Sunday, May 10, 2009

Billionaire Branson joins hunger strike

No tucker ... Richard Branson is on a three-day hunger strike to protest the situation in Darfur / Reuters

( -BILLIONAIRE Virgin boss Richard Branson is on a hunger strike.

He began the three-day fast after actress Mia Farrow, ailing after almost two weeks without food, asked him to take over her protest to show solidarity with people in Sudan's Darfur region.

More than a dozen aid agencies have been expelled from the region.

The British entrepreneur said he was "honoured" to take up the cause.

"This is the first time I've deprived my stomach to get political change," he told Entertainment Weekly.

"I'm a great believer in doing everything once in life. So it'll be interesting to see how one can cope. She said that if they haven't found anybody else to take over after three days they might extend it, so I'm hoping they get somebody else."

On the first evening, he admitted he was feeling the effects of no food.

"... I certainly could do with a decent meal already," he said. "I just had a couple games of chess with somebody who doesn't normally beat me, and he beat me both times.

"I've been walking around and expending lots of energy - all the things I shouldn't be doing. I'm trying not to be grumpy with friends. That's the key thing. And remembering what we're doing it for: There are people starving as a result of the government's decision to expel the aid agencies. And in four-day's time, I'll have a big meal whereas people in Darfur won't.

Branson said the hunger strike would continue to be handed from person to person.

"We cannot stand and watch as 1 million people suffer. We all need to stand up and demand that international aid is restored and that the people of Darfur are protected and given the chance to live in peace," he said.

A Farrow spokesman said her health had deteriorated in the past few days and her doctor requested that she end the liquids-only fast she began 12 days ago to protest at Khartoum's expulsion of more than a dozen aid agencies from Darfur.

Farrow's spokesman said last month that her doctor expected the slightly built actress could not fast for more than three weeks.

Farrow, who was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the UN children's agency UNICEF in 2000, has been campaigning for years to raise funds for children in conflict zones such as Darfur, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Chad and Nigeria.

The International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in March, charging him with masterminding mass killings and deportations in Darfur in western Sudan.

Since then, Sudan has expelled 13 foreign and three domestic humanitarian aid agencies, accusing them of collaborating with the Hague-based ICC.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his latest report on the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, that the expulsions had put "over one million people at life-threatening risk" in Darfur.

UN officials say that as many as 300,000 people have been killed and more than 2.7 million driven from their homes in Darfur in almost six years of ethnic and political violence.

Khartoum, however, says 10,000 people have died. Some 4.7 million people rely on humanitarian aid in Darfur.

- with Reuters

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