Posted: 19 Dec 2010 06:15 AM PST
LONDON (Reuters) - Europe saw little respite on Sunday from the Arctic conditions that have closed airports and disrupted travel on the weekend before Christmas, traditionally one of the busiest times of the year.
Britain's busiest airport, London Heathrow, which was forced to close both its runways for much of Saturday because of heavy snow, was not accepting inbound flights on Sunday and said only a few planes would be leaving.
About 30 tonnes of snow was being removed from each parking stand around the planes, but ice was making it dangerous for the aircraft to be moved.
"There comes a point at which the weather has such an impact that it's simply not safe to fly," Andrew Teacher, spokesman for airport operator BAA, told BBC television.
The runway at London's second busiest airport Gatwick was open but thousands of passengers were facing delays and cancellations, as they were at most other British airports.
In Germany, Frankfurt airport operator Fraport said 470 flights had been cancelled on Sunday so far and a worsening of weather conditions was expected from noon onwards.
"The airport halls are packed with flight guests," a spokeswoman said, adding that about 1,000 people were forced to stay at the airport overnight.
Snow blanketed northern France, delaying trains and forcing flights to be cancelled.
At Paris's main Roissy-Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, where 700,000 passengers were expected, a quarter of flights were cancelled and delays were running on average to at least an hour.
Britain's Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said he had asked the government's chief scientific adviser to assess whether the country was experiencing a "step change" in weather patterns due to climate change and if it needed to spend more money on winter preparations.
Britain traditionally experiences mild winters, but last year's was the coldest for 30 years and this December is likely to be its coldest since 1910.
The Met Office said temperatures could hit minus 15 degrees Celsius in western Scotland later on Sunday and icy conditions were forecast across the country.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told Sky News: "As my colleague, the transport secretary, has said we haven't been equipped over the last few decades in this country to cope ... with every aspect of severe prolonged cold weather. We may have to look again at that if these things are to recur frequently."
The government and transport operators have faced criticism as the cold spells have seen trains delayed and cancelled, roads closed and some drivers forced to sleep in their cars.
French Secretary of State for Transport Thierry Mariani urged the French to avoid driving after the government took considerable criticism earlier this month for not being better prepared for a snowstorm that trapped many people in their cars.
French TGV high-speed trains were running about 20 minutes late on Sunday with 2.4 million people expected to use the train system during the holiday period.
(Additional reporting by Kerstin Schraff in Berlin and Leigh Thomas in Paris, Writing by Janet Lawrence; Editing by Peter Millership)
Copyright © 2010 Reuters
Posted: 19 Dec 2010 05:39 AM PST
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao lauded on Sunday Pakistan's efforts to battle al Qaeda, just days after the United States said its ally could do more to crack down on militants, especially along the Afghan border.
Wen's comments, made in a speech to parliament, appear part of China's strategy to lend support to old friend Pakistan, often criticised by the United States and many in the West as an unreliable, but necessary, ally in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"Strengthening and promoting strategic, brotherly relations is our joint strategic choice and they are in the interests of two countries and their people," Wen said, as he wrapped up a three-day visit to Pakistan.
Chinese leaders applaud Pakistan's efforts to fight al Qaeda -led terrorism, he added, urging the international community to "endose and support" them.
"Pakistan has given great sacrifices and made great efforts in the fight against terrorism. It is a reality...and the international community should respect Pakistan's efforts," he said.
He said China would try to enhance cooperation with Pakistan in the endeavour.
Pakistan's porous border with Afghanistan is seen as a haven for militants and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday that it needed to do more to control the flow of extremists, which a U.S. review of the Afghan war said was the main obstacle to ending the conflict.
While boosting trade and investment has been the main focus of Wen's visit -- the first in five years by a Chinese premier -- analysts say the trip is about more than money.
"It's a clear signal of China's growing, assertive diplomacy," said independent analyst Hamayoun Khan.
"They (China) do not want Pakistan to be entirely dependent on the United States and the International Monetary Fund, and then get dictation from them," Khan said.
"China's massive investment in this time proves two things. One is that China is a genuine ally of Pakistan, and second, it is a clear signal to the U.S. that if the U.S. supports India against China, China will support Pakistan."
During the visit, which followed a three-day trip to India, the two countries signed commercial and trade deals worth at least $25 billion.
By comparison, Wen signed $16 billion in deals in India before arriving in Islamabad on Friday.
Analysts say China is investing in Pakistan to such a large degree for two reasons: because it sees the country as a genuine friend, and because it irks India.
Sino-Indian relations have been dogged by longstanding border disputes, which led to a war nearly four decades ago. Since then, though, the world's two fastest-growing big economies have forged a major trade relationship over the years.
China is the main supplier of defence and military hardware to Pakistan. China has also helped Pakistan to build its main nuclear power generation facility and is helping build another one.
Pakistani diplomats like to refer to China as an "all-weather friend", whose needs -- strategic and economic -- fit in with what Pakistan wants and has to offer.
China wants to use Pakistan as a gateway to the Muslim world and as a new Silk Road for China's energy-hungry interior, as well as a balance against India's military rise.
Pakistan, in turn, plans to further rely on China for the bulk of its weapon systems, as a major investor for its ports and roads, and as a counterweight to American demands and conditions in the fight against Islamist militancy.
(Additional reporting by Chris Allbritton, editing by Ron Popeski) (For more Reuters coverage of Pakistan, see: http://www.reuters.com/places/pakistan)
Copyright © 2010 Reuters
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