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S.Korea, US lukewarm on North’s call for talks

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:13 am

The United States and South Korea responded cautiously Thursday to North Korea’s call for unconditional talks, saying Pyongyang must be judged on actions rather than words.

North Korea offered “unconditional” negotiations with the South Wednesday, in its most conciliatory remarks since the nuclear-armed state sent tensions on the peninsula soaring in November by shelling a South Korean island.

In an unusually cordial statement, carried by its KCNA agency, North Korea said it “courteously proposes having wide-ranging dialogue and negotiations”.

Pyongyang is “ready to meet anyone, anytime, anywhere”, it said, calling for “unconditional and early opening of talks” with officials with “real power and responsibility”.

South Korean Special Warfare Forces hurl snow during a winter exercise in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on January 4, 2011.

But South Korea dismissed the approach.

“We don’t consider it as a serious offer for dialogue,” Unification Ministry Spokeswoman Lee Jong-Joo told AFP.

She noted the North had regularly issued similar statements until 2007 as part of what she said was a long-standing strategy of driving a wedge between the South Korean government and its people.

The North should instead show it was serious about its obligations under a 2005 agreement on denuclearisation and apologise over the November shelling and the sinking of a South Korean warship in March last year, she said.

Washington echoed Seoul’s response, saying that the North had to take “useful steps” to show that its proposal was serious.

“It needs to demonstrate it is sincere in the offer,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters, noting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the plan with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

“There are still things that North Korea has to do to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose,” Crowley said, such as ending its provocative behaviour and recommitting itself to a 2005 declaration for nuclear disarmament.

The offer came as the top US envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei and Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun in Beijing, after a visit to Seoul focused on reducing tensions.

Bosworth was expected to head for Tokyo later Thursday, while US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was also scheduled to meet his Chinese counterpart in a visit to Beijing starting January 9.

Foreign ministry officials said Bosworth stressed during talks in Seoul that Pyongyang needed to show it was sincere about mending ties with Seoul if six-party international talks on its nuclear programme were to resume.

The North has previously refused to discuss the nuclear issue directly with the South, saying it only wants to deal with Washington, but its latest statement suggested it may be willing to engage with Seoul on the topic.

The North’s proposal put the South in a dilemma, analysts said.

“This dialogue offer places the South in a very awkward position, especially when both China and the United States want to see tension reduction through dialogue,” Hong Hyun-Ik at the private Sejong Institute said.

“The North is shifting the blame for the lack of dialogue to the South.”

He added that the North could conduct a third atomic test unless progress is made at stalled six-party talks on ending the North’s nuclear programme — a scenario echoed by Professor Kim Yong-Hyun of Dongguk University.

The North quit the six-nation talks in April 2009 and staged a nuclear test a month later, its second since 2006, in protest at continuing “hostile” US policy toward the communist state.

Efforts to resume the talks recently gained momentum as Beijing called for renewed dialogue and Pyongyang signalled it was willing to return to the negotiating table.

Relations between the two Koreas were stretched to breaking point after the North’s shelling in November, which killed four people, including two civilians.

But tensions have softened since the New Year, with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak offering closer economic ties if Pyongyang changes course.

Source: SGGP

Candidates call for vote postponement in cholera-hit Haiti

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2010 at 10:09 am

Prosecution call for ex-Avenue Project manager

In Uncategorized on August 14, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Prosecution call for ex-Avenue Project manager

QĐND – Saturday, August 14, 2010, 20:50 (GMT+7)

The Ministry of Public Security’s Investigation Agency has requested the Supreme People’s Procuracy prosecute Huynh Ngoc Si, former director of the ODA-funded East-West Avenue project in Ho Chi Minh City, on charges of “taking bribes”.

The request was made after the Agency concluded investigations into evidence and documents relating to Si’s involvement in a case of giving and taking bribes when he headed the Management Board of the East-West Avenue and Ho Chi Minh City Water Environment Improvement project.

The case was brought to light following the Japanese Government’s suggestion that Vietnam investigate allegations of officials of Japan’s Pacific Consultants International (PCI) paying bribes in order to be awarded contracts.

The four ex-employees with Japan’s PCI claimed that they gave Si bribes totaling 800,000 USD in exchange for the provision of consultancy services for the East-West Avenue project.

The bribes were given between 2003 and 2006, at a time when the East-West Avenue project in Ho Chi Minh City was underway. On August 25, 2008, the four ex-PCI officials were prosecuted on charges of bribery and violations of Japan’s anti-competition laws.

In January this year, the Investigation Agency already initiated legal proceedings against Si on charges of taking bribes in line with Article 279 of the Penal Code.

Earlier, on September 25, 2009, Si was sentenced to three years in jail on charges of “abuse of power” when carrying out the East-West Avenue and HCM City Water Environment Improvement project.

Si, who is also former deputy director of HCM City’s Department of Transport, and his deputy, Le Qua, misappropriated funds earned from leasing a State-owned house on Nguyen Thi Dieu Street in District 3 to Japan’s Pacific Consultants International (PCI).

The money received from the contract between August 2001 and November 2002, estimated at around 1.2 billion VND (66,500 USD), was not submitted to the state budget but disbursed among 87 officials working in the project.

Si took 52 million VND and Qua took 54 million VND from the contract. The two officials also used 350 million VND for “treating guests”.

Source: VNA/Vietnam+

Source: QDND

Travel firms call for wharf to boost river tourism

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Travel firms call for wharf to boost river tourism

QĐND – Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 21:22 (GMT+7)

Ho Chi Minh City tourism authorities are considering a plan to develop river tourism between HCMC, the Mekong Delta, and Cambodia but travel companies first want them to build a wharf exclusively for tourism.

The city Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism is planning to do a survey on a new river tour from next month that will allow visitors to cruise from HCMC through the Mekong Delta province of An Giang to Cambodia.

The department sees considerable potential in this after surveying two intra-city routes from BachDangWharf to the Nha Be Confluence and Tau Hu Canal.

The tour operators hailed the proposal but pointed to the lack of a wharf for tourist boats.

There are 20 tourist boats, floating restaurants, and canoes operating from Bach Dang, which is not a tourist wharf, in District 1, Thoi Bao Kinh Te Sai Gon Online (Saigon Economic Times Online) reported.

They can dock there to pick up passengers but cannot anchor there for long due to the limited space.

The wharf also lacks tourist services and parking space for tourists’ vehicles.

Chiem Thanh Long, director of the BinhQuoiTouristVillage in Binh Thanh District, said his company had to cancel a plan to build a large floating restaurant due to the lack of docking space.

“I think the most important aspect of the river tourism development plan is to build a tourist wharf in the city,” he said.

Around 188,000 foreign travelers visited HCMC in July, the tourism low season, up 20 percent year on year but down by 12,000 from June, according to the department.

Source: tuoitrenews

Source: QDND

Australian PM poised to call August election: reports

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2010 at 4:46 pm

SYDNEY, July 16, 2010 (AFP) – Australia’s new Prime Minister Julia Gillard is poised to call a general election for late August, media said Friday, as she moves to legitimise her rule after being catapulted to power in a party coup.

Gillard, who became the country’s first woman leader after ousting her predecessor Kevin Rudd just three weeks ago, was expected Saturday to ask the country’s governor general to set an August 28 poll date, the ABC said.

(FILES) A file photo taken on June 24, 2010 shows Australia’s new prime minister Julia Gillard (R) and deputy prime minister Wayne Swann (L) at a press conference. AFP

“Labor sources have told the ABC Ms Gillard is expected to visit Governor General Quentin Bryce in Canberra tomorrow morning to set an August 28 election date,” the public broadcaster said, quoting ruling Labor Party sources.

Rival Sky News quoted sources as saying the poll could be called for either August 28 or a week earlier on August 21.

Both the ABC and Sky News however said the centre-left prime minister would return to Canberra on Saturday to ask Bryce to dissolve parliament and issue writs calling for an election.

Gillard was tight-lipped about the timing of the looming poll.

“I’m not engaging in election speculation,” she told reporters in the island state of Tasmania. “But whenever the election is called it will be a very clear choice about whether Australia moves forward or back.”

As a constitutional monarchy, Australia’s electoral system requires the prime minister to ask the governor general — Queen Elizabeth II’s official representative — to call an election at least 33 days before the polling date.

The election for members of the lower House of Representatives and half of the Senate will see Gillard pitted against conservative Liberal Party opposition leader Tony Abbott for the nation’s leadership.

Analysts have speculated for weeks that Gillard would call a late August vote in order to cash in on an opinion poll “bounce” her party has enjoyed since ejecting Rudd, whose popularity had plummeted over policy missteps.

A Nielsen and Galaxy opinion poll last week gave Labor a narrow but election-winning 52-48 percent lead over the opposition Liberal-National coalition, up from 33 percent in early June.

But the flame-haired prime minister has already hit political turbulence as she battles to win support for her policies on the core issues of asylum seekers, the economy and climate change.

Gillard promised polls this year after taking over from Rudd, who was ruthlessly toppled by party colleagues less than three years into his first term, following the spectacular collapse of his public popularity.

Since being sworn in she has been frantically trying to clear the decks of thorny policy issues that could cost her government re-election, including a disputed mining tax and how to stem an influx of boatpeople that has angered the public.

Gillard, who was Rudd’s deputy, has also been anxious to defuse concerns over her loyalty and the legitimacy of her rise to power after Rudd’s ignominious dismissal.

After being elected as the new Labor leader, she said she would not move into the official prime ministerial residence until she had been elected by the people in her own right.

The straight-talking former industrial lawyer has been scrambling to tackle the core issues that led to Rudd’s implosion: the controversial 40 percent mining tax, refugee arrivals and plans to fight climate change.

But while she quickly struck a deal with major miners on a new and less onerous tax, her bid to tackle the asylum seeker issue backfired amid confusion over where a mooted regional processing centre would be based.

The prime minister is also expected to unveil her plans for fighting global warming, after Rudd’s government fatefully shelved plans to introduce a carbon emissions trading scheme in the face of staunch opposition from Abbott.

Welsh-born Gillard, 48, is a self-confessed atheist and is seen as a liberal on social issues, a political pragmatist and consensual leader; devout Catholic Abbott is a social and political conservative known for his gaffes and colourful language.

The election is expected to be played out in marginal seats in the populous eastern states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Source: SGGP

Thuan An – Call of the Sea festival kicks off

In Uncategorized on May 23, 2010 at 9:25 am

The Thuan An – Call of the Sea Festival 2010 opened on May 22 at the Thuan An Beach, Phu Van District, Thua Thien Hue Province, reappearing A Cau Ngu (Fish Prayer) Festival and opening a tourist season in the central province.

A small fishing boat glides to the shore at Thuan An Beach.

The festival attracted over 1,000 visitors and local people to join in the opening day.

Visitors have chance to enjoy many community activities, sports and traditional games such as Thanh Tien art arrangement of paper flowers, beach football, kite flying.

The festival will end today May 23.

Thuan An Beach, a famous beach located only 15km from Hue city’s centre, has attracted tourists for many years with its natural beauty.

Source: SGGP

Prudential launches record cash call to buy Asian insurer

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2010 at 9:01 am

LONDON, May 17, 2010 (AFP) – British insurance giant Prudential said Monday it will raise 14.5 billion pounds (17 billion euros, 21 billion dollars) from the sale of new shares to help fund a record takeover of Asian insurer AIA.

“Prudential today announces further details of the proposed combination of the Prudential Group and the AIA Group, including the terms of its fully underwritten rights issue to raise approximately 14.5 billion pounds,” a statement said.

The British group had delayed by almost two weeks details of the record rights issue needed to fund the insurance sector’s biggest ever takeover, as regulators voiced concerns about the enlarged company’s capital strength.

Prudential announced in March that it had agreed to buy AIA — the Asian arm of troubled US insurer AIG — for 35.5 billion dollars (29 billion euros).

It expects to complete the takeover in the third quarter of 2010 while reports suggest Prudential may have to sell its British operations to fund the rest of the deal.

“We are creating the leading life insurer in the fastest growing region in the world, giving us greater exposure to the highly attractive long-term growth offered in Asia,” Prudential chairman Harvey McGrath said Monday.

“We believe this opportunity will deliver substantial long-term value for our shareholders.”

The takeover will give Prudential about 30 million customers in Asia and see the Asian operation become by far the group’s biggest division — contributing some 60 percent of new business profit.

Regarding the rights issue, Prudential said it was offering almost 14 billion new shares, each priced at 104 pence. According to analytical group Dealogic, the rights issue is the biggest ever launched to fund a takeover.

Current Prudential investors will be offered 11 new shares for every two shares they own. The sale price represents an 80.8-percent discount to the insurer’s closing price of 542.5 pence on Friday.

Prudential’s share price dropped 2.67 percent to 528.5 pence at the start of London trade.

The AIA deal and the rights issue need 75-percent backing at a shareholders’ meeting due on June 7.

“The combined business will be a fast growing and highly profitable company, with a leading position in many of the most attractive markets in the world,” Prudential chief executive Tidjane Thiam insisted on Monday.

“We believe that, through capital management and portfolio rationalisation, there will be opportunities for the combined entity to create additional shareholder value over and beyond the revenue and cost synergies identified,” added the Frenchman who put together the mega-deal.

Reports have suggested however that some of Prudential’s biggest shareholders are opposed to the tie-up.

The rights issue is meanwhile set to raise about 13.8 billion pounds net of fees and transaction-related expenses, while it is being fully-underwritten by Credit Suisse, HSBC, J.P. Morgan Cazenove plus by a syndicate.

These groups will take up any shares not bought by existing shareholders.

Alongside the rights issue, London-listed Prudential has said it plans to begin trading existing shares in Hong Kong and Singapore on May 25.

The listings are seen as a move to garner support from regional investors for the rights issue.

The Hong Kong and Singapore listings will be done by way of introduction, which means adding trading venues without issuing new shares.

The acquisition of AIA will double the size of Prudential and transform it into the world’s top non-Chinese insurer by market capitalisation, ahead of major competitors Allianz and AXA.

Sales in Asia already make up half of new contracts for Prudential across a number of countries including China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The company also has a strong presence in Britain and the United States.

Source: SGGP

Thai protesters call for talks as clashes leave 29 dead

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 at 8:55 pm

BANGKOK, May 16, 2010 (AFP) – Thailand’s “Red Shirt” protesters appealed Sunday for UN-mediated talks with the government after several days of violent street battles in the capital left 29 people dead and more than 220 wounded.

A Thai man removes a can from a burning barricade in a main avenue of Bangkok during clashes between demonstrators and security forces on May 16, 2010. AFP photo

A top protest leader also urged the revered king to intervene in the crisis, which has turned areas of the city into no-go zones as troops fire live ammunition at demonstrators, some armed or using slingshots and fireworks.

The Reds were ready to enter peace talks with the government “immediately” as long as the United Nations mediated, protest leader Nattawut Saikuar said.

“We want the UN because we don’t trust we will receive justice from organisations in Thailand,” he said, as the death toll jumped by five Sunday after urban warfare erupted in the heart of the city of 12 million people.

But the idea was quickly shot down by the government, which has repeatedly warned foreign governments not to meddle in its affairs.

“As for the call of UN interference, no governments allow any organisations to intervene in their internal affairs,” spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

Previous talks between the two sides have failed to reach an agreement, despite an offer — since withdrawn — by the embattled premier to hold elections in November if the opposition demonstrators go home.

The army Sunday put off a plan to impose a curfew in parts of the city but did not rule out restricting night-time movements if the situation deteriorates.

The government extended a state of emergency to five more provinces, ordered schools to stay shut Monday and declared two days of national holidays to keep civilians off the streets.

Authorities said they would send workers from the Red Cross to help protesters — particularly women, children and the elderly — who want to leave the vast protest area in the heart of the capital.

“Men can also leave the site but they have to show they are unarmed,” army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd told reporters.

The army moved on Thursday to seal off the area to prevent more demonstrators entering, although they have been allowed to leave, as the government grappled with a way to end the two-month stand-off.

There were fresh confrontations on the fringes of the Red Shirts’ sprawling encampment Sunday as a swathe of the city was shrouded in black smoke after demonstrators torched piles of tyres in roads. One shop was ablaze.

Facing a military armed with assault rifles, the protesters have fought with homemade weapons including Molotov cocktails, fireworks, rockets, slingshots, and burning tyres.

An AFP photographer saw one demonstrator firing a handgun on Saturday. The government says grenades have also been fired by militants opposed to the government.

All of the fatalities in recent days have been civilians. New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thai authorities were on a “slippery slope” towards serious human rights abuses by designating “live fire zones.”

The Reds called on the king to intervene, saying he was the “only hope” for an end to the crisis, which has left 59 people dead and about 1,700 wounded since mass protests began in mid-March.

“As people in this country, we would like his kindness,” Jatuporn Prompan told reporters at the rally site, where thousands of protesters were camped.

“I believe Thais will feel the same, that His Majesty is our only hope.”

King Bhumibol Adulyadej chastised both the military and protest leaders during a 1992 uprising, effectively bringing the violence to an end, but has avoided commenting directly on the current crisis in public.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva vowed there would be no turning back on the government’s policy of sealing the protesters inside their fortified camp.

“Your rally has been used by terrorists. It’s not a rally for democracy,” he said in his regular Sunday television address.

The Reds accuse Abhisit’s government of being elitist and undemocratic because it came to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote after a court ruling ousted elected allies of their hero, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The army warned it would move against the demonstrators’ main rally site unless they disperse, but it gave no timetable for the action.

A military operation on April 10 to clear an area of the city of protesters left 25 people dead and more than 800 injured.

Thai society is deeply divided between the urban elite and rural poor, with most of the Red Shirts from the north and impoverished northeast.

Source: SGGP

Greek unions call fresh protests ahead of austerity vote

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Greek unions mobilised Thursday for new demonstrations against draconian austerity cuts as the government raced to push the unprecedented measures through parliament a day after deadly rioting.

A protest near the Parliament building in the center of Athens.

The main unions called their members to new protests from 6 pm (1500 GMT) undeterred by the deaths of three people, reportedly including a pregnant woman, in a firebombed Athens bank the previous day when demonstrations degenerated.

Condemning “the fires, blind violence, vandalism”, the million-member GSEE private sector union said in a statement “we are determined to pursue and extend our struggle to meet our fair demands.”

As the government insisted it would not back down on the austerity drive, eurozone leaders scrambled to keep Greece’s debt crisis from spreading to other highly indebted countries like Spain and Portugal

The European Central Bank held one of its most crucial meetings ever in Lisbon to rein in the Greek debt crisis while eurozone leaders prepared to meet on Friday in Brussels to contemplate the future of their embattled bloc.

As unions prepared for a fresh round of demonstrations, Greek lawmakers were debating the government spending cuts and tax hikes with voting on the legislation due to begin in the afternoon.

Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou told parliament the austerity drive, which eurozone countries and the IMF have demanded in return for a bailout, was the only option.

“The only way to escape bankruptcy is to accept the aid money, which reaches 110 billion euros… and the precondition is to agree on the three-year austerity plan,” Papaconstantinou said during the debate.

Average Greeks voiced sadness and bitterness in the streets of central Athens as the nation was still reeling from the shock killing of the bank workers.

“I’m sad and I’m angry because those people who threw the Molotov cocktails don’t respect the lives of other people,” said Chris, a 30-year-old who works for a small private company and who participated in the demonstrations.

Anita, who works in a bank not far from the bank that caught fire, said that the firebombing blamed on young hooligans was “the saddest thing that could ever happen to Greece”

“I was working in my bank, we saw the fire, it could have happened to me”,” she said. “This has nothing to do with the protests, the demonstration was peaceful.”

As protestors marched on Wednesday against the government’s plans to avert national bankruptcy and the strike shut down much of the country, some demonstrations turned violent.

Demonstrators tried to storm the parliament and hooded youths hurled petrol bombs at stores and businesses in central Athens, prompting police to respond with tear gas and charges.

Police said two women and one man died at a branch of the Marfin bank which caught fire after rioters broke a window and threw Molotov cocktails inside.

One of the women who died was four months pregnant, according to doctors quoted by the Greek press.

At least two other buildings — the Athens prefecture and one used by tax officials — caught fire after other firebomb attacks on the margins of the protests.

The general strike was the first major test of the Socialist government’s resolve to push through unprecedented measures since agreeing to a 110 billion euro (143 billion dollar) EU and IMF debt bailout at the weekend.

Officers arrested at least 12 people in Athens and another 37 in the northern city of Thessaloniki, where protestors also targeted stores and banks in the city centre before riot police dispersed them.

The violence in Athens sparked concerns on global financial markets that Greece’s huge bailout could veer off course and that its debt crisis could engulf other countries.

The euro dived to the lowest level for more than one year as the deadly protests in debt-plagued Greece cast a shadow over the future of the eurozone and the single currency, dealers said.

Moody’s ratings agency on Thursday warned that the fallout from the Greek debt crisis presented a risk of “contagion” for the credit rating of banks in Britain, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Spain helped investors immediate fears of contagion after the government successfully raised 2.345 billion euros in the country’s first debt sale since its credit rating was cut last week.


Source: SGGP

Economic crisis a ‘wake-up call’ for Asia: ADB

In Uncategorized on March 30, 2010 at 3:58 am

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2010 (AFP) – The global economic crisis should serve as a “wake-up call” for Asia to commit to reforms including an expansion of the social safety net, an executive at the Asian Development Bank says.

The Manila-based lender says that even though the region is recovering at a faster pace than expected, some 57 million people will remain stuck in poverty who otherwise would have emerged out of it in 2010.

“The impact of the crisis, purely on economic terms, I think we’ve weathered quite well and we’re coming out of it, but the social impacts have been quite severe,” said Rajat Nag, the managing director general of the bank.

“I think this is a wake-up call to make some fairly important structural reforms in Asia,” Nag told AFP on a visit to Washington on Monday.

He said that Asia’s developing economies should move to draw down their heavy reliance on exports to the United States, Europe and Japan and instead look to boost domestic consumption.

“In Asia, the export growth model served us very well throughout the last three decades. It’s time to revisit that,” he said. “Rebalancing growth in Asia really means that Asia has to become a consumer and not just a producer.”

Such consumption can be stimulated by stepping up regional trade — or persuading Asians to be more liberal with their money. Asians on average save around 30 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP), well above other regions.

Savings “will not come down just by our talking about rebalancing growth. It will come down if we can offer a credible social protection network,” Nag said.

While several of the more advanced economies have set up wide-ranging health care systems, most Asians tend to save as an insurance against hardships.

The Asian Development Bank is expected next month to raise its 2010 growth projections for the second time.

In December, it said that the region would grow at 6.6 percent this year. The bank’s estimates do not cover Japan, a highly developed economy and key contributor to the lending institution.

But Nag counseled caution on lifting stimulus measures, which many economies took after the economic crisis erupted in 2008 with the implosion of the US housing market.

“The recovery is less than robust but more than fragile,” Nag said. “We think the fiscal stimulus measures should stay in place for a while yet.”

Nag said that China and India would help lead the way with strong growth. Newly industrialized economies such as Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan — which took severe blows due to the downturn in exports — are also all expected to be in positive territory.

He said that Indonesia and Vietnam were also faring well. Vietnam is one of the few Asian nations with serious worries about inflation, leading it to devalue its dong twice since late 2009.

Nag did not expect any downgrade for Thailand, saying that there were no signs that foreign investors were fleeing the kingdom during its latest bout of political chaos.

Source: SGGP