World briefs 11/7/03

Friday, November 7, 2003

Bertelsmann, Sony Corp. plan music merger

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Bertelsmann AG and Sony Corp. announced a preliminary plan to merge their music businesses Thursday, setting the stage for a music company that would vie for world primacy with Universal Music Group.

A merger of Sony Music Entertainment and Bertelsmann's BMG, if it comes to pass, would bring together the world's No. 2 and No. 5 music companies as the industry struggles with losses blamed on music piracy.

The new company, to be called Sony BMG, would be equally owned by Sony and Bertelsmann.

Sony Music Entertainment's labels include Columbia, Epic, and Sony Classical, and it is home to pop artists including Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce Knowles and Celine Dion.

Among the stars on BMG's various labels are Dido, the Dave Matthews Band, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Avril Lavigne and the late Elvis Presley.

Suspected militants blow themselves up in Mecca

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Two suspected militants blew themselves up Thursday in the holy city of Mecca when security forces attempted to arrest them, a security official said.

The official said the two likely belonged to a terror cell that had clashed with Saudi police in Mecca on Monday. That cell has been linked to al-Qaida, the terrorist network blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and for a string of suicide bombings in the Saudi capital in May.

Earlier Thursday, Saudi police engaged in a firefight with suspected terrorists in the capital, Riyadh, leaving one suspect dead and eight policemen wounded, an Interior Ministry official said.

France announces safety net for aged, handicapped

PARIS -- The French prime minister on Thursday announced a $10 billion program to help the aged, spurred by a scorching August heat wave that killed 14,800 people, many of them elderly.

All workers in France will work an extra day each year to finance the plan, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said. State employees will work on the traditional Pentecost holiday, but companies who wish to choose another day may do so.

The Monday after Pentecost, which fell on June 9 this year, is one of 11 annual holidays in France.

The extra day of work will increase national production by 0.3 percent, and companies will contribute 0.3 percent of the amount they pay in salaries to the elderly fund, Raffarin told a news conference.

Ex-archbishop says gay bishop hurt 'incalculable'

LONDON -- The consecration of an openly gay bishop in America's Episcopal Church has done "incalculable" damage to the global Anglican Communion, former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said in a letter published Thursday.

However, he urged all factions in the communion to hold together and strengthen their "bonds of affection."

In a letter to The Times of London newspaper, Carey said he shared the distress of conservative evangelicals following Sunday's consecration of V. Gene Robinson as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of Anglicanism.

U.S. rejects request for access to 9-11 planner

HAMBURG, Germany -- U.S. authorities rejected a German court's request that accused Sept. 11, 2001, mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed be allowed to testify in the trial of a suspected member of the Hamburg al-Qaida cell behind the attack.

A U.S. Department of Justice letter read in court Thursday gave no reasons why Mohammed would not be allowed to appear in the trial of Abdelghani Mzoudi, who faces a possible 15 years in prison if convicted of 3,066 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization.

Mzoudi, 30, allegedly provided logistical support to the al-Qaida cell that included suicide pilots Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah. Prosecutors say he handled financial transactions when cell members were out of the country, and helped conceal them from authorities when they were back in Germany.

-- From wire reports

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