BEIJING (Reuters) – The global economy has been strengthening faster than expected, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Monday during talks with China in Beijing.Earlier in the day, Geithner also said the
needed to work together to reduce trade barriers and develop a more balanced global economy.Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are leading a delegation of nearly 200 U.S. officials in the talks, which will range from trade to how to contain and North Korea‘s alleged sinking of a South Korean warship in March.
China’s Hu tells U.S. he wants gradual yuan reformBy Arshad Mohammed and Glenn Somerville REUTERS
(Reuters) – China will stick to gradual reform of its yuan currency, President Hu Jintao told the United States at the start of high-level talks on Monday in which North Korea emerged as a point of potential contention.Hu, speaking at the opening session of the U.S.-China Strategic and (S&ED), said the two global powers needed to enhance economic policy coordination and work together to promote „full economic recovery.”The world’s biggest and third biggest economies are seeking to steady relations after a burst of tensions early this year, and while Hu broke no new ground on the currency dispute that has divided them, he set a generally conciliatory tone for the two days of talks.”China will continue to steadily advance reform of the renminbi exchange rate formation mechanism following the principles of being independent, controllable and gradual,” he said. The renminbi is another name for the yuan.Hu said his government wanted to expand domestic demand to create more balanced growth, something that Washington — worried about its yawning trade deficit with China — has also urged.At the meeting, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urged Beijing to work together to reduce trade barriers and develop a more balanced global economy.Geithner indirectly urged China to ease up on its „indigenous innovation” policies aimed at giving Chinese companies a larger share of new cutting-edge technologies developed in .But the vows of closer economic coordination were partly offset by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s effort to coax China into joining international pressure on North Korea.South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on Monday that he would take Pyongyang to the U.N. Security Council after his government found North Korea was responsible for torpedoing its warship, the Cheonan, in late March, killing 46 sailors.China is the sole major backer of North Korea, and has not publicly criticized Pyongyang over the sinking, instead issuing for restraint. Earlier this month, China hosted the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il, on a visit.”Today we face another serious challenge provoked by the sinking of the South Korean ship,” Clinton told the meeting. „We must work together to address this challenge and advance our shared objectives for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”Tensions flared between Beijing and Washington in the first months of 2010, when China denounced U.S. criticism of its Internet censorship, , and President Barack Obama‘s meeting with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled leader.Beijing considers Taiwan a part of its territory and Hu said it was important countries respected one another’s sovereignty.QUIET DISCUSSION OF YUAN-Beijing officials have said they want only „quiet discussion” of U.S. complaints the Chinese currency is held too low in value, giving Chinese manufacturers an unfair advantage.The Obama administration so far appears willing to go along in the hope a quieter approach will give Beijing more political space to let its . Geithner did not mention the yuan issue in his opening remarks to the S&ED.China’s main official newspaper, the People’s Daily, on Monday repeated the government’s position that a rise in the yuan would not help the U.S. economy anyway.”Appreciation of renminbi will not solve the imbalance in China-U.S. trade and it will not solve U.S. employment problems,” said a commentary in the paper.”China is advancing reform of the renminbi exchange rate formation mechanism based on its own economic development needs.”The annual U.S. trade deficit with China fell to $226.8 billion in 2009, down from a record $268.0 billion in 2008. But the Obama administration is keen to lift exports, and the deficit remains a point of friction with Beijing.U.S. officials have sought to concentrate attention on policies they claim may unfairly impede U.S. companies hunting for customers in China.(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)
Producer wanted for questioning returns to US By CHRISTOPHER WEBER, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES – A former „Survivor” producer wanted for questioning in Mexico about his has returned to the United States, his lawyer said Sunday.Bruce Beresford-Redman returned to Los Angeles County „to be with his children and attend to family and personal matters,” attorney Richard Hirsch said in a statement.Hirsch said Beresford-Redman, who has not been charged with a crime, had no legal obligation to remain in Mexico while authorities investigate the death of his wife, Monica, whose body was found in a sewer at the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun in April.”He is devastated by the loss of his wife, best friend, and the mother of his children,” Hirsch said.Beresford-Redman’s passport had been confiscated and police in Mexico had described him as a suspect. Mexican officials previously said Beresford-Redman was barred from leaving the country.However, Francisco Alor, the attorney general for Quintana Roo state, where Cancun is located, said Sunday there was no court order barring Beresford-Redman from leaving Mexico, although prosecutors have taken his passport.”It’s a migratory restriction,” Alor said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.The family of the victim, Monica Beresford-Redman, strongly criticized earlier this month, saying it had taken too long to make an arrest. They expressed concerned Bruce Beresford-Redman might flee Mexico or the case could fall apart if too much time passes.Beresford-Redman reported his wife missing two days before her body was found, prosecutors have said. He told police he last saw her when she left the exclusive resort to go shopping and never returned, according to investigators.Investigators have said the showed signs of asphyxiation and evidence of a heavy blow to the right temple.Alor said he has received no notification that the television producer has left Mexico and the investigation into his wife’s death would continue. Investigators have received the results of new forensic results and were preparing to turn over the evidence to a judge, he said.”The judge will decide whether to issue an arrest order against whoever is responsible,” Alor said. „And we would execute that and locate whoever is responsible.”Quintana Roo Rodolfo Garcia said Friday that investigators had tried twice to summon the television producer for questioning but could not locate him.Investigators asked the U.S. consulate in Merida, another city on the Yucatan peninsula, to „present” Beresford-Redman but were told he was not in the custody of the diplomatic mission, Garcia said.The U.S. Embassy has referred inquiries about the case to the State Department. A State Department official said he had no immediate .According to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. citizens entering the United States by air must show a passport. However, citizens entering by land and or sea can show several other types of documents, including an enhanced driver’s license.Beresford-Redman has retained legal representation in both countries, Hirsch said Sunday in the statement.Associated Press Writer Gabriel Alcocer in Cancun, Mexico, contributed to this report.
New financial rules might not prevent next crisis By DANIEL WAGNER and STEVENSON JACOBS, AP Business
WASHINGTON – The most sweeping changes to financial rules since the Great Depression might not prevent another crisis.Experts say the financial approved by the Senate last week, and a similar bill that passed the House, include loopholes and gaps that weaken their impact. Many provisions depend on the effectiveness of regulatory agencies — the same agencies that failed to foresee the last crisis.A big reason for the bill’s limitations is that groups lobbied against rules they felt would reduce their profit-making ability.The financial sector’s influence in Washington reflects its enormous donations and lobbying. Over the past two decades, it’s given $2.3 billion to federal candidates. It’s outdone every other industry in lobbying since 1998, having spent $3.8 billion.Here’s how the bills, which must be reconciled and approved by the full Congress, might address some causes of the financial crisis, and some of the bill’s perceived weaknesses:• Derivatives:The problem:Banks used these investments to make speculative bets that helped inflate the housing market. Once home values crashed, these derivatives — and related side bets — magnified the financial crisis.The value of a derivative depends on the price of an underlying investment. Examples include corn futures, stock options and mortgages.The solution: The legislation would, among other things, require that many derivatives be traded on exchanges, as stocks are, so they are visible to regulators.Why it might not work:Business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable lobbied successfully to dilute the rules. They argued that exchange-trading would make it too costly for companies other than banks to use derivatives.The bill exempts companies that use derivatives to reduce the risk of fluctuations in interest rates and commodity prices. Experts say this exception could be exploited. Companies could, for example, find ways to combine traditional business activities with purely financial investment through the use of derivatives.• of banks and other financial firms:The problem:Before the crisis, some regulators failed to recognize risks taken by banks they were supposed to oversee. Some companies sidestepped oversight entirely.The solution: The legislation would eliminate one regulator, the Office of Thrift Supervision, criticized for lax oversight. And it would tighten oversight of large financial institutions that could threaten the system.Why it might not work: Smaller banks could still choose their own regulator. These banks would likely seek out the most lenient oversight. for that loophole were the Independent Community Bankers of America and the American Bankers Association. The Senate voted against capping how much banks can bet relative to their reserves. It left that up to the same regulators who failed to properly monitor banks’ risk-taking before the crisis.One reason the system of regulators escaped more drastic changes, lawmakers say, was that regulators lobbied to protect their agencies’ authorities. For example, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair fought changes that could limit the . • Too-big-to-fail institutions:The problem: After bad bets on housing and other risky investments caused the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the government pumped billions into the largest banks to keep the system afloat. The solution: The overhaul would let regulators close banks whose collapse could threaten the system. Why it might not work: The Senate bill lets regulators decide whether to protect the creditors of failed banks. Creditors might take a too-rosy view of a if they feel they have nothing to lose in a failure. They might still lend to weak banks and raise the cost of eventually closing them down.The bill does little to prevent big banks from getting bigger, meaning taxpayers might have to intervene again. A Democratic amendment to limit the size of banks was rejected amid opposition from banks such as Goldman Sachs.• Consumer protection -The problem:Risky lending to homeowners who couldn’t pay helped inflate the housing bubble. Some of the worst offenders were nonbank lenders.The solution: A new would police banking products and ban those deemed too risky — no matter who offers them. Why it might not work: The consumer watchdog‘s authority would be confined to firms with at least $10 billion in assets. Thousands of community banks wouldn’t be supervised by the agency. Nor would many nonbanks. The Chamber of Commerce has led the push to limit the reach of the . The payday lending industry and the National Automobile Dealers Association have joined the effort. • Credit rating agencies.The problem:Credit rating agencies gave safe ratings to high-risk mortgage investments that later imploded.The solution: The Senate bill would end banks’ ability to choose the agencies that rate their investments. An independent board, appointed by regulators, would choose the .Why it might not work:The big firms — Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Corp. and Fitch Ratings — would still be paid by the banks whose products they rate. That means the ratings could be influenced by those banks.Others have questioned whether regulators should choose which agencies rate which financial products. Regulators themselves missed warning signs leading to the crisis.Jacobs reported from New York. Associated Press Writer Jim Drinkard contributed to this report.
China state planner takes cautious stance toward tightening By REUTERS
BEIJING (Reuters) – China should be particularly cautious in introducing new tightening measures, as the global and still face uncertainties, a state planning official said on Monday.Xu Lianzhong, an official from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the top economic planning organization, said a quick and early exit from loose policies would not be the best choice now because of risks from the spreading .Xu, who heads the price monitoring center at the NDRC, said China, the world’s third-largest economy, faced weak private sector investment and uncertainties in domestic consumption and exports.”The drastic changes in economic policies will have a negative impact on the sustainable performance of the economy,” Xu said in an article published in the .”The market is quite sensitive about policy adjustments, especially when the European debt crisis is spreading,” he said.The recent measures to rein in the red-hot property market will ease investments in the sector, Xu said, suggesting that authorities would have to consider the side-effects on for any further property tightening moves.China has introduced a slew of measures in the property sector, such as higher down payments and mortgage rates, as well as stricter lending to developers, to control speculative buying.He also said that inflation was still relatively mild and was not a major risk to the economy.Chinese consumer price inflation hit an 18-month high of 2.8 percent in April. The NDRC said earlier this month that inflation would average about an annual 2.5 percent in the first half of this year, which is relatively tame compared with previous years.(Reporting by Aileen Wang; Editing by Lee Chyen Yee and Ken Wills)
Shuttle Atlantis undocks from space station By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – After a week of flying together, shuttle Atlantis undocked from a larger and virtually completed International Space Station on Sunday and headed for home on its final voyage.”Have a safe trip back and godspeed to you,” radioed the space station’s skipper, Oleg Kotov.Atlantis isn’t due to land until Wednesday. On Monday, the six crewmen will conduct one last safety inspection of their ship.”We’ll see you all on the surface of planet Earth again soon,” Atlantis’ commander, Kenneth Ham, called out.The two spacecraft parted company 220 miles above the Indian Ocean. Before the hatches closed between them, the commanding officers shook hands twice and laughed, then embraced. Their crewmates — representing the United States, Russia and Japan — followed suit.Earlier in the day, Ham told reporters that both crews had fun. All 12 space fliers bonded through hard work and performed as a single team, he said. Mission Control reveled in the camaraderie as well, and lead flight director Emily Nelson relayed her appreciation as Atlantis sailed away from the orbiting outpost.The space station is bigger and packs more power, thanks to Atlantis and its crewmen. They left behind a new Russian compartment packed with supplies, as well as six fresh batteries and other equipment that was hooked up during a series of spacewalks.Its exceeds 816,000 pounds, and it’s 98 percent complete in terms of living space.”This place is now a palace. It’s huge, and I’ve had great fun exploring it,” said shuttle astronaut Piers Sellers. „We’re seeing station in pretty much its final form, and it’s really magnificent.”Two shuttle missions remain to wrap up NASA’s share of construction. Discovery is scheduled to fly in September, followed by Endeavour in November.As it currently stands, once Atlantis lands, it will never fly in space again.NASA and some politicians are pushing hard for another mission, however, so Atlantis can haul up a final load of supplies in June 2011. The White House — which wants NASA concentrated on getting astronauts to asteroids and in the coming decades — would need to approve any extra flights.Already, NASA is going through the list of museums interested in Atlantis and Endeavour. Discovery is promised to the Smithsonian Institution.During a news conference Sunday morning, the Atlantis astronauts were asked where they would like to see their ship wind up. Pilot, Dominic „Tony” Antonelli pointed out that none of them gets to decide. But if he got to pick, Atlantis would retire to his backyard in Houston.”I get plenty of letters from my home about leaving my garbage can out and not keeping my grass trimmed, but if I got Atlantis parked in my back yard, that would make all those letters just kind of disappear,” Antonelli said with a smile.As for Atlantis’ more immediate future, the astronauts still need to survey its wings and nose in search of any damage. They’ll perform the job Monday using the newly repaired inspection boom. A spacewalking crewman untangled a cable on the boom last week, allowing the TV camera on the end to tilt properly.Over at the space station, meanwhile, three of the six residents soon will be checking out. Russia’s Kotov, NASA’s Timothy (TJ) Creamer and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi will depart June 2 in a Soyuz capsule and aim for Kazakhstan.After more than five months in orbit, Creamer said Sunday he can’t wait to drink something without sipping through a straw and to eat food that stays on the plate. Noguchi yearns for a hot springs bath.
Atlantis heads back to Earth on final mission By AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The space shuttle Atlantis undocked Sunday from the International Space Station (ISS) and headed back to to complete its final mission after successfully delivering tons of supplies.The shuttle uncoupled from the orbiting space laboratory at 11:22 am (1522 GMT) after its six-member crew unloaded the last equipment, which included a crucial communications antenna, power storage batteries and a radiator.The biggest was the five-ton Rassvet research module, or MRM-1, which will provide additional storage space and a new docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft.The Rassvet — „Dawn” in Russian — was permanently attached to the bottom of the space station’s Zarya module. It carries important hardware on its exterior including a radiator, airlock and a European robotic arm.Astronauts completed the 12-day mission’s final spacewalk on Friday, plugging a new ammonia jumper cable into the station, transferring a grapple fixture from the shuttle to the station and reconfiguring some tools.The trip back to Earth caps the 25-year career of one of NASA’s iconic spacecrafts. The shuttle, which has logged some 115 million miles (185 million kilometers), is due back in Florida Wednesday at 8:44 am (1244 GMT).Only two more shuttle launches remain — one in September for Discovery and the final blast off for Endeavour in November — before the curtain falls on this era of human spaceflight.The United States will then have to rely on Russia to take astronauts to the station aboard three-seater Soyuz spacecraft until a new fleet of commercial „space taxis” is operational.The impending end of the mission is a bittersweet moment for NASA, which is preparing to retire the shuttle fleet.President Barack Obama effectively abandoned in February plans laid down by his predecessor George W. Bush to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020 and perhaps on to with a new generation of rocket and spacecraft.Constrained by soaring deficits, Obama submitted a budget to Congress that encouraged NASA to focus instead on developing commercial transport alternatives to ferry astronauts to the ISS after the shuttle program ends.Nonetheless, Obama set a bold new course in April for the future of US space travel, laying out a vision to send American astronauts into Mars orbit within the next three decades.He envisaged the design of a new spacecraft by 2025 for human travel deep into space and said he believed missions to asteroids and to orbit Mars by the mid-2030s were achievable.By the time the final three missions are complete, the space shuttles — characterized by NASA as the most advanced machines ever built — will have flown 134 missions into orbit.There is a chance, however, that the current mission may not be the final chapter for Atlantis.NASA administrator Charles Bolden is considering flying Atlantis to the station once more time, with additional supplies, before mothballing the spacecraft for good.The ISS, a joint project involving 16 countries, has cost around 100 billion dollars, mostly funded by the United States.
Atlantis Shuttle Crew Prepares to Leave Space Station By Robert Z. Pearlman SPACE.com
Space shuttle Atlantis will undock from the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, beginning its return to Earth for what NASA expects to be its final landing.Atlantis pilot Dominic „Tony” Antonelli, assisted by commander Ken Ham and their four STS-132 crewmates, are scheduled to undock the space shuttle from the International Space Station (ISS) at 11:22 a.m. EDT (1522 GMT), a couple of hours after closing the hatches between the two vehicles. The astronauts completed the last of their major mission objectives on Saturday with the return of a cargo pallet to Atlantis’ payload bay. Earlier, they delivered a new Russian research module and replaced six batteries for one of the station’s four solar array wings during the seven days they were docked with the ISS.”We’ve got the integrated cargo carrier back in the payload bay, we got three very successful spacewalks under our belt, and the Rassvet module installed on the International Space Station and so now the mission shifts to returning Atlantis home, hopefully mid-next week,” said lead shuttle flight director Mike Sarafin on Saturday.Weather permitting, the crew will land Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday.Early on Sunday morning, the astronauts planned to complete the final transfer of equipment and experiment results from the station to the shuttle in preparation for their departure.”They’ll transfer the suits that they used to perform their spacewalks back into Atlantis and we’ll perform a final verification to make sure all the science and transfer items are back across the hatch and ready for return,” said Sarafin.The six shuttle crew members and their six station counterparts also took part in a news conference with U.S. and Japanese media before bidding each other farewell, closing the hatches and then undocking their spacecraft. Once separated by a distance of about 400 to 600 feet, Atlantis will perform a 360-degree flyaround of the ISS while the crew photographs the orbiting laboratory.”We should get some outstanding views of the International Space Station for as well as a good view of the Rassvet module that was most recently installed,” Sarafin explained.Before landing, the STS-132 astronauts will take a few days to prepare the shuttle for reentry. They will perform a routine inspection of their heat shield to ensure no damage was sustained by micrometeroid impacts while docked to the station and then test the control surfaces and thrusters that will guide the orbiter back into and through the atmosphere.The astronauts, including Ham, Antonelli and mission specialists Garrett Reisman, Piers Sellers, Stephen Bowen and Michael Good, will then set-up for Atlantis’ final planned landing on the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center, presently targeted for 8:48 a.m. EDT (1248 GMT) on Wednesday. NASA plans to retire its space shuttle fleet after just two more missions to be flown by Discovery and Endeavour in September and November, respectively.Atlantis will be prepared to fly as an emergency rescue vehicle for the final space shuttle mission but otherwise is slated to be the first orbiter to retire after 32 missions. Atlantis launched on it current mission on May 14.”I very much look forward to seeing Atlantis come home,” said Sarafin. „I had a talk with [Atlantis’] flow director Angie Brewer prior to the launch of Atlantis and I promised I’d give her back in the same condition that we got her and we’ve come very close to that. I look forward to greeting her and her team out at the Kennedy Space Center and fulfilling that promise.”
Lee: NKorea must pay for torpedo attack on ship By JEAN H. LEE, Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea – said Monday that the country will no longer tolerate North Korea‘s „brutality” and said the regime would pay for the surprise torpedo attack that killed 46 sailors.President Lee Myung-bak said Seoul will take Pyongyang to the U.N. Security Council, suspend inter-Korean exchanges and ban North Korean ships from passing through its waters.North Korea must be punished for its repeated provocations, Lee said in a solemn address to the nation from the as he recounted the „incessant” pattern of attacks by communist North Korea, including the downing of an airliner in 1987 that killed 115 people.”We have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again. We did so because we have always had a genuine longing for peace on the Korean peninsula,” Lee said.”But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its ,” he said. „I will continue to take stern measures to hold the North accountable.”A joint international civilian-military investigation team announced last week that their probe confirmed a North Korean torpedo sank the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, on March 26.Fifty-eight sailors were rescued from the choppy Yellow Sea waters off the Koreas’ maritime border, but 46 perished — the nation’s worst military disaster since the 1950-53 Korean War.North Korea has steadfastly denied responsibility. The North’s naval spokesman, Col. Pak In Ho, warned last week in comments to broadcaster APTN that any move to retaliate or punish Pyongyang would mean war.As Lee spoke Monday, North Korea’s main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, called the an „intolerable, grave provocation” tantamout to a declaration of war.”The traitor’s group will not avoid our merciless punishment,” the paper said in commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.The two Koreas technically remain in a state of war because the fighting ended in 1953 in a truce, not a peace treaty, and the countries are divided by a heavily guarded .Despite the armistice, North Korea is blamed for a number of deadly attacks on the South over the decades, including a 1983 bombing in then-Burma targeting a South Korean presidential delegation and the downing of the airliner.Their two militaries also have clashed in the waters of the west coast.North Korea disputes the maritime border unilaterally drawn by U.N. forces at the close of the Korean War, and the Koreas have fought three since 1999 — most recently in November, when a gunfight killed one North Korean, according to the South Korean military.The U.N. Armistice Commission was investigating whether the sinking of the Cheonan constituted a violation of the 1953 truce.Lee said the was prepared to defend itself against any further provocations. His defense minister was expected to lay out the measures the military was planning to take.Opening high-level U.S.-China talks in Beijing, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said North Korea must be held to account for the sinking of the Cheonan.Clinton, who was due in Seoul on Wednesday, urged China to work with the United States to coordinate a response to the sinking of warship.China, and a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, has urged restraint and has so far remained neutral on the investigation results.Since 2006, the Security Council has issued two resolutions punishing North Korea for conducting nuclear and missile tests.Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and Matthew Lee in Beijing contributed to this report.
Calition sets out plan to cut record deficit By AFP
LONDON (AFP) – The new coalition government Monday sets out plans to slash government spending by 6.0 billion pounds (6.9 billion euros, 8.7 billion dollars) to reduce the nation’s .Amid warnings that the „age of plenty” is over, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration will indicate where the axe is set to fall and unveil proposals to raise more revenue for the country’s .”We’re setting out where we’ll make six billion pounds worth of savings — and every day after that we will make sure that the most vulnerable in society are protected from cuts,” Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in the News of the World paper Sunday.Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg gave efforts to reduce the debt an added sense of urgency Sunday, suggesting that the speed at which the eurozone crisis had developed meant the government could no longer hold off making cuts. released on Friday showed that the deficit had hit 156.1 billion pounds in 2009/2010, or 11.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).That was lower than the previous estimate of 163.4 billion pounds — but still a record high level.The Sunday Times reported that the Department for Business, would bear the brunt of the initial cuts, making savings of 900 million pounds.It added that the coalition plans to save 513 million pounds by slashing the budgets of advisory bodies and abolishing others, while civil servants‘ perks such as taxis, flights and hotel accommodation are also targets.The coalition of Cameron’s Conservative party and Clegg’s Liberal Democrats could also end up cutting between 300,000 and 700,000 public sector jobs over the coming years, the weekly broadsheet added.The government also plans to secure 8.0 billion pounds via a special tax on banks, according to The Independent on Sunday.The paper said the figure is nearly three times higher than originally planned by finance minister George Osborne.Ahead of the earlier this month, Clegg had publicly opposed plans by the Conservatives to cut public spending this year by 6.0 billion pounds — saying it was too much, too soon.But on Sunday, he warned of hard times ahead and revealed the escalating eurozone crisis had persuaded him it was right to start making cuts immediately.”The age of plenty where money could be thrown around in almost carelessness, which is what the outgoing has done for some time now, is over,” he said in a BBC interview.Clegg continued: „I don’t think anybody could have anticipated then (before the election) quite how sharply the in the eurozone would have deteriorated and that the need to show that we were trying to get to grips with this suddenly became much greater.”The crisis had created „immense anxiety on our European doorstep — the European Union market to which we export the vast majority of our services and goods,” he said.Public finances have been ravaged by a record-length recession that has slashed tax revenues and ramped up expenditure, as well as by enormously expensive banking-sector bailouts.
Air passengers face misery as BA strike starts By AFP
LONDON (AFP) – British Airways cabin crew started a five-day strike Monday, throwing travel plans for thousands of passengers into disarray after last-ditch efforts to avert the action collapsed.Staff walked out at midnight (2300 GMT) in the first of a series of strikes in a long-running industrial standoff.The airline rebuffed late Sunday an 11th-hour offer from the union to call off the walkout in exchange for meeting a key demand, accusing the union of refusing to meet for talks.No discussions had been held between the two sides in the dispute since they broke down on Saturday.Tony Woodley, joint head of the union Unite, came forward with the last-minute offer to halt the action.”As a sign of goodwill and good faith I am making this offer now to (BA chief executive) Willie Walsh,” he told reporters.”Willie, turn round and reinstate our people’s travel (benefits) … and this union will call off” the strike.But BA responded it had already offered to hand back travel concessions as part of a deal.”We have already offered to reinstate travel concessions to cabin crew once all elements of our offer have been implemented,” said a .It also accused Woodley of „negotiating through the media” rather than talking to them directly through ACAS, an organisation dedicated to resolving employment disputes.”We had agreed to a request from ACAS to meet (Sunday) afternoon and are surprised that Unite did not take advantage of this,” said the airline.While BA and Unite have reached broad agreement on pay, the sticking point is now the heavily discounted flights available to off-duty cabin crew — key perks which have been taken away from workers who have gone on strike.Negotiations to try and halt the were abandoned on Saturday after dozens of noisy protestors stormed the building where talks were being held.Walsh was harangued by protestors, television pictures showed, and police said they had to escort him from the building in London after the security breach.Walsh has faced accusations that he is trying to break the unions at BA and Unite accuses BA of imposing changes on cabin crew and refusing to negotiate openly and fairly.The BA chief executive, though, insists that the airline is struggling for its very existence.Monday’s strike is hot on the heels of BA posting a record annual pre-tax loss of 531 million pounds (609 million euros, 765 million dollars) on slumping sales.The airline, which is slashing costs and merging with in a bid to return to profitability, has been hit hard by the global economic downturn which has decreased demand for air travel.It also faced a tough start to the current financial year due to the of airspace across Europe caused by ash from an Icelandic volcano. A week-long shutdown in April was the biggest in Europe since World War II.BA staff are also planning two further five-day strikes starting on May 30 and June 5.
Australia moves to expel Israeli diplomat By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press
CANBERRA, Australia – Australia moved to expel an Israeli diplomat Monday after investigators concluded Israel was responsible for forging four Australian passports that were used in the slaying of a Hamas operative in Dubai. told Parliament the operation to kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room in January was not the first time Israel had forged Australian travel documents. He did not elaborate on previous incidents, but said the latest transgression breached „confidential undertakings” between the two countries.”These are not the actions of a friend,” he said.Smith said Israel had been asked to withdraw a diplomat.An Israeli embassy official was not immediately available for comment on Monday.Britain expelled an Israeli diplomat in March after similarly concluding there was compelling evidence that Israel was responsible for the use of doctored British passports in the plot to kill al-Mabhouh on Jan. 20.British Foreign Secretary David Miliband Miliband said the expelled diplomat, who was not named, was ordered to leave following an investigation into the use of 12 fake British passports linked to the assassination.Dubai authorities accuse Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency of carrying out the killing in a luxury hotel room, and have identified at least 26 suspects from an alleged hit squad.Smith said: „The high quality of these counterfeited passports points to the involvement of a state intelligence service.”He said Australia’s investigation by police and intelligence services „left the government in no doubt that Israel was responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of these passports.”
Dutch to hold first European Somali pirate trial By AFP
THE HAGUE (AFP) – The first European trial of Somali pirates is set to open Tuesday in the Netherlands where five men risk up to 12 years in jail for allegedly seeking to hijack a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden.The suspects, aged 25 to 45, were arrested on January 2 last year after their high-speed boat with firearms was intercepted by a Danish frigate as they were allegedly preparing to board the Dutch Antilles-flagged Samanyolu.The Netherlands issued European arrest warrants for the five three weeks later, and they were flown on a military plane from the Gulf state of Bahrain the following month to the Netherlands, where they have been in custody since.A defence lawyer has said the five men would challenge the jurisdiction of Dutch courts to try the case.The cargo vessel „was registered in the Dutch Antilles,” Haroon Raza told AFP.The Antilles has its own justice system, „there is thus no reason to have a trial in the Netherlands.”Raza, who represents alleged pirate Osman Musse Farah, said the men would also raise the length of their pre-trial detention.”My client has a wife and two children; and one of them was born while he was in the Netherlands. He complains because he cannot answer their needs.”At a hearing in May last year to determine whether the men should remain in custody, another lawyer for the suspects told the court „the pirates are poor fishermen who acted out of pure despair”.But Ward Ferdinandusse argued for the prosecution at the time that „we mustn’t forget the interests of the ships and their crew who were shot at and held hostage”.The trial is expected to last five days and judgment is set to be handed down on June 16, said Vincent de Winkel, a spokesman for the Rotterdam district court.The men could be jailed for up to nine years, and their leader for up to 12 years.According to the London-based International Maritime Bureau, which monitors maritime crime, pirates had attempted 217 attacks on merchant ships off the Somali coast in 2009, out of 409 pirate attacks worldwide.Many of the suspects arrested in military operations in the Gulf of Aden in recent years have had to be set free for a lack of evidence.”It is very difficult to obtain evidence against pirates unless they are caught in the act,” Bibi van Ginkel, a legal expert at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, Clingendael, told AFP.”In the Gulf of Aden, fishermen also carry arms.”Last Tuesday, a Yemeni court sentenced six Somali pirates to death and jailed six others for 10 years each for hijacking a Yemeni oil tanker and killing two cabin crew in April last year.
Bomb disposal chief quits amid Afghan worries: army By AFP
LONDON (AFP) – The army’s top bomb disposal officer has quit after expressing concern about the pressures on his team in Afghanistan, defence officials said.Colonel Bob Seddon has handed in his resignation as principal ammunition technical officer of the Royal Logistics Corps and will leave the service in January, the said late Sunday.It came after the officer said he was worried about the number of personnel available in Afghanistan to tackle the threat from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and the state of his men’s mental health.Taliban insurgents plant the bombs to target foreign troops fighting them, and the devices are one of the greatest dangers faced by soldiers in the country.”I am very concerned as their head of trade at the pressures that they are facing in ,” Seddon told a BBC documentary being broadcast on Monday.He said training and selection had been broadened to get more people on the ground who could ease the workload of his team, but he added the army „could do with more teams and IED operators in Afghanistan”.”I’m very concerned that in the longer term some of my people who have done phenomenally difficult and dangerous work in Afghanistan may pay a deeper psychological price for the work that they’ve conducted,” said Seddon.Defence Secretary Liam Fox said that countering the IED threat to British forces in Afghanistan was a priority for the new coalition government.”I will make sure that everything possible is done to ensure that our forces have all they need to deal with this indiscriminate threat. They deserve nothing less,” he said.The resignation came as the , William Hague, accompanied by Fox and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell were finishing their first visit to Afghanistan.Britain has 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, the second biggest commitment behind the US in a force of 130,000 under NATO command. Since 2001, 286 British servicemen have been killed in the country.
Sure-footed Australian PM stumbles before polls by Talek Harris AFP
SYDNEY (AFP) – After an extended honeymoon, Australia’s love affair with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has finally hit a rough patch, just months before the next elections.Rudd, the bookish, centre-left leader with an image as a policy wonk, has enjoyed enviable popularity over his two-and-a-half years in power, and only a limited challenge from a divided opposition.However, a succession of opinion polls has shown a steep drop-off in support for the Queenslander, who has been buffeted by a series of missteps and reinvigorated opponents.A Newspoll released on Monday put voter satisfaction with Rudd at just 39 percent, nearly half the high of 71 percent he reached in his first year in office.The survey showed Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard breathing down Rudd’s neck as preferred Labor Party leader at 40 percent to his 45 percent, a finding she was quick to play down.”There’s more chance of me becoming the full-forward for the Dogs (Western Bulldogs Australian Rules football team) than there is any chance of a change in the Labor party,” she said.However, the sudden fall creates a headache for Rudd as he prepares to fight the next election, due before April but expected some time this year.Last week the usually unruffled prime minister showed a flash of temper during a grilling by a TV interviewer, prompting speculation that he was rattled by his dip in fortunes.”(Climate Change Minister) Penny Wong and I sat up for three days and three nights with 20 leaders from around the world to try and frame a global agreement,” Rudd fired at ABC TV’s Kerry O’Brien, referring to December’s UN climate talks in Copenhagen.”Now, it might be easy for you to sit in 7.30 Report-land and say that was easy to do. Let me tell you, mate, it wasn’t.”The unfavourable polling follows a difficult period for Rudd, who was forced to shelve his flagship carbon-trading scheme — centrepiece of his vaunted climate change programme — under pressure from the opposition.Rudd also demoted Environment Minister Peter Garrett after a botched scheme to provide free home insulation was blamed for the deaths of four workmen and dozens of house fires.He has also come under increasing fire over plans to tax the „super profits” of the key mining sector by 40 percent, earning the wrath of resources firms and their many shareholders, which include pensions funds.According to Wayne Errington, a political expert from the Australian National University, Rudd has been „clearing the decks” of bad news and would have been expecting a dip — although perhaps not such a deep one.”The descent in his personal popularity has been pretty steep. It’s also fairly understandable when they made the decisions about the ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) and what-have-you,” he said.”What you’re getting in the polls at the moment is a bit of negativity towards Rudd without necessarily endorsing (opposition leader Tony) Abbott whole-heartedly.”Bernard Keane, a political writer for the crikey.com website (www.crikey.com.au), said Rudd was likely to follow the long-standing tradition of first-term Australian governments by scraping a narrow election win.”Rudd has been in a dominant position in the polls since 2006 and that’s a hellishly long time to be that far in front,” Keane said.”In a way it’s gravity finally catching up with him but it’s taken a very long time. It’s a bit like the fall of the Roman Empire: the question isn’t so much why did it fall but why did it last as long as it did?”However, he expected Rudd to scale back the frenetic schedule of near-daily interviews and appearances which have made him a constant presence on Australia’s TV screens and airwaves.”He’s got a high media profile and he’s always out there, but he’s always got a fairly straightforward method of dealing with the media which is just to reiterate the same points over and over again,” Keane said.”His strategy is just to pound the same message over and over again in the hope that it might get through. So anything that requires some complexity or nuance or needs someone to effectively put together an argument, that style doesn’t work.” Rudd is already less visible and remained nearly silent this week on opposition leader Abbott’s spectacular gaffe that his unscripted remarks are often not true.”I suspect Rudd will take a bit more of a back seat. He was told by his own caucus that he was over-exposed and needed to take a lower profile. I suspect he’ll probably take that advice,” Keane said.
Ancient sect hopes for boost from pope’s visit By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press
KORMAKITIS, Cyprus – In the coffee shop at this farming village on the northern Cyprus coast, the conversation jumps from one hardship to the next: a bad rainy season, a religion weakened by assimilation, and a division of the island that has lasted 36 years with no end in sight.For Cyprus‘ Maronites, followers of one of the oldest faiths, the best news of late has been the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI is coming to Cyprus next week — the first pontiff to visit the island.Kormakitis is one of four northern villages that were once the center of Cyprus’ Maronite population. Then, in 1974, came a coup, a war and a fence that split the Mediterranean island into a Turkish Cypriot north and a Greek Cypriot south.Most of the Maronites were forced to head south, and Kormakitis today has just 130 people, most of them old-age pensioners.Joseph Katsioloudis, a retired 63-year-old headmaster, echoes the fear of many Maronites that with the latest round of having produced no visible breakthrough, they will not live to see their island and community reunited.”Without a Cyprus settlement, we’re lost — 100 percent,” he says, sitting in the coffee shop while his friend, 70-year-old farmer and lay cantor named Ioannis Tsioutzoukis, introduces a visitor to Maronite ways by chanting a prayer in Arabic.In St. George’s Cathedral opposite the coffee shop, Sunday services shift easily between three languages — Greek, Arabic and Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. That, plus Cyprus Maronite Arabic (CMA), the community’s distinctive Aramaic-laced local dialect, attests to roots dating back centuries to the Maronites’ origins in Lebanon and Syria.Maronite Archbishop Youssef Soueif says, „we are keeping these traditions from very old times and we want to keep them because it’s a richness, a spirituality not only for Cyprus, but for the whole world.”But modern history has been the Maronites’ calamity, living on a small island where tensions between Greek and Turkish Cypriots exploded in 1974 into a coup by supporters of union with Greece, a Turkish invasion that resulted in a breakaway north and an internationally recognized south, and the uprooting of thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots caught on the wrong side of the new dividing line.The Maronite exodus left the people of Kormakitis feeling isolated in the Muslim-majority north and fearful for their society’s future.Island-wide, Maronites number just 6,000, many have married into the island’s 800,000-strong Orthodox population. „This is leading to our disappearance,” says Katsioloudis, the headmaster.Marrying outside the community was once unthinkable; now four out of five do so, says Antonis Haji Roussos, the Maronite representative in the Cypriot legislature. His own son has married a non-Maronite.Haji Roussos says the key to the Maronites’ survival is their return to their ancestral lands and the development of a tourism industry like that which flourishes south of the fenced cease-fire line.Benedict, on his June 4-6 visit, will not enter the Turkish Cypriot north, but Haji Roussos hopes the pope will appeal for a Turkish troop pullout from two Maronite villages that lost their populations and became military bases. That, he says, would open the doors to a Maronite return and revitalize the group’s culture and language.Meanwhile, the Greek Cypriot government gives those who stayed in the north pensions of 550 euros ($670) a month per couple and around 350 euros ($430) for an individual. It pays instructors to teach CMA, and funds weeklong summer visits by young Maronites to put them in touch with their communal roots.”CMA speakers are very conscious of the Aramaic elements in their language which they rightly interpret as a historical link with the Aramaic-speaking ,” says language expert Alexander Borg of Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.A measure of detente has set in since 2003, when crossings were opened through the fences. Hundreds of thousands have crossed both ways on visits, and the Maronites of Kormakitis will have no trouble making the 40-kilometer (25-mile) journey to welcome the pope and celebrate Mass with him.Turkey says a troop withdrawal depends on whether the two sides can negotiate an overall peace. But Haji Roussos, the representative in parliament, hopes the Turks will take detente a step further by letting Maronites, especially younger ones, settle in the villages now held by the army. „We’re a small community, we can’t change the course of things, we seek help from officials…who can influence, so we can tell the Turks, ‘look, they’re a small community, leave their villages to them so they can survive as a community,'” Haji Roussos says.He sees possibilities of tourism to Kormakitis’ beaches and the other villages, and says Lebanese Maronite investors are interested.”Our vision is to create such an environment that it will attract the young Maronites to their roots,” he says.Meanwhile, the cathedral still draws scores of faithful every Sunday, and has just inaugurated a small adjoining sanctuary to house ancient .