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Team China Plants Olympic Torch on Everest Peak

A team of climbers on a mission from China carried the Olympic torch to the summit of Mt. Everest on Thursday, fulfilling a long-held goal of Chinese government to have the Olympic flame lit atop the world’s highest mountain.

But overseas groups opposed to Chinese policies in Tibet denounced the event, saying the Chinese government was simply using the torch to bolster claims of sovereignty over what they say should be an independent country.

The ascent of the 29,035-foot Mt. Everest was the most ambitious leg of what is expected to be the longest Olympic torch relay in history. The torch that climbers carried to the top at 9:18 a.m. on Thursday was a side torch; the main torch is making its way through the southern province of Guangdong and will continue through every province of China before arriving in Beijing in August for the Summer Games.

The Chinese government has tried to maintain tight control over every aspect of the Everest climb. Officials brought a group of journalists to the base camp to help publicize the ascent while barring foreign climbing groups from any summit attempts during this period for fear of Tibet-related protests marring the torch relay, which has already been beset by anti-China protests in foreign cities.

Like Its American Rivals, Toyota Feels Slowdown in U.S.

Toyota Motor said Thursday that the slowdown in the U.S. economy would likely cause its first annual profit drop in nine years, accelerating a shift by it and other Asian car manufacturers into emerging markets like China, Latin America and the Middle East.

The shifting emphasis toward emerging markets is part of a broader trend in the industry, and underscores the declining stature of the United States in the global economy. Both Asian carmakers and American rivals like General Motors have seen a rising portion of sales in emerging markets that were not even a factor a decade ago.

Toyota, now in a dead heat with GM to be the world’s largest car company, said most of its recent profit growth has come in new markets like Brazil, China and Russia. It said the growth helped offset sluggish sales in the United States, traditionally Toyota’s largest and most profitable market, and other mature economies like Europe and Japan.

“Our profit structure has become more geographically balanced, with growing contributions from resource-rich countries and emerging countries,” Toyota’s president, Katsuaki Watanabe, said in a statement.

This shift has been partly driven by the faltering prospects of the United States market. Declining American sales, along with the weakening dollar and rising material prices, prompted Toyota to forecast a 27.2 percent decline in net profit to 1.25 trillion yen, or $12.5 billion, during the current fiscal year, which ends March 2009. Last month, Honda Motor projected an 18 percent drop in net profit this fiscal year, citing similar reasons.

Austrian Man Who Imprisoned Daughter Makes Comments

Josef Fritzl, the 73-year-old Austrian who imprisoned and raped his daughter for nearly a quarter century, said he knew his actions were wrong. But he denied he was a “beast,” and said he thought constantly about freeing her from the underground vault where she was locked up, along with three of her seven children, whom he fathered.

In his first public comments since being arrested last month — relayed by his lawyer and published in an Austrian magazine on Thursday — Fritzl offered a defense, by turns lurid and banal, of the indefensible. He also appeared to be laying the groundwork for a legal case based on his disturbed mental state.

“I constantly knew, during the entire 24 years, that what I did was not right, that I must have been crazy to do something like this,” the magazine quoted Fritzl as saying to his lawyer, Rudolf Mayer. “With each week that I held my daughter captive,” he said, “my situation got crazier.”

Still, while admitting a lifetime of unfathomable abuse, Fritzl also painted a picture of depraved domesticity.

“When I went into the bunker, I brought flowers for my daughter, and books and stuffed animals for the children,” he said. They watched adventure movies while his daughter, Elisabeth, cooked their favorite meals. “And then we all sat around the table and ate together,” he said.

European Central Bank Leaves Benchmark Rate Unchanged

The European Central Bank left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 4 percent on Thursday, saying that the region’s economy remained resilient despite nearly nine months of financial turmoil.

Also Thursday, the Bank of England kept its benchmark rate at 5 percent, pausing to study the effects of three interest rate cuts it has made since Dec. 6. Both decisions were expected.

The president of the European bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, said in Athens that information on business confidence, consumers’ mood and the service industries had been mixed, but that broadly, Europe had been largely untouched by the credit crisis and the slowdown in the United States.

“Latest data and survey information on economic activity confirm previous expectations of moderate but ongoing growth in the first half of 2008,” Trichet said. “Over all, the euro-area economy has sound fundamentals.”

While European stock markets have risen in recent weeks, the credit markets — particularly among banks — remain tense, reflecting uncertainty about whether the damage linked to the American mortgage market has run its course. Though sanguine, Trichet’s message fell short of the one given last week by the Bank of England, which hinted that financial assets backed by mortgages had become undervalued because of an overly gloomy outlook.