Saturday, 27 October 2012

A resolutely etched, firmly grounded drama


BECKET” beckons Bollywood once again. The immortal French play by Jean Anouilh was furnished with a sensitive renewability by Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the 1973 movie Namak Haraam and then again by Govind Nihalani in Dev (2004).

Now the story of two friends, separated by caste, creed and ideology, who are torn apart by their irreconcilable socio-political differences, is given a seriously spunky spin by Prakash Jha in Chakravyuh.

Straightaway, let’s get to the point. This is Jha’s most resolutely etched and firmly grounded drama since Mrityudand, and a work way superior to his last two films - Raajneeti and Aarakshan - both of which suffered to some extent by being scattered in intent and pulled in too many directions.

In Chakravyuh we witness Jha’s penchant for whipping up a frenzy of crowd sequences, mob fury, gargantuan political rallies and fleets of red-light-topped government cars winding their way urgently through dusty roadways, but never does the narrative lose hold of the plot’s central theme.

Jha is in full command of his wide-angled canvas, never allowing the storytelling to become a slave to the political ideology that fans and fuels his wound-up stressed-out characters as they’re cast into reluctant roles of outcasts, into a frenetic bundle of activities that define and somewhere rearrange the rapidly- mutating socio-political synergy of Indian democracy.

Jha enters the dark, largely-unexposed, world of the Maoists fighting for their land and dignity and braving all odds including an apathetic government, corrupt and sadistic cops and bureaucrats, betrayal within their own Maoist ranks and avaricious landgrabbing entrepreneurs. And here we have Kabir Bedi and his wimpy yankee-twanged son as easily-recognisable global ‘entreeplayers’ ruthlessly manoeuvering to usurp the Maoists from their rightful land.

It’s a complex morally ambivalent world of arbitrary, treachery and strained loyalty.

The well-researched material is culled into a condensed but brightly illuminated screenplay by Jha, Anjum Rajabali and Sagar Pandya that brings out the basic theme of monstrously growing socio-economic inequality in our society through the characters of two friends.

Adil Khan (Arjun Rampal) and Kabir (Abhay Deol) are separated by their differing attitude to socio-political injustice, but united in their combat against corruption, the path chosen by the friends diverge, unify and then split apart in ways that keep us riveted to the devastatingly tragic finale. There’s also a girl between them, a colleague from the college days (Esha Gupta, miscast). Mercifully there’s no love triangle happening here.

If anything, the film should have been longer. There should have been more space for the Adil-Kabir friendship to be nurtured.

The same goes for the delicately but rather hastily-drawn relationship that grows between the loyalty-challenged Kabir and the spirited Maoist girl Juhi (newcomer Anjali Patil). But then Jha has always been shy of dwelling on feelings.

He only slows us glimpses into his characters’ hearts before pulling back ruthlessly to allow them to go about their jobs as professionals who have to travel far beyond their call of duty.

In a film about social injustice and the ire that it fosters, it would be unjust to give away the plot. Suffice to say that Jha copes with the complex themes of love, loyalty, friendship and betrayal in a language that never resorts to gutter-level sniping and combative belligerence just to appear trendily earthy.

Armed with an explosive plot that tests the loyalty of two friends as they are pitched in an ideological battle, Jha’s narrative remains unwavering in its allegiance to a powerful content-execution and a voice that’s raised in protest without getting shrill or hysterical.

The crucial confrontation sequence towards the end is a make-or-break moment in the narrative. Thanks to the brilliantlywritten words and the restrain with which the two actors put their viewpoints forward, the sequence scorches the screen.

While Abhay once again after Shanghai displays remarkable understanding in playing a complex hard-to-pin-down character, it’s Arjun as a cop doing a job that could not just kill him but put a whole community of people’s lives into danger once again surprises us with his deep understanding of his character’s socio-political context.

The time-tested Manoj Bajpayee and Om Puri have smaller but significant parts as Maoist leaders. They add that much-needed touch of gravitas to a film.

While the film contains a collage of competently calibrated performances by some brilliant actors like Chetan Pandit, who was last seen as an idealistic schoolteacher in Agneepath, here slips into a cheesy cop’s role and debutante Anjali Patil leaves the best impression among the supporting cast. A truly worthy successor to the holder of that never-forgotten actress with the same title (Smita).

Chakravyuh does have its unhinged moments but Jha quickly reimposes a sense of ongoing drama and impending catastrophe which keeps the audiences’ heartbeats racing dangerously.

The editing by Santosh Mandal could have been more austere. But the loose moments never overpower the film’s strong convictions and powerful story structure.

Chakravyuh ends with Jha’s voiceover warning us of growing inequality in the Indian social structure whereby 25 families control a majority of the nation’s wealth while a majority of the people live on Rs 70 per day.

Would the Rs 70 wage earner be able to afford the Rs 200 required to watch this film? Would his life change? The process of social awakening that started with the cinema of V Shantaram and B R Chopra has come a full circle.

Now if only cinema could change mindsets.

Campbell to celebrate boyfriend’s birthday in India


SUPERMODEL Naomi Campbell is reportedly planning a huge birthday party for businessman boyfriend Vladislav Doronin in India.

Doronin turns 50 on November 7. Campbell is said to have invited guests from all over the world for the four-day gala which will kickstart on November 4 in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Campbell, 42, has dated Dornin since 2008.

“Naomi is flying a lot of people out to India and paying for everything,” quoted a source as saying.

The model has sent email invitations to the guests and booked a luxury hotel for them.

“No expense has been spared. Naomi’s team is even helping their friends secure visas. It will be the party of the century,” another source added.

DeGeneres honoured with Mark Twain Prize


ELLEN DeGeneres, an American entertainer received the highest US award for achievement in comedy on Monday.

Receiving the Mark Twain Prize for American Humour at the Kennedy Centre, the national showcase for arts, DeGeneres was praised as a pioneering female comic whose edgy variety show has helped define the format for daytime television in recent years.

But several guests also highlighted the comedian’s groundbreaking decision 15 years ago to go public with her sexual identity in a career-rattling move the comedian said was a necessary step for personal dignity.

“I did it for me and it happened to help a lot of other people and cause a big ruckus,” DeGeneres, 54, told reporters. The Twain prize, named after the 19th century satirist, is the nation’s highest honour for achievements in comedy.

A native of New Orleans, DeGeneres spent her twenties as an itinerant comedian on the Los Angeles nightclub circuit until prominent spots on late night television led to her own prime time sitcom.

The original show, Ellen, feat u r e d DeGeneres in the lead role as a bookshop owner in an idiosyncratic neighbourhood.

While the show got a boost after the star came out of the closet, it was over a few years later.

She later returned to the standup stage, and hosted the 2001 Emmy awards, which was postponed twice after the September 11 attacks - a somewhat subdued celebration that allowed her to try to lighten the national mood.

Several guests said that DeGeneres brought a compassion to her comedy that is rare in the field.

“The rest of us comics come from really messed-up, dark childhoods. She might have come from that, I don’t know. But it’s not what she puts forth,” said John Leguizamo, who joined the tributes.

“She just puts out this beautiful goodwill.” In the last 10 seasons on television, DeGeneres has left her mark with a daytime variety show which she often uses as a way to promote a commitment to equality.

“For a lot of people, Ellen is their only friend,” said late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

DeGeneres is the forth woman to receive the award since its inception in 1998.

Comedian and actor Will Ferrell won last year. Past award winners have included Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby.

Monday night’s ceremony will be broadcast on PBS on October 30.

Jimmy Smits gives up being Mr Noble guy



JIMMY Smits is killing it on the FX series Sons of Anarchy. That should surprise no one, given that he’s a fine actor and a bit of a chameleon. Yet it seemed strange, even risky, to bring in the 57-yearold as Nero Padilla, owner of an escort service who hops into bed, figuratively, with the Samcro motorcycle gang, and literally with Gemma (Katey Sagal), the estranged wife of Samcro ex-boss Clay (Ron Perlman) and the mother of the gang’s current leader, Jax (Charlie Hunnam).

After all, Smits is a major star who can’t have come cheap, and Sons of Anarchy had been motoring along fine for four years before Smits rolled into town for a season-long arc in the show’s fifth year. He has, however, become something of a specialist in parachuting into flourishing series to impart a burst of fresh energy.

“It’s not something I haven’t done before,’’ Smits says, speaking by cell telephone while driving to the show’s set in Los Angeles. “I jumped on the fast-moving train with NYPD Blue (1994-1998, 2004), and The West Wing (2004-2006) was already established. The whole guest-arc thing is a little different, and, having done it on Dexter (2008), there was a certain comfort level that I had in negotiating all the dynamics when you do this kind of thing.’’ It wasn’t as if the actor were walking into a completely unknown situation, though. Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter was new to Smits, but director Paris Barclay and costar Perlman were known quantities.

“The fact that Paris Barclay works on Sons, it helped,’’ he says. “Paris was an exec on NYPD Blue, and he directed a lot of really good episodes I worked on. So we have a lot of synergy as an actor and director, and I trust him. So there was a definite comfort level I had. Also I was at an event honouring Paris. I was there with Sharon Lawrence from NYPD Blue, and there were people there from Sons and In Treatment, which he’d also done. That’s when we first started connecting, Kurt and Katey and I. Plus I’d worked with Ron Perlman on two films.

“Once I got on set, it was about trying to figure out where in the scheme of the show you as an actor, and you as whatever character they’ve come up with, can fit in, in terms of the spokes of the wheel,’’ Smits continues. “You want to honour the world the creator has outlined and you want to do something where you can pop, and I’m getting to do that here in a big way. And you want to be diplomatic, because you are walking into a situation where the train is moving. You want to make people comfortable that you’re not there to take jobs.

“It’s a finite thing, me being here,’’ he says. “I’m not looking to be a regular.

I admire what they’re doing and I just want to contribute.’’ Nero comes across as a decent guy. He cut a deal with Jax not to sleep with Gemma anymore and, at press time for this article, was still honouring it. The show’s fans, a glance at the Internet reveals, are waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Nero to reveal his true colours.

And indeed, reading between the lines of Smits’ comments on the subject, it seems as if fans will soon enough meet a far darker Nero.

“Knowing the way Kurt writes, I can’t wait until we really flip it on its head,’’ Smits says. “We’ve already flipped it in terms of having the audience see Jimmy West Wing/NYPD Blue do this kind of character. It’s like me revisiting the character I played in Mi Familia (1995) 17 years later. There was a whole thing about whether or not I had the street cred to be able to do that again, given that I’ve done all these ‘suit’ characters. So, for me, it’s been a joy to do.

“Now, Kurt’s strength as a writer and director is that he’s able to turn (stuff) on its head and blow (stuff) up at the end of a season and leave his audience going, ‘What the (heck)?,’’’ the actor says. ‘’Some of his cast members do the same thing too. So when we have the major turn for Nero – and it will happen – they’ll have an even juicier time with the character than they already are.

“That’s all part of the plan,’’ Smits says. “I can’t tell you what the turn is, but I’m actually going to the set now to shoot the last episode of this season, and it gets a little crazy there.’’ Once he wraps Sons of Anarchy, Smits will take a short break and then fly to Chicago to star in a Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of The Motherfucker with the Hat, set to run from December 28 to March 3. Smits participated in an early reading of the play a few years back, while he was on Broadway in God of Carnage (2009-2010), but Chris Rock starred in the 2011 Broadway production.

Smits will finally get the chance to play profane recovery sponsor Ralph D in the Steppenwolf edition.

“I’m so stoked about doing this play,’’ Smits says. “Talk about a role that’s very different for me, in terms of what the audience perception is.

This is way different. Chris Rock did it on Broadway and was instrumental in getting it on Broadway. I give serious props to him. I’m sure people think in their heads, ‘They’re going from Chris Rock to Jimmy Smits?’ The fact that we’re both from Brooklyn is the only thing we have in common.

“But I feel closer to this character’s life rhythm, to the way this character talks, than anything I’ve ever played,’’ he says. “I’m so, so excited about everything but being in Chicago from freaking November to March. I worked there before, during that time, on Running Scared (1986), one of my first films.

We shot that during nights that whole wintertime.

“I’m not looking forward to that because I’ll be away from my family,’’ adds Smits, who has two adult children and has lived with actress Wanda De Jesus for the past quarter- century. “I’ll miss Christmas and New Year’s. The good thing is that I’ll be totally forced to zone into the work and the character and all of that.’’ Smits appreciates stage work and says that he’ll always make time for it, but he also wouldn’t mind a long-running television show of his own, one that clicks and sticks around. Cane (2007) lasted only one season, and NBC axed Outlaw (2010) after a mere four episodes.

“I’m definitely ready,’’ the actor says, “but, if that’s not in the cards right now, so be it. I’m glad I’m getting these opportunities to flex my muscles and do different things.

What I’m happy about is that I’ve not done one of those procedural shows. A lot of them are very successful, but I’m just not really into that. Testament to the fact that I have commitment phobia anyway, I jump after four or five years. If I was on one of those procedural shows where I was talking about the bullet that went into the thing.

“Thank God that the cable universe has become what it is and that there’s a place where substantive stuff and stuff with character is the engine for storytelling,’’ Smits says. “Some of my favourite shows are not on the networks.

Maybe it’s not in the cards in terms of your own gig, but never say never in this business, you know? Things change so quickly and the business is so fickle, and you’ve got to be aware of all that stuff.

“I feel very blessed and happy to be doing the work I’m d o i n g r i g h t now.’

Late victory for Inter, Napoli; Udinese loses


BERNE RODRIGO PALACIO snatched an 88th minute win for Inter Milan over Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League on Thursday while Lazio were on the wrong end of some late drama in a 1-1 draw at Panathinaikos.

Napoli produced another poor away performance, losing 3-1 at Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, and Udinese, the fourth Italian side, suffered a shock 3-1 defeat at Young Boys where Raul Bobadilla scored a hattrick.

Titleholders Atletico Madrid chalked up their third straight group stage win, beating Academica Coimbra 2-1, but Athletic Bilbao, last season’s runners- up, were left on the brink of elimination after losing 2-1 at Olympique Lyon.

At San Siro, Palacio headed in a cross from fellow Argentine Diego Milito one minute after Partizan’s Lazar Markovic nearly scored for the Serbs on the break. The win left Inter and Rubin Kazan, who beat Neftci 1-0, level on seven points from three games at the top of Group H
Lazio were gifted a 25th minute lead in Athens when Giourkas Seitaridis’s back pass caught goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis out of position and the ball rolled into the net. Toche equalised for Panathinaikos in stoppage time. Lazio stayed top of Group J with five points, one clear of Maribor who drew 1-1 at home to Tottenham Hotspur.

Jimmy Briand scored an 86th minute winner for Olympique Lyon to give the Group I leaders their third straight win and leave Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic third with only one point.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone again rested Radamel Falcao who is yet to play in the competition in which he has been the top scorer for the previous two seasons, firstly with Porto and then his current side.

They were still too strong for their Portuguese opponents as second half goals from Diego Costa and Emre Belozoglu left the Mattress Makers top of Group B with nine points. Salim Cisse replied for the Portuguese visitors.

Bodadilla gave Young Boys a fourth-minute lead when he side-footed in a pass by fellow Argentine Gonzalo Zarate, added a second in the 71st minute following a mistake by Pablo Armero and completed his evening by converting a penalty.

Andrea Coda replied for Udinese in the Group A match. Liverpool took advantage of Udinese’s slip to go top with a 1-0 win over Russian Premier Leaders Anzhi Makhachkala thanks to a second half goal by Stewart Downing.

Dnipro maintained their 100 percent record in Group F after Artem Fedetskiy put them in front from a free-kick in the second minu

Giants beats Tigers 2-0, takes lead in World Series


SAN FRANCISCO MADISON BUMGARNER allowed just two hits over seven innings as the San Francisco Giants beat the Detroit Tigers 2- 0 on Thursday to take a 2-0 World Series lead.

Gregor Blanco’s single trickled to a stop inches fair on the infield dirt, setting up Brandon Crawford’s run-scoring doubleplay grounder in the seventh.

Hunter Pence added a sacrifice fly in the eighth to give the Giants all they needed. Hunter Pence added a sacrificefly in the eighth, and that was plenty for these masters of the October comeback.

“It definitely feels a whole lot better than having our backs against the wall,” Bumgarner said. “But you can’t relax. We’ve got to keep pushing.” Game 3 will be Saturday in Detroit and for once, the Giants aren’t playing from behind.

The Giants overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat Cincinnati in the best-of-five division series and trailed 3-1 against St. Louis in the National League championship series. The loss left the favoured Tigers wondering what else could go wrong. Prince Fielder was thrown out at the plate by a hair and moments later starting pitcher Doug Fister was struck squarely in the head by a line drive, a ball hit so hard that it caromed into shallow center field. “They asked me the typical concussion questions,” Fister said. “I’m not concerned.

I have a minor bump. According to my dad, my whole life his saying has always been if I got hit in the head I’d be OK. That’s how I take it.” Fister managed to stay on the mound, and even excelled. Bumgarner more than matched him, however, allowing just two hits before the San Francisco bullpen closed it out before another pulsating crowd.

Santiago Casilla pitched a perfect eighth and Sergio Romo worked the ninth for a save in the combined two-hitter, leaving Miguel Cabrera in a huge hole heading back to Comerica Park. Anibal Sanchez will start for the Tigers against Ryan Vogelsong in Detroit.

“That’s the way baseball is.

When things are going well, things are bouncing your way,” Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro said. “If things aren’t going well, you just keep battling and playing hard. No one is taking anything for granted.” The Tigers looked sluggish at the plate, maybe still lost following a five-day layoff after an American League championship series sweep of the Yankees. Cabrera hopped up and twisted away after third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who homered three times in the opener, snared his early line drive. Bumgarner had something to do with the Tigers’ troubles, too. Bumped from the NLCS rotation after two poor postseason starts, he returned with a flourish.

The left-hander struck out eight and looked as sharp as he did in the 2010 World Series when, as a 21-year-old rookie, he stopped Texas in Game 4 on the way to a championship.

No winner in Armstrong era, says UCI


GENEVA NO ONE will replace Lance Armstrong as winner of the Tour de France from 1999- 2005 after the American was stripped of the titles for doping, the International Cycling Union (UCI) said on Friday.

The decision, supported by Tour organisers, was widely expected given so many riders finishing behind Armstrong have also been associated with doping offences.

“With respect to Lance Armstrong and the implications of the USADA sanctions which it endorsed on Monday 22 October, the Management Committee decided not to award victories to any other rider or upgrade other placings in any of the affected events,” the UCI said in a statement.

Armstrong was formally stripped of his seven titles on Monday when the UCI ratified the US Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to ban the 41-year-old Texan for life and nullify his results from August 1998 onward.

“The committee also called on Armstrong and all other affected riders to return the prize money they had received,” the statement added.

The UCI also said it was setting up an independent commission to investigate allegations made against the UCI over the Armstrong affair.

The governing body agreed that part of the commission’s remit would be to find ways to ensure that anyone caught doping would no longer be able to take part in the sport, even as a non-rider in a team.

It also announced it was suspending legal action against journalist Paul Kimmage pending the findings of the commission.

Former professional rider Kimmage had alleged the UCI covered up a suspicious Armstrong test.

On October 10, the United States Anti-Doping Agency published a report into Armstrong which said the now-retired rider had been involved in the “most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”.

Armstrong, who has always denied doping, had previously declined to contest the charges, prompting USADA to propose his punishment pending confirmation from cycling’s world governing body which came on Monday.

Former Armstrong team mates at his US Postal and Discovery Channel outfits, where he won his Tour titles, testified against him and themselves and were given reduced bans by the American authorities.

UCI also says Armstrong and “all other affected riders” in the case should return their prize money. Cycling’s governing body also will “establish a fully independent external commission to look into the various allegations made about UCI relating to the Armstrong affair.” It has been accused of accepting $125,000 from Armstrong to cover up suspicious doping tests. As well as leaving the Tour winner’s list blank from 1999-2005, the UCI agreed “not to award victories to any other rider or upgrade other placings in any of the affected events.”

Vettel sets fastest time in Indian GP practice


GREATER NOIDA (INDIA) SEBASTIAN VETTEL showed he has the pace to win a fourth straight Formula One race and pad his thin championship lead by setting the fastest time in Friday’s practices for the Indian Grand Prix.

Vettel headed a Red Bull one-two in the second practice, with teammate Mark Webber a tenth of a second behind.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso Vettel’s title rival, just six points behind was third fastest, six-tenths off the pace.

Red Bull locked out the front row in qualifying for the previous two races and the times here indicate a hat trick is in the offing.

“The track improvement was quite big today, it was dusty to start and improved lap by lap, so I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow the order is different, but we’ve had worse Fridays, so I am happy,” Vettel said.

Alonso was banking on the evolution of the track over the race weekend to perhaps bring Ferrari up to Red Bull’s speed.

“The track conditions, which change rapidly lap after lap, make it even more complicated to understand the situation relating to the hierarchy down the pit lane,” Alonso said.

Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen, who had not even sighted the track on a simulator before, was fifth fastest ahead of the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, as all the championship contenders proved competitive.

“We’re probably quick enough to qualify third or fourth fastest at the moment, but, to go for pole, we’re going to really need to push hard in our development work tonight,” Hamilton said.

Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg was fourth on the time sheets, shortly before all the major runners switched to higher fuel loads to simulate race running.

Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg set the eighth fastest time, followed by Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Williams’ Bruno Senna.

The track was predictably dirty after a year without racing, but as the rubber got laid down, times improved; Vettel’s time in the afternoon practice was 1.4 seconds faster than his morning time.

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa struggled with the limits of the track more than the others, with two spins in the afternoon, including one where he had the ignominy of colliding with an advertising hoarding while trying to drive away from the scene.

Massa had a series of spins at this track last year, too.

Button also had a difficult afternoon, sitting out the latter part of the session due to a transmission issue with the car. Button did not finish the previous race, so he can change his gearbox without any grid penalty.

Sauber driver Sergio Perez sat out morning practice due to the lingering effects of a cold but took part in the afternoon. In the morning he was replaced by his Mexican compatriot Esteban Gutierrez, who is widely tipped to get the seat on a permanent basis next year when Perez moves to McLaren.

HTC seeks to reverse sliding smartphone sales


Taiwan’s HTC Corp enjoyed three golden years as the first company to make smartphones based on Google’s Android software.

Now, it is struggling to halt a slide in sales and keep its status as a global brand in a market increasingly divided between Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co.

An early maker of smartphones sold under brands like HP and Compaq, HTC started stamping its own brand on phones in 2006.

Taiwanese company surged into the fast lane two years later with its Android smartphones that appealed to consumers because of competitive prices on the free operating system and their strong design.

But its sales faltered from the second half of 2011, partly because its limited financial resources put it at a strong disadvantage to aggressive marketing drives by Samsung and Apple.

And unlike its American competitor, it lacked a distinctive flagship phone that captured the hearts of consumers as a must-have product.

Instead it produced many phones, trying to cater to a wide range of consumers.

HTC on Friday reported a 79 percent drop in third quarter profit to 3.9 billion New Taiwan dollars ($99 million) on revenue of NT$70 billion.

It was HTC’s fourth consecutive fall in quarterly profit.

Worse may be to come. It predicted revenue will drop to NT$60 billion in the fourth quarter despite traditional pre-Christmas buying and its introduction of two new models running on Microsoft’s Windows 8 software.

“HTC is undergoing a difficult period of trial and error,” said Stephen Su, market analyst at Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute.

“Its technology is good and its design capability is Taiwan’s best,” he said. “But like other Taiwanese makers, HTC falls behind in the area of practical application.” Su said HTC’s unfamiliarity with Western markets puts it at a disadvantage in developing products for Western consumers, in contrast to Apple, which always seems to be one step ahead of consumer sentiment, not only in the West, but all around the world.

HTC was founded in 1997 as a contract electronics manufacturer.

Under its chief executive Peter Chou, the company focused decisively on smartphones in 2006, collaborating with US carriers in marketing efforts.

HTC’s performance reached its peak in the April- June period of 2011, when it shipped 12 million phones and its revenue totalled NT$125 billion.

The company’s salvation may lie in pursuing alliances with tablet computer and TV makers so HTC phones can share entertainment and other programs with multiple devices just like iPhones do.

Spain’s banks to see further consolidation


MADRID AN emergency cash injection from Europe is set to trigger more takeovers in Spain’s shrinking financial sector, leaving around 10 banks compared with more than 40 just three years ago.

Spain’s banks have been forced into mergers since a decade-long property boom collapsed, lumbering them with a glut of unsold homes, undeveloped lots and bad loans.

More than 30 small regional savings banks, or cajas, have already been swallowed up by bigger lenders, or have merged together, leaving 14 substantial banks.

Now, bankers say, the strongest four or five of those are likely to buy the weakest lenders - banks that have already been taken over by the state or smaller lenders.

The carrot for buyers is €40 billion ($52 billion) of European bailout money that will help clean up the weaker banks and force them to offload soured assets to a bad bank being set up by the government, making them more attractive targets.

Independent stress tests of the country’s banks left a very clear map of seven predators and seven prey, said a Spanish banker who did not want to be identified.

“Four or five of the relatively healthy lenders will embark on the hunt for four or five weaker institutions in the short to medium term,” the banker said.

Foreign buyers are expected to stay away because of the huge risks in Spain, struggling with a sovereign debt crisis.

House prices are still falling and bad loans will continue to rise for at least another year, as consumers and businesses default in a deep recession.

The likely predators are healthy banks Santander, BBVA, CaixaBank, Sabadell and Kutxa, a Basque lender.

Their targets are likely to include nationalised banks Catalunya Caixa, NovaGalicia Banc and Banco de Valencia , as well as other small banks such as Banco Mare Nostrum or Caja 3
Mid-sized bank Popular is not seen strong enough to go on the hunt for acquisitions, but could become a target for a buyer if it fails to carry out an ambitious capital hike.

A new law, passed to meet the conditions for European aid, makes it easier for the state to liquidate banks and sell them off in pieces.

“There will be fierce competition among lenders to buy the most valuable assets,” said Berges, chief executive at independent think tank Analistas Financieros (AFI).

Nationalised lenders Bankia, Catalunya Caixa, NovaGalicia and Banco de Valencia will take huge losses on piles of homes and vacant lots they will transfer to the bad bank.

A financial source with knowledge of negotiations said that as a condition of the rescue, the four banks will shrink their balance sheets by up to 40 percent, making them cheaper buyout targets.

Santander, BBVA and Kutxa are among the frontrunners for acquiring Catalunya Caixa, with assets of around €80 billion, say banking sources.

NovaGalicia, with assets of around 75 billion euros, could be a welcome target for Caixabank, the sources say.

Popular, which an independent audit showed has a capital gap of €3.2 billion, has embarked on €2.5 billion shares issue as it tries to avoid being taken over by the state or a competitor.

“If Popular cannot make it on its own Caixabank will be sniffing around,” a Spanish banker said.

US consumer sentiment at 5-year high in October


NEW YORK CONSUMER sentiment rose to its highest level in five years in October as Americans were more upbeat about prospects for the economy and their own finances, a survey released on Friday showed.

The Thomson Reuters/ University of Michigan’s final reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment rose to 82.6 from 78.3 in September. It was at its highest level since September 2007 on a final reading basis.

Still, that was slightly below the preliminary reading of 83.1 and shy of economists’ expectations for 83.

There are also clouds on the horizon. After the presidential election in November, policymakers will have to deal with a package of scheduled spending cuts and tax increases, and political wrangling could prompt a decline in consumer confidence as sharp as the recent increase, according to the survey.

“Unless the legislation is carefully managed by whoever wins, the debate could produce the same depressing effect on consumer confidence as last year’s debt ceiling fiasco,” survey director Richard Curtin said in a statement. “While the surge in confidence will act to bolster consumer spending during the upcoming holiday season, it also means that this higher level of confidence is more vulnerable to reversal and has thus raised the stakes for post-election economic policies.” Two-thirds of consumers surveyed expected President Barack Obama to win his reelection bid in just over a week.

The barometer of current economic conditions gained to 88.1 from 85.7, while the gauge of consumer expectations rose to their highest level since July 2007 at 79 from 73.5
Consumers anticipated smaller price increases, with the one-year inflation expectation easing to 3.1 percent from 3.3 percent, while the five-to-10-year inflation outlook fell to 2.7 percent from 2.8 percent.

US GDP rises 2% in third quarter



ECONOMIC growth picked up in the third quarter as a late burst in consumer spending offset the first cutbacks in investment in more than a year by cautious businesses.

Gross domestic product expanded at a 2 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department said on Friday, accelerating from the second quarter’s 1.3 percent pace.

Still, the stronger pace of expansion fell short of what is needed to make much of a dent in unemployment, and details of the report did not bode well for an acceleration in output in the fourth quarter, as a spurt in government spending was see as temporary.

A growth pace in excess of 2.5 percent is needed over several quarters to make substantial headway cutting the jobless rate.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 1.9 percent growth pace in the third quarter.

The report offers little cheer for the White House ahead of the closely contested November 6 presidential election, in which President Barack Obama is trying to fend off Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

US stocks pared losses after the data, while Treasuries briefly cut early price gains.

The dollar trimmed losses against the yen, and cut gains against the euro.

Since climbing out of the 2007- 09 recession, the economy has faced a series of headwinds from high gasoline prices to the debt turmoil in Europe and, lately, fears of U.S. government austerity.

It has struggled to exceed a 2 percent growth pace and remains about 4.5 million jobs short of where it stood when the downturn started.

Consumers, however, largely shrugged off the impending sharp cuts in government spending and higher taxes, which are due at the start of the year absent congressional action.

Indeed, they went on a bit of a shopping spree as the quarter wound down, buying a range of goods - including automobiles and Apple’s iPhone 5
Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of US economic activity, grew at a 2 percent rate after increasing 1.5 percent in the prior period.

High stock prices and firming house values have made households a bit more willing to take on new debt, supporting consumer spending.

The faster pace of spending was achieved despite a spike in inflation pressures as gasoline prices rose. A price index for personal spending rose at a 1.8 percent rate, accelerating from the second quarter’s 0.7 percent pace.

But a core inflation measure that strips out food and energy costs slowed to a 1.3 percent rate after rising 1.7 percent in the prior quarter, suggesting the increase in overall price pressures will be temporary.



DOHA THE Emir His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani received well-wishers at Al Wajbah palace on the occasion of Eid Al Adha on Friday.

HH the Emir received sheikhs, ministers, Advisory Council Speaker and his deputy, undersecretaries, advisory council members and the citizens. HH the Emir also received the heads of the diplomatic corps accredited to Qatar.

HH the Emir then received the army and police officers and the directors of state departments and national institutions. All the well-wishers expressed their heartfelt greetings and felicitation to HH the Emir on the “happy occasion”. The Eid Al Adha reception were attended by the Heir Apparent His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, His Highness Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al Thani, Personal Representative of HH the Emir and HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa al Thani, Private Adviser of HH the Emir and a number of their Excellencies the sons of HH the Emir.

HH the Emir performed the Eid Al Adha prayer at Al Wajbah ground on Friday morning. HH the Heir Apparent along with several royal dignitaries attended the morning prayer.

MET office releases weather applications


DOHA RESIDENTS who plan to spend a lot of time outdoors during the Eid Al Adha holidays may benefit from the new weather application (or ‘app’) released by Qatar’s Meteorological (MET) Department for iphone and ipad.

The user-friendly app is called ‘Qatar Weather’. It runs on Apple’s iOS operating system and is available for the iPad, iPod and iPhone users.

It will display the weather conditions in Qatar — including the temperature, humidity, wind direction and speed, as well as warnings, tide times and values, and the general status of the sea — for three consecutive days.

The Qatar Weather app can be downloaded and used for free. It can be obtained by owners of iPads and iPhones from Apple’s App Store. Users can then access the weather conditions and temperatures at any area within Qatar, in both Arabic and English.

The meteorological department seeks to provide weather- related information to the widest possible audience through this application, and other similar services. Given the ever-increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets, these new services have the potential of being useful to a large segment of the residents.

Users of the application can benefit from the MET office’s experience and familiarity with weather monitoring and forecasting. The app will be especially useful for seafarers and travellers in the desert, who may have no other alternatives of keeping track of the weather conditions.

The ‘Qatar Weather’ app augments the other means available for those who require weather information, and which include the daily bulletins published in the local newspapers, the MET department updates on Twitter.

The MET department offers a desktop programme which similarly provides weather forecast for three days, in both Arabic and English. That programme can be downloaded from the MET’s website, ‘’.

The meteorological department confirmed that it will launch more new services in the near future, in addition to expanding its activities in communication with the public, and the delivery of weather monitoring and forecasting information.

Special ‘1001 Inventions’ expo for Eid holidays today


DOHA A SPECIAL interactive exhibition for the Eid Al Adha holidays, showcasing exhibits dating back to a thousand years of scientific and cultural achievements of Islamic civilisation, will open at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) Park on Saturday.

The exhibits dating from the 7th century, is titled ‘1001 Inventions’. It will provide a pleasant outing for residents during the Eid al Adha holidays.

Housed in a tent at the MIA Park, the expo will be open from 4pm to 10pm every day starting from the second day of Eid. It celebrates some of the inventions, whose impact on science and technology can be experienced even today.

The expo features games and activities that focus on the inventions in the fields of engineering, medicine, science, astronomy, energy and transportation, along with others.

Several activities and workshops for families will also be held during the Eid holidays. The activities include calligraphy and jewellery- making workshops, ‘design your own coin’ workshop, Al Kindi’s perfumemaking workshop, live stage performances where scientists from the Golden Age of Islamic civilisation will come to life, work with the visitors to solve problems, rhyming science, face painting, kitemaking, ‘body parts puzzle with 10th century surgeon Al Zahrawi’ and balloon-shaping, among others.

The exhibition will continue till November 12. It is being organised in coordination with Qatar Museums Authority and the MIA, in partnership with 1001 Inventions and Qatar Shell.

Speaking to Qatar Tribune recently, 1001 Inventions Middle East Director Shaza Shannan said that through this exhibition people will come to know how discoveries and inventions between the 7th and 17th century had shaped modern day life.

Producer and Director of1001 Inventions, Ahmed Salim said, “Muslim civilisation stretched from southern Spain to as far as China, and for a thousand years, scholars of different faiths built on the ancient knowledge of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, making breakthroughs that helped pave the way for the Renaissance.” Salim further said, “The discoveries made by men and women — from automatic machines and medical marvels to astronomical observations and inspiring architecture — have left their mark on the way we live today.” The expo features how Andalusian physician Al Zahrawi invented hundreds of surgical instruments and procedures more than a thousand years ago that are still saving lives in modern hospitals.

Fatima al Fihri, a young woman who founded and designed the world’s first modern university which offered free education to men and women of all backgrounds, is also highlighted at the expo.

Indeed, the experimental scientific method, the basis of all modern technological advancement, came from the work of Hassan ibn al Haytham a thousand years ago.

Haytham laid the foundations of optics including the explanation of the scientific phenomenon ‘Camera Obscura’ — which is the fundamental principle used in modern cameras today.

30 Qatari officers graduate from Singapore academy


DOHA A GRADUATION ceremony for Qatari officers and noncommissioned officers was held at Singapore’s Civil Defence Academy headquarters on Friday.

A total of 30 Qatari graduates attended a civil defence course at the academy. Qatar’s Ambassador to Singapore HE Rashid bin Ali al Khater and Director of the Singaporean Academy Colonel Christopher Tan along with senior officers of the Singaporean Civil Defence Force attended the ceremony. Members of the Interior Affairs Ministry and the Qatar embassy were also present. Colonel Tan delivered a keynote address at the ceremony.

The officers showcased some of their skills on the occasion, which the graduates acquired from the Singapore academy. They underwent practical training to upgrade their capabilities in several fields. This includes ways to combat fire, search and rescue operations in urban areas, control of hazardous materials and how to control fire on ships.

The Qatari envoy praised the efforts of the graduates. He met the graduates on the occasion. The envoy urged them to benefit from the knowledge and proceed towards upgrading their skills for the welfare of Qatar.

Indian groups host Eidgah prayers


DOHA MORE than 10,000 faithful, including women and children, turned out in large numbers to offer their Eid Al Adha prayers at various Eidgahs on Friday.

The gatherings in most places were organised by Indian community groups.

Indian forums such as Indian Islamic Association (IIA), Qatar Indian Islahi Center (QIIC) and Qatar Muslim Islahi Center (QMIC) made arrangements for prayers at mosques, schools and at Al Arab Sports Club.

The groups hosted events in association with Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) and Islamic Affairs.

Some of the prayer gatherings at the Eidgahs were organised by the IIA. These places included Al Arab Sports Club, Al Wakrah Sports Club, Al Khor, Fareej Al Nazar in Doha and a few grounds in Mesaieed.

The prayer gathering organised by Qatar Muslim Islahi Centre (QICC) at Fareej Nasar was attended by over 1,500 people. Muslim scholar Salah Salahuddin delivered a message at Fareej Nasar on the occasion. He highlighted the message of peace and harmony and its importance in today’s world.

IIA member Habib Rahiman Kizhissery delivered a sermon at Al Arab Sports Club while another member Taj Aluva spoke at Al Wakrah Sports Club. Zakhir Hussain, an Indian community representative, delivered his Eid message at an Eidgah in Al Khor while another community member Yusuff Pualappatta spoke at an Eidgah in Mesaieed.

Around 2,000 residents offered their Eid prayers at Aboobecker Sidiq Independent School in Al Muntaza. KN Sulaiman Madani, a scholar, spoke on the occasion.

Support for Likud-Beiteinu tie-up slips: Israeli survey


JERUSALEM PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tie-up with farright coalition partner Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman could backfire by eroding their lead ahead of Israel’s Jan. 22 ballot, a poll said on Friday.

The findings flew in the face of Netanyahu’s prediction that, by merging with his fiery rival for nationalist votes, he would muster a “big, cohesive force” of support to win a third term as premier.

They also suggested that opposition parties, long dawdling thanks to Israel’s stable economy and disillusionment with the deadlocked Palestinian peace process, would be reenergised by the conservative incumbent’s tack toward the Lieberman tent.

According to a survey published by top-rated television station Channel Two, the joint candidate list of Netanyahu’s Likud and Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu parties, announced on Thursday, would take just 33 of the 120 seats in parliament.

Though that still puts them ahead of rival parties, it represented a drop-off from Monday, before the unexpected alliance was unveiled, when a poll for parliament’s television station Knesset 99 gave them a combined 39 seats.

“Unifying lists usually shrinks them,” commented Nahum Barnea of the biggestselling newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

“Anyone who did not tolerate Lieberman and voted for Netanyahu will think twice, and the same is true for those who did not tolerate Netanyahu and voted for Lieberman.” Friday’s poll also found boosted support for Israel’s strongest opposition parties, left-leaning Labour and the new, centrist Yesh Atid. They were seen taking 27 and 18 seats, respectively, up from the 19 and 15 predicted on Monday.

Reasons analysts gave for that shift included worry among wavering Israelis about the rise of the Sovietborn Lieberman, an often undiplomatic diplomat who faces possible indictment on graft charges - though he denies wrongdoing.

His party has questioned the loyalty of Israel’s Arab minority and promoted legislation that critics denounced as an undemocratic targeting of liberal causes, such as a move to slap a 45 percent tax on foreign donations to human rights groups.

“The strong Russian accent, the police probes and the old left’s fear of the man who doesn’t believe in peace painted him in one stripe,” said Netanyahu ex-spokesman Yoaz Hendel, adding that he believed much of the public had misjudged Lieberman.

The foreign minister brushed off Friday’s poll, telling reporters Israel Beiteinu’s own surveys anticipated it would win 16 seats in the next Knesset - up from today’s 15.

“We are setting up the broad-based, traditional, historic nationalist camp that will lead the country for many years,” he said. A Likud spokeswoman declined to comment on poll figures.

Netanyahu and Lieberman said their partnership will ditch some of the fractious small-party wrangling typical of Israeli politics and help the country attend to security challenges like Iran’s nuclear programme, as well as domestic problems.

The secularist Lieberman is also pushing to end en masse exemptions granted to Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews from

Clashes shake fragile Syria ceasefire


DAMASCUS OUTBURSTS of fighting threatened to undermine a fragile ceasefire that took effect in Syria on Friday after President Bashar al Assad’s regime and the main rebel force agreed to down arms for a four-day Muslim holiday.

But the violence was still at unusually low levels even though the ceasefire had “collapsed” in several regions of the country, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

And there were no indications from either the Assad regime or the main rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) that they were abandoning the truce.

“The ceasefire has collapsed in several regions of Syria but there is still less violence and fewer victims than usual,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

He said fighting took place in various parts of the country, including in and around the capital Damascus, in the second city Aleppo, in the central city of Homs and near the Wadi Deif military base in the northwest.

By late afternoon, the monitoring group said, 23 people had died so far in violence, including 10 soldiers and four rebels in the fighting at Wadi Deif, instead of the dozens killed across the country in past days.

On Thursday, at least 135 people were killed, the Observatory said, including 65 civilians, 41 soldiers and 29 rebels.

Regime forces and the FSA said Thursday they would follow UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s call for the temporary ceasefire, but both reserved the right to respond to any aggression.

If the ceasefire holds it would be the first real breakthrough in halting — even temporarily — the violence that has plagued Syria during the 19-month conflict which monitors say has killed more than 35,000 people.

The international community has piled pressure on all sides to stand by the truce and a senior Arab League official said Friday it appeared to be holding.

Ahmed Ben Hilli, the League’s deputy secretary general, told AFP the truce was “being respected according to initial indications” and that it could be followed by a longer ceasefire and a proposal to deploy UN peacekeepers.

After clashes on Thursday night, the ceasefire took hold with morning prayers kicking off the Eid al-Adha feast at the end of the hajj pilgrimage, and state television showed Assad attending a Damascus mosque, smiling and chatting with worshippers.

The ceasefire was also tested as security forces opened fire at anti-regime protests that followed the prayers across the country.

The protests took place in Damascus and its suburbs, in Aleppo, in the northeast in Deir Ezzor and Raqa and at several towns in the southern Daraa province, according to activists and the Observatory.

At the town of Inkhel in Daraa, police used gunfire to disperse protesters, injuring three people, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, medics and lawyers on the ground for its information.

General Mustafa al-Sheikh of the FSA said the rebels considered the protest crackdown a violation of the ceasefire but were not planning to respond.

Former Qadhafi bastion seized by forces from rival town


TRIPOLI HOURS after taking control of Bani Walid, a former stronghold of Moamer Qadhafi, Libyan militias from the rival city of Misrata fired ferociously at its empty public buildings.

Fighters yelling “Allahu akbar (God is greatest) and “Today Bani Walid is finished” sought to make their mark with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades on a town they say still provides a refuge to many of the overthrown Libyan leader’s followers.

The chaotic, vengeful scenes demonstrated the weakness of the new government’s authority over former rebel militias which owe it allegiance but essentially do what they like.

A sign on a bank building that bore the Qadhafi-era name for Libya, “The Great Arab Socialist People’s Republic”, was scarred with bullet holes. The central streets were empty except for the fighters who filled them with their violent celebration.

“The Qadhafi fighters are out of Bani Walid, they have gone,” said Ali Mahmoud, a Misrata fighter in a pickup truck at a central Bani Walid roundabout, patriotic music blaring.

“Some people here still wanted Qadhafi, we have to show them that he is finished.” After days of shelling that sent thousands of families fleeing from the hilltop town in scenes reminiscent of last year’s war, militias aligned with the defence ministry, a grouping known as Libya Shield, seized Bani Walid on Wednesday.

The latest fighting, in which dozens of people were killed and hundreds wounded, erupted over a government demand that Bani Walid hand over those who had kidnapped and tortured Omar Shaaban, the former rebel fighter who had caught Qadhafi hiding in a drain in his hometown of Sirte last year.

Shaaban, from Misrata, a city that underwent a harsh siege by Qadhafi’s forces, died in a Paris hospital last month from injuries inflicted during two months of captivity in Bani Walid.

The United Nations had called for restraint as militias gathered menacingly around Bani Walid, whose residents had baulked at turning over the wanted men to unruly armed groups, while Libya’s justice system remains in disarray.

“There are some wanted people in Bani Walid, and we do want to hand them over but they also have rights,” said Murad Mohammed, a student and Warfala tribe member living in Benghazi.

Residents throng Doha hotspots for celebration


DOHA THE special Eid al Adha spread laid on in many Doha homes had the favourite chicken dishes missing thanks to a massive shortage of fresh chickens in the market on the first day of the three-day festival on Friday.

The disappearance of fresh chickens from the local market on this occasion is said to be the fallout of the Saudi ban on export of chickens to some countries, including Qatar, which bite the residents the hardest on the occasion of a major festival when the demand soars.

Saudi Arabia totally stopped export of poultry products due to a sharp decline in production and as a step to meet the high demand of chickens during the Hajj season.

Sources in the Lulu Hypermarket in Doha say that stoppage of supply from Saudi Arabia is a major reason for the shortage of chickens in Qatar.

Much of Qatar’s chickens supply comes from Saudi Arabia which meets 70 percent of the Qatari demand whereas the local production contributes only 30 percent of it.

The shortfall already being experienced in the market here because of this huge gap in demand and supply only worsened the situation with the demand for the product increasing manyfold on the occasion of this major festival.

In anticipation of high demand for chickens on Eid, major malls in Doha had stocked maximum supplies from the local market.

Restaurants and hotels in Doha were also not behind in cornering huge supplies of chickens from the local suppliers in advance to serve their customers dining out in large numbers during the Eid festivities. This also contributed to the shortage.

As the clamour for fresh chicken intensified with harried citizens running from one shop to another looking for the elusive thing and descending in ever increasing numbers on major retailers and trying to buy more than their requirement, big retailers like Lulu Hypermarket restricted sales and discouraged huge purchases by individuals on Friday.

“We put a limit on the quantity to be bought in order to ensure supply to our genuine customers,” an official of Lulu said on condition of anonymity.

If Saudi Arabia didn’t lift the ban on export of poultry products even after the Hajj season is over, the supply situation in the country will go from bad to worse in the next few days market observers fear.

“Qatar gets the supply of chicken from Saudi Arabia through road transportation which is less costly than imports by air from other neighbouring countries like Oman. Therefore if the Saudi supply does not resume in the coming few days, it will not only push up the price but also make chicken delicacies disappear from dining tables in many home in Qatar,” warned another market analyst who refused to be identified.

Price of one kilogramme of chicken is likely to touch QR30 against the existing price of between QR17 and QR20.

Fresh chickens disappear from market on Eid day


BEIRUT A POWERFUL car bomb exploded in Damascus on Friday and forces loyal to Bashar al Assad clashed with rebels across Syria as a truce intended to mark the Eid al Adha holiday unravelled and activists reported at least 70 deaths.

State television said the “terrorist car bomb” had killed five people and wounded 32, according to “preliminary figures”.

Opposition activists said the bomb had gone off near a makeshift children’s playground built for the Eid al Adha holiday in the southern Daf al- Shok district of the capital.

Fighting erupted around Syria earlier as both sides violated the Eid al Adha ceasefire arranged by international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

Violence was less intense than usual and activists reported no air strikes, but dozens of people were killed including 26 troops, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the bloodshed in the country.

The Syrian military said it had responded to attacks by insurgents on army positions, in line with its announcement on Thursday that it would cease military activity during the four-day holiday but reserved the right to react to rebel actions.

Brahimi’s ceasefire appeal had won widespread international support, including from Russia, China and Iran, President Assad’s main foreign allies.

The UN-Arab League envoy had hoped to build on the truce to calm a 19-month-old conflict that has killed an estimated 32,000 people and worsened instability in the Middle East.

Violence appeared to wane in some areas, but truce breaches by both sides swiftly marred Syrians’ hopes of celebrating Eid al-Adha, the climax of the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, in peace. “We are not celebrating Eid here,” said a woman in a besieged Syrian town near the Turkish border, speaking above the noise of incessant gunfire and shelling. “No one is in the mood to celebrate. Everyone is just glad they are alive.” Her husband, a portly, bearded man in his 50s, said they and their five children had just returned to the town after nine days camped out on a farm with other families to escape clashes.

“We have no gifts for our children.

We can’t even make phone calls to our families,” he said, a young daughter on his lap.

The imam of Mecca’s Grand Mosque called on Arabs and Muslims to take “practical and urgent” steps to stop bloodshed in Syria.

The Syrian conflict has aggravated divisions in the Islamic world, with Shi’ite Iran supporting Assad, and US-allied Sunni nations such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar backing his foes.

Fighting, bomb blast mar Syria holiday truce

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Fighting, bomb blast mar Syria holiday truce
Fresh chickens disappear from market on Eid day
Residents throng Doha hotspots for celebration