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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 16:20 GMT
Milosevic trial: Is he persuading anyone?
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The former Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, has cross-examined the first prosecution witnesses, including Mahmut Bakalli - former Communist leader of the Yugoslav province of Kosovo - in his trial at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
In a frequently confrontational debate, Mr Milosevic constantly challenged the witness over the truth of his testimony.
Launching a robust defence at The Hague war crimes tribunal last week, he began by showing video footage, including German television reports, which rejected allegations of mass killings in Kosovo.
He said Nato's military intervention which followed the Racak massacre of ethnic Albanians in 1999 was built on lies.
What is your reaction to Mr Milosevic's comments? Do you feel that the trial will achieve justice? Is his argument persuasive at all? What are the implications of the Milosevic trial for the international criminal justice system?
We discussed the trial of Slobodan Milosevic in Talking Point ON AIR, the phone-in programme of the BBC World Service and BBC News Online. Our guest was international lawyer John Jones.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Unfortunately, the way that the prosecution began this case, the reliability of witness testimony and the trustworthiness of the evidence presented so far, shows that this trial is going to polarize even more, the nations of the Former Yugoslavia.
If Milosevic is convicted of crimes against humanity in Kosovo, of which I have no doubt, the Shiptars of Kosovo will think that they won a great victory. Then, SE Europe will again face, sooner or later, an expansionism of Shiptar territorial aspirations which have no limits.
Milosevic is a demagogue, a brilliant orator and a master of propaganda. He is clearly employing his undoubted skills to great effect judging by the number of people he seems to have convinced on this page. It is now obvious that the KLA was a form of terrorist organisation targeting innocent Serbian civilians in its campaign for independence, but no one can deny the truth that Milosevic's reaction and solution to this problem was brutal, indiscriminate and total. The vast majority of Kosovans were and are innocent people with no ties to the KLA and yet they were butchered, tortured or driven from their homes and lands by Serbian forces, ultimately controlled by Milosevic.
See Milosevic for what he is and what he did; do not fall for spin and black propaganda.
I am glad that finally the world has the opportunity to hear the truth from Mr. Milosevic. What he is saying sits in harts of all Serbs. Our president is going to win the case no matter what the tribunal says.
A few historical facts should be remembered by all those that blame Nato for the break up of former Yugoslavia: Yugoslavia broke up simply because people of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Kosovo etc. did not want to live in a Serb dominated country and that was their own free decision and nobody
had the right and power to prevent them from doing so.
Nato did a perfect job only maybe eight years too late.
The US and Co. use this court to justify their own actions. Milosevic's resilience has served as backfire to their intentions. Instead of getting the people's consent over what they (the US and Nato) did, Milosevic will be turned into a hero and shed light onto the true picture of world politics.
The tribunal is nothing more than a means of justifying the west's actions. That is clearly seen by the people who have been brought thus far to stand trial, including Milosevic.
Razvan, Oxford, UK
"INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY" Isn't that what we cherish in our Western Civilization? So why should Milosevic "persuade" anyone of his innocence if he hasn't been found guilty yet! And if we have already found him guilty then how can he get a fair trial? There is no question that the Kosovo tragedy was a disaster for the European Community who simply sat back and did nothing, while the Americans "again" had to intervene but let's reverse the situation: would George Bush Simply have done nothing if an Islamic organization having close ties with Iran (one of the so-called Axis of Evil countries) was trying to liberate certain part of the states?
I find his political ideas very disagreeable, His recent arguments would have convinced me if we purely focussed on law. I think the west attacked a democratic nation because they did not like its policies; western leaders have broken the law.
This is remarkable how the world's opinion (as expressed on this forum) is different from that which has been systematically forced on us by the mass media in the course of the decade inversing, distorting and simplifying the story to serve the perverse power interests. The extent of his involvement in these crimes is yet to be established, Milosevic is truly a Socratic figure catalyzing the reflection on what's really going on in the world and exposing hidden forces implicated in these crimes and many other crimes disguised as "peace effort," which take place as we speak:
"In many villages destroyed by bombing, survivors have said that Al Qaeda leaders were never there, or fled before American bombs and missiles struck. American officials have countered by saying that every attack has been mounted on the basis of the best intelligence available at the time, but Afghan villagers and local leaders say many attacks seem to have been carried out without any detectable American scouting on the ground, or any American probe afterward to determine who was killed..." New York Times 2002/02/24 "New Clues Suggest Bin Laden Is Alive on Afghan Border."
This is a trial where the defendant is guilty until proven innocent. It is so easy to manipulate with the claims abour "rape" and "mass graves" as this is a very touchy issue with the public. Still nothing is yet proven. Your guest Mr. Jones, stressed out that "the west" have no reason to have anything against the Serbs. This is not so. When the Cold War ended, Nato rushed to gain political control of the Eastern European and Balkan countries. They wanted to control the Adriatic.
With Italy and Greece already in the Nato, and Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia (who would accept any political dominance in order to have their own states for the first time in history), only Serbia was left to defy Nato world order. And all the other ex-Yugoslavia leaders were heads of "democratic" parties exept Milosevic who was the head of the Socialist Party. That is why the West turned against the Serbs, saying behind closed doors: "How dare that little nation defy our political dominance! We'll show them!" The war crimes existed on all sides, but for the above reasons, Serbs were, and still shamefully are, demonised.
Milosevic had every right to defend his country against the KLA terrorist threat operating in his own country. Many people get emotional about Milosevic because they get confused with some Serbian generals (who in actual fact) WERE responsible for atrocities committed against Yugoslavian muslims (in Bosnia). It is important to be fair and get the facts right here. Milosevic should be allowed to return home to Serbia - where he will be rightly welcomed as the patriot he really is.
As a person who's family in Belgrade stayed in bunkers for 16 hours a day, seldom had food, running water and electricity, I cannot for a minute accept that NATO's actions were just.
Milosevic stood up to the corruption of the west, and is on trial for this. Many of the "mass graves" the US was blaming Milosevic for, and blatantly lying about turned out to be false, and in at least 2 cases, the mass graves were shown to contain SERB remains!
Justice will not be done because the tribunal is not only biased, but illeagal. The cards are stacked against Milosevic, and he can't win. But he is and will continue to do an admirable job of wading through the garbage, and exposing what truth he can.
Clinton, Blaire, Solana, Albright, Holbrook....those are the real criminals that percipitated the displacement of millions of people (Serbs, kosovars, Gypsies etc...), and killed thousands with their indiscriminate bombing, and brought a nation to its knees by forcing the civilian populations to suffer while not even putting a dent in the Yugoslav army.
Jason Savelsberg, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
To Jason Savelsburg, Salt Lake City, USA: There's probably no doubt that these events your Bosnian friends are describing are true and I presume from what you're saying they are Muslim or Croat. However, I have Serb friends who describe the same things happening to them so you cannot be selective and say that it was Milosevic who caused all this. There are bigger key players here the biggest of which are in Washington and the West (but hopefully not for long).
The question is not whether atrocities took place in the area, but whether or not Milosevic was aware of them and complicit in those acts. In a court that assumed innocence until guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, his arguments would be very persuasive indeed. In this particular court, it probably doesn't matter.
So far, and it is obviously early days, I have seen no evidence that in any way proves the charges against Milosevic. That Milosevic has been denied the opportunity to call his own witnesses merely demonstrates the one-sided nature of this 'show-trial'. And in case anyone has forgotten, was not the deliberate bombing of a civilian installation, namely Serbian TV in Belgrade and the murder of the civilians therein by Nato, a war-crime just as worthy of attention as the ones the Serbs are accused of. I look forward to seeing Blair and Clinton in the dock next.
Mr Milosevic is on trial for the alleged crimes that he committed as a head of his state. If he is denied the right to call witnesses of the same level from the other side - Clinton, Blair etc - this will demonstrate that this trial is no more than a vengeance of victors and a justification for their own actions.
I am a Brit who lived and worked in Belgrade during the 90's. I saw and lived through what happened in Yugoslavia, and some of the western media reports were laughable propaganda.
Unless you were overlooking Milosevic you don't know what happened. Of course he is due a fair trial and so should the Western leaders who bombed civilian targets in Belgrade.
Those who blame Milosevic for breaking up Yugoslavia, you don't know what you're talking about. The country was splitting up the moment Tito died.
Mesut S, Kosovo
I would like to thank Nato for what it did in Kosovo. Two months after you finished killing tens of thousands, Russia come to my country. They kill hundreds of thousands. President Putin is now very popular in his country just like Tony Blair and Clinton are in theirs.
The KLA was and is a vicious terrorist army that murdered innocent Serb civilians and ethnic Albanians who they perceived to be collaborators. They were well-armed, even possessing artillery. Could policemen defend the country? Of course not! If Milosevic is to stand trail for the abuses of some of his soldiers then L B Johnson should have stood trail for the Me Lai massacre in Vietnam. The KLA are the same genre of group that attacked the World Trade Center and Bush and Blair reacted in exactly the same as Milosevic. Stop this sham trail!
In reply to "Suzy, USA", Slobodan Milosevic might
be (and I say "might be")a vicious and evil man but,
of course he deserves a fair trial. EVERYBODY
deserves a fair trial. Don't let anyone tell you
He can poke fun at the court and have evidence discounted all he likes
but the fact is that he is the one on trial.
And I can very much doubt that he he can cover all the bases.
R O Tuathail from Ireland was right when he asked,
how come Nato are immune from prosecution?
This only lends credence to Milosevic's argument that this
is "trial by victor".
Note that Tudjman was no saint either.
G. Shaw, Canada
To all those who think that Milosevic acted as a head of state defending the national interests of Yugoslavia, and Nato had no right to interfere: Hitler could have claimed the same, and, hey, until 1940 he only killed German Jews and communists. Why bother about internal affairs?
I cannot believe the cruelty of those commentators. Don't they remember the shelling of Sarajevo and the misery of the Kosovan refugees? I do!
The approach of the West's media to the Yugoslavian conflict has been biased since its outbreak in 1991. In the West we have a situation where the misdeeds of your opponents are highlighted while those of your allies are ignored. Double standards also run through the make up of the court in the Hague. British and American politicians and military personnel inexcusably enjoy immunity from investigation and prosecution by this court. Can you imagine the outcry if such a scenario existed at a national level?
For justice to be effective, it has to be balanced. As well as entailing retribution for victims, it must also be administered in an even-handed fashion. This is not the case with regard to the International Court for Justice.
I would like to see Milosevic punished for his part in the atrocities that his army and police committed. But it should not stop there.
To turn a blind-eye to breaches of international law by other parties to the Yugoslavian and Kosovan conflict will only serve to demonstrate that this court was founded on hypocrisy.
Only when all citizens of the world are open to equal scrutiny by this court will it acquire the respect and integrity it requires to administer "international justice".
I think Milosevic is finally having the chance to defend himself justly, after years of NATO encouraged media against him considering nothing from his point of view. I think people who had him considered guilty before he had even came to court should pay close attention to what he is saying.
Milosevic is a terrorist and a criminal. He is a belligerent, obnoxious man who doesn't deserve a fair trial but is nonetheless getting one. NATO had every right and in fact a moral imperative to intervene.
Andy, Jersey C.I.
He has changed my opinion. I still find his politics very disagreeable, but this is about law and his arguments have convinced me. We attacked a democratic nation because we did not like its policies; our leaders have broken the law.
Slobodan Milosevic's arrogance beggars belief.
This is a man who was clearly responsible for the demise of Yugoslavia and the death of thousands of innocent people. He rode the storm of nationalism (which he created), he unceremoniously dumped his allies when they no longer fitted his interests and stole from his own people.
His contempt for others with whom he does not agree and his complete lack of humility just make the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity more credible.
What I find most depressing about Milosevic's "trial" is not so much the biased nature of this charade in the Hague and the general hopelessness of Milosevic's situation but complete and utter helplessness of the current Serbian leadership. True, Milosevic is fighting for himself, for his personal interests. But his is also Yugoslavia's only political leader who is fighting for the Serbs. For their character. For their past and future. You may not like him and I may not like him but he's the only who stands between Serbia and the avalanche of lies than can bury it for decades. He's the only one and this is sad.
I stopped taking Milosevic seriously when he said Clinton bombed the Chinese embassy on purpose. According to Milosevic, Clinton wanted to go down in history as the first American President to bomb China. I hardly think that was the legacy Clinton was striving for. And to those of you who accuse Nato of war crimes, you must realize that without intervention, war would probably still be raging in the Balkans. Nato did the right thing.
Jetmir Bakija, Kosovo
There seems to be a crucial point that lots of people are missing. Slobodan Milosevic is not stupid. He took control of a country; don't let him take control of a court set to lock him away for the rest of his life. Going up against the court in The Hague by himself, he automatically presents himself as the underdog being persecuted by the West. The fact that the 3 witnesses he has requested have been denied while over 300 are being called against him further helps his case in this respect. How typical that the people who are doing the most to put this despicable man away are also the ones doing the most to help his case.
On Kosovo, Milosovic defended a province of his country from terrorist attack by the KLA as was expected of him as its leader. This was certainly justifiable from the Serbian point of view, in just the same way that the British government has justified the defence of Northern Ireland from the IRA for the last 50 years.
On Bosnia and Croatia, Milosovic kept contact with, and undoubtedly provided support, for some nasty types who fought small-scale wars against their neighbours for their own political purposes. No doubt he knew what they were doing but can he be held responsible for their atrocities? Should the US government be held responsible for all the atrocities carried out by the various nasty regimes that it has supported over the years?
He will try to manipulate the world as he always did. But I think justice will prevail in the end. And he will get what he deserves. But I wish he would serve the sentence in one of his own prisons and not such a comfortable suite. I think the trial is as fair as it can be and even too fair for such a coward!
I think he has made a fundamental mistake not using a lawyer to defend him, however I feel some of his arguments deserve credence. He has chosen to defend himself and can therefore call to the bench anyone he wants. That means western leaders and ex-western leaders. He has called Blair and Clinton and I would like to see them attend and answer questions put to them. I believe Milosevic has committed horrendous crimes, but I don't think he is alone and I think the process of pin pointing who is 'Evil' in our world has become too selective and hypocritical.
Former president Milosevic defended the nation he was elected to preserve against armed insurrection from within and unprovoked military aggression from abroad.
Those who should be facing war crimes charges are in Washington, London, Berlin and Brussels, not in a sparse cell in the Netherlands.
I doubt he's even persuading himself.
The prosecution needs to call 350 witnesses to convince the jury Milosevic is guilty. Yet Milosevic is denied his 3 main witnesses - Mr Clinton, Mr Blair and Mr Chirac. Surely this alone shows how bias the court really is.
The fact that we're even having a trial is a major advance for good. Mr Milosevic stands little chance of being cleared, but at least he has the opportunity to highlight the crimes of his opposition in return. The West's normal strategy of killing the enemy leadership is much more convenient when it comes to covering up the fact that war crimes are committed by all sides.
There is only one question whose answer should determine the outcome of this trial. Did he do what he's accused of, or didn't he? Everything else is simply ducking the issue.
Maryann Miller, USA
The trial is a joke and a hoax meant to make us think there is justice. The outcome is predetermined and the defendant will be railroaded. We all know Milosevic is a butcher and a nationalist. But the court is so selective in who it prosecutes - and astoundingly one-sided against the Serbs (amazing how no Muslims are tried no matter what they did) - that it cannot be taken seriously as a body of justice. It's a set up to assuage Western guilt for sitting idly by while people were slaughtered in what was effectively a civil war. Western Europe chose not to get its fingers dirty for a decade and just pretended it didn't see the carnage. The U.S. waited far too long to act and even then was criticized for intervening. The whole thing is a joke. Western Europeans have no credibility in this arena.
Personally, I'm just happy to see Milosevic embarrassed and on trail. That animal deserves to be taken to a field and shot in the head for the horrible things he ordered in the former Yugoslavia.
To all the people who are asking why NATO leaders aren't in the dock for war crimes
too: International law is very specific about what actions do and don't count as war
crimes. Sending your troops to kill civilians is a war crime. However, it is not a war
crime to target military buildings if there are civilians in the way, or if you accidentally
hit civilians when you were going for a military target, nor is it a war crime to target
civilian facilities that the military could use. I think NATO should have taken a lot more
care not to hit civilians than it did, but they did take a lot of care to stay on the right
side of international law. Wars and war crimes are not the same thing.
There have been many crimes against humanity and they should all be punished, to deter future crimes. Will this sort of approach convince madmen worldwide that they will be pursued for their crimes, I personally doubt it. Milosevic is a worthy example of such a madman but nonetheless he is a convenient one to the west, and I fear that is why he is on trial.
The only thing that Slobodan Milosevic is guilty of is defending his country from the criminal elements of the KLA. The real criminals here are the West, Nato and the KLA Albanians, who are now trying to partition Macedonia as well just like they did to Kosovo. It is too bad that Macedonia does not have a Milosevic to tell the world what is actually happening there, and to put a stop to the Nato and Albanian aggression. Now is the time for the truth to be known about the West's actual agenda for the whole Balkan region, namely the oil and gas pipeline that will run through the Balkans starting at the Caspian Sea and exiting from Albania that will eventually end up in the hands of the Western multinationals. The Serbian and Macedonian people throughout the world should rally behind Slobodan Milosevic for standing up to these terrorists and speaking the truth about the forced disintegration of Yugoslavia.
Milosevic is not, I think, an innocent man but many other politicians shared the guilt of causing the wars in former Yugoslavia.
We live black and white politics, with the USA the sheriff dispensing bloody "justice" at the whim of its leader with the EU following sheepishly behind.
In such a climate Milosevic has to be found guilty and not even listened to. Who is next?
I have followed Milosevic's trial very closely, and I am not able to comprehend how a person is able to lie through his teeth about events that have occurred. Being one of the hundreds of thousands of the unfortunate ones that spent weeks in a refugee camp in border with Macedonia, I was appalled when I heard him say that "refugee camps in Macedonia were only staged for the media". The Hague is giving him free advertising, people are hearing his lies and unfortunately, there are people out there who may believe him.
If they let him spread his propaganda utilizing "free media coverage" by the trial, justice will not be served.
E. Saye, USA
The more the trial lasts, the more of a hero Milosevic will become. I believe that the trial would be a sensation several years ago, but in this new antiterrorist climate, Milosevic is seen as a kind of hero not only by the Serbs, I am afraid, but by others as well.
Maybe Milosevic is guilty - I do not know the facts anywhere near well enough to make a judgement. But for the crimes that I believe every other world leader has ever committed, it should be required that each one stands up for trial at the end of their term.
The International Court Of Justice is a body established to try people like Milosevic, who are have committed crimes against humanity at large. Until now, to my knowledge, it has acquitted itself honourably, fulfilling its role, it was created for.
The court is functioning as per due process of established international law. applicable in such cases.
Also it is in the interest of the international community to ensure that the trial is transparent and fair and exemplary too. This is imperative to discourage would-be dictators who may give in to similar inspirations if they see that crimes such as Milosevic undoubtedly committed can go unpunished for want of a proper and reliable body to try them.
Therefore, serious and conscientious effort is required to re-establish the integrity of the court at The Hague.
Milosevic as the case may be is simply a victim of the West's double standards. There is no doubt that he was trying to defend his country from KLA terrorists who had resorted to killing Serb civilians and soldiers. I hope that he gets acquitted, but I have my doubt since both the prosecutors and judges are financed by his enemies.
The man will have his day in court. The evidence will provide the justification for a guilty verdict.
I am very please with the makeup of the court and the reputation and trust it holds.
Make no mistake about it; there are so many Milosevics out there. Once brought before this court, they will receive a fair trial.
Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. Five years ago Milosevic was associated with mass genocide. But time and distance dull the memory, and now he's the victim. People are actually writing in to defend him! We had better convict him quickly - another few years and he'll be up for the Nobel Peace Prize!
After reading the comments I cannot believe the dismissive attitude towards the work of the Hague. The lack of intervention and apathy by the West is what allowed these crimes to happen in the first place, or perhaps you would of all rather Nato stood aside and watched as thousand of people were butchered to death? After visiting Yugoslavia myself I saw just a tiny fraction of the suffering of the people, including the Serbians themselves. The trial is entirely necessary and if those criticising it had heard and seen the things I saw they would hang their heads in shame.
His trial is ridiculous! The USA and Nato should be there for bombing hospitals, civilians, media stations and Albanians on their way back home. Everything was well planned for the break up of Yugoslavia. Milosevic did what any leader would do for his own country.
The fact that Milosevic only did what many leaders do doesn't mean that he is innocent. The fact that there may be guiltier people than him doesn't mean that he is innocent. The fact that Franjo Tudjman died before the court could catch up with him doesn't mean that Milosevic is innocent The fact that secret misdeeds by Western states probably won't emerge in public for at least another fifty years doesn't mean that Milosevic is innocent. The fact that media have already made up their minds about Milosevic's guilt doesn't mean that the court itself has made its mind about Milosevic's guilt. The fact that the prosecutor put the case for the prosecution doesn't mean that Milosevic has been found guilty.
So what would find him guilty?
Hard judicial evidence that he ordered war crimes to be committed.
Hard judicial evidence that he failed to sanction those under his command who he knew had committed war crimes.
These are the only two things that the Hague tribunal has any business to be concerned with.
Listening to the opening address of the prosecutor it seemed clear that the trial is more likely to be based on emotive commentary than provable facts. Whilst what happened in all these places was undoubtedly wicked and someone should pay for it, it does the greater world community no service if all such criminals are not brought before the courts.
Milosevic is no saint, let's make no mistake about that.
But Nato had no right to interfere in the conflict. It had no mandate to stage a war from anybody but its own officials.
If the organisation was so concerned about human rights, why doesn't it interfere in Turkey to help the Kurds or in Israel to help the Palestinians?
Has anybody been to Kosovo lately? Lawlessness and illegal drug trafficking haunt the province.
It took Nato less than 3 months to inflict more damage to the region than Milosevic did during his 14 year rule.
Darren Peat, UK
This tribunal will put the tyrant in a palace for the rest of his life; his victims on the other hand are either dead or traumatised. The only penalty should be execution. Give him what he gave his victims.
Distasteful as Milosovic is, this trial is as much about Nato trying to justify its actions as it is about punishing Milosovic. If he is guilty then I hope he goes down for a very long time, but if he could take down some of Nato's protagonists with him then that would be even better.
Does anyone honestly believe that there is a remote possibility of Nato leaders answering charges for indiscriminate killing of civilians in Yugoslavia? This is a show trial because it is taking place to 'show' that the western politicians, media and armchair generals were right. It is there to exonerate Nato leaders for aggression, journalists for racial slurs and 'humanitarians' for warmongering.
The trial set up is not perfect. But then that's the real world. War always makes it difficult for anyone to truly command the moral high ground in all respects. However let us not forget the reason this whole sad and degrading business came about. The Serbian president refused to co-operate with international forums aimed at bringing peace and fairness to a region bedevilled with cruelty and suffering of innocent people.
Atrocities were being committed all the time western politicians were trying broker a political solution. This power hungry rogue forced the US and Nato into war with all the inevitable consequences. I refer of course to their mistakes when non-military targets were hit. But at least they were mistakes that Nato forces regretted and tried to avoid. The same cannot be said of the man now in the dock arrogantly trying to dismiss the whole proceedings.
Mr Milosevic is now in this clutches of the shoddy so-called 'tribunal' and is unlikely to emerge a free man, on the balance of probabilities. From a historical point of there is no doubt where the blame for the wars in the former Yugoslavia lies- with the West. It was plainly unbearable to have a substantial semi-Socialist state in the heart of Europe following on the demise of communism so the eternal imperial principle was brought into play- divide and rule!
One furtive little secession after another to smash up the Yugoslav Federation.
Followed by the physical smashing up of Serbia. The whole of this accompanied by a skilful propaganda campaign with never a good word to say about Serbia and the Serbs.
As the late Alan Clark was to say 'What have the Serbs ever done to us?' Milosevic is just the fall guy for all this. If the trial is going to last two years let's have them all there, Clinton, Blair, Chirac, Genscher, Carrington, Robertson, Jamie Shea etc; but not the soldiers - they are relatively innocent.
It`s just like a dream when a powerful dictator
like Milosevic goes to trial but there is one thing I would like to say.. namely why whole the world forgets about a nation like the Kurds?
12 Feb 02 | Europe
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