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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Stranded Britons overjoyed by warship rescue

Indian chess champ braves volcano chaos to defend title
Sofia (AFP) April 22, 2010 - World chess champion Viswanathan Anand will square off against his Bulgarian challenger Veselin Topalov in Sofia Saturday in a marathon final starting a day late due to Europe's volcano crisis. Anand will take his seat for the first of 12 games after having had to travel by road from Frankfurt airport after being stranded there by the shutdown of Europe's airspace because of volcanic ash from Iceland. The 40-year old grand master finally made it to the Bulgarian capital by bus on Tuesday, four days later than planned. The international chess federation FIDE agreed to a one-day delay to the match, less than the three days Anand had sought but hopefully enough for him to shrug off the worst of the travel fatigue and stress.

"Three days really is impossible. I decided to postpone the first round for one day," said FIDE vice president and match supervisor Georgios Makropoulos. "I hope that both players and the organisers will understand that this is the fair solution." Anand agreed to the offer, promising fans the match -- now set to run from Saturday until May 13 -- would deliver "some good chess." "I am happy with this compromise. The main thing is that I am here and will play," he told journalists. After lots were drawn on Wednesday evening, local hero Topalov gained the slight advantage of playing white in the first game, which gives him the first move.

Topalov is known for his aggressive style of playing, sacrificing pieces in the search for winning attacks. Anand has a more pragmatic style and is known for the sheer speed of his playing. The Indian grandmaster became World Champion in 2007 and successfully held onto the title in 2008. He was ranked fourth on the March 2010 ratings list by the FIDE international chess federation. His Bulgarian challenger, the 35-year-old Topalov, is currently ranked number two by FIDE. He won the right to challenge Anand by beating Gata Kamsky of the United States in the semi-final in February 2009. Topalov was also world champion from 2005 to 2006, at a time when the chess title was split due to a rift in the chess world. But he failed to defend his title in a reunification match against Vladimir Kramnik of Russia in 2006.

This will be the first World chess title match in 27 years without a Russian-speaking contender for the title. So far, Anand and Topalov have faced each other in 44 classical chess games, with Topalov holding a slight edge with 11 wins and 10 losses, the other 23 games being drawn. In the world championship final, the players are competing for prize money of 2.0 million euros (2.7 million dollars). Organisers say fans will be able to follow the 12 games from April 24 to May 11 live at the event's website www.anand-topalov.com. If no clear winner emerges, four more games of so-called "blitz" chess -- where players have less time to make their moves -- will decide the match on May 13, according to the federation's rules. Anand excels at this kind of chess.
by Staff Writers
Portsmouth, England (AFP) April 22, 2010
Britons left stranded by the ash cloud voiced their thanks and relief after a warship came to their rescue and brought them back home.

The 280 civilians who hitched a lift on HMS Albion could wake up Thursday and reflect on a trying week that for many turned into the experience of a lifetime.

"When we came off the ship, my son and daughter said to me, 'do you know what -- that was so good, I'd like to go back and do that all again'," said Liam Cotter, 51, an insolvency practitioner from Wetherby in northern England.

Cotter and his family were among those brought back from Santander in northern Spain alongside 450 troops returning from a six-month tour in Afghanistan.

The troops and travellers arrived in Portsmouth on the southern English coast late Wednesday after a 36-hour crossing. Spain had acted as an air hub for flights unable to enter British airspace due to the volcanic ash cloud.

Dossing down on a warship with troops fresh from the frontline might not be everyone's idea of a great holiday, but the British civilians sent ashore with a packed lunch tucked under their arms said they had had a jolly good time.

"The navy could not have done more for us," said Sarah Widgery, who had been on holiday in Spain with her husband and their four daughters when the Icelandic volcano erupted.

"They took all the worries away after six days of nightmare in Madrid -- it was just what we needed because the stress levels were so high.

"And they gave up their beds for us, that's the most incredible thing. They all slept on the floor down below and we got the bunks."

At least 150,000 Britons were stranded by the Thursday-to-Tuesday lockdown caused by the volcano and fears that the ash could wreck jet engines.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown -- whose party is trailing in opinion polls ahead of the May 6 general election -- put the Royal Navy at the ready to rescue stranded travellers.

Philip Carlin, from Manchester in northern England, had been stuck in Istanbul but caught a flight to Barcelona.

"We were on the quayside at Santander, we thought we'd never get on," the priest told AFP.

"But the captain was so willing to accommodate us and he didn't want to leave anyone behind.

"It gave us some understanding of what the troops have been through. They've obviously been working really hard in far more difficult conditions than we've been in."

Janis and William Brown, from Aberdeen in northeast Scotland, said there was great camaraderie on board.

"We've made so many friends from all over the country," said Janis, a 58-year-old optical consultant.

"It's nice to be back on British soil.

"It's an experience we could never have paid for, absolutely amazing and you feel really humble being with the troops."

Among those on board was Stanley Johnson, the father of London Mayor Boris Johnson, returning home from a reporting assignment in the Galapagos Islands.

"We've had a most wonderful time. I thought the navy did an absolutely superb job," he said.

"And who was the beneficiary of all this? Some stragglers, some stranded British people like my wife and myself, who have made our way to Santander and piggybacked on the Albion."

The military personnel on board included members of RAF 9 Squadron, 33 Medical Regiment, the Royal Anglian Regiment and battle group support staff.

"It was very entertaining," said Cotter's 11-year-old daughter Faith, who was given a signed camouflage floppy hat by one of the troops.

"I thought being a child I would get quite bored but it was just a really friendly atmosphere, everyone was really kind."



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