Reporters on the Job

• A TIGHT CORDON: When Phil Smucker heard that US forces had raided a nomad village outside Khost, Afghanistan, he raced out to see how things were going. The US commandos were just lifting off, but the nomads gave him a detailed report of the episode. Apparently everyone - including the temporary detainees - were well treated. But the sheep herders complained that the US forces had cut them no slack over the past 48 hours. "When our herders tried to cross over the hills to relieve themselves out of the sight of their womenfolk, the US commandos dove out of the long grass and tackled them," a village elder told Phil.

No one had seen Osama bin Laden in the village, which is in the southern foothills of Tora Bora. "But," Phil says, "a village elder chuckled at my question about the Al Qaeda chief: 'I hear he is a good man, a holy warrior, but I'm not sure if he is a man or an angel.' The headman, stroking his long, white beard, admitted that 'hundreds of Arabs' had passed through the village in December. He added: 'We pointed them in the direction of Pakistan and sent them on their way. What else could we do?' "

SURVEY SAYS ...

• EUROPE COMPARISON SHOPS: The dawn of the euro currency is removing the last vestiges of fog obscuring the vastly different prices for goods across Europe.

Now, with only one currency for 12 countries, The Associated Press reports that a can of Coca-Cola costs only 33 euro cents at a Madrid supermarket. But it costs 50 cents in Brussels, 56 cents in Dublin, 76 cents in Paris and 1.03 euros in Helsinki. (One euro is worth about 89 US cents)

In Belgium, the no-frills version of the Volkswagen Golf costs 12,159 euros. The price jumps to 15,827 euros in Finland before value-added tax is included.

By making comparisons easier, it is hoped, the euro will increase competition and push prices down in the long term. Still, some of the price differences are caused by national taxes and local regulations.

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