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Hopes fade for unique Dutch ice race
by Staff Writers
The Hague (AFP) Feb 9, 2012

The Netherlands was picking itself up by its bootlaces Thursday as hopes faded that a near-mythical ultra ice skating race on frozen canals will become a reality for the first time in 15 years.

Race organisers said Wednesday night the long-expected 16th Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Race) was for now called off, as forecasters Thursday predicted warmer weather melting ice already formed on the route in northern Friesland.

"I don't have good news," race organiser Society for the Frisian Elf Steden (Eleven Cities) Wiebe Wieling told a packed press conference in the Frisian capital of Leeuwarden, broadcast live on national television.

"It's not happening at this point," Wieling said.

Royal Dutch Metereological Institute forecaster Rob Groenland added: "We are expecting the weather to warm up from Sunday."

"This is bad news for any hope that the ice will thicken," he told AFP.

The announcement that the ice was to thin at some parts along the 200 kilometre (120-mile route) to safely support some 16,000 athletes and an expected two million spectators, reduced professional skaters to tears and dominated headlines Thursday.

Shortly after the news broke, former Dutch speed skating champion Erben Wennemars wiped tears away on national television, while four Dutch national newspapers headlined with the story on Thursday morning.

Some like popular daily Algemeen Dagblad said in an editorial it hoped that cold weather could still return for the race to be held for the 16th time since its official inception in 1909.

"Some forecasters say cold weather will return," wrote AD editor Christiaan Ruesink "and I believe it."

But forecaster Groenland said chances -- at least over the next 10 days -- were slightly as the bitter weather continued to warm up.

Ice traps 126 boats in Kerch Strait: Ukraine
Kiev (AFP) Feb 9, 2012 - Ice over the Kerch Strait which links the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea has trapped 126 boats as southern Ukraine remained in the grip of an abnormally cold snap, the emergencies ministry said Thursday.

"One hundred and twenty six boats, including 120 foreign ones, are anchored in the Kerch Strait," the ministry said in a statement.

It did not specify the nationality of the vessels, nor the number of their crew.

The Kerch Strait is a narrow but busy artery that connects the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea, and separates Russia from Ukraine.

"The ice has totally covered the Kerch Strait," the ministry said, adding that icebreakers can only provide assistance to boats in good weather conditions.

Ukraine has been hit by a spell of extremely cold weather, with temperatures fluctuating Thursday between minus 11 and minus 17 degrees Celsius (12 and 1 degrees Farenheit).

They may drop as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Farenheit) in some regions over the weekend, weather forecasters said.

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Cold spell kills at least 44 in Algeria
Algiers (AFP) Feb 9, 2012 - A cold weather spell has killed at least 44 people in Algeria over the past week, sparking strong press criticism of what it sees as the government's poor response to the emergency situation.

Channel Three radio, quoting official sources, Thursday said 30 died in road accidents caused by the weather, and 14 of asphyxia because of poor heating devices.

"Where are you mister ministers?" the popular Ecchourouk newspaper asked Thursday, accusing them of spending more time on the upcoming May general elections than dealing with relief for those caught out by the bitter weather.

"A catastrophe and no emergency relief to deal with it," wrote El-Khabar newspaper.

"What is the government waiting for to proclaim a state of emergency a week after the start of the cold spell" that affects 20 of the country's 48 regions, it asked.

Newspapers also criticized a sudden increase in food prices, along with that of gas bottles, used for heating, whose price has been multiplied five- or six-fold.

A number of bakers have closed because of lack of flour, Channel Three radio said, while fuel and medicine were short in several parts of the northeast of the country.

Some 80 percent of roads remained closed because of snow despite efforts by the army to clear them, press reports said.

The cold weather has swept down from the Arctic, putting much of Europe in a deep freeze and reaching as far as north Africa.


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Italy braces for new wave of freezing weather
Rome (AFP) Feb 9, 2012
Italy braced for another wave of freezing weather Thursday, even as soldiers worked to free villages trapped in three metres of snow and with the death toll from the cold snap already at 43. "The cold wave from the Arctic will hit northeast Italy first," said Franco Gabrielli, the head of the civil protection agency who has been put in charge of dealing with the weather emergency. "Then ... read more

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