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Archive for December 18th, 2009|Daily archive page

US finances loans for HIV patients, caregivers

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2009 at 2:15 pm

People living with HIV and caregivers of orphans and vulnerable children will receive loans to start small businesses under a US government program launched December 17.

In total, 750 Vietnamese, many of whom are women who support at least five other family members, will benefit from the program being implemented by the US President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

750 Vietnamese, many of whom are women, will benefit from the program being implemented by the US President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

Seven provinces and cities will be targeted including northern Quang Ninh, Hai Phong, and Ha Noi; the central province of Nghe An; the Mekong delta provinces of Can Tho, and An Giang; and Ho Chi Minh City.

Each loan recipient will receive an average of US$450 over the next 12 months, for a total of US$300,000 provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) under PEPFAR. 

The program, implemented by Vietnam’s Women’s Union with management support from UNAIDS, will provide training on small business management and related skills.

A loan will be considered successful if at least 40 percent is repaid in the first year and at least 80 percent is repaid after three years.

Food security indicators and an assessment tool will be developed and used to assess food insecurity and refer potential beneficiaries for loan consideration. Loan beneficiaries will also be accepted from local Women’s Unions and People Living with HIV self-help groups.

Before receiving the loan, beneficiaries will work with project staff to develop feasible business plans, which include a timeline for re-paying all funds within three years. USAID funding will be used as a revolving fund to reach more beneficiaries in the coming years.

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Hanoi photographer wins environmental contest

In Vietnam Culture on December 18, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Tran Minh of Hanoi won the first prize in a photography contest titled “Environment and the poor” with a picture of disadvantaged children in a village classroom titled Lop hoc vung cao (Upland classroom).

The photo titled Lop hoc vung cao (Upland classroom) by Tran Minh.

Second prizes went to Huy diet (Extermination) by Nguyen Hoang Hai of Hanoi and Xom nha san (Hamlet of poor people’s houses on stilts) by Duong Cam of Ho Chi Minh City.

The organizers, the Vietnam Photographers’ Association, also awarded three third prizes and five encouragement prizes and chose 91 pictures as reference material.

All the winners received their awards at a ceremony in Hanoi December 16.

The contest, launched three months ago, received more than 2,600 entries from 368 photographers around the country.

The contest was held as part of a Vietnam-Denmark environmental program and sought to raise people’s awareness of environmental protection and the living standards of people, especially the poor and disadvantaged.

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Hanoi charity concert to raise money for disabled children

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2009 at 2:13 pm

A charity concert featuring Vietnamese and international classical music and Christmas songs at the Hanoi Opera House December 19 will raise funds for disabled children.


Saxophonist Quyen Thien Dac (L) and his father, saxophonist Quyen Van Minh (Photo:TTO)

Famous saxophonist Quyen Thien Dac; soprano Xuan Thanh who has won many prizes at singing contests in Russia and the US; a choir from the Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for the Blind; The Hope, a group of blind children who play traditional music; and talented young pianist Vu Dang Minh Anh, who won the third prize at the Val Tidone International Music Competitions in Italy last June, will perform in the concert.

Ms. Anh, born in Poland in 1994, is currently studying at the Karol Szymanowski National Music School and American School of Warsaw in Warsaw. Despite her tender age, she has already won numerous awards at international contests in France, Spain, Poland, and Italy.

She will perform masterpieces by composers like Beethoven, Liszt, and Chopin as well as her own  composition, “Somewhere over the Clouds,” which won the first prize in a music competition held by her school in November.

The concert will be organized by the Investment Consultancy, Business Assistance, Ltd (ICBA), and Hanoi Relief Association for Disabled Children.

Mr. Dac and his father Quyen Van Minh will also play the saxophone at a Christmas concert at the Hanoi Opera House on December 18 and 19.

The Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and Japanese pianist Yamashita Yosuke will perform at the event under the baton of Japan’s Tetsuji Honna.

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Fresh ideas needed to boost Mekong tourism

In Vietnam Travel on December 18, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Despite a decade of development, the Mekong Delta’s tourism industry has failed to show robust growth. Uninspired tourist packages, limited advertising, a lack of tourism investment promotion and poor human resources training, all plague the industry.

Tourists visit Cai Rang Floating Market in Can Tho City. To keep visitors coming back, the Mekong Delta tourism sector needs to diversify tour packages and highlight each province’s strongest attractions. (Photo: SGGP)

Thus, most tourists who visit, never return.

The Mekong Delta is a large and heavily populated region with a warm climate and few natural disasters. In addition, its natural beauty and abundant waterways makes the area an attractive eco-tourism destination.

However, experts say these attributes have not been taken advantage of. According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the number of visitors to the Mekong Delta in 2008 accounted for just 8 percent compared to other regions visited in the country.

On average, foreign tourists spend just one day in the region while Vietnamese tourists stay an average of two days.

In 2004, the Tien Giang Tourist Company began offering fishing tours. One week later, other eco-tourism companies began offering the same packages.

Now, visiting fruit gardens, rowing boats, fishing, and traditional music performances appear as part of nearly every tour.

This has led to unhealthy competition amongst businesses who try to offer the lowest prices and ultimately end up sacrificing service.

At a seminar on sustainable development for Mekong Delta tourism held recently in Can Tho, Dr. Dinh Van Hanh from the Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts, Ho Chi Minh Sub-Institute said that because most tours are the same, travelers have no reason to return after their first visit.

To address the lack of creativity, HCMC tour operators proposed developing an excursion that would take visitors through more of the Mekong Delta provinces, highlighting the different attractions of each area. Moreover, each province would benefit financially.

However, the program failed to take flight as many thought it would be too expensive to instigate the tour and companies didn’t like the idea of sharing profits. 

Cultural, historic attractions overlooked

The Mekong Delta lacks an abundance of famous landscapes as compared to the central and northern regions. However, it boasts many interesting architectural works and historical relics like Doi Pagoda in Soc Trang Province, Binh Thuy Communal House in Can Tho City, and Ba Om Pond in Tra Vinh Province to name a few.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Mekong Delta has 150 national cultural and historical relics in all.

In addition, the region hosts traditional festivals like Chol Chnam Thmay, Dolta, and Ha Xan.

But experts say businesses have failed to realize the area’s potential cultural attraction in creating tours with variety.

According to Dr. Pham Trung Luong, deputy head of the Institute for Tourism Development Research, tourism development strategies should be tailor-made for each locality.

For example, Long An, Tien Giang, Ben Tre, and Dong Thap provinces should focus on tours to cultural and historical relics and trade villages.

Meanwhile, Vinh Long, Can Tho, Tra Vinh, Hau Giang, Soc Trang, Bac Lieu and Ca Mau provinces should exploit shopping, eating, and floating market tours.

An Giang and Kien Giang provinces should prioritize sea, island, and mountain tourism and facilitate trips into Cambodia and Thailand.

Only by capitalizing on each province’s strengths and diversifying tours will visitors be enticed to return.

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Deutsche Bank staff to share burden of bonus tax

In World on December 18, 2009 at 2:06 pm

FRANKFURT (AFP) – Global staff at Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank, will share the burden of a 50 percent British tax on bonuses, chairman Josef Ackermann was quoted as saying in a press report Friday.

“We will clearly globalise it,” Ackermann told the Financial Times. “If parts (of the cost of the tax) are paid out of the bonus pool, we would seek to globalise it. It would be unfair to treat the UK bankers differently.”

Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann said the bank will spread the pain of Britain’s tax on bankers’ bonuses among its staff worldwide, becoming the first financial group to detail how it will deal with the hit (AFP file)

Ackermann’s comments were the first reaction by a bank to the British tax and risk angering workers outside London, the newspaper said.

The British government has slapped the 50-percent tax rate on bank employee bonuses above 25,000 pounds (28,000 euros, 40,400 dollars) to recoup cash spent rescuing the financial sector.

Finance minister Alistair Darling said the one-off levy would be spent on helping the unemployed, while the banking industry said the plan would push bankers to find work abroad.

Excessive risk-taking by banks — which have been rescued by governments on several continents in a series of costly bailouts — has been blamed for fuelling the global financial crisis and sparking a global recession.

But Ackermann said he opposed government interference in the amount of pay workers received.

“Bonuses should be the result of supply and demand for skilled people,” he said.

But the the banking chief also acknowledged that Deutsche Bank would keep an eye on what the competition does in reaction to the British tax.

“We will monitor what banks are doing, how much of the cost will be borne by staff and how much will be taken by shareholders,” he said.

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Dozens missing after freighter sinks off Lebanon

In World on December 18, 2009 at 2:02 pm

TRIPOLI, Lebanon (AFP) – Rescuers on Friday continued the search for dozens of people still missing after a freighter sank in stormy seas off the northern coast of Lebanon with more than 80 people on board.

A Lebanese military spokesman said 38 crew members had been found alive and four bodies were pulled from the water after the Panamanian-flagged Danny F II, which was transporting livestock, sank in bad weather.

Lebanese medics transport a survivor from a freighter that sank off Lebanon. (AFP photo)

“We have recovered 42 people, among them four dead,” he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He added that the search operations had been widened early Friday to international waters near Syria.

“We have two Lebanese naval ships, two civilian vessels as well as boats from the UN force stationed in Lebanon (UNIFIL) taking part in the search,” he said. “If the weather conditions improve, the search will be made easier.”

A rescue official told AFP early Friday that one of those found alive had died after being pulled out of the sea, taking the death toll to five.

“The sea conditions were rough and we couldn’t get him to hospital in time,” he said.

One of the survivors, a Filipino national, told rescuers that the British captain of the vessel which was heading from Uruguay to the Syrian port of Tartous, had been killed.

“He told us that the ship’s engine went down and the captain sounded the alarm and told everyone to jump in the water,” a rescue official recounted. “He said that 10 minutes after they jumped, the ship overturned sideways in very high waves and sank with the captain still on board.”

Taking part in the search were also Syrian boats as well as a British rescue helicopter which flew from Cyprus for backup on Thursday night.

“The sea conditions are rough and we need to find the survivors quickly because they run the risk of hypothermia,” a Tripoli port official said late Thursday.

“Rescue efforts are being hampered by the fact that we’re operating in an area where the waves are as high as three metres (10 feet) and because of the floating dead animals,” he added.

The military spokesman said the crew apparently had time to put on their life jackets before the boat capsized.

The ship overturned about 11 nautical miles off Tripoli after sending a distress signal at around 3:55 pm (1355 GMT) Thursday.

It had changed course and was trying to reach the Lebanese capital Beirut when it capsized.

The ship’s operator, Agencia Schandy, told AFP in Montevideo that the Danny F II had a crew of 76 and six passengers — four Uruguayans, one Brazilian and an Australian.

It had left Montevideo on November 23 with about 10,000 sheep and almost 18,000 cattle bound for Tartous, north of Tripoli, but was forced to change course because of the bad weather.

All of the animals were presumed lost.

A Togolese-flagged ship also sank off the southern coast of Lebanon last week. Several crew members were rescued by Israel but a number are still missing and presumed dead.

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Pakistan slaps travel ban on defence minister

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2009 at 2:01 pm

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistan has barred the defence minister from travelling abroad as the fallout Friday from a court ruling reviving graft cases against a raft of top politicians threatened the government’s stability.

The country’s top anti-corruption body has called for travel bans on more than 250 people since the Supreme Court Wednesday annulled a decree protecting politicians including President Asif Ali Zardari from old graft charges.

Pakistan political ctivists celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision on the National Reconciliation Ordinance in Karachi on December 17. (AFP photo)

The court ruling has rattled the US-backed government, with the opposition demanding the swift resignation of Zardari and implicated ministers.

Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar told local television late Thursday he had been due to go on an official visit to China but that his name had been put on an “exit control list” restricting travel.

Mukhtar told private Geo television station he had been due to spend three days in China to discuss the delivery of a frigate, but when his staff reached the airport they were told the delegation would have to go without him.

“I was informed that my name is on the exit list… federal investigation authorities officials have said that I cannot leave the country,” he said.

“It was in connection with a corruption case. But there is no corruption case against me — it is only an enquiry which is pending against me for the past 12 years. I will strongly defend myself in the court.”

The National Accountability Bureau said it had instructed the interior ministry to put the names of 253 people on the exit control list.

“They include politicians, bureaucrats, ex-military officers and some diplomats… Arrest warrants issued against some are also revived and properties of accused frozen again,” said NAB’s media officer Naveed Sattar.

Zaradri’s name was removed because of his presidential immunity, but a senior government official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s name was also on the list.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, voiced hope the amnesty ruling would not destabilise the country, which is under US pressure to do more to fight Islamist militants on the border with Afghanistan.

“Everybody in Pakistan, including our top military leadership, has made it clear that the military should focus on defending the country’s frontiers and elected government should run the government in accordance with the constitution and courts should adjudicate criminal matters in accordance with the law,” he told CNN.

“I hope everybody will play their constitutional role and (the) country will not go down the road of coups that has been disastrous for our country in the past,” said Haqqani, who is himself implicated by Wednesday’s ruling.

Pakistan is ranked the 40th most corrupt country out of 180 monitored by global watchdog Transparency International, and many governments have fallen or been ousted by the military over accusations of graft.

The amnesty — called the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) — was passed in October 2007 by then-president Pervez Musharraf, who was under pressure to hold elections and end about eight years of military rule.

It quashed charges against a number of politicians including Zardari and his wife and ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto — who was assassinated two months later — to allow them to stand for office.

Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) went on to win elections in 2008, restoring civilian rule, but his relations with the powerful military are strained and his public approval rating at rock-bottom.

Zardari is immune from prosecution while in office, but his eligibility for the presidency could be challenged as graft cases were pending against him when the NRO was adopted, raising questions about his suitability for the post.

Political analyst Talat Masood said the government must act swiftly to restore confidence by forcing out implicated ministers.

“If it is prolonged it’s likely to affect governance, it is likely to affect the overall security situation, but if the transition is quick, these ill-effects could be reduced,” he told AFP.

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US, Russia agree positions on nuclear arms deal: report

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2009 at 2:00 pm

MOSCOW (AFP) – US and Russian officials have reached agreement on the broad principles of a new nuclear disarmament deal to replace the 1991 START accord, Interfax quoted a Russian source as saying Friday.

US President Barack Obama speaks during a press briefing with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow in July (AFP file)

“The positions of the new agreement on strategic weapons have been agreed (by negotiators in Geneva) and an official statement about this could be made soon,” the news agency quoted a diplomatic source as saying.

The source added that “a large volume” of technical work was still required to complete the successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and this work “could even take several weeks”.

No further details were immediately available.

US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev are to meet on the sidelines of the Copenhagen climate summit on Friday, a US official has said, in a bid to hasten a new accord after START expired on December 5.

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Leaders resume climate talks as Obama arrives

In World on December 18, 2009 at 1:59 pm

COPENHAGEN (AFP) – A group of around 30 world leaders and senior diplomats resumed talks at the UN climate summit Friday on a draft pact to combat climate change, diplomatic sources said.

The resumption came shortly before President Barack Obama landed in Copenhagen to join around 120 heads of state and government seeking to nail down an agreement.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy attends a session of the UN climate talks (AFP photo)

A European delegate said that the draft contained a call for preventing a rise in global temperatures of more than 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times.

But he said there were few specifics on mitigation efforts nor on funding.

“Basically its become clear its going to be just a political declaration, its short on detail at the moment,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Hopes for the last day of UN climate talks were earlier raised by a US pledge to a climate finance fund, but leaders still warned of failure amid debate on sharing the burden of carbon-emissions cuts.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brightened a grim summit mood by saying the United States would contribute to a long-term fund worth 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to help poor countries fund cleaner technology and shore up defences against worsening floods, drought, storms and rising seas.Related article: US pledges $100 billion

The pledge was contingent on an ambitious overall deal being completed at the talks, however, which French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Thursday faced a looming disaster in the wake of the divisive emissions debate.

“There is less than 24 hours. If we carry on like this, it will be a failure,” Sarkozy cautioned angrily from the conference podium. “Failure at Copenhagen would be catastrophic for all of us.”

An internal UN memo seen by AFP meanwhile showed national pledges for reducing greenhouse gas output would doom the world to warming of as much as three degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times.

Scientists say such a rise would be disastrous, condemning hundreds of millions of people to worsening drought, floods and storms. Nations most at risk from rising sea levels have been pushing for commitments to limit the rise to no more than 1.5 C (2.7 F).

Obama left late Thursday on an overnight flight to to Copenhagen on the presidential aircraft, Air Force One, from Andrews Air Force Base.Related article: Obama heads to Copenhagen

He will spend only a few hours on the ground, but aides are billing the visit as a sign that the United States, long condemned for foot dragging on climate change, is now a leader.

The president is also wagering valuable domestic political capital on his trip: his team will hope for no repeat of his last quick visit to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago’s Olympics bid, which ended in embarrassing failure.

“Coming back with an empty agreement would be far worse than coming back empty-handed,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs before Obama left Washington.

Clinton, in Denmark, accused developing nations — without naming them — of backsliding on pledges to open their promised controls on carbon emissions to wide scrutiny.

The question is “a deal-breaker for us,” she said.

China and India say they are willing to take voluntary measures to slow their surges in heat-trapping greenhouse-gas emissions.

But they are reluctant to accept tough international inspection and insist rich nations shoulder the main burden by accepting huge reduction targets.

“We should not continue to dwell on these issues that are dividing us. We should narrow our differences, otherwise we are facing a failure,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told reporters.

The sole glimmer of hope in the darkening mood remained the progress on climate finance funding.

In response to Clinton’s announcement, the G77, the major bloc of developing countries, said the US proposals were “a good signal” but still not enough.

The European Union called for all parties “to urgently go to the outer limits of their flexibility” so that talks could advance, and called for an emergency meeting of “relevant players” late Thursday in a bid to break the deadlock.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon tried to talk up the prospects of an agreement, saying he had “not seen anything that indicates we cannot seal a deal.”

“There are more than 130 leaders here. If they cannot seal a deal, who can?”

After earlier expressing doubt that the summit would pin down an agreement to cap global warming at two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), German Chancellor Angela Merkel said leaders could forge a deal but added that “we will not be able to work out all the little details”.

The United States was widely condemned for foot-dragging on climate change under former president George W. Bush, and Obama is hoping his presence at the finale here will be evidence of a transformation of policy.

EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said he expected Obama to announce further US action to push things forward “because if they don’t do it, others will find an excuse also not to move.”

A senior Obama administration official said he did not expect the president to unveil more specific commitments on financing.

Opposition lawmakers in the US Congress also fired a warning shot at the administration and the global community, reminding that the president “does not have authority to bind the United States in any international agreement.”

Republican Senator Jon Kyl underlined that the US Constitution requires Senate ratification of treaties, and that measures that affect government revenues typically need companion US legislation to be enforced.

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Obama joins final push for climate pact

In World on December 18, 2009 at 1:53 pm

COPENHAGEN (AFP) – US President Barack Obama joined world leaders Friday in a final push for a climate pact but poor nations feared the agreement would fail to stave off the worst ravages of global warming.

Obama flew in to a snowy Copenhagen to join about 120 heads of state and government at the climax of 12-day talks which have been marked by inter-continental wrangling and large-scale protests.

US President Barack Obama arrives at the airport in Copenhagen (AFP photo)

Fear of failure has dogged the talks as disputes on emissions targets between top polluters China and the United States and complaints that poor nations were being sidelined clouded hopes of a deal.

However leaders and top diplomats from around 30 countries crafted an outline agreement in talks that ended in the early hours. After fine-tuning by negotiators, the leaders resumed their talks in the morning before presenting the text to all heads of delegation.

“We tried to find an umbrella political accord, if you like,” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, told reporters.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, chairman of the tortuous negotiations, warned against premature celebrations. “We’ve had a very constructive dialogue (but) … we’re not there yet,” he said.

A European delegate said the draft contained a call to prevent a rise in global temperatures of more than 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times.

But he said there were few specifics on mitigation efforts nor on funding.

“Basically its become clear its going to be just a political declaration, its short on detail at the moment,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The two degrees declaration would stop way short of demands from poorer countries. Small island nations, their very existence threatened by rising seas, have called for a cap of 1.5 C (2.7 F).

Bruno Sekoli of Lesotho, chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said any rise above the 1.5 C mark would cause “unmanageable consequences.”

“It will leave millions of people suffering from hunger, diseases, floods and water shortages,” he said.

The South African Nobel prize winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu said a two degree rise would “condemn Africa to incineration and no modern development.”

“This is a moral issue, it is a mater of justice for especially the weak and most vulnerable,” Tutu added.

An internal UN memo seen by AFP earlier had shown national pledges for reducing greenhouse gas output would doom the world to warming of up to three degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Scientists say such a rise would be disastrous, condemning hundreds of millions of people to worsening drought, floods and storms.

Diplomats said the draft accord outlines a package for poor countries most vulnerable to the ravages of an overheating world, kicking off with 10 billion dollars (seven billion euros) a year from 2010 to 2012, and climbing to 100 billion annually by 2020.

After days of deadlock, the mood brightened Thursday when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States would contribute to the fund, a move welcomed by the G77 bloc of developing countries as “a good signal” but not enough.Related article: US pledges $100 billion

French President Nicolas Sarkozy had warned that the planet’s biggest ever meeting on climate faced a looming disaster because of the disputes on emissions cuts, saying failure “would be catastrophic for all of us”.

Clinton accused developing nations — without naming them — of backsliding on pledges to open their promised controls on carbon emissions to wide scrutiny, saying the issue is “a deal-breaker for us”.

China and India say they are willing to take voluntary measures to slow their surges in heat-trapping greenhouse-gas emissions.

But they are reluctant to accept tough international inspection and insist rich nations shoulder the main burden by accepting huge reduction targets.

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