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Archive for January 17th, 2010|Daily archive page

Champa altar house to be displayed at New York Museum

In Vietnam Culture on January 17, 2010 at 4:00 pm

The antique Van Trach Hoa altar house was found in Thua Thien Hue Province in 1991. (Photo: SGGP)

The anitque Van Trach Hoa altar house has been chosen for display at the New York Museum in New York, the US, from February 2 to May 2, said a representative of the History and Revolution Museum of Thua Thien Hue Province.


The altar house was found in 1991 at Van Trach Hoa temple, Phong Thu commune, Phong Dien district.

The two-level antique is made from stone with Hindu carvings on each of its four sides.

According to an expert, the alter house dates from the 9th-10th century and was made by the Champa ethnic minority.

Along with the Van Trach Hoa altar house, 113 other antiques from the north, central and southern regions have been chosen for display at the New York Museum.

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Iraq’s ‘Chemical Ali’ sentenced to death

In World on January 17, 2010 at 4:00 pm

 Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as Saddam Hussein‘s enforcer “Chemical Ali” was on Sunday sentenced to death for ordering the gassing of Kurds in the Iraqi village of Halabja, state television said.

The Al-Iraqiya channel said Majid would be killed by hanging having been found guilty of the notorious attack in 1988 in the northeast of the country as the Iran-Iraq war drew to a close.

The ruling is the fourth time he has received a death sentence.

An estimated 5,000 people were killed at Halabja, three-quarters of them women and children, in what is now thought to have been the deadliest gas attack ever carried out against civilians.

A close cousin of Saddam, Majid earned his macabre nickname for ordering poisonous gas attacks in a brutal scorched-earth campaign of bombings and mass deportations that left an estimated 182,000 Kurds dead in the 1980s.

File photo shows Ali Hassan al-Majid known as Chemical Ali.

He had previously been sentenced to hang for genocide over the Kurdish offensives when he received a second death sentence in December 2008 for war crimes committed during the ill-fated 1991 Shiite uprising in southern Iraq.

And in March last year, the Iraqi High Tribunal handed down a third death sentence over the the 1999 murders of dozens of Shiites in the Sadr City district of Baghdad and in the central shrine city of Najaf.

However, he is probably best known for the Halabja attack when in March 1988, Iraqi jets swooped over the village and for five hours sprayed it with a deadly cocktail of mustard gas and the nerve agents Tabun, Sarin and VX.

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Israel’s Barak heads to Turkey after diplomatic row

In World on January 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak travelled to Turkey on Sunday in the wake of a diplomatic row between the two military allies sparked by a controversial Turkish TV series.

Barak was to meet his counterpart Vecdi Gonul and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu for talks that were to focus on arms deals, Israeli public radio reported.

Muslim-majority Turkey has been a close military ally of Israel since 1996 but relations between the two countries have been tense in the wake of Israel’s devastating war on Gaza last year which Turkey vehemently criticised.

Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak travelled to Turkey on Sunday in the wake of a diplomatic row between the two military allies sparked by a controversial Turkish TV series.

Relations hit a new low last week, when Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon publicly dressed down Turkish ambassador Oguz Celikkol over a controversial Turkish TV series the government said presented Israelis as baby-snatchers.

Both the government and Ayalon himself later apologised for the incident — in which Celikkol was forced to sit in a low couch and the Turkish flag was removed — after Turkey threatened to withdraw its ambassador.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly slammed Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians in the wake of the Gaza war, said the response was what “we wanted and expected in diplomatic terms.”

The series that sparked the row showed a Turkish secret agent storming an Israeli diplomatic mission to rescue a Turkish boy kidnapped by Mossad agents, an episode Israel slammed for portraying Israel and Jews as “war criminals.”

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China markets set for new phase in 2010

In World on January 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Shanghai‘s stock market is set for major changes in 2010 that could help close the gap with London and New York as the Chinese city strives to become a global financial centre, analysts say.

China began the year with a strong signal that it is serious about its goal of turning Shanghai into a leading finance hub by 2020, approving a raft of measures that give investors more sophisticated investment options.

Previously, mainland investors were only able to bet on stocks going up, but the State Council, or Cabinet, has approved trials of short-selling and margin trading that would allow investors to profit from falling markets as well.

“The ultimate introduction of the new investment options is, without doubt, a revolutionary move for China’s capital markets,” said Zhang Jian, a Beijing-based analyst with BOC International, Bank of China’s brokerage unit.

Investors are seen through stock index monitors at a trading house in Shanghai

Margin trading allows investors to borrow money from financial institutions to buy shares they expect to rise.

If the share price goes up, they can easily pay back the borrowed money. If the price goes down, investors must still pay back the full amount borrowed.

Short-selling allows investors to sell borrowed shares when they expect the price to decline. If the price falls, they can buy the shares at the lower price and return them to the lender.

“It opens a new chapter for China’s domestic equity market. With these new rules, the A-share market will no longer be a ‘one-way street,’ as shorting and hedging become possible,” Deutsche Bank economist Jun Ma wrote in a note.

“It is also a major step towards the internationalisation of the Chinese market,” he added.

The central government has also approved a stock index futures market that will also give investors opportunities to profit when the market falls and help them hedge risks.

Preparations for the index futures market began years ago, with mock trading already running for three years. Margin and short trading systems tests began in late 2008.

Now that Beijing has given the green light, the new trading options could begin within three months, analysts said.

“These steps will speed up the pace for Shanghai to become an international financial centre,” said Peng Yunliang of Shanghai Securities.

The changes come on top of expectations that the Shanghai Stock Exchange will see its first foreign listing in 2010 — HSBC has said it hopes to be the first, with a listing that could come as early as March, according to reports.

The developments — combined with the launch on October 30 of China’s Nasdaq-style ChiNext board, which aims to boost start-ups as well as small and medium-sized companies — mark huge strides for Chinese capital markets and show growing confidence.

Both shorting and margin trading magnify risks, but experts say the practices could help reduce volatility over the long run by increasing liquidity.

Shanghai’s market has seen huge swings in recent years. The benchmark Shanghai composite index soared 80 percent last year, but that came after a 65.5 percent plunge in 2008. So far this year the index is down 1.6 percent.

But China’s asset prices are expected to continue to take off in 2010, with the economy expected to expand at roughly 10 percent, and investors will want to keep profiting from growing earnings, Macquarie Bank said in a note.

What impact will index futures trading have on the market?

Goldman Sachs studied the mock trading in China, which has seen eligible brokerages and the general public practising in simulations that involve no money since 2007.

The simulations suggest a maturing market with a bias towards long positions, or bets prices will rise, the US investment bank said in a research note, adding volatility declined as the mock trading progressed.

“The developments bring China a step closer to being ready to start foreign listings and attract world-renowned foreign companies to list in a market that is getting more mature and international,” Shanghai Securities’ Peng said.

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Desperation in Haiti as scale of disaster grows

In World on January 17, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Desperate Haiti quake survivors pleaded for vital supplies amid anger over the chaotic aid effort, while the true extent of the disaster beyond the capital began to emerge.

Four days after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake brought death and misery on an unprecedented scale to the impoverished and dysfunctional Caribbean nation, aid was trickling in but failing to reach many of those most in need.

US helicopters crews flew in and unloaded boxes of vital supplies as massive queues formed at distribution points where the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) handed out high-energy biscuits.Related article: First aid is small mercy at Haiti quake epicenter

An AFP journalist witnessed one US helicopter dropping a half-dozen small cartons into a stadium of starving Haitians, some brandishing machetes as they fought for the items.

Injured wait for treatment in Port-au-Prince. Desperate Haiti quake survivors pleaded for vital supplies amid anger over the chaotic aid effort, while the true extent of the disaster beyond the capital began to emerge.

As the fate of whole towns and villages around the capital in western Haiti remained unclear, the United Nations said it had never before faced such a humanitarian catastrophe.

“We have never been confronted with such a disaster in the UN memory. It is like no other,” Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told AFP in Geneva.Related article:Haiti quake ‘worst disaster ever confronted by UN’

The destruction found Saturday in the town of Leogane, just 17 kilometers (10 miles) west of Port-au-Prince, was staggering — street after street of homes and businesses torn apart.

“It’s the very epicenter of the earthquake, and many, many thousands are dead,” said WFP spokesman David Orr. “Nearly every house was destroyed here. The military are talking about 20,000 to 30,000 dead.”

The latest overall toll from the Haitian government is at least 50,000 people dead and 1.5 million homeless, but those figures could soar once the full extent of the tragedy is known. Early estimates had spoken of 100,000 dead.

The UN said increasing numbers of Haitians were trying to cross the border into the Dominican Republic, to the east, and reported a surge of quake survivors fleeing to northern cities.

Crammed onto overflowing buses or on foot, thousands fled the flattened capital where the stench of decomposing bodies hung in the air and fears grew of angry riots.

“The streets smell of death,” said Talulum Saint Fils, who sold her jewelry for one-way bus tickets for her husband and children out of Port-au-Prince.Related article:rescuers battle to find survivors

“I’d go to any place but away from this city,” she told AFP. “There is no assistance of any kind, and our children simply cannot live like animals.”

There were complaints of major coordination problems at the US-controlled airport in Port-au-Prince, the main destination for aid flights.

French Secretary of State for Cooperation Alain Joyandet said he had lodged an official complaint with the United States after a French plane carrying a field hospital was turned away. This was later denied by his own foreign ministry.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the highest-ranking US official to visit Haiti since the quake and highlighted the urgent need to clear logistical hurdles.

“As President (Barack) Obama has said we will be here today, tomorrow and for the time ahead,” she told Haitians.

“You have been severely tested, but I believe that Haiti can come back even stronger and better in the future.”

Despite obvious organizational failures, a significant amount of aid was getting through, either through Port-au-Prince airport, by road from the Dominican Republic or from US helicopter flights.

Red Cross coordinator Mauricio Bustamante said the group had sent 15 planeloads of personnel and humanitarian aid, while a fleet of 19 choppers made regular air drops.

But after isolated reports Friday of machete-wielding gangs terrorizing survivors, there were growing signs Saturday of despondency and unease in a country with a checkered past of rioting and unrest.

Two Dominicans were seriously wounded after being shot Saturday as they handed out aid, local media in the Dominican Republic reported.

Exhausted police fired in the air in a vain attempt to scare off armed looters pillaging shops in the capital.

Barricades of burning tires, rubble and corpses blocked a main road out of the city as residents called for the dead bodies to be removed.

“They already took some bodies away, but there are more, many more,” said Charles Weber, a 53-year-old voodoo priest in the crowd surrounding a roadblock.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon confirmed Saturday the death of his Haiti mission chief, Hedi Annabi, as the body faced its biggest ever loss of life with 40 dead and close to 330 unaccounted for. Ban was to visit Haiti Sunday.

The UN Security Council will meet Monday to discuss coordination of the international aid operation.

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NKorea’s Kim calls for stronger army amid tension

In World on January 17, 2010 at 3:57 pm

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il said his country must bolster its armed forces, state media reported Sunday, two days after his regime warned South Korea it was ready to attack if necessary.

In response to media reports that Seoul had recently modified its contingency plans to handle any turmoil in the isolated North, Kim’s all-powerful National Defense Commission threatened Friday to retaliate by “blow(ing) up the stronghold of the South Korean authorities.” The commission also warned it would break off all dialogue and negotiations with Seoul.

On Sunday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim had inspected a joint army, navy and air force drill that demonstrated the country’s “merciless striking power” against anyone trying to infringe on its territory.

In this undated photo released by Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service in Tokyo Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, wearing sunglasses, visits a pig farm under Unit 534 of the Korean People’s Army at undisclosed location in North Korea

Kim expressed his satisfaction with the drill and ordered the military to continue to develop its capabilities in order to become “invincible revolutionary armed forces,” according to the KCNA report.

The report did not say when or where the joint drill took place.

Kim routinely visits military units and inspects their training. The 1.2 million-member armed forces are the backbone of his authoritarian rule, and he often calls for a stronger military during the visits.

But the report of his latest inspection came just two days after his defense commission issued a rare statement that strongly rebuked Seoul for the contingency plan, which the North says is aimed at toppling Kim’s regime.

That warning came as a surprise since the North recently offered conciliatory gestures to the South, including a proposal Thursday to discuss resuming stalled joint tour programs.

Seoul expressed regret over the North’s threat, which it said was driven by unconfirmed media reports.

South Korea has also reportedly drawn up a military operations plan with the United States to cope with possible emergencies in North Korea, but South Korea’s Defense Ministry has consistently declined to comment about the existence of such a plan.

The two Koreas remain technically at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, and North Korea occasionally threatens to destroy the South. Authorities in Seoul monitor those warnings carefully but usually take them in stride.

An official from South Korea’s Defense Ministry said there had been no suspicious activities by the North’s military in recent days.

Another South Korean government official downplayed the significance of the North’s latest joint drill, saying it appeared to be part of routine training.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

A test of the North’s intentions regarding negotiations with South Korea could come as early as this week, as the sides had earlier agreed to meet in North Korea on Tuesday to discuss economic cooperation. The Unification Ministry said South Korea has no plan to cancel the meeting.

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