Li Keqiang said China was interested in investing in infrastructure, renewable energy and agriculture. Closer ties would bring „massive investments and will lead to a growth in trade,” he said.Analysts say China is attracted by Eastern Europe’s cheap labor and looser business regulation at a time when wages are rising at home and the national currency strengthening.The summit, which will bring together 16 regional government leaders, will also provide China with a chance to increase its presence in the region at a time when the EU and Russia are jostling for influence there.Some Eastern European countries, like Romania, are part of the EU. Others are considering joining and are torn between commercial ties with Western Europe and Russia, the region’s long-time dominant power.Establishing stronger ties now could provide China with a gateway to markets in the EU, the world’s largest economic bloc.”China needs long-term trustworthy political friends and commercial partners at a world level while Romania and the countries in the region have a tradition in this sense,” said Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta. He said that most countries at the meeting were „young democracies” which valued a relationship with China.China’s relations with countries in the region were generally strong during the communist era and, apart from the occasional rows over meetings with the Dalai Lama and crackdowns on Chinese immigrants, Eastern European countries are less critical of China’s human rights record. Both tend to prioritize economic pragmatism.On Monday, China announced a string of preliminary business deals with Romania, the meeting’s host. It said it intended to invest in nuclear and wind energy as well as a high-speed railway. It also said it would resume imports and beef and pork from the country.Bilateral commerce between China and Romania this year amounted to $3.27 billion.
KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security deal with the United States, the White House said, opening up the prospect of a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from the strife-torn nation next year.Karzai told U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Kabul on Monday that the United States must put an immediate end to military raids on Afghan homes and demonstrate its commitment to peace talks before he would sign a bilateral security pact, Karzai’s spokesman said.The White House said Karzai had outlined new conditions in the meeting with Rice and „indicated he is not prepared to sign the promptly”.”Without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” a White House statement quoted Rice as saying.The complete withdrawal, called the „zero option”, would be similar to the pull-out of U.S. troops from Iraq two years ago.On Sunday, an assembly of Afghan elders, known as the Loya Jirga, endorsed the security pact, but Karzai suggested he might not sign it until after national elections next spring.The impasse strengthens questions about whether any U.S. and NATO troops will remain after the end of next year in Afghanistan, which faces a still-potent insurgency waged by Taliban militants and is still training its own military.Karzai’s defiance has surprised the many who had attended the Loya Jirga, which he had proclaimed would have the final word on the security deal.A senior politician in Kabul said it appeared that Karzai’s reluctance to let the deal go through stemmed from his eagerness to keep his hands on the levers of power in the run-up to a presidential election in April, when he is due to stand down.”He is now in confrontation with his own nation as well as the United States,” said the politician, who asked not to be named.View gallery.”Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during the last day of the national consultative council known …He added that the president’s demand for no U.S. meddling in the coming election suggested that Karzai could be looking to ensure he has room to influence the outcome himself.RESIDUAL FORCE U.S. and other foreign troops have been in Afghanistan since the ousting of the Taliban regime by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.Just over two years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama pulled the plug on talks with Iraq about keeping a residual American force there after that war. In October 2011, when he announced that decision, there were more than 40,000 troops in the country. By the end of the year, they had all been withdrawn.In Afghanistan, there are still 47,000 American forces. The United States has been in discussions with Afghan officials about keeping a small residual force of about 8,000 troops there after it winds down operations next year.U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have said the bilateral security deal with Afghanistan must be signed by year-end to begin preparations for a post-2014 presence.Rice, who made a three-day visit to Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops, told Karzai it was „not viable” to defer signing the deal until after the election, the White House said.The delay „would not provide the United States and NATO allies the clarity necessary to plan for a potential post-2014 military presence”, the White House said.CONDITIONS-Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said the Afghan leader laid out several conditions for his signature to the deal in the meeting, including a U.S. pledge to immediately halt all military raids on, or searches of, Afghan homes.The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) includes a provision allowing raids in exceptional circumstances – when an American life is directly under threat – but it would not take effect until 2015.This issue is particularly sensitive among Afghans after a dozen years of war between Afghan and foreign forces and Taliban militants.”It is vitally important that there is no more killing of Afghan civilians by U.S. forces and Afghans want to see this practically,” Faizi said.Karzai also called on Washington to send remaining Afghan detainees at the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to Afghanistan, saying that the Loya Jirga had endorsed the pact with this condition.Faizi said Karzai also asked the U.S. officials to guarantee that the United States would refrain from endorsing any candidate in next year’s election.Karzai blamed the United States for meddling in the 2009 presidential election, while his opponents accuse the president of using the pact to ensure his influence in next year’s polls.U.S. officials have appeared exasperated by Karzai’s stance on the security agreement, which they say is needed to help them plan a future mission that will assist Afghan forces fight militants and that will allow for future aid crucial for the impoverished nation.The Obama administration has not said when it would make a decision to abandon the talks and commit to pulling all of its troops out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014, as it did in Iraq.Faizi said the Afghan president had asked his American visitors to return to the U.S. president with his message.”The ball is in your court now, and get back to us,” he said.(Editing by Missy Ryan, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson) Pope attacks ‘tyranny’ of markets, urges renewal in key document
The fiery co-leader of the pro-democracy Orange Revolution in 2004 announced her move in a letter read to some 20,000 supporters who thronged central Kiev on Monday.Organisers expect thousands to turn out on Kiev’s European SquareTuesday evening for a third straight day of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych’s U-turn on the EU accord.Sporadic clashes have marred the rallies in Kiev and more nationalist parts of western Ukraine, with riot police firing tear gas at demonstrators and protesters hurling street cones and rocks at security personnel.Dozens of demonstrators fought helmeted police near the government seat in central Kiev on Monday, just after Tymoshenko’s letter was read out to the swarming crowd.”I am announcing an indefinite hunger strike demanding that Yanukovych sign an association and free trade agreement with the EU,” said the jailed former prime minister.View gallery.”Ukrainian riot police use batons to disperse demonstrators during clashes at Europe Square in Kiev o …”And if Yanukovych does not sign our agreement with the EU on November 29, wipe him off the face of Ukraine through peaceful and constitutional means.”Protesters have set up two dozen tents in central Kiev where they have been spending the night to make sure police do not close off the square where the largest demonstrations are being held.Some started makeshift fires in large metal barrels to keep warm from the freezing drizzle and the season’s first sightings of snow.Two top members of the European Parliament warned Ukraine on Tuesday that it faced „serious consequences” should police continue resorting to the use of force against protestors.The latest crisis in the nation of 45 million was sparked by the government’s abrupt decision to scrap the planned signature of a historic deal with the EU at a two-day summit in Vilnius starting Thursday.View gallery.”Some 15,000 people holding umbrellas attend a rally in spite of heavy snow in western Ukrainian city …The U-turn came shortly after Yanukovych held secret talks in Russia with President Vladimir Putin meant to address economic sanctions Moscow planned to slap on Kiev if it signed the EU pact.These included a threat to impose strict conditions on Russian natural gas deliveries on which Ukraine depends, especially in the winter months.Yanukovych calls for ‘peace’ The so-called Association Agreement with the EU would have put Ukraine firmly on the path to eventual membership and pulled it out of Russia’s historical orbit.But Putin sees neighbouring Ukraine — a country known in Russia as the „near abroad” — as a vital member of a rival economic bloc called the Customs Union that already includes Kazakhstan and Belarus.View gallery.”A woman kneels in front of riot police riot police during a demonstration by Pro-West activists in f …The 28-nation European bloc has said its offer is „still on the table” and reiterated its criticism of Russia’s intimidation of Ukraine.Yanukovych late on Monday said his change of mind was based on the dangers economically struggling Ukraine would face if it ruptured its tight trade ties with Russia.”I want peace and calm in our big Ukrainian family,” the president said in a video statement posted on his website.Ukraine’s decision to abandon the EU agreement came after parliament repeatedly failed to adopt legislation that would have freed Tymoshenko — a top EU condition for the signing of the deal.Some analysts believe Yanukovych feels threatened by Tymoshenko and would like to keep her out of politics until he runs for re-election in March 2015 polls.Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 — shortly after she lost to Yanukovych in bitter 2010 presidential polls — on abuse of power charges that she and the West say were politically motivated.Yanukovych is still scheduled to travel to Vilnius for the Eastern Partnership summit and some EU leaders appeared to hold out hope that Kiev may yet change its mind.Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper reported on Tuesday the Vilnius summit was also going to adopt a veiled warning to Russia not to interfere in its neighbour’s affairs.But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Interfax news agency that „in this case, it is inappropriate to speak of some sort of pressure” being placed by Russia on its neighbour.
Thai protesters step up campaign to oust government
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters surrounded Thailand’s Interior Ministry and forced the evacuation of four others on Tuesday, intensifying their campaign to bring down the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.The demonstrators defied a tough security law imposed late on Monday, after they stormed two other ministries, to control rallies against Yingluck and her billionaire brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.Yingluck and her ruling Puea Thai Party began a two-day confidence debate in parliament where they hold a commanding majority. The opposition has accused them of corruption and trying to pass laws to whitewash Thaksin of a graft conviction.Civil servants fled as groups of demonstrators surrounded the interior, agriculture, tourism and transport ministries in blockades that have plunged Thailand into its deepest political uncertainty since it was convulsed by the bloodiest unrest in a generation in 2010.”Getting rid of the Thaksin regime is not easy,” said protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister under the previous government, in an interview with Reuters.The demonstration „might be longer” than the three days originally planned, he said.Thaksin is a former telecommunications tycoon who is hugely popular with poor urban and rural voters who have put him, or his party, into power in every election since 2001.He was ousted in a 2006 military coup that was largely welcomed by Bangkok’s middle class. He has hovered ghost-like over Thai politics since fleeing the country in 2008, accused of undermining the powerful monarchy, breaching conflict-of-interest laws and sentenced in absentia to two years in prison.Though Yingluck is expected to prevail in Thursday’s confidence vote, it is unlikely to defuse a crisis fuelled by anger over the electoral and legislative power the Shinawatra family has long held, and is accused of abusing.HERO AND VILLAIN-Thaksin remains a populist hero for many but is reviled by much of the traditional Bangkok elite of generals, royal advisers, middle-class bureaucrats and business leaders who all largely back the opposition Democrat Party.It is uncertain how long the confrontation will go on. Yingluck might, analysts say, seek to bolster her legitimacy by calling an election she would likely win, as Thaksin has done before, but that could be risky.”She would first need to be absolutely sure there were no undemocratic forces preparing to fill the power vacuum that would be created,” said Kan Yuenyong, director of the Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank.”Right now, it’s brinkmanship. The other side knows an election would only create another Thaksin government … The best scenario for both sides is negotiations, but the problem is, they don’t trust each other.”After forcing their way inside the Finance Ministry on Monday and bursting through the gates of the Foreign Ministry compound, 3,000 protesters circled the Interior Ministry, some wearing plastic bags to protect them from torrential rain.They pushed up against the compound gates, some peering over a metal fence topped with coils of razor wire and urged dozens of security guards to let them in. The crowd at the ministry dispersed by nightfall and returned to their main protest site in Bangkok’s historic heart.Staff were ordered to leave five ministries in all and protesters led a march towards the heavily barricaded Government House, Yingluck’s offices. After a 15-minute standoff with police, they withdrew.The uncertainty is driving foreign investors out of Thai financial markets, making the baht the second-worst performing emerging Asian currency in November having lost 2.7 percent this month. Thai stocks have retreated about 6 percent.HISTORY REPEATING”Every time you think that Thailand is moving along, the government’s ability to govern breaks down. We have gone through this many times since 2006,” said JP Morgan analyst Matt Hildebrandt.A court issued a warrant on Tuesday for the arrest of Suthep in connection with the raid on the Finance Ministry. Together with former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, he has been charged with murder for allowing troops to open fire in 2010 protests by Thaksin’s supporters.A year later, their Democrat Party was routed in an election that swept Yingluck to power.The confrontation is a reminder of the political turmoil that has overshadowed Thailand for much of the last decade.On one side is Thaksin, a former policeman-turned-businessman from the north who redrew the political map by courting rural voters to gain an unassailable mandate that he then used to advance the interests of major companies, including his own.On the other is the traditional elite and establishment threatened by his rise, including the royalist military and bureaucracy. Thaksin’s opponents include unions and academics who saw him as a corrupt rights abuser, and the urban middle-class who resented their taxes being used as his political war chest.It is a confusing picture characterized variously as a class war, a rural-urban split, a clash between ancient and modern or a showdown between royalists and republicans.Many anti-government protesters draw a distinction between themselves and the poor who are fiercely loyal to Thaksin.”We are rich and our children are educated in Bangkok,” said Nonthapan Suwananon, an anti-government protestor who manages an office building in southern Trang province.”They are poor, uneducated and have been bought out by Thaksin and his lot.”(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Andrew R.C. Marshall; Writing by Jason Szep and Martin petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)
EU demands protection against U.S. data surveillance
DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh will hold its national election on January 5, the Election Commission said on Monday, enraging the opposition, which took to the streets in protest and called for a blockade of roads, waterways and railways across the country.Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formed a caretaker administration this month involving members of the ruling party and opposition to oversee the polls, as is the usual pattern in Bangladesh to try to ensure a free and fair vote.However, the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) says the caretaker cabinet is not impartial and has rejected any attempt to hold an election until it is satisfied a neutral interim administration is in place without Hasina.As soon as Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed announced in a televised statement that the election would be held on January 5, protests erupted in several cities, including the capital Dhaka.Police and witnesses said at least 100 cars were set ablaze and activists attacked a police post in northeastern Habiganj district, 180 km (110 miles) from Dhaka, and clashed with police in areas including the northern district of Kustia, 275 km from the capital.An activist from the student wing of the BNP was killed when a petrol bomb exploded in Comilla, 100 km from Dhaka, police said, adding several others had been injured in the protests.The dispute over the conduct of the election, nothing new in Bangladesh where power has flipped between the dynastic parties since the 1990s, has led to the deaths of some 25 people in protests and the arrest of some BNP leaders over the past weeks.It comes against the backdrop of protests over conditions in factories supporting Bangladesh’s $22 billion garment export industry, the economic lifeblood of the poor country of 160 million that has been rocked by a string of deadly accidents.BLOCKADE CALLED–By way of compromise, Hasina, of the ruling Awami League, on Sunday offered her old rival, BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia, any position for the opposition party in the caretaker administration.But it was not enough for opposition leaders, who reacted angrily at announcement of the date.Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, acting secretary general of BNP demanded the schedule be suspended at a news briefing.He also called for a 48 hour program of blockades to roads, rail routes and waterways from Tuesday morning.A.S.M. Hannan Shah, a senior leader of the BNP, said people would not accept the election schedule and would resist it. His family said he was arrested soon after making the comment.Election Commissioner Ahmed said the army would be deployed during the election to keep the peace. The Border Guard Bangladesh, a paramilitary force, was deployed in the capital to face any protests.The caretaker system began in the mid-1990s to try to ensure a fair race between the mutually distrustful parties.The two parties differ little in terms of policy, with voters frequently just booting out the incumbent in the hope that change will bring improvement.The League lost five mayoral elections over the summer. According to a July opinion poll conducted by Sydney-based pollster AC Nielsen and U.S.-based consultancy Democracy International, it enjoys the support of just 32 percent of the electorate, 11 percentage points behind the BNP.(Editing by Alison Williams)
Israel okays 829 new settler homes in West Bank: NGO
„The construction of 829 homes has been approved by a committee of the Israeli military in charge of the West Bank,” said spokesman Lior Amihai.”This is yet another move that threatens to derail the peace process,” he told AFP.Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has warned that ongoing settlement building by Israel in the Palestinian territories threatens the future of Middle East peace talks, which are at an impasse little more than three months after they began.A statement from Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat condemned what he called „the Israeli government’s constant policy of destroying the two-state solution”.He said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was undermining the peacemaking efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry, revealing „that (Netanyahu’s) sole intention is to consolidate an apartheid regime rather than to achieve a just and durable peace”.The new homes are to be built north of Jerusalem, in the settlements of Givat Zeev, Nofei Prat, Shilo, Givat Salit and Nokdim, Amihai said.The latest move comes two weeks after Israel announced its largest plan for settler homes ever, saying some 20,000 would be built in the West Bank.Netanyahu cancelled the order after pressure from the United States, which brought the two sides to the table in July, and as he sought to dissuade Washington from striking a nuclear deal with Iran.That announcement prompted the entire Palestinian negotiating team to resign in protest — resignations which Abbas has yet to accept.Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot said that having failed to prevent what he called a „very bad” international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, the only card left to Netanyahu to play in influencing US diplomacy is progress, or the lack of it, in talks with the Palestinians.”As of now, Israel has no influence on American policy vis-a-vis Iran, with the exception of the threat to derail the talks with the Palestinians,” it wrote.Abbas told AFP last week the Palestinian side is committed to the full period of talks agreed with Washington that will end in around April.But if the talks end with no deal, the Palestinians have said they will pursue legal action in the international courts against Israel’s illegal building.Commentators say the Palestinians will not back out of talks before their end date, as this would signal implicit responsibility for their failure.
South Africa growth slumps to 0.7% in third quarter
Gross domestic product plunged from a revised level of 3.2 percent in the second quarter to its lowest rate in four years, data from Statistics South Africa showed.The decline was greater than market expectations.The main negative contributor was the manufacturing industry, a result of low production caused by work stoppages in the motor vehicle sector.”Not all industries had happy days,” said Statistics South Africa executive manager of national accounts Gerhardt Bouwer.”Manufacturing had a negative growth, mainly due to all the strikes,” said Bouwer.View gallery.”Governor of the South African Reserve Bank Gill Marcus, pictured on February 11, 2012 in Pretoria (A …Labour unrest is ongoing in key sectors, including manufacturing and mining.Transport workers with the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union are currently on strike for higher wages, as are a majority of mine workers at the Northam Platinum mine.The figures point to more subdued growth for South Africa than expected.The central bank, facing weak domestic demand and a large output gap, has kept its main interest rate at a historically low 5.0 percent to boost growth since July 2012.In October, inflation slowed to 5.5 percent, but the bank cautioned that inflation is likely to remain uncomfortably close to the upper end of the target band.The bank’s forecast for growth in 2013 was revised down to 1.9 percent. Its forecasts for 2014 and 2014 were both lowered to 3.0 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.Governor Gill Marcus has said the bank is in a difficult policy position with the weak rand — which has depreciated by 17 percent against the US dollar since the beginning of the year — putting pressure on inflation.Marcus said on November 21 the Monetary Policy Committee is considering raising rates in 2014.”Certainly raising rates was a discussion,” she said.