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    12 January 2009

    French filmmaker Claude Berri dies at 74

    The French filmmaker and producer of popular movies such as 'Jean de Florette' and recent hit "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis' died on Monday at the age of 74 in hospital on Paris.

    AFP - French filmmaker and producer Claude Berri, whose work as a director includes the much loved two-part saga on life in Provence "Jean de Florette" and "Manon des Sources", died Monday aged 74.

    A pillar of French film who also produced a string of successes including last year's blockbuster "Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis", Berri passed away in a Paris hospital, where he was admitted on Saturday night. "Claude Berri left us this morning as a result of a stroke suffered Saturday night," his agency Moteur! said in a statement. Known as the "godfather" of French film, Berri worked with generations of top French actors from Yves Montand to Gerard Depardieu and Emmanuelle Beart and was currently directing his 20th film, a comedy called "Tresor". Berri, who won an Oscar for his 1963 short film "Le Poulet", went on to direct the hit Provencal saga based on the novels of Marcel Pagnol following years later with a screen adaptation of Emile Zola's "Germinal". He also produced a string of hit movies, from Roman Polanski's Oscar-winning film "Tess", to the critically-acclaimed 2007 movie "La Graine et Le Mulet (The Secret of the Grain)". Last year, he was one of the producers of the record-breaking comedy "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis", which mocked prejudices about the bleak post-industrial north of France. The film became the highest-grossing film in French box-office history and is set for a Hollywood remake under the title "Welcome to the Sticks". President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to Berri as one of the most gifted producers and directors of his generation and "the most legendary figure of French cinema". "He could tackle all genres, he made us laugh and cry, but most of all, he would make his audience think and raise questions," Sarkozy said. Berri had suffered a stroke once before in 2006 and had been ill for some time. Born Claude Langmann to working-class parents in central Paris, he started his cinematic career as an actor, but when that did not work out he opted for short films. His piece "Le Poulet" ("The Chicken") won an Oscar for the best work in that genre in 1965. Among the 50-odd feature films Berri produced were "Je t'aime moi non plus" ("I love you, I don't"), directed in 1976 by the eccentric singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, and "Tess" the same year, based on Thomas Hardy's novel. Berri achieved lasting fame as a director, with works such as "Le vieil homme et l'enfant" ("The Old Man and The Boy") in 1966, "Mazel Tov", a 1969 comedy about a Jewish wedding entitled "Marry Me! Marry Me!" in the United States, and the 1983 smash hit "Tchao Pantin", a tragi-comedy starring comedian Coluche. He went on in 1986 to direct "Jean de Florette" and "Manon des Sources" (Manon of the Spring), based on Pagnol's novels about life in the French countryside. In his later years, Berri directed a 1997 film on the French Resistance heroine Lucie Aubrac, in which Carole Bouquet played the title role. Aubrac herself, who died in March 2007, worked on the screenplay. Bouquet had described Berri as "angst-filled" and difficult to work with while Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar said he was "a sad man who was able to be happy". Married twice and the father of three children, Berri was also a leading collector of abstract art, with his own gallery in Paris, and in later years served as head of France's main film archive, the Cinematheque.

    DR Congo's Bemba faces rape charges

    [NEWS]DR Congo's Bemba faces rape charges
    Bemba's lawyers said his fighters were nmot under his command at the time of the alleged rapes [EPA]

      Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague have accused Jen-Pierre Bemba, a former rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, of ordering mass rapes.

    At a hearing on Monday to decide if Bemba will face trial, the prosecutors said he had used rape to terrorise civilians suspected of supporting rivals in the Central African Republic. 

    Bemba, who also served as vice-president in DR Congo's post-civil war transitional government, faces three counts of crimes against humanity and five counts of war crimes.

    "Bemba's men went from house to house, pillaging and raping mothers, wives and daughters," Petra Kneuer, the prosecutor, said.

    The troops were instructed to "traumatise and terrorise" the population to prevent them from supporting any resistance to Ange-Felix Patasse, the Central African Republic president, the prosecution said.

    "To do this, he [Bemba] chose rape as his main method," Kneuer said.

    A representative of victims told the hearing that a district chief in the capital of Bangui was raped for four hours in front of his wife and children before troops turned to them.


    Bemba's defence lawyers argued that he was not responsible for the campaign of torture, rape and murder between 2002 and 2003 as his Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) forces were operating under the command of Patasse.

    "Uniforms, food and money were all provided to MLC troops, not by authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, not by Mr Bemba, ... but by the head of state of the Central African Republic," Asad Ahmad Khan, one of the defence lawyers, said.

    After the four-day pretrial confirmation of charges hearing, the three-judge panel led by Ekaterina Trendafilova has 60 days to decide whether to go forward with the trial.

    Bemba was arrested in Belgium last May. 

    He fled DR Congo for Portugal in 2007 saying he feared for his life after his fighters had battled the presidential guards of Joseph Kabila on the streets of Kinshasa, the capital, following his defeat in presidential elections.

    The MLC was formed to overthrow Laurent Desire Kabila, Joseph's father and DR Congo's former president, during the 1998-2006 war in DR Congo.

    Source: Aljazeera.net/english(C) 2009

    [NEWS: MIDDLE EAST]UN watchdog condemns war on Gaza

    UN watchdog condemns war on Gaza

    The UN rights body adopted a resolution condemning Israel of 'grave violations' [AFP]
    A resolution condemning Israel's military offensive in Gaza has been adopted by the UN Human Rights Council.

    The non-binding resolution, approved in Geneva on Monday, said Israel's operation had "resulted in massive violations of human rights of the Palestinian people".

    More than 900 Palestinians have died during the fighting, many of them women and children, and a further 4,100 have been wounded.

    At least 25,000 have been displaced due to the ongoing bombardment, but are unable to flee the overcrowded territory as crossing points remain closed.

    The resolution, drafted by Arab, Asian and African countries, called for an international mission to be sent immediately to the Gaza Strip to investigate Israel's actions.

    It also called for an immediate end to the "launching of the crude rockets against Israeli civilians" by the Palestinian factions.

    Israel launched its operation on December 27 after a ceasefire with Hamas ended a week earlier, stating its objective was to target the Palestinian faction's infrastructure and bring an end to the firing of homemade rockets into southern Israel.
    'Fairytale world'

    Fewer states than expected supported the resolution, which passed by 33 votes to one, with 13 abstentions. The US, not a member of the council, took no part in the debate.

    Israel dismissed it as one-sided and reflecting the "fairytale world" of the 47-member council.

    The text of the document said the council "strongly condemns the ongoing Israeli military operations ... which have resulted in massive violations of human rights of the Palestinian people and systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure".

    The resolution was opposed by Canada while European countries, Japan and South Korea abstained.

    The resolution was backed by, among others, Russia, China, Argentina and Brazil.

    During a debate on the resolution, Pakistan, speaking for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), denounced what it called Israel's "unrestrained use of force, killing of innocent civilians" and violation of UN havens.

    At least 40 people died last Tuesday when the UN-run school they were sheltering in was hit by Israeli fire.

    'Massive violations'

    All European Union countries abstained and Canada voted against the resolution.

    Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera: "In the end they [the UN] passed the resolution, it was not unanimous. I would not say it was that heated, at the end of the day there were still differences of opinion.

    Israel dismissed the non-binding resolution as one-sided [AFP]
    "Many states praised the Palestinian delegation for the flexibility they had shown in the negotiations, but they could not quite reach a consensus."

    Speaking in the Gaza Strip, John Ging, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) operations in Gaza, repeated his call for an immediate end to the fighting.

    "I say now, to all politicians, here in Israel and internationally, you have an obligation to the ordinary people in the name of humanity and all that is civilised, we need to stop this now. Those who help will never be forgotten.

    "Israel is responsible for its own actions and it is very clear to us that there are a lot of actions in this conflict that will need to be fully investigated independently and internationally.

    "Those who have been killed and injured, those who are innocent, deserve accountability."

    Peter Splinter, Amnesty International's representative at the United Nations in Geneva, backed the call for an investigation, saying "there must be a full accountability for war crimes".

    "Evidence of war crimes is presenting itself each day," he told Al Jazeera.

    Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a former UN secretary-general, added his perspective on the situation, saying the assault on Gaza "is a present the Israelis gave to the fundamentalists".

    "It will reinforce extremists, fundamentalists, all over Arab countries and even inside Israel," he said.

    Boutros-Ghali was headed the UN from 1992 to 1997.

    [NEWS: MIDDLE EAST]Israeli reservists join Gaza war

    Israel has confirmed sending thousands of army reservists into Gaza, raising concerns that a "third stage" of its offensive - going deeper into urban centres - could soon begin.

    As the offensive entered its 17th day on Monday, Al Jazeera's Zeina Awad reported from the Israel-Gaza border that Israeli aircraft had sustained its bombardment through the night.

    The Israeli military said that it had undertaken 10 air attacks overnight, while witnesses reported that ground battles took place in the east and north of Gaza City.

    Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said his troops were close to meeting their objectives in Gaza, but stopped short of giving a timeline for ending the conflict.

    Fierce fighting

    Major Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, told Al Jazeera that "a few reserve units have entered Gaza to participate in the operation" but would not say how many soldiers were involved.

    "We are not talking about a massive amount of forces, rather a limited one," she said.

    Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher, reporting from the Israel-Gaza border, said the move appeared to be in preparation for the so-called third stage of Israel's offensive: moving troops into the towns and cities of Gaza to fight door-to-door.

    "The next 48 hours will be fairly crucial in what is happening in Gaza," he said.

    "It's clear that the Israelis are using their military strength to try to bring Hamas to the negotiating table to agree to some sort of ceasefire, to some sort of truce.

    "With the call up of reserves, what we will see is some sort of intensification of the effort inside Gaza itself, targeting Hamas buildings, Hamas infrastructure, even Hamas operatives.

    "And at the end of those 48 hours if Hamas haven't made some sort of indication that they are willing to accept a truce, willing to stop firing the rockets, then I think at that stage we will move into stage three which will be a large scale advance into the heart of the towns and cities of Gaza."

    The deployment came amid some of the most intense fighting since the Israeli ground offensive began on January 3, with Palestinian fighters putting up stiff resistance to the Israeli advance into Gaza City.

    'Getting close'

    The total number of Palestinian deaths since Israel began its war on December 27 climbed to 905, about a quarter of them children.

    Almost 4,100 Palestinians have also been wounded since the beginning of the offensive.

    Thirteen Israelis have been killed during the same time, including three civilians hit by rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

    Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities allowed 61 Arab doctors to enter the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing on Monday morning.

    A humanitarian corridor was opened on Monday, with Israel allowing 105 trucks to enter the territory via the Kerem Shalom crossing and another 60 to go through the Kari border point.

    Princess Haya bint al Hussein, a UN Messenger of Peace and wife of the ruler of Dubai, told Al Jazeera that efforts to get aid into the Gaza Strip have been hampered: "I heard yesterday that from the 10 trucks we had scheduled to go in, which started at 15, now we've been asked to drop the capacity of each truck by 10 per cent.

    "Things like this when the food is ready to go in, sitting on the border really do cause major frustrations.

    "I can't understand why we have red tape in humanitarian efforts."

    Olmert told an Israeli cabinet meeting on Sunday that "Israel is getting close to achieving the goals it set for itself".

    He told ministers that Israel had "dealt Hamas an unprecedented blow... It will never be the same Hamas", according to Oved Yehezkel, the Israeli cabinet secretary.

    But the Israeli military onslaught has, so far, failed to achieve the stated aim of stopping Palestinian fighters from firing rockets into southern Israel.

    About 20 rockets were fired across the border on Sunday, but did not cause any casualties.

    'Third stage' debate

    The Israeli cabinet meeting had been expected to include discussion of a possible "third stage" of the offensive in which the military would enter Gaza's urban areas.

    Israeli citizens in Ashkelon shelter from rockets fired from the Gaza Strip [AFP]
    However, several Israeli officials suggested that the offensive could be drawing to a close after last week's UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

    "The decision of the security council doesn't give us much leeway," Matan Vilnai, the deputy defence minister, told public radio.

    "Thus it would seem that we are close to ending the ground operation and ending the operation altogether."

    Giroa Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, told Al Jazeera that there was a debate within the Israeli government and security establishment about what the goals of the operation should be at this stage.

    "The main question is how to conclude and accomplish the missions," he said.

    "As far as I can understand one of the reasons the military option might be expanded is in order to give an Israeli solution to the situation."

    Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli official, was expected to travel to Cairo in the coming days to discuss a plan to end the fighting after Hamas officials met Egyptian officials on Sunday.

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