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Posts Tagged ‘crisis’

Australia’s Brisbane besieged by major flood crisis

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 7:06 am

BRISBANE, Australia, Jan 12, 2011 (AFP) – Australia’s third-biggest city Brisbane was besieged Wednesday by once-in-a-century floods that could hit up to 20,000 homes, as fears grew up to 25 people were killed by raging torrents.


Thousands of people took refuge with friends and central districts were eerily quiet as the river city of two million prepared for its worst deluge since 1893, as floods spread across vast areas of Australia’s northeast.

Friends and family members transfer their belongings into a boat from their flooded home after rainwaters the day before inundated the city of Ipswich, some 40 kms southwest of Brisbane on January 12, 2011. AFP

Brisbane Mayor Campbell Newman confirmed that the number of homes expected to be hit by waters breaching river systems around the city had risen from 6,500 to 19,700, as he opened more evacuation centres for victims.


“We are bracing for a one-in-a-hundred-year flood,” said state premier Anna Bligh. “We are bracing for a massive amount of water coming into this river system and it will flood thousands of properties.”


Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the number of homes under threat was “mind-boggling”, but urged people in the city, bisected by the winding Brisbane River, to help neighbours deal with what is shaping up as a major emergency.


“If there’s someone in your street you’re worried about, maybe an older Australian that you haven’t seen for a while, maybe give them a knock on the door and make sure they’re okay,” she added.


Brisbane, the cosmopolitan state capital and economic hub, is the latest and biggest victim of a crisis caused by months of rains that have turned three-quarters of Queensland into a disaster zone twice the size of Texas.


Dozens of suburbs and roads are under water with the Brisbane River bursting its banks in some places and expected to swamp the city centre when it peaks on Thursday. Power will be cut to about 100,000 properties as a safety precaution.


Some 900 people spent the night in evacuation centres in nearby Ipswich, upstream of Brisbane, while two entire small towns were evacuated in the neighbouring state of New South Wales.


Some of the inundation is related to flash floods that smashed through towns high in the Great Dividing Range to the city’s west on Monday, leaving at least 10 dead as rescuers search wrecked communities for more bodies.


State premier Bligh said the toll was expected to rise sharply, warning that the number of people missing had been upgraded to 90.


“Police are anticipating or have very, very grave fears for at least 15 more people,” Bligh said. “This is a potentially gruesome day for our rescue workers and a heartbreaking day for families,” she added.


Meanwhile Melbourne, about 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) from Brisbane in Australia’s southeast, was on alert for flash-floods following incessant downpours also blamed on the disruptive La Nina weather system.

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Source: SGGP

Don’t blame Preval for Haiti crisis: 1st Lady

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 12:03 pm

He’s been accused of rigging the election of his successor, but Elisabeth Preval, wife of the outgoing Haitian president, says her husband’s not to blame for the country’s political mess.


As Haiti prepares to mark the first anniversary of the earthquake that leveled the impoverished Caribbean nation, President Rene Preval has the difficult job in his final weeks of presiding both over a natural disaster and electoral turmoil.


His wife told AFP that despite this he will be remembered positively.


“It’s not Preval who created the poverty and misery in Haiti. To the contrary, he worked for five years to create stability,” she said in an interview.


“Political stability is an important achievement that he left the country,” she said. “And this should be protected so that economic growth and social development get a longterm chance.”


Not all Haitians would agree.


The country, reeling from years of poverty, the deadly 2010 earthquake and a cholera outbreak, now finds itself in yet another round of political turmoil as candidates from a November presidential election bicker about who should go to a second round.


Supporters of the candidate that placed third believe Preval’s handpicked candidate, Jude Celestin, cheated in order to come second, clinching a spot in the run-off vote.


The third place candidate, popular singer Michel Martelly, singled out Preval for rigging the vote and demonstrators set fire to the ruling INITE party’s headquarters in December.


As yet, no decision has been taken on when to stage the run-off round — originally set for January 16 — and, as a result, Haiti finds itself in political chaos just when it needs leadership.


The first lady, who married Preval only a few months before the earthquake, says her husband can’t be blamed.


“Thanks to his political acumen, he has steered around the problems in the country, and brought together opposing groups for dialogue,” she said.


“Haiti was going in the right direction (before the quake). In December 2009, the key indicators showed positive economic growth, political stability, an easing of social conditions and growing investor confidence,” Elisabeth Preval said.


President Preval is due to step down February 7. He says he could stay in power as long as there is no clear successor.


“I am very anxious because the stability of Haiti is in danger if hte electoral crisis is not calmly resolved,” Elisabeth Preval said.


However, she insisted that her husband had no desire to hang on.


“The president and I have finished. There is only a little time left in his mandate. I can assure you that President Preval is determined to leave as soon as the new president and new parliament take office.”


“His role,” she added, “is to protect stability.”


 

Source: SGGP

Russia tightens checks on meat imports over dioxin crisis

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Russia said Saturday it had heightened checks on meat from Germany and other European countries and threatened an import ban after Germany closed thousands of farms over animal feed tainted with dioxin.

Eggs suspected to be contaminated with dioxin, are pictured at a laboratory of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia’s food control institute in Muenster January 4, 2011

The Russian agriculture watchdog said in a statement sent to AFP on Saturday that it had “taken the decision to heighten control of food of animal origin imported from Germany and several other European Union countries”.


It did not specify which European Union countries fell under the tougher rules.


The watchdog also threatened that Russia could ban meat imports if it did not receive official information on the situation as soon as possible and if it were not satisfied by European measures to control the situation.


The watchdog “retains the right to introduce restrictions on supplying food of animal origin to the Russian market from the regions of heightened risk”, it said in the statement.


German officials said Friday they had shut 4,700 farms and destroyed more than 100,000 eggs after tests showed dangerous levels of dioxin, a poisonous chemical compound, in fatty acids used to make industrial animal feed.


The Russian agency complained of its “serious concern” that it had not received any information from Germany or the executive European Commission on the situation and said it had sent an official request.


“The European Union still lacks a system to react urgently to cases that could be dangerous for animals and humans,” the watchdog’s spokesman Alexei Alexeyenko told the Interfax news agency.


 

Source: SGGP

US envoy seeks Chinese help to ease Korea crisis

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:12 am

A top U.S. envoy sought China’s help Thursday in easing the threat of war on the Korean peninsula, hoping to gain insights about a Chinese official’s recent meeting with North Korea’s absolute leader, Kim Jong Il.


Stephen Bosworth met with Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, Senior Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs Wu Dawei and Wang Jiarui, director of the International Department of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. Bosworth was expected to travel to Japan later Thursday.


“Ambassador Bosworth and Chinese counterparts had useful consultations on how to coordinate moving forward in dealing with North Korea,” a U.S. Embassy statement said.

A body guard, left, tries to shield off journalists while U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth, second right, walks out of an exit upon arrival at the Capital Airport in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed Bosworth’s meetings. “The sides agreed to remain in contact on maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and over the six-party talks,” Hong told a news conference. The talks on North Korea’s nuclear program involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, but have been on hold for nearly two years.


Bosworth had been expected to ask China for information on last month’s talks in Pyongyang between North Korean leader Kim and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, Beijing’s top foreign policy official. China has come under growing pressure to push North Korea, its close ally, to change its behavior after the communist country shelled a South Korean island late last year, killing four people.


North Korea will be a key issue during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington later this month.


Bosworth met Wednesday in Seoul with South Korean officials and said he was hopeful for “serious negotiations” soon on the North.


In Washington on Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi held “lengthy discussions” on North Korea and ironed out details of Hu’s visit Jan. 19, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.


Crowley said both the United States and China want stability on the Korean peninsula. “Neither one of us wants to see the emergence of a North Korea that is a nuclear state,” he said. “We hope that coming out of the visit and the discussions with President Hu Jintao we would have a consensus on the best way to move forward.”


Also on Wednesday, North Korea called for “unconditional and early” talks with South Korea to end months of tensions. Seoul quickly dismissed the offer, carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, as insincere and said it was waiting for an apology for two deadly attacks blamed on Pyongyang.


Tensions between the two Koreas have been at their highest level in years since North Korea showered artillery on a South Korean-held island near their disputed maritime border in November, killing four South Koreans. The attack was the first on a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War, and occurred in waters not far from the spot where a torpedo sank a South Korean warship eight months earlier, killing 46 sailors.


The attack on the warship was also blamed on the North — an allegation the country denies.


But North Korea has made some conciliatory moves recently. On New Year’s Day, the government issued a lengthy statement calling for warmer ties and the resumption of joint projects with South Korea. Pyongyang, eager for food and fuel assistance, has said it wants stalled nuclear disarmament talks to restart.


Washington and Seoul have said the North must first fulfill past nuclear disarmament commitments before talks can resume.

Source: SGGP

UN Security Council fails to reach accord on Korea crisis

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2010 at 6:27 am

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19, 2010 (AFP) – The UN Security Council failed Sunday to agree a statement on the Korean military crisis and Russia warned that the international community was now left without “a game plan” to counter escalating tensions.


China rejected demands by Western nations that North Korea be publicly condemned for its November 23 attack on Yeonpyeong island which killed four South Koreans, diplomats said.

South Korean marines patrol on the South Korea-controlled island of Yeonpyeong near the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea on December 20, 2010. AFP

About eight hours of formal talks by the 15 nation council and private discussions, which brought in the North and South Korean ambassadors, ended without accord.


“We were not successful in bridging” differences between the parties, Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin told reporters.


He added that unofficial talks would continue, but Susan Rice, the US ambassador and Security Council president for December, said it was “safe to predict that the gaps that remain are unlikely to be bridged.”


She added that “the majority of council members made clear their view that it was important to condemn” the November 23 artillery attack and the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.


Rice called the incidents “unprovoked aggression” by North Korea on the South.


However China even rejected a version of Russia’s statement which did not mention North Korea or the Yeonpyeong name in a proposed paragraph on the November 23 attack, diplomats said.


Britain produced a rival draft statement which said the council “condemns the attack launched by the DPRK on the ROK on November 23.” The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the official name of the North and the Republic of Korea is the South.


Churkin said Russia demanded the meeting on Saturday because of its “grave concern” about tensions between North and South Korea, a region right on Russia’s doorstep.


The South has vowed to go ahead with a live firing drill near Yeonpyeong. The North has threatened to retaliate.


Russia had wanted a call of “maximum restraint” to be sent to the two Koreas and for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to send a special envoy to negotiate with the rival states.


Churkin said the idea of a UN envoy had received “strong support” in the talks.


“I hope that this idea can still be pursued because now we have a situation with very serious political tension and no game plan on the diplomatic side,” said Churkin.


Six nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons have come to a standstill “and there is no other diplomatic activity, so we believe that there must be an initiative and this initiative of the secretary general appointing an envoy might be something which will set a political process in track,” Churkin said.


The foreign ministers of Russia and China have called on South Korea not to stage its military drills and this was reaffirmed by Churkin.


“We know that it is better to refrain from doing this exercise at this time,” he said.


South Korea has US backing however and Rice countered that it had a legitimate right to stage the exercises.

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Source: SGGP

North Korea heads for new food crisis: UN

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2010 at 7:55 am

North Korea is heading for a “chronic” new food crisis with drought and floods in different parts of the country exacerbated by cuts in international aid, the United Nations said.


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern “that the acute humanitarian needs” of at least 3.5 million women and children in North Korea would worsen because of food shortages.


Even though North Korea is considered by many to be the world’s most isolated state, Ban said in a report to be discussed Friday that “the global economic crisis is further increasing the levels of hardship” adding to the “chronic food insecurity”.

File photo of North Korean workers in a field behind a barbed-wire fence which separates China and North Korea.

North Korea suffered famine like conditions in the 1990s in which several hundred thousand people died, according to aid groups. There are worries now as the North heads into its notoriously long and biting winter.


There has been a shortage of rainfall in some parts of the country but in August torrential downpours caused floods in the north, near the Chinese border.


The UN predicted that the cereal yield would be nearly a fifth lower than in 2009.


It said the country needs 3.5 million tons of cereals a year to feed its population and would have to import 1.1 million tons. In addition, UN agencies had raised only 20 percent of the 492 million dollars they estimated in 2009 would be needed for the North.


Ban quoted the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as saying that each year, some 40,000 children under five become “acutely malnourished” in North Korea, with 25,000 needing hospital treatment.


“The lack of maintenance of water and sanitation systems increases rates of diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, which are leading causes of child death.


“In addition, one third of women of childbearing age suffer from anaemia, a nutrition deficiency that is also a major cause of maternal mortality.”


The poor diet across the country leads to widespread “infectious diseases, physical and mental development disorders, poor labour productivity and an increased risk of premature death,” said the grim report.


A survey carried out by the government with UN support showed that about one third of the population suffer from stunting — below normal body growth. In some regions the figure was 45 percent.


The report was intended to be on human rights in North Korea and the UN chief said there was an “urgent need” for Kim Jong-Il’s regime to take steps to provide the basic right to food, water, sanitation and health.


The UN reported little change in the “comprehensive restrictions” on freedom of speech, religion and opinion in the tightly policed state. “The government’s control over the flow of information is strict and pervasive.”


Ban highlighted the difficulty in getting reliable information on events in the North.


But he said: “There are a number of reports concerning public executions, the use of torture, forced labour and the ill-treatment of refugees or asylum-seekers repatriated from abroad.”


His report said North Korea’s UN delegation had acknowledged that public executions were carried out for “very brutal violent crimes.”


It added that the UN envoy on rights in North Korea had raised concerns with the North’s mission about conditions in six prisons and detention centers reportedly used for political prisoners.

With the North embroiled in a dispute with South Korea over the sinking of a warship and in a nuclear arms standoff with the international community, Ban said humanitarian aid should not be restricted “on the basis of political and security concerns.”

Source: SGGP

UN rushes envoy to mounting Pakistan flood crisis

In Uncategorized on August 5, 2010 at 7:22 am

The United Nations rushed a top envoy to Pakistan on Thursday to address the urgent plight of 3.2 million people hit by the worst floods in generations as officials warned the crisis was spreading.


As the humanitarian disaster pushed into a second week, fears are growing of a food crisis among survivors who saw their villages and farmland washed away, killing more than 1,500 people in northwest and central Pakistan.


Victims have increasingly lashed out against Pakistan’s government for being unable to provide better relief, piling pressure on a cash-strapped administration straining to contain Taliban violence and economic crisis.


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dispatched special envoy Jean-Maurice Ripert to help mobilise international support and address victims’ “urgent, immediate needs,” a spokesman said.


Pakistani flood survivors block a motorway to demand relief supplies in Charsadda on August 4, 2010.

Facing protests from desperate survivors clamouring for help, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday ordered government officials to speed up relief work and said ministers would each donate one month’s salary.


Ripert, former French ambassador to the UN, arrived in Pakistan Thursday and will visit affected areas in the northwest and meet government officials.


The record rains triggered floods and landslides last week that devastated villages and farmland in some of the country’s poorest and most volatile regions in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and central Punjab provinces.


“We see urgent need of food assistance to people affected by floods to prevent a starvation-like situation,” warned Amjad Jamal, spokesman for the UN World Food Programme.


“Eighty percent of food reserves have been destroyed by the floods, which also caused massive damage to livestock, markets, roads and overall infrastructure.”


Pakistan’s meterological department has issued new flood warnings, raising fears that the destruction is not over. Flood waters continued spreading into Punjab, the country’s most populous province.


“The flood water is increasing at different points and we are expecting more rain in next 24 hours,” Hazrat Mir, chief metreologist for Punjab, told AFP.


“This is an alarming situation. Conditions are miserable in those areas, particularly at Tounsa and Gaddu barrages. There are extremely high floods at Kot Addu and other parts.”


The number of affected districts in Punjab rose to seven and alert warnings were issued in five districts of Sindh to the south, the United Nations said.


Survivors complain they have been abandoned by the government, organising protests in the northwestern city of Peshawar and on Wednesday blocking the motorway to Islamabad for 1.5 hours.


Particular scorn has been reserved for President Asif Ali Zardari, who is deeply unpopular, for pressing ahead with visits to Paris and London at the height of the disaster, saying in a five-star hotel while his people suffer.


Although Gilani has said about 100,000 people have been rescued and “relief items in sufficient quantity” provided to provinces, many people say they have received no assistance from the government, only from local families.


“I am totally helpless now. I built a small house with a lot of effort. It is destroyed. How will I repair it? Will there be any government help? These questions keep haunting my mind,” said Falak Naz near Charsadda.


The United Nations said clean drinking water and sanitation were urgently needed to stop disease spreading among survivors.

An international relief campaign has included a promise of a 10 million dollar aid package from the United States, while the United Nations will disburse up to the same amount from an emergency response fund.

“We’ve sent over boats to help with search and rescue, water purification units to provide clean water for thousands of people and temporary bridges to replace bridges damaged by the floods,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

“This represents just the start of our efforts. We will continue to help Pakistan in the days and weeks ahead.”

The British government pledged eight million dollars in aid, while Australia pledged 4.4 million dollars and China 1.5 million. Other countries including Indonesia, South Korea and Canada have also promised help.

Source: SGGP

Brazil’s Lula seeks to soothe Venezuela-Colombia crisis

In Uncategorized on July 29, 2010 at 7:18 am

BRASILIA, July 28, 2010 (AFP) – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced plans Wednesday to embark on shuttle diplomacy in a bid to resolve a diplomatic crisis between antagonistic neighbors Venezuela and Colombia.


Lula told reporters he was to travel to Caracas and Bogota on August 6 to speak with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and president-elect Juan Manuel Santos, who takes office the next day.


“We have an interest in (regional bloc) Unasur to build peace. I believe we have to restore normalcy in the ties between Venezuela and Colombia because they are to important countries in South America,” Lula said.


Chavez and Uribe are embroiled in a nasty spat over Colombian claims this month that Venezuela was harboring 1,500 Colombian guerrillas on its soil.


Chavez last week cut diplomatic relations with Colombia, denying the accusation and accusing Bogota of plotting to attack his country with US help.


The issue is to be laid out at a Unasur meeting in Ecuador on Thursday.


Chavez and other Venezuelan officials have held out the possibility of restoring ties with Colombia if Santos proves more conciliatory than Uribe.


“If the new Colombian government fully rectifies (its position) and adopts a posture of absolute respect for Venezuela’s government and out country, we are sure we can build a new path,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday as he conducted a South American tour to drum up support. 
 

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Source: SGGP

Fuel crisis as Greek truckers step up strike

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2010 at 3:18 pm

ATHENS (AFP) – Greece’s government on Wednesday called crisis talks to deal with a nationwide fuel crisis as a truckers’ strike entered its third day at the height of the busy tourism season.


Fuel has run out in all but a few of the capital’s petrol stations and shortages are already reported in many major cities.

People stand next to a sign reading ‘only Super in a petrol station in Athens on July 27, 2010. AFP

The transport ministry has invited union leaders to talks to break the deadlock which began over plans to liberalise the freight sector.


The truckers say that opening the sector by reducing new licence charges is unfair to existing operators who have already paid high start-up fees running up to 300,000 euros (390,000 dollars).


“The state sold us these licences, so the state should compensate us,” the head of the truckers’ union George Tsamos told Flash Radio.


The protest has had a major impact on the country’s tourism season which is vital to the Greek economy as it battles an unprecedented financial crisis.


Hoteliers on Wednesday said they were already facing cancellations from vacationers unwilling to risk the journey until the protest ends.


“We have started receiving an important number of cancellations,” said Nikos Papalexis, the head of the Achaia hoteliers union in the northwestern Peloponnese peninsula.


“If this situation continues, a lot of hotels will have to dismiss staff or even shut down,” he told state television NET.

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Source: SGGP

Inherent shortcomings, not crisis impact, limit growth

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Vietnam’s economic growth is unsustainable, not because of the effects of the global economic crisis, but because of the shortcomings inherent in the economy, Dr. Tran Du Lich, deputy head of the Ho Chi Minh City National Assembly Delegation, told Sai Gon Giai Phong.

To move towards sustainable growth, key factors like infrastructure, education, human resources and finance need to be focused on (Photo: SGGP)

For the midrange to long term future, shifting the growth model and the economy from out-sourcing to production are the largest and most important challenges, he said.
 
Dr. Lich added that the time being, short-term challenges don’t matter if the Government’s macroeconomic measures are implemented effectively by the end of this year.
 
According to Mr. Lich, sustainable growth is based on three factors: strong infrastructure, education and human resources, and a steadily developing financial system that includes public finance, a credit-banking system and non-bank financial institutions.
 
But these factors are very weak in the country, putting targets set for a high economic growth out of reach, he added.
 
A deep trade gap and inflation have emerged from the long implementation of an economic growth model that was not based on labor productivity and investment effectiveness. 
 
If the model is not changed, problems such as the trade gap, payment balance, and stabilization of the dong will never be solved, he said.
 
Mr. Lich attributed the trade gap to the massive import of machines, equipment and materials, saying they were mostly for consumption, not for production.
 
He said Vietnam also consumes more than it produces, another fundamental flaw.
 
‘Recovery’
 
According to Mr. Lich, the Vietnamese economy has gradually recovered from the global crisis, however, to continue the growth and move towards sustainable growth, the Government needs to focus on key factors like infrastructure, education, human resources and finance.
 
He said in terms of GDP, the economy has reached a growth rate equal to that of the pre-crisis period of 2006-2007 since the second half of last year, and this year growth can reach a rate that is higher than the targeted 6.5 percent.
 
Through the end of this year, the Government needs to adopt many measures, including technical and non tariff barriers, to restrain the trade gap at less than 20 percent of total export turnovers, to reduce the deficit and increase foreign currency reserves, he added.
 
He said lessons drawn from the Vinashin case should teach the Government to stop borrowing for enterprises or acting as a guarantor for them to borrow.
 
Instead, the Government can subsidize a part of loan interest rates, or borrow loans at low rates and then give the loans to commercial banks to re-loan it to enterprises, Mr. Lich suggested.
 
If necessary, the Government should assist key economic sectors that have low financial capacity but high social effectiveness, he added.

Source: SGGP