31 January 2008

Internet services in Egypt and India disrupted

CAIRO (Reuters) - A breakdown in an international undersea cable network disrupted Internet links to Egypt, India and Gulf Arab countries on Wednesday, and Egypt said it could take several days for its services to return to normal.

It was not immediately possible to gauge the impact of the disruption on financial institutions. Egypt's telecoms ministry said 70 percent of the country's Internet network was down and India initially said it had lost over half its bandwidth.

"This cut has affected Internet services in Egypt with a partial disruption of 70 percent of the network nationwide," the Egyptian ministry said in a statement.

Residents of Gulf Arab countries also reported a slowdown in Internet connectivity. The Bahrain Telecommunications Co said its services were affected after two undersea cables were cut near Alexandria, on Egypt's north coast.

The Egyptian telecoms ministry said it did not know how the cables were cut or if weather was a factor. Storms had forced Egypt to close the northern mouth of the Suez canal on Tuesday.

India also reported serious disruptions to its services and Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers' Association of India, told Reuters: "There has been a 50 to 60 percent cut in bandwidth."

Chharia told the Headlines Today news channel that a "degraded" service would be up and running by Wednesday night, but full restoration would take 10 to 15 days.

"The big operators have transferred their small broadband connectivity through the Pacific route, and that's the reason there's no hue and cry in the country," he said.

One Indian Internet service provider affected by the cut, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL), said its service had been "largely restored" by diverting to another cable. Two outsourcing firms in Bangalore reported minimal disruption.

"There has been a small outage in the evening today. But it has been restored now," said a spokesman for Satyam Computer, India's fourth-biggest outsourcing firm.


AT&T Inc. said that a cable owned by a consortium of which it is part was affected. "We do know that one cable is disrupted," AT&T spokesman Michael Coe said, adding that the cable in question goes between France and Egypt.

"We are impacted on certain routes to the Middle East. The traffic is being rerouted," Coe said. "Multiple carriers are rerouting so we do expect some congestion."

Egypt said its call centres saw their services cut by more than 30 percent, and two Egyptian stockbrokers said market transactions were considerably slower and some international trading orders could not go through.

"It (the disruption) had a very negative impact on the stock market today," one Cairo-based trader said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "At times, we were trading blind."

Stock market officials were not available for comment.

Egypt's Deputy Central Bank Governor Tarek Amer, asked about the impact of the disruption on the banking system, said: "We are disappointed (with) the service and will consider alternatives for the banking system if this happens again."

In Cairo, much of the capital city was without access to the Internet for the bulk of the day, frustrating businesses and the professions.

"I can't do anything because I manage all my work by e-mail. It is very frustrating," said Egyptian lawyer Rebecca Mikhail. "As soon as I came in (to work) at 10 a.m. I didn't have access to the Internet ... If it goes into the next working week it is going to be a nightmare."

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.