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Talk of exit from European Union raises alarm in Britain

LONDON — The leader of Britain’s biggest business lobby issued a stark warning Monday about the growing risk that the country will leave the European Union and urged British business executives who favor staying in the bloc to speak out in response to skeptics of further European integration.

In a clear illustration that business leaders are alarmed by the mushrooming debate over Britain’s future in Europe, the president of the Confederation of British Industry reiterated how strongly the country’s commercial interests were intertwined with those of the Continent.

“If we are to avoid an exit vote in any referendum,” the group’s president, Roger Carr, told the confederation’s annual conference in London, “it is essential that the voice of British business is loud and clear in extolling the virtues of future engagement — not as a reluctant participant but as the linchpin of our wider global trade ambitions.”

Emphasizing that Europe remained the market for half of all British exports, Carr added: “Whatever the popular appeal may be of withdrawal, businessmen and politicians must keep a bridge firmly in place. As countries of Europe bind together in pursuit of salvation, we in the U.K. must work harder to avoid the risks of isolation.”

—Stephen Castle, The New York Times

Karzai orders takeover of prison at Bagram

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai has ordered Afghan forces to take control of the U.S.-built Bagram Prison and accused U.S. officials of violating an agreement to fully transfer the facility to the Afghans, according to a statement issued by his office Monday.

The move came after what Karzai said was the expiration of a two-month grace period, agreed to by President Barack Obama in September, to complete the transfer of the prison, at the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul. The Afghan president convened a meeting Sunday of top officials to report on the prison’s status, which led to Monday’s statement, officials said.

Particularly at issue were 57 prisoners held there who had been acquitted by the Afghan courts but have been held by U.S. officials at the prison for more than a month in defiance of release orders, Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Karzai, said in an interview. Faizi said hundreds of new prisoners are being held by U.S. authorities in a closed-off section of the Bagram Prison, which the U.S. military calls the Detention Facility in Parwan.

—Rod Nordland, The New York Times

Airline fuel charges raise cost of business travel

Rising fuel surcharges have begun to become an issue in negotiations between airlines and corporate travel managers over the cost of airline tickets.

The charges were initially tied to the rising cost of fuel, but industry experts say they have turned into a way for airlines to increase fares.

“Airlines can use fuel surcharges as indirect fare hikes and masquerade them as fuel surcharges,” said Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of the Atmosphere Research Group and an airline and travel industry analyst in San Francisco.

“Airlines are quick to raise fuel surcharges when fuel costs increase, but slow to reduce the surcharges when fuel prices go down,” Harteveldt said. “It is a way for an airline to indirectly raise its fares without signaling to its competitors that it’s trying to raise fares. The base fare is almost a form of pricing camouflage.”

Corporate travel managers say that while they have begun to raise the issue with airlines, the surcharges themselves are not being discounted.

—Harriet Edleson, The New York Times