London's historic Admiralty Arch will become a hotel

Admiralty Arch in London
LONDON -- Admiralty Arch, a century-old stone archway and building that serves as the ceremonial gateway to Buckingham Palace, is to get a new lease on life as a luxury hotel, a government minister confirmed Thursday.

Built by King Edward VII to honor the long reign of his mother Queen Victoria, the arch has been leased to Spanish property entrepreneur Rafael Serrano, chief executive of the London-based investment company Prime Investors Capital. Serrano paid about $96 million for the 99-year lease.

From the top of the central archway on one side guests will enjoy a view toward Buckingham Palace down the Mall, the tree-lined avenue that is the traditional route of royal processions, including April’s royal wedding cortege of Prince William and his bride Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. The other side looks down on Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson’s Column and a meeting point for public celebrations, rallies and protests.

It is the latest of the government property fire sales around Europe over the last two years that come amid austerity drives to tame massive deficits. In France and Italy, government-owned palaces and villas have gone to wealthy private investors. In Greece, state-owned buildings, marinas and ports reportedly are up for sale.

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London Olympics threatened with strike by border officials

LONDON -- Already coping with a shortage of private security staff, the organizers of the 2012 Olympic Games in London are now facing the threat that thousands of government employees responsible for safeguarding the nation's borders will go on strike next Thursday, on the eve of opening day.

But Sebastian Coe, chairman of the Games, defiantly told the BBC on Friday that Britain would offer “a safe and secure” international event.

With athletes and spectators adding to the normal workload of already struggling border staff checking immigration lines, the union representing airport immigration staff and passport and criminal records employees announced a 24-hour strike for next week and a ban on overtime for the duration of the Games, which run through Aug. 12.

Prime Minister David Cameron, on a visit to British troops in Afghanistan on Thursday, condemned the strike. “I do not believe it is right, I do not believe it will be justified,” he said.

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Britain heartbroken at Andy Murray's Wimbledon defeat

LONDON — There was hardly a dry eye at Wimbledon as Andy Murray fell short Sunday to tennis legend Roger Federer, who powered  his way to a seventh victory in the English grass-court, Grand Slam classic. 

Murray had the crowd and the country — from his homeland of Scotland down to London — holding its collective breath in hope of finally seeing one of their own win the Wimbledon men’s singles after 76 years. But it was not to be.

The Murray family was overcome with emotion, mother Judy Murray who coached her son in his early years, his girlfriend, Kim Sears, who broke down in tears, and Murray himself choking up as he paid tribute to Federer and to his own supporters. “Thanks to everyone who has supported me. You did a great job. It's always tough,” he managed to say.

Photos: Britain hit by 'Murray Mania'

Murray told a BBC interviewer later, “I was really upset at the end because ... when I play at Wimbledon I feel that support and I want to try and obviously win for the nation, and I was upset I couldn’t do it.”

But after the tears, Judy Murray tweeted, “Lots to celebrate…. Amazing day. Amazing tourney. Amazing son.”

“It would have been great for Britain if he’d won,” said tennis fan Miryam Dragonetti, 33, a mother of three. “But it was fantastic play, really exciting up to the last set, where I felt Murray was beginning to lose it.”  

The streets of Murray’s home town of Dunblane in Scotland emptied as townsfolk watched their local hero on TV screens at home, in bars and at the clubhouse where the young Murray took his first tennis lessons.  After the grueling three-hour, 20-minute court struggle ended in heartbreaking defeat to the pride of Switzerland, the small town filled with disappointed but supportive fans.

Photos: Wimbledon men's final: Federer vs. Murray

One of them, Ian Conway, vice president of Scotland's national tennis association and a longtime friend of the Murrays, told a BBC-TV interviewer that the tears were understandable after such a battle against a great player such as Federer who has now won 17 Grand Slam tourneys. At the same time, “Andy will have learned a lot from it, he’ll be back, please believe it — the nation will be behind him.”


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 Nazi letter protected Jewish man who once served with Hitler

— Janet Stobart

Photo: Andy Murray of Great Britain reacts after losing to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon men's tennis finals Sunday in London. Credit: Paul Gilham / Getty Images.

Britain's got tennis fever with Scotland's Andy Murray in Wimbledon final

LONDON — Britain was seized by a fever Sunday.

"Murray Mania" spread through the nation as an estimated 20 million people prepared to watch Andy Murray from Scotland fight to become the first British winner of the men’s singles in the Wimbledon lawn tennis championship since 1936.

Murray faces Swiss champion Roger Federer, a six-time winner of the trophy striving to equal the score set by American Pete Sampras, a seven-time Wimbledon winner.

Photos: 'Murray Mania'

Britons woke to newspaper headlines: “Andy we’re praying for you,” on the front of the populist Daily Mail, and “Andy make our day” pleaded the left-wing, more intellectual Observer, and the Wimbledon final dominated TV and radio news.

In Murray’s native Scotland the national paper, the Scotsman, reported Scottish flags flying in his hometown of Dunblane, where both his grandmothers were suffering from pre-match nerves.

“Andy has worked so hard and he deserves to win… We wish him all the best. We’ll say a wee prayer for him,” said 78-year-old Ellen Murray, who was 2 years old when Fred Perry became Britain's last men’s singles winner at Wimbledon.

Thousands braved rainswept conditions to reach the Wimbledon grounds in southwest London in  time to watch the match.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, were among the spectators along with a huge Scottish crowd ready to cheer from the stands and watch the giant screen from "Murray Mound," the newly christened hill inside the Wimbledon grounds.

Both leaders sent good-luck wishes to Murray.

“It’s a unique moment for any Scot,” said Salmond in media coverage. Over at the prime minister’s residence on Downing Street, the British flag was replaced by Scotland’s blue-and-white national flag for the occasion.

Around the country people spent Sunday afternoon in front of TV screens.

Philip Tomlin, a 35-year-old financier and keen tennis watcher in north London, said he couldn’t join his pals in front of the big screen set up outside London’s riverside Tate Modern art gallery.

“I’ll be watching at home. Murray’s got a good chance, I reckon — he’s got a new coach who's helped him with the mental side of the game, which was his weakness.”

Lilian del Gaudio from Brazil, watching at home in London, is a new tennis aficionado. “I don’t watch tennis, but I realize how important Wimbledon is in this country and how [the final] has changed the atmosphere of the place in the last few days. If he wins it would be a great day for Britain,” said the 31-year-old teacher.

In the Warwickshire village of Long Compton in West England, 82-year-old Susan Gladstone couldn’t wait to settle in front of the TV. “I haven’t got time to see you today,” she told a visitor, “I’ve got to watch the tennis.”

The Daily Telegraphy collected comments from Murray-watchers across the ocean. “We keep in touch with streaming mobile broadband on our Mac and we predict a win for Andy!!!” messaged John Quarterman and family from the Indian Ocean off western Australia.

Murray himself is geared for a challenge, he told interviewers. “The one thing I can guarantee is that I'll fight my absolute heart out. I need to give everything I have from the first point to the last.”

Photos: Serena Williams earns fifth Wimbledon singles title

One of the most coveted prizes of tennis' Grand Slam events, the Wimbledon trophy has long eluded British players. After Fred Perry’s victory of 1936, the next British winner was Virginia Wade in the ladies’ singles in 1977. But this year may be a turning point. Murray’s fight for victory follows the surprise men’s doubles’ win Saturday by unknown Briton Jonathan Marray partnered by Danish Frederik Nielsen.


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— Janet Stobart

Photo: A shop window display in Dunblane, Scotland shows support for Andy Murray ahead of his Wimbledon tennis final against Roger Federer. Credit: Scott Heppell / Associated Press.

British police arrest 6 terror suspects in London

Police arrested six people who are suspected of preparing terrorist strikes against targets in Britain
This post has been updated and corrected. See the notes below for details.

LONDON -- Police on Thursday arrested six people who are suspected of preparing terrorist strikes against targets in Britain. 

In a brief statement, Scotland Yard announced that five men and one woman between the ages of 18 and 30 had been taken into custody in London. The suspects were taken as "part of a pre-planned intelligence-led operation" that was "not linked" to the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games set to begin in the British capital late this month, police said.

One 24-year-old man arrested at a home was tasered but not hospitalized, police said. Another suspect was arrested in the street in West London, officials said.

The police statement said authorities were also searching "eight residential premises in east, west and north London and one business premises in east London."

[Updated, 7:58 a.m. July 5: The BBC and other media outlets reported that the arrests were part of a possible plot involving Islamic extremists. According to the Guardian, three of those arrested were brothers from the east London area of Stratford, the main site of the Olympic Games.]

Although the government security service MI5 said there is no immediate terror threat to Britain, the present official risk level is graded as substantial. That means a threat is not imminent but a strong possibility, and security services across the country are on heightened alert in the run-up to the Olympics.

In a separate incident, armed police and military personnel closed a major toll road between Birmingham and London on Thursday morning after the driver of a bus en route to London from northwest England stopped the vehicle and reported a passenger handling a smoking liquid.

Authorities reopened the road after a search of the bus and its 48 passengers. Police said an investigation was ongoing but that they were not treating the event as a "counter-terrorism incident."

[Updated, 7:58 a.m. July 5: A Staffordshire police spokeswoman later said by telephone that the smoke came from "an electronic cigarette which produces a smoke-like vapor." A police statement said: "Whilst this was a genuine security alert, the significant concerns reported to us were unfounded."]

For the record, 12:38 p.m. July 5: A previous version of this story attributed the final quote to the  Staffordshire police spokeswoman. It was provided by a separate police statement.


For London Olympics, Britain calls up the military

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-- Janet Stobart

Photo: Police shut down a section of a roadway in central England on Thursday while they search a bus and its occupants after the driver reported that one passenger was handling a smoking liquid. Credit: STR / EPA

Queen Elizabeth, ex-IRA leader share historic handshake

LONDON -- In a meeting symbolizing the end of years of enmity between British rule and Northern Ireland republicans, Queen Elizabeth shook hands Wednesday with a former Irish Republican Army commander.

Martin McGuinness, now a deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and a member of the pro-republican Sinn Fein party, was a senior IRA member in the years of sectarian violence. During that time, the group was responsible for blowing up the yacht of Lord Louis Mountbatten, the queen's cousin, killing him and three others while they vacationed off the coast of Northern Ireland in 1979. 

The once unthinkable handshake took place away from media eyes -- apart from one camera crew -- behind closed doors at a charity arts event in Belfast, witnessed by the queen’s husband, Prince Philip, and leading politicians including Irish President Michael Higgins and Northern Ireland’s first minister, Peter Robinson.

The seemingly mundane greeting was widely heralded as a turning point. Peter Sheridan, host of the event, told reporters, "It's a huge act of reconciliation, you cannot underestimate how important this is."

The queen, wearing a pale green coat and hat, also toured a local art exhibit, the work of a cultural charity aimed at fostering cross-community relations between Catholics and Protestants. As she left the Lyric Theatre, the carefully chosen apolitical context where the event took place, the queen smiled as she shook hands again with McGuinness, this time publicly as he was standing in line with other officials.

Afterward, McGuinness told reporters he spoke to the queen in Gaelic telling her his words meant “Goodbye and God speed.”

The show of reconciliation was generally judged to have cost both leaders a price. Some hard-line republicans view McGuinness as a traitor, but most agreed that it was a step forward.

"From the queen's point of view, she lost a member of the family, so it's a big step for her," Joe McGowan, a Northern Ireland historian, told Sky News. "Martin McGuinness is conceding something. He has to recognize that the struggle over the past 30 years was lost, in a military sense anyway."

Roy Foster, a professor of Irish history at Oxford University, told the BBC before the meeting that “a lot is going to have to be forgotten. It's hard to think that the queen can forget that Martin McGuinness was chief of staff [of the IRA] when Lord Mountbatten was blown up in 1979 ... and the extraordinary statements from the IRA after the event ... that they'd only done to Mountbatten what he'd spent his lifetime doing to other people."

On the other hand, he said, the occasion could help repair political damage to McGuinness' party after Sinn Fein boycotted the queen's visit in May 2011, the first by a reigning British monarch since Ireland gained independence from Britain in 1922. That trip won approval from the majority of the Irish population.

The two-day royal trip, part of the queen’s diamond jubilee tour of Britain, was heavily policed but also feted by thousands of cheering crowds as the monarch and Prince Philip walked along streets of Enniskillen after their arrival Tuesday. The town was the scene of a devastating 1987 IRA bomb attack that killed 11 people.

Yhe visit was also marked by the action of small groups of anti-royalist protesters. On Tuesday night, nine police officers were wounded as they broke up a demonstration of about 100 youths throwing petrol bombs in West Belfast.

The area was once a stronghold of urban guerrilla warfare in the 30-year sectarian war waged between extremist Catholic IRA republican groups and Protestant Unionist pro-British movements, which a British army campaign battled to subdue until the gradual withdrawal of troops after a peace agreement in 1998.


For London Olympics, Britain calls up the military

Jewish families begin quiet evacuation of West Bank homes

Liberal economist tapped to spearhead Greek economy overhaul

 -- Janet Stobart

Andy Coulson, former aide to Britain's leader, detained by police

Andy-coulsonLONDON -- Prime Minister David Cameron's former press aide was taken into custody by Scottish police Wednesday on suspicion of perjury during a 2010 trial related to Britain's phone hacking scandal.

Scottish police gave no details on the arrest beyond the customary statement that officers had "detained a 44-year-old male in London this morning ... on suspicion of committing perjury before the High Court in Glasgow.” However, he was widely identified by British media as Andy Coulson, Cameron's former aide.

The detention was related to testimony Coulson gave in the trial of Tommy Sheridan, a former Scottish member of the European Parliament who was convicted of lying during a legal hearing.

Coulson was editor from 2003 to 2007 of the now-defunct News of the World tabloid, which was closed down last year by media owner Rupert Murdoch amid revelations that the newspaper had been involved in phone hacking.

In a 2006 civil case, Sheridan had successfully sued the News of the World for libel over stories of his  adulterous conduct in swinging clubs. Although awarded about $300,000, Sheridan was later convicted of perjury and sentenced to three years in jail.

During his time as Cameron’s press officer, Coulson took the witness stand in Sheridan’s perjury trial in which Sheridan claimed he had been targeted by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, known to have carried out phone interceptions for the News of the World. Coulson denied knowledge of phone hacking during his term as editor.

On Wednesday, Coulson was taken by Scottish police from his London home for questioning in Glasgow, Scotland.  Unlike in England, Scottish law decrees that suspects are not arrested but detained when under suspicion.

Coulson had previously been arrested but released on bail on suspicion of illegal phone hacking and illegal payments to police officers in the London-based investigations into the widespread phone hacking and surveillance carried out over the last decade by News International and other papers in search of scoops. He is one of more than 40 people to have been arrested in the scandal by British police.

The revelations that the News of the World had hacked into the phone of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler last summer triggered public outrage and led to the paper’s closure, several civil and police inquiries and compensation payments by the Murdoch empire amounting so far to millions of dollars.


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-- Janet Stobart

Photo: Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson leaves the High Court in central London where he gave evidence at an inquiry into press ethics on May 10. Credit: Miguel Medina / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.

Russian town hosting Olympics learns English, one word at a time

The Russian resort town of Sochi is determined to learn English -- one word at a time.

Sochi, which is scheduled to host the Winter Olympics in two years, has reportedly embarked on a plan to teach its residents more than 600 words of English to help tourists visiting for the Games.

To do so, it will display a new English word and phrase every day, posted throughout the city in supermarkets, buses and played on the radio, Russian news reports said. The average Sochi resident is expected to run into their new English word five times in a day.

“Every resident of the city of Sochi will be able to greet guests, say kind words and give directions," Sochi education chief Olga Medvedeva was quoted in Kommersant.

The very first bit of English that people in Sochi learned this week? "Welcome."


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Egypt panel upholds decision to toss key presidential candidates

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles


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