x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Blood, sweat, tears and saddle sore

Red shirts staged a 'million-man march' in Bangkok, 800 triathletes descended on Abu Dhabi, and David Beckham's World Cup hopes were shattered.

Tens of thousands of Thais poured into Bangkok to take part in a "million-man" march aimed at toppling the government. The protesters, dressed in their trademark red shirts, want prime minister Abishit Vejjajiva to resign and an election to be held. They say the government is elitist and does not care for their concerns, unlike the former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 military coup but is still feted by the poor. In a symbolic gesture of defiance, protesters donated blood, which was then thrown on to the steps of parliament and outside the prime minister's home.

David Beckham ruptured his Achilles tendon during a match against the Italian team Chievo, an injury so severe it will keep him out of the World Cup in June, and possibly out of the game for good. The former England captain, currently on loan to AC Milan from the LA Galaxy, underwent an operation to repair the tendon, but doctors said it would be six months before he could even think of playing again. At 34, Beckham is approaching retirement age for professional footballers, but has cultivated a celebrity image that earns him as much money as his football playing.

A Dubai court heard the appeal of a British couple found guilty of kissing in public. Ayman Najafi, 24, a British expatriate in Dubai, and Charlotte Lewis, a tourist, were arrested in November after an Emirati woman told police she saw them kissing on the lips. The couple, who maintain it was a peck on the cheek, were sentenced to a month in jail, deportation and a fine of Dh1,000 for drinking alcohol. They were released on bail pending their appeal. The court will issue its decision on April 4. Also in Dubai, a court sentenced two Emirates Airline cabin crew to three months in jail each for exchanging lewd text messages.

A 37-year-old father, who accidentally set himself alight as he tried to start a barbecue inside his apartment in Dubai, died from his injuries. Shiraz Abdul Ahman was horrifically burnt by out-of-control flames after he doused the barbecue with petrol. His two-year-old son was also caught up in the fire but was snatched away in time by his mother. He is recovering in hospital with burns to 40 per cent of his body.

A mock report by a Georgian TV station that Russia had invaded the country sparked panic, with people running out of their homes and jamming mobile phone networks. The report - broadcast on Imedi television - said Russian tanks were heading to the capital Tbilisi, that the president, Mikhail Saakashvili, had been killed and that some opposition leaders had sided with invading forces. The channel said it did not intend to scare people, but wanted to show what could happen if tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi were not resolved. The TV station was condemned by foreign ambassadors, some of whom had been shown in archive footage discussing Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008, and Mr Saakashvili.

Hundreds of athletes took part in the first Abu Dhabi triathlon, running, swimming and biking their way around the emirate. Starting on the private beach of the Emirates Palace hotel, about 700 athletes swam 1.5km, ran 100km along the Corniche, over the Sheikh Khalifa bridge to Saadiyat and Yas islands, where they then cycled 10km around the Yas Marina circuit. Another 100 hard-core athletes, including professionals, doubled that distance, with Spain's Eneko Llanos winning the professional race.

A five-year-old British boy, kidnapped while visiting his grandmother in Pakistan and held for a £100,000 ransom, was released after spending nearly two weeks in captivity. Sahil Saeed, from Oldham, was seized on March 3, when armed gunmen forced their way into his grandmother's compound in Jhelum, not far from Lahore. He had accompanied his father on a visit to Pakistan while his mother and sisters remained at home, in England. Sahil's mother, Akila Naqqash, said she was delighted to hear her son's voice on the telephone. In Spain, two Pakistani men and a Romanian woman were arrested over Sahil's abduction.

Fears of a new intifada grew after hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli riot police in East Jerusalem. Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, had called for "a day of rage" to protest at the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands, as well as Israel's announcement that it had approved plans to build another 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want for a future capital. Israeli police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and at least 16 Palestinians were treated in hospital for broken bones, or eye and stomach injuries. The US cancelled a visit to the region by George Mitchell, its Middle East envoy.