x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Fireworks and the Phoenix

James Langton looks back on the week Barack Obama was claimed by a Bedouin tribe and the QE2 ran aground on its final voyage.

The Queen Elizabeth 2 departs Britain for Dubai.
The Queen Elizabeth 2 departs Britain for Dubai.

American special forces have secretly been given permission to carry out raids against al Qa'eda in the Middle East and beyond. The New York Times reported that in 2004 Donald Rumsfeld signed a classified order with the approval of President Bush allowing Navy Seals and CIA agents to make incursions into Pakistan, Syria and elsewhere.

A song about Barack Obama has become a surprise hit on YouTube. The Irish band Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys pay tribute to the US president-elect's alleged roots in There's no one as Irish as Barack Obama. Genealogists say Mr Obama's ancestry may lead back to an 18th-century cobbler from the village of Moneygall in County Offaly.

A construction crane collapsed in Dubai, blocking Sheikh Zayed Road for seven hours. The crane was working on the new metro station at the Trade Centre and toppled on to a road sign across the busy thoroughfare, causing traffic jams as far back as the Mall of the Emirates. Several drivers reported taking four hours to reach work.

A leak of toxic gas normally used for fire fighting has been blamed for the deaths of 20 sailors aboard a Russian nuclear submarine. The accident, during sea trials in the Pacific, was the worst since the loss of the Kursk eight years ago when 118 people died. Officials said the freon gas was discharged when the submarine Nerpa's fire extinguishing system went off accidentally.

The outgoing Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert called on his country to return territory it had occupied since 1967 in order to secure peace with the Arab world. "If we are determined to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel, we must inevitably relinquish, with great pain, parts of our homeland, and we must relinquish Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem," Mr Olmert said in a speech to mark the anniversary of the assassination of the prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist. Among Israeli politicians distancing themselves from the remarks were Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and chairman of the Kadima party.

Barack Obama will use executive orders to reverse many of President Bush's policies. The head of his transition team says Mr Bush's views on issues such as oil drilling and stem cell research are at odds with the president-elect's and can be repealed easily because they do not require the approval of Congress. In his first week since the election, Mr Obama met President Bush in the Oval Office while his wife Michelle was given a tour of the White House, the family's home for at least four years. Mr Obama was also reported to be considering closing the internment camp at Guantanamo Bay. Meanwhile free tickets for the January presidential swearing-in ceremony in Washington are being sold on websites for up to $10,000 (Dh36,000).

An automated car park that will stack vehicles using robotic trolleys is planned as a solution to chronic parking problems in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Mechanical car parks can house many more vehicles than conventional buildings. A new structure at the Ibn Battuta Mall stacks up to 765 cars and another is being planned for the capital. A three-day symposium on parking included representatives from eight automated-parking companies.

An elderly woman in Evanston, Illinois, was found living with the bodies of her three siblings at the family home. Police believe the brother and two sisters of Margaret Bernstorff, 90, died from natural causes, in at least one case several decades ago. The bodies had been left in different rooms of the large 19th-century house and covered with blankets. The authorities were alerted after Mrs Bernstorff, who had become increasingly frail, called her lawyer for help. Neighbours said she liked to hand out sweets to children at Halloween but never let anyone inside.

Worldwide sales of McDonald's hamburgers rose by 8.2 per cent during October. The boost in the fast food corporation's fortunes is attributed to the global economic crisis and the popularity of such new lines as the Southern Style Chicken sandwich, a piece of deep fried chicken served in a bread roll. At the same time, Starbucks announced a 97 per cent fall in profits, largely due to the cost of closing nearly 700 of its shops. The company has brighter news in the Middle East, where it plans to double the number of outlets to 3,000 by 2011.

Nasa declared its Phoenix lander dead. The craft landed on the surface of Mars in May and had discovered ice while taking soil samples. Until contact was lost last week, Phoenix had survived two months longer than predicted. It is thought to have fallen victim to the bitter cold of the Martian winter, which drops down to -100°C.

A parrot called Willie was credited with saving the life of a toddler in Colorado. The bird began screaming "baby, mama" and flapping his wings when two-year-old Hannah Kuust began to turn blue while choking on a piece of a Pop Tart. The babysitter, who owns the bird, rushed into the room and performed the Heimlich manoeuvre.

A Peruvian dog breeder offered a four-month-old puppy called Ears to the Obama family. The Peruvian Hairless Dog is completely bald and can be traced back 3,000 years when it was popular with Incan rulers. It is also distinguished by huge ears. The lack of fur makes it suitable for children who suffer from allergies, as one of the Obama daughters does.

The liner Queen Elizabeth 2 ran aground before leaving on its final voyage to Dubai, where it will become a floating hotel and exhibition. The 70,000-tonne ship was blown onto a sandbank near the port of Southampton and had to be pulled clear by tugs. After 40 years in service, the QE2 is due to arrive at the Palm Jumeirah later this month.

Not to be upstaged by the Irish, members of a Bedouin tribe in northern Israel claimed that they were related to Barack Obama. The elderly mother of Sheikh Abdullah, one of the tribe's leaders, says a relative of Mr Obama's Kenyan grandmother married into her family many years ago. Two babies born in the village of Bir al Maksour have been named Obama, with other Bedouin rushing to pay their respects to Sheikh Abdullah who said: "We have always been a lucky family."