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Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

‘Major oil spill’ as rig sinks off US coast

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm

A blazing oil rig has sunk into the Gulf of Mexico, sparking fears of an environmental disaster two days after a massive blast that left 11 workers missing.


US maritime authorities said crude oil was pouring into the sea at the site where the hulking Deepwater Horizon rig once stood, though they were unable to determine at what rate.


In Washington, President Barack Obama said the federal response to the disaster “was being treated as the number one priority,” the White House said in a statement.


Obama “made sure that the entire federal government was offering all assistance needed in the rescue effort as well as in mitigating and responding to the environmental impact,” the statement read.

US Coast Guard issued photo shows fire boat response crews battling the blazing remains of an oil rig off the Louisiana coastline.

Officials said that before the explosion there were 700,000 gallons (2.6 million liters) of diesel fuel on board the semi-submersible platform and it had been drilling 8,000 barrels, or 336,000 gallons, of oil a day.


“This is considered a major oil spill,” Mike O’Berry, a US Coast Guard senior chief petty officer, told AFP.


The Coast Guard said a one mile by five mile slick had settled on the surface some 45 miles (70 kilometers) offshore as a massive clean-up operation gets under way to prevent the oil from hitting land in the Gulf states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.


Coast Guard vessels continued their search late Thursday for the 11 missing workers, while British oil giant BP, which leased the platform, dispatched a fleet of boats to try to keep environmental damage in check.


Officials said the current spill had the potential to be the worst seen in the United States since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill, considered one of the worst man-made environmental disasters.


That spill, vastly bigger than the current one in the US Gulf, poured nearly 11 million gallons of crude into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, devastating some 750 miles (1,300 kilometers) of its once pristine shores.


If oil leaks and the spill escapes containment efforts, Louisiana‘s sensitive coast would be at risk for ecological damage. Wild birds, breeding grounds for shrimp, and oyster beds would also be threatened. Should a spill reach shore, birds could be covered in the slick.


O’Berry said US authorities were deploying several oil-skimming vessels to try to limit the pollution.


The Coast Guard sent a mini-submarine equipped with cameras to determine the oil flow into the ecologically fragile Gulf, home to a vast array of waterfowl and other wildlife.


Before the rig sank into the ocean, oil fires raged for more than a day and a half following a spectacular explosion late Tuesday that sent huge balls of flame leaping into the night sky.


The now submerged oil rig measuring 396-by-256 feet (121-by-78 meters) is owned by Houston, Texas-based contractor Transocean, Ltd. and under contract to BP.


Transocean confirmed late Thursday that it had not been possible “to stem the flow of hydrocarbons prior to the rig sinking,” raising fears that thousands more gallons of crude will pollute the Gulf waters before the flow is contained.


“We are working closely with BP Exploration & Production, Inc. and the US Coast Guard to determine the impact from the sinking of the rig and the plans going forward,” the company said.


It added that “the US Coast Guard has plans in place to mitigate any environmental impact from this situation.”

Transocean vice president Adrian Rose said earlier that the rig likely suffered a blowout while drilling through rock at BP’s Macondo prospect, although investigations into the exact cause of the accident are ongoing.

Meanwhile rescue crews scoured the Gulf waters for sign of the 11 missing workers.

Seventeen workers were airlifted to hospital on Wednesday after suffering broken bones, burns and smoke inhalation in the explosion on the mobile rig. Four remained in critical condition.

But there was no sign of the missing workers and it remained unclear whether they made it safely into one of the rig’s lifeboats.

“We’re going to continue to search as long as there is a reasonable probability of finding them alive,” Coast Guard spokeswoman Ashley Butler told AFP, adding that weather conditions were favorable for the search.

Transocean’s Rose said the missing workers “may have been unable to evacuate” once the rig exploded.

Transocean is the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor, with a fleet of 140 mobile offshore drilling units, in addition to three ultra-deepwater units under construction.

A total of 126 people were onboard the platform at the time of the explosion, 79 of them Transocean staff, six BP personnel and 41 contractors.

Source: SGGP

Euro at one year low, Greek woes hit Asia stocks

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Greece’s debt crisis weighed on sentiment Friday, with Asian markets mostly lower and the euro hitting a one-year low after the European Union raised its estimate for the country’s deficit.


A weak lead from Wall Street was unable to provide any impetus for dealers after US unemployment data showed people were still struggling to get back on the jobs ladder.


Europe’s statistics agency said Greece‘s 2009 public deficit stood at 13.6 percent of output instead of the previously forecast 12.9 percent, and added that this could rise due to poor data reporting from Athens.


The problem was stoked further when risk evaluator Moody?s Investors Service downgraded its rating on Greece’s debt.

A trader walks through the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

The rates demanded by Greece’s lenders later jumped above 8.5 percent.


The developments hammered the euro, which fell to 1.3202 dollars at 8:02 am (2302 GMT Thursday) in Tokyo, its lowest since April 30, 2009 before trimming losses to 1.3235 in the afternoon. It had traded at 1.3289 dollars in New York late Thursday.


Against the yen, the euro fell to 123.63 from 124.23 in New York. The dollar traded at 93.43 yen, slightly lower than 93.46 in New York.


The revision came as Athens tried to broker the terms of a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund to avert a possible debt payment default caused by the soaring interest rates.


“Markets have become more nervous about the negotiations between Greek, IMF and EU officials and the potential for contagion if these negotiations fall through,” Barclays Capital said in a note to clients.


“EU and IMF officials are not likely going to agree to a bailout package without Greece agreeing to significant fiscal restructuring,” the investment bank said. “This becomes more likely as financial conditions worsen in Greece.”


The deepening crisis has upped pressure on other eurozone members such as Ireland, Spain and Portugal, who all face similar problems and whose dangers were highlighted by the IMF Wednesday.


Asian stocks were lower as dealers became more risk-averse.


Tokyo closed 0.32 percent, or 34.63 points, lower at 10,914.46 as exporters were hurt by the strengthening yen.


Sydney gave up 0.53 percent, or 25.9 points, to close at 4,881.5.


Hong Kong fell 0.77 percent by the break and Singapore lost 0.26 percent.


Shanghai lost 0.60 percent as investors remained worried over recent policy measures taken to curb speculation in the real estate market, dealers said.


“Property and bank stocks will likely remain sluggish with the overhang of policy tightening concerns,” Guosen Securities analyst Wang Junqing told Dow Jones Newswires.


Shares in New York were flat after the Labor Department on Thursday reported new claims for unemployment insurance benefits fell five percent last week after a fortnight of increases.

“The actual level of claims is still quite high, and although the trend in claims could support the notion that the labour market has stabilised, it does not support the notion that there has been a strong pickup in hiring activity,” said Patrick O’Hare at Briefing.com.

Eyes were also on the United States, where President Barack Obama slammed Wall Street for greed but called for help from the “titans of industry” in overhauling the financial system to avoid another financial crisis.

“We will not always see eye to eye. We will not always agree. But that does not mean we have to choose between two extremes,” he said, calling for new, “common sense” rules to quell abuses but retaining the “power of the free market.”

Markets are also awaiting weekend G20 talks in the United States, where a global “Tobin tax” on financial transactions and the Chinese yuan‘s peg to the dollar will likely be discussed.

Oil was lower, with New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in June, off 26 cents at 83.44 dollars a barrel. Brent North Sea crude for June dropped 37 cents to 85.30 dollars.

Gold opened at 1,139.00-1,140 US dollars an ounce in Hong Kong, down from Thursday’s close of 1,148.50-1,149.50 dollars.

In other markets:

– Seoul closed 0.14 percent, or 2.49 points, lower at 1,737.03.

Taipei closed up 0.33 percent, or 26.20 points, at 8,004.89.

Hon Hai rose 1.41 percent to 144.5 Taiwan dollars and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co was up 0.17 percent to 61.7.

– Manila closed 0.21 percent, or 6.88 points, higher at 3,244.45.

Dealers said trade was cautious ahead of presidential elections on May 10.

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. was steady at 2,445 pesos while A and B shares of San Miguel Corp. were also unchanged at 73.50 pesos and 74 pesos, respectively.

– Wellington rose 0.43 percent, or 14.20 points, to 3,301.66.

Telecom added 0.5 percent to 2.19 New Zealand dollars, while Contact Energy added 0.7 percent to 6.22.

Fletcher Building edged up 0.1 percent to 8.44.

Source: SGGP

Microsoft profit soars with Windows 7 sales

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 2:27 pm

US software giant Microsoft has said that revenues surged to a record high in the recent quarter as Windows 7 operating system succeeded where its predecessor failed.


operating system succeeded where its predecessor failed.


Microsoft reported that its net profit in the quarter ending March 31 climbed 35 percent to 4.01 billion dollars.


The firm’s revenue hit a record 14.50 billion dollars in the quarter, up six percent over the same period a year ago.


“Windows 7 continues to be a growth engine, but we also saw strong growth in other areas like Bing search, Xbox Live and our emerging cloud services,” said Microsoft chief financial officer Peter Klein on Thursday.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (right) is joined by a Windows project manager at an electronics show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Microsoft said revenue from its Windows computer operating system was up 28 percent over a year ago, driven by strong demand for the latest version, Windows 7.


“Business customers are beginning to refresh their desktops and the momentum of Windows 7 continues to be strong,” chief operating officer Kevin Turner said.


Strong profit due to droves flocking to Microsoft’s new operating system is a strong sign of the pent-up demand created when people shunned its predecessor Vista.


Microsoft released Windows 7 to the world in October as it tried to regain its stride after an embarrassing stumble with Vista.


While computer users may not give much thought to operating systems that serve as the brains of their machines, the programs are at the heart of Microsoft’s global software empire.


Microsoft operating systems run more than 90 percent of the world’s computers.


The failure of Vista to catch on hurt Microsoft competitively, giving Apple the opportunity to woo PC users to Mac.


Apple reported stellar quarterly earnings this week, citing factors that included lots of people buying Macintosh machines for the first time.


Microsoft apparently learned a lesson from Vista and worked closely with computer makers, users and software developers while crafting Windows 7.


Some say consumers snatching up Windows 7 or machines pre-loaded with the software is a sign that the economy is on the mend.


“Microsoft is a phenomenal bellwether for technology spending,” analyst Rob Enderle said. “If they go up, it is one of the strongest indications that the tech market is improving.”


Windows 7 is installed on more than 10 percent of computers worldwide, making it the fastest selling operating system in Microsoft’s history, according to Klein.


Data released by industry-tracker IDC shows that personal computer sales rebounded at the end of last year and that momentum has carried into 2010.


Further good news for the technology industry came in the form of computer chip titan Intel nearly quadrupling its profit in the first three months of this year.

“We are encouraged by improving market conditions taking shape,” Klein said during an earnings webcast.

Wall Street had anticipated strong earnings from Microsoft since computer sales appeared to be picking up.

“Increased earnings in an improving but still troubled market is always good news,” Enderle said. “But we are not out of the woods yet.”

March was the 10th consecutive month of slight gains in search share for Bing, which Microsoft unveiled in June accompanied by a 100-million-dollar advertising campaign in a bid to challenge search juggernaut Google.

Bing’s share of the US search market rose to 11.7 percent in March from 11.5 percent in February, according to Web analytics firm comScore.

Google remained the overwhelming leader of the lucrative US search and advertising market with 65.1 percent in March.

Microsoft saw online advertising revenue climb 19 percent and expects its growth to outpace the overall market. Klein said the benefits of a deal to use Bing for searches on Yahoo! should begin kicking in later this year.

Yahoo! and Microsoft unveiled a 10-year Web search and advertising partnership in July that set the stage for a joint offensive against Google.

Microsoft is still losing more money than it makes in online operations, spending a lot of cash to gain ground in search advertising, according to financial analyst blogger Henry Blodget.

Source: SGGP

Power shortage weighs down Vietnam

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 12:24 pm

With hydropower plants running drier than ever before, unpredictable, day-long power cuts have been punishing Vietnam’s business sector.

Hoa Binh, one of the largest hydropower plants in northern Vietnam, is not operating at maximum capacity due to a water shortage (Photo: Lao Dong)

Can Tho Industrial Zone and Export Processing Zone Management Board representative Vo Thanh Hung said that regular power cuts had drastically cut production levels at major facilities in the Mekong Delta city, the western region’s major economic, commercial and industrial hub.


He said the electricity industry had not been informing businesses of power cuts in advance.


He also said that the board had been trying to contact officials at Can Tho Electricity to discuss the problems, but the company had not responded.


Well runs dry


According to the Electricity Regulatory Authority of Vietnam at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the power shortage will be worse this year than last, especially in May and June, the peak months of the dry seasons, because several new energy projects, including hydropower plants, were behind their construction schedules.


Dang Hoang An, deputy general director of Vietnam Electricity (EVN) said that Vietnam’s three largest hydropower plants, Hoa Binh, Thac Ba and Tuyen Quang, are operating at their lowest output levels ever this year.


EVN has been forced to limit the output of its 20 large plants due to low reservoir and general water levels.


Power demand in April, May and June is expected to reach 285-300 million kwh per day while the maximum output that EVN’s plants can generate is just 270-285 million kwh a day.


As a result, the national electricity system will lack about 10-15 million kwh daily.


The heat is on

Many localities in the central city of Da Nang experienced power cuts while it was 36-37 degrees Celsius on April 22.


Pham Hong Chien, director of Da Nang City’s Department of Health, said that hospitals and health clinics had not been exempt from the cuts and were often without electricity for 6 to 12 hours a day.


Although they have power generators, the health facilities must conserve if they want to meet the full day’s demand, she said.


Many district hospitals in Thua Thien-Hue Province are also using generators to cope with the power failure.


Business owners said that the Thua Thien-Hue Electricity Company had cut power without warning, bringing the local business and production sector to a grinding halt.


Hundreds of businesses in the southern province of Binh Duong 2 jostled to rent generators on April 22 after it was announced that a long-term power cut would ensue beginning April 23.


Nguyen Trung Thu, deputy director of Binh Duong Electricity, said power blackouts occurred twice weekly from 6am to 10pm, making it difficult for residents and local businesses to work and plan their days.

Source: SGGP

Vedan snubs farmers by lowering compensation offer

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 8:48 am

In a slap to the face of the farmers and working people of Vietnam, Vedan Vietnam, a wholly Taiwanese-owned firm, has lowered its offer of compensation to farmers whose land it destroyed to just over 5 percent of the sum requested.

Thi Vai River has been seriously polluted by plants located along its banks.


The company said it is now willing to pay only VND8.4 billion (US$442,000) to farmers in the southern province of Dong Nai after the local farmers’ association rejected it last offer of VND15 billion in April last year. The company had initially only offered only VND7 billion.


The sums are paltry compared to the VND1.6 trillion in damages the Dong Nai farmers say the pollution caused to 5,046 families. The association has rejected the new offer as too low.


Government inspectors in September 2008 discovered that Vedan Vietnam had been dumping 105.6 million liters of untreated wastewater into the Thi Vai River each month for 14 years via a secret pipeline. The pollution had destroyed seafood farms and agricultural land along the river in Dong Nai, Ba-Ria Vung Tau Province and Ho Chi Minh City. 


Since the violation was uncovered, Vedan has paid VND267.5 million ($14,000) in fines and closed down four of its factories.


But it has paid no compensation to the farmers who lost land, crops and seafood to the pollution.


The farmers’ associations in Dong Nai, Ho Chi Minh City and Ba Ria-Vung Tau have all sued the company for compensation.


According to the HCMC Farmers Association, 839 families engaged in aquaculture suffered VND107 billion in losses due to the pollution.


The Ba Ria – Vung Tau Farmers Association reported over VND191 billion in losses suffered by 1,134 families thanks to Vedan.


 

Source: SGGP

China to OK new UN sanctions against Iran: Biden

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 8:46 am

 US Vice President Joe Biden has said that China will sign on to new UN sanctions on Iran, and predicted new measures to punish Tehran’s nuclear program could be agreed by the end of this month.


Biden also said in an interview with the ABC program “The View” that Israel would not mount a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities without the permission of the United States.


Washington has been trying to persuade key Security Council member China for months to accept toughened sanctions. Beijing has agreed to join talks at the UN on a toughened regime, but has yet to make its position clear.

US Vice President Joe Biden has said that China will agree to a new round of UN sanctions against Iran over its suspect nuclear activities, despite having long held out against the move.

But Biden said: “China will agree to sanctions,” on “The View” an ABC television show.


“This is the first time the entire world is unified that Iran is out of bounds… they are more isolated than they’ve ever been, with their own people and within the region.”


Biden also gave a more explicit timeline on Iran sanctions than Washington has previously offered.


“I believe you’ll see a sanctions regime coming out by the end of this month, the beginning of next month.”


China has invested heavily in Iran’s energy sector and filled the vacuum left by Western firms that have pulled out in the face of US sanctions and political pressure from US allies against companies doing business with Tehran.


Some of President Barack Obama‘s critics have argued however that the price for China’s support will be watering down the sanctions, which will be far from the “crippling” set of measures that the Obama administration once sought.


Israel and the West accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of what Tehran insists is an energy program for civilian, not military, purposes.


Hopes that China would join sanctions against Iran rose last week after Obama met Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of a global nuclear summit in Washington.


Hu’s entourage said after the talks that Washington and Beijing shared the “same overall goal” on Iran, after months of US efforts to secure Chinese cooperation on “biting” new sanctions.


Biden also used the appearance on “The View” to state that Israel, which has tense ties with the Obama White House, and which considers Iran an existential threat, would not attack the Islamic republic without US permission.


“They’re not going to do that,” Biden said.


“They’ve agreed the next step is the step we — the president of the United States — has initiated in conjunction with the European powers, the NATO powers, with what they call the P5+1.”


The P5+1 groups the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany.


“We’re going to continue to keep the pressure on Iran,” Biden vowed.


“They are not a monolith,” he said about Iran. “They are a fragile government and they’re some distance from having that capacity.”

He also insisted that President Barack Obama‘s administration would be successful in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“The president said our intention is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear capacity,” Biden said. “We believe we’ll be able to do that.”

The package of new sanctions, already endorsed by Washington’s European allies, would include a full arms embargo, a ban on new investments in Iran’s energy sector, restrictions on shipping and finance, and sanctions targeting the business interests of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, sources said.

Diplomats say they expect weeks of hard-nosed bargaining before a text — likely to be toned down to make it palatable to the Chinese and the Russians — can be brought to a vote by the full 15-member Security Council.

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Source: SGGP

Thai police tell Reds to retreat after grenade attacks

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 8:44 am

Thai police sought Friday to push back anti-government “Red Shirts” from a confrontation zone in Bangkok after deadly grenade attacks further stoked tensions in the long-running political standoff.


Hundreds of riot police, unarmed but carrying shields and batons, moved on the heavily fortified barricades which form the front line of the Reds’ vast encampment that has paralysed the main retail district in the heart of Bangkok.


“Police asked protesters to move their barricade some 100 metres… to ease the confrontation but so far there is no agreement,” Major General Anuchai Lekbumrung of Bangkok Metropolitan Police told AFP.


“There will more talks this afternoon,” he said after police later withdrew from the barricades, a three-metre (10-foot) high wall of car tyres, sharpened bamboo staves and plastic sheeting which has also been doused with fuel.

Red Shirt anti-government protesters are seen next to their barricades during a face-off with riot police at the Silom road intersection, in central Bangkok’s financial district early on April 23

The action came after five grenade blasts hit the area on Thursday night, targeting hundreds of pro-government supporters in attacks that left one Thai woman dead and scores wounded, including foreigners.


It was the latest bloodshed on the streets of Bangkok in the weeks-long standoff between the government and Red Shirts, and triggered alarm in the international community which issued urgent calls for for restraint.


Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the grenades were fired from within the sprawling Red Shirt encampment, but leaders of the protest movement — who are campaigning for snap elections — denied they were responsible.


“The bomb attacks last night have nothing to do with our movement, we still adhere to a policy of non-violence,” said Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikuar, accusing the government of orchestrating the blasts.


Nattawut told demonstrators to prepare for a crackdown by security forces, which have warned time is running out for Red Shirts who have staged rolling street rallies since mid-March.


“The authorities are trying to push in,” Nattawut told the crowd from a rally stage, where live pop music was playing to entertain a dancing crowd despite Thursday’s bloodshed.


The grenade blasts came after a failed attempt by authorities on April 10 to disperse the Red Shirts, sparking clashes that left 25 people dead and more than 800 injured in the worst civil unrest in almost two decades.


Suthep had said three were killed in the blasts, but emergency services and the health ministry said Friday that only one person was killed, a Thai woman.


The number of injured was put at between 78 and 85, including up to four foreigners — an Australian man, an American, a Japanese citizen, and an Indonesian.


Ambulances rushed away bloodied victims after the grenades exploded at a station in the elevated Skytrain network, outside the exclusive Dusit Thani hotel and near a bank, causing panic on the streets.


The crowd of hundreds of government supporters, neatly dressed people of all ages who had been peacefully singing to Thai folk music and waving national flags, scattered into the night taking their injured with them.


The blast scene was littered with pools of blood along with abandoned shoes and Thai flags, in an area dotted with dozens of corporate towers as well as a notorious red-light district.


Clashes later broke out between riot police and hardcore pro-government demonstrators who had hurled bottles at their Reds rivals, triggering cat-and-mouse chases as police pursued the agitators through narrow alleys.


The United Nations appealed for restraint and several nations including the United States issued travel warnings for Thailand, which has been in turmoil since former premier Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a 2006 coup.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said the world body’s chief Ban Ki-moon was “very concerned about the continuing standoff and tension in Thailand and the potential for this to escalate.”

The army this week signalled it was preparing to crack down on the Red Shirts, and warned that security forces would use tear gas and live ammunition in any new clashes.

The Reds, drawn from the ranks of the rural poor as well as increasing numbers of urban working class, are mostly supporters of Thaksin, who is now living in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.

They say the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is illegitimate because it came to power in a parliamentary vote at the end of 2008 after a court ruling removed Thaksin’s allies from office.

Source: SGGP

Allied leader says Afghan war effort now on track

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 8:40 am

 NATO‘s top official said Friday the 28-nation alliance is on track with its new strategy for winding down the war in Afghanistan next year, despite security setbacks and a continuing shortage of foreign trainers for the fledgling Afghan police and army.


NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen offered a mostly upbeat assessment to a gathering of allied foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who are assessing what will be required to meet the goal — first laid out by President Barack Obama last December — of transitioning to Afghan control next summer.


“Increasingly this year the momentum will be ours,” he said.


Fogh Rasmussen asserted that the Afghan government, which has been hampered by a Taliban insurgency, political corruption, a dysfunctional economy and a dependence on foreign assistance, is starting to take more responsibility for running the country’s affairs.


“We are preparing to begin the process of handing over leadership, where conditions allow, back to the Afghan people,” he said. “The future of this mission is clear and visible: more Afghan capability and more Afghan leadership.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, center, gestures during a group photo at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Tallinn, Estonia, Thursday, April 22, 2010.

During Friday’s meeting, which was closed to the press after Fogh Rasmussen made brief introductory remarks, Clinton was expected to press other NATO nations to provide more trainers for Afghanistan’s police and military forces as part of preparations to withdraw Western troops from there by summer 2011.


Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday that an additional 450 trainers are needed for Afghanistan’s security forces. Insufficient numbers of foreign trainers has plagued the U.S.-led war effort for years, although the shortfall has narrowed in recent months.


NATO’s assessment of its exit strategy comes just five months after Obama sharply escalated troop strength in the rugged mountain nation to challenge a resurgent Taliban movement.


NATO has struggled, in some cases, to coordinate military operations with Afghan civilian authorities and agencies.


In a speech Thursday before the two-day NATO meeting began, Fogh Rasmussen called Afghanistan the most challenging military operation undertaken by NATO in its history.


NATO was founded 61 years ago this month with the signing of a treaty of collective defense against a feared land invasion by the Soviet Union.


Today, Fogh Rasmussen said, instability in places far from Europe can threaten NATO member states.


“We all want to see a stable and secure Afghanistan — an Afghanistan that is no longer a threat to its region and to the rest of the world,” he said in his speech Thursday. “We will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to achieve that goal. We want to continue to empower the Afghans. And gradually hand over to them greater responsibility for the security of their own country when conditions permit.”


During Thursday’s talks, Clinton ruled out an early withdrawal of about 200 short-range U.S. nuclear weapons from bases in five European countries.


She said any reductions should be tied to a negotiated nuclear pullback by Russia, which has far more of the weapons in range of European targets.


No such talks are in the offing, and Moscow has shown little interest thus far in bargaining away its tactical nuclear arms.


Clinton also said the Obama administration wants NATO to accept missile defense as a core mission of the alliance.


The U.S. sees anti-missile systems as part of a broader effort to combat the dangers posed by nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and the rockets that can deliver them.

Some European members of NATO, including Germany, have said it’s time for the U.S. to withdraw its remaining Cold War-era nuclear weapons from Europe and cite Obama’s pledge in Prague last year to seek a nuclear-free world.

Late last year, Germany was joined by NATO members Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Luxembourg in requesting that the nuclear issue be put on the agenda of the Tallinn meeting.

But some newer NATO members in central and eastern Europe, which lay within Moscow’s orbit during the Cold War, oppose a U.S. nuclear withdrawal. They argue that the presence of the weapons is the surest guarantee of their territorial integrity.

Fogh Rasmussen told reporters here that U.S. nuclear weapons play a vital defensive role in Europe and should not be removed as long as other countries possess them.

“I do believe that the presence of the American nuclear weapons in Europe is an essential part of a credible deterrent,” Fogh Rasmussen said.

Source: SGGP

G-20 officials convene for talks on global economy

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 8:37 am

 Finance officials from the world’s major countries believe the global economy is in far better shape than it was a year ago, but they are worried that a growing debt crisis in Greece could cause the hard-won gains to unravel.


Some are also concerned about the failure so far to achieve consensus on the steps needed to toughen regulations to make sure the financial crisis that triggered the worst recession since the 1930s is not repeated.


Finance ministers and the heads of central banks from the Group of 20 major economies were to participate in daylong talks Friday at the International Monetary Fund. The G-20 is composed of the world’s richest industrial countries and fast-growing developing nations such as China, Brazil, South Korea and Russia.


The United States was being represented by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. The talks Friday were being held in advance of weekend meetings of key policymaking boards of the 186-nation IMF and its sister lending institution, the World Bank.


The administration is hoping the G-20 will endorse a set of financial reforms that will complement the sweeping overhaul that President Barack Obama is seeking to get approved in Congress. The U.S. measure was scheduled for an initial showdown vote in the Senate on Monday.


The administration believes the United States, the world’s largest economy, must show resolve in fixing the flaws exposed by the financial crisis or the momentum for global reform could falter. However, the G-20 nations were finding it tough to reach a consensus in a number of key areas, including a call by the IMF to boost taxes on financial institutions to pay for future bailouts.


Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Thursday, “I’m not going to impose a tax on our banks that performed well during the crisis.”


In addition to overhauling rules governing banks’ capital and liquidity standards and the regulation of exotic financial instruments such as derivatives, the finance officials were also scheduled to discuss efforts to assemble an IMF support package to rescue debt-burdened Greece.


Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou was scheduled to meet with IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Saturday. Greece is seeking support from European governments and the IMF for a standby rescue package that it hopes it will not need.


But with investors demanding punishingly high interest rates, the chances that Greece will get by without an IMF-supported rescue seemed increasingly remote.


“It’s clear that the Greek situation is a very serious one,” Strauss-Kahn told reporters Thursday. “There is no single way, no silver bullet to solve it in an easy manner.”


French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, speaking to a Washington think-tank late Thursday, said she was confident Greece would be able to successfully implement an austerity program full of “very hard and harsh measures” being demanded by the other governments as a condition for support.


The G-20 talks were being held at a time when the global economy is showing signs of improvement. The IMF released a new outlook for the meetings that forecast growth this year of 4.2 percent, significantly better than the 0.6 percent drop in activity last year, the biggest plunge in the post-World War II period.


Strauss-Kahn, however, cautioned that the recovery was still “fragile,” with wide discrepancies between different regions. China, now the world’s third-largest economy, and other emerging Asian economic powers are surging ahead, followed by more moderate growth projected for this year in the United States and sluggish growth expected in much of Europe.


The Group of 24, composed of finance officials from developing nations in Africa, Latin America and Asia, issued its own communique Thursday, calling on the rich nations to avoid erecting protectionist trade barriers to deal with the economic slump.


They also said the IMF and World Bank should overhaul their governing structures to give greater voice to developing nations, a move that Obama and other G-20 leaders endorsed at a leaders’ summit last September in Pittsburgh.


The G-20 leaders will meet again in June in Toronto. The discussions among the finance officials were designed to make progress on the financial reform plan that will be presented to the leaders.


The finance officials were also debating ways to meet another goal set by leaders of pursuing more balanced global growth. Countries such as the United States are expected to show how they plan to narrow their trade and budget deficits while surplus countries such as China were expected to present plans for boosting domestic growth and relying less on exports.

The Obama administration has been urging China to allow its currency to rise in value against the dollar, a move American manufacturers contend would narrow the trade gap between the two nations and save U.S. jobs. The Chinese have responded with their own complaints about the lack of a credible Obama plan to control U.S. budget deficits that have climbed above $1 trillion annually. China is the largest foreign holder of U.S.-government debt.

Source: SGGP

Fruit farm tourism in focus

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 at 4:15 pm




Fruit farm tourism in focus


QĐND – Thursday, April 22, 2010, 21:42 (GMT+7)

A national seminar held in Tien Giang province on April 21 focused on developing the agricultural sector by linking it closer with the tourist industry.


At the event, managers, entrepreneurs and researchers discussed garden tourism in the Mekong Delta. They exposed weaknesses such as poor infrastructure, uninteresting and lacklustre services, unprofessional staff, and accommodation and entertainments that lacked sufficient investment.


The model of fruit farm tourism has developed quickly in the Mekong Delta recently, with hundreds of eco-tourism sites set up in Tien Giang, Ben Tre, and Vinh Long.


Such locations offer tourists fresh air, tasty fruits, traditional cuisine, and the chance to go fishing or boating and listen to local musicians.


Participants in the seminar agreed that more attention should be given to planning, regional coordination, human resource development, and marketing investment from both domestic and foreign sources.


Source: VOV


Source: QDND

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