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Archive for January 11th, 2010|Daily archive page

Vietcombank set to reissue its debit cards

In Vietnam Banking Finance on January 11, 2010 at 5:56 am

Vietcombank will cancel and reissue its Connect24 debit cards in line with a plan by the State Bank of Vietnam to standardise the Bank Identification Number (BIN) system nationwide.

Between now and June 30, 2011, Connect24 cardholders will therefore be able to request new cards with Vietcombank’s updated BIN. During that time, they will also be able to continue using their old cards. But effective July 1, 2011, all cards issued under the old BIN will be terminated.

Connect24 holds the leading share of the domestic payment card market, with 4 million cards outstanding out of an estimated 17 million issued by all banks nationwide.

Vietcombank deputy director Dao Minh Tuan said that, before the central bank’s regulation was issued in 2007, each bank was allowed to select its own BIN. But, when many banks issued their own cards, BINs were repeated sometimes, creating problems for ATMs to recognise cards.

To deal with the problem, the State Bank ordered banks to co-ordinate BINs, with the central bank to provide a BIN for each bank. The new BINs include six figures, starting with 9704, with the latter two figures different from each bank.

About 30 banks have been issued new BINs and will also reissue their bank cards sometime before the end of June next year.

“The cost to reissue all debit cards on the market may reach 120 billion VND (6.4 million USD) or about 7,000-8,000 VND per card,” said a representative of Smartlink Card Services Joint Stock Co who asked to remain anonymous.

VP Bank deputy director Duong Thi Thuy said that standardising BINs was very necessary in Vietnam, renewing all cards at the same time would overload this system.

ABBank director of individual customers Dam The Thai said the bank had been reissueing cards with the correct BIN and that the number of outstanding cards using the old BIN was only 10,000.

ABBank would renew cards for free customers between now and the end of the year, he said.

Debit cards issued since 2008 have the correct BIN and about 1 million international cards, which have standardised BINs, will not need to be reissued.

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2010 poultry vaccination plan to launch soon

In Vietnam Health on January 11, 2010 at 5:55 am

Poultry nationwide will be vaccinated to prevent against bird flu

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development January 9 announced a vaccination plan for poultry across the country.

Under the plan, all provinces nationwide must strictly abide by vaccine regulations to prevent disease like bird flu from spreading.

Local governments will carry out two rounds of vaccinations; the first in April and May; and the second in October and November.

Thirty-two provinces including 13 northern provinces, five provinces in the southeast southern region, and 13 Mekong delta provinces will vaccinate birds.

Other provinces are not required to hold mass vaccinations except in high-risk areas.

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Artist ‘paints’ with rice

In Vietnam Culture on January 11, 2010 at 5:55 am

A rice painting created by local artisan Ho Nghia. (Photo: SGGP)

Artisan Ho Nghia began producing a unique form of art in 2008, using grains of rice to create elaborate images.

The rice paintings are meticulously crafted. Each individual grain must be slim, firm, and the same size. For this reason, the rice is always carefully selected.

The grains are then roasted for a length of time depending on the color tones required for the works which are drafted in advance. Finally, the rice is attached to paper according to the draft painting.

The longevity of rice paintings is around 2-3 years.

Nghia has now created 25 rice works, including portraits of the country’s leaders and scenes of Vietnamese villages.

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Japanese company fined for environmental violations

In Vietnam Environment on January 11, 2010 at 5:54 am

The Da Lat-Japan Food (DJF) Company has been fined VND86 million (US$4,500) for discharging wastewater into the Da Nhim River in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong and for other environmental violations. 

Da Lat-Japan Food Company releases untreated wastewater into the Da Nhim River in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong

The provincial People’s Committee said in its penalizing decision that DJF has not filed environmental reports according to regulations, has discharged untreated industrial wastewater into the Da Nhim River, and has not paid environmental protection fees.
The committee also suspended the operation of the company’s frozen vegetables and fruits processing and production factory until it treats its wastewater according to standards.
The company is being asked to pay more than VND183 million (US$9,600) in environmental protection fees which they have yet to pay.
DJF, a whole Japan invested company, is the first company in Lam Dong to be penalized for violating environmental protection laws. 

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Japan, US to issue statement on security anniversary

In World on January 11, 2010 at 5:54 am

After months of tensions, Japan and the United States will issue a joint statement aiming to deepen their security alliance next week on the 50th anniversary of a key treaty, reports said Sunday.

The US Marine Corps Futenma Air Base (top) in Ginowan, Okinawa, Japan in November 2009. (AFP Photo)

Despite a simmering row over the relocation of a US air base in Japan, the two governments aim to stress the crucial contribution of their alliance to global peace, the top-selling Yomiuri newspaper and other reports said.

“The governments are preparing for the statement, with which Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and President (Barack) Obama will celebrate the 50th anniversary and commit to further deepen the alliance,” Japanese Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said, according to Jiji Press.

The security treaty, signed on January 19, 1960, has formed the bedrock of the post-war Japan-US alliance, under which pacifist Japan relies on a massive US military presence to guarantee its security.

Final arrangements for the statement will be made when Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meet in Hawaii on Tuesday, the Yomiuri said.

Tokyo’s relations with its most important ally have hit turbulence over the controversial Futenma air base, which Hatoyama has suggested should be moved off the southern island of Okinawa or even outside Japan altogether.

The centre-left Hatoyama, who took power in September, has pledged to review past agreements on the US military presence, including plans to shift Futenma within Okinawa, and to deal with Washington on a more “equal” basis.

During Tuesday’s talks in Honolulu, Clinton will tell Okada “how important it is to move forward on these issues in Futenma”, Kurt Campbell, her top diplomat for Asian affairs, said Thursday.

Clinton will tell the Japanese minister that “we also have to have a very clear-headed recognition of how important this relationship is, how many aspects need to be maintained and engaged upon”, Campbell said.


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Australia welcomes Indian call for restraint over attacks

In World on January 11, 2010 at 5:53 am

Australia’s government on Sunday welcomed a call from India for restraint in media coverage of attacks on Indians, stressing there was no evidence that race was a factor in two recent incidents.

Australian police survey the Melbourne park where Indian student Nitin Garg was stabbed to death on January 2.

New Delhi urged its media to act responsibly after an Indian man was burned in an incident in Melbourne on Saturday, a week after 21-year-old Nitin Garg was stabbed to death in the city’s western suburbs.

The attacks followed a spate of violence against Indians in Victoria state last year and have prompted a strong reaction in the Indian press, with one newspaper likening Australian police to the racist Ku Klux Klan.

Australia’s acting foreign minister Simon Crean welcomed the statement from foreign ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash, who advised the Indian media to “exercise utmost restraint in reporting on these sensitive issues”.

“I am very pleased that overnight the government has issued what I believe is a very constructive and responsible advice and that is, not to overreact to it, to understand that investigations are being undertaken,” Crean said.

“We need to get all of the facts first and we shouldn’t overreact until all of the facts are in.”

Ties between Australia and India, growing trade partners, have come under pressure following the murder of Garg, who was stabbed in the abdomen as he walked to work at a hamburger restaurant late at night.

In the latest incident, 29-year-old Jaspreet Singh told police that he was doused with petrol and set on fire by a group of men as he parked his car in the early hours of Saturday.

Singh suffered burns to 15 percent of his body and is recovering in hospital.

Crean, who is also Australia’s trade minister, said police had found no evidence that the latest incidents were racially motivated.

“I think it is also important in terms of the most recent incident, that a relative of Mr Singh … also doesn’t believe that it was racially based.”

A series of attacks on Indian nationals and students in Australia sparked street protests in the middle of 2009.


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US drone war delivers results, but at what price?

In World on January 11, 2010 at 5:53 am

The US drone war in Pakistan has made gains in annihilating Taliban and Al-Qaeda commanders, but the reliance on the unmanned, remotely controlled aircraft risks fanning Islamist violence.

File photo shows US soldiers searching for buried enemy weapons caches in a cave near Shah Wali Zarat in Khost province. (AFP Photo)

While tens of thousands of US troops are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, their presence is unwelcome in ally Pakistan and drone strikes have become the main combat tactic against militants on the ground.

The Long War Journal, a website tracking the strikes, says US missiles have killed 15 senior Al-Qaeda leaders, and 16 “mid-level” Al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives, since January 2008.

Among the scalps was Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban.

Despite Mehsud’s death in August, the TTP are killing more people than ever and Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri — both believed to be sheltering along the Afghan-Pakistan border — remain at large.

“I don’t think the group (TTP) has necessarily been weakened at all,” said Ben Venzke, head of IntelCenter, a private contractor working in support of the US and European intelligence communities.

“In fact we’re seeing more large-scale bombings and attacks in Pakistan than we’ve ever seen and with a very large casualty count,” he said.

President Barack Obama has ordered 51,000 extra US troops to Afghanistan, hoping to turn the tide in the war and deny Al-Qaeda sanctuary, but tribal experts fear drone attacks could spawn a war of revenge for years.

A Jordanian doctor turned “Al-Qaeda double agent” blew himself up and killed seven CIA agents in Afghanistan on December 30, in the deadliest attack against the US spy agency since 1983.

The bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, appeared posthumously in a video broadcast Saturday, vowing to avenge Baitullah Mehsud’s death.

“The way they are now attacking with their drones, trying to hit local militants — maybe local militants are not a big threat to America but in the future they could become a threat,” said tribal expert Rahimullah Yusufzai.

Local residents contacted by AFP in North Waziristan — a district where 22 of the last 24 attacks have struck — said families lived in fear over the prospect of a Hellfire missile annihilating their home without warning.

Yet speaking from Mir Ali, one of the main towns in the Pakistani tribal district, one shopkeeper said the drones did appear to have deterred foreign fighters.

“There seems to be only one advantage — the number of foreigners who used to roam markets in the region freely has reduced considerably,” Noor Mohammad told AFP by telephone.

Pakistan’s unpopular president, Asif Ali Zardari, says the drone attacks undermine the nation’s consensus against militants as it struggles with bombings that have killed nearly 3,000 people in less than three years.

“Drone attacks are radicalising other people who may not have supported the Taliban,” warned Yusufzai.

But Lisa Curtis, a research fellow at Washington’s conservative Heritage Foundation, said the US administration was more reliant than ever on drones after fears of Al-Qaeda were renewed by the failed Christmas Day plot to blow up an airliner over Detroit.

“The long-term costs are that it’s raising anti-Americanism in Pakistan, which in turn makes it more difficult for us to cooperate with Pakistan,” she said.

The United States is increasing pressure on Islamabad to take on groups such as the Haqqani network, which attacks US forces in Afghanistan but is reputed to retain links with Pakistani intelligence.

Samina Ahmed, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, said US tactics had yet to spark major protests and cautioned against exaggerating the impact on Zardari’s civilian government.

“If there were drone attacks on urban centres, major civilian casualties, there would be a public outcry,” she said. “It would become a major challenge to the Pakistan military and the Pakistan government.”


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No plan to send troops to Yemen, Obama says

In World on January 11, 2010 at 5:52 am

US President Barack Obama (Photo: AFP)

WASHINGTON, Jan 10, 2010 (AFP) – President Barack Obama says he has “no intention” of sending US troops to fight militants in Yemen and Somalia, despite growing concern over the presence of militant cells there.

Obama made a fresh push for international cooperation to confront militants in Yemen, where the top US military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, said sending troops was “not a possibility.”

“I never rule out any possibility in a world that is this complex… In countries like Yemen, in countries like Somalia, I think working with international partners is most effective at this point,” Obama said in a People interview to be published Friday. The magazine released a transcript Sunday.

“I have no intention of sending US boots on the ground in these regions.”

He insisted the lawless tribal belt straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border “remains the epicenter of Al-Qaeda,” but acknowledged a Yemen-based affiliate of Osama bin Laden’s network has become “a more serious problem.”

The impoverished country’s long-standing scourge of extremism was thrown into the spotlight after the Al-Qaeda branch claimed responsibility for a narrowly-averted Christmas Day bombing aboard a US-bound airliner.

Recent strikes on Al-Qaeda positions in Yemen, including cruise missile attacks, were reportedly led by the United States, which has vowed to boost its economic and military aid to Sanaa. London and Washington have already announced plans to fund a counter-extremism police in the country.

Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged in a CNN interview that the United States was providing “some support” to Yemen’s efforts to strike Al-Qaeda militants, but insisted Sanaa led the operations.

Yemen has been hostile to any US military intervention, but analysts fear bin Laden’s ancestral homeland cannot tackle the militants on its own.

Striking a conciliatory tone, Obama said the message his administration sends to Muslim communities around the world was “extraordinarily important.”

“We can’t return to sort of a garrison-state notion that we’re just going to hunker down and this is only an issue of firepower and boots on the ground,” he added.

A thinly stretched US military has deployed large troop contingents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The number of US troops in Afghanistan — where Obama has vowed to focus his war against Al-Qaeda militants who have also sought refuge in neighboring Pakistan — is set to triple under his watch from 2008 levels, reaching some 100,000 later this year.

Washington has urged Yemen to crack down on Al-Qaeda but Sanaa already faces a litany of challenges, including a water shortage, dwindling oil reserves, a Shiite rebellion in the north and a movement for autonomy in the south.

Somalia is also the focus of US counterterrorism efforts, where an embattled transitional government faces relentless attacks from extremist Shebab militants and their Hezb al-Islam allies.

The central government asserts little control over the country located along key shipping routes to oil fields in the Middle East, with pirates now swarming the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

US officials have said they are seeking to boost military and intelligence cooperation with Yemen.

General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, which oversees a region encompassing the Middle East, the Gulf, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia, welcomed Yemen’s desire to tackle extremists on its own.

“We would always want a host nation to deal with a problem itself. We want to help. We’re providing assistance,” he told CNN after returning from a trip to Yemen during which he held talks with President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Petraeus said Washington planned to more than double its economic aid to Yemen this year to 150 million dollars or more, up from 70 million last year. But US officials have insisted the total aid amount has not yet been determined.

Though the figure pales in comparison to the billions of dollars Washington has poured into Afghanistan, the general stressed other allies were providing aid, including Saudi Arabia, which has reportedly allocated two billion dollars, and the United Arab Emirates, which pledged 650 million dollars to Sanaa.

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Oil prices back above 83 dollars

In World on January 11, 2010 at 5:52 am

SINGAPORE, Jan 11, 2010 (AFP) – Oil prices were back above 83 dollars in Asian trade Monday as a cold snap in the United States and northern Asia powered higher demand for heating fuel, analysts said.

New York’s main futures contract, light sweet crude for February delivery, jumped 65 cents to 83.40 dollars a barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for February delivery rose 64 cents to 82.01 dollars.

“A prolonged cold snap is going to chew up some of those very high inventories of heating oil and middle distillates,” said Jason Feer, vice president and general manager for Asia Pacific at Argus Media.

“What you really need to see is… some indication of sustained heavy duty economic growth and so far the signals from that front have been quite mixed. So what you’re looking at in the short run is pretty much weather-related,” he added.

The United States, the world’s biggest economy, lost 85,000 jobs in December while the unemployment rate held unchanged at 10 percent, the US Labor Department said Friday in a report highlighting a slow and painful recovery from recession.

The report on non-farm payrolls was a disappointment to those hoping for growth in jobs, which is critical to any rebound for the US economy, a key engine for global growth.

Analysts said the data was far worse than the consensus expectation for no change in overall employment levels, and came amid a wide array of predictions ranging from steep losses to modest gains.

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Yemen using war on Al-Qaeda to bolster regime: analysts

In World on January 11, 2010 at 5:51 am

DUBAI, Jan 11, 2010 (AFP) – Faced with an armed revolt in the north and a separatist movement in the south, Yemen’s president is using the Western-backed war against Al-Qaeda to bolster his regime and muzzle opponents, say analysts.

A picture shows a the Yemeni mountain village of Kawkaban, north of the capital Sanaa on January 10, 2010. (AFP photo)

The threat from Islamist militants poses less of a danger for Sanaa than the Zaidi Shiite insurrection on the border with Saudi Arabia or the independence calls in southern Yemen, according to Yemen experts.

“The regime is exploiting the war against Al-Qaeda to attract foreign aid and curb the opposition,” said anthropologist and Yemen specialist Franck Mermier.

With the West pressuring President Ali Abdullah Saleh to crack down on the Yemen branch of Al-Qaeda, “it is in the interests of the regime … to play the Al-Qaeda card to silence its opponents,” Mermier added.

The government was trying to “Al-Qaeda-ise” its enemies.

It suggests they are linked to Osama bin Laden’s network, especially Shiite rebels in the north who have been fighting the government since 2004 and the southerners, “most of whom are opposed to armed struggle,” Mermier said.

The south, which was an independent state from 1967 until Yemen was united in 1990, has been the scene of protests against the government’s repressive policies and its attempts “to amalgamate the southern movement and Al-Qaeda,” according to one of the movement’s leaders.

Separatists often complain of discrimination by northerners and a lack of financial aid.

But even if US military and financial support, in the name of the war on Al-Qaeda, “ends up strengthening Sanaa initially,” the government “could see a second more dangerous front opening up in the south,” Mercier warned.

“The regime’s policies are pushing its opponents towards more radical options, like separatism for the south.”

Mohammad al-Zahiri, professor of political science at Sanaa University, agrees that Yemen’s government is deliberately “exaggerating the Al-Qaeda threat in order to export or internationalise its problems.”

“The state is taking advantage of the West’s interest (in combating Al-Qaeda) … and avoiding its own internal problems,” he added.

But such an approach “cannot resolve Yemen’s problems and is very short-sighted,” said Zahiri, concerned that “military solutions will only lead to a rise in anti-Americanism in the country.”

He said only dialogue can achieve a permanent solution.

Zahiri was referring to the rebellion in the north, the demands of southerners and also the domestic opposition, angered by parliament’s agreement last February to delay legislative elections by two years.

“2009 has been the worst year for Yemen,” said Fares al-Saqqaf, director of the Centre for Future Studies in Sanaa.

“The country now faces five challenges: the rebellion in the north, which is intensifying, the southern question, which has turned into a separatist movement and is no longer peaceful, the Al-Qaeda threat, internal political opposition and the economic crisis.”

For Saqqaf, “the key to the solution is not military, but political and economic … Yemen cannot confront Al-Qaeda except by pacifying its other fronts, especially in the north and south.”

“The whole world wants to crush Al-Qaeda in Yemen. The country could take advantage of this conflict to demand economic aid, which would help to resolve its problems.”

He proposed the oil-rich Gulf states offer aid to the impoverished Arabian peninsula state “in the form of a Marshall plan,” referring to the post-World War II reconstruction plan for Europe.

The government has turned to the six Gulf Cooperation Council states for help but analysts say it has been almost negligible, although Riyadh has given Sanaa 7.2 billion dollars in aid over the past 10 years.

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