WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Friday announced he will name U.S. Senator Max Baucus, who has long worked on China trade and economic issues, as his next ambassador to Beijing, underscoring the importance of commercial ties with the Asian power.Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, has taken a tough stance against some of China’s trade practices but also led successful U.S. efforts in the 1990s to admit China to the World Trade Organization and to begin normal trade relations with Beijing.He had announced he would not seek reelection in November.”For more than two decades Max Baucus has worked to deepen the relationship between the United States and China,” Obama said in a statement. „The economic agreements he helped forge have created millions of American jobs and added billions of dollars to our economy, and he’s perfectly suited to build on that progress in his new role.”Baucus’ nomination, which had been expected, was seen by experts as a commitment to resolving some of the trade issues that have strained ties with China. The United States has long alleged that China keeps the value of its currency artificially low to promote exports, and has pressured Beijing to let the yuan trade more freely in foreign exchange markets.Chinese-U.S. relations also have been soured recently by tensions over security issues in Asia. China’s recent declaration of an air defense zone covering disputed islands in the East China Sea has upset Washington as well as Japan and South Korea.(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)
Yet he suggested that given widespread criticism, he may alter the power of the National Security Agency to collect information on Americans.And when it came to the universally panned roll out of his health care law, Obama conceded that „we screwed it up,” and said, „I’m going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year.” It was unclear if he meant to signal high-level personnel changes.The president praised Congress for a recent, relatively modest budget compromise. „It’s probably too early to declare an outbreak of bipartisanship. But it’s also fair to say we’re not condemned to endless gridlock,” he said.He also renewed his long-standing refusal to negotiate concessions with Republicans in exchange for legislation that will be needed in late winter or early spring to raise the nation’s debt limit. „It is not something that is a negotiating tool. It’s not leverage. It’s a responsibility of Congress,” he said, although he added that he was willing to discuss other issues separately.Obama spoke from the White House briefing room podium as he concluded his fifth year as president, his hair far grayer than the day he was first sworn in. He and his family were departing later in the day for their holiday vacation in Hawaii.The president opened his remarks with an upbeat assessment of the state of the economy, and seemed determined not to stray from it.Asked if this year had been the worst of his presidency so far, he laughed and said, „That’s not how I think about it.”Obama’s polls are at or near the low point of his tenure in the White House. The rollout of his health care website bombed, and high-visibility parts of his agenda have yet to make it through Congress, including a call for gun safety legislation in the wake of the shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school a year ago and a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws.View galleryPresident Barack Obama speaks during an end-of-the year news conference in the Brady Press Briefing …”If you’re measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot over the course of my career,” he said, and then repeated that the economy was finally showing significant progress.The president fielded questions a few hours after the government announced the economy grew at a solid 4.1 percent annual rate from July through September, the fastest pace since late 2011 and significantly higher than previously believed.Much of the upward revision came from stronger consumer spending at a time when unemployment is at a five-year low of 7 percent. Obama did not mention it, but the stock market is also at or near record levels.In his review of the year, Obama also noted that U.S. combat troops will finally be withdrawn from Afghanistan during the coming year.As he has before, he promised to speak in more comprehensive terms in the near future about the future of NSA surveillance programs.”I have confidence that the NSA is not engaged in domestic surveillance or snooping around,” he said. Yet he added, „we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence.”A presidential advisory panel this week recommended sweeping changes to government surveillance, including limiting the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records by stripping the NSA of its ability to store the data in its own facilities.Separately, a federal judge ruled earlier in the week that some of the NSA’s activities were likely unconstitutional. Judge Richard Leon called the NSA’s operation „Orwellian” in scope and said there was little evidence that its vast trove of data from American users had prevented a terrorist attack.Obama was challenged on his 6-month-old statement that he and his administration had gotten the balance about right, in terms of the NSA’s activities, between concern for terrorism and protection of civil liberties.He replied that the same assessments are made on a daily basis and noted pointedly that if an attack were to occur, „the question that’s coming from you is, ‘Mr. President, why did you slip?'”On a key foreign policy concern, Obama said it would be wrong to impose new sanctions on Iran at a time the United States and other nations are testing an interim accord designed to rein in Tehran’s nuclear program. If necessary, „we can pass new sanctions in a day,” he said, referring to lawmakers.As for health care, Obama said that despite the problems, including the rollout of the website, „more than 2 million people have signed up or more” since enrollment began.”What that means is … the demand is there and the product is good,” he said.He turned aside a suggestion that the administration has made so many exemptions that it should have simply delayed the requirement for individuals to purchase coverage or face a penalty. Several lawmakers have called on him to do that, even some Democrats who voted for the legislation.Obama faced the type of challenging questions that presidents have long encountered, and he drew laughter with his answer to one of them.”My New Year’s resolution is to be nicer to the White House press corps,” he said
UN mission in South Sudan evacuates some staff
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The United Nations Mission in South Sudan says it is relocating all non-critical staff from the capital, Juba, to Uganda amid escalating violence as the country’s military battles rebel forces.The mission said in a Twitter update Sunday that all remaining civilian staff in Bor — the Jonglei state capital that has been the scene of fierce fighting —had been evacuated to Juba.On Saturday gunfire hit three U.S. military aircraft trying to evacuate American citizens in Bor, wounding four U.S. service members in the same region gunfire downed a U.N. helicopter on Friday.The latest violence in the world’s newest country has killed hundreds and has world leaders concerned about war.The U.N. chief Sunday urged South Sudan’s leaders „to do everything in their power” to stop the violence.
Bulgarians, Romanians mostly want to stay put
AFP/AFP/File – The Sculeni border crossing point from Romania to the Republic of Moldova on January 18, 2011
View PhotoRomanian students at the university of economics give an interview to AFP in Bucharest, …View PhotoPeople walk on the streets of Giurgiu, a city on the Romanian border with Bulgaria …View PhotoAlexandra Rusu, 24, holder of a masters degree in human resources, poses for a photographer …View PhotoA man rides a bicycle past a block of flats in Giurgiu, a city on the Romanian border …Petya Kocheva can’t wait for January 1 to kiss goodbye to the grinding poverty of Bulgaria and get a bar job in an Amsterdam nightclub.But for most others in Bulgaria and Romania, the bright lights of Western Europe no longer have the appeal of a few years ago, casting serious doubt on predictions of an exodus when restrictions are lifted in the new year.”It’s pointless getting a diploma that leads only to unemployment or a salary of 450 leva a month (230 euros, $315),” Kocheva, 24, who abandoned her studies in public administration, told AFP.”I would rather take a less prestigious job in a stable country if it allows me to live decently.”In 2014, nine countries including Germany, Britain and France lift all remaining curbs on workers from Bulgaria and Romania, giving them full freedom of movement in the 28-nation European Union.This has raised fears that legions of them will take jobs in labour markets barely recovering from recession and overburden hospitals, schools and social security systems.But amid anger at the sometimes shrill tone of the debate, not least in Britain, experts, surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest that any new arrivals will form a benign trickle rather than a devastating flood.”The ones who wanted to leave have already left,” Adriana Iorga, director of the employment agency in Giurgiu, a deprived town in southern Romania, told AFP.People from the two countries, which joined the EU in 2007, can already work without permits in 17 countries in the bloc in whatever sector they can find a job.About three million Romanians and one million Bulgarians have already upped sticks since the fall of communism 24 years ago, according to official estimates.The overwhelming majority, including members of the Roma minority, have settled in Spain and Italy, working in construction, agriculture or looking after the elderly and the disabled.France and Britain recruited doctors and nurses while the United States has lured IT specialists.Large numbers left in 1989, followed by a second wave in 2001 when visa requirements were lifted and then just before EU membership in 2007, Mila Mancheva of the Sofia-based Centre for the Study of Democracy told AFP.”The opening of some labour markets on January 1 will generate far less migration,” she predicts.A recent survey showed that 200,000 Bulgarians — between three and four percent of adults — might make use of their new freedoms.But mostly they are anything but unskilled or potential „benefit tourists”, as labelled in the British media. Some 85 percent are under 40, and three-quarters with a high-school diploma or a university degree.Another study by AFIS Institute showed that 78 percent of the would-be migrants wanted to work while 13 percent think of studying and only 0.5 percent were just eyeing social handouts.”I do not want to take the bread out of anyone’s mouth,” said Romanian mechanic Marian Arabagila, 44, who earns less than $540 a month and wants to leave — but not for Britain.”I want to work to help producing more wealth for the host country.”Young, gifted and staying”Britain will not be invaded by Romanians and Bulgarians”, Simina, a student at the Bucharest university of economics and cybernetics, told AFP to nods of agreement from IT classmates Maria and Florentina.”We would go to Western Europe to study but we do not want to settle there, especially as we see the discriminating comments against us,” she said.Bulgarian computer engineer Georgy Dinchev, 30, who works for a foreign firm in Sofia, agreed: „I will not migrate to the West to serve as a scapegoat.”Recent anti-government protests in Bulgaria and Romania have also shown a young urban middle class determined to stay home and press for change in their home countries.”Even if corruption is disgusting, if the education system does not stimulate people to think for themselves and if public healthcare is in a terrible state (…) it is important to stay to put pressure on the political class,” Dinchev said.
AFP/AFP/File – Egyptian secular activists Ahmed Maher and activist Ahmed Douma hold up a T-shirt reading „Drop the law on demonstrations” during their trial on December 8, 2013 in Cairo over an unlicensed …more
View PhotoA file picture taken on June 3, 2013, shows Egyptian political activist Ahmed Douma …View PhotoAhmed Maher (centre), co-founder of Egypt’s 6 April youth movement, hands himself …An Egyptian court on Sunday sentenced three activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak to three years in jail for organising an unlicensed protest, judicial sources said.It was the first such verdict against non-Islamist protesters since the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi in July, and was seen by rights groups as part of a widening crackdown on demonstrations by military-installed authorities.Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel were also found guilty of rioting and assaulting security forces during an unauthorised protest held last month, and were fined 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($7,100, 5,200 euros) each, the sources said.Maher is the founder of the April 6 youth movement that led the revolt against Mubarak. All three defendants were leading dissidents under Mubarak, but they also supported the military’s overthrow of Morsi, whom they accused of betraying the 2011 „revolution.”Maher and Douma were arrested after Maher’s supporters allegedly scuffled with police outside a Cairo court on November 30, when Maher handed himself in for questioning on suspicion he had organised an illegal protest.Adel was absent from the first hearing on December 8 but was captured earlier this week in a midnight police raid on a non-governmental organisation in Cairo.They were found guilty of violating a controversial law enacted last month that requires police authorisation for protests, less than three years after Mubarak was toppled by massive pro-democracy demonstrations.More recently, the military justified its overthrow of Morsi — Egypt’s first freely elected president — as a response to massive protests against his turbulent year-long reign, which critics said was marked by power-grabbing and economic mismanagement.The new protest law has angered many of the secular and liberal activists who had viewed the military-installed government — which has pledged a democratic transition with fresh elections next year — as a lesser evil than Morsi.Another prominent pro-democracy activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, has also been arrested for allegedly participating in a violent and illegal protest. The date for his trial is yet to be determined.The longtime activist and blogger had previously been jailed under Mubarak, the military junta that ruled after his 2011 overthrow, and Morsi.The United States and human rights groups have expressed concern about the protest law, which was introduced after Egypt lifted a three-month state of emergency.Since Morsi’s overthrow the authorities have launched a sweeping crackdown on his supporters that has left more than 1,000 people killed and thousands more arrested, including virtually the entire top leadership of his Muslim Brotherhood, which prevailed in a series of polls held after Mubarak’s ouster.On August 14 security forces stormed two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo, setting off clashes in which hundreds of people were killed, mainly Morsi supporters, in the worst mass killing in Egypt’s modern history.Morsi himself remains in detention, charged with inciting violence against protesters during a rally outside the presidential palace in December 2012.He is to stand two more trials — one for espionage involving the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and the other for a prison break and the murder of officers during the anti-Mubarak uprising.
Reuters/Reuters – Anti-government protesters march during a rally at a major business district in Bangkok December 22, 2013. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
View PhotoAnti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban gestures to his supporters as he …View PhotoThailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (C) leaves the Government Complex …View PhotoThailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (C) leaves the Government Complex …View PhotoThailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra leaves the Government Complex after …View PhotoAnti-government protesters hold Thai banknotes to donate to their leader Suthep Thaugsuban …View PhotoAn anti-government protester wearing a chain full of amulets gestures as he joins …View PhotoAnti-government protesters riding in a car wave Thai national flags as they join …View PhotoAnti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban gestures to his supporters as he …View PhotoAn anti-government protester blows a whistle and holds a placard as he joins a march …View PhotoAnti-government protesters march during a rally at a major business district in Bangkok …View PhotoAnti-government protesters march during a rally at a major business district in Bangkok …Article: Thai opposition party to boycott election – party leader
Reuters – Sat, Dec 21, 2013
By Apornrath PhoonphongphiphatBANGKOK (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators massed peacefully across Thailand’s capital on Sunday in their latest bid to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra before a February election the main opposition party will boycott.Yingluck has called a snap poll for February 2 to try to cool tension and renew her mandate, but protesters reject any election until the implementation of vague reforms ostensibly aimed at weakening the influence of the Shinawatra family.Thailand remains in an all-too-familiar deadlock after eight years of on-off conflict broadly between supporters and opponents of Yingluck’s self-exiled tycoon brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, whose populist political machine has won every election since 2001.Chanting „Yingluck, get out”, whistle-blowing protesters gathered at locations around the city and set up stages in at least four places, bringing traffic to a halt at three main intersections and in two commercial districts.”I hate Yingluck and I want to get rid of her because she does everything for her brother, not for Thai people,” said Chaloey Thanapaisan, a 75-year-old protester.Among the main protagonists in Thailand’s turmoil is a Bangkok establishment with influence among judges and generals and which backs protests against governments controlled by Thaksin, who they see as a tax-dodging crony capitalist who enriches his family and his network of business friends.Thailand’s near-term future became more uncertain on Saturday when the opposition Democrat Party announced it would boycott the election, saying the democratic system had been distorted by Thaksin and was failing Thais.The boycott adds to concern that forces allied with the Democrats would try to scuttle an election that is otherwise likely to return Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party to power.Hundreds surrounded Yingluck’s house on Sunday and demanded she quit. Yingluck, now caretaker premier, was not in Bangkok and has been visiting the northeast, her party’s stronghold.Firebrand protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat heavyweight, was feted like a rock star while he gave speeches on stages across the city, renewing his calls for an appointed „people’s council”.POLITICAL MISSTEP-His campaign is less about policies and more about ridding Thailand of both Yingluck and Thaksin.”Today, we have shut down Bangkok for a half day. If Yingluck remains in office, next time we will shut Bangkok down again for the whole day. We will fight until we win, we will not back down,” Suthep told tens of thousands of demonstrators.Yingluck had enjoyed a smooth two years in office but that unravelled in November when Puea Thai tried to push through an amnesty bill that would have nullified Thaksin’s 2008 graft conviction, allowing him to return home from Dubai. It proved to be a political miscalculation by her party.Questions remain about how the protesters can remove Yingluck when the rallies, which have attracted as many as 160,000 people, have remained largely peaceful and have failed to stop her government from functioning.Sathit Wongnongtoey, a Democrat party member, said the rallies would end by nightfall and demonstrators would return to their base in the city’s historic quarter.”We just marched to show our strong intention to oust Yingluck,” he told Reuters. „We don’t want to cause violence.”Suthep has asked for the heavily politicised military that overthrew Thaksin in a 2006 coup to intervene on their behalf, but the top brass has so far refused to step in.Thailand’s Election Commission had suggested the poll could be delayed, fearing it could be marred by violence, but on Friday it ruled out a postponement. Registration for candidates is due to start on Monday.The Democrats boycotted an election called during similar protests in 2006, when Thaksin tried to renew his mandate. His party won in a landslide, but the result was annulled on a technicality and he was later overthrown in a coup.(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Paul Tait)
AFP/AFP – Protesters walk on Independence Square in Kiev prior to an opposition rally on December 22, 2013
View PhotoProtesters gather on Independence Square in Kiev prior to an opposition rally on …Some 40,000 people on Sunday rallied at the latest protest in Ukraine against the government’s rejection of a pact with the European Union, a turnout that was down sharply on previous weeks.The rally on Independence Square in the capital Kiev was the fifth in a series of regular Sunday protests against the U-turn by the government in November, when it decided not to sign the Association Agreement for closer ties with the EU.But all the previous rallies had attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters. The turnout at the latest rally was the lowest since the Sunday protests began on November 24.The protest movement has so far been at a loss as to how to respond to a controversial deal clinched by President Viktor Yanukovych in Moscow this week for billions of dollars in Russian help to bail out Ukraine’s ailing economy.One of the chief opposition leaders, the world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, told those gathered Sunday that the protests would continue.”We are going to fight and we are not going to go anywhere from here,” he said.”We demand not only the resignation of the government but snap presidential elections,” he added.The protesters have occupied Independence Square — known in Kiev as the Maidan — since late November and erected barricades to prevent security forces from entering the area.Several police attempts to shift the protest camp ended in failure and provoked outrage inside and outside Ukraine over the use of force against peaceful protesters.
AFP/AFP – Two women hold a placard reading „Government, resign” during a protest against corruption in Ankara, on December 21, 2013
View PhotoProtesters at a demonstration in Ankara on December 21, 2013 pile up shoe boxes to …View PhotoLeftist protesters demonstrate against corruption, Turkey’s ruling AK Party and …Turkey has sacked another 25 police chiefs as part of a fast-moving inquiry into an alleged bribery scandal that has ensnared cabinet ministers and businessmen, local media reported on Sunday.Scores of people have been detained in connection with the probe, prompting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to respond with a deep purge of the police, a force he once bolstered to counter the army’s influence.He has sacked dozens of police officials, including the Istanbul police chief, for cooperating with the investigation without permission.Erdogan has said he is battling „a state within a state” and described the corruption probe, which comes ahead of crucial March municipal polls, as a smear operation against his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government which has been in power since 2002.A total of 24 people have been charged so far including the sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler and Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, as well as the chief executive of state-owned Halkbank under the investigation that erupted last week.Among the 25 sacked officers was the police chief of Istanbul’s conservative Fatih district, Ertan Ercikti, according to press reports. The mayor of Fatih municipality, Mustafa Demir, was detained as part of the alleged bribery probe on Tuesday but he was released Saturday after questioning.Erdogan’s critics accuse him of desperately trying to protect his cronies, and the appointment of Selami Altinok, a little-known governor with no police career, as Istanbul’s new police chief was further seen as an attempt to shut down the investigation.Altinok raised eyebrows when he landed in Istanbul on Thursday in the premier’s private jet.Shortly after taking up office, the new police chief banned journalists from entering police stations across the country, local media reported.Erdogan did not say whom he thought was behind the „dirty operation” against his government but most observers have interpreted the raids as a result of tensions between the AKP and influential Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen, whose movement wields influence in the police, judiciary and secret services.
AFP/AFP – Firefighters near the Dordogne river, on December 21, 2013 in Lugon-et-l’Ile-du-Carnay, southwestern France, after a helicopter carrying a Chinese tycoon overflying his newly-purchased vineyard …more
View PhotoLam Kok and his wife pose for a photograph on December 20, 2013, in the Chateau de …View PhotoGendarmes walk along the Dordogne river, on December 21, 2013 in Lugon-et-l’Ile-du-Carnay, …View PhotoFour bottles of French wine, a Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus from Beaune area, a Haut- …French police stepped up their search Sunday for a Chinese billionaire and two others feared dead after their helicopter crashed as he was surveying a newly purchased vineyard in southwest France.There was little hope of finding alive Lam Kok, a 46-year-old Chinese tea-and-property tycoon, his interpreter and advisor Peng Wang or winemaker James Gregoire after police on Saturday recovered the body of Lam’s 12-year-old son from the back of the wrecked helicopter lying in seven metres (23 feet) of water in the Dordogne river.The four had boarded the helicopter piloted by Gregoire on Friday to make a celebratory tour of a Bordeaux chateau and wine-growing estate that Lam had just bought from the Frenchman.After pausing the search on Saturday night, divers resumed scouring the cold waters of the Dordogne around 9:00 am (0800 GMT) on Sunday, working in near total obscurity.”We are meticulously combing the area, with practically no visibility, almost by hand,” local gendarmerie commander Ghislain Rety said.Police said strong currents were hampering the search.Helicopters with infrared cameras were flying over the river and a special sonar designed for finding bodies had arrived from the French city of Strasbourg, Rety said.Slowly dragged behind a boat, the sonar was to criss-cross the river between its banks.Some 100 police were searching along the riverbanks and reinforcements were expected.An autopsy was to be conducted Sunday on the body of Lam’s son, Shun Yu Kok, but officials said there was little hope the reasons for the crash would be quickly identified.”The causes of the accident have not been determined at this stage and most likely will not be for several weeks,” local prosecutor Christopher Auger said.The doomed flight took place after a lavish event Friday marking Lam’s multi-million-euro purchase of the 65-hectare (160-acre) wine estate, Chateau de la Riviere.After a press conference and sumptuous dinner, Gregoire offered to take Lam on a short tour of the vineyards and surrounding grounds in the helicopter.Lam’s wife pulled out of the flight at the last minute, saying she was „scared of helicopters,” said an AFP photographer who witnessed its take-off.When the four did not return after 20 minutes, employees at the vineyard contacted emergency services.Gregoire himself had bought the property, the largest in Bordeaux’s Fronsac wine-producing region and close to the prestigious Saint-Emilion domain, in 2003 — a year after the previous owner died in a plane crash.Lam and his wife headed a Hong Kong-based group named Brilliant, which specialises in rare teas and luxury hotels in China.They had plans to turn the French chateau into a high-class tea- and wine-tasting centre, with a hotel built nearby.Wealthy Chinese have developed a taste for fine French wines, and their buying power has been credited with pushing prices for certain vintages to record levels.In recent years they have increasingly taken to buying French vineyards as well.Lam’s wife, who serves as company chairwoman, told newspaper Chuncheng Evening News earlier this month that she wanted to disprove negative impressions of Chinese businesspeople buying French vineyards and instead „show people China’s culture and quality”.The company tended to keep a low profile with the couple rarely speaking to the media, the Beijing Youth Daily said on Sunday, adding that it was told by a Brilliant employee there would be no interviews about the helicopter crash.
AFP/AFP – Arvind Kejriwal is greeted by supporters as he arrives at a public meeting in New Delhi on December 22, 2013
View PhotoSupporters of India’s Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) listen to a speech …View PhotoSupporters of India’s Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) watch from a house …View PhotoArvind Kejriwal gestures as he addresses a public meeting in New Delhi on December …India‘s anti-graft crusader Arvind Kejriwal vowed Sunday to punish corrupt politicians and clean up „dirty politics” in a fiery speech that hinted his party may lend support to form a coalition government in Delhi.Kejriwal, a former civil servant turned politician, has been under mounting pressure to form a coalition government since his party’s stunning performance at December 4 state elections.Kejriwal is wary of joining forces with the Congress party or the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after voters flocked to his party, disillusioned with mainstream politics and angry over rampant corruption.”If we form the government, we will pass the anti-corruption law and send corrupt BJP and Congress leaders to jail,” Kejriwal told a rally in Delhi of several hundred supporters.”We are not after political power. We want to change the system and cleanse the dirty politics,” Kejriwal said, adding that he expected to make an announcement on forming government on Monday.Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) won 28 of the 70 seats at the polls for an assembly, trouncing the ruling Congress which took eight and depriving the biggest winner — the BJP with 31 — of a majority.AAP’s success, only a year after its formation, signalled its emergence as a new political force which poses a threat to India’s two main parties at general elections next year.AAP has until now refused to accept support from either the Congress or the BJP, fuelling criticism that they were running away from the responsibility of forming government.AAP is seeking opinion on whether to form government in Delhi, holding public meetings and asking supporters to telephone or SMS their thoughts, in a move that taps into its grass roots base.With Sunday the last day for the unusual consultations, speculation in the Indian press was mounting that Kejriwal would team up with Congress.The Hindustan Times newspaper and other media reported Sunday that AAP has received an overwhelming response from the public in favour of forming a new government.”We have got a very positive and clear response. If things go the same way (today), we will definitely form the government,” the daily quoted an AAP leader, Manish Sisodia, as saying.Congress, in power at the national level for a decade, has seen its popularity plummet following a slew of corruption scandals, and policy paralysis that has been partly blamed for India’s faltering economy.”We have some six months to go for general elections and we feel the Congress will dare not play any dirty tricks with us till then,” Kejriwal said to loud applause from supporters.”It is only the beginning, we will clean the whole country,” he added.
Reuters/Reuters – A man walks past the gates of the „Armada” farming project run by Dongning Huaxin Group near the far eastern Russian town of Ussuriysk November 13, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Maltsev
View PhotoAn employee works on the „Armada” farming project run by Dongning Huaxin …View PhotoAn employee works on the „Armada” farming project run by Dongning Huaxin …View PhotoEmployees operate harvesting machinery on the „Armada” farming project …View PhotoAn employee works on the „Armada” farming project run by Dongning Huaxin …View PhotoAn employee works on the „Armada” farming project run by Dongning Huaxin …By David StanwayUSSURIYSK, Russia (Reuters) – Fourteen years ago, Chinese businessman Li Demin was asked to help bail out a struggling pig farm in the Russian trading city of Ussuriysk, close to the Pacific coast in the Far East.Li, chairman of the Dongning Huaxin Group, a private trading firm based in Heilongjiang province across the border, reluctantly agreed – but on one condition.”At the time I was trading and wasn’t at all interested because I knew nothing about raising pigs. So I said I would only buy if they threw in 500 hectares,” Li told Reuters.In the end, the local government offered to lease Li more land than he asked for, and more was to come. Now stretching 40,000 hectares and expected to expand further, Li’s farm near Ussuriysk is the biggest in Russia’s Far East and one of the largest foreign-invested agricultural projects in the country. It raises 30,000 pigs a year and grows soybeans and corn that is sold in local markets or shipped back to China.It seems to be a natural fit. Russia’s Far East Federal District, a region two-thirds the size of the United States, has a population of just 6.3 million and wide swathes of unfarmed fertile land.China is next door, its 1.4 billion people have an insatiable appetite for crops and produce, and its companies have gone as far as Australia, South America and the Pacific island of Vanuatu to lease farmland.Unlike most other parts of the world, the local population, cut off from Russia’s western-facing economy, mostly welcomes Chinese investment, which has provided a lifeline following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Chinese firms already lease or control at least 600,000 hectares of land in the Far East, which is equivalent to the size of a small U.S. state like Delaware.The investments could surge if the political masters in Moscow were more accommodating.”When the Soviet Union collapsed, the local people didn’t really know what to do, so they started encouraging us to take over the land at very cheap prices,” Li said. „They would pay us to clear the forests – they gave us a lot of support.”Pavel Maslovsky, who represents the Amur region near the Chinese border in Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, said the region needs investment and fears of an influx of Chinese were misplaced.”To fear that investors would come to the wrong sector and in a manner which we do not like is like selling a bear’s skin before you have caught the bear,” he said.But there remains considerable ambivalence in Moscow about the region’s growing dependence on China. Relations between the two nations have been improving since a border war in 1969, but some tensions remain.”It is no longer necessarily the fears that the Russians are going to be swamped by gazillions of Chinese,” said Bobo Lo, associate fellow at Chatham House and an expert in Sino-Russian relations.”Now it is slightly different, and more that the Chinese are a rising economic power, that part of Russia is struggling and China will inexorably take over.”FEARS OF CHINARussian fears of Chinese encroachment in its underpopulated Far East have eased since the 1990s, but while Russia has vowed to rejuvenate the impoverished region, it is still reluctant to rely entirely on China. Unfortunately for Moscow, the Chinese remain the only ones willing to invest.”There is already a feeling (from the Russians) in the bilateral relationship that they are being outmatched, and this makes them anxious,” said Lo.”It is bad enough being a resource appendage to the West and it is worse if you are a resource appendage to a country to which you have felt superior for the last 300 years.”The Far East received $9.9 billion of foreign investment in 2011, according to Russia’s Federal Statistics Service, accounting for just 5 percent of the amount received by Russia as a whole. More than three quarters of the total was spent on the development of oil and gas in Sakhalin, a resource-rich island off the Far East coast, north of Japan.Ussuriysk, about 100 km (62 miles) north of Vladivostok and 60 km (37 miles) east of the Chinese border, was once controlled by a succession of Chinese dynasties and built over the last century from the proceeds of logging and food production.One of the first areas in Russia to open up to Chinese business in the 1980s, it has also benefited from the establishment of a free trade zone that has brought investment from 26 Chinese firms since its foundation in 2006.Widespread fears about the region being flooded by Chinese migrants have not come to pass.The city has a permanent population of around 150,000 and a floating population of a few thousand Chinese traders and workers selling textiles and electronic goods. There is no Chinatown, and no indication that the Chinese want to settle permanently.”Some say China is ‘swamping’ or ‘yellowfying’ Russia’s Far East but this isn’t actually happening – the Chinese just want to do business and go home,” said a Chinese businessman who has been based in Ussuriysk for more than a decade.But the population imbalance still causes anxiety. The Far East’s population is smaller than an average Chinese city and just a fraction of the 90 million living in China’s three border provinces of Jilin, Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia.Dongning Huaxin’s Li said his company has been doing its utmost to ease the concerns and ensure that local labour is used on farms. He said local Russian farmers now make up around 60 percent of a total workforce of 600.GRIND TO A HALT–But the problem was that the local population had dwindled, and those left behind were mostly unwilling to do agricultural work, Li said.”This is how I see it: if Chinese labour left the Russian Far East, the region would grind to a halt,” he said. „Take our pig farm: Russians don’t like pigs and we can’t find people to work on it and we can only hire Chinese to do it.”The Chinese businessman, who did not want to give his name, said local residents and government officials understood the necessity of cooperation, but Moscow continued to impose visa restrictions that made it harder to resolve the significant labour and skills shortages in the region.”We think these rules shouldn’t apply to the Far East – we really find it hard to get visas for qualified staff, drivers, traders who understand our business, and it is impossible to find skilled local workers. Russia wants to develop its Far East but it cannot do it without Chinese workers.””I think the Russians need to understand that if they don’t allow Chinese investment or Japanese investment or Korean investment here, they will actually lose the place,” he said.Despite the problems, Chinese investment still seeks to come to the Far East. Moscow itself would prefer a more diversified range of investors, but firms from Japan or South Korea are much more reluctant to get involved.Li said local authorities in the region understood the leading role that Chinese investment and Chinese labour needed to play in development.”The Russians understand that if the Chinese don’t come, then who?” he said. „Would the Japanese come, or the Koreans?”(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in MOSCOW, Niu Shuping in BEIJING; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
AFP/AFP – Rahul Gandhi addresses the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi on December 21, 2013
View PhotoSupporters of India’s new ‘Aam Aadmi Party’ shout slogans as they wave …India‘s ruling Congress’ scion, Rahul Gandhi, tipped to be named the party’s candidate for premier next month, admitted Saturday the party stumbled badly in recent state polls but vowed to stage a comeback.A stunning performance by an upstart anti-corruption party helped topple Congress in elections to New Delhi’s state assembly earlier this month, only months before the country goes to the polls in general elections.Congress, in power at national level for a decade, also lost in three other state assembly contests in a devastating blow ahead of the May election.”We didn’t really hit a six in the last election,” Gandhi, using a cricket expression, told top Indian business leaders at a conference.”We didn’t do as well as we expected, but we will renew ourselves and will fight strong and confidently,” Gandhi said.In his first major speech since the party’s polling rout, Gandhi said endemic corruption was „bleeding the people” while adding the country urgently needed to get back on a high-growth trajectory.”Poverty cannot be fought without growth — there is no confusion in my mind. There is a business engine and the people have to empower the business engine,” he said.Meanwhile, in a shake-up ahead of the elections, Congress environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan resigned on Saturday.The Indian media reported she was going to be drafted into working for the Congress party during the elections.Oil minister M. Veerappa Moily was given the extra responsibility of the environment ministry, a government statement said.Indian media have reported Gandhi, 43, whose family has given India three prime ministers, could be named the party’s official candidate during a Congress meeting in mid-January.The move would pit Gandhi against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi who has been named the prime ministerial candidate for the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.Modi has become a hero of middle-class India, hailed as a business-friendly moderniser who could revive a sharply slowing economy.But hia ability to erase memories of deadly anti-Muslim riots in 2002 after he became Gujarat chief minister remain an issue for many.There are also doubts about Gandhi’s ability and desire for the job of prime minister.Opinion surveys point to a fractured election outcome in which smaller regional parties with differing agendas and a reliance on Muslims and other religious minorities for support could end up with an upper hand.
BEIJING (Reuters) – China‘s Defence Ministry called Japan’s plans to raise its military spending for the first time in 10 years deeply worrying for Asia and the world, saying on Saturday that it strongly opposes its neighbour’s policy.Japan said earlier this week it will lift military spending by 2.6 percent over five years, buying early-warning planes, beach-assault vehicles and troop-carrying aircraft.It was seen as the clearest sign since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office a year ago that he wants to raise Japan’s military profile to meet what he says is a threat from China’s rapid military buildup and recent actions to back its claims to Japanese-held islands in the East China Sea.China said Japan’s military plans raise questions about whether Japan is going beyond its Defence needs to build itself up as an offensive combat power.”Japan, on the one hand, claims to be a peace-loving country, exclusively adhering to a Defence policy. Yet on the other hand, it peddles a so-called ‘active pacifism’, ” the Chinese Defence Ministry said in a statement on its website.”Where is Japan’s military security policy actually going from here? This cannot but arouse strong concerns in its Asian neighbours and the international community,” the ministry said.Japan and China have been mired in an increasingly fiery row over ownership of tiny islands in the East China Sea, with tensions spiking last month when Beijing announced an air-Defence zone over a wide area including the islands.Ties between the world’s second- and third-largest economies have for years been strained by what China says is Japan’s refusal to confess to atrocities committed by its soldiers between 1931 and 1945. But even amid diplomatic spats, Japan remains one of China’s largest foreign investors.In the 20 years to 2012, Japan was the sixth-biggest military spender in the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. China, by contrast, leapt to second place from the seventh after it hiked its Defence spending by more than five-fold.(Reporting by Koh Gui Qing; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
Hollande’s approval rating inches up to 22 percent – poll
Reuters/Reuters – France’s President Francois Hollande reacts during a ceremony where he named French singer and actress Line Renaud a „Grand Officier de la Legion d’Honneur” at the Elysee …more
By Robert MullerPRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Christian Democratic Party leadership accepted posts in a potential centre-left coalition on Saturday, clearing the way for the prospective prime minister to present a cabinet to the president by the end of the year.The smallest party in the emerging centre-left majority coalition was granted its demand to run the Agriculture Ministry along with two other cabinet positions, the Culture Ministry and a ministry without portfolio.The division of ministerial posts between the three parties had been one of the last outstanding issues facing leaders of three parties trying to cobble together a government to present to the president.”We have given preference to stability, so we would have a chance to start a good period for the country in the next four years,” the Christian Democrat’s vice chairman, Marian Jurecka, said on television.The central European country is run now by a caretaker government lacking a mandate to push through major legislation while the economy recovers from a record-long recession.The Social Democrats, winners of an October snap election after a bribery and spying scandal brought down a centre-right coalition in June, will get eight posts, including prime minister for their leader Bohuslav Sobotka.Centrist movement ANO, which finished runner-up in the election under billionaire Andrej Babis, will fill seven ministries, including finance.The three parties, who hold 111 out of 200 seats in parliament, have already agreed on their policy program, pledging to keep budget deficits below the EU’s limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product while trying to boost growth.The agriculture ministry controls the country’s land fund which will oversee the return of property confiscated under communism back to churches, under a law passed in November 2012.Social Democrat leader Sobotka wants to present the government by the end of the year but the coalition could still face objections from President Milos Zeman, who has said he wants a say in cabinet appointments.(Writing by Michael Kahn; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)