Starbucks says to close 61 Australian stores
Thursday, 31 July 2008

REUTERS, MELBOURNE- Starbucks Corp plans to shut 61 of its 85 coffee shops in Australia and focus its remaining operations on three major cities, the US company said on Tuesday, as part of a major belt-tightening program.

The Seattle-based chain, facing a US consumer slowdown, higher food costs and more competition, had said this month it would close 600 unprofitable outlets in the United States but would continue its expansion in international markets.

Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz portrayed the Australian move as a refocus of operations, not a retreat.

"We are well into the implementation phase of transforming Starbucks and we believe this difficult, yet necessary, decision to close stores in Australia will help support the continued growth of our international business," he said in a statement.

Starbucks first opened in Australia in 2000 as part of a rapid global expansion, but faced a highly competitive market with a well-entrenched coffee culture in the major cities.

The company said it would now refocus its operations on the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Gourmet coffee shops are already a common feature in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia's two biggest cities, where a cosmopolitan cafe culture has thrived since postwar Italian immigration introduced espresso to the nation in the 1950s.

Pakistani militants take hostage 30 police, troops(DC)  
REUTERS, MINGORA, Pakistan- Pro-Taliban militants attacked a security post and took up to 30 hostages on Tuesday in Pakistan's Swat valley, a day after insurgents killed three army intelligence staffers, officials said.

The incidents delivered the most serious blow yet to a peace deal signed two months ago in the northwestern valley, where militants have become more active in recent weeks because they say the government hasn't lived up to its side of the accord.

Swat had been a top tourist destination until militants, led by a radical cleric called Fazlullah, launched a campaign of violence last year to enforce Taliban-style Islamic law in the valley.

On Tuesday, they attacked a joint military-police post in the Kabal area, 35 km (22 miles) north-west of Mingora, Swat's main town, and captured 30 police and paramilitary personnel, according to officials, though a militant spokesman put the number at 27.

"They were asked to surrender or face death, and they gave up," the spokesman, Muslim Khan, told Reuters.

Two soldiers and a young girl were killed when security forces traded fire with militants around Kabal after the attack on the post. Security forces also arrested several suspects in a search of the village.

Late on Monday, insurgents ambushed and killed three intelligence officials as they were driving back to Mingora.

"We have killed them because people from the security agencies arrest our people and brutally torture them," the militant spokesman said.

Militants also torched a health office and exchanged fire with police in Matta, one of the militants' stronghold, on Tuesday.

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