- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2008


Finder’s fees soar for best schools

British parents are paying as much as $5,580 to find a place for their children at government-run schools where tuition costs nothing.

With one in 10 high schools in England labeled “inadequate” by government inspectors last year, parents are turning to former teachers and education officials to help get slots in the better ones.

Authorities last week started sending out letters to allocate positions at secondary schools for the year beginning in September. About 35 percent of children in London aren’t getting their first choice because of increased competition, according to government figures published over the weekend.

“Parents are very emotional about it and worried,” said John Chard, who organized more than 2,000 appeals at Brighton and Hove Council, on England’s southeast coast, before becoming an independent adviser. The past week has been “manic,” he said. He charges about $1,500 plus expenses to prepare a case and accompany parents to an appeal hearing.


Officials battle to free hostages

VIENNA — Austria yesterday made all out efforts to free two nationals kidnapped by an al Qaeda-linked group in Tunisia ahead of a midnight deadline set by the kidnappers.

“We’re working hard and at all levels, together with our partners in the EU and in the region,” Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said in a statement.

“Top priority is the safe return of the two Austrians. We’re working as if Wolfgang Ebner and Andrea Kloiber were our own family members. The aim is to secure their release as quickly as possible.”

Officially, Vienna has repeatedly stated that it would not negotiate with the kidnappers, the al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb — an Algerian-based offshoot of al Qaeda.

The group claims to have abducted Mr. Ebner, 51, and Ms. Kloiber, 44, three weeks ago when they were vacationing in the Tunisian desert.


Merkel trip colored by Holocaust past

TEL AVIV — German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Israel yesterday to cement ties with the Jewish state nearly 60 years after its creation following World War II and the Nazi Holocaust.

“Sixty years after the creation of Israel, we affirm again the special responsibility of Germany towards Israel,” Mrs. Merkel said at a lavish welcoming ceremony at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

“But there is not only the responsibility for the past, but projects for a better future,” she added.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert welcomed Mrs. Merkel, saying her Middle East policies were “characterized by basic support for Israel and courage and determination about everything related to the fight against terror.”

Mrs. Merkel will be the first German chancellor to address the Israeli parliament when she gives a speech tomorrow,.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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