflict "one of the great tragedies of our time".

Analysts say Mr Brown's timetable for a peacekeeping force is ambitious, given that Sudan's Arab government has been reluctant to accept the involvement of non-African troops.

Government forces and their allies continue to fight local rebels, but Mr Brown said it would "disastrous" if the fighting did not stop.

"This is an attempt... to bring the [UN] resolution, the ceasefire, political settlement, all these things coming together," he said.

"If that were to happen, we'd be prepared to give economic assistance so that the people of Darfur were in a better position and we can start to rebuild.

"If it doesn't work and we find that the government of Sudan is not making the changes necessary, then we will have to move to further sanctions."

He said the government should agree a ceasefire with the rebels to allow the peacekeepers to deploy.

On a visit to Rome this week, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir said he was willing to sign a peace deal with rebel groups.

Western impatience

Although the UK will not be contributing troops to the peacekeeping force, Mr Brown pledged to give "technical help", understood to mean airlifting African personnel into the region.

BBC world affairs correspondent Mark Doyle says the UK leader's comments reflect Western impatience with the Khartoum government.

The Arab administration, consistently hostile to the involvement of non-African troops, agreed to a hybrid peacekeeping force including some UN peacekeepers only after months of negotiations.

Commentators have accused the Khartoum of deliberately blocking attempts to mediate the conflict.

The force will be made up of about 20,000 soldiers and 6,000 police officers.

Thousands of African Union peacekeepers are already in the region, the rest are due to begin arriving next month.


DNA hope offered to the McCanns

Gerry and Kate McCann

The inventor of DNA fingerprinting has offered to act as an expert witness in the Madeleine McCann case.

Sir Alec Jeffreys said DNA matches alone did not establish guilt and all Madeleine's genetic characters would be found in at least one family member.

Gerry and Kate McCann, suspects in their daughter's disappearance, are considering commissioning independent tests on a Portuguese hire car.

But the Madeleine' Fund board will not allow money to go on legal expenses.

It has been reported that DNA evidence with a 100% match to Madeleine was found in the car, but this has been played down by Portuguese police.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC's Newsnight programme, Sir Alec said there could be a potential problem in assigning a profile to Madeleine given that all other members of her family would have been in the car.

"DNA testing seeks to establish whether DNA sample A from a crime scene, came or did not come from individual B," he said.

"So if you get a match there's very strong evidence that it did come from B.

"It is then up to investigators, the courts and all the rest of it to work out whether that connection is relevant or not.

"DNA doesn't have the words innocence or guilt in it - that is a legal concept. What it seeks to establish is connections and identifications."

'No doubts'

Earlier John McCann said his brother Gerry thought the Portuguese police had "gone up a cul-de-sac".

He told BBC's The One Show that Gerry had said they had "lost track" of what they were doing and urged the police to be straight with them.

"If they have got something that suggests Madeleine really is dead then for goodness sake tell the family who have the strongest feeling for this."

He added that had the police done a better job early on in the investigation then Gerry and Kate would not be suspects now.

Asked if he doubted their innocence at all, he said: "If you know the people, and you look at the whole situation, you look at it and think this is ridiculous."

Both parents deny vehemently any involvement in their four-year-old daughter's disappearance.

The McCann family were on holiday at a resort in Praia da Luz in the Algarve when they reported Madeleine missing from their apartment on 3 May.

They returned to their home in Rothley in Leicestershire at the weekend and are currently waiting for a judge to decide if they face charges.

It is understood the couple are planning their own forensic tests amid suspicion about claims made by detectives in interviews with Kate McCann.

The McCanns appointed lawyers in Portugal and Britain after being named as formal suspects - but they will not be paid out of money donated by well-wishers.

A statement made by Esther McVey from the board of Madeleine's Fund said payment of legal defence costs would be legally permissible so long as they were repaid in the event of a guilty conviction.

However, she said the fund's directors recognised the spirit in which the generous donations were given and decided not to pay for the McCanns' legal costs.

"We stress that Gerry and Kate have not asked for these costs to be paid," she said.

So far donations totalling 」1,036,104.17 have been received for Madeleine's Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned, according to the official campaign website.


Police video clue to Madeleine mystery

PORTUGUESE police tried to pressurise Kate McCann into admitting killing her daughter Madeleine by repeatedly showing her video footage of sniffer dogs allegedly finding the scent of a body in the family's hire car.

During 16 hours of interrogation she was shown the footage of the dogs clambering over the Renault ScŽnic car in the hope that she would break down and confess. She was yesterday said to be distraught and exhausted by the ordeal.

The dogs' reaction was a key reason why the police suspect her of killing Madeleine. Officers told Kate they had found her daughter's DNA in the car even though it was hired three weeks after her disappearance.

Kate and her husband Gerry are said to be mortified that the investigation team — with whom they have co-operated throughout — have apparently turned against them. "We are being absolutely stitched up," Gerry told a friend. "We are completely f*****. We should have seen this coming weeks ago and gone back to Britain."


Diana jury to visit Paris scene

Princess Diana

Jurors at the inquest into the death of Diana Princess of Wales will visit the scene of the fatal Paris car crash, a preliminary hearing has heard.

The trip is expected shortly after the inquest begins on 2 October.

Ian Burnett QC, counsel for the inquest, said coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker and interested parties would accompany the jury to Paris.

The inquest could last until late March. Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed died in Paris on 31 August 1997.

Driver Henri Paul was also killed when their Mercedes crashed in the Pont de l'Alma underpass, soon after leaving the Hotel Ritz.

Video evidence

Outlining the expected course of the inquest, Mr Burnett said the jury would be sworn in on 2 October, followed by opening remarks by Lord Justice Scott Baker.

Scene-setting evidence with maps and photos would be shown during the next two days before the visit to Paris.

Video link evidence from France is expected to start about 10 October, involving witnesses who saw the Mercedes and the aftermath of the crash.

Lawyers for Mohamed Al Fayed, Dodi's father, have requested 68 witnesses, and the Ritz eight, Mr Burnett said.

'Squidgy-gate'

Lord Justice Baker has previously outlined 20 issues that the inquest will examine, but Michael Mansfield, QC, representing Mr Al Fayed, told the preliminary hearing that the "Squidgy-gate" tapes should be included as evidence of the Princess's state of mind.

The contents of the 1989 tapes were published in 1992 and reveal conversations between the princess and a man, later identified as her friend James Gilbey, in which he calls her "Squidgy".

Mr Mansfield said there was evidence that the tapes were not recorded by an amateur radio enthusiast.

He said this supported Diana's suspicion that she was being monitored by the security services throughout the 1990s.

"This relates to the credibility of the security services' claim that they were not involved in monitoring Princess Diana in any way in the summer of 1997."

The jury will sit for four days a week, with the fifth day taken up by legal discussion, Mr Burnett added.




Services mark Diana anniversary

Photo of Diana on gates of Kensington Palace

The 10th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana in a car crash in Paris is being marked with a memorial service in London and tributes across the UK.

Princes William and Harry will lead readings for their mother at Guards' Chapel, near Buckingham Palace.

Prince Charles and the Queen will be at the service, although Charles's second wife Camilla will not be attending.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Sir Elton John, who sang at Diana's funeral, will also pay their respects.

'Divert attention'

Similar events are to be held at other venues, including Manchester and Bristol cathedrals.

Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed, whose son Dodi died in the crash alongside the Princess of Wales, will lay flowers at a shrine he has built at the London store. There will also be a two-minute silence.

The royal family, headed by the Queen, will be joined by another 100 family members at the hour-long Guards' Chapel service, which is due to begin at midday on Friday.

However, in a statement earlier this week Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, said her attendance "could divert attention from the purpose of the occasion".

She said she was grateful to her husband and the princes for supporting her decision not to be there.

William and Harry, along with Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, have been closely involved in organising the service, which will include some of their mother's favourite classical music, by composers Rachmaninov and Mozart.

There will be four hymns, concluding with Diana's favourite, I Vow To Thee, My Country, and a reading from her sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale.

'People's Princess'

The service, conducted by the Reverend Patrick Irwin, will also include two prayers written by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and an address will be given by the Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Dr Richard Chartres.

Former members of the princess's staff, all of the bridesmaids and page boys from her 1981 wedding, and over 110 representatives of charities and organisations with which she was associated are also on the guest list.

Sir Elton John - who famously performed a reworked version of Candle In The Wind at Diana's funeral - Sir Cliff Richard, Mario Testino and Lord Attenborough are also expected.

Tony Blair, who was prime minister at the time of her death and famously paid tribute to her as the "People's Princess", is also due to attend.

Hundreds of people are also expected to attend the Manchester service - at 1630 BST on Friday - which will include readings, a blessing and music which was played at the princess's funeral.

Floral tributes

Admirers of the late princess have already started tying flowers and cards to the gates of Kensington Palace - her former London residence - as they did in 1997 after her death.

The palace is hosting an exhibition in her memory called Diana - a Princess Remembered.

Princess Diana died, aged 36, along with her companion Dodi Al Fayed, 42, and chauffeur Henri Paul, when the Mercedes they were in crashed in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris on 31 August 1997.

The princess's death provoked an unprecedented outpouring of national grief, with hundreds of thousands gathering to mourn outside Kensington Palace, where they left a sea of floral tributes.

Thousands more later lined the route of her funeral procession.


'Blood clue' in Madeleine inquiry

Madeleine McCann

Forensic tests are being carried out on suspected traces of blood found in the apartment where Madeleine McCann was last seen on 3 May, the BBC has learnt.

It is understood the find was made during a search - with at least one British sniffer dog - of the McCanns' now-vacant apartment in Praia da Luz.

If tests confirm the find, police will look for a DNA match with Madeleine.

A new search of the home of suspect Robert Murat, 33, in the Portuguese resort, found no new evidence.

Madeleine, four, from Rothley, Leicestershire, went missing from the Algarve holiday apartment while her parents ate in a nearby restaurant.

Vehicles returned

It is believed detectives returned to the McCanns' holiday apartment last week with at least one highly-specialised sniffer dog from Britain.

Inside, they found traces of what is thought to be blood but investigators cannot be 100% certain, a Portuguese police source told BBC News.

On Monday, detectives examined a car and a van used by the only declared suspect, Mr Murat.

Last night, the vehicles were returned to the Murat family villa.

The property is owned by Mr Murat's mother.

Publicly the police have not commented on the results of the weekend search but the BBC understands it revealed nothing to link Mr Murat to Madeleine.

Mr Murat was declared a suspect 10 days after Madeleine was last seen, on 3 May, but has strenuously denied any involvement in her disappearance. The property was searched then too.

Possible sighting

The BBC understands British police were invited to review key aspects of the case by their Portuguese counterparts.

Police are also investigating a possible sighting of Madeleine at a restaurant in Tongeren, Belgium.

On Sunday, Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry McCann attended Mass at a local Catholic church in Praia da Luz.

Mrs McCann has spoken of her regret at leaving her children alone in their holiday apartment while she and her husband Gerry had dinner at a nearby restaurant on the night Madeleine disappeared.

"We are just so desperately sorry. Every hour now, I still question, 'Why did I think that was safe?'"

The McCanns have backed a scheme aimed at letting parents and staff know what steps to take as soon as a child goes missing on holiday.

Code Madeleine is based on Code Adam in the US, named after abducted six-year-old Adam Walsh.


Tories demand urgent Army review

British soldiers

The Conservatives have called for an urgent strategic review of the Army's commitments after a leaked memo warned it had almost no spare troops.

In the memo, the head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, said the Army was undermanned because of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said the government needed to plan for a bigger Army in the years ahead.

But the Ministry of Defence said the current situation was "manageable".

'Reacting to unexpected'

In the memo published in the Daily Telegraph, Gen Dannatt also said vital equipment was being used "at the edge of sustainability".

The Army has "almost no capability to react to the unexpected", he went on.

"It is difficult to predict the long-term effect of this level of pressure on people. It is critical that we improve manning as quickly as we can."

Dr Fox said this situation was increasing stress on army families and had led to a record number of people leaving the armed forces prematurely last year.

"The government needs to very, very urgently address these things," he said.

"They need to go back to their own planning assumptions, recognise the Army is too small and plan for a bigger Army in the years ahead. Otherwise this problem will simply go from bad to worse."

'Political pressure'

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Willie Rennie said: "What more evidence does Gordon Brown need to pull the troops out of Iraq and focus on Afghanistan?

"Richard Dannatt has repeatedly warned of overstretch. It's now time for the government to act."

There is reportedly just one battalion of 500 troops, called the Spearhead Lead Element, available to be used in an emergency, such as a major domestic terrorist attack or a rapid deployment overseas.

BBC defence correspondent Paul Wood said the Army currently comprised about 98,000 personnel, some 2,000 soldiers short of capacity.

He said the internal memo was leaked to put political pressure on the government ahead of a spending review.


Britain Expels Russian Diplomats

Alexander Litvinenko and Andrei Lugovoi

(CBS/AP) Britain will expel four Russian diplomats over the Kremlin's refusal to extradite the key suspect in the murder of a former KGB agent fatally poisoned in London, the foreign secretary said Monday.

David Miliband told Parliament he had taken the steps because the Kremlin had failed to properly respond to the "horrifying and lingering" death of Alexander Litvinenko.

It was the first time since 1996 that Britain had used the sanction, which was likely to be met with retaliation from Moscow.

"The Russian government has failed to register either how seriously we treat this case or the seriousness of the issues involved, despite lobbying at the highest level and clear explanations of our need for a satisfactory response," Miliband told lawmakers at the House of Commons.

Moscow has refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, a Russian businessman and former KGB agent, to stand trial in London over the killing. Lugovoi has been named by British prosecutors as the chief suspect in the case.

Russia's formal rejection was received a week ago by Britain's Crown Prosecution Service, which in turn spurned a Russian offer to try Lugovoi in Russia.

"The heinous crime of murder does require justice," Miliband said. "This response is proportional and it is clear at whom it is aimed."

Britain's Foreign Office declined to specify the rank or position of the four Russian diplomats to be expelled, who had yet to leave the country.

"We have chosen to expel four particular diplomats in order to send a clear and proportionate signal about the seriousness of this case," Miliband said.

Responding to the news at a special briefing, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin told journalists, "The position of the British authorities is immoral and will entail serious consequences for Russian-U.K. relations."

"I would like to remind you that recently the British authorities have consistently refused to extradite citizens of other countries who are staying on British territory and who are accused of involvement in crimes. It seems to us that London's position is immoral, given this background," he said.

Kamynin said British authorities are trying to justify themselves in the eyes of the international community for their refusal to work with Russian law enforcement services regarding the extradition of Boris Berezovsky and Akhmed Zakayev to Russia.

Berezovsky, a Russian businessman and critic of President Vladimir Putin who received political asylum in London, is currently being tried in absentia for embezzling 214 million rubles from Aeroflot. He is also wanted in Brazil on money-laundering charges. Lugovoi has claimed that Berezovsky supplied sensitive information about Russia to British intelligence agents.

Akhmed Zakayev was commander of a Chechen resistance group and, later, representative of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. He is in exile in the U.K.

CBS News Moscow bureau chief Svetlana Berdnikova reports some Russian officials are suggesting tit-for-tat, calling for the expulsion of British diplomats from their country.

"Our country, too, should deport British diplomats," First Deputy Head of the Duma Committee on Security Mikhail Grishankov said. "As for changes in the visa issuing procedures, regrettably, they will hit ordinary Russians," he told Interfax.


US and UK 'no longer inseparable'

Lord Malloch Brown

One of Gordon Brown's new ministers has said the UK and the United States would no longer be "joined at the hip" on foreign policy.

Lord Mark Malloch Brown told the Daily Telegraph it was time for a more "impartial" foreign policy and to build relationships with European leaders.

Some analysts may consider the Foreign Office minister's remarks evidence of Labour distancing itself from the US.

Earlier, Downing Street denied another minister had criticised the US.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander warned in a speech against unilateralism and called for an "internationalist approach" to global problems.

Lord Malloch Brown's newspaper interview was his first since being appointed Foreign Office minister.

He used to be deputy secretary general at the United Nations and is a known critic of the Iraq war.

"It is very unlikely that the Brown-Bush relationship is going to go through the baptism of fire and therefore be joined together at the hip like the Blair-Bush relationship was," he was reported as saying.

"That was a relationship born of being war leaders together.

"There was an emotional intensity of being war leaders with much of the world against them. That is enough to put you on your knees and get you praying together."

He went on to speak of forging new links with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as with leaders in India and China.

"You need to build coalitions that are lateral, which go beyond the bilateral blinkers of the normal partners," he added.

"My hope is that foreign policy will become much more impartial."

His remarks come the day after Mr Alexander was accused of "coded criticism" of the policies of President George W Bush in a speech he made in the US.

When asked if his comments amounted to criticising the US, Gordon Brown's spokesman said that view "was not shared" by the PM.

Mr Brown, himself, told BBC Radio Five Live that he would continue to work, as Tony Blair did, "very closely with the American administration".

Britain Fights Female Genital Mutilation

(AP) Female genital mutilation, commonly associated with parts of Africa and the Middle East, is becoming a growing problem in Britain despite authorities' efforts to stamp it out.

The Metropolitan Police, Britain's largest police force, hopes a campaign beginning Wednesday will highlight that the practice is a crime here.

To make their point, police are offering a 20,000-pound (US$40,000) reward for information leading to Britain's first prosecution for female genital mutilation, Detective Chief Superintendent Alastair Jeffrey said.

In Britain, the problem mostly involves first-generation immigrants from Africa and the Middle East.

Police say they do not have comprehensive statistics about the number of victims. But midwife Comfort Momoh, who specializes in treating them at London hospitals and clinics and who works with police, told the news conference she treats 400-500 victims every year.

Arranging or carrying out the procedure ・in Britain or abroad ・is a criminal offense punishable by up to 14 years in prison, but no one has been prosecuted since it was banned under British law in 2003, Jeffrey said. Police estimate up to 66,000 girls in Britain face the risk of genital mutilation.

"The timing of this campaign is for one good reason: so we can get in before the summer holidays, a time when young girls are taken abroad and subjected to genital mutilation," he told a news conference on Tuesday.

Mutilated infants, girls and women face irreversible lifelong health risks ・both physically and mentally, according to UNICEF and other charity groups.

Authorities believe the number of genital mutilation cases peaks in the summer, because the extended holiday gives girls more time to recover ・thereby making it easier for those responsible to cover up their actions.

Female genital mutilation usually involves the removal of the clitoris and other parts of female genitalia. Those who practice it say it tames a girl's sexual desire and maintains her honor.

It is practiced by Muslims and Christians alike, deeply rooted in the Nile Valley region and parts of sub-Saharan African, and is also done in Yemen and Oman. Through migration, the practice has spread to Western countries like Britain.

Between 100 million and 140 million women are believed to have been subjected to the practice in Africa and an additional 3 million girls face the threat of female genital mutilation every year, according to UNICEF.

Detective Inspector Carol Hamilton, who has been investigating the practice since 2004, said some immigrants in Britain may bring practitioners from their home country to mutilate several children because it is cheaper.

She said children not only suffer terrible physical injuries, but can also be left emotionally scarred.

Salimata Badji-Knight was mutilated when she was 4 in her native Senegal. Her parents had promised her a picnic, but instead she said she was attacked by women who had no medical training.

Now married and living in London, she fears she may not be able to have children because of the procedure. She hopes that by sharing her experiences she can prevent parents from subjecting their daughters to similar abuse.

"Why do they need to go and mutilate a young innocent person without her knowing what is going to happen, just for culture?" Badji-Knight said. "It does not add up for me."

Somali-born supermodel Waris Dirie survived a traditional form of the practice that kills hundreds of girls each year.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is set to present the "Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur" to her on Thursday for her work as a leading critic of female genital mutilation, which has seen her tour parts of Africa to speak out against the practice.

Police Start Campaign To Stop Practice Mostly Involving Immigrants

(AP) Female genital mutilation, commonly associated with parts of Africa and the Middle East, is becoming a growing problem in Britain despite authorities' efforts to stamp it out.

The Metropolitan Police, Britain's largest police force, hopes a campaign beginning Wednesday will highlight that the practice is a crime here.

To make their point, police are offering a 20,000-pound (US$40,000) reward for information leading to Britain's first prosecution for female genital mutilation, Detective Chief Superintendent Alastair Jeffrey said.

In Britain, the problem mostly involves first-generation immigrants from Africa and the Middle East.

Police say they do not have comprehensive statistics about the number of victims. But midwife Comfort Momoh, who specializes in treating them at London hospitals and clinics and who works with police, told the news conference she treats 400-500 victims every year.

Arranging or carrying out the procedure ・in Britain or abroad ・is a criminal offense punishable by up to 14 years in prison, but no one has been prosecuted since it was banned under British law in 2003, Jeffrey said. Police estimate up to 66,000 girls in Britain face the risk of genital mutilation.

"The timing of this campaign is for one good reason: so we can get in before the summer holidays, a time when young girls are taken abroad and subjected to genital mutilation," he told a news conference on Tuesday.

Mutilated infants, girls and women face irreversible lifelong health risks ・both physically and mentally, according to UNICEF and other charity groups.

Authorities believe the number of genital mutilation cases peaks in the summer, because the extended holiday gives girls more time to recover ・thereby making it easier for those responsible to cover up their actions.

Female genital mutilation usually involves the removal of the clitoris and other parts of female genitalia. Those who practice it say it tames a girl's sexual desire and maintains her honor.

It is practiced by Muslims and Christians alike, deeply rooted in the Nile Valley region and parts of sub-Saharan African, and is also done in Yemen and Oman. Through migration, the practice has spread to Western countries like Britain.

Between 100 million and 140 million women are believed to have been subjected to the practice in Africa and an additional 3 million girls face the threat of female genital mutilation every year, according to UNICEF.

Detective Inspector Carol Hamilton, who has been investigating the practice since 2004, said some immigrants in Britain may bring practitioners from their home country to mutilate several children because it is cheaper.

She said children not only suffer terrible physical injuries, but can also be left emotionally scarred.

Salimata Badji-Knight was mutilated when she was 4 in her native Senegal. Her parents had promised her a picnic, but instead she said she was attacked by women who had no medical training.

Now married and living in London, she fears she may not be able to have children because of the procedure. She hopes that by sharing her experiences she can prevent parents from subjecting their daughters to similar abuse.

"Why do they need to go and mutilate a young innocent person without her knowing what is going to happen, just for culture?" Badji-Knight said. "It does not add up for me."

Somali-born supermodel Waris Dirie survived a traditional form of the practice that kills hundreds of girls each year.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is set to present the "Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur" to her on Thursday for her work as a leading critic of female genital mutilation, which has seen her tour parts of Africa to speak out against the practice.
ゥ MMVII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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