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Archive for June 29th, 2010|Daily archive page

More travel misery from Greek general strike

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 12:46 pm

ATHENS (AFP) – Travellers in Greece on Tuesday ran a labour gauntlet for the second time in a week as a general strike against pensions reform shut down services and disrupted departures from the capital.

But authorities took swift action to keep the main port of Piraeus from being blockaded, sending around 1,000 coastguards and police to keep unionists from seizing control of ferries.

Public Power Corporation employees protest outside their company’s headquarters with a banner reading: “We are not selling. We are not for sale” on June 28, 2010 in Athens. AFP

Some 500 Communist-affiliated strikers gathered at the harbour but were prevented from approaching the ships to the Aegean islands which include some of Greece’s top travel destinations, a coastguard source said.

However, they were able to block the departure of smaller vessels to islands closer to Athens.

“All the early boats to Aegean destinations have departed,” a coastguard spokeswoman told AFP.

“There are increased operational measures at the harbour and things are calm,” she said.

The general strike called by the main Greek unions is the fifth since February against a wave of austerity measures imposed by the government as it struggles to staunch a national debt crisis.

Separate street demonstrations against the sweeping spending cuts were planned in central Athens and other main Greek cities later on Tuesday.

A one-day protest on June 23 stranded thousands of travellers at one of the Mediterranean Sea’s busiest ports for hours.

The recurring labour unrest has cost Greece booking cancellations and millions of euros in damages at a time when the debt-hit nation is struggling to maximise its revenues and revive its flagging economy.

“Greek islanders are counting on the next month for funds,” Manolis Galanakis, deputy chairman of Greek coastal shipping associations, told Mega television.

He added that some 18,000 people were scheduled to sail from Piraeus on Tuesday.

A court late on Monday declared the ferry strike illegal but the Communist party and its related syndicates dismissed the ruling.

“Legality is relative. How can someone losing their job be considered legal?” the head of the Piraeus labour centre Nikos Xourafis told the television station.

Tourism contributes 17 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product.

Greece’s main airlines grounded nearly 50 of Tuesday’s domestic flights because of the strike while rail access to Athens airport was also impeded. Intercity trains also ran a reduced service along with hospitals while state offices shut down altogether.

No news was broadcast as journalists joined the action.

Lawmakers on Tuesday were to begin discussing a disputed pension reform tabled by the government that raises the general retirement age to 65 years for both men and women for the first time.

It also increases the mandatory workforce period from 37 to 40 years and cracks down on early retirement.

Source: SGGP

China and Taiwan sign historic trade pact

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 12:46 pm

CHONGQING, China, June 29, 2010 (AFP) – Taiwan and China signed a historic trade pact Tuesday.

The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, hailed by both sides as a milestone and a commercial imperative in an era of strong regional cooperation, was signed by senior delegates in the southwest Chinese city of Chongqing.

The signing of the agreement, by far the most sweeping ever between the two sides, marks the culmination of a policy introduced by Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou after assuming power in 2008.

Chen Yunlin (R), the head of a semi-official Chinese agency, toasts with his Taiwan counterpart Chiang Ping-kun, chairman for the Taiwan’s Strait Exchange Foundation, during the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signning ceremony in Chongqing, Sichuan in China on June 29, 2010. AFP photo

“Signing this agreement is not only an important milestone in economic ties between the two sides,” said the leader of the Taiwanese delegation, Chiang Pin-kung.

“It’s also a huge step forward for the two amid the trend of regional economic integration and globalisation.”

China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner, its largest investment destination, and now also home to a growing number of Taiwanese.

It is estimated that about one million people from the island live in China, especially in the Shanghai area.

The trade pact looks set to push interaction between the two sides to a new level.

The deal will confer preferential tariffs, and in some cases zero tariffs, on 539 Taiwanese products from petrochemicals and auto parts to machinery — representing 16 percent of the island’s total export value to China.

At the same time, only about 267 Chinese items, or 10.5 percent of China’s export value to Taiwan, will be placed on the “early harvest” list enjoying zero or falling tariffs.

Source: SGGP

VN-Index maintains upwards momentum as blue-chips rally

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 8:48 am

Movement of VN-Index on June 29. (Photo: VN-Index, a measure of 242 companies and four mutual funds listed on the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange, continued to advance on June 29 as buying demand improved.

The country’s benchmark finished at 510.71 points, gaining 3.43 points, or 0.68 percent. Around 46.6 million shares, worth VND1.26 trillion, changed hands on the city bourse.

112 stocks rose, 93 dropped, and 41 remained unchanged.

Saigon Securities Inc. (SSI) had the most active shares in volume with 1.64 million shares changing hands, followed by PetroVietNam Transportation Corporation (PVT) with 1.35 million shares.

Saigon Thuong Tin Commercial Bank or Sacombank (STB) remained in third place with 1.18 million shares.

On June 23, Toan Thinh Phat Architecture Investment Construction Joint Stock Company bought 4 million shares of Sacombank (STB), increasing its holdings to 5,644,340 shares, accounting for 0.84 percent of the bank’s chartered capital.

Viet Nam Golf Tourism Joint Stock Company (VNG) was the biggest gainer on southern market, advancing the daily maximum allowed limit of 5 percent to VND16,800.

Saigon Telecommunication & Technologies Corporation (SGT) closed up 4.93 percent to VND23,400.

Foreign Trade Development and Investment Corporation of Ho Chi Minh City (FDC) climbed 4.9 percent to VND38,500.

1,429,609 additional shares of Foreign Trade Development and Investment Corporation of Ho Chi Minh City (FDC) officially traded on the city bourse on June 29. These shares were issued to pay dividends to current shareholders, according to the company’s announcement on April 16.

Meanwhile, telecommunication cable producer Viet – Han Corporation (VHG) declined 4.9 percent to VND33,000.

Other decliners included Ca Mau Trading Joint Stock Company (CMV), DIC Investment and Trading Joint Stock Company (DIC), and Son Ha International Corporation (SHI).

Hanoi’s HNX-Index slightly rose 0.18 points, or 0.11 percent, to close at 161.33. Trading volume increased by 20 percent to 44.39 million shares, worth VND1.25 trillion.

In contrast, the UPCoM-Index dropped 0.35 points to 47.4, as of 11:15 am local time. A total of 257,193 shares traded at VND4.1 billion.

Source: SGGP

Vietnam to revamp imported meat inspections

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 8:47 am

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) has issued a new regulation calling for stricter meat import inspections to end Vietnam’s ongoing “dirty meat” saga that began in 2008.

The new MARD decree on required food hygiene, which will take effect July 1, requires exporter countries to register their domestic businesses that can meet hygiene demands with Vietnamese agencies.

(Files) Meat sold at a market in Hanoi

The regulation stipulates that only these enterprises will be able to export meat into Vietnam. Certificates of safety must be enclosed with import consignments, according to the new rule.

MARD said that in the first five months of 2010, frozen meat imports (poultry and meats) increased three-fold over the last months of 2009.  Pork imports alone have reached 500,000 tons, consisting mainly of heads, feet and tails.

However, this year’s outbreaks of the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus, also called “Blue Ear,” has stalled containers of frozen chicken and pigs at ports in the northern city of Hai Phong, the border town of Mong Cai in the north and Ho Chi Minh City. Containers of frozen chickens and pigs are also stuck at Dinh Vu Port in Hai Phong City.

But many businesses have been trying to avoid the stricter inspections by importing large shipments before the regulation takes effect, the department said.

However, MARD also said that all newly imported containers would be placed under scrutiny and that importers would be ordered to re-export food if shipments are found to have skirted hygiene requirements. Warnings would also be sent to exporting countries.

Companies found to have intentionally breached regulations would be shut down, the department said.

At the same time household farmers and food processing firms said they were concerned over the massive meat imports that they say will put pressure on domestic breeding.

Since 2008, tens of tons of unsafe meat have been imported into Vietnam in what the press has deemed “the dirty meat saga”

Source: SGGP

Needy provided free meal tickets at HCMC hospital

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 8:47 am

It was pitch dark at 4:40am when the patients’ relatives began lining up with bowls and lunch boxes ready to pack up a free meal for their sickly and injured loved ones.

Volunteers serve free breakfasts to poor patients at Cho Ray Hospital in HCMC (Photo: SGGP)

The line outside the guesthouse at Cho Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City was a grateful one. Most were so poor that if the volunteers from the Poor Patient Sponsor Association hadn’t begun serving free breakfasts, they would have gone without.

A lorry carrying hot meals from the association’s Nhon Hoa Poor Patient Sponsor Branch slowly pulled up in front of the guesthouse.

By 5am, poor patients were being served their meals, and the “thank yous” were being passed around abundantly.

Ms. Muoi from the Mekong Delta Province of Kien Giang, who has taken care of her brother’s head injuries since he was in a traffic accident two months ago, said the free breakfast had helped ease the financial her family had been suffering from ever since her brother was hospitalized.

Nguyen Thi Kim Loan from the Mekong Delta Province of Long An has been loking after her father, a serious burn victim, at the hospital for a long time.

She said she was eternally grateful to the volunteers from bringing the free food.

Most of people gathered that morning said they hoped that the free breakfasts could be provided not only at Cho Ray Hospital, but also other hospitals as well.

Volunteer Ba Tam said that he and his friends had begun preparing the food at 11pm the night before. He said they cooked until 3am but still felt happy sharing the fruits of their labor with unlucky people.

The free breakfast program for poor patients was begun by the Nhon Hoa Poor Patient Sponsor Branch and Cho Ray Hospital in early March this year.

In just three months, the project has provided 50,000 rations, including rice dishes, porridge, noodles and bread, worth VND300 million (US$16,000) in total.

Source: SGGP

Rare white elephant caught in Myanmar

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 8:47 am

YANGON, June 29 (AFP) – A rare white elephant, historically considered an omen of political change, has been captured in the west of Myanmar, state media reported Tuesday.

The female pachyderm was captured by officials on Saturday in the coastal town of Maungtaw in Rakhine state, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

A photo illustration of a boy making offerings to an elephant at a Buddhist shrine. (AFP files)

She is aged about 38 and seven feet four inches (more than two metres) tall, the English-language paper said, although it did not mention where she would be kept.

Kings and leaders in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, have traditionally treasured white elephants, whose rare appearances in the country are believed to herald political change.

Source: SGGP

BP’s costs soar as storm delays oil containment

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 8:47 am

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, Jun 29 (AFP) – BP’s costs soared as a major storm stymied efforts to double the amount of oil captured from a ruptured well deep in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tropical storm Alex, the first major storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, appeared set to sidestep the massive slick, but its strong winds made seas too rough to attach a third vessel to siphon oil from a containment cap some 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the surface.

AFP/Getty Images/File – Pete Duchock holds his daughter, Maddie Duchock, as they stand near oil residue

Rough seas could also push the oil deeper into fragile coastal wetlands and has already shifted parts of the slick closer to sensitive areas in Florida and Louisiana, said US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the response efforts.

“Any kind of a surge or a storm would obviously exacerbate the oil further into marshes, which would cause problems, and we’re going to face that potential throughout the hurricane season,” he told reporters.

Even the threat of gale force winds — upward of 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour — will suffice to force drilling and containment ships to withdraw from the spill site some 52 miles (83 km) off the coast of Louisiana, Allen said.

Evacuations must begin 120 hours in advance, and operations will be shut down for about two weeks to “take down the equipment, move it off to a safe place, bring it back and reestablish drilling,” Allen said.

That would delay the completion of relief wells designed to permanently plug the well until September, and would drastically increase the flow of oil still gushing into the sea some 70 days after the deadly explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

The current containment system is capturing nearly 25,000 of the estimated 30,000 to 60,000 barrels of crude gushing out of the ruptured well every day.

The now-delayed Helix Producer vessel was set to increase containment capacity to 40,000 to 50,000 barrels per day by early July.

Former US president Bill Clinton said blowing up the well “may become necessary” and expressed concern about the ultimate success of the two relief wells currently being drilled.

“This is a geological monster,” Clinton told CNN.

“You could stop that well, but what else might you do that might upset the ecostructure of the Gulf?”

But BP vice president Kent Wells said the energy giant has a “high degree of confidence in the relief wells.”

The first well, which stretches over 16,700 feet (5,090 meters), is now only 20 horizontal feet (six meters) away from the original well, Wells told reporters.

Engineers will drill parallel to the original well for about another 1,000 feet (305 meters) before trying to cut into it and cap it with heavy drilling fluids known as mud and concrete.

“I’m really confident in the team’s chance of being successful here,” Wells said.

BP earlier raised its costs over the oil spill to 2.65 billion dollars, an increase of about 300 million dollars over the weekend that means the energy firm is now forking out about four million dollars an hour.

The firm was also forced to deny reports its chief executive Tony Hayward was set to resign after weeks of taking flak for a string of gaffes and insensitive remarks about the disaster.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Alex gained strength as it moved into the southwestern Gulf after dumping heavy rains across the Yucatan peninsula, having killed at least 10 people in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.

On its current path, Alex is projected to make landfall in Mexico late Wednesday, with most of its force avoiding the oil spill area in the northeastern Gulf off the Louisiana coast.

Alex, which already packed maximum sustained winds of 65 miles (100 km) an hour, was “gradually strengthening,” and is expected to become a hurricane on Tuesday, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

OPEC urged the United States to reconsider legal moves and ditch a ban on deepwater drilling slapped on the oil industry in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.

Vice President Joe Biden heads to the region on Tuesday and is due to visit the New Orleans command center before traveling to the Florida panhandle.

Source: SGGP

100 foreign troops die in Afghan war in June

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 8:47 am

KABUL (AFP) – A total of 100 foreign soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan have died in June, the deadliest month for NATO in nine years of conflict, intensifying concerns about the conduct of the war.

An announcement by the US Department of Defence of the death of an American soldier on June 24 in the strife-torn western province of Farah took the toll for the year to date to 320, compared with 520 in all of 2009.

A memorial to British soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan, at a patrol base in the Nahr e Saraj, Helmand on June 28, 2010. AFP

AFP’s figures are based on a tally kept by the independent website.

The Defence Department said 20-year-old Private Robert Repkie of Tennessee had died on June 24 of “injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident” that was under investigation.

A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said 81 international troops had been killed in combat so far in June.

He said 12 troops had died of non-combat related causes. The remainder, who are not counted by ISAF, had died of injuries after returning home for treatment.

No NATO troops deaths were reported in Afghanistan on Monday, the spokesman said, adding: “A rare good day for us this month.”

The previous highest monthly toll was last August, at 77.

The United States and NATO have 140,000 troops in Afghanistan, set to peak at 150,000 by August in an effort to quell the intensifying war against the hardline Islamist Taliban.

The sacking last week of US General Stanley McChrystal for insubordination has concentrated concerns about the progress being made in bringing the insurgency under control.

His replacement, US General David Petraeus — due to take up the post on July 4, according to military officials — arrives to enormous pressure as casualties rise and Western public opinion continues to turn against the war.

The head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, also acknowledged at the weekend that there were “serious problems” with the Afghan war.

“We’re dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency,” he said.

Lack of action in cleaning up endemic official corruption is seen as an obstacle to progress, as many ordinary Afghans distrust the government the West is fighting to prop up.

On Monday, a senior US lawmaker angrily blocked billions of dollars for Afghanistan, vowing not to extend aid until President Hamid Karzai fulfills pledges to act against corruption.

Representative Nita Lowey, who sits on the powerful committee in charge of the budget, said: “I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that US taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists.”

President Barack Obama’s administration requested 3.9 billion dollars in aid for Afghanistan in the 2011 fiscal year starting in October, an aide said.

While much of the anti-Taliban effort is concentrated on the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar — the Taliban heartland — a major offensive is under way in the border region of Kunar province, according to ISAF.

It said in a statement Sunday that more than 600 ISAF and Afghan troops were pursuing Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Kunar and that “a number of insurgents” had been killed.

Two US troops were also killed, ISAF said, though there was no immediate update Tuesday.

The Washington Post reported that up to 150 Taliban insurgents had been killed in battles along the Kunar border with Pakistan.

The US-led operation, which began Sunday, was one of the largest yet in the region around Kunar province, said the newspaper, citing US officials as calling it “one of the most intense battles of the past year” in Afghanistan.

NATO has said the dramatic upswing in casualty numbers has been caused by the alliance stepping up military operations and taking the fight to the Taliban in areas where the Islamist militia has previously been unchallenged.

The heavy toll can be largely attributed to the Taliban’s use of homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are cheap and easy to make and account for the majority of foreign troops deaths.

The United Nations reported this month that IED attacks had risen by 94 percent in the first four months of this year, compared to the same period in 2009.

Source: SGGP