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Daily Archives: September 13, 2008

Passenger misery as Channel tunnel remains closed

 Image  Travellers between Britain and France faced another day of misery yesterday as the Channel tunnel remained closed after a fierce fire, with many still struggling to make alternative arrangements.
At London's St Pancras station many passengers arrived hoping to take the Eurostar to Paris despite Thursday's fire, complaining of mixed messages from tunnel operators.
"We checked the website last night around 9:00 pm. It just said delays are expected, but it didn't say anything about cancelled services," said Kirsty McIntyre, 28, struggling to get to France for a weekend with friends.
"So we came today and it's not happening. We're trying to figure out our options. We're going to see if we can get a bus to Dover and a ferry to Calais. It was a bit confusing – you get one message from the website last night and another message here," added the finance manager.
The fire erupted Thursday afternoon on a freight train about five kilometres (three miles) from the French end of the tunnel, forcing the evacuation of some 30 people, mostly truckers.
While the blaze was rapidly brought under control, British and French firefighters battled all night to finally extinguish it.
Many passengers were forced to spend an extra night in London or Paris Thursday as flights between the two cities quickly became fully booked, while ferries were also in heavy demand.
Yesterday morning the scene at St Pancras was still one of confusion.
"I heard the announcement in the Tube this morning that there was no service. When I heard it I didn't believe it," said Lithuanian Katia Nazmutdinova, 25, who was planning to travel to Paris for a trade show.
"They don't know if the service will be available tomorrow but the thing is, even if I come tomorrow I don't think I'm going to be able to use their train because I think all the tickets will be sold out."
John Piears, a retired policeman, was philosophical.
"You can jump up and down and scream and shout but it's an accident, it couldn't be helped," said the 65-year-old, hoping to take his wife Judith on a rail tour of Germany and Austria to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
"The irony is we live about 16 miles from Dover so we could have saved all that money and taken the ferry in the first place," he said.
"But we're on holiday and it's all part of the fun. We're going to have a coffee now and people watch while the tour company works out what to do."
On Friday morning there was still some confusion over how long it would take before Eurostar trains would resume travelling through the tunnel.
Eurotunnel chairman Jacques Gounon told French radio that some traffic could resume during the day, but minutes later French rail operator SNCF said Eurostar services would remain suspended yesterday.

More on page 16

Zimbabwe rivals seal power-sharing deal to end crisis

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by Fanuel Jongwe*

Zimbabweans yesterday awaited details of a power-sharing deal to end a political crisis after tortuous talks centred on how much authority veteran leader Robert Mugabe would cede to the opposition.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, who served as mediator for nearly 20 months, announced the deal Thursday night, saying: "An agreement has been reached on all items on the agenda… all of them endorsed the document tonight, signed it."
Details were not released and Mbeki said the agreement would only be made public after a formal signing ceremony scheduled for Monday.
South African newspapers said the agreement provided for a 50-50 unity government between the 84-year-old Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the head of the Movement for Democratic Change, following March polls in which the ruling party was routed for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980.
"Mugabe will be president and with two deputies and Tsvangirai prime minister and the head of government with two deputies; they will share ministerial appointments; Mugabe will chair the cabinet, Tsvangirai a council of ministers", the Business Day daily said.
The Johannesburg-based mass circulation newspaper, The Star, said the ruling ZANU-PF would have 15 members in a 31-strong cabinet, followed by 13 for the the main MDC and
 three for an MDC splinter group.
"Mugabe will remain chairperson of the cabinet while Tsvangirai becomes chairperson of a new council of ministers from which Mugabe will be excluded. The arrangement was proposed by Mbeki to break the deadlock about who will chair the cabinet," the Star said.
According to the newspaper the council of ministers will "assist in the formulation of policies, the supervision of government ministries by the prime minister and the implementation of cabinet policies".
But some voices in Zimbabwe have already criticised the deal as unequal.
"The deal is more a capitulation by the MDC than by ZANU-PF because … Mugabe gets to keep most of his powers while Tsvangirai will have some cosmetic executive authority," Zimbawe parliament Lovemore Madhuku told The Star.
The Times also reached a similar conclusion in its editorial, saying while Tsvangirai appeared to have the upper hand, he must have conceded something to clinch the deal.
"That something must include the appearance of a continued role in government for Mugabe, perhaps even with some executive powers," it said, adding that it was likely that Mugabe will come out of this "with an amnesty of sorts for his crimes against humanity."
ZANU-PF's chief negotiator Patrick Chinamasa on Friday conceded the way forward was uphill.
"The real painstaking work has just begun," he told the state-run daily The Herald. "We hope that the same unity of purpose and this desire to place the interest of the people of Zimbabwe ahead of personal interest will guide our efforts to rebuild the economy and improve the livelihood of the people."
The control of Zimbabwe's security forces was believed to have been one of the major stumbling blocks. Mugabe, a liberation hero in the war that led to Zimbabwe's independence, has drawn strong support from security chiefs.
Mugabe — who has ruled uninterrupedly since independence — was re-elected in a controversial June presidential run-off boycotted by Tsvangirai, who led in the first round, after the opposition leader complained of state violence and intimidation.
Tsvangirai has survived treason charges and a severe beating by the security forces in his long effort to topple Mugabe.
Mugabe, meanwhile, has labelled Tsvangirai a stooge of former colonial power Britain and declared that only God could remove him from office.
While the political crisis has dragged on, Zimbabwe's economy has continued its freefall with the world's highest inflation rate — 11.2 million percent in June, according to official figures.
Once hailed as Africa's breadbasket, Zimbabwe's economy has virtually collapsed over the past decade with inflation out of control and chronic shortages of food.
The return to political normalcy is crucial for Zimbabwe's foundering economy and foreign investors and companies — many of whom have pulled out — are keenly watching the events

* AFP

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