Reuters blog archive
A coalition of atheists is accusing a United States city bus line of violating their rights to free speech in a fight to place ads on public buses praising a God-free lifestyle. The Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason alleged in a lawsuit that the Central Arkansas Transit Authority in Little Rock and its advertising agency are discriminating against the group because they're being required to pay tens of thousands of dollars to put $5,000 worth of ads on 18 buses.
The ads would read: "Are you good without God? Millions are." Other groups, including churches, have not been required to pay the fee, which amounts to $36,000 in insurance in case of an attack on the buses by angry Christians, according to the lawsuit.
The insurance was requested by the transit agency's advertising firm, On The Move Advertising, officials said. Because a handful of similar ads had been vandalized in other states, the ad agency required the payment for insurance reasons, said Jess Sweere, an attorney representing the transit authority.
A stampede sparked by a night-time road accident in dense forest has killed more than 100 Hindu pilgrims in the southern state of Kerala in India. Kerala’s deputy general of police told reporters that 102 people who visited the Sabarimala Temple to offer prayers to the Hindu deity Ayappa had been killed on Friday night. Officials at a Hindu temple estimated the death toll at around 100, Kerala Temple Affairs Minister Ramachandran Kadannappally said by telephone. (Photo: Pilgrims at Sabarimala Temple, January 15, 2003/Dipak Kumar)
Hundreds of thousands had gathered at the hilltop shrine of Sabarimala on Friday evening, the last day of an annual two-month religious festival. A bus carrying pilgrims back to the neighbouring state of Karnataka collided with a jeep and went out of control, crushing people walking nearby, Kadannappally said. Panicked pilgrims rushed forward, triggering a stampede.
Pope Benedict will be confronted by posters on London's famous red buses during his trip to the British capital next month which will call for the ordination of women priests.
One group of women, Catholic Women's Ordination (CWO), will have its message plastered on the side of the buses as they travel along key routes, including past Westminster Hall, at the Palace of Westminster, where the pope is set to deliver a speech to Britain's civic society on September 17.
from Photographers' Blog:
ATTENTION: CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT
By Erik de Castro
I arrived at the scene of the hostage taking in Manila with feelings of excitement because it was a big story. But also, with a pang of sadness as I was at exactly the same place two months ago when yellow was the color of festivities for thousands of people attending the inauguration of our new president, Benigno “NoyNoy” Aquino.
I immediately noticed a parked tourist bus just in front of the grandstand. I was standing behind a police line about 300 yards away. I quickly snapped photos of the bus and and two women looking out from between the closed curtain of the bus.
A bus poster which claimed "There definitely is a God, so join the Christian Party and enjoy your life" attracted more complaints than any other advert last year, Britain's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said on Wednesday.
More than 1,200 people complained that the Christian Party's advert was offensive to atheists and could not be substantiated.
It's hard to get too excited about bus and coach travel. So why is there so much interest in taking over British bus and rail group National Express?
Buses, including ferrying kids to school, and coaches are relatively recession proof. National Express ran into trouble by running more than a billion pounds in debt by expanding too far in the U.S. and Spain. It also over-bid for a British rail franchise, the east coast main line, and ended up such big losses that it was forced to surrender it.
The business faces a potential liquidity crunch. It must repay a 540 million euro loan maturing in September 2010, which is daunting given its market capitalisation is only 515 million pounds. Moreover its two other rail franchises are under threat if the government tries to exercise a "cross-default" clause because of the east coast surrender.
These mistakes cost its chief executive, Richard Bowker, his job. They now threaten its independence, with opportunistic bidders -- including its largest shareholder, a private equity firm and its biggest competitors Stagecoach, FirstGroup and Go-Ahead -- all sniffing around.
The latest bidder to declare an interest, Spain's Cosmen family, which already holds some 18.5 percent of National Express, has even teamed up with a private equity bidder, CVC, in order to offer cash. The Cosmens know the value of the Spanish business. After all, they sold Alsa to National Express in 2005.
There is more than an air of vultures descending. After all, broker UBS puts a sum-of-the-parts enterprise value of almost 1.6 billion pounds on National Express, while Cazenove reckons it is worth 1.8 billion to 2 billion pounds. Strip out the debt and the equity is worth 530 to 909 million pounds, with a per share value of 350 to 530 pence.
That's above the current price of 344 pence. It also puts into perspective a putative offer price of 400 pence, which is the level at which the National Express board is reported to be willing to start talking.
Fear of being lowballed may explain why shareholders are talking about stumping up for a rights issue of as much as 350 million pounds ($586 million) rather than cashing out.
This would eliminate the liquidity crunch risk and buy National Express some time, while the company appoints a new chief executive. It would eliminate the need for a fire sale.
Whether investors are serious about shutting bidders out and letting National Express trade on to recovery remains to be seen. It could of course just be a negotiating tactic to squeeze out a higher price.
It will be intriguing to see how the Spanish, or indeed any of the other bidders, react.
The Atheist Bus Campaign, launched in London by the best-selling biologist Richard Dawkins, has been copied in 10 countries, mostly but not always with success. It seems to have stalled in Germany. The campaign there, which has its own website called www.buskampagne.de, reports that the transit authorities in Berlin, Cologne and Munich have turned down their requests to run the ads. The campaign will continue trying to run the ads in other German cities.
The campaign asked contributors to choose among different suggested ad formats and the one below won. All three say in the first line "There is (almost certainly) no God." It's interesting that they add that qualifier, which literally translates as "with a probability bordering on certainty." Could it be they're not that convinced after all?