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Sun 6 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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The road to Damascus

It’s no easy job getting out of Beirut, as thousands of people have found out.

|~||~||~|It’s no easy job getting out of Beirut, as thousands of people have found out. And if you are one of the lucky ones to make it, it’s going to cost you a fortune. I hear from friends that the most viable route is still the road between Beirut and Damascus, a 90km stretch. Despite being bombed, there are still a few detours that can assure you get into Syria from Lebanon. However, taxi drivers – fully aware of the dangers – have upped their prices for the journey to US$1000 a ride. Sadly, there have been plenty of takers.

As for the thousands of locals in Beirut envious of their foreign friends that were “rescued” by their respective governments, I hear that has been no cheap trip either. The US navy amazingly managed to charge passengers US$200 each for the journey from Beirut to Cyprus.

British citizens were slightly more fortunate, given free passage out of the city of either RAF helicopters or navy ships. But once in Cyprus, they were told to sort themselves out, including having to pay exorbitant amounts for flights out of Cyprus or hotel rooms in the city.


Last week I revealed that Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson is thinking of extending his Middle East adventure, with a route between London and Bahrain, via Dubai, now on the cards. His eagerness to push this plan may be something to do with the fact that every Virgin Atlantic flight between London and Dubai is now a complete sell-out. Last week, several lucky passengers were bumped up all the way from economy to upper class, just so that more travelers could come on board.


As the Formula One season draws to a climax, motor racing fans are turning their eyes again to the A1 Grand Prix series. Last year’s inaugural season was, by any measure, a huge success: the brilliant young Sheikh Maktoum created a sport out of nothing and now owns what many would consider a business worth at least US$500 million. The big question of course is what next? Luckily for the sport, television deals are in place for the coming season, with the likes of Sky Sports having agreed to pay up for another 12 months. But as yet, no sponsors are committing themselves to the sport for beyond that period. An AI GP source tells me: “This coming season is the big test. If we put on a good show, we will be heading for three-year deals with sponsors. And that means really big money.”

My own money is on the sport being worth over US$1 billion within a couple of years – and deservedly so.


Talking of sport, talks are already underway to try and lure a number of former soccer stars to the UAE for next year’s “Soccer Legends” tournament. Top of the hit list of former England and Spurs striker Gary Lineker – now a television presenter. I suspect Lineker will be free. He has rather a lot more time of his hands these days – his wife filed for divorce last week. ||**||

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